Issue 14-41 October 8, 2020


Cover photo © 2020 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Little Ed & the Blues Imperials guitarist, Michael Garrett. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Dave Fields, David Kimbrough Jr, Wild Boogie Combo, Eric Johanson, Bluesman Mike and the Blues Review Band and Kat Riggins.

 Featured Interview – Michael Garrett 

imageAny time that you see Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials, you know that you are going to have a fine time, courtesy of Lil’ Ed’s slashing slide guitar licks he learned from his uncle, J.B. Hutto, along with his gritty vocals delivering one tasty original song after another. Standing next to him, setting the stage so to speak with his own brand of tasty guitar licks, is Michael Garrett (Wolancevich), who has been backing up his boss for more than three decades.

Born in 1962 in Detroit, his father was a factory worker while his mother stayed at home taking care Garrett and his two siblings. His brother and sister were ten years older, so their musical tastes were more advanced, giving their younger brother the opportunity to hear plenty of good music.

“There wasn’t a whole lot else to do where we lived. My brother had a huge influence on me musically. My mother had a collection of 78 RPM records. I would sneak down in the basement to listen to them. My earliest musical memory is listening to Louis Jordan doing “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie,” which was one of her records. Things just built from there.”

His older brother had a guitar that he didn’t play very much, so naturally Garrett would sneak it out when his brother wasn’t around.

“I was a rocker in those days. My favorites were Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. But I was also exposed to Motown stuff, classic rock, soul, and blues music through my brother. I even had to endure the Lettermen sometimes, because my sister would play their records. That gave me a broad appreciation for music. And I have loved it ever since!

“Through it all, I had an affinity for the blues. I started going backwards from Jimi Hendrix and Robin Trower to wondering who is the McKinley Morganfield that wrote this great song, making new discoveries that way. Then there was the Detroit Blues festival, with John Lee Hooker on the bill every year, and Bonnie Raitt would be there, sitting in with Sippie Wallace.

“When I heard Freddie King, that was it. That was what got me playing the blues. That was while I was still in Detroit, where I also developed a love for the Elmore James style of slide guitar playing. I really didn’t know what I was getting myself into, or how lucky I was at the time. But it sure was great.”

When he was fifteen, Garrett left his home to stay with some folks who lived in northern lower Michigan. One of his hosts was a bluegrass player, imparting plenty of knowledge to his eager student. Those lessons inspired Garrett to start playing more guitar.

‘I liked bluegrass, but I was still a rocker! I learned a lot from him. I took it all with me when I went back to Detroit a couple years later, after high school. That is when I started hanging out with the boys. We started a couple bands, basement band stuff. The bands generated some interest, so we got to play some shows in clubs in the area. But after awhile, I decided to move to Chicago, because I wanted more, and there was only so much you could do in Detroit, although there were a lot of awfully good players there.”

Outside of music, there wasn’t much of interest for the guitarist in his hometown. Most of his cousins had gone off to college, or were working in one of Detroit’s automotive factories. That life had no appeal for Garrett, especially after watching his father do it all of his work career.

“I figured I didn’t have much to lose moving to Chicago, because I could always work in a factory there if needed. In those days, I had an strong interest in cars. I did attend a Chrysler-sponsored trade school for about a year to learn to be an auto technician, and did that when I first moved to Chicago, but it sucked. The blues scene was far more attractive.

“When I made the move in 1985, I knew how to play behind a lot of that stuff really well. That is what I cut my teeth on. That was unique in Chicago at that time, because a lot of people were trying to play like Stevie Ray Vaughan. That allowed me to stick out, particularly with some of the old cats.

iage“Little Smokey Smothers took a shine to me, so I played with him for a couple years. During that time, he introduced to other musicians like Hubert Sumlin and Brewer Phillips. It went on from there. I started getting calls from more people, not making any money at all, but I was having the time of my life. But I was eating a lot of soup.”

One night, Garrett went to see noted guitarist Jimmy Johnson at B.L.U.E.S on Halsted, a famous blues club on Chicago’s North side. The two guitarists talked on the break, after which Johnson extended an invitation to sit in on the next set. Garrett had no idea how that evening would impact his life.

“Jimmy gave me his guitar, and he played harmonica for the three or four songs that we did together. When I got off the stage, this guy introduced himself to me. It was Bruce Iglauer from Alligator Records. He was impressed that Jimmy let me sit, as Bruce knew that Jimmy rarely did that or allowed someone to play his guitar. He also commented that I did a good job of backing Jimmy’s harmonica, that I didn’t overplay”

“He gave me a copy of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials first recording, Roughhousin’, that had just come out. The band’s other guitar player, Dave Weld, didn’t want to travel, or quit his day job, whatever, so they needed a guitar player. Since Dave was already separating himself, they had Louis Henderson on guitar, who had played drums on the album. They brought in the late “Bald Head Pete” Williams on drums. But they were looking for someone a bit more skilled on guitar. And there I was.”

“Bruce told me to go home, listen to the album, and to start practicing playing everything in the key of D! I wasn’t real familiar with the band, but once I started listening, it was all the stuff I love, especially the Elmore James sound. So it was a natural fit.

“A couple weeks later, I went to Wise Fools Pub, where the band had a gig. I played with them on the second set, which was my audition. One week later I was on the road with them heading to Minnesota. My first gig as a Blues Imperial was at the University of Minnesota in Northfield, That was an auspicious beginning.”

After a year, Williams was getting tired of being on the road. He was no spring chicken and traveling constantly no longer held great appeal. One day the other band members went to pick him up, but he said “F**k you all, I ain’t going.”

Lil’ Ed was able to replace one great drummer with another, hiring Ted Harvey, who had been part of Hound Dog Taylor & the Houserockers, among his many gigs. But Harvey was only willing to fill in while they looked for a permanent replacement. At that point, Garrett reached back to his Detroit connections for some help.

Kelly Littleton had been one of Garrett’s running buddies in the Motor City. While the two had never played in a band together, they both had a strong affinity for rock music. They did jam at parties from time to time.

“I was always floored by Kelly’s playing. Ed decided to offer him a place in the band. Kelly couldn’t get away at that time, so that is when Ted Harvey filled in One day I got a call from Kelly, saying that he was ready to give it a try. Thirty years later, he is still trying it!”

With Littleton on drums and Ed’s half brother, James “Pookie” Young on bass, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials have been together for more than thirty years, a remarkable achievement in any era. The band developed a sound, and a strong fan base, that has never wavered due to the four members being so dialed in to each other.

“Luck is our secret. I never meant to do this for all of these years. I never considered that it would even be an option. It’s just been gig after gig, and Ed keeps calling me. There have been a couple of breaks in there. One time Ed had to take some time away to deal with some issues and get himself together. But I always landed somewhere pretty good. And when that would go out the window, within a couple of days, by coincidence, Ed would call and I’d be back in the van with him.

“We are a family, or like a marriage. We’ve been through so much together that we know we can trust each other. The music is the biggest reason, the magic that happens when we are on stage together. There is nothing like it in the world. I played with other people when Ed was on hiatus. It was good, but never the level of playing with Lil’ Ed, his energy level, and the energy we generate as a band. Everybody knows their job, musically and otherwise. I am the designated hitchhiker!”

imageThe guitarist is thankful that he has the backing of a truly dynamic rhythm section. Their efforts give Garrett the musical freedom to keep things interesting with his timely fills and rhythm playing.

“Pookie is rock-solid, and basic stylistically in his approach to the bass. He doesn’t do much slapping or anything like that. Kelly is one of the best shuffle drummers around. His favorite drummer was Fred Below. So his playing is in the traditional vein. They are usually locked in tight, although if you talk to them after a show, they might not think they locked so well. When they are up there together, that’s a force to be reckoned with.”

As far as his own playing, Garrett is happy with his role backing Lil’ Ed’s fiery slide guitar playing.

“It is OK to call me a rhythm guitar player. That is not any insult. I have always listened to a lot of instruments. And I don’t play many instruments. I am probably the worst piano player there is. When I listen to music, I want to hear what the piano player is doing behind the saxophone lines. My ears fall into hearing what some guys were doing while someone else was taking the solo.

“I don’t mind playing lead guitar. That’s fine too. But I’ve just felt it was so cool to fill the holes, without overdoing it. I am guilty of that some times. Just fill the holes, and keep the groove going, to add to that force Kelly and Pookie are laying down to drive the music. Ed needs that, it is like a battery for him, that driving rhythm that I can do underneath what he is doing. That all goes back to Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor. When those cats went into the recording studio, they just let it rip. There wasn’t much subtle about it.

“Ed is so good at what he does on slide guitar. He needs that foundation in order to fly. I don’t claim to be the only one that can do that. But that role has always appealed to me, to keep Ed going, literally and figuratively. When you are playing jazz, there is a lot of thinking going on. There is muscle memory at work too, but jazz players have to do lots of thinking. The blues comes from a physically lower part of your body. It is more of a feeling.”

Garrett has other responsibilities in the band. He is the manager when the band is on the road and, along with Littleton, does a lot of the driving. As the manger, he does whatever is required to keep things rolling. He collects money, keeps the records, pays the guys, provide rides as needed. It is just the four band members on tours, although Ed’s wife does join the fun from time to time.

The band has only done a few shows in recent months. They did several live streams from Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago and Fitzgerald’s in Berwyn.. They also played at a small festival in Sawyer, Michigan.

“We were on the bill along with Larry McCray. The event was sponsored by the city. It was very strange. The fest was outdoors, and everyone seemed to be 20 feet apart. The people that were there had a good time. However, it seemed like everyone was really nervous and afraid. That was understandable. I am nervous and afraid. That happened at the beginning of June.

“After that, I started thinking that things weren’t looking too good. So here we sit. I don’t even know if the clubs are open in Chicago right now. I live 90 minutes outside of the city, so I don’t go out very much, especially now. Besides, I have been in so many bars in my life. My love of the music is still there but it has to be something above ordinary for me to be attracted to going out.”

Garrett does see some glimmers of hope coming up. The band is booked for a weekend at the Kingston Mines in Chicago and also has several dates in Canada booked for December. The band had a show at the City Winery at the end of September that got rescheduled.

“It is all a matter of keeping the virus numbers down. But it seems like a lot of people around here are forgetting everything, like the virus never happened. Then you watch the news and hear that anywhere from 15-30 people a day are dying every day in Illinois. We just have to be careful. My belief is that if we had all gotten on the same page when the virus first hit, we would be done with it by now.”

imageHis love of the traditional blues styles is what Garrett relies on to help him get through these trying times.

“I listen to some of the blues programming on the radio, but what I hear is a lot of guys who play like Hendrix. That doesn’t do it for me any more. B.B., Albert, and Freddie King, T-Bone Walker and one of my favorites, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. After hearing those guys, when you go back to the the rockers that I used to listen to a long time ago, it pales by comparison.

“Buddy Guy still amazes me that he can play at such a high level. I listen to Jimmy Johnson every Saturday. He does a live stream out of his living room. He is 91 years old, so he doesn’t go too many places. He is one of those people with common sense.

“I did go through a phase of listening to some of the country guys, guitarists like Albert Lee and Junior Brown. And Kid Andersen, who plays with Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, is doing some great things. There is so much music out there that is good. But in the end, I always end up going back to Freddie and Elmore. I also love Muddy Waters, as he is one of the greatest.

“I got to meet B.B. King a few times. He was such a great human being. We did some shows with him. He blew me away, because he was the whole package. He truly was the king, as a human and the depth of his talents. Albert Collins is another favorite. His style was unmistakable. You knew it was him after hearing one note. Plus he had the soul and the personality to go with it, to get inside of you.”

“Those are the artists I always gravitate back to. I try to listen to everything, even the bad ones, although I only want to hear those albums once. I want to hear it all before I die! And I love Stevie Ray Vaughan. I saw him six or seven times. But he already did that, so I’m going somewhere else.”

Looking back, Garrett remembered another milestone in his life. It occurred in 1978, courtesy of his older brother.

“He took me to the Cobo Arena in Detroit to see Bob Marley & the Wailers. We had been listening to their Kaya album quite a bit. It was a life-changing experience. Bob was like a preacher, doing a really fine church service. I remember him stating, “A hungry mob is an angry mob.” I was pretty inexperienced at the time, so I had to pick myself up off the floor. I think Donald Kinsey may have been playing guitar with Marley at that time. Glad that I remembered that one, because usually you forget until the interview is over and you hang up the phone!”

Garrett is quite satisfied with the way things have turned out, even after he dealt with some serious heart issues several years ago.

“I came close to death, ultimately getting a quadruple bypass operation. People I didn’t really know, or knew who I was, stepped forward in their own little way, whether it was financial donations or giving me some emotional support. It has been six years and my health is good.

“My wife was an angel, while friends and fans saved my life financially. It was an incredible experience. Not a good experience – I don’t want to do it again! I can’t believe how blessed I was, and still am. I feel so lucky with my life. That is why I don’t have any regrets.”

Find out more about Little Ed & the Blues Imperials at

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageDave Fields – Force Of Will


10 songs – 40 minutes

Dave Fields is one of those artists who is always taking his listeners to new and unexpected places, whilst still keeping one foot very much in the blues. Force Of Will is Fields’ sixth album and it’s a blues-rock tour de force.

Opening with the ZZ Top-esque heavy shuffle of “I Love My Baby”, the follow-up track, “Big Blocks” is a primarily instrumental workout featuring Steve Morse band drummer, Van Romaine, and Rick Derringer bassist, Buddy Allen. With some startling lead guitar playing, a powerful Hammond organ solo, a variety of tempo changes and irresistible drive from the rhythm section, it’s like listening a modern day, more focussed Deep Purple. “Hunger” brings the pace but not the intensity down, with a threatening groove based on Fields’ heavily distorted guitar playing. It’s the next stage in the evolutionary process of Muddy’s “Rollin’ Stone”, via Jimi’s “Voodoo Chile” and Lenny Kravitz’s “Are You Gonna Go My Way”, with a solo that tips its hat to Jeff Beck in the way Fields abuses his whammy bar.

There are also hints of Beck in the guitar solos on the slower “Why Can’t You Treat Me Right” which contains a lovely vocal performance from Fields, while the bopping title track is one of the foot-tapping songs that must pack dance floors in a live environment. It’s also a great example of Field’s ability to write songs that fall squarely into the blues-rock category but that also offer something different either in their construction or their execution. This is not one of those albums packed with clichéd blues-rock tropes. There is a rare vitality and energy in the playing that sits nicely with the smartly-written material. Fields is also a righteous guitar player who knows exactly when to show off his chops and when to rein it in for the benefit of the song.

The funky “Chloe & Otis”, co-written by Fields and Vlad Barsky, heads in a jazz-funk direction, while “Delmar” is a one and a half minute solo guitar tribute to the late NYC jazz legend, Delmar Brown that channels Hendrix with a hint of Eric Johnson. The instrumental “Jack Ham Her” nods towards Jeff Beck’s late 70s collaborations with Jan Hammer, enabling Fields to show off his virtuosic side. The closing track, “Best I Can” mixes a catchy blues-rock groove with something of a soul groove and is a fine way to close out a very enjoyable album.

None of the CD cover, the accompanying press release or Fields’ website contain much information about the other musicians on the album, other than that, in addition to Romaine and Allen, Norwegian blues stalwarts Kåre Amundsen (drums) and Bjørn Hågset (bass) provide the superb backing on the dark blues of “It’s Not OK”. This is something of a shame, because whoever the musicians are, they produce a series of top notch grooves over which Fields can lay down his incendiary guitar.

Force Of Will is a very entertaining release that bears repeated listening. Mixed, arranged, produced and mastered by Fields at Fields Music studios on the lower east side of NYC, Force Of Will has a vitality and vigour that befits its title. Recommended.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageDavid Kimbrough Jr. – Say You Don’t Love Me: The Last Recordings of David Kimbrough Jr.

Dolceola Recordings

8 tracks (7 songs)

David Kimbrough Jr is the eldest son of Junior Kimbrough, the legendary Hill Country blues man. This is a monolog analog recording was done by Dan Torigoe on David’s front porch in Holly Springs, MS in October 2017. This is Kimbrough’s first and only solo recording and it is the last music he ever recorded. He died of cancer at age 54 in 2019. This CD features an introduction and 7 of his father’s songs. The title track has never been recorded before.

David Jr began playing with his father at age 6. He became an R&B artist in Chicago after leaving home at age 15 but later returned home and played at his father’s juke joint in Chulahoma, MS. A life of some ups and downs was also reflected in his musical career, but he was an outstanding multi-instrumentalist with many fine recordings and accolades. His passing from cancer at an early age robbed us of one of the finest current hill country artists. His brother and the sons of RL Burnside continue to fan the flames of the music their fathers made famous.

The title track is the first song after the introduction. Here and throughout Kimbrough strums and picks his acoustic guitar with gusto, This cut is a gem that has finally seen the light of day on a recording. He sings with passion as he begs his woman so he can return home. Next up is “Done Got Old,” one of my personal favorite Junior Kimbrough songs that truly describes the aging process and expresses the feelings of an old man. Well done! “Half Past A Monkey’s Azz” is next. Kimbrough sit’s recalling the song at first and then breaks into it in fine form. His vocals are truly sweet and his guitar work is well done. Next is “I’m Leaving You Baby,” a cut where Kimbrough moans out the vocals and again give an impassioned performance.

“Meet Me In The City” offers another great track. The recording ends suddenly as if the tape broke, leaving us looking for more of the nice fingerpicking. “Poke That Pig” is another one where Kimbrough gives us some slick picking and makes your head bob to the beat he keeps. The album concludes with the haunting “Lonesome Road Lord Have Mercy On Me.” Kimbrough takes us to church as he again sings with great emotion and picks out some pretty stuff for the listener.

Dolceola has done a number of modern day Field Recordings since 2015. Here he get to hear the final recordings of Junior Kimbrough’s eldest son thanks to their work. If you are a fan of authentic hill country music then this one is for you.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageWild Boogie Combo – Black Hills Country Blues

Around The Shack Records – 2020

10 tracks; 29 minutes

Jake Calypso is a French musician mainly known as a rockabilly player though he also plays blues, having made one album with Archie Lee Hooker and another, as yet unreleased album recorded in Mississippi. The Wild Boogie Combo is a separate outlet, a trio of Jake on guitar/vocals, Mister Ruine B on harmonica and Terry ‘TT’ Reilles on drums. The band has produced three previous albums; Jake writes all the material and this album was recorded in a single day at Jake’s studio. The cover shows some black and white images of what Jake calls his “own Mississippi” with a mountain of coal mining debris, showing the former activity of the region where he lives in Northern France.

The band claims to be influenced by Junior Kimbrough, Son House, Tony Joe White and Dr Ross and there are certainly some North Mississippi Hill Country elements to opening track “Magic Pill” with the repetitive rhythm and hard-blowing harp. Unfortunately Jake is not a strong vocalist and it is not always easy to catch the lyrics, a problem that recurs across the album. The band mentions that gospel music is also an influence on their style and several tracks have titles that suggest a gospel link: “A Praised Day” keeps up the rhythmic attack with Jake playing a rockabilly style of guitar before the pace drops for “Lord Showed Me The Way” on which the vocals are, frankly, awful; Jake adopts a lighter style of singing for “The Devil In My House” and the harp playing is effective on this one; perhaps the most obviously gospel track is the short “I Pray For Him” which is acapella apart from handclaps.

Of the remaining tracks on this short album “She Is An Unhappy Baby” has more rockabilly guitar stylings and strong harp playing, “Black Day”, “Baby Hold Me” and “Eggs And Bacon” are very repetitive and difficult to understand at all. On “Saturday Night Boogie” the intent seems clearer as Jake invites us to go to town with him in a semi-spoken vocal as harp and drums pound out the rhythm.

Difficult to recommend this album but fans of the band will be pleased to have a new release to add to their collection.

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 

imageEric Johanson –Below Sea Level

NOLA Blue Records

12 tracks

Eric Johanson’s second CD (third if you count his duo CD from last year with Tiffany Pollack) is an outstanding piece of work. His guitar playing is stellar and his vocals are solid. NOLA-based and Louisiana born, Johanson exudes energy and feeling in the music he plays. A third-generation musician from Louisiana, this protégé of Tab Benoit showcases the skills he has honed in this cool new CD with all original tunes that he wrote.

The album is produced by Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi All Stars. His brother Cody plays drums here on the album and Terrence Grayson rounds out their trio on bass. Johanson handles the vocals and guitars and co-produced the album. The Dickinsons call this style of music Memphis Underground; I just call it damned good.

The album kicks off with hill country meets the swamp in “Buried Above Ground.” The driving beat and guitar give the listener a head bobbing good time as Johanon shows us his vocal and guitar prowess. You have to be buried above ground and “don’t tell him about the devil” because he says he “lives below sea level.” What a fine opener! If that was not enough to get your heart pumping fast then the opening in“Down To The Bottom” will. Stinging guitar and excellent vocals sell the listener on this one. “Changes The Universe” features the lone guest artist, Ray Jacildo on keys. He does a stellar job helping Eric set the mood and tone for this cut. The guitar is sublime, the vocals impassioned and the cut is exceptional. “Never Tomorrow” follows, another slick cut by Johanson with a huge guitar solo. “Hammer On The Stone” takes the pace down a few notches in what the one sheet labels as stoner rock. Certainly inspired by Hendrix, we get Johanson laying out some fine licks and howling out the lead vocals. “Have Mercy” is next, more driving blues rock where Johanson lyrically describes the problems on the streets of his home town. A throbbing beat and more passionate vocal work and driving guitar really get you going. Whew! And we are only half done!

“River Of Oblivion” opens the second half of the CD and Eric continues to spin tales of the woes his young life has already been exposed to. The bass line moves the song along as Dickinson also lays out his beat and Johanson tells of about addiction and problems he has seen. The guitarist and his trio take us home in this down tempo and dark cut. “Nowhere To Go” picks up the pace and feeling as Dickinson sings and plays with near reckless abandon. The licks are hot and the beat is fast a la Chuck Berry. The peddle comes off the throttle a bit for “Open Hearted Woman,” a deep, mostly instrumental song with passion and feeling despite the lack of vocals for 2/3 of the cut. Johanson’s guitar rings as the backline pumps out the beat; when Johanson finally begins singing we get more feeling and then he lays our a solo on his guitar that just finishes things off with even more gutsy feeling. The next cut is “Dose Of Forget” where he channels a little Jimmy Page to kick things off. The guitar is wicked and the vocals hot in this super piece of music. “Love Is Rebellion” is up next, blending acoustic and electric slide guitar. The acoustic guitar takes the lead in this pretty ballad about freedom. The song transitions over to slide and a big solo but then concludes with the acoustic guitar and a plea for freedom– “love is rebellion, it’s the only way to be free.” Eric finishes things off with the resonator in hand and gives us “Riverbend Blues,” a solo piece about days of yore where life was simpler. Somber and reflective, Johnason shows us another side of his work here as he sings and picks out some cool stuff.

The first time I heard this album I fell in love with it. I’ve listened to it at least a half dozen more times and each listen I get more and more from it. This young man is the real deal. His guitar playing is spectacular. His vocals are excellent and the new songs range from really, really good to outstanding. Eric Johnson is certainly one of the stellar young stars that is rising in the blues world. This album will garner attention for him as he takes his place in the new generation of blues greats who we will eagerly listened to and enjoy. 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 – 5 of 6 

imageBluesman Mike and the Blues Review Band – Knee Deep Into These Blues


CD: 13 Songs, 60 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues

Blues and country music share much in common. One of the hallmark features of both genres is that they tell stories. What would the blues (or country) be without tales of cheating partners, dire finances, the relief found in someone else’s bed or at the bottom of a bottle? Bluesman Mike and the Blues Review Band, longtime performers in the Phoenix area, find themselves in top form and Knee Deep Into These Blues. Their fourth self-produced album features thirteen tracks (four originals and nine covers) with robust instrumentation and storytelling power. Their music has a lot of soulful flavor, like a hearty fall stew or a good book. It’s comfort food that fills you up. Some of the tunes run to the jazzy side of blues, but that’s no flaw if you like Delbert McClinton and similar artists. This CD’s emotion and intensity are nicely mixed with classic style.

Over the years, bands morph into various incarnations. This one features Rob Thompson on keyboards, who also had performed with national act Bobby Womack, along with Bluesman Mike’s new lead guitar player Sugar Bear – another veteran from Philadelphia who had performed with Billy Paul. TJ Henry stars on rhythm and lead guitar, and Tim Robinson on drums, accompanying his son Daniel and the late, great Koko Taylor. Bobby Nealy, who performed with Archie Bell and the Drills, also plays keyboard. Bob Corritore takes the stage on harmonica, Doc. Donald Boles on even more keyboards, Shawn Behanna on horn arrangements, and Bryan Kuban on bass.

Bluesman Mike and company launch into Bobby Rush’s “I’m Good as Gone” to start things off with a bang. The title track is a sizzling blues shuffle with terrific sound all around and a slightly autobiographical vibe: “I’ve seen the good, the bad, the ugly and more, trying to make things right. You’ve got me knee deep into these blues.” Special guest Bob Corritore heats things up on harp during “Pain,” another original composition. The keyboards are lovely as well, like falling rain on an autumn evening, and the bassline thumps ominously. “Back Door Man” is one of those uncanny original songs that you’ll swear you’ve heard before, but you probably haven’t. Its subject is familiar, its style funky, and its atmosphere fun. It features the most killer bassline since “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon in 1986. Several smooth covers follow, including “Evil” by Koko Taylor, “I’m a Good Man” by Quintus McCormick and “Born Under a Bad Sign” by William Bell. “My New Cadillac,” the final original, closes the CD in groovy fashion.

Knee Deep Into These Blues tells timeless tales, perfect for savoring on longer, darker nights!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 41 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

IMAGEKat Riggins – Cry Out

Gulf Coast Records – 2020

13 tracks; 46 minutes

This is Floridian Kat Riggins’ fourth album release but her debut on Gulf Coast where label co-owner Mike Zito is heavily involved as producer and guitarist; Mike is also credited as ‘composer’, alongside Kat as ‘writer’, so one assumes that these are Kat’s songs arranged by Mike, with assistance on five songs from Steve Van Der Nat (of Dutch band Little Steve and The Big Beat) and on two by Andreas Carre. Alongside Mike on guitar are Lewis Stephens on keys, Doug Byrkit on bass and Brian Zielie on drums; Johnny Sansone adds harp to two tracks and Eric Demmer (sax) and Fernando Castillo (trumpet) add punch to a few cuts.

Kat emphasizes how grateful she is to Gulf Coast for seeking her out, not for her chart history or potential sales, but for the quality of her voice and she certainly underlines that throughout the album, perhaps no better than on the title track “Cry Out”, a plea for help for the less fortunate in our society – the poor, the hungry, the neglected: “Cry out for America, cry out for the Vets… cry out somebody please”. With strong harp and guitar this is a standout track. Another key song is “Heavy” which pleads for a more caring society over a gentle arrangement with warm keyboards and dobro. The song is preceded by a short acapella version of the traditional gospel song “Hand In The Hand” and the gospel feel is continued in “Heavy”, especially in the ending with a choir of very young voices that includes Kat’s niece and nephews.

Much of the album is at the rock end of the blues spectrum, as on opener “Son Of A Gun” in which Kat states that she is not to be messed with, propelled by military drums and dirty guitar riffs: “If I were a man they’d call me a son of a gun, ‘cos I’d drop you where you stand”. “Catching Up” is a real rocker with plenty of solid riffing giving the tune a Stones feel. Kat falls victim to the falseness of someone with a “Wicked Tongue” before the horns return on “Can You See Me Now”, both tunes featuring lots of guitars (fellow Gulf Coast axeman Albert Castiglia shares guitar duties on “Wicked Tongue”). A funky rhythm is well supported by horns on “Meet Your Maker” and Kat fervently wants to be the other person’s “Truth” over chugging guitar work.

Kat wants to “Burn It All Down” when she is fooled by someone, Mike’s riff providing a solid core over which an overdubbed second guitar solos impressively on one of the longer tracks. The final three tracks offer a nice range: “On Its Way” is a short but sweet rocker with the horns underlining the chorus that offers a positive vision of the future, the ecstatic sax solo catching the feel nicely; slide and harp are appropriate accompaniment to the ‘Devil at the Crossroads’ tale with a twist, “No Sale”, in which Kat chooses not to sell her soul to Old Nick; finally Kat declares that anyone who crosses her will feel her wrath, she is “The Storm” and her powerful vocals, brooding guitar and a slower-paced tune make a dramatic finale to the album.

Kat has a great voice for this kind of music, enough grit and depth without resorting to shouting and screaming, always maintaining control. Whilst there is a lot of rocky material here there are plenty of touches of blues and gospel also.

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

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