Issue 14-4 January 23, 2020

Cover photo © 2020 Bob Kieser


 In This Issue 

Mike Stephenson has our feature interview with Blues legend Jimmy Johnson. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Tinsley Ellis, Jimmy Pritchard, Lloyd Spiegel, Leaving Spirit, Fillmore Slim and Mark Crissinger.

Our Video of the Week is Jimmy Johnson and Billy Branch.

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


 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blue Fans,

2020 is here and we continue to bring you the best in Blues.

When we get to run a real Blueman’s story and a video like we have in this weeks issue with Jimmy Jonson it excites me and reminds me of the Blues passion that has kept me publishng this weekly magazine for the last 14 years. This is the real deal!

I have had the pleasure of seeing Jimmy Johnson perform every year for the last 4 years. This 91 year YOUNG man still has blues fire in his soul!

Check out Jimmy’s website when you are in Chicago at https://jimmyjohnsonblues.com/myevents/ Catch a show of this amazing bluesman! You will be glad you did!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser


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 Featured Interview – Jimmy Johnson 

imageI was born in a little town in Mississippi called Holly Springs on November 25th 1928, the same year that Mickey Mouse was created and the same year they invented television and the year they invented penicillin, so it was a good year. I looked on the internet and found out all those things. My real name is James Thompson. I come from a very musical family, my father, Sam, he played harmonica and guitar but he wasn’t professional, he played at parties. He never recorded or nothing like that but his harmonica playing, I had never heard nobody play like that. I wish I had some of that on tape, I think my brother may have. When I was growing up, we had guitars all around and all the guys would sit around and play guitars and I used to bang around on one when I was young. Matt Murphy, he owned a guitar I didn’t own one and he learned how to play before I did. Matt Murphy moved from Memphis to Holly Springs so we were neighbors.

There were quite a few guys around our home that played guitar, but not professionally. When I went to high school they had like a gym and they had a piano behind a curtain, and I used to spend all my time during breaks, behind that curtain playing that piano and I did that for about a year and a half, and that’s how I learnt how to play a little bit of piano. I would go behind that curtain and learn the piano and in my head I could find the notes on the piano. The first thing I learnt how to play was ‘My Mama Done Told Me’. I tried to play boogiewoogie but I never did get that down, but I never liked boogiewoogie as well as I did like jazz and blues. When I was at school I was in the church and that was my first time in singing on the stage. I don’t remember the song that I sang but I was eight years old. I wasn’t in the choir, I sang solo and I guess I was born with this old piece of voice. My voice hasn’t disappeared on me over the years.

My family was a farming family and when I was a boy there was some things my mother didn’t explain to me, because my father would be gone and I don’t know why and then he would come back around. In my early days he was not a farmer, I have no clue what he was doing. I know he was a carpenter, he built houses and stuff. My grandfather was the one that taught me how to plow with the mule. When my grandfather put me out in the field by myself, I was about eight or nine. I was scared, as I was a little boy and all the woods around. My old mule was a very smart mule and I wrote a song about her and her name was May. She was one of the smartest mules you ever saw in your life. I think that mule would have protected me. In the country you didn’t have no clock out there with you. They used to have a bell and when you heard that bell ring at twelve o’clock you went home to eat and the mule went home to eat and get water. If the bell rang she wouldn’t go any further in that field, absolutely not, so she was very smart. She would walk around the plough so I could get on her back so as to go get food and water. I changed her name to Willie and, as I said, I wrote a song about her but I didn’t record it. It’s like a country song.

After high school I was still in Mississippi. I left Mississippi when I was sixteen and I went to Memphis. I did quite a few different jobs when I was there, but my last job was for two or three months at the Peabody Hotel. I was a bell hop. I wasn’t doing any music when I was in Memphis. One of my cousins, he helped me out when I first left home for Memphis; me and him were staying together but then I got me a room and I was paying $4.50 a month for it. I was in Memphis for three years but wasn’t doing music at all, I was basically trying to survive with different jobs. Some of the jobs were hard to handle, as I was a very small kid. When I was sixteen I weighed 120 Pounds and I was only 5’5’’.

imageBack then, in the late forties, the music you heard was mostly country and western. So country and western has had an influence on my music. When I was in Memphis my uncle, W.T. Smith, my mama’s brother who was a minister, lived here in Chicago. He wrote me a card and told me he was coming down to Memphis and he asked me if I wanted to go back to Chicago with him. So wow, did I! I think this was the end of 1949 and I hooked up with him in Holly Springs and came to Chicago in his car, and I was nineteen at that time.

When I got to Chicago, like a lot of the guys tell stories about how hard a time they had when they got here, but I had it made. I stayed with my uncle and the third day I was here I had a job where he was working. He was working at this place called Harrison Sheet Metal and he was the crane operator, so my job at first was as a shear cutter, like cutting steel in all shapes. I did that for a short length of time, then I was a welder’s helper, and I used to watch him and when he would leave to take a break I would take the torch up and weld and, within a year, he told the boss how good I was at welding and after that I became a welder I didn’t have to go to school. I was a class A combination welder and I earned big dough and that is what kept me away from music for so long, as I was making a lot of money compared to what I had been earning, which was $14 a week plus tips at the Peabody Hotel. When I first got to Chicago I was living on the west side, on Ashland and Roosevelt. I played some piano in church for the junior choir when I got to Chicago.

When I first started thinking about music Magic Sam moved next door to me and he was about fourteen at that time. He had an old acoustic guitar that had one string on it and he didn’t have no money, but I had money because I was a welder, so I told him I would buy him a set of strings and about a week later I thought, this cat could play and I got a little bit interested in it. I used to get me a brand new car mostly every year, so I didn’t worry about any music back then, and then Magic Sam got himself a hit record ‘All Your Love’ and I would go with him to hear him play, and people used to go crazy when he was on stage and I said to myself, ‘I can do this’.

Then in 1958 I bought me a guitar in January, and all I did was practice on that guitar, but my uncle didn’t like it because we lived upstairs over the church. I used to go down there and play the piano and when he wasn’t around I used to play blues on the piano, I wasn’t that good though. He told me it was devil’s music and he put me out, but after three days he told me I couldn’t be out there in this big old city, so he asked me to come back and he said if I wanted to lose my soul then go ahead.

Billy Boy Arnold sold me that guitar, it was a semi acoustic guitar ,and on July 4th I got a gig but I couldn’t play that well and they fired me after the first night. I had money so I went and bought me a Stratocaster and somewhere in the fall I got another gig, and the guy Slim Willis, who used to call himself Harmonica Slim, he was always a good singer and he told me that I didn’t play that well but I had good potential and he said he would keep me with him, and I learnt how to play. This was blues stuff and we played at a place on the west side on Madison.

imageThere is a story here: the club got burned up and this guy was off a little bit as someone had made him mad and they put him out, and he went and got a can of gas and came back and people was sitting there looking at him and he poured the gas all over the floor and he took a match and threw it up in the air and the place went up in flames and thirteen people died. We weren’t playing there at the time. At another club we played, we took an intermission and when we came back my guitar was gone. I got on the stage looking around and I thought the band were kidding me and then it dawned on me that my guitar was gone. Guess who was in the house that day? It was Freddy King and he lived right around the corner from the club. He let me play one of his guitars which was a Les Paul and I played it for a week or so, and then I went and bought a Gibson 335 and that’s what I have played most of my life.

I was with Slim Willis for maybe a year and a half and we did all blues. I was going to school for music downtown at Boston Music College for six months and the guy there taught me the fundamentals on the guitar and taught me how to play waltz and polkas and stuff. Then I got with Reginald Boyd and he taught a whole lot of us like Matt Murphy, Fenton Robinson, Luther Tucker, Lacy Gibson and my brother. He taught jazz, some blues too and I learnt jazz chords from him.

After I left Slim Willis, I got a band together and we played top forty stuff, we called ourselves Jimmy Johnson And The Lucky Hearts. This was maybe 1961. We played clubs and back in the day there was clubs on every corner almost. I played seven nights a week and I was trying to work in the daytime and I decided that something had to go. They told me how stupid I was to quit my job to play music but I had to do something, as I was burning the candle at both ends. I was a good worker, so when I quit to play music the boss told me that I could come back anytime, so I thought if the music hits a brick wall, I can go back. When I quit welding I thought that I didn’t want to go back to welding again, I would go and do something else.

I had that band until the late sixties and then it faded. I also played and backed up a lot of artists as a sideman and some were a drag to play with and some of them didn’t pay you nothing, so that was rough, and the gigs were disappearing as well. DJs came in the clubs and took over with their big speakers. We played in white clubs as well and they paid well and things were very segregated back then and we couldn’t socialize in those clubs back then. One time I was with a band playing the Holiday Inn circuit but that was very boring. This was a five piece band with horns. We did mostly instrumentals because the audience, all they wanted to hear was the melodies of standard tunes.

I made up my mind to quit music and I got a job driving a taxi, and that was a terrible job driving the yellow cab. That was starvation and you only got forty per cent of the money you took and you had to pay for your own gas. My check for the week was $5.50 and I had a wife and three little children. They gave me a taxi that had bad brakes and bad steering, and I just walked out of that job. So I got me what they now call a Uber cab, it wasn’t legal though but it saw me through. You had to work from a stand, you couldn’t pick people up from the streets, that was the law, and I did that for a while and I had only quit music for a few months though. This was now in the early seventies. I picked up some ladies on the west side in my taxi and they were going to a club and they insisted that I went in the club with them. The people playing in the club I knew and they asked me to sit in with them, so after that I thought I had to get back into music. I was in my cab one day and they called me and told me that there was a guy named Jimmy Dawkins who wanted me to call him. I had heard of him but I didn’t know him.

So I called him up and he asked me if I would like to gig with him and go on the road with him, and I told him I would get back to him in a couple of weeks. I talked to my wife and she said go ahead and try it and I thought about it and Jimmy was playing blues on the white circuit and I took the gig with him. This was at the end of 1974. I played with Jimmy for two and a half years. I didn’t like the music but I was trying to get used to it and let people see me, because I could play and sing and I thought that someone would recognize this.

Jimmy would let me sing a song once in a while. I was always a good singer. Jimmy had on his brochure that he was ‘Fast Fingers’ and when I heard him play I couldn’t see he was ‘Fast Fingers’. So we would go on the gig and I could play fast when he gave me a solo, and some folks thought I was Jimmy Dawkins and that kind of bugged him so he made them take that ‘Fast Fingers’ off that advert. I also did a short stint with Otis Rush and toured Japan with him and Jimmy and I are on Otis’ live album recorded in Japan, ‘So Many Roads’.

So I got a little start with Jimmy and Otis and this lady, Marcelle Morgantini, that heard me play in France, she got me to record. It was for the MCM label and that gave me some fame in Europe. That record was recorded at Ma Bea’s here in Chicago. I also played on Jimmy Dawkins’ album for MCM as well. So now Alligator and Delmark started showing an interest, as I was doing blues and they both wanted to do a record on me and I decided on Delmark, but Bruce Iglauer wanted me to do a record, so I told Delmark and they said go ahead, but don’t do your originals. So I did four cuts for Alligator on the ‘Living Chicago Blues’ album and that got me even more exposure.

Now before those MCM recordings there was a forty five by a Jimmy Johnson called ‘Don’t Answer The Door’ on the Magnum label but that wasn’t me, but I lived off that record. It was another Jimmy Johnson, not me, but I made money off of that. I did record two 45s, one was ‘Funky Four Corners’ and the other an instrumental ‘Sock It To Me’. ‘Sock It To Me’ was my brother Syl’s hit song and I learned how to play it instrumentally and it made a little bit of noise. There was another song called ‘The Country Preacher’ by Jimmy Johnson but that was by another Jimmy Johnson, not me.

Also after those MCM recordings, I gained some popularity in Europe and I went over there two or three times a year and made some real money and then I did those recordings for Alligator and my first album for Delmark, which was Johnson’s Whacks. It had a lot of my own material on there, like ‘Ashes In My Ashtray’, ‘Need Some Easy Money’, ‘The Twelve Bar Blues’ and others. It was my regular band on those recordings.

Folks always ask me about my song writing and where it comes from and it comes from different forms. I can be sitting down playing something on my guitar and I like to be original and I like my songs to be recognized, when you hear them you know it’s Jimmy Johnson. I can hear someone say something and I think that could be a song. If you heard about the song I did about “I’m A Jockey”, well we were playing cards and this radio guy who did gospel and we played as partners and he said “If You don’t believe I’m a jockey, just back your mule up in my stall”, having fun, and I thought well that’s a song.

imageSo you come up with a story and sit down, and the way the words go can figure out a pattern because a lot of my songs are not blues patterns. I try to be original and I see it as my blues and I do it the way I feel it. If I do B.B. King or Muddy Waters, I think I haven’t accomplished too much. Some people don’t call my music blues though. I do it my way like Frank Sinatra said. I like some jazz as well. I play piano at a club and I play ‘Take Five’ and other jazz stuff.

In the family we have my brother Syl and then there was Mac, who was a bass player, and my other brother he died at an early age and he played guitar, and he decided to do other things but he was like the black sheep of the family. I did what I could to help him but you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. I even bought him a guitar and an amp. He didn’t make good decisions. His name was Grundy and he could have been a good musician. He was named after my grandfather who was part Indian and his name was Grundy.

I brought my mother to Chicago in 1951 and my grandfather lived maybe two or three years after that, in his mid seventies, and he was a drinker and that’s probably one of the reasons why I couldn’t drink. I hated alcohol because of watching him get drunk and beat up my grandmother, and that was a real downer to me and I couldn’t do nothing about it. I was five or six years old and I’m looking at him and I can’t do nothing about it, so that made me not like drinking. Alcohol killed my little brother when he was twenty eight and Mac died when he was fifty seven, and he was what you call an ‘in control alcoholic’, he drank all of his life.

So after my first Delmark record I did another record for them called North/ South and it was Steve Thomashefsky, the producer’s, idea to call it that. I also did that album Bar Room Preacher that I recorded in Europe and that was picked up by Alligator. I didn’t have a lot of original material with me when we did that but that is a nice recording and one of the records I really like.

The record I don’t like is that Two Johnsons Are Better Than One. My brother Syl is a little hard to deal with, but he is still my brother and he is the only brother I have left. All together there was six of us, but two of my brothers died when they were babies. I’m still active considering my age, and my voice is still there, and my voice is natural and I see it as a gift if you have a voice, but you have to have something else, like I think I have. If I sing a B.B. King, I’m not going to try and sing it like B.B. King, I’ll sing the song but the way I feel. I don’t want to be a mimic. I believe in doing music my way, I can’t say it’s good or better. There are some songs I like but I can’t find a way to do it so I won’t bring it to the stage.

My father, he was mean and strict but he taught me a lot and he was an honest man, so I give him credit for that, he didn’t accept no nonsense. I’ve seen too many people having been taken downhill by drinking so I ask why would you do that to yourself? You have to be aware of what it is you are putting into your body, because once you put stuff in, you can’t take it out. I’m always aware of what I put into my body and I’ve studied how to eat properly. As you get older you are going downhill, so why rush it? I am occasionally involved with the church but not often. Within me I am very religious though.

I don’t get out of town that often these days and that’s my choice, but in Chicago I play Legends often and House Of Blues and B.L.U.E.S. I have been lucky to have made a living out of making music over the years. As far as money and economics, when I started making real money was in 2004, as I decided to quit leading bands and I decided to go where I want to go. It’s a little bit hectic sometimes playing with other musicians, but I’m very adaptable.

Interview took place at the home of the artist on the far south side of Chicago in June 2019. Many thanks go to Jim Feeney.

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


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 Featured video of the week – Jimmy Johnson and Billy Branch 

The video is an interview and performance with Jimmy Johnson, by Billy Branch at Chicago’s Logan Arts Center on October 1, 2019.

Lots of cool facts and blues history. Then the music starts with just Jimmy and Billy Branch playing a couple songs. Jimmy then plays with his full band.

The respect he gets from his band members is obvious and at about 19 minutes you realize this giant of a Bluesman is truly a national treasure. Enjoy!


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageTinsley Ellis – Ice Cream In Hell

Alligator Records

www.tinsleyellis.com

11 tracks

Tinsley Ellis was born in 1957 and began his musical career in his teens. His first album at age 21 was Georgia Blue on Alligator Records. He stayed with them for five more albums, went over to Capricorn and Telarc for a few and then self released 4 albums and returned to Alligator in 2018 with Winning Hand which garnered all sorts of attention including a Blues Blast Music Award nomination. This is his 18th CD and, frankly, I think they keep getting better and better.

He spent much of the last year touring with Tommy Castro and with the release of this he’s on a solo tour promoting it around the globe. Featured here on the CD along with Tinsley Ellis on guitars and vocals are producer Kevin McKendree on organ, pianos, and rhythm guitar on “Sit Tight Mama,” Steve Mackey on bass, and Lynn Williams on drums and percussion are the main players. Jim Hoke on the Sax and Quentin Ware on trumpet do the great horn work on two cuts. All 11 tracks are new and were written by Tinsley.

“Last One To Know” opens the album, a slower cut with a driving beat and stinging guitar work by Ellis. His solos are restrained but impressive and he takes us out with the final, fuzzed up one. The organ vibe and horns give the song a fullness that goes with Tinsley’s strident vocals; a nice opener for this set! He follows that with “Don’t Know Beans,” a more uptempo piece with angry words between two lovers and Ellis expressing to his woman does not understand what she’s seen or heard. He delivers an outstanding guitar solo backed by the B3 organ. He sings with passion and urgency here. “Ice Cream In Hell” is next, the title cut. The pace slows down again as Ellis croons and emotes; he also plays some killer guitar here, really impressive and powerful stuff. With “Foolin’ Yourself,” Ellis romps and rolls and bounces through a neat little number with more strident guitar and some cool piano and organ backing him. Slow and powerful blues is next with “Hole In My Heart,” a song with grit and emotion delivered with great feeling. The horns return in support as Ellis and McKendree let it all hang out. The beat gets turned up for “Sit Tight Mama,” a sweet tune with a driving boogie and more superb guitar and cool and clear vocal work done to perfection. Ellis slides in Hound Dog Taylor style here, giving a nice stylistic nod to the great Chicago blues man.

“No Stroll In The Park” has Ellis shifts gears again; here he plays some dirty licks on guitar as McKendree impresses the listener on the organ. Big sounding guitar licks and keyboard work make this one another impressive song. “Evil Till Sunrise” is a mid tempo blues cut with a rocking feel and a bit of funkiness going for it, too. Ellis gets a little Latin vibe going for “Everything And Everyone.” Perhaps a bit of a Santana-esque feel, it’s got a cool groove and Ellis plays with power and poignancy. Great stuff and the piano and organ really help make this a full and marvelous cut. He continues with “Unlock My Heart,” a sweet and swinging cut with some barrelhouse piano and backing vocals that give the song a lift. Ellis’ guitar once again blazes as he smokes his way through another great tune. He finishes up the album with “Your Love’s Like Heroin,” a long and somber piece of music where Ellis and McKendree both play with deep emotion. Tinsley pines that his woman’s “love is like heroin and it’s killing him by degrees.” He can’t control it and it’s taking him down. The vocals are dark and cool. The guitar is equally full of feeling and emotion and McKendree helps out with some equally nice organ work. Emotional stuff and a fantastic conclusion to a wonderful new CD.

Ellis has produced a superb album here. He’s hitting it hard on the road, showing America and the world that he is one of the preeminent blues guitar players and musicians out there. “A musician never got famous staying home,” Ellis says. He is a road warrior still, performing over 150 nights each year. “I’ve seen it all,” the Atlanta based Ellis said. Born in South Florida, Atlanta has long been his home for his four decade plus career. “And a lot of my audience has been along for the entire time. It’s not always easy. But the payoff is the music. That’s the ice cream.” One has to marvel at his fortitude and drive, staying fresh in his sound and original in his work.

This is a great CD and a no-brainer to add to your collection. You will enjoy it over an over again as it gets lots of airplay and likely gets Ellis nominated for even more awards.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageJimmy Pritchard – Meet Me in Memphis

Self-produced CD

11 songs – 47 minutes

www.jimmypritchard.com

Veteran bass player Jimmy Pritchard spent the past three years holding down the bottom for blues-rock heavyweight Albert Castiglia, but steps out of the shadows as a front man for the first time in a decade to deliver this rock-solid collection of pyrotechnic-free, straight-ahead blues.

Now based back in New Castle, Del., where his career began in 1980 in support of heavy metal guitarist Vinnie Moore, a longtime member of the band UFO, Pritchard turned to the blues at the tail end of the decade and hasn’t looked back, building an impressive resume in the process.

In the ‘90s, he toured the world with West Coast lap steel legend Sonny Rhodes, Philadelphia-based Georgie Bonds & the Blueskeepers and Lonnie Shields, the Arkansas-based bluesman who cut his teeth with the famed Jelly Roll Kings. In the 2000, he hit the road with Big Jack Johnson, harmonica player Mikey Junior and others.

This is Pritchard’s third self-produced album, following Shoppin’ for the Blues in 2004 and Goin’ Down 9 in 2010. His Jimmy Pritchard Band represented the Jersey Shore Jazz & Blues Foundation in 2014 and were semi-finalists in the International Blues Challenge. He recently relocated north after calling Florida home after hooking up with Castiglia in 2016.

Despite the title, Meet Me in Memphis was recorded at Man of War Studios in West Palm Beach, not the Bluff City. The all-star lineup includes guitarist J.P. Soars and his longtime percussionist, Chris Peet throughout, as well as guest appearances from all three original members of the Paul DesLauriers Band – Paul on guitar with Greg Morency on bass and Sam Harrisson on drums, Castiglia, harp players Rockin’ Jake, Mikey Junior and Albert “Big Daddy” Lambertson, former Allman Brothers keyboard player Johnny Neel and Rachelle Coba on vocals.

A simple, heavy guitar riff opens “Too Hard to Love Her” before Pritchard delivers the first of eight originals and three covers, laying down an unhurried beat that carries forward steadily throughout the disc. This one describes a woman who won’t make breakfast, drinks all his booze and complains all the time.

A deep baritone with a smoky delivery and limited range, which doesn’t detract from the presentation, Jimmy picks up the pace slightly for the medium-paced shuffle, “Beds Too Big,” which finds him crying all night long after his lady’s left home. The title cut, “Meet Me in Memphis,” features choral duets with Coba and Neel on keys as recounts great nights on Beale Street.

A cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Commit a Crime” shines with Pritchard powering through the lyrics atop stellar fretwork and additional vocals from J.P. before Albert and the DesLauriers rhythm section join the action for the original, “Daddy’s Comin’ Home,” a pleasant acoustic ballad with Delta feel that asks a child to make up the singer’s bed and his lady to start cooking his stew and change into her fancy underwear.

Soars’ jazzy original instrumental, “Whammy Shuffle,” shifts the sound back to full-on electric and swings from the jump before Pritchard dips into the catalog of Louisiana legend Boozoo Chavis and takes listeners to the bayou for the final cover in the set, the familiar “Uncle Bud.”

The sound shifts toward New Orleans for the medium-fast, organ-driven shuffle, “Gimme What You Got,” a sexually charged rocker with a request for lovin’ concealed ever-so-slightly in the words, while the down-home feel returns with the acoustic pleaser “Eatin’ Fish Tonite.” Next up, “Big Daddy” is an intense, driving shuffle that features the subject, Lambertson on harp, throughout aided by a ripping six-string solo from DesLauriers. The action closes with “Jive in My House,” a countrified, ‘50s-style rocker that sings out against folks talking trash when they drop by.

If you’re familiar with Jimmy Pritchard’s heavy duty work in support of Castiglia, this album probably will come as a complete shocker. It’s a surprising treasure that sticks close to the traditional blues root throughout. Pick it up via a direct purchase from the artist’s website (address above).

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 – 3 of 6 

imageLloyd Spiegel – Cut And Run

Self-Release – 2019

10 tracks; 34 minutes

www.lloydspiegel.com

Lloyd Spiegel is based in Melbourne, Australia. The album is mainly a duo set between Lloyd on vocals and guitars and Tim Burnham on drums; Marty Spiegel adds guitar to one track, Ben Wicks plays bass on two tracks, one of which also adds Tony Green’s percussion, Lisa Baird on trombone and Andrew Houston on sax. Although most of the album is just Lloyd and Tim you would never really know as the sound is mainly full-on electric blues, despite the cover which shows Lloyd clutching an acoustic guitar.

Back in 2017 I reviewed his This Time Tomorrow and my past positive comments apply equally to his latest release which delivers some good songs.

The opening trio of songs are all uptempo: “Any Second Now” opens quietly but soon revs up with some keening slide double-tracked over Lloyd’s boogie rhythm, a song about being prepared for the action, in a boxing ring, a card game or anywhere else; the second song includes the title of the album in its lyrics which look darkly at how society keeps us under its thumb, Lloyd encouraging us to resist and “Rattle Your Cage” because we do have the power to run our own lives if we wish – a song that reflects the current political climate quite well.

On This Time Tomorrow several songs were based on Lloyd’s travels and “Tokyo Blues” is another one in the same vein, a chugging blues-rocker about the frustrations of a visitor to Japan’s capitol with some good guitar work. “Let Your Love Lie Down” changes the pace with a minor key piece with delicate guitar in Mark Knopfler mode before “Run” finds Lloyd on acoustic for a gentle ballad which he sings well in a low-key manner that suits the song.

Oddly “Run” mentions “a trombone in the distance” and, appropriately, the next track is the one with the horns. This is the standout cut here with lyrics about a chance encounter in a bar that could have lead to greater things if he had been able to “Track Her Down”. The additional instrumentation certainly enhances the overall sound and Lloyd takes a fine solo set against the warmth of the horns. We return to the heavier blues-rock style for “The Hustle” which finds Lloyd sharing guitar duties with his brother Marty.

“Mr Jenkins” has quite an aggressive feel as Lloyd rails against “Mr Jenkins on my television trying to turn my silver to gold. He’s screaming down the camera trying to tell me it’s under control” against some heavy drums and guitar. In contrast “One More Heartache” has Lloyd overdubbing fine electric lines over his acoustic, Ben’s bass adding a bubbling feel to the bottom end. It’s another strong track with a warm and gentle refrain which actually uses a line from a personal favorite, Eric Lindell’s “Lay Back Down” (“Minutes turn to hours, hours turn to days”). The album closes with “Old Wounds”, a solo acoustic song with Lloyd delivering the world-weary lyrics convincingly.

Lloyd has a good vocal style which he can adapt across the disc and, as with the previous album I reviewed, it’s a good listen with a couple of standout cuts.

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 – 4 of 6 

imageLeaving Spirit – Things Change

Self-Release – 2019

13 tracks; 48 minutes

www.leavingspirit.com

Leaving Spirit is a new band from Germany. Founded in 2016 by friends while still at school, the line-up changed as members went off to college – that shows how young these guys are! The band has a triple guitar line-up: Leo Kürschner, Florian Eppel and Anton Bohne are joined by Paula Frecot on lead vocals, Linus Glaesemer on bass and Felix Möser on drums. Bravely, the band have produced an all-original debut with Florian the main writer and Leo helping out on three songs.

The blues is at the heart of most rock music but there is no straight blues here. The band clearly has many influences and it is fun to try to spot those as you listen to the disc: Paula has traces of Grace Slick (though her voice is higher than Grace’s) and Stevie Nicks, in the gentler moments Americana influences like The Band appear but Southern Rock is a big influence with Lynyrd Skynyrd the most obvious with the triple guitar format.

While there is no actual blues here, the following tracks may strike a chord (no pun intended) with Blues Blast readers who enjoy rocking tunes: “Keep Rockin’ Alive” is very Southern Rock in feel and there are certainly plenty of Skynyrd references here. An anthemic tune to end the album.

“Old Lady” is one of the few songs with a male vocal (presumably Florian who wrote it) on the verses with Paula taking the chorus. The song has a great rock riff that is very appropriate as the old lady in question is a lost guitar.

The cooking riff at the core of “Free In My Mind” is sure to get your toes tapping. The acoustic setting and harmonica on “Red Leaves” brought Neil Young to mind.

Paula rails against a poser in “Fake” and the bitter lyrics are reflected in the heavy riffs and angst-ridden solo. Those who are easily offended need to be aware of several instances of the “F word” in these lyrics

All credit to these young musicians for writing all their own material and for clearly loving American rock music from the classic era. With all the blues-rock around you can well imagine Leaving Spirit doing well on the European circuit.

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



 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageFillmore Slim – Son Of The Seven Sisters

Self-Release – 2019

13 tracks; 63 minutes

www.reverbnation.com/fillmoreslim/

Clarence Sims was born in Louisiana in 1934 and has been performing as Fillmore Slim since the 1950’s. His musical style mixes a host of influences, from New Orleans to the West Coast and also embraces funk and rap; indeed, in 2017 he was given the title of ‘The Godfather Of Hip Hop’ at the West Coast Hip Hop Awards! He was Etta James’ first boyfriend and claims Rick Estrin and Joe Louis Walker as his ‘godsons’ as they played in a band called Smoke & Fire when both were under age! He abandoned playing music for several years while involved in some colorful (and dubious) activities which are detailed in the 2017 memoir Blues Man Mack: How I Conquered The Stage & The Streets.

After returning to music he issued eight albums between 1987 and 2011 but Son Of The Seven Sisters is his first release since then. Recorded, like so many albums these days, at Greaseland with Kid Andersen and Rick Estrin producing, a large cast of musicians was involved in the recordings: Kid Andersen, Bob Welsh, AC Myles and Angelo J Rossi on guitar; Kid, Bob and Robby Yamilov on bass; Alex Pettersen and Jon Otis on drums; Jim Pugh, Lorenzo Farrell and Sid Morris on keys; Rick Estrin plays harp on five tracks and horns appear on five tracks, Sax Gordon and Michael Peloquin on sax, Jeff Lewis and John Halbleib on trumpet and Mike Rinta on trombone. Backing vocalists include Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Courtney Knott and Billy Price and Diva Ladee Chico is featured twice. Eagle-eyed readers will recognise many of those names and, in particular, the presence of all members of Rick Estrin & The Nightcats at the time of the recordings. Apart from two covers all the material is credited to Slim.

The title track opens proceedings with the story of the Seven Sisters, a group of women who allegedly practised voodoo across the river from New Orleans in Algiers. The spooky atmosphere generated by Rick’s echoey harp and sound effects courtesy of Diva Ladee Chico suits the subject matter and we get our first experience of Slim’s semi-spoken, semi-sung style and you can appreciate why he has been sampled by so many rappers. The comical “Broke Baby” finds Slim and Rick out on the town and both appear to have left their wallets behind so approach a young lady for help – and are surprised that she seems reluctant to hand over money! The autobiographical “I’m A Playboy” has a good horn arrangement with rhythm guitar and clavinet giving the rhythm a very funky 80’s feel. “Jody Must Be In My Business” is a slower, stripped back number with piano and organ providing a late night feel as Diva Ladee Chico and Slim share the vocals about the familiar tale of the back door man AKA ‘Jody’.

Several songs are extended and on two of these Slim’s rap influence really shows: on “Rock Star” Slim namechecks several of the greats (giving Kid the chance to imitate the guitar styles of BB King, Albert Collins, Freddie King and Chuck Berry, amongst others), the very repetitive “I’m A Bad Brotha Foya” outstays its welcome at well over six minutes and “Mary Sue” is a stripped-back blues with Rick’s harp prominent.

Some of the shorter cuts work rather better:“Emma Lou, Queen Of The Homeless” is a mid-paced shuffle with plenty of piano and good slide by Kid; the appropriately horn-heavy track entitled “Dedicated To Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson” also has some fine picking by Kid; “Fast Gun Annie” has a touch of country (Kid plays banjo and Slim does some yodelling on this one!) while another autobiographical song “Legend In My Own Time” returns to the semi-spoken style in a small band format with Rick’s harp again outstanding.

The two covers are both proper blues. Although written by Stax stalwarts Booker T Jones, David Porter and Isaac Hayes and performed by Little Johnny Taylor, “Little Bluebird” has always been a blues and here Slim sings it well with Kid’s guitar and Lorenzo’s electric piano; Little Walter’s “Last Night” is nicely handled with Rick taking the harp role over Jim Pugh’s excellent piano work, Slim adding a rap towards the end of the familiar song.

Although you can hear evidence of the aging process in Slim’s vocals, he acquits himself well across these sides and covers straight blues alongside funk, New Orleans styles and rap/spoken elements also. As is always the case with Kid Andersen’s recordings the playing is excellent and provides a variety of settings for Fillmore Slim to show us his talents.

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 

imageMark Crissinger – Believe in Love

Self-Produced

www.markcrissinger.com

CD: 10 Songs, 44 Minutes

Styles: Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, All Original Songs

When I was younger, my family and I would go on summer vacation. One of my (strange) hobbies was to look through the AAA Lodging Guide to find out which hotels and motels were the best in the cities we were heading for. In order to get even a modest rating, lodging had to be “clean and unpretentious.” Those three words characterize Mark Crissinger’s blues, though some of his lyrics may not be sanitized for your protection. On Believe in Love, the latest studio offering from this British Columbia bluesman, Mark presents ten original songs that are succinct, relatable, and short on the fancy stuff. You won’t hear any Hendrix homages or outrageous overdubbing. The CD is meant to be “blues therapy” for what ails you, and such medicine needs to be simple. On vocals Mark is a bit flat, but his honest stylings beat autotune by about a million miles. Instrumentally, he fares quite well, his guitar riffs providing down-home entertainment.

“There was a real attempt to get a live vibe going on, even though we couldn’t all be in the studio at the same time,” Crissinger comments. “I always try to mix up the grooves at my concerts and pay respect to tradition while adding my ‘new blues’ sound to every set list. It all feels familiar somehow.” The Maple Blues Award critics agree, having nominated him in 2017. After moving to BC in 2007, he began to focus on a solo career, showcasing his love for songwriting, blues and roots music. Since then, he’s released six studio albums and three live collections. He’s played countless concerts, pubs and clubs and in recent years, many great blues festivals in Victoria, Orangeville, Pender Harbour, Chemainus, Nanaimo and other locations.

Joining Crissinger (guitars and vocals) are Bill Hicks on drums, Jay Stevens on bass, Marty Howe on harmonica, Darcy Phillips on keyboards, and Pierre Komen on saxophone.

“Believe in Love” possesses powerhouse saxophone and a swinging beat perfect for dancing, its lyrics hearkening back to basics: “People, gotta believe in love. People, gotta believe in kindness.” Next comes “I Hear You’re Talking,” packing a much harder punch along with ‘50s-style boogie keyboards by Darcy Phillips. “Well, you know how it is in a small town: people gotta chit and chat. What they ain’t realizing is when their sh– has sh–. I hear you talking…but you ain’t said much to me.” What a perfect summation of what rumors are made of! Other highlights are “Roll With the Punches,” “La Hoochie Coo” (featuring feisty French), and “Hard No,” reminding us that we all have limits, and we’ve got to take a stand when they get pushed. “Hornby” finishes the set, a perky traveling tune that’ll get anyone off their duffs and moving.

Mark Crissinger doesn’t aim to present himself as a big shot. Rather, he encourages us all to Believe in Love, because that’s the best therapy there is when you’ve got the blues!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 40 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.


 

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The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

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

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

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

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

Crossroads Blues Society – Rockford, IL

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

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

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


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