Issue 14-38 September 17, 2020

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Cover photo © 2020 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with West Coast Bluesman and The 44s band leader, Johnny Main. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Neil Barnes, Bette Smith, Sugar Ray and the Bluetones featuring Little Charlie, Big Pacific, Crooked Eye Tommy and Lucius Parr.


 From The Editor’s Desk 

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Hey Blues Fans,

We announced the winners of the Blues Blast Music Awards earlier this week after 10,000 Blues Blast Magazine readers voted for their favorite artists and music in this year’s awards. Congratulations to the winners and the nominees.

I want to personally welcome more than 5000 new subscribers.

In case you missed it, a  list of the winners is HERE.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser



 Featured Interview – Johnny Main 

imageThe 44s are the band that you need to see on Saturday night, in some joint where you can cut loose after a long, hard work week, listening to a band lay it down nice and greasy all night long. Fronting the band is Johnny Main on lead guitar and vocals, conjuring up tales of love, loss, and despair, letting you know that he has been there, felt your pain, and made it through.

“We were in Florida to play the send-off party for the Legendary Blues cruise some years ago. I walk off stage and get the phone call telling me that my Mom had died. I came back to Florida two years later. We were playing a string of dates. Suddenly I get a phone call that my Dad had died. We hit the road to get back home, and two days later, my grandmothers both passed on the same day. So, I’m like, fuck Florida! I was in a real bad state of mind. It was a real shit show of emotions. I had to keep it together because I’m the band leader. That’s the trials and tribulations of life on the road. You get through it, and you move on, although I have never gotten over losing my mother. I didn’t know my biological father that well. He was a full-blooded Cherokee Indian, served in the US Army.”

At the age of seven, Main’s mother had the third grader taking violin lessons, which sets up a mental image of her tattooed adult son playing a gentle Mozart concerto on his violin. Her mother, Main’s grandmother, was a concert violinist, hence the connection. Main stuck with the lessons for six years before a record changed the course of his life.

“Classical was my first stop, but once I heard a Jimi Hendrix record I bought at Rhino Records, I said the violin is lame. I wanted to play like Hendrix on the song “If 6 Was 9.” A year later, I heard “Voodoo Child” by Stevie Ray Vaughan. That was a “wow” moment. From there, I just did my homework, studied all the magazines, books, and records I could find, anything from Stevie as well. I would read who the songs were from, then I would look those guys up, like Lowell Fulson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf….who is Chester Burnett? Then I started looking at the female singers like Koko Taylor and Bessie Smith. That was how I got started on guitar. By the time I was 17-18 years old, I was already playing illegally in bars. I never looked back. And that is what lead to where I am now.

“Once you start going down that lineage, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sonny Boy Williamson, it leads to R.L. Burnside, to Lucky Peterson, and the Brooks family. Being on the West coast, I was around guys like Kid Ramos, James Harman, Rick Holmstrom, Junior Watson, Nathan James, Kid Andersen, Rick Estrin, and Rod Piazza. They were playing that swinging style of blues. Back then, I had never played with a harmonica player. I was so wrapped up in Chicago and a heavy Texas thing that I didn’t know how to play that style, almost a fundamental jazz thing.

“I’m a different animal. I am a power player, playing strictly from the soul. That doesn’t mean that these other guitarists don’t do that as well. Those guys are technicians. I can be a technician too, play fast and slick. But I refer back to some of my big influences like Albert King, and Freddie King, even some of B.B’s slick stuff, and Earl Hooker, they are all amazing musicians. Their styles were so raw and in your face, so heartfelt. I’m not here to show anybody up. I just want to play songs and be respectful. If you give me some room, I’m going to cut loose.

“All of us in the band know that we are not going to fit in with the other West coast players. My style is greasy Texas-style grinders. Kim Wilson lives near me, and has come out to sit in with us. How cool is it to have Kim and Kid Ramos on stage with your band, and then Kirk Fletcher shows up to add his guitar to the mix. He and Kim were together in one line-up of the Fabulous Thunderbirds. I recently posted something on Facebook with me and Kirk cutting heads. We both were really going for it. I had heard a lot about him. He is something special, definitely a master of all of the blues guitar styles.

IMAGE“I think I am probably the most under-rated guitar player on the scene. Everyone thought that on the 44’s albums Boogie Disease, Americana, and Twist The Knife, that all of solos were done by Kid Ramos, or Junior Watson on the last one. People thought that I just did the vocals, but that is not the case. I did all of the singing and the guitar solos. Kid and Junior were playing rhythm guitar on our records. That is why I think I am under-rated. Anybody that has seen me playing locally knows that I am a guitar slinger. I try to be respectable, don’t toot my own horn. I’ve just been trying to find my own voice on guitar.”

The first band that Main joined was called Smokehouse, playing slimy bars for $20 per member for about two years. Next up was a stint in the Healers, giving him another opportunity to strengthen his chops. When the time came to move on, the guitarist had a plan in mind.

“The 44s band is a creation that I had in mind for a long time. That was when we started to cut loose and take off. There was a local harp player out here, Lester Butler, who had a band called the Red Devils. He passed away in 1998. I never met him, didn’t know much about him, but I caught on to his stuff later in life. I thought his stuff was right up our alley, a four piece band with a harmonica player.

“We were striving to be that in-your-face roadhouse band, with music that would punch you in the face, then we’d steal your lunch money, then buy you lunch and send you on your way. We wanted to be that rough and tumble band, with all of the tattoos and the whole look, kind of like punk rock blues. But we always stayed real traditional, never stepping out of the box into rock music. I had paid my dues, touring, playing covers in Sturgis for seven years. Eventually you decide that the art is more important than just going out to play gigs.

“As far as songwriting, James Harman is the cat for me out here. He doesn’t do covers, he sings his own shit. It’s not every day that you get to play with one of your idols. I did a lot of research on James, and Hollywood Fats plus Kid when they were both playing guitar in Harman’s band. I got to do a tour with him. He was like a dad to me, particularly on the business aspects. James is a very unique individual, a powerhouse vocalist. There is something so silky smooth about the way he sings, particularly with his Alabama accent. He was one of the coaches that helped me get to the next level.

“Once the 44s were formed in 2006, that’s when we got real busy. Our first record, Boogie Disease, did pretty well when it came out. People were curious about us. The follow-up record, Americana, shot off because it featured original songs. We still kept things in the blues vein with slide guitar, boogies, slow blues, some cool, funky Texas meets Chicago stuff. After that, we didn’t do a record for seven years. There was some in-house band stuff going on that wasn’t cool. We were just stale, so I was changing band members. And I had to get positive, so I dumped a lot of baggage and kept it to myself. I did pick up a harp player, Eric Von Herzen. He and I have been working together for several years.”

Main and Von Herzen are working on a new 44s album with one session already in the can. They have enlisted an impressive list of musicians for support on the project.

“There will be three sessions, with the second one coming up shortly. We brought in pro players, with Gary Ferguson from Gary Moore’s band on drums, and Bill Stuve on bass. He has been with Rod Piazza, Harman, and many other great bands. Kid Ramos will be helping out on rhythm guitar. We are in a safe studio environment, everybody is wearing a mask, and we are ten feet away from each other. Everyone is isolated in five different rooms. No high-fives, no hugs, nothing!

image“Our last disc, Twist The Knife, was all covers. We needed to put something out to remind people that we were still here. So it had to get it done fast. I’m not sure how well it did. It was short, with only eight songs. The new recording will feature original material. The first four songs we did were kind of like Gary Clark Jr. meets Doyle Bramhall meets Freddie King. For the session coming up, we will be working on four more tunes that come out of John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King, some Albert King and the Fabulous Thunderbirds..

“When we got through the first session, we were looking at each other going, Dude, every song is averaging seven & a half to eight minutes. The sound engineer was telling us that the songs were pretty long. To be honest, none of us had played in so long, because of the lock-down for five months, so nobody wanted to stop playing! So we had to shorten a few things. We plan on having a few special guests as well. We are thinking of calling it Super Sessions.

“Eric and I are funding the entire project so that we maintain complete control. We weren’t totally satisfied with the mixing and mastering on the last album. Now we are going back to the guy that did a killer job on my first two records. He is that much better, so that is who I want to stick with. He’s had 14 years of practice. A lot of people are sitting around bumming out because they can’t do live shows. We are in the studio, writing songs, and creating art.”

The band recently got an offer to do a live show in Costa Mesa. Main contacted the band members to check to see who would be comfortable playing live. The rhythm section was not up for it, while Main, Von Herzen, and Kid Ramos wanted to do the gig. Such is life for musicians during the pandemic, with everyone wanting to be safe and yet defining safety in a variety of ways.

“But at least I’ve had the time to sit back and listen to other artists. I’ve watched plenty of YouTube videos of country artists like Chris Stapleton, some bluegrass, and other genres. My wife works from home, so I get to run amok in the house. I worked on putting new tubes in my amps and built a guitar just to stay busy. I wanted to stay away from the news.”

The guitarist has found some ways to make life more interesting during his down time.

“In front of my house, I have two life-size statues of the Blues Brothers. The are six feet tall, Jake and Elwood. What happens is that whoever the mail-person is gets weirded out when they see John Belushi standing there with his hand out. So they will place the package on top of his hand. He has a microphone in his other hand, looking like he is singing praises to the Lord. It’s funny to watch, because they always put the package on his outstretched hand! I sit there watching out my bay windows, laughing at their reactions.”

There has been other good news that has come Main’s way this year, adding more excitement to his life.

“I got a guitar endorsement, then I got an amplifier endorsement. I’m thinking, wow, you guys must be really bored if you are tracking me down! I was messing around the other day with the new combo. Things have been a bit depressing. So I put my phone in my golf shoe to record a video of me on the new guitar and amp, which I then loaded onto Facebook. I was rocking out with a Univibe phaseshifter and Tube Screamer with some reverb.

“It has been hard to focus on music. For a few months I didn’t touch my guitar. I couldn’t go get strings from a guitar shop because they were closed. I tried ordering some on-line. It took four to five weeks to get them. Half the time they didn’t show up or were the wrong size.

“Soon, I will be getting a custom Grez Mendecino guitar. I tried one at the NAMM show in January. They let me take it to play on my shows. Then in March we get locked out. The builder, Barry Grzebik, is in San Jose, in the Bay area up by San Francisco, so I couldn’t get it back to him. I used it on the recordings we have done so far for the new album. Kid Andersen has a Grez, and so does Matt Hill, Laura Chavez, Nick Moss, and Johnny “The Cat” Soubrand. It was by far the best guitar I’ve played. Mine will be a one-of-a-kind custom model.

image“I met Barry at Kid Ramos’s birthday party in January. I told him that I always wanted to play a Mendocino model. He replied, I’ve got one right here, try it out. On the back of the headstock, it was signed by Kid Andersen. Barry said that Kid had tried it out for quite some time. I figured if Kid had it, that’s good enough. Later, Kid asked Barry whatever happened to that Mendocino that he liked. Barry told him that Johnny Main has it. Kid was like, Johnny Main has it, he’s my mini-clone. We both have beards and are stout guys. But I’m short, so it’s like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito!

“Then for the amplifier, I will be using a Nelson amp. They are built in Costa Mesa by Kevin Nelson. The guy was an amp builder for Fender for twenty years. I stumbled across one, which he was selling at a fair market price. Eric, my harp player, bought the other matching one. It is like a Fender Tweed Deluxe, with point-to-point wiring, 6L6 and 12AX7 tubes, and a solid state rectifier. And it is a flip top. The tubes stick up on the top of the amp. It only has two knobs, volume and tone. It is pushing 22 watts with 125 watt speaker output. It is unbelievably powerful and responsive. I love playing my cherry red ES335 Dot guitar through it. It’s probably the best amp I’ve ever played”

From 2006 to 2010, the band was on the road a lot, doing more than 200 shows a year. As you would expect, Main has plenty of stories to tell from his years of touring. Not all of them can be shared in a public forum. But he has his favorites, including one about a night in Chicago some years ago.

“Billy Branch had a weekly jam that ran for years. My harp player at that time, Tex Nakamura, is of Japanese descent. He would dress like a gangster. A Chicago musician, Morry Sochat, gave us a ride there and dropped us off. He had no interest in going into the club. When we walked in, everything stopped like somebody pulled the needle off the record. It was solid black inside. Our bass player was a tall Italian guy, all tattooed. You got me with all the tattoos, and Tex looking gangster. Billy yelled out, hey the 44s are here! Then everything was cool, because Billy knew us, so the music started up again. It seemed like they thought we walked in looking for a fight. But we just wanted to play blues. It was a blast. I also made a stop at the Chicago Music Exchange that trip, but I couldn’t afford anything in there.

“Doing over 200 shows, playing five nights a week, is hard on your voice, especially when you are giving it your all. So I had to readjust set lists because I can hang in there for three shows but then my voice needs a rest. Keep in mind we are driving in the van from show to show, with everybody talking. And, of course, there was alcohol involved too! I wasn’t drinking hot tea with lemon. We were hardcore road warriors, playing all over the country and the world.

“I put so much time into this, so many years, that it is gratifying when you finally get to see some payoff. All I wanted was to be respected by my musical peers. I certainly didn’t get into this to be famous. You want to be the best you can be creatively, so you put the blinders on, put your nose to the ground, and focus straight ahead on being a professional musician. You have to be mentally strong in addition to making smart business decisions.

“Some of us can’t do that, They get out there and suddenly the train is running off the tracks. It has always been me doing this shit myself. At the end of the day, I hire and fire. So I have to keep my shit together in order to keep the train running smoothly. The other life lessons you have to learn are to be humble, and be nice. You learn that from experience.

“I’ve had a lot of loss in my life. If I can get can get over all of it without going nuts or killing myself, we can all make it through the situation with this virus. We just need to keep our heads, keep your wits about you, and have respect for people, because you don’t know everyone’s story. And when the new record comes out, it is going to be wicked!’

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 6 

imageNeil Barnes – Bald Guy with a Lot on His Mind

Bar-B-Q Sound Recordings BBQSR 2020

10 songs – 45 minutes

www.neilbarnesmusic.com

San Francisco-based harp player Neil Barnes pulls out all the stops for his latest CD, enlisting the services of studio wizards Kid Anderson and Big Jon Atkinson and assembling an all-star lineup to deliver a set of the tastiest West Coast blues you’ll hear this year.

A product of the ‘60s influenced by Paul Butterfield and Lee Oskar, he was so enamored of the playing of Charlie Musselwhite that he caught as many of his shows as he could and then actually took a private lesson from him after getting up the courage to ask for one. His primary teacher, however, was the exceptionally gifted Gary Smith, the godfather of the South Bay Area blues scene.

He’s has been a recording artist since fronting the band Bar-B-Que Barnes and the Rib-Tones in the early ‘80s, a group that gigged with San Francisco stalwarts Johnny Waters and Sonny Lane and recorded 45s with keyboard player Little Willie Littlefield, the first man ever to record “Kansas City,” as well as guitarists Ron Thompson and Junior Watson and bassist Bill Stuve, the longtime member of Rod Piazza’s band. A self-titled EP followed a few years later before Barnes began working in an acoustic duo.

A deserving, but under-recorded artist who shies away from the microphone, Neil’s released two CDs in the past decade, This Was Then Now in 2012 and the well-received Hyde and Seek in 2014, an album that featured contributions from soul/gospel superstar Earl Thomas and Lady Bianca, a veteran of Sly & the Family Stone and Van Morrison, on vocals.

Barnes has devoted most of his time behind the scenes producing works for other artists — most recently a digital gospel release for Lady Bianca, but this one was recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studios, Big Jon Atkinson’s at Bigtone Studios and Hyde Park Studios. Both Thomas and Lady B. return on vocals along with the sultry Lauren Halliwell and former Candye Kane guitarist Kyle Jester.

The lineup’s chockful of talent, including Johnny Cat Soubrand (Terry Hanck Band), Andersen, Atkinson and Thompson in some of his final recordings on guitar, Sid Morris, Lady B. and Paul Smith on keyboards, June Core, Winfred Williams and Robi Bean on drums, Mike Phillips, Oshmin O. Oden and Vance Elhers on bass.

Propelled by a funky bass line from Phillips, the sweet, original instrumental “Going to Greaseland (aka Cruisin’ Down Crystal Ridge)” swings from the jump to open with Morris leading the action on keys and Barnes providing harp accents before Soubrand and Andersen trade licks as they join the action. Halliwell rich alto debuts for the first time on a stellar, blues-drenched, unhurried cover of Dinah Washington’s “I Don’t Hurt Anymore.”

Lady B. and Thomas take charge on the mic — sharing vocals with Bianca on keys — for the gospel-tinged “Rough Side of the Mountain” – the first of two consecutive previously tunes that went unreleased after the Hide and Seek sessions. She’s aided by Thompson’s low-end runs on six-string. He adds an interesting, minor-key lead in “Sugar Mamma,” next. It’s a stripped-down blues in which Neil’s harp skills shine accompanied only by drums.

Halliwell’s back in charge for a full-bore blues redo of The Band’s “Ophelia” before an instrumental take on Chuck Berry’s “Deep Feeling.” Once the B-side to “School Day,” Barnes is front and center on this one, delivering powerful single-note runs. His original, “Placerville Gold,” which follows with Jester at the mic, draws its inspiration from Neil’s wife, who once owned a coffee shop in town in the Sierra Nevada foothills.

“Wait, Wait, Wait” – a tune first recorded by Tracy Nelson when she was a member of Mother Earth in the ‘60s – follows before a take on Ray Charles’ “Funny but I Still Love You” with Halliwell more than holding her own on both. The disc concludes with Jester delivering the original, “Along Came the Blues,” a down-to-earth reminder that no matter how good things are going right now, they could change in a heartbeat.

Like Hide and Seek six years ago, Bald Guy with a Lot on His Mind is a pleaser on all counts and a welcome addition to any blues lover’s collection.

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 – 2 of 6 

imageBette Smith – The Good, The Bad And The Bette

Ruf Records – 2020

10 tracks; 40 minutes

www.bettesmith.com

Bette Smith’s previous release Jetlagger (2017) made a strong impression and the Brooklyn native has again ventured to Mississippi to record this follow-up. The Drive-By Truckers rhythm section (Matt Patton, bass, Bronson Tew, drums) provides a solid base and acted as producers of the album, with the intention of drawing out Bette’s rock side whilst retaining the blend of gospel and soul influences that were so apparent on Jetlagger. Musicians involved include no fewer than eight guitarists while multi-instrumentalist Henry Westmoreland plays all the horn parts as well as organ. The material comes from a number of sources, including three written by Bette and Matt Patton but the songs are linked to a theme of finding oneself, from childhood in a rough neighbourhood to understanding how to build solid relationships as an adult. Bette’s raspy, soulful voice delivers the songs well, bringing vintage Tina Turner to mind.

“Fistful Of Dollars” leads off, the title of Lonnie Shields’ song perhaps influencing the album title too. Over jagged guitars and a horn-drenched arrangement Bette sings a song clearly written from the man’s point of view, needing more money to keep up with his partner. The emotional “Whistle Stop” finds Bette singing about her mother’s passing on a quiet, lush ballad before we get two songs written by Vermont songwriter Tyler Dawson: the title “I’m A Sinner” suggests that we may be delving into Bette’s gospel roots but it’s actually a real rocker with pounding piano with Jimbo Matthus featured on guitar; the distorted guitar and ‘freaky’ solo make the short “I Felt It Too” a fairly uncomfortable listen. In complete contrast “Signs And Wonders” has a soulful feel with Luther Dickinson guesting on country-tinged guitar, the song credited to John St Mar Kveen about whom I could find no information at all.

Bette’s “Human” is a centrepiece, a song of gratitude for learning how to love unconditionally, something Bette attributes to her dog who, she says, taught her trust and vulnerability; Jeremiah is also featured on the cover and gets his own ‘thank you’ in the sleevenotes! Played over a wash of wah guitar this one is a rocker with heart and is immediately followed by Bette’s third original, “Song For A Friend”, a gentle song of farewell with fine harmonies. “Pine Belt Blues” is a chugging rocker penned by Elliott McPherson of Alabama rock band The Dexateens which has an anthemic chorus with Bette well supported by the backing vocalists. Eddie Hinton is the source for “Everybody Needs Love” which may well be this reviewer’s favourite track on the album with its catchy tune, uplifting lyrics and powerful choral vocals on which Patterson Hood (another Drive By-Trucker) chips in. The album closes with “Don’t Skip Out On Me”, a song (and also a novel) written by Willy Vlautin, frontman of Richmond Fontaine, Bette accompanied by acoustic guitar and soaring pedal steel before multi-tracked trumpets come in half way through this tale of loneliness and despair.

This is an interesting album with songs that clearly resonate with Bette and bring out strong vocal performances. There is little actual blues here and it is arguably less of a soul album than Jetlagger was, but it is definitely worthy of your attention.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageSugar Ray and the Bluetones featuring Little Charlie – Too Far From The Bar

Severn Records

www.sugarrayandthebluetones.com

15 songs – 64 minutes

After meeting while on tour for a Mark Hummel project that honored Little Walter, Sugar Ray Norcia and guitarist Little Charlie Baty started discussions about making a record together. It took some years to make it happen, Sadly, Baty tragically passed away earlier this year before the disc was ready for release. He gets things rolling with a quick guitar statement on “Don’t Give No More Than You Can Take,” written by Lowman Pauling of the “5” Royales. Then the veteran rhythm section of Michael ‘Mudcat’ Ward on bass and Neil Gouvin on drums jumps in, laying down a tight groove with Anthony Geraci on piano filling out the arrangement. Once Norcia’s smooth voice takes over, the party is in full swing. Baty delivers a perfectly phrased guitar break that leads into Norcia’s dynamic harp blowing.

The harp is at the forefront of another classic cover, “Bluebird Blues” from Sonny Boy Williamson I (John Lee Williamson). Norcia coaxes plenty of beautifully crafted licks out of his harmonica, perfectly framing his forlorn vocal. The mood shifts into high gear on the original title cut, an up-tempo romp with Baty turning things inside out with one of his patented, twisting guitar soliloquies. “Numb And Dumb” is a Norcia original that finds the leader down in the dumps over a no-good woman, with his harmonica, Baty’s guitar, and booze as his only sources of comfort. Another of his originals, “Walk Me Home,” is a steady-rolling shuffle that opens with a long harp solo, then features Geraci’s intricate piano fills wrapped around another one of Baty’s biting forays.

Ward contributed two songs to the program. The first, “What I Put You Through,” has a late-night jazz feel, and is one of four tracks that feature producer Duke Robillard on guitar. He spins a series of compelling rounds with a relaxed delivery that fits the track’s mood. Ward also penned the humorous “The Night I Got Pulled Over,” as Norcia recounts the tale of a very late-night, post-gig encounter with a very serious member of law enforcement. Geraci reminds listeners why he has received numerous award nominations while Baty and Robillard engage in some subtle interplay on the talking slow blues. “From The Horses Mouth,” penned by Geraci, is another earthy shuffle with Norcia’s voice full of the excitement over his new love interest.

A cover of “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” displays the depth of Norcia’s understanding of Little Walter’s harmonica legacy, with another spot-on vocal turn. Geraci steps into the spotlight again on “What Will Be Become Of Me,” a tune written by the piano legend Otis Spann. He treats listeners to a masterful rendition of Spann’s style. Things slip into overdrive with Baty getting solo honors on a frantic run-through of Jerry McCain’s “My Next Door Neighbor.” Robillard delivers another nuanced solo while Norcia shines with a knowingly weathered vocal on the classic “I Gotta Right To Sing The Blues,” another standout track.

The proceedings veer into a tear-in-my-beer ballad, with Norcia nailing the vocal on “Too Little Too Late.” He gets some extended time to try to blow his harp on the original instrumental “Reel Burner.” A second version is included at the end of the disc, with a slightly shorter running time and an equally inspired harp attack.

While some might be expecting plenty of instrumental fireworks from this impressive line-up, these veterans stay focused on the songs, given each of them room to breathe. With four top-rank soloists, the spotlight gets passed around, with Norcia, Geraci, Baty and Robillard making concise statements with plenty of staying power. There is plenty to savor on this album, with more elements coming to the fore with each listen. It’s the blues from start to finish, certainly one of the finest records that this year will have to offer!

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 – 4 of 6 

imageBig Pacific – Welcome to the Party

Self-produced CD

12 songs – 47 minutes

www.bigpacificband.com

Based out of Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Big Pacific is a four-piece ensemble of veteran Canadian musicians who deliver guitar-driven music that melds West Coast blues and classic-sounding rock into a pleasant, original sound that’s all their own.

Led by guitarist/vocalist Roly Sandoval, a native of Calgary who’s been active in bands and as a studio musician since the ‘80s, they produce strong, deep-in-the-pocket grooves and highly danceable, melodic themes throughout this all-original set, a follow-up to their first release, Jones’n for the Road.

He’s backed by an all-veteran lineup. Drummer Nick Dokter’s originally from South Africa and started playing professionally at age 14. Prior to migrating to Canada, he was based out of Europe, where he was a studio musician at several venues, including Pye Records – the label created by Petula Clark’s father and produced The Kinks, Brotherhood of Man and other international stars.

Keyboard player John “Johnny Blitz” Hannah doubles on vocals and guitar and has an extensive background that includes eight years as a touring member of Bryan Adams’ band, two more with Heart and appearances on both the David Letterman Show and at The Princess Diana Trust Concert. A native of Nanaimo, where the band’s based, bassist Wayne Veillet, meanwhile, has been a longtime presence on the local scene.

Fat guitar licks open “Welcome to the Party” before the band quickly joins in. It’s a loping, medium-paced shuffle that announces that they’re ready to travel from Nanaimo to Newfoundland to do the best they can as they invite fans to join in and enjoy the action. Sandoval’s range is somewhat limited, but his voice is inviting, and the full group provides choral accompaniment on the chorus.

The tempo picks up, but the feel remains the same for “Bad Girl,” a stop-time rocker with a classic rock feel, and “Rack ‘em Up,” which describes a Saturday night out with a long-legged lady with red hair, before Hannah’s keys come to the fore for “Slip Away,” a hard shuffle with layered vocals that urges a reluctant lover to join in on a secret liaison.

“Lovin’ Arms” is a guitar-driven rocker with an old-school feel that keeps the feeling going before yielding to “Here on the East Side,” a powerful tribute to the band’s favorite part of town. The soulful ballad “Hard Road” instantly changes the feel as it reflects on the intimacy of a relationship and the strength the lady needs to maintain when the lovers are apart.

The band kicks into high gear for the driving original, “California Girl,” which wonders what the title beauty did to make the singer feels the need to dance with her until morning comes. Unfortunately, the feeling isn’t mutual because the woman slips away in the rocker “Run to the Night.” “Blue Moon Blues,” a super-fast shuffle, celebrates a reunion before the acoustic ballads “As We Go” and “Here’s to Yesterday” end the action.

Available through multiple online vendors and as a disc or digital download from the band’s website (above), this one’s perfect if you remember pet rocks, leisure suits and yearn for the throwback sound of the ‘70s – from which this band draws its roots. The album’s pleasant and the band probably rocks it in a bar, but this one would need a major infusion of true blues to maintain a blues fan’s interest.

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 – 5 of 6 

imageCrooked Eye Tommy – Hot Coffee And Pain

Blue Heart Records – 2020

9 tracks; 49 minutes

www.crookedeyetommy.com

Crooked Eye Tommy made a strong impression with their debut release Butterflies And Snakes back in 2015. The band is led by brothers Tommy and Paddy Marsh, the strange name deriving from Tommy’s eye condition. As on Butterflies And Snakes the artwork is distinctive and striking. The brothers both play guitar, sing and write, and between them contribute six originals, alongside three covers. The rhythm section is bassist Samuel Correa and drummer Charlie McClure, Craig Williams adds sax to five numbers and keyboard man Jimmy Calire plays Hammond B3 on most tunes as well as adding to the horn section on four cuts for which he wrote the arrangements. Teresa James guests on vocals and piano on one track.

Son House’s “Death Letter Blues” has long been a popular choice to cover with strong interpretations in recent years from Sugaray Rayford and The Hitman Blues Band. CET do a good job with a medium-paced version. All the songs here have plenty of space for the brothers to show their chops but never run to excess and “Death Letter” is no exception as the two guitars snake across each other. Tommy sings this one but Paddy takes over for his “Sitting In The Driveway”, a slow blues in which the guy is hesitant about going into his house as he has been fired and spent the day in the bar! Tommy laments lost love in a soulful setting on the title track with the first involvement of the horns – a sure-fire winner for lovers of soul-blues with a fine sax solo to top it off. Things get heavier with the chugging riff of Paddy’s “Twist The Sky”.

If anything the second half of the album is even stronger, starting with Teresa James sitting in on “Baby Where You Been?”, sharing vocals with Tommy on a slower tune, again with soulful elements which are underlined by the horn arrangement. “Angel Of Mercy” was first recorded on Mike Henderson and the Bluebloods’ 1999 album Thicker Than Water and is here given a tough reading with horns and plenty of guitar. Paddy’s slow tune “The Time It Takes To Live” has some psychedelic guitar phrasing and, at over seven minutes, affords plenty of space for the brothers to weave their patterns, including some dual guitar lines that, inevitably, bring The Allmans to mind. That is probably deliberate as Tommy’s instrumental “The Big House” is next up, a tribute to the ABB and named after the place that is now the band’s official museum in Macon, GA. The tune captures the lightness of touch that the original ABB had on so many of its instrumentals and the duelling guitars, a swinging rhythm section and the B3 certainly evoke the brothers at their best. Hard to follow that, but CET offers up another favourite of many a band, Sonny Landreth’s “Congo Square”, using a full-band production with a blazing horn arrangement, bringing the album to a stirring finale.

Blending elements of Southern Rock, soul and blues, Crooked Eye Tommy has produced another album well worth hearing.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageLucius Parr – Blues and Me: Going to Texas

Self-produced CD

12 songs – 48 minutes

www.luciusparrband.com

Phoenix, Ariz.-based vocalist Lucius Parr is an old-school bluesman with strong Texas roots, which comes through loud and clear on this pleasant mix of soul-drenched music that’s chockful of stinging, single-note guitar runs and themes that deal with differing angles of romance.

A Vietnam War vet who picked cotton as a child while growing up in the small town of Yoakum in the Lone Star State, Parr comes from a poor, but musical family. He grew up listening to the recordings of Albert Collins — one of his cousins, B.B. King and others, and built his own cigar-box guitar at age ten. He was an all-state trombonist in high school who didn’t receive his first real six-string until graduating from high school with honors.

Before relocating to Arizona, played guitar in bands while attending Quinn College in Waco on a music scholarship. He was still in his teens when he backed his first big star, Etta James. Initially the point man in an Infantry unit at the front in Vietnam, after auditioning on bass and trombone, he eventually became a member of an Army band that entertained troops across Southeast Asia.

Parr’s served in a support position for vocalists Bettye Swan and Mary Wells and spent 20 years as a member of the Charlie Daniels Band in addition to launching a career as a front man with releases under his own name going back to the early 2000s. The liner notes for this album are limited, and it appears that Lucius handles almost all of the instrumentation throughout aided only by Miss Cubase, aka Teira Doom, who adds keys on the opening cut, and James Tobin, who delivers sax lines on the closer.

The all-original, 12-tune set opens with “Going to Texas” — but don’t be mistaken, it’s not a tribute to his former home. It was warning to his woman that he’s getting ready to leave without her to hook up with his other gal. Like all many of the Lone Star State guitar slingers who’ve preceded him, Parr’s guitar licks are crisp, clean and come with a sting – something that becomes immediately apparent from the opening notes of “Hot Outside,” a slow-blues pleaser in which he refuses an invite to return from his lady after she’s already kicked him out.

The sound takes a right-hand turn into Southern soul, but the theme continues with the medium-fast shuffle, “I’m Through with You,” and then slows dramatically for the unhurried true blues ballad, “Meet Me Halfway,” which gives Lucius more space to display his chops. The tempo heats again for the driving shuffle, “It’s Friday Night,” which finds the singer dealing with a woman who’s never available, but he still insists that they should party everything’s all right.

Soul-blues returns for “Look Me in the Eyes,” which demands the lady pay attention when Parr’s talking, before the pace quickens slightly for “This I Know,” which announces he knows she’s cheating. The azure ballad, “Play My Blues,” dips into Southern soul once more as it suggests spinning the singer’s tunes any time someone starts talking down to his lady love.

“Lock My Doors” comes across with a Windy City feel from its step-down guitar run opener as Lucius tells his ex to stop knocking on his door before the soul-blues, “You Were Drunk,” complains that the woman of his desire was so tipsy, she didn’t know who he was the next day after giving him her phone number. The jazzy “Welcome into My House” follows before the funkified title cut, “Play My Guitar,” finds Lucius housebound because of COVID-19 instead of clubbing with his lady and making music.

Blues and Me is as comfortable as an old pair of shoes if, like me, you have a strong love for Southern soul or soul blues. It’s Available through Apple Music, Amazon and Spotify.

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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