Issue 15-38 September 23, 2021

Cover photo © 2021 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Clarence Spady. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Gabe Stillman, John Winkler, Malacara Blues Band and Eddie Martin.


 Featured Interview – Clarence Spady 

imageThe road to stardom is rocky for anyone who chooses the blues as a profession, but none more so that Clarence Spady who – by his own admission – has been his own worst enemy in a career that’s soared to the heights of success and plunged to the depths of despair on multiple occasions.

Like the mythical bird the Phoenix, he’s soared to the heavens on multiple occasions only to crash and burn then rise from his own ashes to fly once again.

Success seemingly comes easily to Spady. His debut album, Nature of the Beast, showed so much promise that it earned him a 1997 W.C. Handy Award nomination for best new artist of the year, and his follow-up, 2008’s Just Between Us, made it to the finals of the soul-blues category in the rebranded Blues Music Awards.

A uniquely gifted guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, Clarence is hitting the high notes once again in 2021 with Surrender, a CD that – since its release in May — has already earned outstanding achievement honors in the 2021 Global Music Awards and third-place recognition for the title tune in the International Songwriting Competition.

As Blues Blast learned in a recent interview, however, for Spady, enduring success has been fleeting because of personal demons that have haunted him repeatedly through the years – something, he vows, he’ll never allow to happen again.

A native of Paterson, N.J., who’s been based two hours west in Scranton, Pa., for decades, Clarence was born into a musical, church-going family on July 1, 1961. His mother spun gospel LPs by the Five Blind Boys of Alabama and Mahalia Jackson while his father favored the blues.

“When Mahalia stopped, you could hear the scratch (at the end of the side), and my dad would go in and swap out a Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, B.B. King or Howlin’ Wolf,” Spady remembers. His father, also named Clarence, and uncle, Fletchy both played guitar, and he picked it up quickly, too.

“My dad, he was a hacker,” Spady says. “But Fletchy, he could really play. He had a nasty feel like Otis Rush and a raspy voice like Roosevelt ‘Booba’ Barnes (the Mississippi juke joint legend who recorded one album for Rooster Blues before succumbing to lung cancer at age 59).

“Fletchy did maybe four or five shows a year, and played in the church, but there was a show in his kitchen every weekend (laughs)! He didn’t need to go out to play.”

Clarence was age five when his father and Fletchy – who grew up in rural North Carolina, played in jukes on weekends and was influenced by T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulson — were jamming in the kitchen one afternoon.

“I grabbed the neck of the guitar, and he continued with the right hand strum,” Spady says. “They were playin’ in E, and I kept puttin’ my hand up on the fretboard. It was an amazing feat ‘cause everybody’s talkin’, and J&B and Dewar’s is on the table, flyin’ around.

“But my aunt Bea notices. She goes: ‘Oh, my god! Little Clarence is playin’!’

“My dad goes: ‘Okay, Clarence, wait a minute…until after the song.’ But Fletchy says: ‘No, let him go! Let’s see what he’s gonna do!’

“My dad was playin’ the E and A string, so I started doin’ it. The next thing you know, everyone’s focus shifted toward me, and I was playin’ the custom blues…bah-bum, bah-bum, bah-bum…usin’ one finger like my dad would do.”

imageFor the adults, it was a real jaw-dropper. Soon after, big Clarence taught him the E progression, and Fletchy began teaching him the rest.

“That was it!” Spady says today. “He just created a devil — because I gravitated toward the blues!”

Clarence was still in kindergarten when he performed for the first time, bringing a six-string to school and entertaining classmates with a rendition of James Brown’s “Sex Machine” accompanied a friend from another musical family, Cord Smith, who played drums.

“Then, when I was six years old, Uncle Fletchy was playin’ at the Paterson Elks Club with one of the bands he fooled around with on the weekends,” Clarence says. “He was gonna bring me up to play, so my godmother went out and bought me a new suit.”

Fletchy brought him up to play Tommy Tucker’s “Hi-Heel Sneakers,” telling him in advance: “Now don’t you worry. We’re not gonna play in a bunch of keys. We’re gonna stay right there and focus on E.”

“I said: ‘Good deal!’” Spady recalls. Even at that tender age, he was beginning to realize that the open-tuning allows plenty of the string movement necessary to play the blues in an uncomplicated way. But there was one problem: Fletchy’s gig started at 9 p.m., already past Clarence’s bedtime. By the time he got up to play, he says, he was so tired that he dropped his pick three or four times.

Despite his early talent, Clarence admits to being a lazy student who never tried to push himself on the instrument. But by the time he was 11 or 12 though, his fingers had grown long enough that was comfortable playing most keys and becoming adept at playing major seventh and minor ninth chords. His early influences included B.B. and Albert Collins.

The Spady family relocated to Scranton in 1969 when Clarence was in second grade, leaving Paterson – a melting-pot city of differing ethnicities a few miles west of the Hudson River – for a blue-collar community that was almost all white. “We brought the blues with us,” he says. “They already had ‘em. But we gave it a name!”

It was there that Spady established lifelong friendships and developed a love for rock, Motown, the Philly Sound, bluegrass and country – which led to a lot of experimentation on the six-string without formal training and which led to the development of the style he has today, incorporating jazz, Latin and funk, too.

Fresh out of school after graduating at age 18, Clarence made a beeline on his own back to New Jersey to chase his musical dream. He quickly found a steady job at a recording studio operated by producer Greg Plummer in Englewood, A high-school wrestler, one of Clarence’s teammates then and occasional playing partner now was former Saturday Night Live funnyman-turned-blues artist Chris “Bad News” Barnes. Spady immediately moved to New Jersey, where he started working for producer Greg Plummer in the recording studio he operated in Englewood, a bedroom community situated directly across the river from Manhattan.

“I wanted to get more exposed to the New York scene,” he says. “Comin’ up through junior high, I’m seeing all these shows at the Apollo and sayin’ to myself: ‘That’s where we gotta get to!’ My home might have been in Pennsylvania, but my heart was two hours away.”

For Clarence – and the music world in general – it was an era of change in which the synthesizer was starting to revolutionize the industry by using digital sounds to replace horns and keys. And the young bluesman realized pretty quickly that he had to branch out to something else to make a living.

“For me,” he says, “it was ‘welcome to the world of Top 40.’”

At first, Spady joined A Touch of Class, a band which featured his Brenda Mickens, a vocalist Spady describes as a cross between Etta James and Ma Rainey, and which was directed by her music impresario hubby Raymond. The group’s musical director, John Pougiese, quickly took him under his wing, teaching him horn arrangements, rhythm and harmony progressions that he still incorporates today.

“They did pretty well for themselves,” Clarence says, “but my stint with them wasn’t very long because here come all the distractions in the world that could ever come my way, movin’ to an urban area and hangin’ out with the guys who I used to listen to when they were playin’ with (B-3 organ great) Jimmy Smith.

“They were doin’ all the hip stuff, and it didn’t take long before I was, too. And they weren’t just doin’ it in music. They were doin’ it in life, too” – taking full advantage of all the outside benefits…the booze, drugs and women…that life onstage presented.

IMAGE“At least I thought it was hip,” Spady says now. “It took me a long time to figure out it wasn’t.”

Because of his association with Plummer, Clarence got to do a little session in that era with The Johnson Family – brothers Jimmy, Bob and Jerry – a funk ensemble that included Buddy Blackstone on lead guitar. It was Buddy who stressed the importance of having a working knowledge of the complete range of chords and of being a consistent rhythm player.

Spady’s world changed in a major way about two years after he returned to Jersey and met vocalist Greg Palmer – the front man for one of the top cover bands in the country — for the first time. It was 1981, and Palmer was playing a three-month engagement at the Holiday Inn in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but was becoming increasingly unhappy with his backing musicians. On a Sunday night prior to a weeklong vacation, he decided to keep his drummer and fire everyone else.

He brought in Clarence and two other musicians that Monday, and they put together 96 tunes on his setlist – but he hadn’t gotten up the courage to inform his former bandmates, all of whom arrived for work the next Sunday to find new musicians on stage and their equipment stored elsewhere.

For the next six years, Spady touring steadily with Palmer, opening for the Four Tops, Spinners and other major acts and enjoying lengthy runs at many of the premiere showrooms across the U.S., unlike many of their contemporaries who’d work a week one place and then drive 600 miles to work another.

“We always were booked at a club for four to six weeks at a time,” Clarence remembers fondly. “We’d leave Atlantic City and go to Hilton Head (S.C.) because we knew we were going to be there for the whole month of April when the Heritage Golf Classic was going on…or Saratoga for the month of August, ‘cause that’s when the racetrack is open…20 weeks in A.C. at five-week increments.”

They spent three nights each week rehearsing, too. A stickler for fresh performances, Palmer regularly selected new chart-toppers, gave them to his sidemen to learn one week before making them stage-ready through practice the following week, insisting throughout that work together on openings and endings and assuming everyone would already know the songs’ middle.

Hilton Head holds a special place in Spady’s heart because it was there – at the Marriott at Shipyard Plantation – that Stevie Wonder joined the band for a lengthy set. “He closed the night down with us,” he recalls. Fortunately, Palmer’s group included two of Stevie’s CDs in the repertoire, which came in handy because they played 13 of his tunes with him into the wee hours of the morning.

Despite gigging 40 weeks a year and being paid great money, Spady slowly came to the understanding that working in a Top 40 band has major drawbacks – something that was reinforced through discussions with one of his bandmates, Bob Elliott, who was about 20 years his elder.

“Bob kept stressing: ‘Clarence, I’ve done this circuit for a long time,’” he says. “‘You don’t want to be my age, sittin’ in Harrah’s, waitin’ to go down and do another hour set.

“You want to pursue the blues? Just go out there and do it! But get off this show-band touring routine because you can get too comfortable. It pays the bills. But you’re never home though.’

“I finally left Greg when we were at the Forge Restaurant in Miami Beach. I kept giving him little warnings: ‘We either have to start recording, or I’m gonna have to put myself in a situation…’ Greg was sarcastic: ‘Bye!’”

The encounter with Wonder could have been a life-changer, but turned into the first of several lost opportunities in Spady’s life. His playing had impressed Stevie’s musical director enough to jot down his contact information. He add Clarence’s name to his extensive list of him who worked in his band on a first-call, rotating basis.

And he was true to his word. Spady was invited to fly to Arizona for two weeks of rehearsals for an upcoming gig, but…

“I never made it,” he says. “The party scene was too much to resist. I was excused when I missed the first date, but knew I wouldn’t be when I missed the second one. I called, and the person who answered said: ‘Yes, yes, I give Henry the message.’

“When I didn’t hear back for two or three days…I got the message alright!”

IMAGESpady subsequently relocated to Michigan, playing funk out of Ypsilanti with the Norma Jean Bell Band and other groups, slipping away occasionally to Detroit and seeing Duke Robillard and others in action at the Soup Kitchen, once one of the top stops on the blues highway. After a three-year run, however, he moved back home to Scranton and took a job as a union-member heavy equipment operator by day and playing music at night.

“I was an excavator guy, and I did that for 17 years, running everything from backhoes to bulldozers and cranes,” he says. “I like to play in dirt, so I did a lot of pipeline work. That’s all dirt, and you don’t have to worry about no one, buildings collapsin’ or anything like that.

“I’d work 50 to 60 hours a week and gig in New York on the weekends, driving straight from the jobsite to Manhattan on Friday night and getting back home to go back to work at six the next morning.”

At Shiloh Baptist Church, he served in the choir for a while and played keys occasionally, too, picking up tips about harmony and chord movement from the church’s musical director, organist Carol A. Coleman. “There’s something special about the way chords move in gospel,” Clarence insists. “I’ve incorporated it into my style of blues playin’.”

In 1989, Spady began laying the groundwork for his own group. Initially the Scranton Blues Band, it evolved into West Third Street Blues Band, which was the ensemble that helped compose and arrange Clarence’s debut album, Nature of the Beast. Recorded in the studio and finally appearing on disc four or five years later, it delivered the feel of a live performance, something that he’s continued to strive for throughout his career.

Originally self-produced, that disc was captured in a high-energy setting at the Scranton studio of friend/percussionist/car dealer Richard Burne with all of the musicians in the same, partition-free room — something that’s rare in the industry today. Most of the original material was drawn from Clarence’s true-life experiences with women as well as the drug habit he developed after high school.

The album finally struck gold when it was repackaged and re-released on the Evidence label, but Spady was so clueless about the industry at the time, he initially failed to recognize the significance of the W.C. Handy nomination he received.

“I had no idea what that was,” he admits. “I had to ask my manager (childhood friend Scott Goldman): ‘What does that mean?’

“I didn’t know all that could happen in the blues. The only thing I wanted to do was to be able to say that I played in Chicago and get down into the Delta to play some jukes…do a few festivals and everything. Anything else was a bonus, a gift that I didn’t know anything about. And I’m still learning!”

Living Blues magazine included him in its “Top 40 Under 40” listing of prominent younger artists a short time later.

“It felt good, and I thought I was on top of things,” he says, “but I guess that ego or pride got in there and it was like: ‘It’s only up from here.’ My dad was sayin’: ‘You can sit on top of the world – just don’t let it sit on top of you!’”

One of the top labels at the time, Evidence signed him to a multi-album deal. He was playing major clubs and festivals around the globe, and ownership were “stoked” by the new material he presented. But he was eventually termed a “high-risk investment.”

Judged unreliable and back to his old habits, he was given a six-month grace period to straighten himself out – and then an extension, but eventually cut loose when that failed to happen.

“The world sat on me,” Spady says. “I’d already crossed that threshold, and didn’t know it. I still thought I could moderate things, but I couldn’t. In those six months, not only did things spin out of control, but the chatter that was goin’ around made everyone afraid to invest in me — I still feel repercussions of it today. But thank God…the world sat on my back instead of my head. It allowed me to get up again – but only if I wanted to.”

Finally back on his feet again a decade or so, later Spady hooked up with owner David Earl, a talented guitarist himself who operates Severn Records out of Annapolis, Md. Clarence wanted to put out a straight-ahead blues album, but the end product, Just Between Us, earned BMA soul-blues honors instead.

While he appreciates the recognition, Clarence he still has misgivings today because he never was given the opportunity to deliver the collection of shuffles he wanted to deliver – something that other artists in the Severn fold, including Chicagoan Mud Morganfield, eventually did for the label.

“When push comes to shove, I love R&B,” Spady insists. “But I had to fight tooth-and-nail to do ‘Be Your Enough,’ the only slow blues on the album. Everything else was blues that came from my R&B era. David kept saying: ‘That’s it!’ But it wasn’t it for me. It wasn’t where I wanted to go. I wanted to play the blues.”

That said, he admits, “it worked out as far as the energy of the music is concerned. When it came time to lay down the real tracks, I was pumped. I was ready. The more we got in there and it started comin’ together, it was all business from that point on. I told Scotty: ‘We’ll get this out and work on the next one. I’m gonna call it 12 Bar. But that never happened, either.”

imageSelf-described as possessing a stubborn streak, Spady made multiple subsequent attempts to return to the studio for a Severn follow-up, but the relationship eventually fell apart because of creative differences.

Clarence’s career went into a tailspin once again, leaving him with the feeling that “I had stuff inside me I wanted to get out, but no one was allowing me to do so.”

It was his aim to produce material that instilled positive messages about racial equality and to serve up hope for people who were suffering the throes of addiction or the devastating loss of a child, something that he’s accomplished on his latest CD, Surrender. Released on Sallie Bengtson’s Pennsylvania-based Nola Blues Records, it’s an intimate, unhurried, understated, true-blue release chock full of emotion.

“I could easily have written about the latest hurricane or Iraq or Afghanistan,” Spady says, “but there’s so much shit goin’ on in my life that I don’t have to leave my living room for material.”

One of the the most powerful tunes, “K-Man,” celebrates Clarence’s son, Khalique, a former high school football player who died at home in his mid-20s prior to COVID about two years ago. “That turned into my favorite song on the CD,” Spady says. “The feedback that I get is that it’s happy and jovial. But that’s how he was.

“Everybody would be sittin’ around on the porch, lookin’ sour, and Khalique would show up. Now, everybody’s laughin’…the whole ambiance changed. The greatest honor I could give him is through music…something that was also his passion. He didn’t play any instrument, but he was good with a microphone.”

Spady also dips into his past for a stellar new cover of Z.Z. Hill’s “Down Home Blues,” a tune his parents always put on after a long night of partying on the weekend, turning it into a ballad that retains the deep Southern soul feel of the original but accentuates the blues.

“That’s how Uncle Fletchy played it,” he says.

Three of the tunes – including “Addiction Game,” which is delivered atop a funky beat — are from a live set captured at River Street Jazz Café in Plains, Pa., when the region was reeling after being inundated with cocaine and murders – a subject he broached previously on Nature of the Beast. Two others include the work of two beloved lost friends: his longtime drummer Shorty Parham’s tune, “Pick Me Up,” and Lucky Peterson’s “When My Blood Runs Cold,” a tune Lucky co-wrote with his father. He and Clarence developed a lasting relationship after meeting in a recording studio in Hartford, Conn., years ago.

The disc also features a guest appearance from rising talent Adam Schultz, a guitar protégé whom Clarence has been mentoring in blues for the past four years.

Despite his recurring personal issues, one thing that’s been constant in Clarence’s life for the better part of 28 years has been a regular gig Terra Blues, a venerable club in New York’s Greenwich Village for the past 28 years. It was there that Spady first crossed paths with Adam, then age 14. Now a recent college enrollee after studying jazz at Avenue, one of the most exclusive schools in Manhattan, Schultz recently released his debut album, Soulful Distancing, which Spady appeared on and co-produced.

While Clarence has seemingly fallen off the edge of the earth after success in the past, he’s currently hard at work on new material with two tunes currently in rehearsal and about ready for the studio. Others are on the way and will explore his love for 12-bar Texas shuffles and blues-rock when it really was rock and blues.

“You’re not gonna have to wait 13 years for the next album!” Spady insists, stressing that he’s finally come to terms with his old habits, which are a thing of the past. “Of all the things I used to do, I do miss smoking marijuana,” he admits. “It would be nice to take a couple of pulls off a joint again. But I’m not even gonna open that door.

“Do I get the thought? Abso-lutely! But do I open that door? No. God showed me a way to tap into that zone naturally without havin’ to smoke. It’s a blessing!

“‘You want to go to that zone, Clarence?’” he laughs. “‘Look at this picture!’ I’ve got both hands on the reins right now, and I don’t plan on letting go.”

Spady’s deeply appreciative of the fans who’ve suck with him “through the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s God-given, and we hope to keep the excitement goin’!” he says.

Check out Clarence’s music and where he’ll be playing next by visiting his website:

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


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4

imageGabe Stillman – Just Say the Word

Vizztone Label Group 2021

15 Tracks; 62 minutes

Gabe Stillman’s impressive talent as a guitarist has caught people’s attention ever since the Berklee School of Music graduate was a finalist at the 35th Annual International Blues Challenge and was the recipient of the Gibson Guitar Award. But on his latest album, Just Say the Word, he also demonstrates excellent songwriting skills and beautiful vocals, with an increased chest resonance in his voice that leads to a more mature and soulful sound than before.

Listeners to this album will be treated to a wonderful lineup of guests, including the incredibly talented young keyboard player, Taylor Streiff (formerly of the Nick Moss Band), the Texas Horns, Sue Foley (on guitar and vocals), Greg Izor (on chromatic harmonica), and Anson Funderburgh, the album’s producer. The combination of guest artists, along with the variety of song styles and arrangements makes the album intriguing from beginning to end, and throughout the album, Stillman’s pure and emotive guitar style shines through.

There are plenty of “love gone wrong” songs on Just Say the Word, including “No Time for Me,” which states that “ever since the world began, a hard-headed woman has been the thorn in the side of a man”, “No Time for Me,” and the Elmore James-inspired opening song, “Give Me Some Time,” which notes “What’s the matter now, baby, am I not good enough for you? Tell me the truth now darling is it because I play the blues?” Fans will be rooting for Stillman’s assertive limit-setting in “I Ain’t Gonna Change,” where he declares “You can love me for who I am, or you can get out—because I ain’t gonna change!”

Stillman also tackles some heavier topics, such as the trauma of war in “No Peace for a Soldier,” and the pain people cause others in “Let it Go.” In that song he poetically advises “Sometimes when you’re hurting, life has no more grace. You can almost hear them laughing with that smirk on their face. You can almost hear those hollow words as they reverberate, and it breaks down the walls around your soul. It’s alright, girl, let it go.”

Stillman wrote (or in two cases, co-wrote) thirteen of the tracks, and the album also includes two powerful covers. In his version of Brook Benton’s “I’ll Take Care of You,” he wisely alters the timing and phrasing from how it was performed by Bobby Bland, to avoid too close of a comparison with that highly unique singer. His cover of Bill Wither’s “Friend of Mine” is also excellent. Stillman’s one entirely instrumental song, “Susquehanna 66” will likely get even non-dancers up and moving.

There are no real flaws in this album, although some listeners might find it a bit startling that he ends the album with a very bluntly written song that is half spoken-word about the baggage and negative self-statements people tend to carry in their heads. He notes “The next time you’re about to judge someone else, step back and think. We’ve all got our bullshit, people, and don’t think that yours doesn’t stink.”

Fans can trust that any album produced by Anson Funderburgh will be great, and Just Say the Word is no exception. Listen to it and you’ll see why Alligator Records Founder/President, Bruce Iglauer has described Stillman as “one of the most promising young blues talents on the scene today”, and has stated that Stillman’s “talent has grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years—don’t miss him!”

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 – 2 of 4 

imageJohn Winkler – Juke’s Blues

HarpTone Records

12 songs – 48 minutes

A fixture on the blues scene of coastal South Carolina for the past 30 years, harp player John Winkler swings from the jump on his latest CD, delivering a pleasant mix of Chicago, Texas and West Coast blues and jump and backing himself up with a pleasant, mid-range voice to match.

A native of the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York who goes by a pair of nicknames – Juke Joint Johnny and the Harmonica High Priest of the Southeast, Winkler cut his teeth cut backing up Joe Beard, the guitarist who was nurtured by Son House and eventually helped coax him out of a decades-long retirement.

John’s been based out of Charleston since 1989, where he joined the Easy Street Blues Band and led several other groups, including his own band, Juke Joint Johnny & the Hurricanes, and serving as the opening act for several major artists. He’s also partnered with keyboard player Gary “Shrimp City Slim” Erwin for decades, appearing at festivals around the world.

Despite his lengthy career and frequent trips into the studio as a sideman, this is Winkler’s debut release as a front man. And one listen will have you asking what it’s taken him so long. He plays both diatonic and chromatic, and delivering warm, round runs on both with backing from Erwin and the full lineup of Elliott & the Untouchables: Elliott New, guitar; Sonny Dickey, sax: Russ Marchese, trumpet; Ken Largent, keys: Jim Heidenreich, drums; and J.T. Anderson, bass. The roster’s augmented by percussionist Reid Mason and bassists Wade Miles and Willie Jones.

An all-original set co-written by Winkler and New, John opens the action with a tasty diatonic intro for “Lucky,” a clever, Chicago-style blues that describes a life in which the subject of the title still hasn’t found him yet. Mid-tune harp and horn breaks shine. The medium-paced shuffle, “Playin’ for Keeps,” serves up advice for a lady friend to stop chasing and to do herself a favor by finding real love for the first time.

“Somebody New,” a slow-blues burner is delivered from the opposite point of view. In this one, Winkler finds that someone else has been eating his breakfast as he realizes that he and his lady are through, driving home his understanding in an extended break mid-tune that also features fine fret work from New. The mood brightens quickly for the loping “BBQ Boss,” which allows plenty of space for the band to shine, and the swinging “Positively Prezlee,” a West Coast jump delivered on chromatic.

Next up is “Short Fat Fanny.” Not to be confused with the 1957 R&B/rock hit of the same title by Larry Williams, this one’s a clever blues delivered atop a rhumba beat that describes a petite lady’s derriere, not her body in general. It gives way to the unhurried instrumental, “Slow Roast,” that gives Winkler space to strut his stuff before allowing Dickey to do the same, and “Slammin’ Door,” a driving blues that revisits romantic separation from another angle.

The pleasant shuffle “Millionaire” states that if trouble were money, the singer would be rich beyond his dreams, while “Tell Me True” delivers a little swing as it questions a lady about what it’s going to take for him for him to get her at his side. The slow blues, “Meetin’ Mama,” wonders where Winkler’s woman might be before he brings the action to a close with “The Nine Harp Thing,” an instrumental that layers at least nine distinctly different harp parts atop minimal rhythm.

One in a while, a debut album like this one comes out of left field and completely knocks you out. If you’re a fan of traditional harp, pick up this one. You won’t be disappointed.

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 4 

imageMalacara Blues Band – The Rookie


CD: 8 Songs, 26 Minutes

Styles: Latin Blues, Salsa, All Original Songs

In my hometown, the number-one eatery is called La Potosina. It features all the highlights of what Mexican restaurants should have: colorful décor, jovial atmosphere, and authentic, tasty food. More spice at less price. That’s exactly what Xavi Malacara and his Blues Band serve up on their new release, entitled The Rookie but proving otherwise. This is no basement-to-Amazon entrée, but a zingy bowl of nachos for your ears. Featuring twangy salsa guitar and catchy Latin-infused beats, it’s peppy, entertaining, and a promise of even more scrumptious CDs to come.

On the flip side, Malacara’s lyrics are extremely hard to understand, but that means one must listen closely, and more than once, to each song. “Looking for love” is easy enough to decipher, but the opening verses of the title track will prove much more difficult. Some of the riffs are a bit basic, too. The upside here? Learn to salsa dance. Shut those lips and shake those hips, because this is an outdoor party album. Certain numbers are on the mellow side, so sip a margarita while savoring them. Perhaps the best quality of The Rookie is its real-deal Spanish flavor.

As it says in Spanish on his website (translated here), Malacara’s music melts into a rainbow, from darkness to dim light that reflects hope. He wallows in nostalgia and sinks into bitter optimism, a ime navigator battered by wounds. From Memphis to New Orleans, from the 1920s to the 1970s, from the plantations to the electricity of Chicago. The days of Little Walter, the nights of Dylan. Lorca’s poetry and Hopper’s landscapes.

Since 2013 with the Malacara & Wilson Band, Xavi has released three albums, all produced by Mario Cobo (The Nu Niles, Locos del Oeste). In Hopeless Blues (2015), the first compositions appear. They are a tribute to the best of Blues and Americana, or traditional roots music. In 2017 they presented Summer Camp Blues. The original lyrics treat love like a battlefield. In May 2019 they published a new album, Miles Down Blues, a journey that transits between blues and folk. They made their debut at the Cerdanyola International Blues Festival on the central stage, and beat the best band of the moment – the Nick Moss Band, nonetheless! – at the now defunct Rocksound in Barcelona, and premiered in the legendary Jamboree Hall with an incredible concert on January 1, 2020.

The three best songs on this CD are the opener, “Grave of Secrets,” and the all-Spanish “Ansiedad” (“Anxiety”). “The Rookie” and “Anxiety” are like bookends, similar in tone and theme: lost love. “Grave of Secrets” is a scorcher, forsaking salsa guitar for the rip-roaring blues variety. It’s also the most danceable, at least in terms of songs that beg for a partner. “Darling, darling, darling,” Xavi sings, the word a plea instead of an affectionate nickname. “Some love is too much. I’m a lonely man.” Play some air guitar during the solo, or better yet, real guitar.

The Rookie is neither a pure blues album nor a full-course meal. As I said earlier, it’s more like the nacho bowl that you get before your massive burrito and taco platter. Fill up on it while you can!

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 4 

imageEddie Martin – The Birdcage Sessions

Blueblood Records – 2021

14 tracks; 53 minutes

Eddie Martin is one of the UK’s best known blues artists and he ranges widely, having recorded acoustic and electric, solo, trio and big band albums. The last of Eddie’s discs that I reviewed was Thirst in 2019 and that was a full band electric effort; this time around Covid has had its effect and Eddie did everything himself, just his son Xavi adding cello to three tracks and another son Joe singing backup on one. Otherwise it’s all Eddie, but note the wide variety of instrumentation: electric and acoustic guitars, lap steel, harmonica, foot percussion, bass, piano, organ, mandolin, cello and banjitar. Eddie handles all the vocals, including some rather neat backing vocals on several tracks where he adapts his voice to add range and depth to the sound. All the material is original, apart from one traditional tune.

“Before We Wake Up” opens the album with Eddie’s slide set against cello, harmonica and acoustic guitar on a gospel-fueled tune, but it’s the lyrics that impress as Eddie rails against the injustices in society. Eddie namechecks Charley Patton and Robert Belfour as influences on the next two tracks: indeed, “Home” sounds like it was recorded in the Delta, with the repetitive drone of the guitar, over which Eddie plays harp and adds layered harmonies; “Breakeven Blues” has some delicate finger-picking and vocals that sound like Taj Mahal who was in turn channeling some far earlier blues men, Eddie describing how everyone demands a slice of what you earn. “Happy, Broke And Free” opens with birdsong before Eddie’s resonator enters and his vocals describe exactly what Covid has done to working musicians, with all gigs cancelled.

“Skylight” is a multi-layered song with lush instrumentation and lyrics that demonstrate why Eddie is also a published poet: “Quiet transcendence, just me and the distance, skylight tricks me with its portal of wonder.” Xavi’s cello adds a yearning sound to the music that matches the lyrics perfectly. Eddie breaks out the electric guitars on “I Long For A Sail” but is soon back in acoustic mode for “Birdcage Blues” in which Eddie equates the song of the blackbird to the sound of liberty and compares that with the Covid experience of being locked down, unable to play gigs, barely able to leave home. “River Song” has Eddie’s harp and guitar at the heart of a country blues stomp before the short “Falling” adds some more of Xavi’s moody cello to the mix.

“Kitchen Boogie” is an instrumental with Eddie’s harp taking the lead over bass and guitar before Eddie celebrates “Lazy Sunday” in a relaxed tune with slide overdubbed on to his acoustic guitar and piano: “I’m thinking, don’t wanna go to work no more, just want to lie back here, watch the sun creep across the floor”. A delicate guitar interpretation of “Amazing Grace” brings the album to a close but there are also two tracks classed as ‘bonus tracks’. “Too Much Choice” is a standard blues, a comic song in which Eddie finds himself bewildered by some aspects of modern life: “I’m buying bottled water, fresh from a mountain spring, it just fell out of the sky but they charge me what I pay for gin”; “Country Walk” is another instrumental, layered acoustic guitars giving a light, fresh feeling to the end of the album. Unfortunately the two bonus tracks are not in the same order as printed on the sleeve but this review covers them in the order they appear on the disc.

Eddie has produced a very listenable album here and all credit to him for recording such a sonically varied disc almost entirely on his own.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


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