Issue 15-15 April 15, 2021


Cover photo © 2021 Marilyn Stringer

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Jimi Bott. We have six blues reviews for you this week including new music from Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band, Josh Hoyer & Soul Colossal, Skage, Skylar Rogers, Zed Mitchell and New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers.


 Featured Interview – Jimi Bott 

imageGuitar players capture most of the glory in the blues, but they’re hung out to dry without a solid rhythm section behind them, and there’s no cog in the industry keeping a steadier beat than Jimi Bott.

It’s been about 32 years since San Francisco native Jimi hit the road at age 19 as a member of Hummel’s Blues Survivors, and what an impressive journey it’s been with a ten-year run in Rod Piazza’s Mighty Flyers, eight years each in The Fabulous Thunderbirds and The Mannish Boys – and currently as a founder of the supergroup The Proven Ones, too.

Bott’s a 20-time nominee as percussionist of the year in the Blues Music Awards. But he remains one of the most personable, well-grounded folks in the business – an attitude he’s managed to maintain through all the high points that have come with such an illustrious career that includes operating Roseleaf Recording in Portland, Ore., one of the best studios in the Pacific Northwest.

But winning trophies has never been Jimi’s focus, as Blues Blast learned in a lengthy, extensive interview. His life bares proof that, as he says, the only goal he’s ever had is to play the music he loves — something he’s managed to accomplish despite back problems so severe that doctors have told him on three occasions that he’d never be able to play again.

“A lot of people don’t understand that it’s not something you do and then retire,” he added, noting that – for the first time since Oregon shut down last fall, he was eager to get back on stage that evening with Kevin Selfe & the Tornadoes. “If you’re lucky, you just keep doing it.

“Music has saved me more than once when I’ve been the very lowest. It’s always been the thing that flips the switch back on for me…that energizes me. And it can be something as simple as one little part of some song or a chord change that does it…and not necessarily in blues.”

Bott feels blessed that he figured out what he wanted to do in life in his teens. “It seems kinda crazy that I decided that in one night,” he says. “And here I am now, 40-something years later, and I’m still doing it.

“The friends that I had in high school who wanted to be playing music to get girls or get rich, they aren’t playing music any more. I never was about that. And it’s one of the things that (longtime T-Birds’ keyboard player) Gene Taylor and I bonded on: It’s not for the money or the kicks. You do this because you love it.

“Gene’s take on it really stuck with me – and it’s valid no matter what you do in life: It’s the music you make, the people you make it with and the money that you make. Those three things have to equal ‘yes’ to you – and not in any particular order – or else you’re in the wrong business.”

Born on Aug. 13, 1965, and raised in Los Gatos, Calif., Bott’s love for the blues came early through his general contractor dad Ken, a World War II vet who played guitar and sang on the porch he’d built every evening to chill out after a hard day constructing buildings. “I was so excited when I watched him that I’d start out laughing,” Jimi says. “I thought it was so amazing.”

A genuine character, Bott says, his father could play just about any instrument you handed him if you gave him a couple of minutes to figure it out. He played in a style all his own – something akin to Lightnin’ Hopkins meets Leon Redbone, delivering word-heavy originals that he never sang the same way twice.

Music ran in the family, although they didn’t realize it until Jimi was already grown when his mom Lee discovered that she and jazz trombone great Jack Teagarden were cousins. It was a real shocker for her because she and dad Ken used to see him in action when they were courting. Both an uncle and Jimi’s brother Jere exhibited musical talent, too.

It was a family tradition that all of the Bott children took piano lessons for a year when they reached fifth grade. Even then, Jimi was more interested in boogie-woogie than the classical instruction he was receiving – something he demonstrated in his only recital, when he veered from straight delivery and jazzed up “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Around the same time, Jimi’s dad brought home a 1938 Slingerland Radio King drum. It sat in the garage for years, but eventually played a small, but vital role in Jimi’s musical development. In junior high, Jimi’s friend Curtis Smith and his older brother, Eric wanted to start a band, knew the Botts owned the solitary drum and told Jimi he could be the drummer.

They suggested Bott buy a kit that a neighbor was offering to sell for $80. Jimi’s dad was encouraging about his son’s desire to play, but quickly rejected the set because of its obvious poor condition. “He said: ‘If you want to buy an instrument, you should get something much better than that! You should work and save your money,’” Jimi says.

“So that’s what I did…heavy construction with him…just like I did every summer from the time I was little,” noting “there were times when he pulled my brother and me out of class during the school year to finish a house, too.”

imageBott eventually purchased his first drum set, a CB 700, and started jamming with his friends even though he didn’t know how to play it. Lessons soon followed – but not from any run-of-the-mill neighborhood drummer. One of Jimi earliest teachers was the Forrest Elledge, a legendary teacher in the Bay Area whose career included stints with both Carmen McRae and Billie Holiday.

Eric Smith was the guitarist in the band, and it was he who turned Jimi on to the blues.

“We went from listening to AC/DC and Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Allman Brothers Band at the Fillmore East LP,” he remembers. “They became a huge influence. We started looking at who wrote the songs – Blind Willie McTell, T-Bone Walker and others – and jumped all the way from that record, which was released in ’71, to (the music of the songwriters in) the ‘50s.

“Eric also had his finger on the pulse of what was happening. He caught wind of the band The Mighty Flyers – it was before Rod got top billing — and that they were coming through town, playing Mountain Charley’s in Los Gatos.

“We went down there, snuck in and sat at a table two or three hours before show time. The waitress kept asking us if we wanted something, and we kept saying no. About ten minutes before they were supposed to go on, she said: ‘I hope you’re not planning to stay for the show.’

“The club was packed, and I don’t know what kinda look we had on our face, but I’m sure it was pretty deflated. She said: ‘Hold on a second,’ and we thought we were in trouble. She talked to the bartender, told us ‘Come with me’ and then us up at the back of the bar so that we could see over the heads of everybody. She also brought us free Cokes and said: ‘If any cops come in the front door, you go out the back.’

“That really was the defining moment of my life,” Bott says. “When I saw that band and saw that drummer – Willie Schwartz, I decided: ‘This is what I’m going to do!’

“I literally went back to school on Monday and told my algebra teacher: ‘If I sit here, don’t bother you and pass the final at the end of the semester, but don’t do any more homework, will you pass me?’

“She said: ‘I guess so. Why?’ I said: ‘Because I don’t need algebra for what I’m going to do in my life. I’m going to be a drummer – specifically a blues drummer.’”

For the final two school years, Jimi worked ahead and took all of his hard courses during summer school to reduce his class load even though he didn’t have to. During his junior and senior years, he only took three easy classes, freeing himself at 11:15 every morning, allowing him all afternoon to practice drumming before heading off to work as a busboy at a burger joint at night.

“By no means was I a brain,” he insists. “Quite honestly, I was in the stoner crowd – but I was a very responsible stoner!”

A high school graduate at age 17, Bott started playing in the Monday night jams at Mountain Charley’s led by guitarist/harp player Paul Durkett and his band, the House Rockers, the same unit that West Coast harmonica legend Gary Smith fronted for years after his departure. Jimi was playing with bassist Mark Carino – a future member of both the Hummel and T-Bird bands, when they encountered Durkett in a record store one day. He invited them to the jam, and subsequently became a major influence, expanding their knowledge by sharing and trading LPs with them.

Still underage, Jimi arrived early each evening and helped with the load in despite having to watch the action through a window until getting the chance to play. Once finished, he returned to the window for the rest of the night before assisting the load out, too.

When Durkett eventually hired him on as a member of the house band, Bott’s relatives watched on proudly from the audience. “And I folded,” he says. “I don’t know if it was the pressure of being the drummer on the gig or what, but it did not go well. Paul took me aside after it was over and said: ‘You’re just not ready yet. But I want you to come back next week’ – and I did again and again.

image“I wasn’t a natural on stage. It was something that I had to work on over the years.”

When he finally was good enough, Durkett took him on full-time, but it didn’t last long. Another harp player came in and stole the gig by offering to do it for half the price. “Welcome to the music business!” Jimi exclaims, noting that the new jam leader crashed and burned a short while later.

Bott subsequently hooked up with Mark Hummel while playing behind Byrd Hale, another harp player who’s best known today as the longtime host of a blues show on Stanford University’s radio station, KZSU-FM. Hummel dropped in to a club to see Byrd’s band and catch a performer who was billing himself as Guitar Gable – a name he’d “borrowed” from the genuine artist – in action.

“Mark sat in for three songs,” Jimi recalls. “His drummer had just quit, and he gave me his number and told me he was going on tour…would I call him?

“He was going to the Southwest and up to Colorado, and he needed a drummer. That was my first big decision in life. I was just about turning 19, and didn’t know what to do. I called my dad and Byrd for advice – and obviously went with Hummel.

“Mark took me out on the road, and figured out pretty quickly that I just wasn’t that good. I didn’t have the stamina, and I’d never been anywhere. We showed up in the first time, and ‘oh, my God! There’s a Main Street! I can’t believe it! There’s a Main Street back home, too!’”

Reflecting back, Jimi’s grateful that Hummel – still a good friend after all these years — was as hard on him as he was, insisting that Bott needed to practice. “His criticism seemed like the end of the world, and I was pretty dejected, but whatever he told me to do, I did double or triple.”

That included taking a full set of practice pads on the road – something that drove his roommate, bassist Tim Wagar, crazy because he gave them a constant workout. The time he spent as a Blues Survivor was an education in another way, too, Jimi says, because he got to play behind Luther Tucker, Charlie Musselwhite, Brownie McGhee, Jimmy McCracklin, Rick Estrin, Joe Louis Walker and others on tour and at the band’s regular Tuesday sets at the Chi Chi Club in San Francisco.

“It was a great education,” he notes. “I had to rise up to play with these people, studying their records ahead of time when I knew they’d be playing. I wanted to be like Fred Below, Billy Stepney and all these drummers that they’d played with. They were my heroes.”

Two years later, however, Jimi landed the job of his dreams thanks to his friendship with Ed Mann, who’d taken Schwartz’s spot in the Mighty Flyers. Mann met Bott during Jimi’s first Hummel tour when their bands had played consecutive nights at Terry & Zeke’s in Tucson, Ariz., and Ed and Junior Watson dropped in for the show and sat in after playing the club the night before.

“Ed and I got along really well, and we kept in touch,” Bott remembers. “Flash forward to ’86 and I was going through a life crisis, ready for a change and looking for a sign about what to do. I called Ed, and he said: ‘I was just about to call you!’

“I always had called him in the past. He never called me. And he had my number – but it was off by one digit. He says: ‘I’m quitting the Flyers. I want to try something different…and I think you should be the one to try out for the band.’”

Apparently, Piazza was reluctant to offer an invitation to try out out of professional courtesy to Hummel, but relented after Mann’s insistence that he do it. Jimi made the 500-mile drive from the Bay Area to Southern California. His parents had relocated to Victorville, about 50 miles from Rod’s home in Riverside, after his graduation, and the audition took place on Aug. 13, 1986 – Jimi’s 21st birthday!

“I threw up on the way, and it was just Rod and (his pianist wife) Honey in a little studio in back of their house,” Bott recalls. “Rod had just had his driveway poured, and Richard Innis (another world-class percussionist who’d worked with Piazza in the ‘60s) had done the concrete. I thought that I’d never get the gig – that every drummer in the world would want it.

“Looking back now, though, I don’t think he had a lot of other choices then.”

Fortunately, “I did really well,” Jimi says, noting that one song they played was Little Walter’s “Rocker” – a song for which he’d already written down the drum part and knew completely from the way Piazza played in on record. Rod complimented him when they finished, but claimed that Bott had left out a portion of the tune. Jimi politely told him that it had been Piazza who’d omitted an entire section – something that Honey confirmed a few moments later after they’d played it back from their LP.

Rod hired him on the spot, and Hummel – who was about to embark with Jimi on Bott’s first European tour – wasn’t happy when Jimi broke the news.

In short order, Bott relocated to Southern California, believing Rod “probably hired me until somebody else came along,” he says. “But I just made myself better – until I became indispensable.” Their relationship endured for a decade despite Jimi quickly realizing that it’s important to be careful what you wish for because band politics – like family relationships — can be far more than what you bargain for.

imageJimi’s playing started jumping major levels during that period when Mann suggested he start taking lessons from his teacher, Murray Spivack. Then 88 and the man who created King Kong’s roar as a sound technician, Spivack’s prior students had included Joe Morello (Dave Brubeck), Louie Bellson (Tonight Show) and David Garibaldi (Tower of Power) among others.

Bott waited for what seemed like an eternity before Murray had an opening, but eventually picked up his impeccable stick control techniques and sense of rhythm from him. He also converted Jimi from playing both-palms-down, matched grip to traditional grip with one palm up and the other down – something that took a year to accomplish before feeling comfortable to do it on stage.

Always a dedicated student where the drums are involved, Jimi rolled out of bed every morning and practiced for 30 minutes before allowing himself a bathroom break, and he used a stopwatch to make certain he got in the eight full hours of practice he wanted to accomplish every day.

Today, a photo of Spivack holding his 1969 Oscar for Hello, Dolly looks down upon him from above the desk in Bott’s studio. As he spoke, he fondled one of his most prized possessions: a pair of Murray’s sticks – one of only five in existence – that he passed down through his assistant after his death to his favorite students.

When blues exploded internationally in the late ‘80s, Jimi toured the world with the Flyers, playing major festivals in Norway and Australia, where he also toured with the Blind Boys of Alabama after their regular drummer failed to make the flight for the Byron Bay festival. Bott subsequently was invited to join the Blind Boys full-time — something he considers a huge honor, but something he had to decline.

But Jimi’s comfortable away from the blues, having spent time in the band Mad Hattie, which blended jazz, punk, country and bluegrass, and Federale, which he co-founded with Mark Ford (Black Crowes), longtime friend Luther Russell and other heavyweights. Playing music he describes as The Band meets Neil Young, they landed a huge contract with Geffen Records before disbanding.

“Every step of the way, I’ve got luckier and luckier about who I got to play with,” Jimi insists, noting that he left Piazza in ’96, feeling he needed another change. Almost immediately he replaced another childhood hero, Fran Christina, in The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

“When I joined them, it was Kim Wilson, Kid Ramos, Gene Taylor and Willie J. Campbell (now his partner in The Proven Ones). Kim started talking about the particulars about getting paid and rooms on the road and whatnot, and I’m the one who stopped him and said: ‘Hey, we haven’t even played together yet!’”

Bott was living out of a 1979 Dodge camper van at the time, quickly passed an audition and began an eight-year run that was a real life-changer. One of the most successful bands ever in the blues, the T-Birds allowed members to live anywhere they wanted and provided door-to-door travel to the jumping-off point of tours.

Even better: instead of cramming into a van with all their gear, the group relaxed on a tour bus and employed roadies as they played huge events with Buddy Guy and other major acts at concerts attended by as many as 20,000 people.

“I felt bad at having roadies at first,” Jimi admits. “But I got over it quick. And seeing me on a tour bus for the first time finally gave my parents a chance to relax!”

The T-Birds had been Jimi’s second favorite band in school and the lineup was pretty close to the original with the addition of keys. He and Taylor hit it off from the jump. A pair of young wild men, their first gig together came at a resort in Arizona, where they stole a golf cart, drove through the property late at night and then crashed and abandoned it – not realizing that every move they made was being watched on closed-circuit cameras.

“We were kinda known as the ‘Toxic Twins,’” he says, growing somber momentarily as he reflected on the beloved friend and would-class keyboard player who’d died unexpectedly without any underlying medical conditions in frigid Austin this past February during the Texas power failure.

Jimi’s initial stay with the T-Birds lasted two years. He quit the band and relocated to Portland, where Federale was based, in the late ‘90s and has been there ever since. Always interested in the recording side of the business, he’s been deeply involved in it since that era, beginning with The Blues from Bottsville, his father’s debut CD, which was captured on eight-track cassette at his parents’ home in Victorville and then modified with tracks from Ford and others in Oregon.

imageFederale recorded one album and were planning another, but disbanded after a two-year run. Jimi rejoined the T-Birds and stayed another six years. Recently married to wife Laura and wanting kids, he exited in 2006, settling in with Woodbrain, a local band, which released the album Swimming in Turpentine on Memphis’ Yellow Dog Records.

“I’ve been recording since before I got to Portland in ’98, using a Mackie 24×8 board and ADATs (Alesis Digital Audio Tape recorders),” he says. “When I moved here, I had a portable studio at my first house, but wanted to put one in the basement. But the ceiling was too low, so I jacked the whole house up by myself.”

Somehow, a promoter in the Netherlands got ahold of the CD, called Jimi directly and booked the band to open their 25th annual Moulin Blues Festival. And Randy Chortkoff — bandleader of The Mannish Boys and owner of Delta Groove Records, heard it and wanted to sign the group to his label.

Although Woodbrain never made that jump, Jimi was soon touring as a member of Chortkoff’s band. It was another major change for Bott, who’s now the proud father of a teenage daughter and twin sons. Unlike Piazza or the T-Birds, the Mannish Boys were truly an ensemble operation with a revolving lineup that included multiple people at each position. Check out the credits of Double Dynamite – the BMA traditional album of the year in 2013 — and you’ll find that there are about more than 30 different artists in the 26 cuts, but Jimi’s the only drummer.

The Boys disbanded after Chortkoff’s death in 2015. Ever since, Bott’s been busy recording with others, operating his Roseleaf studio out of a stand-alone building next to his home. Fashioned after Wire Recording in Austin, he did all the work on the building, which features cedar-lined walls, no right angles, a treated ceiling, four isolation booths and equipment that ranges from vintage to modern.

It was there that his latest, wide-spread supergroup, The Proven Ones, truly took shape. The lineup includes keyboard player Anthony Geraci from Massachusetts, guitarist Kid Ramos from Southern California, bassist Willie J. Campbell from Missouri and vocalist Brian Templeton — former front man for The Radio Kings and Delta Generators – from New Hampshire.

They initially came together with Sugaray Rayford on vocals at what Jimi describes as a “crazy New Year’s gig” way out in the country near Campbell’s home. It proved to be so much fun, they decided to get together to record at Roseleaf and booked a series of gigs in the Portland area.

The core band recorded ten tracks in April 2018, and Sugaray was going to come in later to lay down vocals. But his solo career got so red-hot that, even though he wanted to, he couldn’t do it and, at Anthony’s suggestion, Brian was brought in to replace him.

“We sent tracks out to a few different singers,” Jimi says. “Brian’s came back, and he’d recorded it in his son’s bedroom – and it was the only one I needed to hear. This is the guy!

“So Brian booked a ticket, few out to Portland and stayed with me and my family. We clicked like that even though we’d never met before. And he nailed all the vocals.”

Their first CD, Wild Again, was released on Bott’s Roseleaf Records imprint, earning a BMA nomination for contemporary album of the year. “Our first big show was on July 4 at 5 o’clock on the main stage of the Waterfront Blues Festival to a sold-out 25,000-person crowd,” he remembers. “What else could you ask for? It was the first time we all walked on stage together.”

The remainder of the year was pretty quiet, but things picked up dramatically the next spring when they appeared at Moulin. “We hadn’t played together in months,” Jimi says. “But Willie J. and I and Mike Zito were touring Europe with The Blues Giants with Albert Castiglia around the same time. Mike was there when we were at Moulin. And, honestly, I thought it was a disaster.

“But Mike was like: ‘Oh, my God! This is a band!’ He was so excited that, a few weeks later, he invited us to record for Gulf Coast Records, his new label – and you couldn’t ask for a better one because they’re in it for the musicians…something I believed then and still believe now.”

Their new album, You Ain’t Done, was released at the height of the coronavirus last summer. The disc hit the No. 1 spot on Billboard charts and No. 3 on Apple Music during the summer – ironically at the same time Jimi was filling out paperwork for a PPP loan for gig workers.

“I was happy to mix it and do the post-production in my studio at home,” Bott says, “but just as happy not to record it myself. After all these years, I’d rather be just the engineer or the drummer. I don’t enjoy being both because, almost inevitably, something slips by you and you don’t find out about it until later – when everybody’s flown home.”

The actual recording occurred at Zito’s Dockside Studios in Maurice, La., under the direction of Dave Farrell, the producer who worked on one of the first LPs Bott recorded with the Flyers for Black Top decades ago.

Recording, he notes, is problem solving – much like construction, and it’s always important for everyone involved to be able to concentrate solely on their own tasks and to build from a sound foundation.

COVID-19 has been both a blessing and a curse, Jimi says. “For the first time in my life, I’m going to bed at the same time every night, which isn’t a bad thing. But I felt right away that I needed to be doing something that was productive and do things with the kids.”

imageThey’ve been home-schooling for the entire school year and helping Bott with rigorous physical projects around the house, learning the same skills about working with tools that Jimi picked up from his father decades ago.

And The Proven Ones recorded a rock-‘n’-roll version of “Blue Christmas” long distance for the A Gulf Coast Christmas compilation album in the fall – “something that wasn’t an easy feat with all of us in different states,” Jimi says. “Brian and I came up with the arrangement, and I laid down the drums here by myself, then had a couple of close friends come in and do some scratch piano and vocals before sending it around piece by piece to get it recorded.

“As an engineer, I’m always up for a challenge,” he says. “I really enjoy that part of it. The technical part of lining things up and making things happen is a little laborious, but it’s the way of the world right now – and the only way we can make magic happen with everyone working for their own homes.

“And what I do as an engineer is synonymous with producing. Whether I’m producing or not, there’s a lot of production in running the actual program. If folks bring in their own producer, I’m fine with that. But often, it’s people who are looking for your opinion – whether they use your idea or not.

“I prefer to have the whole band playing together, which is one of the benefits of my studio, where everybody can be in the same room, but with separation. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible – especially in the past year when everybody wanted to continue recording during the pandemic.”

His current setup is suitable for full-band, 24-track recordings to overdubs using three Universal Audio Apollo 8 interfaces and Neve 1073, API, Manley VOXBOX, UA 610 and Hamptone tube pre amps.

“I usually work by word-of-mouth,” he says, “but people from around the world send me things to either have people here in Portland or to have me – as a drummer – to record on. I’m always all mic-ed up and ready to go.”

His clientele has included Paul deLay, Hummel, the Mannish Boys All-Stars and a multitude of others, including award-winning albums for Kevin Selfe and Ben Rice’s Wish the World Away, an album that earned Rice three BMA nominations. A follow-up is already in the works.

As comfortable and happy he is in the studio, Bott’s also eager to get back on the road again with The Proven Ones – hopefully for the Notodden Blues Festival in Norway, which is the only gig they currently have on the books for 2021. He’s especially grateful for all the support he’s received through the years and for everything fans have done for national acts through contribution to online performances during the shutdown, and stresses the importance of supporting local artists, too.

“I’d like to encourage everyone to be good and kind to each other in this time of such opposition and divide,” he insists. “If we try to see things we all have in common – to provide for our families, to keep them safe and for them to be treated equally – if we could keep these things in the forefront, it would be my hope that we could talk to one another more openly and freely with compassion, understanding and, possibly, without judgment.”

Learn more about Jimi by visiting his website — – or check out his studio by visiting

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.

Blues Blast Music Award Submissions
Now open until May 31st, 2021!


The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings.

Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible to be considered.

NEW FOR 2021 – All submissions are digital.

No physical CDs needed.

Submission Fees for 2021

$50 until April 30, 2021.

$75 May 1, 2021 to May 15, 2021.

$100 May 16, 2021 to May 31, 2021

Please submit your music as soon as possible!

It makes the nominators job easier.

For complete information, click HERE to visit our website.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageRev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band – Dance Songs for Hard Times

Family Crown Records/Thirty Tigers

11 songs – 35 minutes

One of the most unique outfits on the blues scene today, Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band present a large presence despite being a country blues trio, and they’re larger than life on their latest release, a collection of originals written by candlelight at the depths of despair during the coronavirus epidemic.

But don’t let the title fool you, Despite its somber tone, the material here is an in-your-face set of intense, highly rhythmic tunes that confront troubles head-on and put a somewhat positive spin on life in the most difficult time imaginable. “I like songs that sound happy, but are actually very sad,” Peyton says. “I don’t know why it is, but I just do.”

Currently nominated for Blues Music Award blues-rock band of the year – quite a contrast to an image more suited for a front porch in the backwoods rather than main stage, the past year was particularly difficult for guitarist vocalist Reverend Peyton, wife Washboard Breezy Peyton and percussionist Sad Max Senteney.

Not only were the Peytons robbed of their ability to make a living, but the their 150-year-old log cabin in rural southern Indiana lost power for an extended period after a wind storm and both Breezy and the Rev.’s dad experienced lingering medical issues. The Rev. literally penned most of the material here in a home lit only by flickering candles. “It’s been a struggle the entire time,” he says. “Nothing’s been easy. Other than the music.”

Dance Songs for Hard Times was produced, engineered and mixed by four-time Grammy-winner Vance Powell at Sputnik Sound in Nashville, where it was recorded old-school on vintage analog equipment with the Rev. playing through a 1954 Supro Dual Tone amp, kicking up his usual down home, finger picking stylings by adding a taste of vintage Chicago slide, too.

The action opens with “Ways and Means,” a driving shuffle that juxtaposes having a $3 shirt and a $100 hat and other anachronisms, symbolizing Peyton’s yearlong economic frustration after being laid low after constant touring. The message continues in the loping, rapid-fire “Rattle Can” – delivered on slide – as the Rev. insists: “I need the whole enchilada. I need the whole shebang. Just a little bit won’t do.”

The Rev. faces his situation head-on in “Dirty Hustlin'” and professes “I ain’t scared of nothin’” while proclaiming he’ll do whatever necessary to survive – a message that continues in the optimistic “I’ll Pick You Up.” His picking skills come to the fore in “Too Cool to Dance,” which insists that he and Breezy take a spin on the floor and ignore whatever folks might say.

The sound quiets for the stripped-down “No Tellin’ When,” which offers a simple plea for a reunion with family and friends. It gives way to “Sad Songs,” a deceptive title because Peyton warns that he’s a dangerous man who shouldn’t be left alone with depressing melodies. “Crime to Be Poor” serves up a Hill Country complaint about folks imprisoned for committing crimes because of their living conditions to follow.

The final three numbers instill a smidgeon of hope for the future. “’Til We Die” – an urban blues delivered on slide – predicts success no matter what come at him. The message continues in “Nothin’ Comes Easy but You and Me” before “Come Down Angels” serves up a request for a little heavenly relief to close.

The dark themes run deep in this one, but it’s surprisingly uplifting, too. Pick this one up if you’re looking for a little inspiration from down in the bottom.

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 

imageJosh Hoyer & Soul Colossal – Natural Born Hustler

Color Red – 2021

10 tracks; 43 minutes

I have been a fan of this Nebraska-based soul band since their debut CD in 2013, a disc that earned them a nomination for New Artist Debut Album at the 2014 Blues Blast Awards. Josh wrote all the material and handles lead vocals and keyboards, Blake DeForest is on trumpet, Benjie Kushner guitar, Mike Keeling bass and Harrison Eldorado drums; additional musicians involved are Larell Ware who is behind the drum kit on four tracks, trombonists Luke Annis and Tommy Van Den Berg who play on eight and two tracks respectively, Carrie Beth Stickrod and Ally Peeler who add B/V’s to two tracks and Marina Kushner who provides strings on one cut.

Opener “Hustler” has elements of funk from Benjie’s wah-wah wash and horns that evoke Tex-Mex borders, Josh vaunting his credentials as a tough survivor in hard times. “Whisper” is a ballad with a lilting refrain beefed up by the horns on the chorus and a vocal that gets stronger and stronger as the track develops. Backing vocals feature behind Josh’s lead on the next two songs: driven by Josh’s insistent piano “Take Your Time” is classic soul, a song that could have been sung by Al Green back in the day; “Changing” builds from a gentle start to a catchy number with the drums well up in the mix, a song in which Josh sets out his philosophy on life: “Changing is the hardest thing that you will ever learn.” We then return to the funky side of things with “Sunday Lies” which has a great bass line underpinning trash-can drums and wah-wah guitar, the horns only making an appearance half way through.

The whole band really gels on “The Night”, trumpet and guitar both featured on the outro and Josh in full vocal flight. “Take My Chances” is a slightly longer cut and has another strong bass line over which the horns riff while Josh describes his attitude to life, not caring “how the dice will fall”. Strings are added to “Automatic” which risks falling into ‘crooner’ territory though the trumpet playing is sublime before a short and funky “Automatic” gets things moving again. The album closes with “Ring The Bells” which successfully combines a Memphis soul groove with gospel overtones in the uplifting lyrics.

Josh Hoyer has the sort of voice that is ideally suited to soul and Rn’B. While Natural Born Hustler possibly lacks the killer song that graced earlier albums, it is a solid piece of work with no real weaknesses, so if blue-eyed soul is your interest, check this one out.

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 – 3 of 6 

ImageSkage – Procrastination Blues

Slide Productions

8 songs – 32 minutes

Procrastination Blues is the debut solo album from Norway’s Arne Skage, who has stepped into the limelight after serving 30 years as the guitarist for Reidar Larsen, himself one of the leading lights in the Norwegian blues scene. Skage has also contributed to nearly 70 albums by a variety of different artists. And, as one might expect from someone with that kind of background, Procrastination Blues is an absolute delight, channelling a deep Louisiana vibe from the album’s opening track, “Dressed Up To Get Messed Up”. It is followed by the title track, which sounds like something JJ Cale would have produced if he had spent much time in New Orleans, with superb fiddle from Jonno Frishberg and lovely slide guitar from Skage.

The basic tracks on the album were recorded in both in New Orleans and Flekkefjord (with overdubs apparently “done all over the place”), with a wide variety of different musicians, but Procrastination Blues maintains a singular thematic uniformity thanks to Skage’s vocals and guitar, the consistently high quality of the songwriting (primarily by Skage and Leslie Blackshear Smith or by Skage alone – the sole cover on the album is Steve Conn’s “Famous”) and by the excellent engineering and mixing (again by Skage).

Skage sings in an engagingly rough and road-worn voice, hinting at a slightly cleaned-up version of Dr John on the wonderful second-line groove of “King Of The Hill”, replete with tuba from Dr. Bekken, and his guitar playing is first class throughout, turning in a series of short but tasty solos and clever licks that serve the song (and these songs are well worth serving). Skage plays standard and slide guitar, lap steel, baritone guitar, mandocaster and resonator as well as adding bass on “King Of The Hill” and percussion on various tracks.

The closing track, the instrumental “River Road” nods towards one of Skage’s primary slide influences, Sonny Landreth, while the funky “Soul Food Mama” is a co-write with the great slide guitarist, Roy Rogers.

The core band providing masterful support to Skage includes Terence Higgins on drums and percussion, John “Papa” Gros on piano, Hammond B3 and Wurlitzer and René Coman on bass. They are joined at various times by Reidar Larsen on piano, Lars Christian Narum on Hammond B3, Atle Rakvåg on bass, Jonno Frishberg on fiddle, triangle and accordion, Steve Conn and Arve Håland on accordion, Erica Fall, Leslie B Smith, Tricia Bouttè, Thale Log Skage, Joe Rusi, Inge Svege, Daniel Eriksen on background vocals, Dr. Bekken on tuba, and Knut Hem on drums. Together they create a glorious mess of sound that instantly transports the listener to the musical swamps of Louisiana.

Procrastination Blues is a relatively short album but there isn’t a wasted note on it. It works both as a standalone album and as a love letter to the region that has provided Skage with limitless inspiration over the decades. It may have taken Skage over 30 years to release his first solo album but let’s hope the next one is released more promptly. Wonderful stuff.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageSkylar Rogers – Firebreather

Skylar Rogers Music 2020

10 songs, 39 minutes

Being raised in a tough Chicago neighborhood, and experiencing difficult times which included abusive relationships, homelessness and the stillbirth of her child provided Skylar Rogers with extensive material for heartfelt songwriting. This is evident in the song inspired by her strained relationship with the father she never knew growing up, who then also blocked her efforts to initiate a relationship as an adult. “Like Father Like Daughter” speaks to how “the student’s become the teacher, now the whole world will see. Like father like daughter…remember what I taught you. Well, you taught me one thing…how to turn around and walk away. You say that you’re trying to right the wrong, but I can see that nothing’s changed. And now I see that thinking about you don’t bring me nothing but pain.”

“Like Father Like Daughter” led to Rogers placing as a semi-finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. But it is just one of ten skillfully written songs on her latest album Firebreather. “Drowning” is equally powerfully written, starting with a beautiful piano intro (by Pete Zimmer), and building to an emotional climax, noting “I’m drowning, baby…Your memory is a past that haunts me. I can’t find my peace of mind nowhere. I never got to say goodbye. I’m trapped in a prison…in a memory of something that was never meant to be.”

There are certainly more upbeat songs on this album, including the sassy “Hard-Headed Woman,” which begins with Rogers sounding proud of her hard-headedness, but then lamenting that “this hard-headed woman is going to be sorry someday.” And “Back to Memphis” which offers hope for a new life in a new location. However, the best tracks seem to be the slower ones, often processing grief and pain. “Thankful” is a beautiful song encouraging some to change their ways and develop an attitude of gratitude. “You take your life for granted—just passing through…it’s all about you. It’s all about your stuff and it’s never enough…be thankful.”

Rogers has powerful vocals with a wide range and beautiful tone, and her singing is clearly influenced by Tina Turner, Etta James and Koko Taylor. She also has a talented band supporting her. Besides Zimmer on piano, Jerry Ewing plays bass, “Disco Fuzz” Bradley Arl (who co-wrote three of the songs) plays drums, and Steven J. Hill and Marty Gibson both play guitar. There is truly not a bad track on this album. Give Firebreather a try, and you will soon see why Annika Chambers has been quoted as admiring Rogers’ “energy and pizzazz and her raw honesty to every performance”, and why Ms. Zeno “The Mojo Queen” has stated about Rogers, “give her a microphone, and in a minute she will win your heart.”

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageZed Mitchell – Route 69

Z Records – 2020

12 tracks; 52 minutes

This is guitarist Zed Mitchell’s eighth solo album release though over a 50+ year career in music Zed has been involved in over 20 albums, both as group member and session musician. Originally from Belgrade, Zed is now based in Germany and this album is mainly a solo effort as only three musicians are involved throughout: Zed on vocals, guitars, keys and bass, his son Todor Manojilovic on guitars and B/V’s and David Haynes on drums; Sascha Kuhn plays keys and Max Schurakowski sax on one track each. Zed presumably plays everything else we hear, produced, programmed and mixed the album and wrote all the material, with lyrics provided on four tracks by London-based music promoter Pete Feenstra.

The general feel here is relaxed, melodic rock with the obvious touchstones being artists like Mark Knopfler and Chris Rea; indeed, Zed’s vocals sound rather like Knopfler with a trace of foreign accent. There is little actual blues music here, but no shortage of clean, lyrical guitar phrasing on tracks like “Freedom Trail”, one of four songs with Pete Feenstra’s lyrics. Pete’s other contributions include the opening track “By Sundown You’ll Be Gone” with the catchy chorus “But I know, the wolf gets hungry, and I know it won’t be long, when your love runs out of money, by sundown, you’ll be gone” and “The Girl That Broke Your Heart”, a ballad whose moody feel is enhanced by the addition of keyboards. The sax appears on “Midnight Melody” which has something of a late-night jazz feel from a strong bass line, Hammond effects and David’s use of brushes.

Much of the album is of very similar pace and feel, even duration; for instance, eight of the twelve tracks are between 4.00 and 4.30. You end up wishing that there was a real rocker to break up the melodic material but there really isn’t one here. The result is an album that is pleasant throughout but somehow fails to achieve lift-off.

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 

imageNew Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers – Vol. 2

Stony Plain Records SPCD 1417

11 songs – 53 minutes

Stony Plain Records owner Holger Petersen popped opened a musical treasure chest last fall when he released New Moon Jelly Roll Freedom Rockers Vol. 1 – a stellar, “long-lost” collection of tunes that featured Charlie Musselwhite, Alvin Youngblood Hart and ex-Squirrel Nut Zippers front man Jimbo Mathus as well as late Hill Country legend Jim Dickinson and his sons, Luther and Cody.

A laid-back tour-de-force, it harkened back to a time long before COVID-19, when good friends could get together and play for a while when the tapes were rolling – not surprising when you consider that the material had been sitting in a vault since 2007, when the tracks were laid down during a jam at the Dickinsons’ Zebra Ranch in Coldwater, Miss., and since Jim passed two years later.

At the time of the sessions, Charlie and the North Mississippi AllStars were taking of a multi-day break in the midst of touring with Mavis Staples. And the tapes had been pretty much a matter of legend until Petersen visited Musselwhite backstage at the 2019 Edmonton Blues Festival, learned they actually existed and acquired the rough mixes from Luther shortly thereafter.

Luther and his engineer/partner Kevin Houston subsequently put the finishing touches on the material, which comes across imbued with the warmth of friendship and steamy summer nights. But there was so much quality material that, when Vol. 1 was released to acclaim last September, Petersen announced that Vol. 2 would soon follow.

Fortunately, this one picks up where that one left off – and blues fans didn’t have to wait that long for its arrival. The action’s augmented by Chris Chew on bass and Paul Taylor on tub bass.

Charlie takes the lead for a loping version of his original, “Blues for Yesterday,” to open the set with the three guitarists – Alvin, Jimbo and Luther – all getting space to shine. The ensemble delivers a little acid flashback as Hart takes the lead to cover Doug Sahm’s familiar “She’s About a Mover,” which is propelled by Jim on keys, before Mathus assumes command for “Searchlight (Soon in the Morning),” a medium-paced shuffle of his own design.

An unhurried take of “Oh Lord, Don’t Let Them Drop that Atomic Bomb on Me” follows. A dark, modern-day gospel number penned by jazz great Charles Mingus – gives Jim Dickinson plenty of space to shine, wringing emotion out of every phrase vocally and on the 88s with choral accompaniment before Mathus launches into his song, “Greens and Ham,” a modern tune with a strong Tin Pan Alley feel.

Musselwhite and the senior Dickinson tag-team “Messin’ with the Kid,” the Junior Wells standard written by Mel London. Charlie’s harp lilts throughout with Jim featured atop an unusual counterpoint rhythm before his original, “Black Water,” flows slow and deep like the river it describes. The feel goes pure country as Alvin dips into his own songbook for “Millionaire Blues (If Blues Was Money).”

The sound shifts north to Chicago as Jim puts an interesting spin on Jimmy Reed’s “Can’t Stand to See You Go” and Luther puts a Hill Country spin on the Earl Hooker instrumental, “Blue Guitar” before his dad dips into the catalog of the Mississippi Sheiks for “Blues Is a Mighty Bad Feeling” to close.

Available through most major retailers and strongly recommended for anyone who appreciates good times and good 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.

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