Issue 15-43 October 28, 2021



Cover photo © 2021 Alan Grossman Photography

 In This Issue 

Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Mark Wenner. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including a childrens album that makes learning fun using Blues music from some of the biggest names in Blues today plus new music from Tony McPhee’s Blues Band, Tony Holiday, Debbie Bond, Michael Landau and Malcolm Wells and the Two-Timers.

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 Featured Interview – Mark Wenner 

imageMany blues musicians can say they have been in the business for fifty years, but not many can report sticking with one band throughout those fifty years. Although the Nighthawks have undergone numerous personnel changes throughout the decades, (and at times appeared to have almost reinvented itself), there is one constant in the band—harmonica player, singer, and founder, Mark Wenner. And the band is still vibrant and very popular at its fiftieth anniversary. Blues Blast Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with Wenner recently at his home in Kensington, Maryland, where in addition to his musical interests he restores antique motorcycles and is currently trying to re-socialize a traumatized rescue dog.

Wenner discovered his love for blues, roots-rock, soul, and rockabilly at the early age of ten, and by high school was enraptured with early bluesmen like Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He found himself preoccupied with the music scene while studying as an English major at Columbia University in New York City. He finished his degree but reported that it took a few extra years due to the musical diversions and his occasional leaves of absence to work construction jobs. During that time, he also evolved from being a roadie, to a booking agent, to playing in bands, to being a band leader.

Inspired by Bobby Radcliff, and after graduating from Columbia University, Wenner returned to Maryland and began to form the Nighthawks. He also was instrumental in bringing some major Chicago bluesmen to the East Coast although, like many of his other accomplishments, the rather humble Wenner had to be prompted before he spoke about that.

“The Nighthawks were playing at the Bayou on a rotation with two top 40 bands. I realized that Mondays were pretty beat—maybe 30 or 40 people, when we could usually get 1000 people in the room on a Saturday night, so I proposed that I could bring a real Chicago bluesman in there to draw a crowd and it would cost them only $500 and hotel rooms. The first was JB Hutto, and people knew who JB was because he was local for awhile, so we had about 350 people on a Monday night and the club owner was pretty happy about that.

“Eventually I was able to convince Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, Big Walter Horton, jimmy Rogers and Kim Wilson to come. I did most of the grunt work to make all of that happen. I did a lot of picking people up at airports and such. Word got out about it, and we got pretty good at it and introduced DC to a lot of great Chicago blues guys. We also had a relationship with the Cellar Door, so we were able to open for Muddy Waters James Cotton, and BB King. We had kind of a monopoly because there was not much competition as far as local blues bands.

“We were later doing some Rosebud tours where everybody was on the tour, Robert Cray John Lee Hooker, and then throw in John Hammond and Elvin Bishop and later Pinetop Perkins too. As it evolved, they figured out they could send Hooker with just a keyboard and sax Player and the Nighthawks would pick them up at the airport and back them up on stage. It was phenomenal, and we would do a similar thing with Elvin. We were Elvin’s East Coast Band from Halifax to Key West. Elvin would send his extra guitarists to show up a couple of days ahead of time and rehearse us so Elvin could just walk on stage, and we would have been rehearsed.”

Wenner had many interesting experiences when the band played in Europe and Japan. He discussed one collaboration with a Japanese musician named Toru Oki.

”He was a really wonderful man with a bizarre vision of himself. He was a hustler and invented himself as a bluesman and he brought us to Japan to back him up for three-week tour, and then kept bringing us back from 1983 until the mid-1990s. Oki enjoyed exploiting our tattoos during the shows, pretending to be a tattooed Yakuza onstage.”

Wenner, who has had full-sleeve tattoos since his twenties, wanted to find a Japanese master tattoo artist, and an old girlfriend of Oki was able to arrange for that to happen.

“It was pretty bizarre. We had to sit in this tearoom for two hours and Rolls Royce limos showed up and they threw Thackery and me into one of the limos and took us to this place with no sign on the door. We see a guy who is working on someone who is tattooed from ankles to neck to wrists. He spoke no English, but looked at our funky American work, which seemed crude in some ways compared to what they do there and said go do your gig and come back and I will draw a nighthawk for you. Thackery and I both got Nighthawk tattoos. It had some Japanese writing on it, and we didn’t know if it might say ‘arrest this guy’ or maybe ‘kill this American asshole’ but we compared it to some things we found and realized it was the tattoo artist’s name.”

imageMark had his own take on recent debates in the music industry regarding white musicians playing the blues,

“When I was in high school, I was pretty prejudiced against white people playing the blues because most of what I heard was pretty awful. But what opened the door for me was the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He wasn’t trying to sound Black but was playing the shit out of the harmonica and his band was kicking butt. I was having a kind of schizophrenic split between thinking I can’t do it because I’m a white guy and wanting to play harp. Butterfield gave me the license to do it. Then Charlie Musselwhite came out and he gave me a different view. He’s not the greatest singer in the world, but he is singing like himself. I don’t see myself as a singer so much as an actor. I don’t have a great voice, but one of my strengths is I can play a part. I did some acting in programs for summer school kids and did a combination of literary and theatrical study of the Theater of the Absurd.

“Also, one of the bands I was in while in New York did the music for a play we thought was going to go off-Broadway. I actually took a semester off school thinking it would go off-Broadway, but it didn’t. It was horrible. The premise was what if Jesus Christ was alive and got sent to Vietnam and it had Jeff Conaway as the star—the actor who later was in the show Taxi. The Director was great, the actors were great, the songwriters were great, but the play was shit. We did a parody of the play and the director called me a natural, but the author was pissed off—he was really offended by our parody.”

People assume “The Nighthawks” name is in tribute to Robert Nighthawk, but it actually started when a friend sold Wenner a 1958 Volkswagen truck that was painted flat green and black, and one night they saw it under a streetlamp and his friend referred to the truck as “The Nighthawk”. Wenner liked the name and initially called himself “Nighthawk”.”

“I had business cards with ‘Nighthawk—Harp Blues and Beyond’. It didn’t even have a phone number on it because at the time I was sleeping in the back of my car and staying on people’s couches. But later I decided to call the band ‘The Nighthawks’.

From 1974 until 1986, the Nighthawks consisted of Mark Wenner, Jimmy Thackery (lead guitar), Jan Zukowski (bass guitar), and Pete Ragusa on drums. That version of the band, often referred to as “the Bad Boys from Bethesda” became so well known in the Northeast region that they were considered the “gods” of the Psychedelly in Maryland and The Bayou in Washington DC. Wenner noted that Thackery had previously been in a band that demanded that he play standard blues songs note-by-note.

“He became a good mimic, learning off records, and once he got around someone and could see what they were doing, he could sound just like them. For example, once he saw Albert Collins and saw that he capo-ed up to C, he did that and sounded just like Albert Collins. He could take the ‘Dust My Broom’ lick and play it ten different ways and could sound like JB Hutto, Elmore James and more. I could tell who each person was with each version of the same lick. I never met anybody who could do that. He was like a blues computer.

All Nighthawks fans seem aware of the time in 1978 when the Hawks played Desperados and George Thorogood and the Delaware Destroyers played across the street at the Cellar Door. Thackery prearranged to be signaled by the light man when the Destroyers began playing Madison Blues, and the Hawks began the same song. Thackery and Thorogood then both walked out of the club while playing and met on M Street, stopping traffic, before switching and walking into the opposite venues, with Thorogood now playing with the Hawks and Thackery with the Destroyers. That famous moment has been referred to as both “The M Street Shuffle” and the “Duel on M Street”.

Spending that much time together, however, naturally led to some tension and conflict among band members, and Thackery left to begin a band of his own. Several players rotated through the lead guitar position when Thackery left, including Jimmy Nalls, Warren Haynes, James Solberg, Danny Morris and Pete Kanaras. In addition, Greg Wetzel joined the band as a keyboard player for two years.

Kanaras stayed the longest in the lead guitar position and was with the band when they were asked to film an episode of The Wire. TV writer David Simon attended the same high school Wenner had attended and was a huge fan of the band and asked if he could use a Nighthawks song as a background clip for bar scene in the TV show Homicide: Life on the Streets. Simon also wrote for the show The Wire and used a Nighthawks song in one episode and then brought the band in to film a barroom scene for one episode of The Wire.

“It was a barroom scene with dock guys, but it was a mystery bar. They covered the front of it completely so they could film in the daytime without light coming in. It is the best video of us playing in this working-class bar, although Kanaras had to finger sync to the Danny Morris track. It was very lucrative at first. Now I still sometimes get a check for like $1.35 or something, for when the show is shown somewhere like Poland.”

Wenner noted that tension eventually developed between him, Zukowski and Ragusa.

“Pete and Jan were not happy working with me; they were sick of me. It got to the point where if Pete said black, I would say white. He and I even got into some fisticuffs a few times. It is pretty scary to think I would attempt to do physical battle with Ragusa. I got my ass kicked a couple of times.

imageWith each personnel shift, the personality of the band changed somewhat because Wenner has always encouraged new members to bring aspects of themselves out in the music. For example, when Danny Morris joined the band a whole repertoire came with him, and Wet Wille songs came when Jimmy Hall joined them briefly as a singer.

“Jimmy was incredible, but some hardcore Nighthawks fans were disappointed because they felt like we were just backing up Jimmy Hall and were becoming Wet Willie.”

From 2004 to 2018 Paul Bell was in the lead guitarist position and Johnny Castle played bass. In 2010, they were joined by Mark Stutso on drums and vocals. In 2009 they won the Traditional Blues/R&B Duo/Group award at the Washington Area Music Awards, and in 2011 they won the Acoustic Album of the Year at the Blues Music Awards for Last Train to Bluesville. (This was a moment described as “pretty wonderful” by Wenner, and he noted that the award still sits right on the table in his living room.) However, in 2018 Castle and Bell left the band to be replaced by the current lineup, including Paul Pisciotta on bass and vocals and Dan Hovey on guitar and vocals.

“Paul Bell and Johnny Castle brought the band back up to a creative level and we started exploring the concept of four-part harmony. The desire for that was there in the original band, but we never had the personal equipment to pull it off. When Dan and Paul came in, they took that to an even higher level and the degree of teamwork increased. I think personality wise, this is the best team we ever had. Stutso turned out to be a songwriter on his own and Dan Hovey is also a prolific songwriter. It is more fun than I’ve ever had and more artistically satisfying than it has ever been, not to take away from any of the old stuff.

The intricacy of their four-part harmonies can clearly be heard in their versions of “Down in the Hole” and “When I Go Away”.

“I brought ‘When I Go Away’ to the band just to show them what can be done with vocals, thinking maybe we could steal some aspects of it, and it was suggested that we just do that song. Mark (Stutso) is a great singer and Dan’s voice really gives depth. I’ve always wanted us to have a low voice—on the do-wop end of it, and we never had that until Dan. But it is best when the three guys are harmonizing around me. I’m not great at harmonizing around others, but I can add attitude in parts.”

Given that Wenner has a degree in English, one might expect him to also be a prolific songwriter, but other than “Guard My Heart” (and helping to co-write a few lyrics), he has not offered many original songs for the band.

“I did write 120 pages of what I thought would be the Great American Novel, and I also wrote a shitpile of poetry. I was pretty good at the poetry, and a few were published in small magazines. But at that time Bob Dylan was still living in the Village and there were journalists going through his trash and I started thinking I didn’t know if I wanted to expose that much of myself to the world. It’s too intrusive. I’d rather sing ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’. Also, because of my musical limitations, I had to rely on the rest of the band to help me because I don’t know music the way they did. My excuse was always that I knew too many songs and every time I had half a good idea, I could think of three good songs that said it better.”

When asked what living harmonica players currently impress him, Wenner immediately named Jason Ricci. He noted that he was aware some criticize Ricci for his harmonica sounding like other instruments instead of a harmonica.

image“But you could say the same about Little Walter—his innovations with amplifying the harmonica made it sound like something other than it was, and that is really no different from what Jason does with his gizmos. Plus, Jason is just fantastic. If you listen to the way he played acoustic harp in a show we did together—it sends shivers up and down my spine. I also really like the young harp player in Richmond, Virginia—Andrew Alli. I wish I had more interaction with him.”

Wenner has quite an extensive Discography, with 30 Nighthawks albums, including one stand-out album Jacks and Kings with guests Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson, Pinetop Perkins, and “Steady Rolling” Bob Margolin. In addition, the Nighthawks have collaborated on albums with John Hammond, Toru Oki, Billy C. Wirtz and Gabe Stillman, and Wenner contributed to the Ellersoul Records tribute to Big Walter and has released several albums as a solo artist or with his other current band, Mark Wenner’s Blues Warriors.

“It seemed like it was time for me to do a hardcore blues thing again. For the Blues Warriors I had started out with Robert Frahm and Clarence Turner, Steve Wolf on upright bass and Stutso on drums. Robert moved to Kentucky rather suddenly, but I was able to grab Zach Sweeney. Robert was more dramatic, and very tight and great, but Zach is much more relaxed and I’m liking that. It has been frustrating since the pandemic, and we lost our regular gig at JV’s Restaurant in Falls Church. We do have two gigs coming up, though, including opening for the Nighthawks in November, and playing Blue Mondays for Westminster Church.”

Wenner is also about to release a new Nighthawks album in March. He noted that he has gone back to Severn Sound Studio for this album.

“It was cool being the top honcho, calling all the shots for the Ellersoul albums, but I was disappointed in my own work. I like what David Severn did with Damn Good Time. He’s pretty special. He is more aggressive with me and very willing to express his own opinion. but left to my own devices I wasn’t as artistically satisfied with the sound of 444 or All you Gotta Do. We recorded “Tryin’ to Get to You” with David and I can tell the difference

When asked about the most memorable highpoints of his career, Wenner did not hesitate.

“I have tapes of me doing ‘Stand by Me’ with Ben E. King, one of me doing ‘Right Place, Wrong Time’ with Dr. John, one with me doing ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ with Muddy Waters, and also doing ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ with Carl Perkins. Those are the feathers in my cap.”

After spending time with Mark Wenner, it is not surprising that he is held in such high regard among his peers. Johnny Castle has talked about his consistency, noting that consistency “would suffice as a one-word description for him. Sometimes it could be maddening, but he was always consistent in material, venues, booking and travel. You could set your watch by his consistency.” The Rev. Billy C. Wirtz noted that Wenner was one of the most influential people in bringing the blues music scene to the DC area, and Mark Stutso noted that he has learned much from Wenner about “the old-school blues feel” and added “Mark has been a fair and kind bandleader.”

Keith “Lil Ronnie” Owens, (co-owner of Ellersoul Records), has known Wenner for over 40 years.

“I have the highest regard and respect for him. Not only is he a top shelf musician, but he’s a great guy. A lot of people don’t realize what an influence and supporter he has been to musicians and the music community. One of the most unselfish people I’ve ever met. And he keeps a first-class touring band together for 50 years. Enough said!”

To find out more about Mark Wenner, check out

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6

imageTony McPhee’s Blues Band – Split Part II: Live in Bremen 1982

MIG Music

8 songs – 57 minutes

The leader of The Groundhogs, one of the most important groups in the history of British music, guitarist/vocalist Tony McPhee and his bandmates began their careers by touring Europe with Champion Jack Dupree and John Lee Hooker in the mid-‘60s before becoming founding fathers of blues-rock and more.

A band that was created in 1963 and still works today, they started out as a four-piece unit in 1963 and made their recording debut five years later with the LP, Scratching the Surface. While the Rolling Stones – with whom they toured — and most of their contemporaries plunged deep into the blues in the ‘70s, McPhee’s unit went in an entirely different direction entirely.

After a handful of successful albums, they stripped down to a three-piece and dove head-first into blues-laced rock and psychedelia and eventually laying the groundwork for grunge as Tony incorporated distortion and other tricks by tinkering with his amplification. This super-rare collection was recorded during one of the multiple break-ups the band’s experienced in its long history. The “blues band” here is in the trio format McPhee frequently turned to when The Groundhogs were on hiatus.

This set was captured by Radio Bremen at Die Schauburg concert hall in the West German city on Oct. 25, 1982 – seven years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Tony’s backed by regular Groundhogs percussionist Mick Kirton who drives the bottom beside bassist Steve Towner.

A version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Shake for Me” opens the action at breakneck speed thanks to Kirton’s rapid-fire drumbeat and remains fairly faithful to the original, albeit with powerful fretwork by McPhee that’s on the extreme rock side of blues. McPhee reprises “Soldier” next, a tune he first recorded with his other band in 1970. Psychedelic overtones kick in after a spoken intro as he warns a World War I GI to affix his bayonet and stand firm against the 8,000 invaders who’ll soon overwhelm his position.

The percussive “Light My Light” opens with distorted, minor-key guitar runs and drives steadily for more than seven minutes as the singer pleas for relief from the darkness that surrounds him before “Eccentric Man” keeps the heat on with a heaping helping of grunge as he advises folks to call him by the title, but insists that he doesn’t believe the moniker to be true.

“Garden” – which first appeared on The Groundhogs’ Thank Christ for the Bomb LP – serves up another five minutes plus of psychedelia before giving way to the rocker, “Mistreated.” It explodes out of the gate before settling down and reflects about what the singer’s done wrong after a relationship’s gone bad.

The title tune, “Split (Part 2),” is up next, taking its title from the 1971 album of the same name — a mind-altering offering recorded during what proved to be McPhee’s ill-fated, sole experimentation with hard drugs. Let’s just say that the follow-up, like the original, is a trip. The album closes with a loping 14-minute jam of “Cherry Red” – not the Big Joe Turner classic, but another tune from McPhee’s songbook.

If you’re a fan of blues-rock, this time capsule will take you to territory you’ve probably never explored before. If you’re a mainstream blues fan, however, be forewarned: You’ll need a heaping helping of LSD to make this one enjoyable.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageTony Holiday – Tony Holiday’s Porch Sessions Volume 2

Blue Heart Records – 2021

16 tracks: 60.45 minutes

Following on from the first volume of these ‘porch sessions’, Tony Holiday presents Volume 2, featuring a host of fine blues artists recorded in impromptu sessions across the States: Memphis and Jackson, TN, Clarksdale, MS, Bristol, VA, Anaheim and San Jose, CA and Fort Collins, CO. There are so many great musicians involved that it will be simplest to name-check them track by track, but first credit to Tony, JD Taylor, Big Jon Atkinson and Matthew Wilson who recorded the various sessions. The material involved is a mixture of artists’ originals and some familiar blues classics.

We start in Memphis with Victor Wainwright on piano and vocals, Terrance Grayson on bass, Andrew McNeill on drums and Tony on harp, delivering a great version of Jerry McCain’s classic “She’s Tough”. That tune is always associated with The Fabulous Thunderbirds and, appropriately, next up is Kim Wilson who plays some fine harp on Muddy Waters’ “Honey Bee” with Willie Buck on very Muddy-like vocals, Rusty Zinn on slashing slide guitar, Robert Welsh on piano, Troy Sandow on bass and Marty Dodson on drums, recorded in Bristol. The Colorado track is a quiet, thoughtful acoustic original by AJ Fullerton who sings and plays guitar on his “Change Is Inevitable”, accompanied by Jake Friel on harp.

We return to Memphis to catch the inimitable Bobby Rush, accompanied just by Vasti Jackson’s guitar as Bobby gives us his “Recipe For Love” (“whatever you serve for breakfast, you can serve the same thing right back for noon”). Next we drop in on Clarksdale to hear Watermelon Slim perform Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightning” solo on guitar and vocals before crossing to the West Coast where the late James Harman performs his “Going To Court 2” with Kid Ramos and Landon Stone (Tony’s regular guitar player) on guitar, Harman leaving the harp work to Tony. Tony was close to James and raised a considerable amount of money to help him when he was ill; sadly James Harman passed away earlier this year, so this may well be one of his final performances and it’s a good one with excellent guitar work and swooping harp offering fine support to James’ vocals.

Jon Lawton is on guitar/vocals with Andrew Alli on harp for Jon’s own “Go”, recorded in Bristol, another acoustic tune, as is Lurrie Bell’s Memphis recording of Memphis Slim’s “Everyday I Have The Blues” with Mark Hummel providing the harp accompaniment. The final Bristol recording has Big Jon Atkinson on slide, Danny Michel on rhythm guitar, Troy Sandow on bass and Ronnie Smith on drums supporting Richard Pryor (son of Snooky) performing his own comic song “Brazilian Brothel”. The sole cut from Kid Andersen’s Greaseland studio in San Jose features Johnny Burgin on guitar and vocals performing his “Bad Bad Girl” with Tony on harp, Kid on bass and Landon Stone on rhythm guitar.

Apart from one track, the rest of the material comes from Memphis and includes several standout cuts. Another West Coast performer, Rae Gordon, is captured singing her original “Find Me When The Sun Comes Down” in attractively informal style with Ben Rice on guitar, Jake Friel on harp and Dave Melyan on drums. Ben’s soulful vocals feature on his original “That’s How I Learned”, Ben’s guitar and vocal supported by Danny Banks (from John Nemeth’s band) on drums and Dennis Gruenling on the harp.

Dennis doubles up on harp with Mark Hummel for their original all-harp instrumental tour de force “Cake Walk” – all three of these tracks from the Memphis sessions are terrific. The Memphis run is broken by JD Taylor’s “Family Tree”, with JD on vocals and harp and Alex Taylor on guitar, both being members of Little Boys Blue, “The pride of Jackson, Tennessee”. A stripped-down version of Southern Avenue gives us the anthem “Peace Will Come”, Tierinii Naftaly on vocals, Ori Naftaly on guitar and TK Jackson on percussion. It is then left to Bobby Rush to close proceedings with a short unaccompanied story guaranteed to raise a smile, “Get Outta Here (Dog Named Bo)”.

There is lots to enjoy across this album which has so many fine musicians performing mainly in stripped-down style. Finally one should point to the fact that Tony himself only performs on a few tunes, allowing the harp duties to be shared widely, very much an unselfish act that deserves recognition. It appears that Tony will be content with his work in collating these field recordings gaining recognition for all the artists and studios involved, so kudos to him.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageDebbie Bond – Blues Without Borders

Blues Root Productions

10 songs – 46 minutes

An artist who possesses a deep social conscience and a lengthy track record of helping her fellow man, Alabama-based singer/songwriter Debbie Bond tackles a myriad of troubles plaguing the world with her latest album. Dealing with everything from racial equality, social justice and the environment to romance, it bares picks away at the scabs of life.

A Blues Foundation Keeping the Blues Alive award winner and the founder of the Alabama Blues Project, which provides music lessons and programs that support at-risk youngsters, Debbie was born into a musical family headed by a Baptist minister in California, but raised in Europe and West Africa, where her mother worked as a cultural anthropologist.

She’s been playing guitar since age 12 and based in the Magnolia State since 1979, when she began playing with early superstar Johnny Shines, touring with him regularly for the final 11 years of his life. Her background also includes work with harp player Jerry “Boogie” McLain, Eddie Kirkland, Sam Lay, Little Jimmy King, Willie King and others.

A soprano with plenty of feel, Debbie made her recording debut on Alabama Blues Showcase, a compilation released by the Alabama Blues Society in 1997 and followed it with the full-length album, What Goes Around Comes Around, a year later. Since then, she’s issued three other CDs, most recently, Enjoy the Ride: The Shoals Sessions, in 2016, when she also appeared on Do Right Men, a tribute to songwriters Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham that also included Jimmy Hall, Bonnie Bramlett, Steve Cropper and others.

The lineup on this one features her husband and longtime playing partner “Radiator” Rick Asherson, who contributes keys, keyboard bass, guitar and harmonica, along with percussionist Micky Barker and aided by Ray Corless (sax), Brad Guin (horns), Joelle Barker (tabla and congas) and Dave Crenshaw (drums) with Carla Don, Rachel Edwards, Meshon Omoregie and Gabrielle Semoine providing backing vocals. Fellow KBA-winning vocalist Lea Gilmore lends her voice to the title cut.

Asherson’s harp opens “High Rider Blues,” a medium-fast tune with swamp feel, in which Bond looks forward to going down to the river and washing her troubles away because there’s nowhere to hide. “Blues Without Borders” pulls out of the station slowly but quickly picks up speed as it insists that love can heal the suffering of refugees. It features Corless throughout with Gilmore doubling vocals before taking the lead with gospel flair mid-tune.

Debbie’s guitar skills come to the fore on “Let Me Be,” an R&B pleaser delivered from the understated position of someone experiencing racial oppression, and “Blue Rain,” a straight-ahead complaint about a bad love affair. The theme brightens dramatically for “Radiator,” a tune that praises Bond’s other half and everything he brings to the table.

The quiet ballad “Heart of the Matter” follows with Bond begging an unhappy lover to slow down and look a way to work out their problems – a complaint that’s accented by Guin’s horn runs throughout – before she rebukes a world that’s making war on itself in the percussive “Winds of Change.” It gives way to “Let Freedom Ring,” a spiritual that pays tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and is inspired by his writings and speeches, before “Shades of Blue” revisits problematic relationships with a country feel. The disc ends on an upbeat note as Debbie and “Radiator” Rick celebrate their life together as traveling troubadours in “Road Song.”

The feelings run deep in Blues Without Borders, but Debbie Bond is a master of her craft, delivering powerful statements in a manner in which she gets her message across without ever being overpowering – solid blues for people who care.

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 – 4 of 6 

imageVarious Artists – Lightning’s Lessons:  Learning Through Music

Little Lightning Productions – 2021

11 Tracks ; 38 minutes

Many parents have been driven nearly crazy from having to listen to Elmo, Barney and Disney CDs while taking trips with their children. New parents will not have to face that same fate thanks to Shari Puorto and Doug Woolverton, who wrote and produced Volume One of Lightning’s Lessons: Learning Through Music. Lightning is a Rabbit who has several bluesy friends, such as “Go-Go the Guinea Pig” and “The Ewe-ettes”. (An illustrated sing-along book is available through

Lightning’s Lessons contains eleven songs performed by musicians who are truly blues all-stars. Joining Puorto and Woolverton are Victor Wainwright, Curtis Salgado, Duke Robilliard, Laura Chavez, John Nemeth, Tommy Castro, Shemekia Copeland, Chris Vachon, Carey Bowman, Ray Greene, Leon Spradley, Jimmy Vivino, Vanessa Collier, and the voice of Bluesville, Big Llou Johnson. The songs teach directions, the alphabet, numbers, shapes, seasons and more. Shemekia Copeland’s song, “Freddie the Frog” stands out as one of the best, and teaches about the blues, naming Robert Johnson, the three “Kings,” Muddy Waters, and many more.

Most of the songs are up-tempo, and every song is catchy and very bluesy, (with the exception of one reggae song about the benefit of eating vegetables). Given the quality of the musicians involved, it is not surprising that the music is so great you absolutely will not mind hearing it again and again. (John Nemeth’s song to teach numbers sounds so good it illustrates why people say he could sing the phone book and we’d love it.) The album ends with a funny song about flatulence, called “P-ewe!”.

The mission of this album was to assist in teaching young children basic learning concepts, and to “inspire and ignite an early love for Roots/Blues music in a fun and memorable way”. The musicians involved deserve an “A+” for this project—mission accomplished and lots of parents who are likely extremely grateful.

Reviewer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageMichael Landau – Liquid Quartet Live

Players Club/Mascot Label Group

CD: 10 Songs, 71 Minutes

Styles: Improvisational Rock, Psychedelic Blues, Live Album, All Original Songs

Boz Scaggs. Joni Mitchell. Rod Stewart. Seal. Michael Jackson. James Taylor. Richard Marx. Pink Floyd. Phil Collins. Whitney Houston. Miles Davis. What do all of these household names have in common? They’re all brilliant artists renowned throughout the world. Now, here’s another, more difficult question: Whom do all of these household names have in common? A brilliant, renowned session musician named Michael Landau. He’s been in the biz for more than 40 years, so some of you may wonder: “Why haven’t I heard of him yet?” The thing about session virtuosos is that they lend their glory to others instead of claiming the spotlight for themselves. Yet Mike and his own ensembles have earned many accolades throughout the decades. His latest release, Liquid Quartet Live, aims to demonstrate why he deserves to shine.

The album and its ten Zen-like tracks defy categorization. Some words that come to my mind while listening: esoteric, improvisational, lengthy, strange. Some words that don’t: catchy, danceable, earworm, Billboard topper. It’s also not blues in – well, a blues sense. There are no traditional rhythms or subjects here, with the possible exception of the most relatable song: the second, “Well Let’s Just See.” It’s a warning of vengeance against a subpar partner. “I hear you’re moving on. Trying to hide it in another place. Yeah, you’re running from it all, but you’re gonna fall, baby. No covering the damn disgrace.” Later on: “Daddy gonna make you pay. Do you think you ought to pray?” It’s got killer guitar, but trying to keep track of the drums’ intricacies might prove a challenge. Track five, “Bad Friend,” is also down-to-earth. It features an SRV-like intro and shameless, shouty vocals: “Sticky little fingers got a taste for treasure!” The rest of these original selections allow you to zone out and tune in to your deepest thoughts. They’ll serve as perfect background tunes while you’re chilling at home or your favorite venue.

Landau was born and raised in L.A., growing up on The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Cream and The Band. His grandfather arranged and played woodwinds during the swing era, with the Dorsey Brothers and Benny Goodman. In his early teens, Michael became highly interested in jazz and electric jazz music. Weather Report, Pat Martino and Jaco Pastorius were some of his early obsessions. From this diverse blend of influences, his sound and path began to take shape. His current group focuses on the improvisation and spontaneity of live shows.

“I live for those live moments when the sound and emotion becomes this monstrous force bigger than the individual musicians; it becomes a unique creation and feel, exciting and calming at the same time: difficult to describe, but I’m addicted to it.”

Liquid Quartet Live is certainly unique and difficult to describe. Is it blues?


Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 41 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 – 6 of 6 

imageMalcolm Wells and the Two-Timers – Hollerin’ Out Loud

Self-Produced – 2021

11 tracks; 51 minutes

It might not be expected that Des Moines, Iowa would be a destination to hear excellent blues, but it turns out that Malcolm Wells & the Two-Timers have joined the good company of Kevin Burt and Scot Sutherland and are based out of that midwestern town. For his debut album, Hollerin’ Out Loud, Malcolm Wells is joined by three extremely skilled musicians who all have had successful solo careers. Guitarist Matt Woods has his own band, has represented Central Iowa at the International Blues Challenge, has been nominated for Blues Blast Awards, and has twice made the finals in the Blues Foundation’s award for best self-produced CD. Drummer Dwight Dario has toured Europe many times, received several awards and was inducted into the Iowa Blues Hall of Fame. And bassist Patrick Recob was a Blues Blast nominee and has played with numerous heavy hitters, including Smokin’ Joe Kubec, Steve Gerard’s National Debonaires, and James Harman, who later produced Recob’s solo release. The immense talent of this ensemble is not wasted on this album, which contains tasteful arrangements and has a clean, uncluttered sound mix.

Hollerin’ Out Loud contains eleven original tracks written and arranged by Wells, who is a master harmonica player and has a beautiful, soulful voice. It begins with some hard driving blues in “Call My Name”, followed by a partly spoken-word song with a retro guitar sound and a groove that sounds somewhat similar to Slim Harpo’s “Baby Scratch My Back”.

Wells also proves that he is an excellent songwriter, and although they are originals, they somehow seem comfortable and familiar. His lyrics are extremely clever and often sarcastic. For example, in “Divorce Decree”, he states “They should deny you parole for the things you’ve done to me. I’ll be happy as a man can be when that district court judge signs our divorce decree.” Women are likely to become extremely self-conscious listening to the sarcastic lyrics of “Muffin Top” which pokes fun at those who try to squeeze into clothing which is too tight. “It looks like someone started pouring and no one said stop. It just spilled right out over your pants top…I’m staring, and I just can’t stop—crazy about that hot pants muffin top.” And, in “Gentlemen’s Bet” he encounters someone dating his ex-girlfriend and predicts an unhappy end for the man, stating “I bet I can see your future. It’s so plain to see…just like Miss Cleo on TV…Nostradamus ain’t got nothing on me.” Despite the sarcastic lyrics, this is a beautiful slow blues song with a wonderful guitar solo. In fact, all the solos on this album are somewhat understated yet remarkable.

There is no real flaw in this album, and even though debut albums usually contain one or two cover songs, listeners will be unlikely to wish there had been one, as there are no “throwaway” tracks. Fans of The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rick Estrin, and The Nighthawks are bound to become fans of Malcolm Wells and the Two-Timers and will soon be lobbying for them to expand their tour outside of the Midwest.

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.

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