Cover photo © 2021 Laura Carbone
In This Issue
Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Lucious Spiller. We have four blues reviews for you this week including a 3 CD set of Blues celebrating 50 Years of Alligator Records plus new music from Endrick and the Sandwiches, Juraj Schweigert & The Groove Time and Kat Danser.
Featured Interview – Lucious Spiller
It is not surprising that Lucious Spiller has chosen to live in Clarksdale, Mississippi, which was the birthplace of John Lee Hooker and Sam Cooke, and where both Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf once called home. Clarksdale is a diverse, intriguing, unpretentious town full of character and authentic blues, which are all words which could easily describe Spiller. Blues Blast Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with Spiller at the Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, a festival which has been described by Johnny Rawls as “more intimate, more down-to-earth than other festivals…you can smell it, you can taste it, you can feel it in the air.”
Spiller arrived for the interview in a car which appeared to be held together with duct tape. The car also provided almost no ability to see out the back window, which was a deficiency that did not concern him because “I’m looking forward, not back.” Spiller apologized ahead of time, thinking that he might be hard to follow in an interview because “I tend to talk in a Pulp Fiction kind of way.” Regarding the state of his car, he explained that a year ago “a huge storm passed through Clarksdale and a 90-foot oak tree fell in front of our house. The wind was so strong it uprooted the tree. It was good thing it didn’t fall on our house and instead fell at an angle and hit the side of the carport my car was under. My car was holding it up and I wasn’t able to move my car for several days. I’m still not able to open the back of it, or one of my passenger doors, so I’m ‘Afro-Engineering’ it.”
Spiller was a two-time International Blues Challenge finalist (placing second in the Solo/Duo category in 2014) and received the Lifetime Achievement Award for Influential Musicianship and Stage Mastery at the first annual Bass Players’ Ball in Little Rock, Arkansas. He comes from a long line of bluesmen, and his father bought him a guitar and taught him his first chords around age four. Plus, he is the nephew of Magic Sam, and is related by marriage to Eddie Clearwater and Carey Bell.
Spiller remembered that Magic Sam used to come to visit his father frequently and he would hear them play together. He added that he had an uncle “who could play accordion really well—music is probably in our DNA.” While those relatives were all a strong influence, he noted that his singing style comes from Larry Davis, “the guy who wrote Texas Flood.”. He stated that when he was a teenager, he mainly played the bass and was hired as a bass-player for Larry Davis. Davis coached him, telling Spiller, “you have a great voice, but you sing too hard—you’ve got to sing soft.” Spiller has also played bass for Albert King, Fenton Robinson and Calvin Levy, noting “that was my music school instead of going to the Berklee School of Music.”
Spiller did graduate college. “I was going to be a music major, but I had never taken a lesson. I was all self-taught by ear. So here I was, making D’s and F’s in music theory, and it was confusing me, going against everything I already knew from being self-taught. So, I changed my major to education and got a degree in elementary art education. You know sometimes kids go to college just to satisfy their parents.”
Spiller reported that his education continued when he formed a band with T-Roy Betton.
“I learned from him musically how to run a band, how to be the leader, and about song selection. Back in the day I couldn’t even sing and play bass at the same time, but our singer retired, so I had to step up to the microphone.” He later switched back to guitar as he struck out on his own. When asked if he ever missed playing bass, he stated that he has been “picking it up lately at home, and when I’m playing a solo, you’ll notice I’m usually playing the bass line.”
Those who have seen Spiller play may have noticed that he always starts his shows with “Walk with Me, Lord.”
“It’s an old Negro spiritual they used to sing back in the day, in church. It means a lot to me. The first time I sang it was at my grandmother’s funeral—it was her favorite song”. He has also said, in the past, that he believes this song can “cleanse the spirit of the room.”
However, not everyone appreciates him mixing gospel with the blues.
“Some people ask me what I’m doing, bringing the church to the people in the clubs. I do it because it may touch somebody. My uncle, said, ‘you can’t be straddling the fence that way,’ but I told him I’m sitting on the fence with my legs on both sides. God has given me this talent. I have never taken a formal lesson in my life and I can’t read music. Gospel comes from the blues.”
He stated that he considers himself a spiritual person, and his faith has given him strength during the COVID pandemic, which was difficult because “we’re depending on live streaming for money, but I’m old school, and if you are trying to line up and paste different parts together, well I feel like it cuts into your creativity.”
However, he has managed to stay positive, and pointed out that there were some good things about the pandemic “like I’ve never washed my hands so many times in my whole life”.
He noted, “I base my values on the Bible’s stories, like Job. He lost his whole family but never once cussed God and regained everything tenfold. That’s how my father was when he passed from cancer. He never once cussed God for putting those afflictions on him. If you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you’ll get everything you need.”
Spiller noted that writing songs can be very therapeutic.
“I’m pretty much writing about different life experiences, like in “Put the Blame on Me.” It came from my life events, you know, when you feel like the world was against you. A lot of my songs came from my experiences with relationships. I had to deal with racism growing up too, because we were the first Black family in my neighborhood, growing up in suburbia of St. Louis. I have a song, “Save the World,” about people walking around so politically correct, smiling in my face for financial gain, but would you want me living next door to you? I think it’s very timely now.”
When asked what he thought about some recent public statements people have made indicating their opinion that Caucasian artists should not be playing the blues, Spiller responded:
“Well, I don’t know how Delbert McClinton beats Kingfish for the Grammy, but color has nothing to do with it. The Blues ain’t Black–it’s the blues. Charlie Patton was mixed. My grandfather was half-White, and I’m part Mississippi Choctaw, that’s why I have a red tint to my skin, and my son is mixed. Doc Watson is an excellent singer of the blues. I grew up on all kinds of music— Elton John, Paul McCartney, Edgar Winter, and the list goes on. Racism is passed on by generation to generation, but you’ve got to be a chain breaker. It ain’t Black and it ain’t White—it’s just the blues and it don’t matter what color you are.”
We asked if he believed it was sometimes difficult to get younger Black musicians interested in the blues and he agreed.
“Younger Black kids in Clarksdale say they don’t like the blues, but I’m hoping to get kids interested in it. I mentored Kingfish when he was young and carried him to his first Guitar Center. I used to do some Blues in the Schools shows, although I haven’t done any since the pandemic. I’d really like to get back to doing those again”.
Spiller also was a “Griot teacher,” as part of a non-profit organization that seeks to connect creativity with academic success in children and give them hope about their future. The West African word ‘Griot’ means storyteller, and keeper of the culture. Spiller also reported that he has been “working on a children’s blues project called Pat Your Foot.
“I test drove it on some kids and they responded well to it. I have some video of a little girl up in Harlem dancing to that song, but I just need to find someone who can put the video together for me because I barely know how to work my phone. I’d like to make the video to try to keep the blues alive with the kids—you’ve got to pass it on.”
Spiller has performed with or opened for a variety of artists, including Bo Diddly, James Brown, Albert King, Big Jack Johnson, T-Model Ford, Bobby Rush, Luther Allison and many more. Spiller has also been featured on the series Moonshine, and Mojo Hands, in which Roger Stolle, (owner of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art), and Jeff Konkel document a road trip to visit important places and artists of the Delta Blues. Roger Stolle has indicated that when people call and want a blues musician to play a festival, Spiller is usually his first choice.
“I recommend Spiller not only because of his musicianship, but because he’s a character. He is a good guy, a character, interesting, and culturally connected to the scene. And he has taken a big interest in the older blues musicians, many of whom are no longer with us. All of that figures into who you want to represent Clarksdale Mississippi, and the blues.”
Spiller was also prominently featured in the documentary, True Delta: Keeping the Blues Alive, and was the subject of another documentary entitled Walk with Me: Lucious Spiller, Called to Sing the Blues, which was produced, written, and directed by Lee Quinby. That documentary outlined a typical week for Spiller, and featured the unique aspects of Clarksdale, Mississippi along with clips of Spiller playing in local clubs.
When Spiller plays, the audience is compelled to listen, and his charisma fills the room. This talented musician can frequently be found playing around town in Clarksdale, and those who witness his shows will soon see why his agent refers to Spiller as “the most unfamous famous person there is.”
As Watermelon Slim once said of Spiller, “if he don’t know how to play it, it ain’t worth the mention.” Lucious Spiller does not currently have a website but can be reached at email@example.com.
Interviewer 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.
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Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4
Various Artists – Alligator Records – 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music
58 songs – 232 minutes
It is difficult to overstate the importance of Alligator Records in the pantheon of the blues. Famously founded in 1971 purely to enable founder Bruce Iglauer to record his favourite artist, Hound Dog Taylor, Alligator has grown into one of the most respected record labels in the world, whilst recording a wide range of superb blues and blues-based artists. 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music celebrates the label’s 50th anniversary with a wonderful 3-CD collection of tracks selected from across its vast catalogue, all remastered by Iglauer and Collin Jordan at The Boiler Room in Chicago.
Leaving aside the quality of the music on offer (and pretty much every track is solid gold), it is fascinating to contemplate Alligator’s geographic development from its initial focus on Chicago greats like Koko Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell and Son Seals, to Texas artists including Albert Collins and Long John Hunter, Louisiana legends such as Professor Longhair and C.J. Chenier and West Coast monsters like Little Charlie & The Nightcats, William Clarke and Chris Cain. The East Coast is well-represented through the likes of Bob Margolin, Roomful of Blues, Michael Hill and JJ Grey & Mofro, while Alligator has also recorded artists from outside the USA, such as Australian slide master, Dave Hole, and British iconoclast, Ian Siegel.
Much of Alligator’s output has been guitar-centric and that focus is re-iterated on 50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music, with any number of electric guitar geniuses on display, including Gatemouth Brown, Smokin’ Joe Kubek, Guitar Shorty, Joe Louis Walker Kenny Neal and Coco Montoya. But the album also highlights the harp skills of Big Walter, Carey Bell, James Cotton and Billy Branch, the piano playing of Marcia Ball, Katie Webster and Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women, and the acoustic blues of Cephas & Wiggins and The Siegel-Schwall Band. And this “broad church of the blues” approach is key to Alligator’s continued survival in what is a cut-throat business. The blues-rock of Johnny Winter and Michael Hill’s Blues Mob is balanced against the glorious a capella voices and hand-clapping of Corey Harris and Henry Butler and the blues-eyed soul of Eric Lindell and Curtis Salgado. The muscular power of Christone “Kingfish” Ingram and Michael Burks is balanced against the subtlety and grace of Mavis Staples and Janiva Magness.
50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music contains tracks from Alligator’s earliest releases (Big Walter and Cary Bell’s stunning harp duet “Have Mercy” is worth the price of admission by itself) up to modern stars like Toronzo Cannon, Selwyn Birchwood, The Cash Box Kings and The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling.
It’s quite astonishing that Alligator has survived as long as it has done, given the changes in the music industry over the last 50 years, but long may it continue. The label has released over 350 albums of great music, from established acts to up-and-coming wannabes and soon-to-be stars. It’s also easy to forget how often Alligator has breathed new life into careers that had stalled, giving much-deserving artists a whole new audience. Albert Collins is perhaps the obvious example, but so are Lonnie Mack, Roy Buchanan and Luther Allison.
50 Years Of Genuine Houserockin’ Music is a superb collection of modern blues and blues-based songs, beautiful remastered. And it’s also unmissable for any fan of modern blues music.
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 – 2 of 4
Endrick and the Sandwiches – Green Room Rumble
Big in the Garden
10 songs, 37 minutes
Live music is the life blood of the Blues. Distinct to the Blues the live commune between artist and audience, the physical and emotional dialogue of musical sound emanating from musicians cascading over the audience and being reflected back, is so essential. It is also why most live Blues records, sadly unlike some live records in other genres, are pretty universally great. Montreal based psychedelic punk colored Blues and Neo-Soul band Endrick and the Sandwiches live release Green Room Rumble is no exception. A short 37 minute blast of 10 live performances from 2019 and 2020 captures this energetic band breaking down some well worn classic material with vibrancy, fluidity and engagement.
Endrick Tremblay, the leader of Sandwiches, is a flamboyant and stylized singer. Adding extra white-boy stank to the bravado of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy,” comical desperation to Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back,” and quizzical Buddy Holly cool to Willie Dixon’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by it’s Cover,” Tremblay has a mastery of the stage; a seductive front man with his own style. Adding adept harp and guitar, Tremblay is a real Bluesman as is evidenced by his solo acoustic take on John Lee Hooker’s “Huckle Up.” Why this live record works so well is because the Sandwiches are a great band. Lead guitarist Greg “The Mack” McEvoy pushes the band on with style and finesse. Mandela Coupal Dalgleish on drums and Simon Éthier on bass create a strong and flexible grounding. Elyze Venne-Deshaies adds some saxophone here and there. Anne Lauzière offers her smoky vocals to a duet of “Trouble in Mind” to great slow drag effect. Lauzière along with Marie-Pier Lavallée and Gabrièle Côté Lebreux offer background vocals and percussion here and there.
It’s hard to push covers, especially well worn covers, through with originality, this is the strength of this set. “Mystery Train,” which has few new mysteries to give, gets a hyped up reading. “PT Rider” gets a travelogue jive talking breakdown from the Mac taking lead vocals. Lesser tread material like the obscure Willie Dixon song “Choo Choo” and the Nick Gravenites penned Butterfield Blues Band classic “Born in Chicago” are refreshing surprises played with the same driving enthusiasm of the classics. But, Endrick and the Sandwiches really come alive in an engaging and compelling way on their only original cut “Devil Does.” A driving boogie, Endrick sings as if possessed by the devil spirit of Iggy Pop. The band hits harder and the music flushes with adrenalin and agitation.
Endrick and the Sandwiches are an ever evolving band. Their self titled first studio album has the same grounding in the Blues with some roughed up, sharp to the touch edges. Since the release of this live set, they have released a Neo-Soul blissed out record called Sunny Soul. This is an adventurous band who, like many other younger musicians such as Southern Avenue, Andrew Ali and Eddie 9V, are pushing their music in new, different and reaching ways. Green Room Rumble is a companion piece to the Sandwiches catalogue, a proud statement of the foundations of their music and an artifact of this band’s live trip.
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a Bluesman based in Boston who spreads his brand of blues and funk all over New England. Bucky has dedicated himself to experiencing the Blues and learning its history. As a writer, Bucky has been influenced by music critics and social commentators such as Angela Davis, Peter Guralnick, Eric Nisenson, Francis Davis and Henry Louis Gates Jr.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4
Juraj Schweigert & The Groove Time – Spin-Off
songs – 11 time – 51:31
Oh Divine creativity where hath thou been? In the hands of the Slovak harmonica player-singer Juraj Schweigert and his band…Duh! They blend elements of jazz, funk, reggae, bluegrass and who knows what else to deliver a enchanting musical journey. Juraj provides the vocals with all the songs written by himself. the over all musicality is first rate, but it is his command and creativity on the diatonic harmonica that takes the music to another level. His playing is very reminiscent of the Cuban born Canadian resident Carlos del Junco, with blues elements but with more of a diverse approach incorporating various musical influences. Having a deeply soulful and yearning voice emoting on his well crafted songs doesn’t hurt one bit. Add to that sturdy support from a crop of hand picked top of the line backing players. He employs a virtual cornucopia of musical styles including, blues, funk, soul, jazz, reggae, bluegrass to create a diverse and fanciful palate.
The uncanny resemblance to the harmonica styling’s of Carlos del Junco are most evident on the five instrumentals where his creative use of melody is given its’ full airing. I don’t know if this is intentional or by coincidence, but whatever the case, the more of this sound the better for us listeners. The title cut “Spin-Off” is one that joyfully bounces around. His harmonica interacts with banjo and fiddle on “Straight Back” giving off a Gypsy Jazz meets Bluegrass summit meeting feeling. A herky-jerky jazz groove is seen on “Gruvgrass” that owes a debt to many of jazz guitarist Bill Frissell’s performances. “Miss Chief” sets the scene for intrigue on the streets of Paris and evolves into a spy movie motif with the help of vibraphone courtesy of drummer Juraj Rasi.
That is not to take away from the vocal songs. Juraj’s spirited vocalizing is on a par with his harmonica skills. Due to his slight accent an occasional unintelligible word slips by, but no biggie. Harmonica is on most of these tunes as well. The funky “Nobody’s Talkin'” is an energetic lead off track featuring Matej Stubniak’s thumping bass part. “Every Four Seconds” is backed by a reggae beat. The female backing vocals are a bit intrusive as they sound like they were taken from a Doublemint Gum TV commercial.
Zsolt Szitasi’s intense guitar on “Stay With Me” and elsewhere is another highlight of the proceedings. del Junco-like harmonica and mellow guitar stylin’s permeate “She’s Right”. The funk returns helped along by a nifty electric bass riff and horns on “Shoelaced”. The funk continues to back up the smooth and cool vocalizing on “Fix Me Up”.
There is much here to enjoy for the harmonica fan or any lover of creative and well executed music. It’s all here-engaging melodies, inventive harmonica, guitar, organ great singing and well written songs. This is the type of musical experience where something new and interesting jumps up at you with each repeated listening. I could go on and on, but prove me right and snatch this gem up.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4
Kat Danser – One Eye Open
CD: 10 Songs, 38 Minutes
Styles: Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, NOLA Blues, Ensemble Blues
>What makes a blues release good as opposed to, say, a painting or a sculpture? In the opinion of yours truly, CD’s are more like books than visual works of art. They have titles (usually), overall themes (sometimes), and each separate track is like a separate chapter. These musical “chapters” don’t have to flow naturally from one to the next, but it’s nice if they do. In terms of books and albums alike, what ensures basic quality is consistency. It’s a lesson that Canada blueswoman Kat Danser has taken to heart. So far, she’s produced solid work that has been favorably reviewed by this magazine (Baptized by the Mud in 2014 and Goin’ Gone in 2019). As for her new offering, One Eye Open? I’ll let you blues fans come to a consensus.
Kat Danser (and I, in my humble capacity) present ten tracks – eight originals and two covers. Several are strong and inspiring. Exhibit A? “Way I Like It Done.” It’s a spicy shuffle combining Chicago-style rhythm with New Orleans-style horns. The lyrical content is Kat’s no-nonsense way of presenting herself to her audience: “I’ve got opinions ‘bout situations that don’t concern me at all. I wish I remembered ‘em just now…I just do what I do, the way I like it done.” Exhibit B? Gus Cannon’s “Lonely and the Dragon,” with a lovely acoustic guitar and horn intro, and Danser’s husky vocals to boot. Imagine her singing it on a late night in the big city, the glare of a streetlight keeping sleep from her as well as her lover. Exhibit C, “Bring It With You When You Come,” invites people to get up and dance. If you fear falling, bop and bounce in your favorite chair.
Remember how I mentioned consistency? After the growling-guitar ballad “Frenchman Street” and the apocalyptic gospel plea of Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Get Right, Church,” the album veers into uncharted, unstructured territory. Case in point: the baffling political blues-rock anthem “One Eye Closed.” She doesn’t so much sing as snarl, ticked-off to an absolute T, decrying “kids in cages” and “loaded guns killing off our daughters and sons.” “The world’s gonna end before this song!” As the old saying goes, hell hath no fury, but Kat Danser’s scorn is reserved for the world here.
The next two songs fare a little better, but not by much. “Hey, ‘Trainwre-e-eck’,” Kat jeers. “Pass this station by. You’re hauling heavy, honey, and your baggage car’s on fire.” “Please Don’t Cry” is a love song, pure and simple. It features the word blues, but it’s no Howlin’ Wolf cover. Dig that guitar solo, though, and the spot-on bassline. “Mi Corazon” ends things on another NOLA note, adding Latin flair into the mix.
Joining Ms. Danser (songwriter, vocals, guitar grooves) are producer Steve Dawson on electric, acoustic and pedal-steel guitars; Gary Craig on drums and percussion; Jeremy Holmes on bass, Dominic Conway on tenor sax; Jerry Cook on baritone sax; Malcolm Aiken on trumpet, and Kevin McKendree on piano and organ.
Although One Eye Open boasts some eye-opening material, more consistency across the board would have turned this OK CD into a good and even great one. Here’s hoping Danser achieves it in her next release!
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.
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