Issue 15-2 January 14, 2021


Cover photo © 2021 Yvonne Mercier

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with legendary bluesman Bob Margolin. We have six blues reviews for you including including new music from Ray Cashman, Dennis Jones, Fried Okra, Rick Shea, Göksenin and Mick Kolassa.


 Featured Interview – Bob Margolin 

imageStandard bearers for the blues come in many forms, but no one has been more steadfast in carrying the cyan banner than Bob Margolin, the guitarist extraordinaire who spent seven years on the road with Muddy Waters and has been paying the blessings he received forward ever since. But Margolin’s far more than a musician. He is a songwriter with a deep social conscience, he’s an educator, author and label owner, too, who works tirelessly to to keep the music by promoting up-and-coming talent for future generations.

Blues Blast caught up to Bob by phone recently as he was relaxing on the porch of his home in High Point, N.C. He was bundled in multiple layers of clothing and enjoying Mother Nature at her finest, accompanied by his beloved border collies, Calvin and Ruby, and family cat in his happy place on a brisk winter afternoon.

It’s a far cry from the hustle and bustle of Chicago, where Muddy plied his trade, or metropolitan Boston, where he was raised, knowing pretty much from the jump that he wanted to be a musician. “I started playin’ guitar because of Chuck Berry,” he says, quickly adding: “But later on, I realized that Muddy Waters was real important to him, and I kinda followed the path of his inspiration.

Bob was still in high school when he heard Waters for the first time. He’d tuned in to WBUR, the AM station operated by Boston University, and the deejay, Uncle T, initially caught his ear by spinning Albert King’s tune, “I Love Lucy,” a paean to his Flying V guitar, a friendly rival to B.B. King’s Lucille.

“It was a pretty cool song,” Margolin recalls. “But the next thing he played was a Muddy Waters slow blues, ‘Long Distance Call’ or something like that – one of the early versions with Little Walter on harp. I was first struck by Muddy’s voice.

“And then, as it went on, I said to myself: ‘Wow! What a great slide guitar player he’s got there!’

“I quickly found out that it was the same person: Muddy. That was it – I was all the way in. He was my favorite musician from that moment on.”

Bob picked up the guitar for the first time at age 15 and almost immediately started playing out in local rock and blues bands. He was in his late teens and a student at BU when he made his first recordings with The Freeborne, a band that carved out its own niche in music history.

The group went through multiple lineups and musical styles in its decade-long run, but is best known as one of the top psychedelic rock bands to emerge from what’s known as the Bosstown Sound era. Along with Ultimate Spinach, Beacon Street Union and Orpheus, they served as the East Coast’s competition with the better known San Francisco Sound that produced Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead and others.

“There were a few different bands (incarnations) by that name, including the psychedelic one – which had blues as one of 20 other genres,” Margolin remembers. “They were some young, creative people who wanted to mix everything together,” he says, “which I thought was very educational.”

Formed when two separate garage bands – The Missing Links and The Indigos — merged in a desire to produce original material, The Freeborne were a five-piece ensemble ranging in age from 17 to 19 at the height of its popularity. Fronted by Nick Carstoiu on vocals, keyboards and rhythm guitar with Mike Spiros on keys and trumpet, Lew Lipson on drums, Dave Codd on bass and Margolin on lead, their music – psychedelic, but with blues elements — caught the ear of Barry Richards, a Bostonian music impresario, who used his connections to hook them up with Monitor Records, an esoteric New York-based label that recorded Ramblin’ Jack Elliott and Paul Robeson, but is best known for its classical and international folk releases. Bob’s band was the only rock group ever signed to its roster.

Partially recorded at CBS Studio in Manhattan, their only album, Peak Impressions, was released in 1968 to moderate success, something that was limited by the fact that three members were still in high school and weren’t able to tour. But they did share bookings with three of the biggest names of the era — Tim Hardin, Velvet Underground and Canned Heat – on local club dates.

Despite their initial success, the band shifted toward the blues after changing managers and their record deal – two more albums were planned – fell through. But their LP has been in distribution ever since through several unauthorized releases before being reissued in a remastered, extended format by Arf! Arf! Records on CD in 2014.

imageWhile none of his bandmates enjoyed further musical success, Margolin – who earned a degree in public relations that he terms a “50-year-old virgin” – has been in the belly of the blues ever since.

Bob’s first exposure to Muddy in the flesh came at the Jazz Workshop or Paul’s Mall in Boston, where Waters played frequently in the late ‘60s and into the ‘70s, noting: “I still have pictures I took with an Instamatic at that time with him, Paul Oscher, Sammy Lawhorn, Pee Wee Madison, Pinetop (Perkins), Willie (‘Big Eyes’) Smith and I think Calvin (‘Fuzz’) Jones on bass, too.

“And I was in some bands that opened up for him…one with Luther ‘Georgia Boy/Snake’ Johnson.”

If the name sounds familiar, it should. One of two guitarists of the same name who played with Waters in the ‘60s, Snake was a fixture on the New England blues scene before passing in 1976. He’s often confused with Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, who’s enjoyed a long recording career and is still active in Boston, or Atlanta-based Luther “Houserocker” Johnson, who never played with Muddy and died in 2019.

“Luther ran his band just like a minor league Muddy Waters Band,” Bob says fondly. “He just played in the African-American clubs in Boston, and I learned a lot in his band. It was a very intensive course. We’d play six sets a night, five nights a week, a three-set matinee on Sunday. I made $80 a week.

“I said: ‘Well that’s it! I’ll quit my $100-a-week day job in a parking lot, and now I’m a professional musician’ – which did not leave me something to fall back on in 2020 because most of my income was from live performing.

“But I was lucky back then. He always paid me. He didn’t always pay everyone.”

Margolin’s frequently recounted his hiring by Muddy in the past, but went into more detail than usual when asked to retell it this time around.

“I’d opened for Muddy in the past with a group called Boston Blues Band after I’d left Luther,” he says. “We were just smart enough not to play Muddy Waters songs on a Muddy Waters show. But we were playing a lot of Chicago blues…Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James.

“He heard me playing those things, and was very nice to me — and encouraging. When his band would be opening with three songs before he came up to the bandstand, I’d sit in the dressing room — alone with him — and talk about music, which was just amazing to me ‘cause he was my favorite musician. It was like Moses talking to God or something!

“He was a good band leader and a good person who wanted to treat his band fairly,” Bob remembers. “I went down to see him at the Jazz Workshop for the first night of what was to be a week long gig in August 1973, and the first person I saw was his harmonica player that I already knew, Mojo Buford.

“We were the only two people in the room, and he asked me the fateful question: ‘Got any reefer?’

“Knowing how things worked in those days…bands traveling on the road, I did. I’d bought some and brought it. Then he said: ‘Oh, Muddy fired Sammy last night. Wait here!’”

The band had just played a show at Tanglewood, an outdoor venue that’s still a fixture in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, and Lawhorn was a sensational guitarist who’d been at Waters’ side for 12 years. A heavy drinker with other health issues, however, he’d apparently messed up on stage once too often.

“A minute later,” Bob says, “Muddy came out of the dressing room, saw me and said: ‘Oh good! Come to my hotel room tomorrow and bring a guitar’ – completely assuming that I’d drop anything in my life and go do that.

“But he was right. I did it.”

imageMargolin had studied Waters intently every change he could, something that paid off in spades the next day, when showed up with his electric guitar and a small Fender Deluxe Tweed amp in hand and the master said: “Play it!”

“I plugged in and we played softly ‘cause we were in a hotel…a slow blues in E kinda generic in Chicago blues style – somewhere between Muddy and Jimmy Rogers,” Bob recalls. “I played an introduction just as basic as you can be, and Muddy started singing along…sang a whole verse, and he liked that.

“I don’t think he thought I was as great a guitar player as Sammy was, but he could see that I wanted to learn it and was into the style, and he decided to give it a try. It was a real crossroads moment.

“I knew then that if I did it – to give him what he wanted on the bandstand for as long as I could — it would be the foundation for the rest of my life. And if I was lucky enough, I’d be able to go past it if he ever decided to retire, quit playing or pass away…’cause he was ‘really old’ then…he was 59!

“And that’s exactly what happened.”

For Margolin, it was a marriage made in heaven – a Middle Ages-style master-apprentice relationship in which he was learning on stage by accompanying his knight in shining armor rather than through formal lessons and picking up pointers here and there in occasional illuminating conversations.

“Most of the time, though, I had to learn it right there on the bandstand and receive a dirty look if it was something he didn’t want to hear,” Bob says. “And I didn’t want those dirty looks!”

Margolin spent the better part of the next seven years in Waters’ band and also served as the sole foundation for his sound when Muddy made infrequently solo guest appearances, performances that included The Band’s legendary The Last Waltz concert in San Francisco, which included everyone from Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and Paul Butterfield to Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell and Dr. John.

“I tried to make myself useful to him on and off the bandstand,” Bob says, “’cause I really loved him personally as well as his music. If he was going to play with musicians he didn’t know as well as he knew some, he’d bring me along to kinda tell them what he wanted – to be the translator so he could just get on stage and have someone familiar behind him.

“I tried to use that opportunity to do something for him. And, of course, it did an incredible thing for me – especially with the Muddy Waters Woodstock Album in 1975.”

Muddy’s final Chess LP, it won a Grammy with a lineup that included Paul Butterfield and The Band’s Levon Helm and Garth Hudson.

Waters enjoyed a major resurgence in his career after moving to the Blue Sky imprint, where Johnny Winter served as the producer for what would be his final four albums: Hard Again and I’m Ready – two more Grammy winners — as well as Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live and King Bee, his last album. Bob’s licks are deep in the grooves of all of them. And, in recent years, he served as both consultant and producer when Blue Sky/Sony reissued them on CD.

Margolin’s run with Muddy came to an end in June 1980, when the other members of the band – Pinetop, Portnoy, Smith and Jones – parted company with Waters to form the Legendary Blues Band after a long-simmering dispute. Their final gigs took place in Japan.

The impending break-up is written all over the faces of the group in a black-and-white photo Bob found on the internet and shared with this writer. Muddy’s seated alongside his 19-year-old bride, Marva, and they’re surrounded by six of the most miserable looking musicians you’ll ever see, all of whom appeared to be wishing to be anywhere else than where they were at the time.

“All of us knew this was going to be the end,” Margolin says, adding a line from an old blues tune: “You can tell that ‘our time ain’t long.’ The looks on everybody’s faces – especially mine – really showed it.”

Fortunately, he also sent along another image captured from CNN’s Rock ‘n’ Roll President documentary in which Jimmy Carter is beaming ear-to-ear as watches him and Muddy in action on the White House lawn.

imageBack in America, Waters quickly assembled a new band with guitarists John Primer and Rich Kreher, keyboard player Lovie Lee, bassist Earnest Johnson and drummer Ray “Killer” Allison, but died in his sleep of heart failure at age 70 in 1983 without recording another album while Legendary — featuring a revolving lineup anchored by Smith — released seven LPs and CDs before disbanding in the early ’90s.

Meanwhile, Bob launched a solo career, billing himself as “Steady Rollin’” Bob Margolin – a nickname he adopted after a deejay from a radio station operated by Emerson College in Boston pinned it on him during an introduction of Waters’ ensemble a few months prior to their disbandment.

Somewhat of a musical nomad for a few years, he relocated to the Washington, D.C., area, where he shared a house with great friend and guitarist Tom Principato and then Blacksburg, Va., before putting down permanent roots in North Carolina in 1989. He made a comfortable living fronting his own band in clubs across the Southeast, served as the opening act for shows by Stevie Ray Vaughan, George Thorogood & the Destroyers, Winter and the Fabulous Thunderbirds and played occasional major events, including a Muddy tribute with the T-Birds, Etta James and Taj Mahal at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

As the ‘80s came to a close, however, the once-bourgeoning club scene began to dry up, and he came to the realization that he needed to expand touring and start a recording career of his own to insure his own economic survival – something that pales in comparison today with what everyone in the industry, himself included is having to endure.

His first two solo albums – The Old School and Chicago Blues – came out on Principato’s Powerhouse Records, and a subsequent switch to Alligator for three more in the ‘90s helped him reconnect with the international fan base he’d acquired during his travels with Muddy.

He’s a five-time winner of the W.C. Handy Award/Blues Music Award and an eight-time nominee who’s appeared as a guest artist on recordings by several of the biggest names in the industry across all musical spectrums. His 2020 release, This Guitar and Tonight – an intimate, all-original, all-acoustic set aided only by guest appearances by harp player Bob Corritore and former Conan O’Brien bandleader Jimmy Vivino on second guitar — is the reigning BMA acoustic album of the year. And he’s also the reigning Blues Blast Music Awards honoree as male artist of the year, too.

Before COVID struck, he and Jimmy were enjoying touring together in an acoustic setting, trading licks in what Muddy used to term “filling in the cracks” and swapping stories about their experiences with blues legends in a relaxed, unstructured format – something that they yearn to continue once the world situation allows.

Margolin has consistently kept Waters’ memory and music alive in any way he’s been able through the years, touring as part of The Muddy Waters Tribute Band, recording the Grammy-nominated homage You’re Gonna Miss Me (When I’m Dead and Gone) with B.B. King, Dr. John and Little Feat and appearing at a Kennedy Center Tribute in his honor — just to name a few. Since leaving Alligator, he’s released about ten additional albums for Blind Pig, Telarc and his own Steady Rollin’ and VizzTone Label Group.

He co-founded VizzTone pretty much by chance in 2006 with longtime friend and fellow Bostonian Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt, former president of Tone-Cool Records, and Chip Engle, former publisher of BluesWax magazine – where Bob penned a column, earning a Blues Foundation Keeping the Blues Alive honor in the process. He continues to pen the column today for Blues Music Magazine.

He’s also self-published a book, Steady Rollin’, a digital-only volume that includes true-life stories and personality snapshots from the road as well as what he terms “intentional blues fiction” based on actual events. Published in 2011, it’s an interesting read that’s still available as a download.

“Chip said: ‘I’d like to help you make your next album,’” Bob recalls. “As we started to talk about it, we realized that neither one of us knew anything about how to be a record company…that we’d make really dumb first-timer mistakes if it was just the two of us doing it.

“Right at that time, I got an email from Rosy, who’d just sold Tone-Cool, but didn’t want to get out of the business altogether. He said: ‘Anybody need a harp player or a used record company executive?’ That’s just what we needed!”

Engle eventually became less involved in the operation, but their first release — Bob’s self-recorded In North Carolina — earned him guitarist of the year honors at the subsequent BMAs.

The company they started has proven successful despite operating as a collective that takes a smaller cut of revenue produced than a full-service label would. Artists produce and record their music and submit it for consideration. If accepted, a partnership arrangement with VizzTone provides pressing, distribution and promotion services. Chicago-based publicist Amy Brat has been handling that end of the operation since coming on board in 2009.

“After the first album,” Bob says, “we realized we could do that for other people, and we’ve been doing it ever since. We’re friendly, collaborative, and I’m thankful to have Rosy and Amy’s advice. One thing we don’t do is advise anybody about making music. We either like what we hear or we don’t. And a lot of the time, we do!”

imageWith almost 100 releases to its credit, the VizzTone roster includes albums by several name – former Fleetwood Mac guitarist Rick Vito, late soul and gospel giant Otis Clay and Phantom Blues Band – as well as dozens of rising stars.

Amy planted the seed for This Guitar and Tonight, Margolin notes. “I was talking to her and Rosy, mentioned that I had time to do a new album and wondered if they had any suggestions. She said I ‘should do something I hadn’t done before to distinguish it from the others…how ‘bout an acoustic album?’

“Bingo! A little blue light goes on over my head!

“’That sounds fine,’ I said, especially since earlier in 2019, I had this really beautiful 1930s Gibson L-00 guitar that had fallen into disrepair – the headstock was cracking and it was pretty fragile – rebuilt by an excellent luthier who lives only a half-hour away from me.

“He had it two months and said: ‘You’re not gonna believe this guitar when I get it back to you.’ He was right. It was a great guitar before. But now, it’s even better. The guitar has no highs and no lows, but it’s angel sweet in the middle – and records well.”

The six-string features prominently in his follow-up, the EP Star of Stage and Screens, an intimate acoustic six-song set that picks up where the last one left off. It also is something of a milestone effort because Bob did all of it at home and sent off files unmastered rather than taking them to a friend for finishing work at Studio B in Charlotte – primarily because, like everybody else in the industry today, he didn’t have any money.

It’s a brief, but powerful mix of thought-provoking observations about life during coronavirus as well as remembrances of performing with Muddy at the White House and other events. And it comes across with an updated feel that’s highly reminiscent of the work of first-generation blues men both in the simplicity of recording and depth of the message.

“I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to hear you say that,” Margolin said when confronted with that observation. “I was trying to live up to that standard – it was something to aim for generally.

“In the past, I’ve recorded my share of songs that make me cringe when I hear them now. But on these, I was trying to do something I thought would be of musical value to the world – and to be the best thing I’ve ever done.”

Away from the stage, he spent most of the summer collaborating with co-author Dave Rubin on a follow-up to their well-received instructional book and accompanying DVD, Chicago Blues Rhythm Guitar: The Complete Guide, which was released by Hal Leonard LLC in 2015.

Entitled Chicago Blues Slide Guitar, this one will be accompanied by 58 videos that Bob shot himself with his iPhone, and it goes beyond the licks that old-school masters perfected. “I put in everything I know and some things I had to learn,” he says. “We go into different players’ styles, including some of the younger ones…Billy Flynn, Bernard Allison and others.”

And he’s eager to resume his responsibilities as musical director of the Pinetop Perkins Foundation. Created with a mission to support young musicians at the start of their careers through annual masterclass workshops in Clarksdale, Miss., and to assist elderly artists at the end of theirs.

Bob’s been active with it from the beginning in 2010 at the suggestion of Pat Morgan, Pinetop’s longtime manager, because the keyboard giant wanted to create a lasting legacy before his passing.

Initially conceived for piano players only, the concept expanded immediately to include guitar and now includes harmonica, bass and drums, too, bringing in musicians from around the world, some of whom attend on scholarship. And, fortunately, Pinetop was able to share his smile and encouragement at the first event before leaving us the following March.

“It’s pretty exciting and fun for me,” Margolin says, noting that life’s come full circle. Instead of learning from Muddy, he’s now the one who’s passing the lessons along.

Bob was teaching the guitar class about ten years ago when he encountered Christone “Kingfish” Ingram – then age 11 — for the first time in Clarksdale. The setting included students much older and experienced than he was, Margolin remembers, “but even then, he had something particularly powerful going for him even as an unformed kid.

“I took him aside one time and said: ‘Have you ever heard of Freddie King?’ ‘No.’ So I showed him on YouTube some performances of Freddie, and said: ‘If that looks familiar to you, it’s because you step into your solos the same way he did.’

“The last time I saw him was last February at a B.B. King tribute in Westchester, N.Y., and it’s wonderful to see him doing so well – and not surprising to me at all. What an amazing person!”

Now an international superstar, Kingfish is just one of several outstanding talents to go through the Pinetop program. Others include pianist Ben Levin and guitarists David Julia and Austin Young, all of whom have released CDs through VizzTone, and the team of Joe Tellman and Jesse Black, who met in the workshops.

Bob’s yearning to get back out on the road, too, because playing for enthusiastic audiences transports him to a special place where none of the troubles of the world enter – especially The Last Waltz celebration tours that Robbie Robertson has been organizing through his company, Blackbird Presents, for the past few years.

image“It’s one of the best gigs I’ve ever had,” he says, noting that the 2020 tour would have come to Charlotte – a little more than an hour from his home – in November and adding: “It’s still booked for November 2021, so it’s still possible.”

The most recent aggregation included Warren Haynes, Lucas Nelson, Don Was, Ivan and Cyrill Neville, members of Bonerama and Dirty Dozen Brass Band as well as surprise guests, and the tour was running strong when COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt.

“Those gigs have been spectacular for me,” Margolin says. “I hang out with these amazing musicians, all of whom are picking up the marquee value while I pick up the history part because I was at the original The Last Waltz.

“In 2017, we had Dr. John for some of them, apparently just before he stopped playing altogether. He was havin’ trouble gettin’ around, but he was always jolly. If you said anything to him, his response was a big smile and he’d say: ‘Fuckin’ a…!’ Garth Hudson was on some of those, and what an opportunity to spend time hanging out with him and just talking about music! Fortunately, he’s still with us, but he’s pretty frail at age 83.

“Those gigs are great opportunities. They pay well, and the gigs were easy. The tours aren’t very rigorous. The biggest challenge is to just step away from the catering table. Everybody puts on ten pounds during that tour.

“And I always had plenty of time to hang out with my friends because they always added anyone to the guest list that I asked for.”

Like everybody else in the music industry today, Margolin remains crippled by the absence of touring. But he’s a realist when his health is involved, noting: “Live music depends on as many people as possible getting together in relatively small places. It’s gonna be one of the last things to come back – if not the last thing.

“Some people are doing it (performing). But from what I hear from musicians who are, it’s dangerous because – guess what? – people are drinking. And once they do that, social distancing goes away.

“And, if they like your music, they want to hug you. The folks that don’t get intoxicated get emotional – something that normally has been a big perk when you’re hanging out between shows talking to people or you’re selling CDs.

“A long time ago, I used to think: ‘Oh, no!’ Back in the ‘70s, nobody used to sell records themselves. You just hoped people would like the music enough to go out and buy it. But those days are long gone.”

Today, he says, he understands how great opportunity those meet-and-greets are and what an important role they play in an artist’s ability to make a living. But in a world stricken with coronavirus, he realizes, they can also lead to not living at all.

So, like just about everybody else in the industry, he sits comfortably on his porch and waits – eternally grateful for all of the support he’s received through the years.

“Thank you, thank you, thank you for the incredible experience of playing blues and making friends with people who love the blues,” he says. It’s something he doesn’t take lightly because of his awareness of how small a piece of the music pie blues consumes.

Now that his work on his latest instructional book is winding down, Margolin’s thinking about resuming the Facebook Live and Can’t Stop the Blues shows he did early in the shutdown. Meanwhile, he’s offering up autographed copies of his most recent CDs from his website and sending out confirmation letters that offer up thanks and a little more because he accompanies his words with a few choice photos he’s taken in the “old days.”

Check out Bob’s albums, books and more by visiting his website: You’ll be glad you did!

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 

imageRay Cashman – Palmetto & Pine

Pistol Blues Productions

11 songs – 38 minutes

Ray Cashman has been holed up at home in Sam Houston National Forest outside of Montgomery, Texas, because of coronavirus for the better part of the past year, but that hasn’t stopped the veteran blues-rocker from delivering this rollicking paean to the hard-working folks toiling in the oil fields of the Gulf Coast.

A 20-year veteran of the Austin and Nashville scenes, Cashman has been making waves since 2007, when he released Texassippi Stomp, a disc that featured contributions from Squirrel Nut Zippers founder and former Buddy Guy bandmate Jimbo Mathus in the lineup. The Texas native delivers a musical gumbo that features a light, single-note attack on guitar and tunes that range from Gulf Coast two-steps to high-energy rock and a taste of Chicago blues, too.

A frequent festival performer at events that have included South By Southwest and Mississippi’s Juke Joint Festival and Deep Blues Festival, he’s a fan favorite in Europe, where he was booked for two festivals and eight other gigs when the shutdown occurred.

Recorded at The Rock Shed in Houston under the direction of co-producer Gary Belin, who shares vocals, this disc is the eighth in Cashman’s catalog and a follow-up to Houston Electric, which charted as high as No. 3 on the Roots Music Report’s electric blues listings. He’s backed here by Pat Neifert on guitar and bass, Grant “Gabby” Brown on harmonica and Manuel Perez on drums.

The set of nine originals and two covers opens with “Lafayette,” a driving rocker that delivers a tip of the Stetson to Ray’s neighbors across the Louisiana border, where folks dance “until they’re soakin’ wet,” fill up on crawfish pie, get down to zydeco and roll their own cigarettes. “Rainfall,” a loping blues with Texas feel, finds Cashman watching the puddles pool on the ground as he sits alone and “missing you, somethin’ I can’t do” – something that takes on different meaning in the current world situation. The flashy fretwork of the opener yields to sweet, single-note runs.

The swamp rocker “Palmetto & Pine” pays tribute to the land Ray’s family settled a century ago and a father whose life was “makin’ money, but home was all he knew.” Apparently, Cashman feels the same way – something he expresses in “Going Home,” a driving rocker delivered from the position of a tunesmith touring in foreign lands.

The band revisits “Walkin’ to My Baby,” a stop-time pleaser penned by Kim Wilson as a member of the Fabulous Thunderbirds with a disappointing result. While Ray’s vocals and guitar dominate, Brown’s work on the reeds pales in comparison to Kim both in attack and tone. The blues-rocker “Listen to My Heart” provides momentary respite before the straight-ahead blues, “Southern Belle,” provides another difficult listen.

Fortunately, the pain subsides from the opening notes of “Evangalina,” a Gulf Coast pleaser with acoustic rockabilly overtones and a tasty mid-tune solo from Neifert, and continues in the high-test rocker, “Creeper.” A great reprise of Ray Wylie Hubbard and Cody Canada’s “Cooler n’ Hell,” about a favorite ’68 Camaro, follows before the original rocker “I Don’t Know” questions a relationship to bring the action to a close.

Available through Amazon and other online retailers, Palmetto & Pine offers some pleasant moments. But if you’re heading there, be aware that there are some bumps in the road.

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 

imageDennis Jones – Soft Hard & Loud

Blue Rock Records – 2020

10 tracks; 41:38

Singer/guitarist/songwriter Dennis Jones doesn’t hide his classic rock influences on Soft Hard & Loud, his seventh album. But he also doesn’t use rock history as a crutch, instead creating his own original blues rock that sounds effortlessly liquid, but also deliberately thoughtful.

Jones, an L.A.-based guitarist, born in Monkton, Maryland, came to the blues after realizing it was the root of so much of the music he loved. His sound, especially his voice, is blues-influenced, and while he’s certainly capable of playing straight blues, you hear a wide range of styles on Soft Hard & Loud, from rock to reggae to metal. The various genres all hang together in a fun way, reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix in that the blues is an organizing principle for a flood of different types of music. While Jones tips his hat to Hendrix, and is open about his Hendrix influence, he’s got his own sound.

There are blues rock tracks like “Front Door Man,” with its Stevie Ray Vaughan bounce, Jones’ guitar riff leading the song through its paces while he playfully takes on Howlin’ Wolf’s classic “Back Door Man,” refusing to sneak around for an affair: “I ain’t afraid of your man / I ain’t sneaking around the back.” “When I Wake Up” is a slow-for-Jones blues with lots of metal crunch in his guitar tone, and even some glam rock in the mind-bending guitar solo. But his soulful voice is pure blues, giving the song emotional depth. Jones could have used familiar blues licks and he’d still have a solidly standard song, but by emulsifying his influences so thoroughly, he creates something new and surprising.

Jones also takes on styles you wouldn’t expect. “I Hate Hate” is reggae a la Led Zeppelin’s “D’yer Mak’er.” “Nothin’ On You” is soulful pop, with Jones singing uncannily like Hendrix. “Like Sleep” has an AC/DC crunch and “Burn the Plantation Down” is punk blues. There’s no way to generalize the style, as Jones pulls in so many influences and then exports them through his own sensibility. He makes it sound easy, but when you go back to break down all that he’s synthesizing, you realize it’s amazingly intricate work.

Jones is more blues rock than pure blues, but Soft Hard & Loud has plenty of great blues moments. Jones folds in everything he hears and uses his power trio, often enhanced with keyboard, to focus a wide beam of music into something as precise as a laser. Soft Hard & Loud owes a lot to classic rock, but Jones and his band bring those beloved sounds into modern times.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageFried Okra – Doing It Right

Self-Produced/Gateway Music

CD: 10 Songs, 43 Minutes

Styles: Drone/Trance Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

Much has been said/sung/written praising the blues and how it reflects life. Check that: the blues is life for a lot of people. At some point, everyone’s had “that low down achin’ chill,” and one of their chosen remedies is this magazine’s chosen genre of music. It expounds; it preaches; it heals. It reminds us that life’s course is rarely an ascent from triumph to triumph, ecstasy to ecstasy. A great chunk of it consists of plugging along, muscling through. That steady, persevering attitude suffuses the sixth CD from Denmark’s Fried Okra band, entitled Doing It Right. Its title is simple, its lyrics unpretentious, its atmosphere that of a steel-mill town on a brisk day in early winter. It’s a workman’s album, a craftsman’s production. Showmanship takes a back seat to gritty sincerity. On ten original songs, Fried Okra presents ten portraits of this aspect of existence – the daily grind.

Fried Okra has come a long way since their formation fifteen years ago. In 2018, they won the Danish Blues Challenge and reached number two at the prestigious European Blues Challenge. In addition, the band has been nominated for Blues Album of the Year several times at the Danish Music Awards.

Drummer/percussionist/backing vocalist Thomas Crawfurd says, “We are proud of the album, where we have found an expression and a sound that is very much our own.” Other critics, such as their fellow countryman Mads Kornum, have praised them for the way they mix and blend various musical styles to create an oeuvre that sounds new and different, yet familiar.

This trio consists of Morten Lund on lead vocals, guitar and Diddley bo; the aforementioned Thomas Crawfurd, and Anders Wallin on bass and background vox.

The title track starts us off with a beloved theme: comforting and warning your past self about your future self. Our narrator yearns to return to the “tender age of twelve,” when tween pressures were getting the better of him. “I wish I could go back, oh so many years, save a lot of time and quite a few tears. I’ll tell him about evil, tell him about good. I’ll tell that boy what he shouldn’t do, and what he should.” On balance, however, Lund is encouraging: “You’re doing it right.”

Next come “As Long as I Remember” and “Copenhagen Fast Track,” longer numbers with heavier subject matter – especially the latter. “I’m on a Copenhagen Fast Track, but I ain’t the only one. I’m with a band of pretty lonely boys to whom some leaving been done. Please don’t sell my soul, they say, but it ain’t for me to sell. I just put them on a fast track to heaven or through hell. The boys never counted on believing, but always on being believed. And they may have counted on deceiving, but never on being deceived. That’s why you’ll find them standing, stirring, feeling victims of some greater theft, ‘cause they may have counted on leaving, but never on being left.”

Instrumentally, their grungy guitar is like a fourth bandmate, telling its own stories while leading man Morten Lund tells his. The more it growls, the more it tells, and the results are beautiful. Even on the mellow ballad “Deep Water,” it doesn’t feel out of place. On the contrary, it flows just fine.

Fried Okra’s blues isn’t Muddy Waters’ or Howlin Wolf’s blues – not even Hendrix’s blues. They have a vibe all their own, and in their trance-blues niche, they’re Doing It Right.

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 – 4 of 6 

imageRick Shea – Love & Desperation

Tres Pescadores Records – 2020

12 tracks; 49 minutes

Rick Shea’s latest release “Love & Desperation” displays his consummate musical and songwriting skills. The Southern California musician plays electric & acoustic guitars, steel guitar, mandolin and dobro with precision, and conducted the band remotely, as they had to build the album part-by-part, in isolation from each other. Drummer Shawn Nourse, who has played with Dwight Yoakam, recorded his parts at his home studio, and Yoakam’s longtime keyboard player Skip Edwards tracked parts from his studio. Phil Parlapiano delivered accordion and Hammond B3 tracks from his Electricdog Studio. The bass player Dave Hall turned in his playing and vocal tracks at Shea’s studio Casa de Calora and from Hallway Studio. Steve Nelson supplies acoustic bass on the title track and electric bass on “The World’s Gone Crazy” and “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama.” Jeff Turmes is a double threat playing bass & saxophone. Trumpeter Probyn Gregory lends a hand on the final story-like song “Texas Lawyer.” Skip Edwards and David Jackson each supplied accordions to flesh out the album. For all the physical separation endured in the production process, the end result is a coherent performance that you could be forgiven for assuming that the musicians had tracked within sight of each other during the sessions.

Shea’s singing is unpretentious and charming, he often leans very closely to a preemptive yodel, indeed the first two songs, the Al Ferrier rockabilly cover “Blues Stop Knocking at My Door” and the Shea original “Blues at Midnight” bring Hank William’s voice to mind. The guitar work is exemplary, and on full display in the instrumental tune “Mystic Canyon” supported by beautifully sympathetic performances by Nourse, Parlapiano and Hall. The songs range from 50’s rockabilly to Norteño stopping at traditional Western Country on the way – and while there are frequent references to the blues, these have emotional rather than musical meaning.

The fourth song and title track “Love & Desperation” by Shea is clearly the strongest composition on the album with elegant interplay between the acoustic bass, accordion and Shea’s sparkling Telecaster. And if “Big Rain is Comin’ Mama” doesn’t make you want to dance – you’ve got another think comin.’

Clearly Rick Shea is an accomplished songwriter and musician, he grew his musical skills playing bars around San Bernardino in Southern California, before moving to Los Angeles venues where worked solo, and as a sideman for Chris Gaffney, Katy Moffat, Wanda Jackson and Dave Alvin among others. His guitar playing is perfect throughout and this a great album well worth cracking open a cold one while you listen to it. We should all look forward to the day Shea’s band can tune up, kick off the cobwebs and sawdust “Down at the bar at Gypsy Sally’s” and shake down the house together.

Reviewer Conrad Warre originally from London, England, is a freelance writer and plays lead guitar in the Boston-based acid-blues band Bees Deluxe..

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageGöksenin – Women’s Blues

Self-Release – 2020

9 tracks; 29:31 minutes

It’s not surprising to see a blues album coming out of someplace other than the United States. There are thriving blues scenes all over the world, so an artist’s country of birth is no longer a musical plot twist. Instead, the fun of singer/guitarist Göksenin’s Women’s Blues is in how she mixes her Turkish roots into a few of the album’s tracks, creating a personal sound that’s a clever twist on the blues.

Göksenin’s journey to the blues wasn’t straight-forward. Born in Istanbul, Turkey, she quit her job over a decade ago to focus on music, releasing two rock albums, in addition to commercial work, and even some children’s theater. She eventually pivoted to blues, developing a live show around blues women, like Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, designed to introduce these artists to a non-American audience. She started with covers, adding in some of her own songs, with the live show culminating in Women’s Blues.

Göksenin has a smoky voice, jazzy as it is bluesy. She uses it on a mix of originals and covers that range from straight-ahead blues funk, to the aforementioned combinations of Turkish melodies and lyrics inserted into blues structures. These blues/Turkish mash-ups are the album’s strongest moments, with Göksenin unearthing new ground that allows her to internalize the blues, rather than interpret it from a distance, both geographic and emotional.

The best example of this is “Take Me Out,” an original co-written with Gürkan Özbek, who plays resonator guitar on the track. The song is Göksenin accompanied by Özbek’s guitar. Özbek shifts between blues, classical, and Middle Eastern, and Göksenin is right there with the guitar, tapping into the sadness of the blues, her voice displaying a bluesy grittiness, but also sounding like herself. The track is blues influenced, but also finds a new, unique perspective.

Göksenin continues the Turkish blues work on “Çayda Çıra,” a traditional Turkish folk song reworked as a blues. The song begins with Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” riff before settling into a 10/8 time signature that gives the song a shimmy, as Göksenin sings in Turkish. The rest of the song is traditional blues rock, but between the Turkish language and the non-bluesy beat, the song feels new, like a fight between two genres. And the battle gives the song a tension that’s riveting. “Hala Vazgeçmedim,” Turkish for “Haven’t Given Up, Yet” is a more familiar blues, sung in Turkish, but also one of the album’s looser tracks, with Göksenin and her band sounding like they’re cutting loose, less interested in controlling the tune, and more open to letting it unfurl a bit more raggedly than any of the album’s other tracks.

Göksenin initially came to the blues as a proselytizer, trying to teach her compatriots about American artists who weren’t well-known in Turkey (and to be fair, they’re not nearly well-known enough here in the United States). Somewhere along the way, she began to integrate her own experiences, sounds, and time signatures into the music, creating something new, and those fresh moments are the album’s strongest, Göksenin singing her own blues. Turkish blues might not be its own subgenre, but it’s one we should consider adding.

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

blues and rhythm mag ad image

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageMick Kolassa – If You Can’t Be Good, Be Good at It!

Endless Blues Records MMK022020

12 songs – 42 minutes

Fresh off his all-acoustic Blind Lemon Sessions, which was recorded in Germany and released last summer, guitarist/tunesmith Mick Kolassa teams with blues-rock firebrand Jeff Jensen and members of the Memphis blues community for this interesting mix of what he terms “free-range blues” – a diverse set that encompasses everything from the sound of the city to gospel, too.

This is the seventh album in the career of Michissippi Mick – a nickname that fuses his Great Lakes birthplace with his longtime home – since he started easing himself away from a lifetime career in the business world in 2014.

A former member of the board of directors of the Blues Foundation, Mick usually tours with his Taylor Made Blues Band and occasionally works with Florida-based guitarist/bassist Mark Telesca – something that was impossible for this one, which was produced in partnership with Jensen and recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in the Bluff City and Farmhouse Studios in Moscow, Tenn.

Kolassa handles vocals in his pleasant, relaxed tenor throughout, accompanying himself on acoustic guitar as he intersperses lightness and dark in his clever lyrics. Jeff divides his time between electric and acoustic six-string and percussion backed by Rick Steff on keys, Eric Hughes on harp, John Blackmon on drums and Bill Ruffino on bass. The album also includes guest appearances by Tullie Brae (backing vocals), David Dunavent, Brad Webb and Kern Pratt (guitars), Marc Franklin (trumpet), Kirk Smothers (sax), Alice Hasen (violin) and Willie “Too Big” Hall and Weston Caldwell (percussion).

The R&B pleaser “I Can’t Help Myself” – the first of nine originals – opens the action, beginning with a percussive acoustic/electric guitar intro before building intensity throughout propelled by the horns. Mick can’t resist a certain lady whose love is “just too good.” A choral intro kicks off a cover of James Taylor’s “Lo and Behold” before the band explodes, delivering fire and brimstone in its spiritual message.

The percussive title tune, “If You Can’t Be Good,” fires out of the gate, delivering a little downhome advice with a phrase Kolassa frequently uses at the end of conversations, before the sweet ballad, “A Good Day for the Blues,” describes a life in which one bad decision makes takes the good times with it. “I’ve Seen,” which follows, kicks off with a spoken introduction as it recounts encounters with the holy trinity of the blues and more, but becomes a lazy paced, harp- and fiddle-driven expression of desire to “see you lyin’ next to me.” What woman could resist?

The message continues in “We Gotta,” a horn-driven soul-blues, in which Mick and the lady should chase stars, close down bars and more. “Sweet Tea” offers up a toast to a Southerner’s favorite drink before sex is on the menu once more in the ballad “Slow and Easy Love,” which features tasty fretwork from Jensen.

Up next, “Good Night Irene” – not the Lead Belly standard – is a clever original that finds Kolassa phoning the lady in question, getting her answering machine and questioning whether she how her night out went with another man. The action ends with an exception, updated cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking” and “She Kept Her Head Up,” a loving tune Mick penned for his daughter, Kassi, during her battle against breast cancer.

A labor of love, Kolassa is targeting 100 percent of the proceeds from this CD to the Blues Foundation, splitting the funds between the HART Fund, which provides relief for struggling artists, and Generation Blues, which supports young musicians. Pick this one up from Amazon, iTunes or CDBaby. It’s good for your ears and your soul, too!

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.


BB logo

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

Please follow and like us: