Issue 14-43 October 22, 2020


Cover photo © 2020 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Liz Mandeville. We have 6 Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Ben Levin, Big Bo, A Band Called Sam, William Shatner, Sir Rod & The Blues Doctors and Shawn Pittman


 Help Wanted – Writers 

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These positions need a person who really loves the Blues and wants to spread the Blues word! Must have good writing and composition skills!

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Experienced writers are encouraged to apply. Send an email to and tell us about your Blues background. If possible send samples of previous work or links to it online.

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 Featured Interview – Liz Mandeville 

image“I live in the City of Chicago and I live on a block that is very mixed. A lot of the people on my block are from the same village in Mexico and they’re all Chavez. I’ve lived here in the same spot, I’m a Capricorn, I’m like right on the cusp of Capricorn and Sagittarius so half of me wants to be the boss, put down roots, never leave. So that part of me owns this building and has been here on the same address since 1993. And the other half is Sagittarius which loves to travel, meet new people, do new things, have new experiences, eat new food. So the Blues has really satisfied both sides of my personality to that extent.”

Liz Mandeville, the exceptionally original and talented Blueswoman, creates her art and by extension her life, in relation to people. Known by the children in her neighborhood as “Tia Blanca,” Liz is in constant search of connection and commonality: from expanding her formidable song writing skills to include collaborators to engaging with her audience and fans individually as friends to being a trusted adult to the children in her close knit neighborhood. In the past 6 years, Liz has been forced to reevaluate her art in relation to life altering experiences, most recently the COVID crisis. Liz has used these experiences and the times of forced reflection that came with them to fuel creativity and push into new ways of engaging.

Liz Mandeville has built her career business model on building friendships and being connected:

“You know what I think I can credit Tommy Castor for hipping me to how to do business in the Blues. I looked at Tommy and I said ‘This man is so successful I want to interview him and find out his thinking process. I want to find out how this successful person manages to keep going even though it’s a recession. He was kind enough to grant me a breakfast interview, you know for me that’s 11 o’clock (hahah), actually I had to be there at 8 (haha). I went a talked to him and he said ‘I make relationships with people, like I want to be on the Blues Cruise so I don’t sleep when I’m on that boat. I go around and I talk to people and I work with different musicians and then I put together the Blues Review with people from the cruise and then I make a record.’ I thought wow he’s brilliant, that is brilliant, but I wanted to do it on an international level.”

“So I was playing the Lake County Fair and I was on stage, and I heard people in the audience speaking French. I jumped off the stage and ran up to them as soon as my set was over and said ‘Bon Jouir.’ They’er like ‘what she’s speaking French.’ Turns out they were from Lyon and they were musicians and they were friends of Maurice John Vaughn. I invited them to my house and said ‘hey I’m gonna put out an afternoon charcuterie, and we’re gonna jam, I got musical instruments.’ I said ‘I don’t know anyone from Lyon, all my friends are from Paris, so please be my guest. ma maison es tu maison.’ (chuckles)”

“I don’t have a huge following but the people that do know about me, I know their names (laughs). I go and see them. If I go play in Tallahassee I know Peggy and Jim are gonna be there, these people I’ve known for 20 years. They invite me to their house and they know I like French wine and always bring me a Chateauneuf du pape. There’s people like that in every town I go to.”

Liz has not only looked internationally for inspiration but she has had long standing relationships with Blues hotbeds such as Clarksdale.

“I go to Clarksdale every chance I get. There was a period there I was going to Clarksdale 5-6 times a year. It was cheaper than Paris, let me tell that first (chuckles). And so many cool people I got to be friends with T-Model Ford, there’s a whole bunch of people who live down there and have business down there that I’m friendly with. I got to be really tight with Cindy Hodack and Teo Dasback who have the Rock and Blues museum there. Man, so many really talented amazing people in that town. Sean Apple is a good example of somebody who creates that kind of groove. His groove has more playfulness and dance and let’s’ get the girls to shake their hips kind of thing so I can watch (haha). Sean he’s a very lusty healthy young man (chuckles). That was the first place that I saw that guy Kingfish to, the new phenom. That cat man I think 15 or 16 years old first time I saw him and I’d been drinking wine with Watermelon Slim and I think I scared the living crap out of that poor kid. Because I was like this drunk white lady he didn’t know from shit comes up to him on the street.”

After a lot of struggle throughout her life Liz has a healthy attitude about herself: “Once you get to a certain age you should frickin’ make peace with your childhood and take responsibility for where you are. It’s not my childhood anymore. I have made my own life and I have made my own way.” This strength is born out of challenge and struggle. Liz had her first recent life altering challenge in 2015.

image“I had pneumonia, pneumonia almost killed me in 2015. I had a near death experience, I left my body. And when I came back into my body I no longer had the desire to smoke pot, or drink coffee, or eat meat. I mean it was the weirdest thing, I’m a lifelong carnivore and all of a sudden. And it was after that when I was trying to bring my voice back from the pneumonia, because I performed with it, I didn’t realize I had it and I worked with it for like 3 or 4 months. I had a fever, I had a cough, I just like soldiered through and it’s amazing that I’m still alive. I seem to have 9 lives or something, God wants me here for something.”

Catching pneumonia in the early Summer of 2015 and working through it at 100 miles per hour, her illness brought Liz to the brink and created a commune with some of her dear friends and mentors whose spirits walk with her but whose physical presence have long since gone.

“(In 2015) the last gig of the season was in October and I had time booked out after just to rest and recuperate. It was the last gig, that October gig, I came home from the gig, I brought my guitar in the house, I laid down on the bed and said ‘that’s it, I’m done, you can take me now.’ (haha) I’m sick of coughing, I’ve had a headache for 3 months, I feel like shit, I’m singing like Louis Armstrong, this is it. And God’ s like ‘aha really, that’s what you, really, seriously?” Right at that moment I just floated up out of my body, that was just insane what I experienced, I went down. People are gonna think I’m crazy. I literally went down these stairs, I was like in a bar room with a casino on one side, I’m not a gambler so a casino didn’t interest me, but it was a bar full of people and there was a band setting up in the back. I was like looking around and everybody was saying like ‘hey Liz is here.’ I was like greeting people. People were going ‘hey you want to come over and have a drink?’ And I was thinking ‘man I feel so good, I haven’t felt good in forever.’ But I said ‘no, no I’ll come back later, I want to go back and see who the band is.’ I go back there and it’s Willie Kent and the Gents. Willie Kent was one of my favorite people in the Chicago Blues scene, I’ve had a lot of favorites of that generation. When Aaron Burton up and quit our band right after we put out a couple of records on Earwig, Willie Kent was the one who stepped up and said let’s marry our bands. Willie was a straight up business man and a really nice person so it was wonderful to see him but I wasn’t the star of the show. Here I was in the afterlife and I was going to be the person sitting in. And there were no windows and once I realized I’m goin’ around ‘hey you guys how you doing?’ Here’s Jake and here’s Kenny, and here’s Dave Jefferson and here’s Bonnie Lee. And I’m huggin’ everybody and all ‘Whoa you guys I missed you so much I haven’t seen you since you died… oh.’ And then I realize the bartender was Tommy from the Wise Fools Pub who’s been dead for over 20 years. And people sitting in the bar were people I’ve known over the decades from working in bars and you know gotten to be friends with, patrons. So I said ‘oh, I’ve got things to do guys, I’ll see you later on. I’ll catch you on the flip flip flop ah. See ya see ya later” So I hustled my butt down that hallway, ran back up those stairs and jumped back into my body and sat up and called the doctor.”

Liz used her near death experience, her fever dream of loved ones long gone, to blaze a new path. She doubled down on what had been her natural skill and passion for connection and friendship to create her outstanding Stars Motel record.

“It was a long slow haul to recover from (pneumonia), but the upshot of that was, man, I felt so happy to be alive and so filled with purpose. Cause I had tons and tons of music I’d recorded that I hadn’t finished. So that was the impetus for getting the Stars Motel out, was that I died, I came back. In order to get my voice back, cause I felt like I was a complete jerk for disrespecting my instrument so badly. That I had worked with pneumonia, that my voice had been reduced to a few, all be it juicy fabulous, notes, it was not the four octaves I was born with (laughs).”

Liz’s new lease on life opened her to the possibility of deeper collaboration.

“The Stars Motel record was a collaboration, I was gonna try to see could, I write with other people, cause everything else I’d done I’d wrote myself. I thought well I’m wondering if I can set my ego aside enough to entertain somebody else’s creative ideas (chuckles) and how that worked. I got a phone call from somebody down in OK (Scott Ellison) that I had released a record at the same time as he did. This was like 2010 after the last crash, Chicago was really slow to feel the pinch from that crash from that ‘Recession.’ What happened was the clubs in order to stay afloat stopped offering hotels. So he called me and said ‘I’ve got gigs in Chicago and a day off in between and no where to stay, and I don’t know what to do, what do you think?’ And I was about to say Heart of Chicago because that’s the motor lodge I named my 2nd album after, on my own label. Well that’s a cool place, not expensive. Then I thought ‘well I have got a studio in my basement.’ So that’s how it all got started and I wrote three tunes with him and he and his band stayed here.”

imageStars Motel was co written with 4 other artists. I did 3 tracks with Scott Ellison, 3 tracks with Rachelle Coba from Miami, 3 with Dario Lommbardo from Torino Italy, who was Phil Guy’s guitar player, and I think 2 on that record with Minoru Maruyama who plays with me on a regular basis in my band. Also Doug Demming recorded a solo for that record, I absolutely love Doug’s style, oh man he’s a swinging mutha fo yah. Oh my God, really swinging. So that was awesome.”

The artistic revelations and new inventions that Stars Motel offered Mandeville lead her into her next record and her next major obstacle to overcome.

“After it was all over I think it was kinda like the post wedding let down, the baby Blues kind of thing (chuckles). Everybody had come up here for the record release parties and we had tons of them, they were all over. I’d booked my butt off. There were gigs like all the way from Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Chicago. We did a record release party at Buddy Guy’s Legends, it was off the hook. Every place we played everybody loved everybody and everybody got along with each other, no egos, and it was so fun. And then everybody went back to their lives.”

“I had a gig the night before Thanksgiving at a place on the North Side. The night before Thanksgiving is a great gig if you’re like 20. But when you’re my age you are the people that those 20 year olds are in the bar avoiding talking to (chuckles). And the people that are my age are like oh I have to go home and put my turkey in the oven and do my side dishes and clean my house. So the gig was over by 11:30-12 o’clock and I was packing up my stuff. It was one of those nights where everybody was drunk and crashing cars all over the place. All I could think was I just want to get home, I just want to get home. A little light smattering of rain just making it hard to see. I’m driving down the road thinking ‘oh man what am I doing this for this is crazy, I’m too old to be in this business, I should just quit. Nobody would care if I never sang another note, nobody likes my guitar playing.’ You know all these, play the violin (mimics weepy sounds), poor me, kind of Bluesy kind of thoughts. I’m certain that God or the universe or whatever you want to call it is listening to me going ‘oh you asshole, (haha) I can’t believe you think this, seriously you really think that? I’ll show you.’ And wham I bammed right into this guy on the Edens Expressway and I’m sure he thought he’d pulled off the road because I think he was asleep. No lights on, I didn’t see him until I had flattened his car. I turned his sedan into a hatchback. And I had just speed up, I had just moved over into the ‘let’s get the heck off this road lane,’ and hit this guy head on.”

“First thought in my mind ‘oh my God how’s my guitar? Where’s my Gibson, where’s my baby?’ But I had a concussion, I had knocked the crap out of myself. I’m only 5’ 3” so I sit real close to the wheel anyway and I was staring out the window real hard because it was hard to see with the rain. So when I hit my head on the steering wheel the bag exploded into my breast bone. So it was like a double whammy there.”

“Well I couldn’t work, I had to cancel gigs for the rest of the year. I had the most booked up schedule that I’d had in years because people had loved the album (Stars Motel). But that was it. With that I could not look at screens. So I couldn’t do my DJ gig, I couldn’t look at TV, I couldn’t look at Netflix or YouTube, I couldn’t read a Kindle, I couldn’t go on my Facebook I could’t look at my smart phone. It was kind of like this COVID thing Except with COVID I had the internet, but it was another forced period of being isolated. I couldn’t be around people because my chest was so brutalized I was full of contusions and bruising on my heart and lungs. I didn’t break any bones, but I couldn’t be around people. I couldn’t risk catching a cold.”

This forced slowing down of her life and removal of devices allowed Liz to again delve into her muse and blaze even more new paths.

“I had a chance to really reflect. I read books and I listened to public radio. We have a wonderful station in Chicago WDCB that’s Jazz all day and then Roots blocks at night. So it’s Tom Marker and Hambone’s Blues Hour and Blues from the Rooster and all these different shows, and then also Celtic music one night. So I’m listening to all this music and I rediscovered that I love Jazz (chuckles). I was so blinders on about Blues that I had completely stopped listening to all other types of music. And with this break I had had a chance to listen to Bossa and listen to Coltrane.”

This round of reflection and introspection ignited the spark of her newest record Playing With Fire.

“I really loved the process of creating music with other people (on Stars Motel). It’s so wonderful to get to know another artists and what’s their background, how did they come to the Blues, what’s their approach to songwriting. Because I have this studio in my basement I also have an isolation room, but it also has a TV and a queen size bed in it and there’s a coffee maker and like little Pullman type kitchen and a bathroom down there. So people could come and stay and just hang out and it was really chill to, you know, take your time. With Rachel Coba she was here for like a week before the Blues Blast awards. With Dario, Dario came from Italy for the Chicago Blues Fest and ended up staying like a month. And he and I have become great friends and we tour together, I’ve been over to Italy a couple of times and he’s come over the US and tour with me and my band.”

image“When I came back from that accident the first person to come over was Peter Struijk from the Netherlands, he’s a slide resonator player. He’s the guy who introduced me to Tail Dragger. Because he’s like 20 years younger than me I think of him as this kid. He’s been such an inspiration to me I was so blessed to meet him at the Fondemi Blues Festival back in 2008. We’ve been friends ever since because he coming over to stay with Tail Dragger. I said oh come over and have tea with my husband and me. Peter’s a vegetarian and a non-drinker and it’s like hey man I don’t know what your eating on the West side of Chicago because it’s like the rib capital of the world. He did come over and he and my husband became great friends.”

“The wonderful thing about making Playing With Fire was not only did I feel as if I was experiencing a rebirth as an artist but also the forming of relationships with people, which I think is so important. I mean I’m not a 19 year old pop phoneme, I kinda find a lot of the pop music really offensive and vulgar which people would probably think is funny cause I write a lot of songs that are double entanda and humorous. But I’m not coming right out and saying it. To me that’s whoa, put your clothes back on. I like to tease better than to strip.”

Then COVID hit, a third roadblock in the past 6 years that Liz engaged with creativity and insight.

“I had put this record out and because it is my own label I invested my own money in it. I had scheduled all these promotional tours, including in Europe, in Germany and in France. COVID happens, all of that’s postponed. I did the first record release party which was at Buddy Guy’s Legends. That was March 15th and that was the last date anybody played live music in Chicago before the quarantine. And all of the other in store appearances, and radio appearances and promotional appearances, all around the Mid West and everywhere in the United States and a tour to Florida, which is one of my big markets I tour to Florida at least once a year, I mean all on hold. Immediately I sat down and I started out I was ‘okay this could be really good, how can I turn this to my advantage?’ Everybody’s going to be sitting home, nothing to do, it’s going to be a captive audience (chuckle). I will perform twice a week, I’ll do a Happy Hour. I will encourage people to forget about the pandemic for an hour on Thursday with me and an hour and half on Saturday with me. I’m also a yogi. I’m a certified yoga teacher, I’ve spent time on the ashram, I have certifications in sound healing and pranayama. I knew that if I didn’t have accountability I probably wouldn’t continue my practice because it would be just too easy to just stay in bed and watch TV. So I posted on my website calendar and on my Facebook, I’m going to be teaching yoga if by donation, if you want to donate cool, if not karma yoga whatever, hatha yoga three times a week Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with meditation on Sunday.”

Liz Mandeville is full of gratitude. Liz has been nominated for a Blues Blast Award in 2020. “I’ve never been nominated for anything. I’ve been actually professional since ‘83, I’ve been writing music all my life. This is the first time I’ve gotten any attention from the Blues world other than in 2013 I was inducted in the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame.”

Liz has been happily married to her life partner for 11 years. “I put an order in with the universe and I said ‘listen if I can’t have this I would rather be alone.’ I need somebody who understands what I do, who doesn’t want to change me into something else and who supports me in what I do. I was walking my dog and literally yelling at God: ‘hey, I told you, I want.’ I got exactly that with my husband, he’s a wonderful person and I am so very lucky to have finally found a winner.”

The universe is lucky to have Liz sending beauty, love and compassion into it.

Check out Liz on Facebook:

Or on her website:

Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageBen Levin – Carryout Or Delivery

Vizztone Label Group – 2020

12 tracks; 41 minutes

At just 21 years of age, Ben Levin is already on his third album and has received three nominations for Blues Blast awards – a pretty fair record for one so young. On this album we can see progression as Ben has written eight of the songs, one with his father Aron, and the disc is just his regular quartet, Ben on keys and vocals, Aron on guitar, Chris Douglas on bass and Oscar Bernal on drums. No special guests this time, just friends and family adding backing vocals to one track: brother Josh, Dad Aron, Howard Cohen and recording engineer Matt Hueneman. The album was recorded in June in Newport, KY. and produced by Ben and Matt.

The album opens with a run of seven originals. Ben’s piano leads us into “You Know”, a strong blues with terrific barrelhouse piano as Ben issues a warning to a girl that “if you run around on me I ain’t gonna be your fool no more”. “Stuck” is rather repetitive and perhaps the least successful track here but Ben hits another winner with “Too Good For Me”, a slow blues on which he switches to electric piano. The title track brings a jazzier feel to the album (as well as the ‘choir’ on the chorus) as Ben offers his services with a wink and a devilish smile: “I’m your personal Amazon man. I got loads of slack, everything you need. I’m coming to you on delivery”. The stop-start rhythm on “Have You Lost Your Mind?” recalls “I Ain’t Got You” and the tougher style is reflected in Aron’s jagged solo. Another switch of styles comes on “Some Other Time” with a delicate groove set by the rhythm section, Aron’s jangling chords set against Ben’s electric piano and the melodic bass well up in the mix. Ben’s vocals work well on this soulful tune which lyrically has a wistful feel as Ben searches for ways to convince a girl that he may be young but can still love her, though that may be in the future. The instrumental “NOLA Night” does what the title suggests with double-fisted piano and terrific drumming. The final original is sandwiched within the covers, an amusing song co-written by Ben and Aron in which Ben states that some things that happen emotionally hurt like a “Papercut”, another NOLA influenced piece with piano in Fats Domino style.

Ben covers four songs from a varied set of artists: Placed just before “Papercut” in the album running order, Frank Frost’s “My Back Scratcher” is another tongue-in-cheek song played here in a funky style with Ben on organ. Chicago’s Harold Burrage is the source for the blues instrumental “The Buzzard” with Ben again on organ while Bill Nettles’ “Hadacol Bounce” is probably best known from Professor Longhair’s version and Ben’s piano is very much in NOLA style here; for those unaware, Hadacol was a patent medicine marketed as a vitamin supplement though its main attraction, especially in ‘dry’ southern states, may have been the 12% alcohol included as a ‘preservative’! Floyd Dixon’s sentimental ballad “Time Brings About A Change” brings the album to a quiet close as Ben reflects on how things can change in just a year – probably very true in the meteoric rise of this young piano man

With sleeve notes written by Blues Blast’s Marty Gunther, this well written and performed album shows continuing development of a genuine talent who is spreading his wings stylistically.

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 – 2 of 6 

imageBig Bo – Preaching the Blues

Natural Records NR 18-008

12 songs – 39 minutes

Since emerging from the Delta a century ago the blues has become a universal language, and there’s no one on the planet today who speaks it as fluently as the early masters as Bo Brocken, a throwback musician who regularly dominates awards season in his homeland, the blues hotbed of the Netherlands.

Working under the name Big Bo, Brocken is a multi-instrumentalist who works in the one-man band format, simultaneously playing acoustic, resonator or electric guitar while providing percussion on a foot-operated drum set. His repertoire covers the full spectrum of first-generation American blues, including Hill Country, Delta, Piedmont and ragtime stylings, covering the classics in manner that would make the masters smile.

His introduction to the music came as a child through his parents’ love for John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. He’s been playing guitar since age 12 and performing in public since he was 17. He’s a stylish fingerpicker with a soulful, slightly raw voice who’s been entertaining audiences across Europe since the ‘80s.

A 2015 winner in the solo/duo category at the Dutch Blues Challenge, he made it to the semi-finals at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis the following winter. His 2015 CD, Preaching the Blues, captured top honors in the Dutch Blues Awards, and, most recently, he was nominated for four trophies – best blues act, best blues musician, audience favorite and special achievement – last year – high praise considering the quality of his competition.

Like its predecessor, this album is a prize-winner, too. It was recorded in mono at Uncle Larson’s Studio in The Hague, using a single vintage BBC-AXB microphone, and the sound quality is sensational throughout. A collection of 12 familiar covers that are delivered with reverence and enthusiasm, the set opens with Robert Johnson’s “Preaching Blues.” Big Bo sings in perfectly unaccented English, and his playing style features skillful octave jumps on the six-string.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Going Over the Hill” follows before Big Bo dips into the catalog of Jazz Age superstar Chippie Hill for her 1924 hit, “Trouble in Mind.” Next up is Bukka White’s cautionary “Sic ‘em Dogs On,” before the set shifts gears for a take on Blind Willie Johnson’s familiar “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning.”

Bessie Smith’s ballad, “Back Water Blues,” follows, yielding to Charley Patton’s Hill Country pleaser, “Mississippi Boweavil Blues,” Blind Willie McTell’s “Southern Can Is Mine” and Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues.” Three more pleasers — the traditional “Pallet on the Floor,” Blind Willie’s “You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond” and Skip James’ often overlooked “Look at the People Standing at the Judgement” – bring the action to a close.

If your tastes are deep old-school, you’ll enjoy this one. Like Traveling Riverside – which is its equal, it’s available direct from the artist (address above) with multiple payment options, including Paypal.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageA Band Called Sam – Legacy

Highlander Records – 2020

9 tracks; 42.11 minutes

Sam ‘Bluzman’ Taylor had a long career, playing with Joey Dee & The Starlighters in the 60’s, writing for Sam & Dave at the start of their career and acting as musical director for Otis Redding, The Drifters and The Isley Brothers. In his later years he lived in New York where he and his band played regularly until his passing in 2009. All the songs here were written by Sam, the album a tribute to Sam from the members of his last band, including daughter Sandra Taylor (a vocalist in her own right) and grandson Lawrence ‘LAW’ Worrell on guitar/vocals (Lawrence has played with Parliament and Amy Winehouse, amongst others): Angela Canini adds vocals to three tracks, Mario Staiano is on drums, Gary Grob on bass, Danny Kean on keys/synth horns and Sam’s protégé Gary Sellars on guitar. Richie Cannata from Billy Joel’s band is featured on sax and recorded the material at his studio, clearly a labour of love as it took nine years to complete!

We are generally in funky blues territory here with catchy tunes like “Hole In Your Soul” and “Nothing In The Streets” while “Next In Line” is a smooth 70’s style soul piece with Sandra and Angela sharing vocal leads. Lawrence sings and plays the wah-wah guitar on “Good To Ya” which warns that “everything that’s good to ya ain’t always good for ya” and also takes the lead on “The Stinger”, an autobiographical piece based round Sam’s birth sign (Scorpio). The slow “Mother Blues” has a strong vocal from Sandra and plenty of space for the band to shine while “Devil In Your Eyes” is an upbeat shuffle, again with shared vocals from Sandra and Angela. Rather the outlier here is “Funny”, a 1961 hit for Maxine Brown who reprises the ballad impressively, swapping verses with Angela on a classic torch song with a lovely sax break from Richie. The opening track “Voice Of The Blues”, with bright guitar and great horns, may just be the pick of this worthy tribute to a relatively unsung hero.

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 

imageWilliam Shatner – The Blues

Cleopatra Records CLO 1943

14 songs – 50 minutes

Former Star Trek captain William Shatner has been no stranger to music and the recording studio since blasting off into space aboard the Starship Enterprise in the mid-‘60s with the release of The Transformed Man LP on the Decca label, a concept album that juxtaposed spoken-word passages of classic poetry and pop tunes dealing with the existential struggle of identity – all delivered with the intense vocal gymnastics that made him a superstar on the small screen.

That disc was panned pretty much internationally, but remains viewed as a work of comic brilliance and as a priceless treasure among Trekkies. No matter whether it was a fluke of luck or an act of genius, the work created a niche market that Shatner’s been mining intermittently ever since. Mixed in among releases for his sci fi audience have been novelty albums that continued the theme forward, mixing multiple forms of music into his apparent sly, tongue-in-cheek performance.

This CD is the fifth release in Capt. Kirk’s relationship with Los Angeles-based Cleopatra Records, beginning with Seeking Major Tom in 2011 and, most recently, the holiday-themed album, Shatner Claus: The Christmas Album, two years ago. But this one takes listeners somewhere they’ve never gone before: He enlisted several of his favorite musicians to deliver his first blues effort. And it’s surprising it’s taken this long because the native Canadian has been a blues lover for decades.

Among the world-class talents laying down the backing tracks here are guitarists Kirk Fletcher, Brad Paisley, Sonny Landreth, Ritchie Blackmore, Ronnie Earl, Pat Travers and Harvey Mandel along with Canned Heat, all of whom sit in on one cut each. Also featured are Steve Cropper, James Burton, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Arthur Adams, Tyler Baxter and Albert Lee. They’re flushed out with an uncredited roster of session musicians.

With the exception of the final two cuts – a cover culled from the Canadian country-folk string band, The Dead South, and a final musing penned by Shatner himself, all of the songs here are classical blues chestnuts, that – propelled by his oddly cadenced vocal delivery – have seen far better days, beginning with a fiery, stinging intro from Paisley for Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.”

The action slows to a tedious crawl for Willie Dixon’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” despite masterful fretwork from Fletcher before Landreth fills Eric Clapton’s shoes admirably for a thoroughly forgettable take on Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love.” Blackmore’s rendition of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” is understated and true blue before Earl steps to the plate for down-and-deep version of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” as, for a second or two, Shatner issues something that almost sounds like singing.

The musical portion of this show diverts to Memphis briefly for a painful version of the Booker T/William Bell classic, “Born Under a Bad Sign,” propelled by sweet licks from former child protégé Bryant before Shatner does his best to destroy the enchantment laid down by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You” despite Travers doing his best to keep things on the rails.

If Robert Johnson wasn’t spinning his grave after the open, he probably will be with the vocally emotionless version of “Crossroads” that’s up next aided by Burton, and Howlin’ Wolf will be spinning, too, with Shatner’s ineffectual reading of “Smokestack Lightnin’” despite six-string magic from Baxter. And Adams’ spectacular licks can’t save Don Robey’s “As the Years Go Passing By,” either.

It takes big cajoles for Bill to do what he attempts next — covering Canned Heat’s version of Wilbert Harrison’s “Let’s Work Together” backed by the band that made it famous, which almost works – before enlisting Cropper for turning the Bobby Troupe classic, “Route 66,” into a car wreck and Lee for “In Hell I’ll Be in Good Company,” The Dead South tune that begins mercifully with an extended instrumental intro. The disc ends with “Secrets or Sins,” a word poem backed by Daniel Miller on guitar.

The music quality on The Blues is exceptional throughout – as you’d expect after a quick glance at the roster, and Shatner fans probably will love this one to the moon and back. If you’re a true blues lover, however, you’ll probably feel more like I do: Sorry, Bill, but the thrill is gone, I can quit you, baby. I feel like I’ve been born under a bad sign, made worse because listening to this felt like the years were passing me by. I’m already in hell.

Beam me up, Scotty! I’m done!

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 

imageSir Rod & The Blues Doctors – Come Together

Modern Blues Harmonica – 2020

11 tracks; 48 minutes

Most blues fans will be familiar with the story of Satan & Adam which has recently featured in a Netflix documentary. Mr. Satan (real name Sterling Magee) was a one-man band street performer in NYC who met harmonica player Adam Gussow in Harlem in 1986. They joined forces as Satan & Adam, made a brief cameo appearance on U2’s Rattle And Hum in 1988, and enjoyed a run of three albums together before Sterling retired to Florida. Since then Adam has been based in Mississippi, establishing a fine reputation as a writer, teacher and performer. Since 2012 Adam has released two albums on which he played harp and percussion with guitarist Alan Gross as The Blues Doctors. Adam has worked for many years on a film documentary about Satan and Adam which eventually saw the light of day in 2018. One person who saw the film was Roderick Patterson, a singer, dancer and motivational speaker who happens to be Sterling Magee’s nephew. Adam and Roderick (who performs as ‘Sir Rod’) discussed a collaboration which started out as a possible tribute to Sterling but became a larger project, now realized as Sir Rod & The Blues Doctors. The three musicians offer us a broad palette of music with four songs from the Satan & Adam repertoire, two new originals and five covers from James Brown, Ray Charles, Rosco Gordon, Little Willie John and Howling Wolf. Rod handles all vocals and plays piano on one track, Adam is on harp and percussion, Alan on guitar; bass is added to two tracks by Jerry Jemmott and Bryan W Ward who also engineered the sessions in Mississippi in early 2020.

The album opens with the impressive title track, an uptempo number which calls for unity across the political divide and has been used by Common Ground Committee, a social justice, non-profit organization whose motto “Let’s de-polarise and unite America” is certainly well represented in this song co-written by Rod and Adam. Rod has a solid, powerful voice which can adapt across blues and soul styles and works well on “Sanctified Blues”, a Sterling Magee composition which has a sparse style wrapped round a faster section for Adam’s solo. The rousing “Seventh Avenue” describes how he lost a good woman because of his ‘fooling around’ and “I Want You” completes a trio of Satan & Adam tunes with plenty of tough harmonica. The covers start with a short run through “I Got You (I Feel Good)”, demonstrating that you can cover James Brown without a big band and Rod sounds convincing. Rod again proves his worth as front-man with a commanding performance on a down home country blues take on “Little Red Rooster” before the uptempo RnB of “Heartbreaker”, a Little Willie John vehicle back in 1960; Adam’s percussion really drives this one along!

Rod recalled his uncle playing a tune on the piano when he was a boy and used what he remembered of that tune to write “So Mean” which he plays himself on piano with just a little harp in the background. The minimal accompaniment works very well as Rod ponders why his girl does not appreciate him and reckons that she will regret it when he leaves. The stripped back piece makes a good interval before a thumping take on “No More Doggin’”. The trio reprises “Freedom For My People” which was the Satan & Adam piece featured on Rattle And Hum and closes the album with a great version of “What’d I Say”, again demonstrating the Blues Doctors’ ability to adapt to different styles of music. Adam plays brilliantly and Alan’s guitar is very clear in the mix on this track in particular.

A thoroughly enjoyable 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 

imageShawn Pittman – Make It Right!

Continental Blue Heaven

13 songs – 47 minutes

Recorded last October during a couple days off in the midst of a European tour, the latest from guitarist Shawn Pittman finds him making a joyous noise with the father-son team of Erkan Ozdemir on bass and Levent Ozdemir on drums. Using the analog equipment at the Heyman Studios in Copenhagen, Denmark, the trio tears through a program of eight Pittman originals and five covers, every track bursting with the kind of kinetic energy that is usually reserved for live performances.

The opener, “Done Told You So,” makes it clear that this album won’t be for the faint of heart. Sounding like they are coming to you straight out of Mississippi juke joint, Pittman warns a friend about a no-good woman, the song’s tone making clear that he speaks from experience. The next track comes from Albert King. “Finger On The Trigger” has Pittman bending piercing notes over a funky rhythm that pays tribute to the legendary guitarist.

A cover of Eddie Taylor’s “There Will Be A Day” features a prominent bass line from Erkam, with Pittman switching to smooth, single note runs, ending the cut with one of his many memorable solo efforts. Pittman returns to Mississippi hill country for a cover of Junior Kimbrough’s “I Feel Good,” making it clear that he is adept at Kimbrough’s “trance” style, accented with a fittingly distorted vocal.

Pittman’s guitar prowess is on full display during an instrumental take on the James Brown classic, “Cold Sweat.” It is four minutes of impressive fretwork with a Jimmie Vaughan Tex-Mex Stratocaster run through a 1967 Fender Super reverb amplifier, as noted in Pittman’s liner notes. That combo sounded so good that Pittman used it again on a stirring cover of the Bobby ‘Blue” Bland hit “Woke Up Screaming.” His gritty vocal nicely plays off his crisp guitar work.

The title track puts Erkam Ozdemir in the spotlight, his muscular drumming the only accompaniment for Pittman’s guitar on a tune with a driving boogie beat. The minor key slow blues “”How Long” is another standout, as Pittman honors the influence of Magic Sam and Otis Rush with six minutes of impassioned guitar.. “For Right Now” takes a different tack, offering a hopeful view of life wrapped up in a decidedly soulful vein, with plenty of reverb during the guitar solo, and vocal assistance from the rhythm section.

“Let It Go” ventures into Jimmy Reed territory, Pittman’s guitar filling in for the usual harmonica part over a dark, sturdy, loping rhythm. The downtrodden mood continues on “Fair Weather Friend,” another haunting slow blues that recalls the artistry of Lightnin’ Hopkins. The closer, “I’m Done,” is a rocking tune with loads of nasty tone, compliments of Pittman’s slide guitar channeling the work of Hound Dog Taylor.

Pittman dedicates the disc to the memory of Tom Hyslop, noted blues writer and life-long music fan who passed away earlier this year. No doubt Tom would have found plenty of superlatives to describe this outstanding recording. Twelve songs of deep, elemental blues performed by Pittman and the Ozdemirs, straight from the heart with no frills. Wholeheartedly recommended!

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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