Issue 15-28 July 15, 2021

Cover photo © 2021 Roman Sobus

 In This Issue 

Steven Ovadia has our feature interview with Chicago bass legend, Bob Stroger. We have eight Blues reviews for you this week including a new music from Michele Biondi, Eddie Turner, Samuel Bowen, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Mark Sanders, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Mike Zito and Deb Ryder.


 Featured Interview – Bob Stroger 

imageA healthy human adult heart beats anywhere from 60 to 100 beats per minute. That’s every minute of every day, from birth until death. That’s, if all goes according to plan, no days off. No vacations. No spa days. The heart keeps pumping, rarely too fast and rarely too slow, keeping us alive, a never-ending, life-giving groove.

Legendary blues bassist Bob Stroger calls the bass the heartbeat of the blues, and while it might sound grandiose and hyperbolic, it’s also true. The bass is the glue that holds the blues together, freeing up instruments to solo, and keeping the audience moving, rarely too fast and rarely too slow, a never-ending life-giving groove.

“The bass and the drums are the ones that control the band,” Stroger observes. “I really love the instrument; I think it’s the best. You can hear your guitar players, they can do anything they want, but everybody looks around when the bass and the drums stop. We’re the backbone of the band.”

Stroger didn’t always feel that way, though. Born in Missouri, his family brought him to Chicago as a teen, where he quickly became interested in playing the blues. But before playing bass for blues icons like Otis Rush, Sunnyland Slim, and Pinetop Perkins, Stroger tried his hands at guitar. But not for too long. “Nobody wanted to play the bass,” he recalls. “Everybody wanted to play guitar. I wanted to play in a band, so if I wanted to play with the band, that was the job I had to take. It kind of drove me to [the bass] and I loved it once I got the four-string bass. I just love that instrument.”

Stroger loves it so much, he never seriously considered adding other instruments to his repertoire. In fact, the decision to eventually lead his own bands, and even sing, was more an intellectual and financial decision than a personal craving. “With Sunnyland, he always wanted me to sing but I never did want to do that,” Stroger says. “All I wanted to do was play the bass. But as you get older, things kind of change. And I was kind of forced [to] start singing. Everybody wanted me to do a CD.”

Stroger’s known as a bass player, but his singing voice is rich and powerful. One can see why so many wanted him to step out of the pocket and into the spotlight, even if Stroger himself is a much tougher self-critic. “I’m not a singer,” he says. “I think I’m a performer. I sing to the people. People prefer a good singing voice. I just have fun doing what I do and people seem to enjoy it, not because I’m a great singer [but] because they see I have fun doing what I do. Sometimes I goof up and I laugh at myself. It’s just a challenge. But I know I never will be a singer. I sing in my personality. I can’t sing like anyone else.”

imageStroger has played with some top-notch blues pianists, which can be challenging for a bassist, given how much sonic real estate pianos consume. Many bassists struggle to find their own ground against a keyboard, but it’s never been an issue for Stroger. “If you’re used to playing with the piano you know not to get in [anyone’s] way,” he says. “I was never a fancy bass player. I just tried to play the root of the music. I never had a problem with a piano player. If they were [conflicting] with the bass, I’d just play lots of whole notes.”

Stroger has also experimented playing other genres. “As a young musician, you’re trying to progress,” he says. “I started off playing blues. Then from there, I didn’t think [I was] really progressing unless you were able to play jazz. And I tried to play jazz [but] it wasn’t my cup of tea. I tried to play again and I went into R&B, lots of Motown and Stax; we had a big band with girl singers. That was fun. And I quit that and went to Otis Rush, and that was really fun.”

Stroger returned to the blues out of love, but also because it’s the style that allowed him to establish a name for himself. His career also grew because of mentors like Rush, Perkins, and Slim. “Pinetop, we were just like brothers,” Stroger recalls. “He helped me a lot and he enjoyed playing with me and we had fun playing with each other.” The fun included extensive touring. “They used to call us the road runners when we were traveling,” Stroger says. “We’d drive 24 hours going to a gig and people [would] see we had fun, how those old people can get up in there and have so much fun after just getting off the road. We really enjoyed playing with one another.”

Slim taught Stroger about the music business. “He always warned me of things, and thought I could sing, which I never thought,” Stroger says. “He taught me to be on time there, how to present myself to people. Try to look your best because this is a profession and this is something that everybody else can’t do. And feel good about what you’re doing.”

Stroger has noticed the music industry change over the years. “It’s more business than it was back in the day,” he says. “Back then, all we wanted to do was play. It wasn’t [a] business; we’d just go out and play. The money wasn’t important. But now they said you have to be here, kind of knowing the business for you to go along in the business, because now it’s more about finance. But back in the day, when I started, we didn’t get [any] money. Lots of times we didn’t get paid at all. We just wanted to play music. It was a fun thing. But now you have to know the business, you have to know a little something about the business, or you’ve got a manager that can take care of the business for you. So it’s a little harder now. It’s a business thing now. It’s not as much fun as it [was] back in the day. Back in the day, we had fun. We just played. I played lots of gigs I didn’t even get [any] money for.”

imageAnd Rush taught Stroger about the European blues market, bringing him there for the first time, opening up Stroger to an international audience. Stroger’s held onto that audience via multiple bands stationed in different parts of the world. Right now, there are two in South America and one, The Headcutters, in Italy. The purpose of the multiple bands is to cut down on travel expenses. Instead of flying an entire U.S.-based band overseas, the band is already outside of the U.S., waiting for him.

“When I first went down, we had to rehearse for a while, but what I usually do now, if I’ve got any new material, I just send it down to them and they have it all ready and they just about know my style of playing now, because I’ve been going down there for the last twelve years,” Stroger says. “Everybody knows my material and my style of playing, so we have a good old time down there. There were [gigs] I go right in and go right to the bandstand. They know all my material, and if I’m doing something a little newer or different swing, I’ll sing it to them, and they’ll have it ready when I get there. A lot of the time they’ll be carrying me through it.”

Stroger has noticed an improvement in these players over the years. “In the early days, the guys in Europe and throughout South America, they didn’t play the the blues too [well],” Stroger says. “We could bring our band from the States, but as things went on, [a lot of us] guys got some very good musicians over there. They sometimes need to keep us in line.”

Stroger’s attributes the improvements he’s seen over the years to the foreign players’ passion for the blues. “They love the blues, they love our music, and they tried so terribly hard to learn it,” he says. “If you send them a CD or tape over to them, they’ll learn it lick for lick. And if you’d leave that, it would kind of screw them up. But now they got so they can ad lib. I’ve got some very good musicians over there now.”

Stroger also plays around the U.S. One of his more interesting projects is the Three Bobs, featuring harmonica player Bob Corritore and guitarist Bob Margolin, an all-star cast of blues-playing Roberts. “We have lots of fun doing it,” Stroger says. “Sometimes we use [Kenny] “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums, so we have a thing coming up with him. We’re all friends. We have fun. We joke with one another. It is a fun band when we get together.” The group is always asked if they’ll cut an album and Stroger said they might record something this year, when they’re all performing together again.

imageOf course, the idea of shows, foreign or domestic, seemed an impossible dream for most of 2020 and much of 2021. Stroger was in Switzerland when COVID hit, trapping him there for three months. He eventually made his way back to Chicago, where the pandemic forced him into a protective bubble, only connecting with people via phone and FaceTime. “It’s been a tough year; one of the toughest I remember having, hoping I get through it safely,” Stroger says. Like so many, he had to grapple with fear and isolation, unable to work and do the thing he loves best.

Also like so many, Stroger turned to teaching during the pandemic, while stuck in Switzerland, allowing him to share his considerable wisdom with another generation of bassists. He’s working with the Pinetop Perkins Foundation, guiding younger players not just in bass technique, but in bass philosophy. “I teach them how important their job is and that you have to feel good about your job,” Stroger says. “It’s not something that you’re just doing. You’ve got to feel that you are important and that you make the band. [The audience] dances off of you, with what you’re doing. You carry it. And the young kids are getting to see it now. Lots of younger kids love the bass. Now they’re doing lots of slapping the bass, it’s kind of fancy to them. Young girls are now coming to bass. There was a time you could hardly find a a girl that was playing bass. There are lots of girls now playing bass and they’re very good.”

Luckily, with vaccinations, performing has once again become an option for Stroger, with the post-COVID gigs starting to pile up. “I’m glad to get out and play music, try to clear my head out, because now in my head it’s still foggy,” he says. “Once I get back into music, music is therapy. Music brought me through a lot of bad things in my life, so I’m hoping it’ll bring me through this one, too.” And so far it seems to be. “I’ve been on stage and it gets kind of wild on stage, so I’m glad to be out among people, seeing smiling faces,” Stroger says. “It’s really lighting up my life, the last three or four weeks, since I’ve been doing a little work.”

Between the challenges of the pandemic and the ever-changing music industry, it’s easy for most artists to wonder if they chose the right path. Stroger doesn’t wonder, instantly saying he would do it all again if given the chance. “It’s my life!,” he declares. “I wouldn’t take [anything] for my job, playing music. I’ve been down in this business, but there’s more good than bad. If you love people, love performing, I wouldn’t have [it any] other way. And I love the way I came up.”

That love brings us back to another, less medical, function of the heart: our emotional center. Bass similarly brings songs to life and draws in listeners not with the mechanics of rhythm, but with a soulfulness that makes people feel something. The bass subtly change the rhythm to emphasize sadness or create a sense of joy. It’s not about reading notes on a chart, so much as it’s about capturing the essence of a song and translating it into the moment. It’s something that requires a lot of heart, which makes it the perfect vocation for Stroger.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8

imageMichele Biondi – Down By The River

Popolodel Blues

10 tracks

Michele Biondi is an Italian bluesman who delivers to us ten new tracks, nine of which he wrote himself. A native of Tuscany in Italy, Biondi spent time working with Texas-based blues singer Ray Cashman and harmonica player Stan Street. Their collaboration begun in Mississippi six years ago gave rise to Biondi’s blues career. This is his third album (second solo release) and showcases his songwriting, guitar and vocals. In addition to Michele on vocals and guitar, Biondi’s trio is comprised of Giovanni Grasso on bass and Antonio Marchesani on drums and percussion.

The album opens to the driving strains of the title track. Biondi sings and plays with emotion. He’s a good guitar player and he really “gets” the blues. “Lonely and Lost” follows with some more driving and rocking blues. “The Jail” takes a slower approach as Biondi turns down the RPM and gives us a more country/southern rock flavor on this one. His tilting Italian accent gives this down home cut an interesting twist. He offers some more nice solo work on his guitar here, too. “Brotherhood” continues with the country blues feeling. “Too Much Weight” gets back into the rocking blues mode as Biondi does another great job on his guitar.

“Crosseyed Blues” gives us Biondi doing some Chicago blues and he gets and funky with it. Biondi lays out some pretty slide on the next track, laying out a great groove on “Right Now.” “Moving To Texas” has vocal coach Matt backing Biondi here (he also wrote the next cut). It’s got a rockabilly feel to it and Biondi wails on his guitar, showing his prowess on the instrument. “Angel of the City” follows, another country blues with a sorrowful sound on both vocals and guitar. Biondi concludes with “No Regrets” where he switches things up and break out his resonator. He does a nice job here and delivers a down home blues performance.

The songs and musicality are really good here. The vocals are strained a bit as Biondi tries hard to sing like an American bluesman. It’s not really the Italian accent but more the nasal style that seems to turn a little pitchy here and there. Lyrically and musically, Biondi has created some fine songs. His guitar work is solid and the overall production is well done. Perhaps he’s trying too hard vocally to be something he’s not. All in all, Biondi does a decent job and has written and performed ten new tracks delivered in his unique style.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

imageEddie Turner – Change in Me

7-14 Records

10 songs – 46 minutes

Born in Cuba, but raised in Chicago, guitarist Eddie Turner has always been one of the most intriguing performers in music today, delivering his own brand of trance blues that’s totally different. He shines like a diamond in this set, delivering a set of originals and well-chosen covers that are never overpowering and always deeply azure despite their rock edge.

Nicknamed Devil Child, he picked up the guitar at age 12 and almost immediately started playing in groups with his peers, often spending weekends cutting heads with fellow guitarists as they tried to replicate Eric Clapton’s runs on “Crossroads” and other favorites. He also started sneaking in to clubs when he could and hanging out in alleys when he couldn’t to hear Howlin’ Wolf, B3 wizard Jimmy Smith and Chicago Transit Authority at play.

Turner’s been based out of the Denver area for decades after relocating to study liberal arts at the University of Colorado, where quickly realized his future was in music after seeing Tommy Bolin when he was a member of the blues-rock band Zephyr. After a stint in the punk/R&B group, The Immortal Nightflames, he toured the world with Tracey Nelson and Mother Earth in the mid-‘70s before becoming Zephyr’s guitarist for their final album, Heartbeat.

That group disbanded following the death of lead singer Candy Givens, and Turner left music for a while – only to be lured back into it by former Joe Walsh, Ringo Starr and more bassist/keyboard player Kenny Passarelli to join the original lineup of the Otis Taylor Band. Coincidentally, Otis had served as Zephyr’s bassist for a spell. Five albums later, he launched a solo career, becoming a 2006 finalist in the Blues Music Awards for his debut CD, Rise. His most recent previous release, Naked in Your Face, was a 2016 Blues Blast Music Awards nominee for contemporary album of the year.

A man who possesses a relaxed vocal delivery that draws frequent, favorable comparisons to Jimi Hendrix, Eddie’s influences today encompass everything from Miles Davis and Bobby “Blue” Bland to classic rock. This album was co-produced in partnership with Passarelli and Tim Stroh and recorded in both Brooklyn, N.Y., and Leadville, Colo. It’s hypnotic, powerful and soothing as it delivers a melting pot of sounds and stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The lineup includes Passarelli along with Neal Evans on B3 and percussion, drummers Dean Oldencott and David Brenowitz and Jessie Lee Thetford, who’s featured in various settings throughout.

“Change in Me” sets the stage for what’s to come, easing out of the gate with minimal guitar runs and keys before building in intensity. It’s the first of several songs that relate inner struggle and torment as Eddie states that he’s looking forward to the day when “some man will take me down.” A medium-paced, multi-layered shuffle, “Dignify Me,” a not-too-subtle statement about racial equality in which Turner insists he’s a man of the world who stands behind no one.

A sweetened, unhurried cover of Hendrix’s “My Friend” takes on new feel thanks to Eddie’s reading before the original, “This Is Your Night,” finds a lady friend pouring a glass of wine during an evening of respite among observations about revenge, jealousy and romance. It’s followed by an interesting reading of Lou Reed’s “I’m Waiting for My Man” and the original “Standing on the Frontline,” a declaration of unwavering strength in the face of adversity with lyrics that include: “See the man, his head held high. Steal his voice, he can never cry. Breaks the chains, turns around. They’re still trying to tear him down.”

Up next, “Another Sign of Weakness” keeps the inner war raging as Turner notes that people consider him to be lucky, but “I can’t figure out who I am.” The action warms temporarily for the medium-paced “Whoa, Whoa, Whoa,” a warning to his woman that she’s sorely mistaken if she thinks he’s going to change because he’s “been a sinner, and it’s too late to be a saint.” Two more treasures bring the album to a close: an original love song that advises “take my heart,” but “Let My Soul Run Free” and one of the most interesting reworkings of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Koochie Man” you’ll ever hear.

If you’re unfamiliar with Eddie Turner, dive in to this one. You’ll be tripping on his lyrics as your feet keep the beat. It’s definitely not your grandparents’ blues, you’ll be finding something new in Change in Me every time you give it a listen. Truly different, and strongly recommended.

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 – 3 of 8 

imageSamuel Bowen – Bleeding Daylight

Self release

10 songs time – 38:40

Samuel Bowen’s music is mainly of the mellow introspective singer-songwriter variety. His repertoire consists of originals and cover versions. He handles all guitar chores along with his singing. He’s supported by the usual keyboards, drums, bass and strong backing vocals by Kat Stewart.

The ringing acoustic guitar of “Love” reinforces the upbeat message. “In spite of the thorns” at songs’ end lends a bit of reality. His smooth and youthful vocalizations contradict his photo on back cover. No offense intended. You’ll swear that the original “Hard Times” is a song you remember from the 60s folk bomb. It isn’t that dissimilar to the old folk chestnut “Hard Times Stay Away From My Door”.

Bruce Cockburn’s “Celestial Horses” continues the positive messaging found quite frequently on this release. A religious theme runs through “The Underground”. Organ underlies some nifty electric guitar lines. The Phil Madeira written “I Believe In You” resides in country-ish singer-songwriter territory.

Warren Zevon’s “Don’t Let Us Get Sick” is so feel good in it’s imagery that it strays away from being corny. The end vocal of little girl Jewel Nevah-Ann Beauchemin leaves me with good chills. “Static” speaks to turning off distractions and focusing on the important things in life.

“This Building”-“not quite finished yet” is an analogy for the progression of a human life. The strings add a lush quality. Kimberly Hodgens-Smith brings her powerful voice to sing the blues of “Fussin”. Damn!…Her voice goes back-and-forth from soaring to mellow with ease. The organ of Jordan Heersink gives it a good backdrop along with Samuel’s cutting electric guitar soloing.

The Phil Mederia and Merrill Farnsworth penned “Mercy Land” closes things out solely with acoustic guitar backing, summing up with the positivity felt throughout.

Thought provoking mellow feel good music works well in the hands of someone as skilled in his craft as Samuel Bowen. The production by him and bassist and engineer Bob Evarts make every piece fit into place just nicely. This is an adventure surely worth your while.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

imageKenny Wayne Shepherd Band – Straight To You Live

Provogue Records

12 tracks

Unless you live in a vacuum, you probably heard that Kenny Wayne Shepherd was caught in the midst of a huge and ugly situation when he was nominated for a Blue Music Award for this album. He is the owner of a classic car collection and one of the cars is a knockoff of the original, orange Dukes of Hazzard General Lee car with a confederate flag on its’ roof. Kenny has put the car in storage and does not display it any longer, but its’ existence and the fact that people keep talking to him about it were enough to create a massive stir which eventually resulted in his award nomination being rescinded and his father being kicked off the Blues Foundation Board of Directors. In response, he recently released a fantastic new song and music video “Hit ‘Em Back” with Shemekia Copeland and also featuring Robert Randolph and Tony Coleman. All proceeds of sale of the song go to the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization both he and his father have supported for decades. It is not the purpose of this review to take sides in this matter or to continue the discussion in any manner, but the plain fact is that this is the best live blues album from the past year and his skills as a blues rocker are amazing. This review will focus on that.

Joining Kenny on this new live album are his key band members Chris “Whipper” Layton of Double Trouble fame on drums, the great Joe Krown on keys and the fabulous Noah Hunt handling the lead vocals. Kenny plays guitar, sings and produced the album for Provogue, the Dutch label that features heavy blues rockers like Kenny, Joe Bonamassa, Beth Hart, Walter Trout, Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes, Leslie West, No Sinner, Eric Johnson and The Robert Cray Band just to name a few. Also appearing are Joe Sublett on saxophone, Mark Pender on trumpet, and Scott Nelson on bass. Recorded live in Leverkusen, Germany, for the famed TV show Rockpalast in 2019 while KWS was touring in support of his studio album The Traveller, it’s is a fantastic album of well-chosen and played songs and not another blues rock jam album. It’s really great stuff that shows how KWS has grown into an amazing artist.

The album starts off blazing with “Woman Like You,” a heavy blues rocker that opened Shepherd’s latest studio effort. It’s a fine song and great opener for his live act and the album. “Mr. Soul” follows, featuring a deep groove and the horn section. Shepherd shreds with taste and delivers a great performance. It’s a slick rendition of the old Buffalo Springfield song penned by Neil Young. Again Kenny dips into his newest album for “Long Time Running,” a vibrant and rocking cut with more stratospheric guitar. The horns blaze and Krown pounds out some great stuff, too. “I Want You” from the new album is next, a cool blues with Kenny fronting the effort vocally for the most part, another great original. Krown gets some deserved solo time in this one. “Diamonds & Gold” is an older original about being slaves to the almighty dollar and it’s another winner. “Talk To Me Baby” is a classic that the boys do some call and response along with the horns. It’s a party in the song. Shepherd’s guitar is sublime and the cut’s a great production number. There’s a great sax solo here, followed by an equally great trumpet solo. “Heat Of The Sun” is another old cut of his, a subtle and slick slow blues with some fantastic vocals by Hunt and guitar by KWS.

“Down For Love” is another track from Shepherd’s growing library of songs. It’s another one with a cool, driving beat and fiery guitar work. The band supports the effort well, too! He follows up with his famed ‘Shame, Shame Shame” from Ledbetter Heights, delivering some more superb slow blues. Hunt and KWS reprise their glory and Krown adds a sweet piano solo to the mix. Joe Walsh’s “Turn To Stone” gets a nice cover here as Hunt sings passionately and Shepherd plays with both vibrance and a bit of restraint. Shepherd and Hunt return to their roots again with “Blue On Black,” another of their early classics. KWS offers up some pretty solo work here that brings us back with him to his youth. The next to last track is the old Slim Harpo favorite “I’m A King Bee,” giving it an updated blues rock take as Hunt and KWS excel at. The horns and Krown blaze once again as does Shepherd; nicely done. KWS likes to end live performances channeling his old mentor SRV with the famous Hendrix cut “Voodoo Child (Slight Return).” He gives us over 11 minutes to rock out and enjoy here, the longest track on the album. Shepherd once again show us his talents are up there with his old mentor and other guitar greats.

It’s already been ten years since Shepherd’s Grammy winning Live in Chicago album and this one is on par with it from a music and quality perspective. If you like live music better on video then there is also a DVD/Blu Ray version of the show to savor. This is truly the best live blues and blues rock album of 2020. KWS is no longer the young blues protégé and burgeoning star; it hardly seems possibly that three decades have passed, but he’s still the real deal; his music and band are amazing. This one is a no brainer- go buy it and enjoy it!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

imageMark Sanders – The Night Rolled On

Dream Time Records – 2019

10 tracks; 40:11

Multi-instrumentalist Mark Sanders shows off a strong sense of song on The Night Rolled On, his album of gentle, blues-influenced songs featuring clever arrangements and vocals reminiscent of James Taylor.

The Night Rolled On is Sanders’ seventh album. He’s a sound engineer, which shows in the album’s fine production. Sanders does everything on the album except play bass and sing background vocals. There are also quite a few horns on songs that are actually keyboard-created, but listening to the album, it sounds like a full band. Sanders is also a restrained yet lyrical guitarist, giving his songs a lift, providing interest and contrast for the music, while keeping his leads short yet compelling. It all makes for an album that feels built for listener comfort.

Sanders is at his strongest in the album’s more soul-oriented moments. The tracks tend to be slower and low-key across the album, and when he leans into that style, it makes for some nice moments. “New World” has a 50s sound, similar to The Platters’ “The Great Pretender.” Backup singer Suzanne Weiler fleshes out Sanders’ vocals, making for a sweet track. “Long Road Blues” is a slow blues that lets Sanders stretch out his tasteful guitar playing, the only moment on the album that might be considered showing off.

Sanders takes a balanced approach to his vocals, but sometimes the blues needs to be a little sloppy. “Good to You” is a slowed-down shuffle that sounds like Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “Further Up the Road.” Sanders begins his song with the lyric, “I break my back ten hours a day / Work like a dog just to make my pay / When I try to do what I want / You start acting like some debutante.” There are a lot of emotions in those lines, from sadness to anger to resentment, yet the vocals remain even, with Sanders not translating the feelings of those lyrics into his vocal delivery. It’s a missed opportunity for him to connect with the words, but also to help his audience understand the song’s center.

While the blues desperation isn’t always apparent in his songs, Sanders is a talented singer, arranger, and songwriter. The tunes are catchy and the production is pristine. His work with background singer Weiler, which takes place across many of the album’s tracks, is also notable, with, perhaps, Weiler’s voice helping Sanders to better better express the emotions behind his tracks.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

imageChristone “Kingfish” Ingram – 662

Alligator Records ALCD 5005

14 songs 54 minutes

Already an incomparable talent in his early teens, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram was a star long before he went into the studio to record his first album. Since the release of Kingfish in 2019, he’s reached the stratosphere in the blues world, earning seven Blues Music Awards and a Grammy nomination in the past 18 months alone. But as great as those accomplishments have been, the 22-year-old powerhouse is headed for new heights with this CD.

Written after a grueling 18 months of touring and then at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, Kingfish pours his heart out on 662, delivering universal truths that belie his tender age as he reflects on his travels, his youth in Clarksdale, Miss. – the town’s area code serves as the title, the joy of his successes and the tragedies along the way. “This CD was written…during an incredible time of change and growth, moments both good and bad,” he says, “And I’m a better and stronger person for it.”

Like his debut effort, this one was recorded in Nashville and co-produced by Grammy-winner Tom Hambridge. It’s chockful of the powerful single-note guitar runs fans have come to adore. And as robust as his work on the six-string is, his singing voice is just as strong, proving once again that he’s a talent for the ages.

Kingfish penned all 14 songs in the set, most in partnership with Hambridge, who doubles on percussion. He’s also backed by Kenny Greenberg and Bob Britt on guitars, Marty Sammon on keys, Glenn Worf and Tommy McDonald on bass and Max Abrams and Julio Diaz on horns. Nick Goldston doubling on drums, bass, keys and acoustic guitar and Brooke Stephenson providing backing vocals on the final, bonus cut, a previously released single that pays tribute to his mother and biggest fan, Princess.

“662” drives from the jump as Kingfish describes his hometown as “a river town/Talk about nothin’ to do/Skeeters come out when the sun goes down/Gets awful sticky, too.” Despite its drawbacks, however, he celebrates it and the Delta as the birthplace of the blues. The town’s also prominent in “She Calls Me Kingfish” as the singer strolls the riverbank longing for a lady who once loved him. She’s now nowhere to be found. Like the river, he says, “she wants me when she needs me, leaves me when she’s through,” something that’s emphasized in a blazing mid-tune solo.

Apparently, however, the lady’s not afraid to call and awaking him from his slumbers in “Long Distance Woman,” accusing him of an indiscretion and prompting him to realize it’s time to bring the relationship to a close. The subject and mood change dramatically for the medium-slow “Another Life Goes By,” a complaint about hate, madness and killings that seem to have no end, while Kingfish uses the rocker, “Not Gonna Lie,” as a platform to admit that the blues served as his pathway away from a life of poverty and crime.

The funk kicks in momentarily for “Too Young to Remember, a tribute to the jukes that used to flourish across the Delta, before the barebones, poignant ballad “You’re Already Gone” sees the truth about a failed relationship through a glance in a lady’s eyes. A real man, Kingfish holds nothing back in the percussive shuffle, “My Bad,” admitting that his own actions drove the woman away, “That’s All It Takes,” a soul-blues burner that serves as a confession that he’s still struggling with sadness at the loss of someone dear and fighting to keep others from noticing his pain.

An uptempo song of desire, “I Got to See You,” rips and runs before Kingfish launches into an unhurried warning to a trouble-making liar that “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and imparts a little guidance for would-be musicians in “That’s What You Do” that there are no shortcuts to the blues. “Something in the Dirt” praises Clarksdale once more before the CD closes with the previously released single, “Rock & Roll,” a sweet tribute to his mother who put him on the path he walks today.

No longer the “future of the blues” — as Guitar Player magazine once called him, Kingfish’s time is NOW! One listen to 662 and you’ll know why!

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 – 7 of 8 

imageMike Zito – Resurrection

Gulf Coast Records – 2021

11 Tracks; 54 Minutes

The pandemic did not seem to slow Mike Zito down one bit. Six months after releasing the award-winning tribute to Chuck Berry, he released Quarantine Blues, a message of hope to his fans during difficult times. Six months later he released the multi-artist compilation Gulf Coast Christmas album. And now, seven months later, he is releasing Resurrection. Joining his band members (Matthew Johnson on drums and Doug Byrkit on bass), are Lewis Stephens on keyboards, Eric Demmer on Saxophone, Fernando Castillo on trumpet, and his son (Zach Zito), on Acoustic guitar. Lisa Andersen also provides some backing vocals.

The album cover features some beautiful artwork by South Korean artist Yool Kim. Zito has aptly described the featured painting as capturing “the feeling of soul and light at the end of a struggle.” The tracks within include eight originals, and three cover songs.

Zito’s guitarwork is predictably exceptional throughout this album and, as in previous albums, his original songs seem to reveal very personal disclosures. “Don’t Bring Me Down” does an excellent job of describing how negative influences are capable of draining the life out of people. “I’m living on faith—you’re living on lies. I’m trying to let go, you’re holding on tight. All of your negative energy. It don’t take much. It starts to bleed. Before I know it, I’m feeling weak. Don’t bring me down.”

Zito also includes two songs which are clearly written for his wife. “Dreaming of You” describes how he is not tempted by other women because of the strength of their love. And the title track, “Resurrection” relays the story of how he almost lost his love but regained it. The beauty of the words, “I was searching for the truth, and I finally realized all my searching ends with you” match the exquisite guitar solo on this track.

One track is co-written with Zito’s Gulf Coast Record partner, Guy Hale. The clever lyrics of this song, which has an old-school rock sound to it, poke fun at our political system. “Every four years–roll out the show…you keep on falling for the same old lies…it’s the same old story, year after year. Politics of hope, shaped by fear.”

Perhaps the best song on the album, “Damned If I Do,” features highly emotional guitar solos and contains lyrics that anyone who has ever stayed in a bad relationship too long will find relatable. “I’m holding on. You’ve got my heart in your hands again…so what am I to do? Wait around for you?… Am I just a fool. Damned if I do, damned if I don’t…I should walk away, but you know I won’t.”

The cover songs on this album are also quite strong. Zito’s rendition of JJ Cale’s “I’ll Make Love to You” has somewhat of a retro sound but is a more melodic version than the original. And fans who have been missing the days when Jimmy Carpenter played with Zito’s band will be happy to hear a nice saxophone solo on this track.

It seems that Zito knew, wisely, not to change much about Eric Clapton’s “The Presence of the Lord,” and his version closely matches the beautiful and inspirational original. On the other hand, the cover of Willie Dixon’s “Evil” was interesting in that it had a creative new sound to it. The only relatively weak aspect of this album, however, is that it can be difficult to listen to any rendition of “Evil”, no matter how solid the performance, without longing for the highly unique sound of Howlin’ Wolf’s voice.

In summary, this is an excellent album, and Zito’s fans will not be disappointed. He has stated that he is once again “excited about love and life and music” and his fans are bound to be excited to add this to their collection. When you listen to Resurrection you will understand why Mike Zito recently won a Blues Music Award for Best Blues Rock Artist.

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 – 8 of 8 

imageDeb Ryder – Memphis Moonlight

VizzTone Label Group VT-DR05

13 songs – 53 minutes

A petite powerhouse with a gale-force voice, Chicago-born, California-based Deb Ryder has been been soaring into the stratosphere in the blues world since making her recording debut seven years ago. And her ascendance should pick up speed with this CD, which was produced by Grammy-winner Tony Braunagel and includes a world-class lineup.

The daughter of a popular Windy City crooner and a mother whose second husband owned and operated the legendary rock-‘n’-roll palace Topanga Corral in the Los Angeles suburbs, Deb began singing in clubs across Chicago at age five, eventually moving west, where she discovered the blues through a neighbor – Bob “The Bear” Hite — and frequently served as opening act for Etta James, Big Joe Turner, Taj Mahal and Hite’s group, Canned Heat — all of whom mentored her as both a vocalist and songwriter.

A longtime session artist in the film industry, she appeared in national TV ads and Las Vegas musicals before launching her solo career in 2014 with Might Just Get Lucky, a disc that was co-produced and recorded with bassist hubby Ric Ryder. This is her fifth CD and the fourth produced under the direction of Braunagel, the most recent of which – Enjoy the Ride – earned a spot on Living Blues magazine’s annual top-50 list. She’s also a two-time Blues Blast Music Awards nominee for the Sean Costello Rising Star Award and for contemporary vocalist of the year.

Recorded at three studios in greater L.A., Deb’s backed here by Phantom Blues Band/Taj Mahal Band members Johnny Lee Schell (guitar, bass and keys), Mike Finnigan (keys), Joe Sublett (sax) and Braunagel (drums) along with Dutch harmonica master and ex-Mannish Boy Pieter “Big Pete” van der Pluijm, Mark Pender (trumpet) and Travis Carlton (bass). The roster is augmented by guest appearances by guitarists Ronnie Earl, Joey Delgado and Alastair Greene, Steve Berlin on sax along with David Hidalgo of Los Lobos on accordion and backing vocals from Steve Delgado, Maxayn Lewis, Kudisan Kai and Ric, who co-produced.

The horn-drenched “I’m Coming Home” swings from the hip to open as Ryder announces that she’s wasted enough energy on the road “chasin’ the wind” – doing whatever she chose – and that she’s finally ready to return to where she belongs. She offers up a little advice about living in troubled times in “Hold On,” recommending to keep a tight grip on yourself in times of trouble because life will go on no matter what.

Deb commits herself, her eyes and her heart to doing the work of the Lord in “These Hands,” a gospel number tinged with an electric, country feel, before “Get Ready” opens with a psychedelic flourish and gets funky as she suggests that love will restore peace in the revolution ahead. The downside of romance is featured in the two tunes that follow: “Blues Is All I Got,” a driving rocker propelled by Johnny Lee’s guitar, and “Love Is Gone,” a ballad of resignation and acceptance that features emotion-packed fretwork from Earl.

Schell’s on acoustic guitar for the title tune, “Memphis Moonlight,” a stripped-down Hill Country-textured blues that serves up a memory of dancing with a lover along the mighty Mississippi at night and the desire to do it again. Things heat up quickly in the loping boogie, “Just Be Careful,” an autobiographical memory of lessons Ryder received from her mother – to whom the disc is dedicated – before joining forces with Greene for the blues-rocker, “Devil’s Credit Line,” an admission of regret about mistakes made during her misspent youth.

“Jump on In,” an easy-greasy mid-tempo shuffle, advises that life begins when you start taking chances before Finnigan comes to the fore on Hammond B3 on “Standing at the Edge,” a musical intervention for a friend who’s had it all, but is on the verge of losing everything because of his own pain and neglect. Things heat up again in the rapid-fire, accordion-driven “Second Chances” before the love ballad, “Most of All,” finds Deb stroking her man’s hair lovingly as he sleeps to bring the album to a close.

Available through most major retailers, Memphis Moonlight shines. Not only does Deb Ryder possess one of the most emotive voices on the scene today, the 13 tunes here are all exceptionally well-crafted, original material.

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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