Issue 15-12 March 25, 2021

Cover photo © 2021 Millicent Harvey

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Deanna Bogart. We have six blues reviews for you this week including new music from Erwin Helfer and the Chicago Boogie Ensemble, James Booker, Damon Fowler, Billy Jones & Delta Blues Outlaws, The Rick Ray Band and Misty Blues.

 Featured Interview – Deanna Bogart 

imageDeanna Bogart strides confidently on a musical tightrope — suspended in mid-air above the intersection of blues, jazz, soul and a whole lot more — as she captivates audiences and takes them to new heights thanks to her smoky vocals and prowess on both keyboards and saxophone.

The casual listener might peg her as a rebel who works the scales in her own mysterious ways. Come in to her musical kitchen, and she’ll cook up an aural stew that’s pleasing to the pallet, but somewhat difficult to describe.

It’s a musical roux she calls “blusion,” which transcends nomenclature and crosses borders. “I like studying the history of music,” she says, “and I’ve always been fascinated how musical connections become the birthparents of new flavors.

“I get why we have genre categories. But musically, it doesn’t make sense to me if it blocks you somehow. It’s all music. It’s what we individually bring to our instruments that makes the difference. Blusion grows out of the blues… It just doesn’t always end there.”

There’s no question that Bogart marches to her own unique drumbeat. But as Blues Blast learned in a recent interview, her individuality is rooted in soil planted by musicians who came half a century before her birth and is not an avant garde, modern invention.

The middle of five daughters – “yours, mine and ours,” Deanna describes herself as a “divorce brat” who grew up relocating frequently. She came into the world in Detroit and raised in Michigan, Arizona and New York. After living in Maryland for decades, home’s now Palm Desert, Calif., where she closer to her daughter and family.

A true journeyman at heart, when we spoke she was about 375 miles to the north in Marin County with Tommy Castro, who’s both her guy and frequent playing partner in the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue (LRBR) – a relationship that he also revealed to the world through a multimedia post when this story was being composed.

“Of all the things – good and bad — that happened in 2020,” Bogart says, “the best is that Tommy and I fell in love, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s a good story…”

According to her forebears, Bogart was already tinkling the ivories on the family Baldwin at age two with a pacifier in her mouth. Musically precocious, she was accepted to the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music in New York, but was gently removed because she preferred playing by ear to reading.

Thanks to her mother’s extensive eight-track collection, she was exposed to a wide range of styles in her youth: from Muddy Waters to Ella Fitzgerald to Freddy Fender to Pete Seeger and more. She developed her strong left hand on piano by playing along with Bill Haley & the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” and got hooked on performing after her first time on stage – playing James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain” on guitar in a fifth-grade talent show.

A burgeoning multi-instrumentalist, she started arranging vocal harmonies with her sisters, picking up a six-string for the first time at age ten. Her mother had purchased an inexpensive acoustic for herself from the Spiegel’s catalog, and was struggling night after night while practicing in the living room.

Listening on from her bedroom one evening, a frustrated Deanna couldn’t take it anymore as her mom attempted to play “Red River Valley.” She did the unthinkable: She walked down the hall, grabbed the guitar and showed her: “THIS IS HOW YOU PLAY IT.”

Bogart returned to her room, knowing she’d likely be in trouble. Instead, her mom entered behind her a few minutes later and handed her the six-string. Then she turned and walked away without speaking. The guitar was now Deanna’s to keep.

Deanna’s desire to play the sax came early, too. At age 11, a music teacher recruited students to be in the school band. She told him she wanted to play the horn – for reasons she can’t even recall today – but was quickly told: “Girls don’t play sax…you have to play the clarinet.”

Unaware that playing clarinet would prepare her for the sax, she refused.

imageThanks to part-time jobs and matching funds with her grandparents, Bogart bought herself a better guitar – a 12-string that she named “George”– at age 14 and started playing and singing. Three years later, she “got on a Greyhound bus and left for L.A.,” where she began to play publicly.

“That was quite the adventure,” she remembers. “I was living in Hollywood in a studio apartment with a Murphy bed, and had some interesting jobs. I made pizzas, joined a carnival, worked at Paramount Studios and more.

“I could play just enough guitar to hold down a decent rhythm and could sing harmonies on the fly, so I got a few side gigs. To this day, I’m most comfortable as a sideman.

“One of my new, young musician friends was Marty Rifkin, who went on to be a very in-demand musician/producer, playing steel guitar with Bruce Springsteen amongst others and all kinds of sessions. Even better: He was a great guy then — and now.”

Her friendship with Rifkin led to her first-ever band gig.

“Marty grew up in Maryland with his friend Barry Sless (Moonalice, Phil Lesh, Chris Robinson), who was looking for the third girl for their six-piece band, Cowboy Jazz, which was basically the Andrews Sisters meet Bob Wills at a Grateful Dead show.”

A mix of three-part harmony jazz vocals, western swing, original tunes and a jam band, they were probably Bogart’s first exposure to what she now calls blusion.

“At that time,” she says, “I could play about three piano chords, and no horn as of yet. But I could sing…and, again, I could harmonize. Marty said to Barry: ‘I think I have the girl for you.’

“So Marty and I taped us playing guitars, me singing lead and backup, my three chords, a bit of boogie-woogie on the piano, and I was hired. Scared and excited, I bought a one-way ticket from Hollywood to Baltimore. How backwards is that. So, on Dec. 2, 1982 — at 21-years-old, I hit the road, and the roads are still comin’. I still don’t know why they hired me, but I’m glad they did.”

As Bogart likes to say: “Everything amazing is on the other side of fear.”

Prior to meeting Sless, Deanna was already aware of Muddy, Otis and others from her childhood, but she quickly began a lifelong love for the blues after Barry sent her a mix tape.

“I didn’t have a clue about just about anything,” she admits. “Barry sent me a tape of all kinds of music to listen to… stuff I’d never heard before, and I loved it. There was B.B. King, the Meters, Louis Armstrong, the Dead…an amazing breadth of music. I could hear and feel the intersections between all of them.”

In short order, Bogart was handling keyboards and singing three-part harmonies and lead in a lineup that included guitarists Sless, Kate Bennett, fiddler Denise Carlson, drummer Charlie Crane and bassist Tony DeFontes, Maryann Price (Dan Hicks), Brian Alpert and others. For six years, they took the music world by storm, releasing a pair of distinctively different albums – That’s What We Like About the West and Swing Boogie on Rounder Records.

“Everything was amazing to me,” she says, “and still is. We played with Commander Cody, Asleep at the Wheel, Roy Orbison, Marshall Tucker, etc. It was just crazy. It just seemed to carry me along once I surrendered to it. I was always drawn to the oldest musicians to learn — and because they had the best stories…my kind of currency.”

As vital as that band was to her development, however, the most important aspect of that whole trip probably was the mix tape itself.

image“I was enjoying it all,” Bogart remembers. “But all of a sudden, one song comes on that stopped me. ‘Who is that human playing that song?’ I said. It was Jay McShann, who became the sun, moon and stars of my musical orbit.’”

For Deanna, he opened a doorway that led to her discovery, enduring passion and undying love for music that emanated from the Kansas City during what’s known as the Pendergast era of the 1920s, ‘30s and early ‘40s – a time that began when political strongman and future city councilman Thomas J. Pendergast bribed law enforcement and used strong-arm tactics to circumvent Prohibition and reap a fortune off of illegal gambling and nightclubs that operated 24 hours a day.

McShann and his contemporaries incorporated Dixieland, ragtime, big band, jazz and swing elements in their music – tunes constructed in 12-bar format and delivered with a relaxed, walking feel instead of the rigid two-beat stylings that preceded it. In so doing, they gave birth to what’s now known as the golden era of Kansas City jazz. The undisputed king of city’s music, Jay’s band produced a wealth of talent, including Charlie Parker, Ben Webster, Paul Quinichette and others as they played “Confessin’ the Blues” and other classics of the day.

“Jay McShann put me on a path that has never stopped,” Deanna says, with in the early days, discovering Mary Lou Williams, Pete Johnson, Dinah Washington, Dorothy Donegan, Jimmy McGriff, Big Jay McNeely, Lester Young and on and on from there.”

Throughout her early career, Bogart still yearned to play sax. At age 25, she came to the realization that she no longer needed permission and bought her first horn, a Martin tenor. Before long – and thanks to jazz great Ron Holloway, she and a 1959 Selmer VI tenor became inseparable. It’s a love affair that endures today.

Now a four-time Blues Music Association horn player of the year as well as a Pinetop Perkins Award nominee as a keyboard player, Deanna says that, even then: “When I kept thinking about getting a horn, the voice in my head that doesn’t like me kept saying: ‘Your too old. it’s too late…blah, blah, blah’…while the other voice that does like me argued: ‘Do it. Maybe in five years, you’ll be playing a gig.’

“I listened to that one – which I don’t normally do — and it was wa-a-ay before five years.”

Bogart’s been making up for lost time on the instrument ever since, but feared she’d lost it for good when gigging in Las Vegas in 2018, when a burglar stole all of her possessions – including her horn –from her room. Amazingly, the only thing she subsequently recovered was her sax.

Years later, long after Cowboy Jazz went their separate ways, Bogart finally made a pilgrimage to Kansas City with her young family for the first time. “My daughter Alix was a baby,” she remembers. “Being her mom made me want to be a better everything…the most important part of my life. She and I love being together on the road to this day.”

Pulling in to the city, Deanna says, she couldn’t resist touching The Sign – the landmark located at the intersection of 12th Street and Vine.

“As soon as I did, I heard in my head the first line of my song, ‘Boogie Woogie Baby’: She was born the moment she touched the sign./The air stood still at 12th and Vine./Shivers up and down her spine./Only one thing to do…

It’s a story Bogart’s told in the past: Just married in 1985 and driving cross country, she discovered that McShann was playing at a festival at The Broadmoor resort in Colorado Springs, Colo. In short order, she and her husband drove 300 miles out of the way to see him, talking their way past the gate by claiming they were “friends of Hootie” – Jay’s nickname, which Deanna knew from her readings.

Unbeknownst to Deanna, someone went to tell McShann and told him that “his friends are here.” Pointed in their direction, Jay approached them with a twinkle in his eye, fully aware of what Bogart and her companions had risked — and accomplished. Instead of admonishing them, he put his arms around them, said “Where you’ve guys been?” and then took them backstage to hang and party with Clark Terry and many others.

“We were almost bus-s-s-ted.” she notes. “We wormed our way in. But the ending was terrific.”

As unique as Cowboy Jazz was, Bogart made a leap into a completely different universe when that band disbanded after a six-year run. She joined the horn section for Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band, one of the most notorious ensembles of its era. Its leader, Foster MacKenzie III, aka Root Boy Slim, was such an outrageous performer and his original songs were so over-the-top that some critics dubbed him “the Lenny Bruce of the Blues.”

imageA Yale graduate with serious mental issues – he was diagnosed with schizophrenia, a condition that was amplified by heavy drug use – and a fraternity brother of future President George W. Bush, MacKenzie had been infamous since forming the alt rock band Prince La La & the Midnight Creepers with football team captain/bassist Bob “Rattlesnake” Greenlee during their college years. Working in ermine capes and silver lamé hot pants, they built a huge following in the Northeast despite on-stage antics that were so beyond the pale that they never played the same club twice.

After graduation, MacKenzie and Greenlee – the future owner of King Snake Records, once the most important independent blues label in the country – rebranded themselves as Root Boy Slim & the Sex Change Band in the Washington, D.C., suburbs. A full show band with backup singers, they delivered a mix of Memphis-infused boogie and songs satirizing normal society and providing references to episodes in Slim’s shocking off-stage life, building a huge, loyal following throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Signed to Warner Bros. and then the I.R.S. spinoff Illegal Records, their routine included originals entitled “Boogie ‘Til You Puke,” “Rich White Republican,” “(You Broke My) Mood Ring” and other cutting-edge crowd pleasers. But they were much more than a novelty act.

The huge, rotating lineup included future jazz great Ron Holloway (Gil Scott Heron/Dizzy Gillespie/Warren Haynes) on tenor sax, bassist Scott Ambush – who’s been a fixture with Spyro Gyra for 30 years, the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, guitarist Steuart Smith — who replaced Glenn Frey in the Eagles — Paul Reed Smith (PRS Guitars) Timm Biery (Danny Gatton/Frank Marino Mahogany Rush/Nils Lofgren) and Deanna among others.

“Being in that band in my mid-20s was a master masterclass.” Bogart says. “It also was 180 degrees from Cowboy Jazz, the clean and wholesome band (at least onstage). Some of the CJ fans who followed me to Root Boy gigs were simply mortified and left.

“I still laugh about it. I wouldn’t have missed that ship for anything.”

“Both bands had a jamming, improv, jazz approach within what we were playing. Cowboy Jazz gave me what I needed in order to play with Root Boy, and the Root gig did the same, sending me out yet further musically speaking. Much later, I got to know Rev. Billy — who I’d never met till the blues cruise, I think — and it was great sharing those days. Oh, the stories we could tell.”

The training she received has been paying off handsomely since Deanna launched her solo career in 1991 with the release of Out to Get You on Blind Pig Records – two years prior to Root Boy passing in his sleep at age 48. Ten more stellar, original and diverse albums have followed in addition to extensive work was a bandleader, festival promoter and sought-after educator and coach who’s provided masterclass instruction and mentorship of her own as she’s gigged non-stop around the globe.

“All my musical worlds collide in a wonderful way,” she notes.

One of the busiest ladies in the music industry, she finally made it to ground zero of the Kansas City music scene – the showroom at the Musicians Mutual Association Building – during an LRBR tour years after her first trip to the city. A bucket-list stop for any music lover, it’s the spot where McShann and all the biggest stars in the industry jammed from 2 a.m. to dawn in the ‘30s – an event that still continues today.

“LRBR was doing a show at Knuckleheads – Tommy, Ronnie Baker Brooks and Magic Dick,” Deanna recalls. “And after the gig, I decided to go the the Musicians Union. Roger Nabor (the CEO of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise on which the band was formed) offered to take me.

“I’d read every book I could find about K.C. jazz era during the Pendergast Era. So being at the Union, seeing all the pictures on the walls and watching the video, The Last of the Blue Devils, there, it was like a religious experience.

image“I walked in with my horn, and the place was packed. Somebody said: ‘Horn player, c’mon up.’ They were playing ‘Cherokee’ or something like that. And there’s a big picture of Charlie Parker behind me on the wall. “I gotta measure up.”

Of course she could.

Despite her immense talent, Bogart has always remained modest about her skills, sometimes referring to herself as “just another journeyman” (a description that’s rankled fans in the past) and claiming: “If music is an ocean, I’m just a fish swimming around.” She also admits she’s never used set lists.

She’s been inventing new ways to keep herself busy since the onset of coronavirus. She’s been executive producer for artist acquisition for the past seven years at the annual Boquete Jazz & Blues Festival in Panama – – and was getting set to leave for Central America when the shutdown began.

“I cancelled my ticket just in time,” Deanna says. “In a day, I became a road musician without a road. But I was able to be home for my daughter and family.

“Ya know, after about three months, I realized that I hadn’t been in the same place, in the same town, for that long since I was 17. What am I gonna do now…

“But then I thought: I’ve been finding a new job every day for 40 years. I raised my daughter, bought a house, and with her dad, stepdad and herself, got her through college and her master’s degree. I’ve been doing this all this time, and I still can. I just gotta figure out a different way.”

Her solution was to start doing what she calls Deannagrams – personalized musical-message videos that anyone can order. For any occasion or for no reason at all and delivered in “Deannaspeak” from wherever she happened to be.

“It worked,” she says. “And saved me in a few ways. A helpful and fun exchange with people — something that I really needed for life balance. I also started scheduling masterclasses, lessons on Zoom and started to learn all the technical stuff that I didn’t really want to learn but needed to to survive musically somehow.

“But little by little, we adjust and life becomes oddly normal. Luckily my very smart modern friends helped me. I’ll never be a ‘Techy Becky,’ but you have to be somewhat relevant to keep going.”

More recently, Bogart did her first live internet broadcast as part of the Can’t Stop the Blues program, which has been helping musicians put food on their tables since the onset of COVID-19.

Deanna has always been uncomfortable about doing videos. But after enjoying the CSTB videos and with prompting from Castro, realized she did miss playing out. Making things easier for her were the facts that the show was recorded atop a mountain she formerly called home and she was surrounded by several great musicians who wanted to take part in it, including Chuck Alvarez, Andy Fraga, Jeremie Levi Samson, Bob Gross and Barry Baughn.

“I felt awkward that day,” she says in retrospect. “But I’m glad we did it.”

It’s been almost seven years since Bogart released Just a Wish Away…, her most recent CD, after issuing one about every other year or so. And even she doesn’t know why it’s been so long since she’s been in the studio for herself.

“I just knew I needed the same to be different,” she says, “musically and otherwise. But I didn’t think it would take this long. Oops. Oh well. Quite the transitional time for us all, so it seems. My joy tank had been running low, but it’s rising. Out of respect for music, I just couldn’t play/write without my soul holding the pen. Dammit.

“All of a sudden, seven years went by like that (snaps her fingers).

“I greatly enjoy my ‘approach to improv’ all-ages masterclasses and the artist-in-resident situations — like the Hopi High School in Northern Arizona, which was life-changing.

“It feels like that anywhere really…anywhere in the world. It’s part of wherever I go. Let’s make music, find what you didn’t know you had, heal something and have fun at the same time. I feel like I gain the most.”

Fans will have a reason to rejoice going forward, Deanna says, noting that she has “three new albums swirling around in her head” — one currently being finished, a “classic” boogie-woogie record, a Kansas City record, oh, and maybe a concerto, too.

What’s ahead? “Life, love and learning…and winning the lottery,” she hopes. Check out what she’ll be up to next, sign up for a Deannagram or check out her music by visiting her website:

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 – 1 of 6 

imageErwin Helfer and the Chicago Boogie Ensemble – Celebrate the Journey

The Sirens Records SR-5028

8 songs – 49 minutes

A beloved fixture in the Chicago blues and jazz community for the better part of seven decades, Erwin Helfer observed his 85th birthday in January, but kicked the celebration off in style in March 2020 with this magical CD – an all-instrumental jam session with several of his closest friends and longtime collaborators.

Recorded almost in concert to the coronavirus shutdown, this is Helfer’s tenth release on The Sirens imprint in a career that began in 1957, when the Windy City native was living in New Orleans and produced Primitive Piano, an LP that featured the recently rediscovered Speckled Red, Big Easy keyboard innovator Billie Pierce and Doug Suggs in his only recordings. Released on Erwin’s own Tone label, some of the Speckled Red cuts appeared on the very first album issued by Delmark, too.

Helfer rose to prominence backing vocalist Estelle “Mama” Yancey and made his debut recordings in 1964 when he teamed with keyboard master Jimmy Walker on Rough and Ready: Boogie Woogie for Four Hands on Testament. A mentor to multiple generations of keyboard talents, he’s also enjoyed stops at Big Bear, Flying Fish, SteepleChase and Red Beans, too. This disc is dedicated to Barrelhouse Chuck, one of his most famous students, guitarist Pete Crawford, his partner in Red Beans, and Max Dolins, father of Sirens owner Steven.

Erwin’s backed here by John Brumbach and Skinny Williams on tenor sax, Lou Marini on bass and Davide Ilardi on drums – a lineup that played together on Tuesday nights for two years prior to COVID at the Hungry Brain, a popular club on the North Side of Chicago. This highly polished, but relaxed set features material from their regular set list.

The parallel tenors kick off a sweet take on Sonny Rollins’ jazz classic, “Doxy,” which swings from the opening bars, allowing the horns plenty of space to shine before yielding to Helfer for extended, two-hand-fisted solo with light touch that clearly demonstrates him to be at the top of his game. Brumbach and Williams trade leads and give way to a rhythm section break before the ensemble work together to close.

Helfer’s sweet, deliberate attack turns Jimmy Witherspoon’s familiar “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” into a delightful ballad to follow. Things heat up a little with individual horn and bass solos before Erwin lays down tasty runs to close. Then the traditional gospel number, “Down by the Riverside,” gets full-on New Orleans second-line treatment before the keyboard master launches into his original, “Poodle Piddle,” a dazzling minor-key pleaser executed with delicate, rapid-fire stride and barrelhouse attack on the 88s.

Two more numbers with Big Easy and Tin Pan Alley roots – “St. James Infirmary” and “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” – feel brand new thanks to modern arrangement despite being first played more than a century ago. Erwin’s well-modulated, minor-key break in the former breathes new emotion in the classic while the uptempo take on the latter will have you bopping, too.

Two more Helfer compositions – the unhurried “Big Joe,” in which the horns lay down the groove and Erwin filling in with the melody, and “Day Dreaming,” a tour-de-force solo effort on the keys — close the action and leave you with the desire to hear more, more more despite its 49-minute run.

Celebrate the Journey truly is a party among friends with Erwin providing his bandmates all the space they need to demonstrate their immense talents, too. It’s a treasure. Highly recommended for anyone with a love for classic, sophisticated stylings at the intersection of jazz and blues.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageJames Booker – Classified

Craft Recordings

12 Tracks – 39 minutes

LP format

One of the greatest players, if not the greatest, in the fabled New Orleans piano tradition, James Booker was often referred to as “The Piano Prince Of New Orleans” and the “Bayou Maharajah”. His astonishing skills on the keyboard were amazing to behold, at least when his personal demons were kept at bay. Hit by a speeding ambulance at ten years old, Booker suffered a broken leg in eight places. As a way to ease the pain, he was treated with morphine, the start of many of his personal issues.

His recorded legacy is filled with a variety of live shows, with New Orleans Piano Wizard: Live! on Rounder Records being one of the best, while others are bootleg recordings of varying degrees of quality. As far as studio recordings, Booker only had two releases. One of them, Classified, originally done for Rounder, has been reissued by Craft Recordings, complete with the original cover and liner notes by noted New Orleans music writer Bunny Matthews that provide some insight into Booker’s world.

The disc is comprised of seven tunes with Booker alone at the piano. The other five tracks find him getting accompaniment from three veteran NO musicians including Alvin “Red” Tyler on tenor saxophone, James Singleton on bass, and Johnny Vidacovich on drums. Tyler was one of the city’s finest sax players while the other two were the rhythm section for Astral Project, a cutting edge New Orleans jazz group. The majority of the material was recorded in a four hour session, after several days of waiting for Booker to be in the mood to play.

The opening track, “All Around The World,” is a tune that will be familiar to blues fans. Booker’s energetic vocal gets things started, gliding along over the powerful rhythm conjured up by his left hand. Roger Miller’s hit, “King Of The Road,” was a number that Booker played often, but never the same way. After a delicate intro segment, Booker digs in, weaving intricate keyboard patterns that offer a nice contrast to his quirky singing.

One of the exceptional highlights occurs on “Professor Longhair Medley: Bald Head/Tipitina,” as Booker distills the essence of Longhair’s piano style into a homage that honors the legacy even as Booker runs through creative interpretations of the familiar themes. On “Madame X,” Booker mixes classical and jazz elements into a beautiful, introspective instrumental.

He rises to the occasion again on the original title song, taking listeners through a series of rhythm and tempo changes without losing the groove, again playing with stunning dexterity and imagination. He serves up a spirited run-through of “Hound Dog,” his right hand flying over the keyboard while his left hand provides the firm rhythmic anchor. The closing track, “Three Keys,” flows along at a sprightly pace, offering plenty of imaginative playing in a variety of keys.

While the presence of the band takes some of the spotlight from Booker, he still makes the most of his moments. During Tyler’s solo on a slow-drag take of “Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” the piano player shouts out encouragement, then finishes the song with an emphatic vocal turn. “Angel Eyes” is Booker at his most sublime, right hand spinning taut, intricate lines over his other hand’s stately pace.

Taking a tune from the Fats Domino songbook, “One For The Highway” finds the keyboard master mining the point where country meets New Orleans R&B, complete with a too brief solo from Tyler.

“If You’re Lonely” has a hint of gospel, which may have inspired one of Booker’s best vocal performances. For many listeners, the song “Baby Face” might be considered a throw-away novelty number. Booker makes it spring to life, turning the simple melody inside out with another sequence of astonishing improvisation. Tyler finally gets a chance to blow his horn, which inspires another round of keyboard magic from Booker.

If you have never had the distinct pleasure of listening to James Booker, this record is a fine place to start. Recorded near the end of his life, Booker was focused and in control. There has never been anyone like him. But keep in mind that once you start listening to this piano genius, you will undoubtedly want to hear more. This one comes highly recommended, with great sound on the LP!

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 – 3 of 6 

imageDamon Fowler – Alafia Moon

Landslide Records – 2021

11 tracks; 52 minutes

Damon Fowler made his first album as a teenager in 1999 and since then has made a series of albums, a mixture of self-releases, three with Blind Pig and one with Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou label. Now signed to Landslide, Damon returns with an album made with his regular band and friends on home turf on the Gulf Coast of Florida. Damon handles all lead vocals, guitar and slide and wrote ten of the eleven tracks, working with fellow slide master Jim Suhler on one, and there is one cover. Damon is joined by Chuck Riley on bass, Justin Headley on drums, Mike Kach on keys, TC Carr on harmonica, Betty Fox on backing vocals and Josh Helms on ‘bottles and background noise’.

Damon has always mixed things up and this album is no different with rockers, country-tinged ballads and soulful elements too. We start with two uptempo tunes: “Leave It Alone” lopes along with good interplay between TC Carr’s anguished harp tones and Damon’s slide work as he sings of the dangers of alcohol abuse; a rush of fleet-fingered slide propels “I’ve Been Low”, a song that relates the ups and downs of life. The title track shows off Damon’s distinctive vocals, well backed by the gospel tones of the organ work, Damon playing a strong solo mid-tune. The title “Alafia Moon” refers to the river Alafia which flows into the Tampa Bay and is, presumably, close to Damon’s home base.

A chunky R&B riff is at the heart of the message song “Make The Best Of Your Time”, Damon adding slide embellishments throughout. The sole cover is “The Guitar”, written by Guy Clark and Verlon Thompson, released on Guy’s 2009 album Somedays The Song Writes You. It’s a quirky song about a guy trying out an old guitar and finding that it enables him to play like he has never played before. Damon’s cover sticks close to the original with some outstanding acoustic picking and, if you aren’t familiar with the song, wait for the final section of the lyrics! The co-write with Jim Suhler is “Hip To Your Trip” features some great slide work, “Some Things Change” brings TC’s harp back for an uptempo number which certainly gets the toes tapping, “Taxman” is a slow blues with multi-tracked guitar work and the funky “Wanda” celebrates a local ‘character’.

If you see Damon live he often tells stories and that is reproduced here with a mainly spoken narrative entitled “The Umbrella”. It sounds like it is recorded live but must have been done in the studio (hence Josh Nelms’ previously mentioned credit). The tale recounts, at some length, the trials and tribulations of a touring band, and, in particular, an encounter with a drunk customer who insists on calling for “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida”. The inevitable result was that the bartender “Kicked His Ass Out” and a short piece with that title closes the album. Interesting to hear once, “The Umbrella” may well be a track that you skip on repeat playing of the album but, frankly, the previous 40+ minutes are well worth the purchase price.

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 – 4 of 6 

IMAGEBilly Jones & Delta Blues Outlaws

Delta Blues Records

15 songs time – 70:10

This CD reminds me of Forrest Gump…You don’t know what you’re gonna get and neither do they as far as identifying the band members or any other credits. From inside photo it’s drums, bass and keyboards with Billy on guitar and vocals. Can’t find any info online. Aside from that you know you are going to get quality music in a variety of styles. The music is an amalgamation of soul, R&B, funk, blues and blues-rock. Billy possesses a strong and soulful voice along with a mastery of his guitar. The rhythm section is capable. Seems like the keyboard player supplies synth strings quite a bit.

Much of the material leans toward soul, R&B or Bobby Blue Bland old school blues. There are a few straight ahead blues numbers. “The One You Need”, “Liar” and “Someone New” are among those that fall into soul music territory. Billy’s cutting guitar style is one constant throughout. The humorous “Marry My Mother-In-Law”, “Doin” Alright Again” and “Don’t Answer The Door” fall into the straight ahead blues category with the latter being a fine B.B. King cover.

What sounds like “tack” piano is featured on “Ready For Some Lovin'”. Rock guitar shredding is the focal point on “Alligator Farm” that details his love making in the swamplands behind her daddy’s alligator farm. The soul ballad “Chiseled In Stone” finds Billy in fine voice. “Man & A Half” harkens back to the classic R&B era of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding. Organ cooks along on this one too.

What you do get is a well executed music in a variety of genres. Billy has a commanding voice and a gifted guitar approach. The anonymous band builds a sturdy base for Billy’s vision. There is something here to please any discerning music aficionado. Something good to fill in for the lack of live concerts for the time being.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageThe Rick Ray Band – Acrylic Charlie

Neurosis Records

CD: 11 Songs, 74 Minutes

Styles: Acid Rock, Hard Rock, Psychedelic Blues, All Original Songs

Yours truly is a voracious blues lover, writer and reader. She consumes all the art she can get her ears, eyes and hands on. While looking for new literary treats, she came across H.P. Lovecraft and his famous Cthulhu Mythos. It spreads its tenets out like tentacles, but perhaps the foremost is this: All is chaos; all is madness. Ponder that as you listen to Acrylic Charlie, the latest album from the Rick Ray Band. It fuses acid rock, hard rock, and trance blues in a funky fury that would even blow Jimi Hendrix’s mind. Featuring over an hour of original material with titles such as “Headed to Nowhere,” “Lunacy Set Free,” “Nervous Dot Calm” and “Doomtown Mannequins,” it’s not a CD that can be easily classified. It invites you to let go of everything you knew about blues, rock, and everything in between. Every instrument blasts and coils around every other one in perfect discord and top volume even if your settings are low. It strings out your mind and emotions, taking you on a wild ride and letting you land without a net.

On their website, they list a remarkable thirty-five albums available for purchase, being as prolific as they are psychedelic. Having opened for such iconic bands as Black Sabbath, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Blue Oyster Cult, they know that sometimes what audiences want in terms of a good time isn’t always the comfortable music they recognize. This band’s music has no comfort zone. In fact, they eschew it in favor of stretching the boundaries of everyone’s artistic universe.

The Rick Ray Band consists of our leading man on guitars and vocals; Dave “Shaggy” Snodgrass on bass and vocals; Kip Volans on drums; Rick “Sarge” Schultz on reeds and wind synth, and special guest Sam Guinta on keyboards.

The only recognizable blues song on this release is “All Of You Kids,” the final number, a brief and hilarious shot of blues-rock adrenaline. Our narrator is most likely a grumpy old man: “All of you kids, get off of my lawn! Gonna call the cops on you! I’ll take your baseballs and your Frisbees, too. You son of a beach! I spit on you!” Even though this reprimand runs only one minute and fifty-four seconds, that’s all you need for a good belly laugh and maybe a snort.

The other mind-warping, ear-bending, trance-inducing tunes run upwards of five minutes and sometimes ten, with “Time Waits for You” being the crowning glory. I swear I felt my fragile consciousness unhinge as I tried to peel back the layers of instrumentation while riding a wave of pure, unadulterated sound. In more of a party mood? Do you like songs about gambling? Then try “All Debts are Paid,” a blistering rock masterpiece that would make the Allman Brothers and Eric Clapton blink in wonderment. The title track pulls out all the stops with a hard-driving rhythm, and look out for the eerie narration on “Flight 714.” It’ll set your teeth on edge for sure.

Sometimes life, the universe, and everything makes no sense. Is all chaos and madness in your neck of the woods? The Rick Ray Band knows how you feel. Let Acrylic Charlie show you!

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.


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageMisty Blues – None More Blue

Self-Release – 2021

11 tracks; 50 minutes

Following hot on the heels of their 2020 release Weed ‘Em And Reap (reviewed in the 5 June 2020 issue) Misty Blues returns with another varied set of original music. As before, the Massachusetts band offers a multi-talented line-up with bassist Bill Patriquin also playing trumpet, drummer Rob Tatten stepping out from behind his kit to play trombone and vocalist Gina Coleman playing occasional cigar box guitar; the rest of the core band is sax player Aaron Dean, guitarist Seth Fleischmann and keyboard player Benny Kohn.

Other contributors are bassist Dan Esko, harp player Ed Moran and multi-instrumentalist Diego Mongue (Gina’s son) who contributes bass, drums and percussion; the distinctive CD artwork is also from within the family, by Michael Mongue. On the final track there is a second trumpet player, Richard Boulger, and additional vocalist Wendy Lipp. The writing credits are mainly Gina who wrote ten of the tracks here, four on her own and six in collaboration with one of Diego, Ed and Seth; Benny wrote one tune.

“My One And Only” starts with stark drums and non-verbal vocals before the band joins the jagged rhythm and we get our first taste of Gina’s powerful, deep contralto as she confesses her complete attraction to someone, abetted by solid solos from sax, guitar and organ. “I Can’t Wait” is a quieter number with Gina looking forward to the night as she heads out for the evening, the moody atmosphere created by Benny’s keys pierced by Seth’s eloquent solo and Aaron’s cool sax break, a fine track, as is the jazz-tinged “These Two Veils” that follows.

We then get two tracks that are closer to straight blues: “Bodega Blues” is built on a classic guitar riff and “Change My Luck” adds harp on a slow grinder which elicits a really deep vocal from Gina, the tune sounding like a classic Muddy Waters tune. Lenox Town, MA, is the location of Tanglewood, summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and gives its name to the next tune, “Down In Lenox Town”, which has a lighter feel from the keyboard/sax ensemble work. Harp features on that track as well as “Ready To Play” which builds up to a chorus which is well supported by the trumpet/sax combination.

Benny’s “Listen” is excellent, starting with piano and horns and developing into a catchy piece with some wordless vocalizing from Gina, in the scat singing jazz tradition, though the tune is more Crusaders than Coltrane. The horns stay on board for “Step Right Up”, the bass slot filled this time by Diego, and Gina straps on her cigar box guitar for “Days Gone By”, a stripped-down tune without keys or horns which takes us on a country back road trip as Gina reminisces. “Nothing To Lose” has sax, trombone and two trumpets (plus two additional backing vocalists adding to the choruses) making a full band production to close the album on a high note as Gina professes that she will “keep on fighting, I ain’t got nothing to lose”.

This is another accomplished album from Misty Blues who continues to make interesting albums that offer something a little different to the standard fare.

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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