Issue 15-10 March 11, 2021


Cover photo © 2021 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Chicago Bluesman John Primer. We have six blues reviews for you this week including new music from Ghalia Volt, Alias Smith & Jones, Iker Piris and His Dual Electras, Blue Contagion, Michael Schatte and Beauwater.


 Featured Interview – John Primer 

IMAGEOn any given Sunday, Blues lovers around the world can be treated to a unique and breathtaking experience. John Primer is playing every Sunday, solo in his home music studio and delighting virtual audiences. One of the few silver linings of this horrific COVID crisis is that an artist like Primer is able to stay connected and offer his music in ways that are surprising and different. John’s live streams highlight his facility and mastery of the electric guitar, his unwavering funky internal rhythm and his deeply resonant voice full of soul and emotion. Virtual performances are as varied and multifaceted as an in-person Primer show. Medium tempo Chicago shuffles, funky “hip-shakin’” (as he yelps while playing) slinks and low down slow Blues burners sit side by side. As John describes it:

“Just gettin’ my exercise, gettin’ a workout. I’m having fun doing it, I love to do it, oh yeah. Play the way I play by myself, play what I want to, try to play whatever I want to. If I miss a note I have to holla at myself, nobody else I can look to. (chuckles)”

Peppered with John and his wife/manager Lisa’s banter calling out friends, fans and colleagues while telling stories and sharing love and memories, the listener is invited into the Primer’s home for an intimate connection we all need so desperately right now. The engagement that John brings to these performances are what this accomplished Bluesman has been doing for his entire 60 year career.

John Primer is a living legend. One of the most authentic and vital holders of Chicago Blues, John is a vibrant artist with a well defined, time honed style that honors his forefathers and mothers but also amplifies (literally and existentially) what he calls “Traditional Blues.” John doesn’t just play the Blues he inhabits all the complex layers of the Blues with immediate and deeply personal connection. An accomplished songwriter, John values the diversity and nuanced importance of Blue composition. However, he tempers his encyclopedic knowledge of Blues, Soul, R&B and popular songs with the reckless abandon needed to perform the Blues. As he says to his sidemen “make sure you don’t just play a song, play with a feeling.”

John is a Blues prophet sharing the gospel of Chicago Blues all over the world. The pandemic has handcuffed John and like so many other artists has dried up his avenue to engage. In addition to the live streams, Team Primer is forwarding a campaign for John to be inducted into the Blues Music Hall of Fame, an honor he richly deserves, and John is nominated for a Blues Music award this year for Traditional Blues Artist. These are ways for John to stay connected to the often regional fan bases that sustain the Blues. Blues Blast catches up with John every 4 years or so, this being his 3rd feature since 2012. In his bassy Mississippi drawl, John was reminiscent of his days with his mentor the legendary Magic Slim and shared freely about his approach to the guitar, the Blues and his formidable songwriting skills.

John Primer is the recipient of a Doctorate in Blues education. The higher education system in the Blues is not in classrooms or colleges but is handed down knowledge. In the Blues tradition, John learned from masters like Magic Slim, Sammy Lawhorn, and Willie Dixon and has processed his learning into his own distinct and personal style. John is right next to guitar legends such as Buddy Guy, Otis Rush or Magic Sam. A facile and fluid guitarist, John plays with sensitivity. John prefers semi-hollow body guitars to the more popular solid body stratocaster which became the industry standard.

image“Well, you know I’m playin’ like traditional Blues on those guitars. The Epiphones I use the most, sometimes a Gibson. It’s just a style for me, you know. I get good sound, better sound. I like the Strat, but I can’t get the sound I want out of it when I want to play slide and stuff. I love when other peoples play it, it sounds great, when other peoples play it. (chuckles) But me, it’s not the right feeling for me, the sound coming out of the real traditional Blues. Hollow body put cha’ in the mind of the acoustic guitar you know.”

Primer plays slide in a standard turning which is different then legends of the slide such as Muddy Waters or Johnny Winter. This is a more flexible approach that was epitomized by the genius Earl Hooker and something John learned on the bandstand.

“I used to start playing slide guitar with Pat Rushing, in 1972-73. Cause I was playing at this club called Thereas’s Lounge and got next to Sammy Lawhorn. He thought we’d play one tune with slide and that’s it. Tune how you tune the guitar and learned how to play it. Learned all about it.”

John’s Blues are traditional. He plays with a clean thick sound that comes first from his fingers and requires only amplification. No distortion, no effects, just pure Blues.

“Well, I been using a Fender Twin amp, 1965 reissue. I’ve got the real one but I play the reissue. With the 1/12 speaker in there (single 12’ speaker). It’s small, people never seen it say ‘where you get that sound?’ It’s lighter, you can do anything with that Fender Twin around, you know. Too old you know to be carrying around something heavy. (haha) I play it either way. You know if I want to play some slide, I get the kind of sound I want, the right kind of sound I want. You know, Blues sound. Clear sound. No effects, I don’t use no effects or anything like that.”

John has taken on the position of poet laureate of the Blues. A clever yet plain spoken songwriter, again he was the recipient of handed down education this time from one of the greatest Blues writers, Willie Dixon.

“My songwriting style comes from writing lyrics down from a song that I want to learn from other peoples’ songs. Willie Dixon’s style actually was in mind how he built a song with the 12 bar Blues. That’s how I come by writing my own songs. Just write about things that happen. You know things from the past, you know you write down a sentence or two and you write the lyrics down. How you going to use these lyrics, you find a rhyme to it. So you find what rhyme. And you can listen to what somebody else said or words that you never heard and you can write your song out of that. So that’s how I began to write my own songs. Why I talk about, when I can write about? (haha) Write about it in a Blues way. I start writing because of Willie Dixon, because that’s who I know who could write all those Blues songs. He influenced my songs. I always said I wish I could write like what’s his name? Bob Dylan (haha). He’s one of my favorites, a Rock n’ Roll guy, but Blues – Willie was the man.”

Soul music has always been an important part of John’s career. Not leaning on Rock conventions like many Blues players do, John connects the dots between Muddy Waters and Otis Clay, between Koko Taylor and Aretha Franklin, between Howlin Wolf and Otis Redding. John’s 2019 Blues Blast Soul Blues Award winning album Soul of A Bluesman is a homage to his Soul influences.

“I learned all this stuff (Soul music) in my younger days. I listened to all types of music, I just didn’t listen to Blues, I listened to all types of music. Do Wop music, oh man I learned singing all types of music , just singing it. I just learned all this stuff down about Soul music, listening to Johnnie Taylor and Rhythm and Blues music. But I figure you know, well I know so much stuff, there are so many Soul songs and I know a lot of Blues songs that are not even my own songs. I figured instead of me tryin’ to write a Soul album, I put a couple tunes on there but you know they kind of the Blues more than Soul. Yeah, but, I just love that music and I always try to squeeze it on to the shows I do.

imageI figure I know so much things, why don’t I just give a shout to someone else’s music so that’s what I did Soul of a Bluesman (haha).”

John has a long standing relationship with harmonica wizard Bob Corritore. Chicago native transplanted to Arizona, Corritore is one of the many keepers of the Blues flame. A tremendous talent, Bob also operates a club in Scottsdale and continually pumps out fine traditional Blues albums with a whose who in the field. On their third record together, 2020’s The Gypsy Woman Told Me, John and Bob locked in in a way they hadn’t before on record, a revelation of traditional Blues.

“Yeah, well Bob and I, we have been friends for a long time and worked together for a long time. He got the Chicago style, from Chicago. Him and I get along real good. When he needs me to play at his club in Scottsdale, AZ I go and play and he put together a band for me. He’s one of the guys who really shows his appreciation, keeping the Blues alive. He’s a great wonderful guy. He means good. This last CD was something we wanted to do. So I went to Arizona and we cut the CD. It’s a winner.”

After stints in Willie Dixon’s band in the late 70’s and Muddy Waters’ band in the early 80’s, John Primer became the band leader for the monumental talent that was Magic Slim. This was post graduate Blues university time, when John would earn his cred not only in the US but internationally. One of the most important mentoring relationships for Primer, the years spent being coached, supported and molded by Slim helped launch Primer into his solo career.

“Working with Magic Slim was one of my greatest lifetimes of playing music. We went everywhere around the world. Working with Magic Slim was like to me, the same as I am, working with him he have no problem with you. You’d have no problem with him, he’d never get angry with you. He’d joke around with you, he might call you a MF a couple times. But, he never called me that. Never spoke that way to me. We talked, but not that much (chuckles) but we got along good. To me he was a big brother and a good teacher.”

A larger than life figure Slim was literally a giant of the Blues. With a big fluid finger picking technique that was complemented by Primer’s flat picked inventiveness, the pair created some definitive Blues during the great 80’s and 90’s resurgence. In thinking about their impact and different style John ruminates:

“Yeah different style. People very excited to see him because there are two lead guitar players in the band and singin’. And I created all the background for the stuff we did. He thump, as big as he was he’d have that whole stage shake. (makes a thumping sound). He get that sound out when he played.”

Magic Slim always had an eye for teaching and paying forward the music. Pushing John to realize his independent style, Slim shared the wealth and the spotlight. But, one could never forget he was a straight up assassin and the man in charge.

“When he come up he give me all these solos all the time. I be getting angry, why he given’ me all these solos. But I would realized he was teaching me, showing me what to do. He would let me play as long as I want. Out of respect I don’t play a whole lot, so I just play around and solos on him and that’s enough.”

“We go to the club and play somewhere, I don’t care where we at, I’m gonna have to play 3 songs and we have to open up the show for him. And then when we play and we cooks, and we call him him up. And sometimes he say to do 3 songs (ha) and he still be sitting at the bar drinkin’ and smokin’. Drinkin’ that whisky and smokin’ those cigarettes, and that whisky Wild Turkey. And I do the 3rd song and gettin’ ready to call him up and look over there. I could see him, I kept my eyes on him, hold up one more finger. (laughs). And then after we play that one I call him up and he say ‘ah, I don’t know what to do you boys sound so good.’ (giggles) Man, he come up there and kick butt. Man, he was one hell of a guitar player. That’s the only guitar player I’ve seen that could play and play. Always through the turn around, move to the 5 and come back around, you know, he play it all the way through the Soul thing and just keep pickin’ it and never lose the time. Yeah, that’s why we called it lump to lump. So we gave him the ‘lump.’ We played the lump that’s what happened.”

image“The lump,” or sometimes called the “Chicago lump,” is a style of playing that John and Slim created to allow Slim to indulge his endless creativity when he soloed. John breaks it down for us:

“To me the lump, we created that because we’d play on during the solo. What it was there was no turn around. (hums a few notes of a regular 12 bar turn around) That’s just regular Blues lick. But, the lump play on without the turn around it just drives on. Only thing that really be in and out is the drummer. Everybody walk, we don’t do that (turn around). Keep that lump on, big drive, forward Blues. (hums a heavy shuffling bass riff) da-lump da-lump da-lump.”

Shaking out some final immature mistakes and building his ability to hold the band together. John recounts a hilarious time that he did get on the wrong side of Slim:

“One time back in Chicago we would be playing the Blues, sometimes I’d be getting late gettin to the show cause I did get turned around, North Side, I’d get kind of lost because I didn’t know where I was goin’. I didn’t know too much about the North Side of Chicago. So when I do find my way, he already got the show goin’. So I just sit outside, you know I had all my stuff. I was just listen and I let them play 3 songs, I get peepin’ in the window, he don’t know I’m outside. So when he start on that third song I come through the door and he stop, bustin ba do ba do ba do and he just stop playin’. And he tell the people’s, ‘oh, oh, that’s John Primer, where you at? Where you been? All you all better bet a good seat cause I’m gettin’ ready to kill the guitar player.’ (ha ha) He did not finish that song. I had to go up and play three songs and then call him back up. (ha ha)”

John learned lessons about how to be a bandleader from Magic Slim and has held down his crew The Real Deal Band for more than 3 decades. Currently employing Steve Bell on harmonica (one of the legend Carrey Bell’s sons), Lenny Media on drums, Danny O’Connor on bass and often complimented by Ronnie Hicks on keyboard, John guides his crew with one underlying principle: respect.

“I’m easy with them, I don’t force them to do nothin’ I don’t get angry with them if everybody ain’t playing together. If you miss a note, ain’t nobody perfect. Just gonna continue doin’ it. But I work with them and actually when I’m playing with them when we do rehearse or whatever, I’m still up there teaching ‘em. You know the way I want to play it, the style, and how to play like the song right. Make sure don’t just play a song, play with a feeling. So I don’t have any problem with ‘em, don’t get angry at ‘em. Don’t get ‘em back stage and ‘hey, you didn’t do this, didn’t do this’ no, no, no you don’t do that. You expect them because their grown peoples, their not kids. They working, this just like a job, they workin’ for their money. This just a regular job you got. You do your job and that’s all. Just show respect, and show me respect, cause I’m definitely gonna show them respect, a lot of respect. And that’s how I work my band and how my band works. Any musician who works with my band gonna receive a lot of respect, because they know if they don’t know I’m gonna learn ‘em, show them how to play this right now, how to work with them. Treat them fair and treat me fair.”

imageLike so many other Blues stars hammering out a living on the road, John has found a large audience in Europe and annually makes multiple trips.

“They love the Blues from the US, music from the US. All music, I don’t care what music goes over there you’re gonna get a huge crowd, because they love all types of music. And they’re crazy about the Blues. They show you all the kind of respect about it. They roll out the red carpet for you over there in Europe. Great place to make a living.”

Having received his vaccine shots, John and his team are looking to the future and are in negotiations for a European tour. This is a fitting bookend to the pandemic for Primer who was almost stranded in Europe when everything first hit the fan.

“I left (to play in Europe) the day after my birthday, my birthday is March 5th, got there on the 10th of March. Soon as I got there, I’m in the motel room, waiting, you know we gonna get ready the next day, hit the road and start workin’. We were going to Germany, Holland and Amsterdam. Then on the television, CNN news in France, it came on the news we’re gonna have to be home by Friday the 13th by midnight. After midnight can’t nobody can catch a flight back home, you’d have to stay there and find a way back home. We were lucky. Got up the next morning went to the airport we were there 6 hours waiting to catch a plane. Couldn’t get a plane. Finally got tickets to Amsterdam and then Warsaw, Poland we had to stay overnight. So we laid over overnight there, got there at 9 o’clock at night, got up the next morning at 6 to get to the airport. Then our plane didn’t leave until 1 o’clock to get home. But we got home about 11 o’clock that night to Chicago (chuckles). In and out. Had to cancel all those gigs, didn’t get paid, didn’t get paid.”

At a recent live stream John performed the classic “Howlin’ Wolf.” A slow Blues with well worn imagery, John presented the song in his straightforward, honest style. Playing with a pick, John created, and does this with all his solo performances, a full and well orchestrated accompaniment to his plaintive singing. His internal sense of rhythm and ability to deliver a song also adds to the orchestration and allows John to break away from rhythm guitar and deliver stinging, facil lead lines that never feel hollow or disconnected. Reaching over and dipping his finger into his sterling silver pinky slide mid-solo, John eviscerates “Howlin’ Wolf” with slashing slide and pumps the song into a frenzied finale. This is the John Primer audiences are thrilled by all over the world, this is the John Primer who has defined modern Chicago Blues, this is the John Primer who makes his living traveling near and far proselytizing the beauty of the Blues. This is John Primer in his late 70’s possibly more vital and potent than he was in his 30’s or 40’s. Defining the Blues history and shaping its future while maintaining the tradition. John will be back out, he will be back in your town, he will be back in Europe. John’s music, his spirit, his warmth and his tradition, just like the Blues, will endure. Don’t sleep when John comes back out – see him and revel in the pure Real Deal.

Continuing to respond to the newly required digital demands on connection, Team Primer has souped up John’s website and given fans a wealth of pictures, stories and content at Do yourself a favor, check out John’s live streams on Sundays on Facebook

Interviewer 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.

For other interviews on our website CLICK HERE


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

IMAGEGhalia Volt – One Woman Band

Ruf Records RUF 1288

11 songs – 42 minutes

Ghalia Volt has been going through interesting changes since arriving in the U.S. to follow her musical dream after busking on the streets of her native Brussels and establishing herself as a rocker. The longer she’s been here the closer she’s gotten to the root. And it’s hard to envision that she could get any closer that this CD, which finds her delivering her own amped-up take on modern Hill Country blues.

A diehard blues and R&B devotee despite a background in grunge, punk rock and more, she recorded one CD in Europe – Have You Seen My Woman – under her birth name, Ghalia Vauthier, with the band Voodoo Casino before traveling to Chicago, Memphis and Nashville about six years ago.

After soaking up as much of the local music scenes as she could, she finally settled in New Orleans, where she teamed with local favorites Johnny Mastro & the Mamas Boys for “Let the Demons Out,” her debut release on Germany’s Ruf label. Issued in 2017, that disc hit finished the year in the No. 23 spot on the Living Blues radio charts and showing off her powerful, delivering mix of blues and rock accented by her melismic and honeyed multi-octave voice.

Drawn to the Hill Country sound, the Belgian beauty enlisted Cody and Luther Dickinson to record her follow-up, Mississippi Blend, in 2019, a disc that included guest appearances from Watermelon Slim, Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside and clearly demonstrated through the originals she penned for the album that her love for North Mississippi music was no fluke.

This album — which was captured at Royal Sound Studios in Memphis – earns Volt the right to have a seat beside the late Jessie Mae Hemphill as one of the queens of the Hill Country sound. It’s recorded in one-woman band format, like the title infers, and captured in real time without the benefit of multi-tracking. A set of nine originals and two covers, Ghalia accompanies herself on guitar and percussion throughout aided only by guest appearances from guitarist Monster Mike Welch and bassist Dean Zucchero, who sit in on two cuts each.

“Last Minute Packer,” co-written with Zucchero, lopes out of the gate with Volt on slide before laying down a steady beat of triplets on the drums. Recorded at the height of the COVID-19 shutdown, it celebrates the pleasure she receives when forced to bag up her belongings before hitting the road for her next gig. Dean joins the action for the driving “Espiritu Papago,” which chugs like a locomotive as it describes sleeping on the ground and wandering around after her car breaks down.

The haunting “Can’t Escape” drones steadily forward as Ghalia yearns for a way to turn off the thoughts streaming in her head, a message that continues in “Evil Thoughts,” which has a hokum feel and is sweetened immeasurably by Monster Mike’s stellar work on the six-string throughout. The sounds darken once more with “Meet Me in My Dreams,” an unhurried ballad in which Volt aches for the return of a lover who’s dead and gone.

Up next, the stop-time slide pleaser “Reap What You Sew” comes complete with the feel of Lil’ Ed Williams or his uncle, J.B. Hutto, although Volt is far more understated but in complete control. One of the most interesting tunes in the set, the cautionary “Loving Me Is a Full Time Job” opens as a ballad but heats up quickly before Ghalia takes on Tampa Red’s familiar “It Hurts Me Too” as a slow blues.

“It Ain’t Bad” is another pleasant stop-time effort that sings praise of anything and everything that falls beyond trouble before Volt’s prodigious guitar skills are on full display for “Bad Apple,” a detailed description of a young man who’s nothing but trouble. The action closes with both Welch and Zucchero on board for an updated version of the Ike Turner & His Kings of Rhythm/Ralph Bass classic, “Just One More Time.”

You can’t go wrong with this One Woman Band! Ghalia Volt is the whole package as a vocalist, guitarist and tunesmith as well as drummer with a rock-steady, but flowing beat. It’s Hill Country with attitude!

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageAlias Smith & Jones – Hit & Run

Self-Release – 2020

10 tracks; 42:40

Duets make for complicated musical relationships, because it pits the natural, human tendency of wanting to show off against the gentler impulse to support a colleague—even at one’s own expense. Alias Smith & Jones successfully navigate this challenge on Hit & Run, an album of comfortably familiar blues that keeps soulful harmonica and powerful vocals in harmony, allowing everyone to sparkle.

The aforementioned harmonica comes from Sal Carolei, who’s played with everyone from Eliza Neals to The Travis Miller Band. His harp work is distinctive, but also capable of bending to the will of the song, which means some performances feature a punk rock intensity, while others glide like Carolei’s learned how to transcribe the flow of a river. The vocals belong to Reneé Flemings, whose voice is bluesy but also powerful. If the archetypal blues voice is strong-yet-worn, Flemings voice sounds like it hits the gym every day.

Carolei and Flemings are backed by The Button Men, a rotating cast of bassists, drummers, and guitarists, who also share some of the spotlight, mostly via stellar guitar work. Together, it makes for a fun album with lots of charming details. For instance, on the title track, an original, the band locks into a heavy blues groove, Flemings using her lower register and Carolei playing against the beat, like a surfer paddling into an upcoming wave. Suddenly, a wild slide line comes in to take a solo. But listening closely, you realize the bluesy guitar is actually violin, courtesy of Alexander Sovronsky. It’s a cool surprise, but the song works because of the notes and emotion, and not because of unexpected instrumentation twist.

“Bad, Bad Whiskey,” an Amos Wilburn song, is one of Flemings’ best vocal performances on the album. She dramatically provides the vocal, flirting with a Broadway musical delivery, but never crossing the line. It’s because her voice has an emotional depth that keeps the song tethered to a sadness. “Gone” skips along, more rock than blues, except for Carolei’s harmonica, which meditatively rolls through the album, sounding completely natural, like he’s singing through his instrument. “Going Down the the River,” a Mississippi Fred McDowell track is the Alias Smith & Jones version of a country blues, with a hypnotic acoustic guitar riff anchoring a swirl of harp and guitar, Flemings digging deep for a vocal that’s desperate, but also sturdy, telling the listener nothing will disrupt the integrity of her singing.

The songs and performances are excellent. There’s plenty of ear candy for blues fans. In fact, if there’s one issue with the album, it’s the length. While it’s 10 tracks, there are two versions of “Long Time Child,” an extended one and an edit, meaning you’re really getting nine songs. With a band this tight, you want as much music as possible.

Reviewer Steven Ovadia writes about music and technology. You can see more of his music writing at

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageIker Piris and His Dual Electras – Electra

El Toro Records

CD: 10 Songs, 33 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Guitar Monster Blues, Harp Blues, All Original Songs

In Greek mythology, Electra was the sister of Orestes, who avenged her father’s death by killing her mother and her mother’s lover, a usurper to the throne. On Electra, the latest album from bluesman Iker Piris, he rips and roars on electric shredder with a definitive vengeance. Most of the artists I’ve christened “guitar monsters” in the past have been heavy on volume and light on melody, but Piris is the exact opposite. He doesn’t waste words or notes when he plays, preferring to get straight to the point without grandstanding or technical tricks. His accented vocals take some acclimatization – preferably in the form of two or three repetitions of this CD on your stereo, boombox or MP3 player. It’s thirty-three minutes long, short and sizzling, a firecracker!

Born in Tolosa in 1979, he started playing the guitar by himself at age fourteen. His first approach with the blues was through a friend who showed him basic tricks on the guitar, in addition to three albums he heard: Guitar Watson´s Witchcraft, B.B. King´s Live at the Regal, and Robert Cray’s False Accusation. Since 1997, he has since been performing onstage. In June 2009 he finished his studies at the Conservatory of Music of the Basque Country, Musikene. From that same year until 2018, he led The Romanticos. The band released three albums: My Time in 2012, Do It Yourself in 2014, and Good Vibrations in 2017.

Joining Iker Piris here (lead vocals and guitar) are Abdell B. Bop on upright bass and Andy Martin on drums. Special guests include Greg Izor and Nico Wayne Toussaint on harmonica, and Victor Puertas on piano for tracks two, five and seven. Together, they present ten original songs.

The best of these begin with the first number, boldly entitled “The Bolt.” It’s a sly and savvy harp extravaganza, featuring the considerable talent of Greg Izor. The bebop bass provides a bouncy line along with which you can play air guitar, and Piris’ solo in the middle will test your fingers, too. If you have a real guitar, even better. It’s simple enough that newbies can follow the groove, yet complex enough that experienced musicians won’t get bored. “Good Husband” follows, featuring a familiar rhythm and stomping tempo. It’s one of the most danceable tracks, along with “Dance” (naturally) and “Ain’t Just the Same” later on. Iker knows what’s going on when it comes to swing and jump blues, along with slower Chicago-style numbers such as “Out of Control.” His musical style is high-energy without being frenetic, appealing without being gimmicky, solid and forthright. Piris plays the blues the way the masters played them though he’s forty-something.

Need some blues with Greek zing and a vengeful bite? Meet Iker Piris and his lovely Electra!

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageBlue Contagion – Self Titled

Mystic Mermaid Music/BMI

CD: 10 Songs, 39 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock

In the days of dining in and dining out, sometimes I’d order appetizers or sampler platters as my entrées. Not only were they a lot cheaper than the dinner menu items, but they were often tastier. This analogy applies to the latest CD from Springfield, MO’s Blue Contagion, a self-titled plate of musical tapas that are more delicious individually than as a dinner-sized whole. Consider the first five songs. I listened to each of them twice before moving on. That’s how savory they are. Fusing classic blues rhythms with the zesty flavors of postmodern rock, these ten tracks will make your ears say yum! Most are originals, though the opener was co-written by Don Goodman, and number six, “Somethin’ You Got,” was written by Chris Kenner.

On vocals, front man Art Bentley has mastered the arts of diction, enunciation, and emotion. He knows that mumbling won’t get lead singers far, even if they play great guitar – which he does. Art has been an independent career musician for thirty-plus years. Regional popularity garnered invites to sing the national anthem for the Kansas City Royals as well as the Miss Missouri Pageant. He also boasts thirteen albums of original material. Accompanying him on second guitar is Bryan Lawson, courted by Branson, MO for theater shows. If his name sounds familiar, that’s because he became bassist to the famed Osmond Brothers for eleven years. Chris Bustillos, on keys, has pleased Branson audiences as Elton John and Jerry Lee Lewis. Chris also served as music director for the touring production “King and Cash” (a tribute to Elvis and Johnny Cash). Completing the quartet is Shane Jennings on drums, who started playing at ten years old.

Nine times out of ten, the first song on a blues rock album is high-octane, getting audiences’ blood pumping and hearts thumping. Not so with “If You Ever Go to Memphis,” a stellar low-key love song with fantastic harmony and a vibe that balances a piano lament, the notes of heartbreak, with a thrumming bassline of perseverance. Its lyrics are insightful: “I’ve learned that when people come from different worlds, they’ve got to learn to give. ‘Cause it’s like my mama said: a bird and a fish might fall in love, but tell me, son, where on earth are they gonna live?”

Next comes the contagious gospel stomp “Build It on a Rock,” which provides sound advice for constructing a dwelling and a life: “Build it on a rock. Build it on a stone. People gonna talk, so let ‘em say what they want. Sometimes you’ve got to stand alone. Build it on a rock, child, when you build your home.” Chris Bustillos’ keyboards and the harmonica are glorious.

Number three is the exact opposite, a ballad of wretched excess and bad, bad love: “I’ve been scared; I don’t know why. I’m taking chances with my very life. Something’s wrong inside my mind. You’ve got me living like I don’t care if I ever get to sleep at night. Lord knows I’m committing crime. Got me hard, got me high, you’ve got me living like I don’t care if I die.” Why isn’t this guilty-pleasure masterpiece in a heist movie or gambling flick on Netflix? “Before The Light Fades” is a raging inferno though its tempo is that of a slow burner. “Now and Forever” has a multilayered intro leading into a perfect slow-dance atmosphere.

Sick to death of lockdown and restrictions? Catch a Blue Contagion and eat hearty!

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageMichael Schatte – Conundrum

Self-Release – 2020

15 tracks; 67 minutes

Initially starting as a blues artist while still a teenager, Canada’s Michael Schatte has expanded his sound to incorporate celtic, rock and bluegrass influences, leading to a genre he describes as “Eclectic Electric Roots Music”. This eclecticism is evident in his most recent release Conundrum, often resulting in an almost exotic sound.

For example, the track “Bread, Water, Love” starts with poetic spoken word, and the instrumental tune that ends the album, “Good King Richard,” (the only non-original track on the album), appears to merge bluegrass and elements of Scottish ballads. One particularly intriguing song, “Silly Old Man”, combines a galloping cowboy beat with jazz-influenced, chromatic vocals that build to a crescendo. The interesting lyrics of that song note, “There he goes, respect him won’t you? All those men he slew while on campaign—insane. Fascist pride in homicide. When asked about those days he said yes, man, I’d do it again.”

Schatte’s solid vocals and exceptional guitar work are consistent throughout this album, which he produced and engineered himself. However, it is his clever lyrics, (often referencing troubled relationships), that truly make it unique. One of the few more clearly blues-influenced songs, “Come on Down” references the frustration of seeing the woman he loves remain in an abusive relationship. “Years and years you’ve loved a bad man. Tears and tears each time he raised a hand. Please, please woman, see the light. Cast aside his sorry hide and come with me tonight.”

Schatte’s self-deprecating humor is also a consistent theme, and he describes how he believes “inside my mind the wheels are misaligned” in “A Mind, A Mess.” Additionally, one hilarious song about sibling rivalry, “Please Don’t Dance With My Brother,” stands out as possibly the best track and also is the only other song with an obvious blues influence. In it the endearing lyrics note, “If you don’t dance with me, please don’t dance with my brother. Don’t pass me over for a man from the very same mother. There’s plenty of men who want to take you out dancing. Don’t pick the one who looks like me, only handsome.”

The drawback to this album for hardcore blues fans is that, while eclectic, the rock and celtic influences are clearly the most prominent, with only two tracks likely to even be considered for air time on a blues station. However, Schatte is most definitely a skillful guitarist, an excellent singer, and a wonderful lyricist. So, for those who are fans of all genres of music, they are likely to find the selections featured on Conundrum quite captivating.

Reviewer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageBeauwater – Who Works for Who?

Self-produced CD

10 songs – 36 minutes

Based out of St. John’s, Newfoundland, where they were founded in 2008, Beauwater are a three-piece power trio who bill the music they produce as “East Coast Canadian blues rock.” This disc is a long-awaited follow-up to their 2016 release, Lovers, Fools and Kings, which took home honors as blues album of the year in the regional East Coast Music Awards.

A five-time ECMA nominee, the group’s music regularly appears on radio stations across Atlantic Canada and the Northeastern U.S., and they’ve shared billing with several top rock bands from both sides of the border in their history, including Third Eye Blind, Our Lady of Peace, Big Sugar, Matt Mays, Hey Rosetta and The Trews.

Beauwater’s fronted by vocalist/guitarist Jonathon Reid with Michael Maddox on drums and Greg Newhook on bass with guest appearances from Chris Kirby on keys and slide guitar, Big Sugar’s Kelly Hoppe on harmonica, Terry Campbell on trumpet and Chris Hartnett on sax. Produced by Kirby, this set was conceived as an attempt to duplicate the band’s live performances in a studio setting in what they term a stripped-down approach in which no note is wasted.

“Who Works for Who?” powers out of the gate in the all-original set atop driving triplets as Reid questions the loyalty of a proposed business partner. It flows smoothly into “Flavour of the Week,” which describes someone who’s a star on Monday, but old news on Friday, when no one wants anything to do with him.

Blues comes to the fore for the first time in “The New Disease,” which puts an interesting spin on coronavirus as it questions the headlines appearing on the singer’s computer screen, while “The Real McCoy” sings praise of bootleg rum smuggled from St. Pierre to the Jersey shore. It’s delivered with an attack halfway between hard rock and Hill Country aided by Hoppe’s harp.

“Tonight She’s Gonna Burn” provides a welcome aural shift. It’s a ballad that aches to explode as it describes a 30-year-old building going up in flames after being struck by lightning. Next up, the funky “Long Way Down” predicts the ultimate demise of someone who’s had it all, but hasn’t shared the wealth and the haunting “Nodding Off” serves up a not-so-subtle complaint about the pharmaceutical industry, which cashes in as its victims doze – some of them permanently.

The horns come out for “The Broken Man Behind the Wheel,” another refreshing change-of-pace ballad with a pleasant, jazzy arrangement. It describes the end of a relationship in which the lady leaves in a huff after claiming the man hasn’t been either straight or true. The Hill Country feel returns along with Hoppe for “Poison,” which, in this case, is loneliness after being abandoned by a friend. The album concludes with “One Way Out,” which describes a world in chaos.

Available through Apple Music and several other vendors, Who Works for Who? won’t work for most blues lovers because the hard-rock edge dominates throughout. If you’re a lover of blues-rock, however, it’s definitely more to your taste and worth a listen.

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.

For other reviews on our website CLICK HERE


BB logo

© 2021 Blues Blast Magazine 116 Espenscheid Court, Creve Coeur, IL 61610 (309) 267-4425

Please follow and like us: