Cover photo © Bob Kieser
In This Issue
Steven Ovadia has our feature interview with Delbert McClinton. We have eight Blues reviews for you this week including a book by Billy Boy Arnold plus new music from Matchbox Bluesmaster Series, Brett Littlefair, Vaneese Thomas, Hughes Taylor, “Chicago” Carl Snyder & Friends, Chicago Blues Reunion and DBM Studios. Scroll down and check it out!
The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings.
Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible. All submissions are digital. No physical CDs needed.
For complete information, click HERE.
Featured Interview – Delbert McClinton
Delbert McClinton is known for his roots rock sound, one that covers everything from blues to country. But what he really wants to do is make people dance.
“My music, you play it in a room, and eight out of seven people are gonna dance,” he says.
Problematic fractions aside, McClinton isn’t pivoting to disco, and he’s not trying to compete with auto-tuned modern pop. Instead he’s doing what he’s always done, which is writing songs people will love. He strives to write popular songs. “I’ve never, ever made a record that I didn’t think was gonna be a big hit,” he says. “So, I’ve got the determination and the confidence. And that’s how it works. You use it at something you love.”
He doesn’t have a formula for a hit; he just knows what they require. “You’ve got to have good songs,” he explains. “Or at least in my world you do. And in the world I came from, you’re gonna have songs that aren’t trash, that aren’t silly, that aren’t stupid, that actually say something, and go from one point to another with a legitimacy that’s obvious. But you’ve got to be able to know how to receive that music, and I don’t think a lot of people have been exposed enough to that kind of music. I think it’s going to be real interesting to see what younger people today think of our interpretation of this music. I’m excited about it. I think they’re gonna like it.”
The interpretation McClinton brings up is Outdated Emotion, his album of covers (plus five originals), spotlighting beloved songs from his youth. He delivers them with his trademark charming twang, never pandering to listeners, but instead sharing his joy with them. Featuring songs by everyone from Little Richard to Amos Milburn to Hank Williams, it’s McClinton reliving his musical glory days. “They’re just songs that I loved then and I love now,” he says. “And so I wanted to share them with people.”
While McClinton relished the opportunity to spend some time with beloved songs, he also saw it as a chance to introduce his influences to younger fans. “The music on this record, there are at least two generations of people that probably never heard it,” he says. “And if it works at all on them like it did on me, and a lot of people, it’ll be a pleasant affair. And that’s what I’m hoping for. I’ve loved these songs for so long and I just want people to know what it was like, what the music was, and how it affected me, and how it still affects me.”
Like visiting an old school and noticing how small everything now looks, in returning to these songs McClinton also went back in time. “So it’s just the music from a time period that I think I was at my best,” he says. “Or at least the memory of it is. Because I was young and I was hungry and I was eager and ready and willing and I could take a punch and get right back up.”
McClinton says picking the songs was easy. “I just started calling [songs out], and naming them all,” he says. “Those songs have been with me since they were hits. And I was there for it. And that’s the history of my music, all of that stuff. Not the complete history, but it runs a pretty good line since the ’40s, when Hank Williams was doing what he did.”
Williams, in particular, looms large in McClinton’s personal and musical history. “I listened to Hank Williams all the way through his career,” McClinton recalls. “I remember when he died. My brother, just older than me, cried his eyes out. We thought he never was going to stop crying. And it affected me the same way, but I wasn’t crying about it. It was like, ‘He can’t be dead. It’s Hank Williams’ [laughs].”
The blues is also a huge part of McClinton’s current sound, and also his musical development. “I heard the blues when I was young boy, under 10 years old,” he says. “I was born and raised in Lubbock, Texas for the first 11 years of my life. And my mother’s youngest sister, most of her records, well all of them, were 78s and they were what you call race records at the time; black people’s music. Once you hear that music and on the other channel, all you’re hearing is Patti Page, you’re gonna love it. You know what I’m saying? Black music has a heart and soul to it. And white people music at the time that we’re talking about was not nearly as exciting.”
The prolific McClinton said he never considered changing any of the covers, nor did he think they could be improved. “I did those songs because I like the way they were done in the first place,” he says. “Mainly the whole thing about this music is the feeling of it. It doesn’t feel like anything that’s going on today.”
McClinton always has own songs cooking, too. “I’ve got enough [songs] to last me until I die,” he says. “Ever since I was a little boy I’ve had a song in my head. I go to sleep with a song in my head. I wake up with a song in my head. And it’s just always been that way. I didn’t pick this for a profession; it picked me.”
Touring is one part of the profession that McClinton is no longer interested in, though. “I do what I want to do, period,” he says. “No commitment. I don’t have to do anything for anybody else. I’m retired…I spent sixty years on the road. It’s enough.”
McClinton says he misses performing, but Covid has made the stage feel like a scary proposition. “At this day and time that we’re living in, it’s just not the same,” he says of live shows. “I can’t get it in my head to go get up on stage in front of a big old roomful of people, and get past looking at them and thinking, ‘What the hell are you doing here? Put a mask on or something.’ I’m not a young guy, so I’m compromised. I’ve had heart surgery. And I can’t imagine going out and getting in front of a lot of people. I wouldn’t feel comfortable. And if you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t want to do something. So, I make records and send it out that way. And I’ll leave the road to the younger people.”
Outdated Emotion’s originals, like the covers, were tracked with the father-and-son team of Kevin and Yates McKendree, in Kevin’s studio. “During Covid I had them at my beck and call,” McClinton says. “And so we’d just go in the studio, the three of us, and we’re just like, on some of those songs, there would be just piano and bass. And then they go back and put the drums on it. And whatever else it needed, but so much of it was done with just me, piano player, bass player. And everything else was added.”
McClinton’s process is writing through revision. “You write it up and down and you’re gonna change it many times,” he says. “You’ll say, ‘This line would be better if we put it under this one. So let’s put this up here. Put that one down here to make more sense.’ That kind of thing, that you juggle. But when you know you got it right is when you like it and you can’t think of anything else you’d do to change it. In fact, you think you’ve got it perfect. That’s the great feeling: when you finish the song that you’ve been working on, that you feel really good about it. It’s a very special [feeling], and I’m addicted to that high. So I like to write songs. I like to write, period.”
He’s inspired by the world around him, but the key is to capture what he sees. “I write anytime I think of or hear somebody say something that I think that can be used in a song,” he says. “I make note of it. I got notes forever. And the thing about making music, in my mind, is you’ve got to take notes and revisit. And I’ve always done that. I’ve been doing that most of the day-to-day on a new song that I’m writing with a couple of guys, friends of mine. We were just fooling around the other day and started this song, and now we got one verse written, and I’ve rewritten that verse and written another verse. So it just comes out, if you allow it to come out.”
In addition to songwriting, McClinton is closely associated with the harmonica, famous for teaching John Lennon how to play it, although McClinton says he just gave the Beatle some tips. On Outdated Emotion, McClinton plays harmonica on only two tracks, though. ” I don’t play a lot of harp anymore,” he says. “I don’t do anything with any regularity anymore like I used to. But some music had to have harmonica: Jimmy Reed’s songs, [“Sun is Shining” and “Ain’t that Lovin’ You”]. I was the biggest Jimmy Reed fan and still am. And there it was. And the other one song, [“I Ain’t Got You”], a good friend of mine, Danny Flowers, he’s a good harp player, and he was there, and I got him to play on it. “
With 27 albums under his belt, McClinton’s had a long and successful career. He notes that he missed out on the “superstar” money, but he has no regrets about that. “I’ve got a really good spot in the music business,” he says. “And I’ve got it because I made it happen and I don’t recall ever really asking advice from anybody. I’ve always got it in my head when I go out, when I start some musical adventure, I’ve got it all in my head. I don’t need to ask anybody what to do.”
McClinton, as you’ve probably gathered by now, is no fan of all modern music, saying the time of death was right at the birth of MTV. “The lyrics went away, and the wardrobe malfunctions took over,” he says of the rise of music videos. And McClinton says mainstream music hasn’t gotten much better since then. But he sees some bright spots, citing Hot Sardines and Postmodern Jukebox as contemporary bands he enjoys. “They’re real people playing real instruments, without any sound gadgets,” he says. “And to me that’s what music is: a genuine, legitimate, real-life person playing something and making it all bring joy to the listener. That’s real-life contact.”
McClinton isn’t a grouch so much as he’s a believer: a believer in making music a certain way. It’s the way McClinton works, the way his heroes worked, and, if all goes according to plan, the way future generations of listeners, spurred on by his music and his covers, will make music. Although plan might be an imprecise way to describe McClinton’s enterprise. It’s more of vocation.
“I’m pretty much what the songs I write are saying,” he says. “[They] define the world in which I live and the people and the music that propels me.”
And if the music just happens to get listeners up on their feet and dancing, then all the better.
Reviewer Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8
Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 7: Songsters & Saints – Vocal Traditions on Race Records
The Matchbox Bluesmaster series were originally released from November 1982 to June 1988 by Saydisc Records. Rare 78 rpm records were loaned to supplement the ones on hand to create what was called “Complete Recordings in Chronological Order” along with some add on tracks. These records were mastered on tape and released on vinyl. I previously looked at volumes 5 and 6 in a prior review and here we have the final set, which is a little different.
I noted preciously that Austrian collector Johnny Parth edited the sets and got the recordings grouped and released by Saydisc in the UK. Hans Klement did the remastering work from Austrophon Studios in Vienna. The tracks selected were released in seven sets of six records and are here released on CD. The master tapes have long since vanished, so Norman White took the vinyl pressings and used high end transcription techniques to make the digital recordings. In addition to the 42 releases in these seven sets, even more music is expected for release as they have many pre-Bluesmaster cuts that can be released. Paul Oliver provides ample notes and data on each set of CDs. Oliver is a jazz and blues historian who has written 10 books on blues and gospel history and passed away in 2017 after a long career as a music historian and architect. He provides copious notes in a booklet for each set.
The prior sets include entire CDs by a particular artist. Some artists get a couple of CDs to themselves. As with the prior sets, Matchbox Bluesmaster Series – set 7 offers up the second volume of Lonnie Johnson’s works as an entire CD and also one from The Famous Hokum Boys. Johnson’s works range from 1927 to 1932 while The Hokum Boys cuts are from 1930 and 1931. The other four CDs are Songsters and Saints, Volumes 1 and 2. They range in dates from 1925 to 1931. Discs 3 through 6 offer a variety of interesting and priceless recordings. All of these recordings were from white owned record labels that produce race records for black audiences and hillbilly music for white audiences; making a buck off music that would sell was the priority.
The first two disc continue the series as before. Johnson’s vocals and guitar are splendid. He certainly was captured well, and some of the 78’s were pristine. The Fabulous Hokum Boys live up to their name with entertaining and light-hearted blues. The band is Georgia Tom on vocals and piano throughout, and also includes Big Bill Broonzy on vocals and guitar on a dozen tracks, Hannah Mae on vocals, Kansas City Kitty on vocals, Frank Brasswell on vocals and guitar, and Jane Lucas on vocals.
Disc 3 is Dances and Travelling Shows and Comment, Parodies and Ballad Heroes. The former includes greats like Pink Anderson, Peg Leg Howell, Charley Patton, and The Memphis Sheiks. The latter group includes Lil McClintock, Hazekiah Jenkins, Bo Chatman, Kid Coley and many others. Disc 4 is Baptists and Sanctified Preachers (9 tracks) and Gospel Soloists and Evangelists (9 tracks). There is some fiery old school preaching a little choral singing in the first part while the second part includes preaching and gospel tunes done by Blind Willie Davis, William and Versey Smith, Eddie Head and His Family and more.
The fifth disc is Medicine Show Songsters and hen Songsters east and West. The Medicine Show cuts include great music from Papa Charlie Jackson, Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers, Jim Jackson and the Beale Street Sheiks. The Songsters are Sam Jones (Stovepipe No. 1) and David Crockett, Henry Thomas, Luke Jordan and Blind Blake, one of my personal favorite artists. The final disc features The Straining Preachers and Songsters East and West: Saints of Church and Street. A half dozen preachers and some of their flocks are included in the first section while the last set includes Blind Willie Johnson, The Memphis Sanctified Singers, Arizona Juanita Dranes, Blind Joe and Emma Taggart and more.
This final chapter in the Mathcbox Bluesmaster Series is unique in that it includes a plethora of sacred and secular music and spoken word. One marvels at the incredible gospel and blues tunes included and the fire and brimstone preaching (often with congregational responses); there is so much cool stuff represented by these recordings. The seventh set of CDs is a perfect conclusion to the series and offers the listener a variety of songs and spoken word that they will thoroughly enjoy. I highly recommend this and the entire series to those who want to learn how early blues and gospel got recorded and promoted and influences the electrified urban blues, R&B, rock and roll, soul, hip hop and rap music. All of America’s popular music came from these early blues and gospel music and hearing it gives us a great look into how that all happened.
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
Brett Littlefair – Footstompin’
12 songs, 40 minutes
The cigar box guitar has become the en vogue instrument. It can add a twang and raw feel to a guitarist’s repertoire. But, not many people solely deploy it. That’s where Australian Brett Littlefair swoops in. On his first full length Footstompin’ Littlefair’s power trio Devil’s Bend bruises and batters the boogie with an appealingly harsh cigar box patina.
Sounding like a raw manic version of ZZ Top and Canned Heat mutated together, Footstompin’ brings a decidedly Rock sensibility to the boogie. Now the informed Blues Blast reader knows the boogie is the syncopated heart of many different forms of Blues. Originating from the genius piano playing of early 20th Century musicians such as Little Brother Montgomery, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim and many others, the boogie is probably most famously made popular and propulsive by the great Blues abstractor John Lee Hooker. Littlefair, in direct lineage from ZZ Top, translates JLH’s boogie into an adrenalized cigar box Rock stomp.
The power trio line up of Dale Williams on bass and Jimmy James on drums and backing vocals are in lock step with Littlefair. With one presumably live cigar box track played with the band and one overdubbed track, both hard panned in the mix, Littlefair does not shoot for guitar god shredding. He instead builds hypnotic grooves with his band and then yowls like a wounded animal over the melee.
Album opener “Dirty Little Town” with a weird Bluetooth device message at the start, stomps hard and sets the tone. “Girl Can Groove” opens with a chromatic tag line that sounds like a spare riff from Metallica’s Kirk Hammett before it breaks into a demented Allman Brothers groove. Really every song on Footstompin’ pummels and grinds in their own way. The arpeggiated mourning of “Speedboat Jesus” stands out as does the chugging jamming of penultimate tune “Indian Pacific Line.”
“Brokenhearted” closes out the set with a stripped down duo performing a lamenting postscript. It starts with Littlefair’s cigar box front and center in the mix, no overdubbed 2nd guitars diluting the emotional performance here. Then drums join in with a low key boom click giving Littlefair plenty of room for rangy playing. After all the hyped up drive of the previous 11 tracks and the feverish speed freakiness of preceding track “Indian Pacific Line,” “Brokenhearted” is an excellent way to wind down the album and leave the listener in a reflective place.
Brett Littlefair has found something with his cigar box guitar magic. Doing the raw Rock Boogie with this unique instrument he is able to make the style his own. Throughout the long lock down of 2020-21, Littlefair built a strong international online audience by performing weekly raucous cigar box livestreams. Now that he and his Devil’s Bend are back in person it’s exciting to think about how this music translates. If you are in Australia, you should check this band out. If Footstompin’ is any indication, this crew burns it down.
Reviewer Bucky O’Hare is a slide guitarist, songwriter and singer. Based out of South Eastern Massachusetts, Bucky plays Slide Guitar Soul Jazz and Funk Blues inspired by the music of the 60’s and 70’s all around New England.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8
Vaneese Thomas – Fight the Good Fight
Blue Heart Records BHR 025
12 songs – 50 minutes
A six-time Blues Music Association nominee for soul-blues female artist of the year, Memphis powerhouse Vaneese Thomas outdoes herself on her latest disc, teaming with an all-star cast to deliver hope and positivity to folks dealing with the struggles and challenges of life in the modern world.
The ninth CD in her catalog and a welcome, long-awaited follow-up to her well-received 2019 effort, Down Yonder, which marked her return to her roots in a career that’s included work with everybody from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Eric Clapton and Luciano Pavarotti.
A gifted songwriter, producer and actor, too, Vaneese is true Memphis royalty. The youngest daughter of Rufus Thomas and sister of both Carla, the reigning queen of the Bluff City music scene, and their well-respected, keyboard-playing brother Marvell, she penned all 12 tracks in this set, which delivers music from the crossroads of blues, soul, gospel and Americana.
Vaneese’s multi-instrumentalist life-partner, Wayne Warnecke, co-produced, mixed and mastered this one at Peaceful Waters Music in the New York City suburbs at the height of the coronavirus epidemic with additional tracks laid down at The Lab in Brooklyn as well as the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis and The Snug West Studio in Henderson, Nev.
The lineup includes former Gregg Allman bandleader Scott Sherrard, Al Orlo (Ben E. King) and Tash Neal on guitars, Vaneese, Wayne and Jon Colbert on keys, Corrin Huddleston on harmonica and The Memphis Horns, Marc Franklin (trumpet) and Kirk Smothers (baritone sax). They’re augmented by Joe Mennonna (accordion), Peter Calo (banjo), Katie Jacoby (violin), Justin Schipper (pedal steel) and Lannie McMillan (tenor sax).
The beats run deep with Warnecke laying down both bass and percussion throughout along with and Saturday Night Live’s Shawn Pelton drums, Bashiri Johnson percussion and bassists Will Lee of Letterman fame, Paul Adamy and Paul Guzzone, too. And James “D-Train” Williams, Lisa Fischer, Emily Bindiger and Kati Mac provide backing vocals.
The rock-steady call-to-arms, “I Raise the Alarm,” opens the action as Thomas enlists warriors to battle the injustice and darkness that’s overwhelmed every corner of America. Her stellar voice soars, filled with righteous rage against the troubles. The message continues in “Same Blood Same Bone,” which starts quietly but quickly evolves into an unhurried shuffle, an unstated complaint about racism that points out that we’re all of one heart, one language and much more.
Next up, Vaneese describes a wayward woman who refuses to listen to constructive criticism in the percussive, slide guitar-driven “Rosalee” before sitting down at the 88s and powering “I’m Movin’ On,” a soulful pleaser that announces her imminent departure because it’s obvious her man no longer wants her around. It dovetails into “Time to Go Home,” a ballad that suggests the proper path to take when hope is all gone.
“When I’ve Had a Few” eases out of the gate to follow. It finds Vaneese attempting to find strength within as she’s “sittin’ on a barstool feelin’ those lowdown blues and wishin’ I could be in someone else’s shoes.” The music brightens considerably with the harp-driven “Bad Man,” but the message remains dark because Thomas reads the riot to a former lover because he’s been nothing but “a pain inside my heart” before “Blue” adopts a Latin/semi-acoustic feel to describe more unspoken pain and misery.
Fear not though. Positive messages abound in the rich chart of “’Til I See You Again” reflect on past love and serve up confidence that it will renew itself once more down the road – something that comes to fruition in “He’s a Winner,” which builds from a quiet open as Vanessa describes her man as a winner. The music comes full circle to close as the country gospel-infused “Fight the Good Fight” restates the need for a call to action before the quiet ballad, “Lost in the Wilderness,” continues the message that, like all of us, Thomas is still in search of a way to fit in.
Forceful without being overly preachy, Vaneese Thomas delivers a steady diet of well-intentioned food for thought with this one. Dig in and chow down. It’s a tasty serving throughout – 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 – 4 of 8
Hughes Taylor – Modern Nostalgia
The Bent Note
12 songs time – 55:55
Guitarist-Singer-Songwriter Hughes Taylor brings an energy and creativity to his mainly rock format. It veers into blues-rock territory at times, with one strictly blues song. His music brings to mind a slew of rock and roll guitar giants such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Robin Trower, Peter Green…etc.. He enlisted a very able roster of musicians to support his musical vision. His smooth but sturdy voice fits into each song like a glove. His guitar technique draws various tricks from the guitar slinger catalogue, be it wah-wah, distortion, string bending to the max and who knows what else. His mastery of his instrument is kind of amazing.
Right out of the gate the funky drum pattern of Greg Sassaman leads into a heavy funkified guitar groove on “Treat Me Right”. Hughes brings some stinging soloing to the mix. “Riffs Are Us” continue on into “Prettiest Thief” as the guitar fights it out with Tom Wilson’s tasty organ. The slower “Wicked Woman” enables Wilson to take a longer organ solo against a clear as glass toned guitar. One begins to realize by now that Hughes and his guitar are essentially one.
A bit of Robin Trower-ness pops up in “Dreamily” that also includes some piercing guitar soloing. Sean Williams adds percussion to the floating on a cloud atmosphere ala Trower. The ongoing Covid situation is broached on the Hendrix style wah-wah inflected “Quarantine Blues”. His wah-wah guitar is unleashed like a striking cobra. Showing he is no one-trick pony, he unleashes his nasty slide guitar skills on “Highwayman”.
A Hendrix vibe returns on the slower organ infused “The Refugee”, although it no less intense. The slide guitar is of a more mellow nature on “Waiting” as it is set off against electric piano and organ. Zoltan Somogyi closes out the song with his melodic whistling. “No Evil Love” begins life as a wistful acoustic number before turning to wonderfully rambling guitar that sounds like it could of been lifted from The Allman Brothers Band. Meant as a compliment.
The shuffle “She’s My Everything” features Sam Nelon’s Saxaphone as a juxtaposition to the ever-present guitaring. Heavy guitar ala Mountain leads the charge in “Trouble”, along with the usual self-assured vocals. Although traces of it pop up elsewhere, the only Bonafide blues song “Excuses” closes out the CD via solid blues guitar, a yearning vocal, piano and organ. Did somebody say organ? Tom Wilson squeezes everything out of his B-3 here. Hughes plays it out with a blistering solo.
Guitar aficionados this is your candy store. This dude can flat out play! It doesn’t hurt that the songs are well crafted and played by first rate musicians. Hughes also handled the production on this his fourth studio release. Lovers of classic rock and music lovers in general will find much to savor within.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8
Billy Boy Arnold with Kim Field – The Blues Dream Of Billy Boy Arnold
The University of Chicago Press
267 pages Hardcover edition
Born in Chicago in 1935, William Arnold developed a love of music at a young age, falling under the spell of records by Nat King Cole, Jazz Gillum, Big Maceo Merriweather, and Lil Green. But one artist towered over the others – John Lee Williamson, better known as Sonny Boy Williamson. His singing and harmonica playing so captivated the youthful Arnold that once he learned that Williamson lived in Chicago, he began a personal quest to track down the artist. Ever time he saw anyone carrying a guitar on the street, Arnold would approach them to learn if they knew Sonny Boy.
That was the start of a musical odyssey that is the foundation of this extraordinary autobiography of a musician who was an active participant in some of the seminal moments of American music.
Eventually meeting his hero, Arnold got to share a few visits with Williamson before he was brutally murdered. Arnold applied those lessons he learned to his own playing, gradually gaining an understanding that Williamson was the first to move the harmonica beyond just background accompaniment. By the time he was a teenager, Arnold had a single obsession, a dogged pursuit to make his own record.
Growing up during the golden age of Chicago blues, Arnold has a treasure trove of memories and experiences to share about many of the legendary musicians in their prime. As co-author Field relates in his foreword, Arnold has an amazing memory, often able to recall events down to the finest details. Those recollections bring to life well-known artists like Otis Rush and Jimmy Reed. But more importantly, Arnold highlights some musicians who never achieved the level of recognition enjoyed by others, people like Forrest City Joe, Blind John Davis, and Johnny Young.
One day in 1951, Arnold spotted two guitar players and another musician with a washtub buying some burgers in a corner restaurant. Introducing himself, he met Jody Williams and Ellas McDaniel, the two guitarists. That fateful meeting eventually lead to Arnold playing in McDaniel’s band, the Hipsters, in clubs where the under-aged Arnold was welcome. Soon, a session with Chess Records was arranged, and a suggestion by Arnold helped complete a song that would announced to the world the arrival of “Bo Diddley.” They cut another gem, “I’m A Man,” at the same session.
Arnold’s dream finally came true at the age of seventeen when he cut two tracks for Cool Records. It wasn’t what he had envisioned, as the label changed the backing band, a loose aggregation of players unfamiliar with Arnold’s style. He also received a shock when the record, available as 78 or 45 rpm versions, was attributed to “Billy Boy Arnold,” honoring his devotion to his mentor. The nickname stuck.
His unrelenting determination later pushed him to visit the offices of Vee-Jay Records, a noted Chicago label, where Arnold managed to leverage his participation on Bo Diddley’s record into his own recording session. When the powers-that-be weren’t happy with some of the material, Arnold went home to write a revised song, which became the oft-covered classic “I Wish You Would”. Following that hit, Arnold cut some other notable tracks for the label, including “I Ain’t Got You,” “Rockin’ Itis,” and his original tune, ‘Kissing At Midnight”.
From there, the book chronicles Arnold’s journey through the highlights and perils of the music business. While he finds steady work in Chicago’s vibrant club scene, he is denied songwriting credit on some songs, fails to receive any financial reward from Vee-Jay, and does his best to avoid the pitfalls of alcohol, drugs, and women, who find his tasteful clothing style and youthful features quite alluring.
A page-turner in the finest sense, this well-told story at times makes readers feel like they are there, experiencing events right along with Arnold. Some of the best passages focus on Little Walter Jacobs, who Arnold describes as the greatest blues harmonica player of all time. Credit Kim Field for helping Arnold create such a riveting narrative. Field’s experience comes from authoring the book Harmonicas, Harps, and Heavy Breathers, which delves into the instrument’s impact across virtually every musical genre.
For anyone with an interest in blues music, this book is a must-read. In telling the story of Billy Boy Arnold, it also provides readers with first-hand details and descriptions of a golden era of the Chicago blues tradition. Most highly recommended!
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!
Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8
“Chicago” Carl Snyder & Friends – Blue Streak
13 songs – 60 minutes
Blue Streak is the fourth release from “Chicago” Carl Snyder in the Lost World reissue series. And, like the previous releases, Blue Streak contains a well-chosen mix of originals and covers, recorded in different parts of the country over different years and with a selection of different musicians, all held together by Snyder’s top-drawer piano playing and impeccable musical taste.
The earliest recording on the CD is the funky blues “Totally West Bank” from 1988, although both Willie Nelson’s “Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away” (featuring Skinny Williams’ heartfelt alto saxophone) and Elmore James’ “Goodbye Baby” (which eschews James’ slide guitar in favor of Snyder’s driving piano) date back to 1995. The most recent recording is Muddy Waters’ “Gypsy Woman, recorded in 2020 with Christopher Dean on guitar and vocals, Snyder on piano and Dave Hollingsworth on drums.
In between, there is the swinging boogie of the opening track, Slim’s original “Born Into The Blues”, the earthy rock’n’roll of “Ain’t That Bad Luck”, Snyder’s rollicking original instrumental that gives the album its title, Count Basie’s “Goin’ To Chicago” (which is played as an upbeat Chicago style minor key shuffle rather than Basie’s much slower original) and the heavy blues rock of “Big” Frank Mirra’s “Mary’s Horns”.
While some of the covers are essentially standards, they are all played with a rare verve and imagination. BB King’s classic “The Thrill Is Gone” is distinguished with a superb slide guitar solo by Phil Pilorz that emphasizes the melancholy resignment of Billy Sharp’s vocals. Koko Taylor’s “I Got What It Takes” features an exhilarating vocal performance from Jan Avery, backed by a ferocious band performance (kudos to Dave Dionisi for his sax playing in particular). Kansas Joe McCoy’s “Why Don’t You Do Right?” is re-imagined as a raucous rhumba.
Snyder’s piano playing on every track is – as always – tasteful and emotional, but he always looks to play what is best for the song, often providing support for other soloists. The solos throughout are shared pretty evenly between the various lead players, with Phil Pilorz featuring on a number of tracks and laying down a series of memorable guitar lines. Thom Palmer’s tasteful guitar playing on “Long Legged Woman” is another highlight of the album, as is Dionisi’s three chorus sax solo on “Why Don’t You Do Right?”
Given that the tracks on Blue Streak were recorded over four different decades, there is a remarkable consistency in the production values and the playing.
With its combination of fine playing, great songs, and top-notch production, there is a lot to enjoy to on Blue Streak.
Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.
Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8
Chicago Blues Reunion DVD
Liberation Hall – 2008
14 tracks; 57.21 minutes
Here is an interesting release, a 2008 charity gig for homeless people that is finally seeing the light of day on DVD. The Chicago Blues Reunion is a loose ensemble of some surviving members of groups that were at the forefront of the blues boom of the 60’s – Paul Butterfield Band, Electric Flag, Siegel-Schwall, Steve Miller Band, plus guests from Traffic, Eric Clapton and Bob Seger. For this concert the band was Nick Gravenites and Marcy Levy on vocals and guitar, Barry Goldberg on keys, Harvey Mandel on guitar, Corky Siegel on harp, Rick Reed on bass and Gary Mallaber on drums; the guests are Jimmy Vivino on guitar and Dave Mason on guitar and vocals. This DVD is not the same as one issued in 2005, although a couple of the songs are reprised and some of the musicians involved are the same: Gary Mallaber replaces the late Sam Lay and Marcy Levy replaces Tracey Nelson.
After some brief introductions Nick Gravenites recounts how he wrote “Buried Alive In The Blues” for Janis Joplin, but she died the day before she was supposed to record the vocals! This version is superior to the one on the 2005 release, everyone’s contribution spot-on and Marcy Levy’s vocals the perfect complement to Nick’s. Next up is Nick’s “Born In Chicago”, a song that was first recorded by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band on their debut album back in 1965, then Marcy explains how “Lay Down Sally” came to pass and plays what she says was the originally intended song, rather more Bo Diddley and less country than the Clapton version. Harvey Mandel is featured on the instrumental “Freak Of Dawn”, the band expanded with Jimmy Vivino on rhythm guitar, a string trio (Jill Kaeding, Doyle Armbrust, Chihsuan Yang) and percussionist Frankie Donaldson giving an Eastern flavor to the tune. Marcy then does a fine job on “Use My Imagination” which Barry Goldberg wrote for Gladys Knight, Mandel pulling out a solo that is far less ‘freaky’ than is his stock-in-trade. The strings return for “I Want You”, sung by Corky but driven by Gary Mallaber’s powerhouse drumming before Marcy tackles “Wang Dang Doodle”, quite a daunting prospect when Koko Taylor herself was apparently in the audience!
Dave Mason joins the band for three songs: “Dust My Blues” (Jimmy Vivino playing the Elmore James slide part), “All Along The Watchtower”, a Dylan tune that he has covered for many years in exciting style, and a lightly funky take on his own Traffic classic “Feeling Alright”. Nick then returns to lead the core band on “Fantasy World”, a song that dates back to his 1980’s collaboration with former Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cippolina before Marcy hits a deep soul vein with “Cry To Me”, a ballad once recorded by Solomon Burke, getting down from the stage to get up close and personal with the audience. “Killing Floor” was a hit for Howling Wolf and then reprised by The Electric Flag and it is no surprise when the familiar riff begins and Nick sings the familiar lyrics. Perhaps less expected is the final tune, “Drinkin’ Wine (Spo-Dee-O-Dee)”, until a clip of The Electric Flag playing it is transposed into the film, giving us a sighting of Nick and Barry in younger days with Mike Bloomfield blazing away on guitar.
Unfortunately the DVD packaging is minimal and the list of songs inaccurate as an additional four songs are listed that are not on the DVD! There are no credits either, though the DVD does at least list all the musicians, if not the writing credits for the songs. Nevertheless, the DVD is great, with everyone on top form, so, despite the packaging, this is well worth seeing.
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.
Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8
DBM Studios – Blues Detroit
The Detroit Blues Society created DBS Records to nurture their musician members. Established in 2021, DBS records at DBM Studios in Detroit. This CD features 11 original cuts and features Robert McIlhenney on guitar, harp and vocals, Rick Morgan on drums and vocals, and Matt Allen on bass and vocals. The three have worked in a variety of musical projects over the years and this is their first attempt at a blues album. Mcilhenny has a long background in blues, dating back to his student days in 1969 at Ann Arbor; he was on the music committee at the inaugural festival there. He penned the track “Mad At You” back then. The rest of the songs came later. This is the first DBS release.
“Killing Time” is first up. Straight up blues, midtempo with punk rock influenced vocals and some greasy harp. Next is “Detroit Riot,” a slower blues rocker about the summer blowing up in Motown. Sirens abound as they tell the story of the city burning. “Angels of Mercy” picks the pace up as they sing about deliverance by the angels of mercy, a Rolling Stones-esque sort of blues. “Quit On You” continues the rocking blues with harp, guitar and a midtempo groove. “Shakedown” gets going a little faster and has more forward guitar work and it has a nice groove going for it. “Tumbleweed” follows, a slower cut with the first bigger guitar solo.
“Mad At You” gets put to recording after it’s initial creation at the Ann Arbor Blues Fest 50-odd years prior. Influences of Howling Wolf are evident in the approach. Harp solo, guitar licks and howling, growling vocals are featured here. “Justice” follows that with a story to tell, steady beat and a plenty of guitar licks. “Iou” takes a bit of a turn to surf guitar sounds and some slide work. “Crooked Mile” is a another slower tempo-ed piece with solid guitar and a deep groove. The album concludes with “Overload” where the trio stays a bit down tempo and gives us another cut stylistically similar to the rest. A big bass line, some decent guitar licks and a wrap up with some deep growls added for effect.
The DBS takes a different approach than most blues societies in that it’s all about promoting the member bands. It’s an interesting approach. With this new record label they have the opportunity to further that effort by producing albums for their members. We will have to wait and see how that all works out. This first effort is a solid blues rock album with all original music. The lead vocals often get delivered in a Mick Jagger sort of style, with lots of attitude and a defiant, nasal tone. It’s certainly interesting stuff!
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.
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