Cover photo © Laura Carbone
In This Issue
Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Dawn Tyler Watson. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from BBC – The British Bluescasting Corporation, Bubba and the Big Bad Blues, Selina And The Howling Dogs and Scott Ramminger. Scroll down and check it out!
From The Editor’s Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
The submissions for the 15th annual Blues Blast Music Awards ended on May 31st. We had a huge response with tons of great music submitted.
The nominators are in the process of listening to the last few submissions before they submit their nominations in mid June.
We will announce the nominees in late June and voting by Blues fans begins in July!
Let the Blues fun begin! Be sure to vote!
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Featured Interview – Dawn Tyler Watson
Whenever fans watch Dawn Tyler Watson, they are consistently impressed with the seemingly effortless power of her voice, her great control, beautiful tone, and wonderful stage presence. This winner of the 2017 International Blues Challenge also earned multiple Maple Blues Awards in Toronto, won a Blues Blast Music Award for Female Vocalist of the Year, was nominated for a Blues Music Award for Vocal Instrumentalist of the Year and her most recent album, Mad Love, won the Juno Award (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy) for Blues Album of the Year. But Montreal’s ‘Queen of the Blues’ actually began her career as a jazz singer. That fact appears to lend credence to BB King’s well-known observation about jazz musicians. He stated that when jazz musicians choose to play the blues, they perform better than the blues musicians because they know the chord progressions better than other musicians. Blues Blast Magazine had a chance to catch up with Dawn at this year’s International Blues Challenge, (where she served as a judge), and asked her about her thoughts regarding his observation.
“I think jazz musicians definitely have an extended harmonic vocabulary. They tend to use more chord extensions, but they also really listen to each other. They are very aware of what everyone else on stage is doing. They’re listening for inspiration, especially while improvising. It’s a different approach to the Blues but that doesn’t necessarily make it a better one. For me, I try to have ‘big ears’ on stage, picking up what others are putting down as they say, and using it to motivate what I’m doing. It keeps things fresh.”
Dawn described how she was adopted, raised in a nearly all-white neighborhood, and had some surprising early musical influences growing up.
“My folks were playing all kinds of stuff, from Dean Martin to Barry White in the house. When I was thirteen, my brother taught me to play a few things on his acoustic guitar. He was into rock at the time, but I could only manage a couple of country chords. You can play literally hundreds of songs with G, C and D. At the time I learned some John Denver, Anne Murray, and Kenny Rogers tunes. Later I would write songs where I could hear that country influence. Actually, I still sound pretty country when I play guitar.”
Dawn was also singing in church from a young age but noted that it was not like the experience of many blues singers who grew up singing in church.
“It was not like the music you might hear in a Baptist Church—it was the Catholic folk mass! I would also listen a lot to the top-40 radio station, mimicking all the vocal styles I heard. When my folks bought me my first portable record player, I would play a record over and over, singing along, and driving my parents crazy! I was trying to sound just like they did on the records. My musical tastes were whatever was playing, and I knew all the hits. But I was beginning to discover vocalists like Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, and Aretha Franklin.”
Dawn’s path into music was not a linear one. She described experiencing a very troubled period in her teens during which she ran away, and survived experiences that could have easily led to her death.
“At the age of thirteen, much to my parent’s dismay, I started running away from home and getting into trouble. I’d get caught, they’d bring me back home, and I’d run away again. I had started drinking and drugging, and from thirteen until about twenty-one that’s all I lived for. One day, just after my twenty-first birthday, I remember being surprised that I wasn’t dead yet. It’s sad to think of it now, but that was my reality. On that day, I decided to do something about it. By this time, I was drinking and using some pretty hard-core drugs on a daily basis, and I had no direction, no job, and no fixed address. I made the decision that I would try to get my life together and move back to my hometown. With the help of my folks, I got an apartment and a job in a restaurant. But it actually took another five years of trying to control the party before something clicked and, in a moment of total desperate surrender, I asked for help.”
During that time, Dawn got the chance to audition for the Concordia University Music Program in Montreal.
“This was all very serendipitous actually. A dear friend had moved there first and had finagled me the audition. Though both my brother and I had formal musical training from grades 5-8, I had forgotten everything, but the audition and the screening went well, and I got accepted in the jazz program as a mature student. Much to my surprise, I graduated in ‘94 with BFA in Jazz Studies and a minor in Theatre. I was finally on the right track. Making music full-time and the incredible support I felt from my teachers had helped me to put the party behind me once and for all. I had found an agent who was getting me some little acting jobs, some print ads, small film roles, and commercials. I had also joined my first real band by then. We were called ‘Two-Thirds Scotch’ and played everything from Aretha to ZZ Top, from Stevie Ray to Stevie Wonder.”
At one point, Dawn nearly got diverted back into acting. She was approached to play the lead role in a film, co-starring with Roy Dupuis. (Dupuis was described by her as Quebec’s version of Brad Pitt, although Americans probably know him best as the sexy mentor Michael, from the TV series La Femme Nikita.)
“Jack Paradise- Les Nuits des Montreal is the name of the film, and it is mostly in French. It loosely based on the true story of the director’s father, a white pianist during the early jazz scene in Montreal who fell in love with a black singer, but given the pressure of the times, ended up marrying a white woman instead. It was released in Quebec &
While she did not continue with an acting career, Dawn’s acting abilities are evident in her dynamic stage performances, and she appears to have instant chemistry with other musicians on stage, and easily connects with the audience. Her first album, Ten Dollar Dress, was very eclectic in song choice, yet was nominated for blues album of the year at the Maple Blues Awards (which is similar to the Blues Music Awards in Memphis).
“Getting nominated was a big confirmation for me. I had this imposter syndrome as a blues singer. I was so insecure and felt like I was faking the Blues. Then I did a song on a TV show that was watched by a million people, and I started getting stopped on the street because of that. My career started going well in 2003 or 2004.”
Dawn worked with celebrated Canadian guitarist Paul DesLauriers for a while as a duo. Although they both kept their respective bands on the side, they toured together for 14 years and recorded 2 albums. After the album Southland came out in 2013, they both started craving something new, so Dawn got together with her current formation, the Ben Racine Band, and has been performing with them ever since. She described the series of stressful events that occurred right before they competed at the 2017 IBCs.
“I had gotten married in 2013, and in October 2015 my marriage fell apart. Then three months prior to our competition at the IBCs I went to the ER with heart palpitations and found out I needed emergency triple bypass surgery. Since I was adopted, I didn’t know anything about my family medical history, so this was a shock. We couldn’t do a fundraiser because I was recovering from the surgery, but the blues community in Canada really came together for me, (particularly Angel Forrest and Paul DesLauriers), and did a benefit show to raise money to help send us to the IBCs. Otherwise, we couldn’t have gone. The love and support I received was overwhelming. The recovery from surgery was supposed to be three to six months, but we ended up competing three months to the day after my surgery. We kicked ass—did our best and were shocked to hear our name as having won first place. I still get goose bumps thinking about that.”
Dawn’s phenomenal performance at the challenge included a bit of a jazz influence, despite being warned by people that she would not have a chance at winning unless she kept to a solely blues format.
“I had competed in 2012 with Paul, and I think that we may have lost points on blues content. When I went down in 2017, I was cautioned not to scat, to keep it blues-centric, but of course I did scat a little, and we won! It was huge for me. Even though it’s five years ago now, I am still feeling the ripple effects of having won. People still walk up to me and say they remember that moment at the Orpheum, and it’s great to feel all that love and support. After seeing familiar faces and passionate fans at festivals, and on the blues cruise, I totally get what people say about what’s known as the ‘blues family’. It’s fabulous to see familiar faces–musicians and fans alike, getting together. The energy is so tangible. It’s nurturing and electrifying, and it urges me to continue doing what I’m doing.”
Like all musicians, Dawn lost many gigs during the pandemic. And, like many, she found it difficult to use the time to be productive and creative.
“I think I was in shock for the first year. It also felt a bit like a snow day. I was at the airport, about to board the flight to perform at the Juno Awards since the album was nominated, but it got canceled. I didn’t get to walk down the red carpet, and my whole world screeched to a halt. I did eventually do a couple of online concerts and started teaching more, but basically, I had stopped and regrouped and slowly came back. I only recently started writing again. We are working on a new album, and I know great things will come from performing at the Bender. I’m especially looking forward to the women’s show at the Bender. One of the beautiful things about the pandemic was that Shakura S’Aida sent out an email to some female performers. It was approximately ten of us at first, and we started meeting virtually one time a week, supporting each other. It has grown to over 45 women and three years later we are still doing it. We call it the ‘Sistah Girls’. The requirement to join is that you are a black woman who is a front artist, and who is able to leave her ego at the door and connect to the spirit. I feel really blessed to be part of this group. I’ve gotten to know these women intimately. You know, I could have been dead so many times over the years, putting those substances in my body. I had no idea what some of it was. That is why I need to remember to pray, meditate and be grateful and connect to other spiritual-minded people. It’s so important for me to stay connected, and I feel like I have been enlightened and educated by these women.”
Dawn was asked if there were any singers that she still hoped for the opportunity to join on stage. Initially, she could only think of how grateful she was for the opportunities she has already experienced.
“I’ve gotten to sing with some amazing artists: Koko Taylor, Cyndi Lauper, Sugaray Rayford, Kenny Neal, Curtis Salgado. I’m sure there are others, but I would love to have the chance to get on a stage with Mavis Staples, Dianne Reeves, and Dee Dee Bridgewater.”
Catch Dawn Tyler Watson at any of her shows and you will quickly see why Elmore Magazine calls her “dynamic and utterly captivating…her voice is a marvel!” You can find out more about Dawn’s upcoming album and her tour dates at www.dawntylerwatson.com.
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 – 1 of 4
BBC – The British Bluescasting Corporation – High Horse
Blues Corp Records
12 songs time – 48:22
On this their first release, this seasoned crew of studio and touring musicians turn in an impressive display of musicality. That being said, their name is misleading as there is more in the way of rock, country, blues-rock and R&B than blues. Nine out of the twelve songs are penned by band members Bob Cranham or Ben Keen. The musicianship is solid throughout. What results is a highly entertaining and impressive first outing.
“Today Was Made For You And Me” is a pleasant feel good country-ish song featuring country style guitar. The vocals overall are adequate. The title song “High Horse” is a rocker that benefits from dueling guitar solos. The guys conjure up a Rolling Stones rhythm guitar vibe on “Every Time I Roll The Dice”. They romp out with the country guitar fueled instrumental the appropriately names “Country Cousins”. A slow and brooding blues is delivered in “Darkness In My Soul” with guest James Beckett’s organ contributing to the melancholy vibe. Guitarists Bob Cranham and Ben Keen weave their guitars together, traversing more traditional blues and blues-rock while utilizing exquisite tone. Bukka White’s “Fixin’ To Die” is given a delightfully heavy treatment with slide guitars slithering around energetically to great effect.
Barry Cook’s snappy snare drum rhythm along with country guitar move the “Last Train Home” down the tracks. Clever how they simulate the train slowing down as it reaches the station. “Indecision” is a nifty little rocker. A lazy day feeling permeates “Not A Day For Playing The Blues”. Not a blues song, but rather about the blues or not playing the blues. Freddie King’s “Tore Down” appears in a pop-rock version that evokes the style of early British Invasion bands complete with unison vocals. It includes brief bass and drum solos along with the usual guitar goodness and organ and piano.
All in all an enjoyable musical excursion well played by four seasoned pros plus one. The drums of Barry Cook and the bass playing of Dave Williamson lay down a sturdy foundation for the two guitar maestros. They incorporate rock, pop, R&B, blues and blues-rock to attain a pleasing level of music.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4
Bubba and the Big Bad Blues – Drifting
Fullerton Gold Records
CD: 12 Songs, 47 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Guitar Monster Blues, Ensemble Blues
Dear Constant Readers: In your opinion, what does it take to succeed in the blues scene today? I don’t just mean in terms of selling albums, but of having “it”- whatever “it” is. Some think the secret lies in remaining true to classic styles. Others go for innovation, whether of the electronic, psychedelic, rock, funk, or country variety. Still others, like Southern California’s Bubba and the Big Bad Blues, blend these two approaches in nearly perfect measure. One can definitely tell that these guitar monsters have a firm base in the blues, while appealing to their more shredder-based fans. On top of that, they add organ, piano, and a horn section for some big-band sound. They ARE “it.”
This is a tricky feat to pull off in several respects. First off, how do you control the overall volume and intensity? Which instruments are showcased at which times? Do you go all out and blow people away, or do you pull back a bit and allow fans to appreciate the subtle nuances of each number? Against all odds, Bubba and company do both of these last two things at the same time – on EVERY song. I kid you not. The twelve tracks featured here will allow you to party all night and have enough energy in the morning to pinpoint what gave you such stamina.
Cases in point? The title track of their newest release and the tune that follows: “Do What’s Right.” The first is a slow burner reminiscent of SRV and Walter Trout, the latter a hard rocker with a hard-driving message. Christopher Clerc brings out his best pipes for Drifting, and as for the Big Bad Blues? They’re oh-so-good. “Lord, I’m drifting way out to sea. I feel I’m being pulled down in deep misery,” laments “Bubba,” voice smooth as glass and the background instrumentation like velvet. Grab a partner and dance or you might as well be dead. “Do What’s Right” reminds us to “take out the trash and put it where it goes” before it stinks up our houses and lives. Even in dark times, if we hold the line and do our duty, we can make a difference.
Joining Bubba (guitar and vocals) are Nick D’Virgilio, Tony Braunagel, Jason Lozano, Shawn Nourse, Doug Swanson, Mike Barry, Johnny Bazz, Jacob Dupre, Mike Finnigan, Rick Solem, Richard Rosenberg, Joe Sublett, Les Lovitt, and Sophia D’Virgilio.
Another tantalizing tune is “She’s Your Problem Now.” It’s too short for dancing, but man, it’s just right for drinking. Whether your favorite beverage is alcoholic or not, you’ll feel a buzz once you get into the groove. Everyone threads the needle just right when it comes to balancing blues and rock. They don’t overpower each other, but mesh like colors on a tie-dyed T-shirt. Yow!
Bubba and the Big Bad Blues don’t huff and puff on Drifting. However, they’ll blow you away!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 43 year old female Blues fan. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4
Selina And The Howling Dogs – Blues Revisited
Self-Release – 2022
13 tracks; 50 minutes
This band is based in Reading, UK, a quartet with Selina Arch on vocals, Alan Burgin on guitar/vocals, Mark Peace on bass/rap/vocals and Tobias Anderson on drums/vocals: additional backing vocals on one track come from Barbara Fadden who co-wrote two songs with the band; Amy Fitz-Desorgher adds sax to one cut. The band has been around since 2002 and has written songs before, but never released anything until the Covid Lockdown encouraged them to get started. The result is this album with thirteen original songs written by the band with Philip Ridley adapting some of the lyrics on “I Still Want More” from his play Radiant Vermin. In their PR sheet the band claims to fuse blues, rock, funk and rap and all those elements are certainly present, though the amount of actual blues is quite limited. Influences for the album are listed as ‘Gary Clark Jr, Vintage Trouble, Kyla Brox, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Healey, Rolling Stones, Robben Ford, Led Zeppelin and Muddy Waters’ – quite a long list to live up to!
The album opens with “Slow Train Blues” which chugs along over a solid guitar riff, the band harmonizing well on the chorus and Alan delivering some meaty blues-rock in his solo. A fast-paced “Never Get Over You” finds Selina regretting a lost love before the strange “Stow” which starts in light, almost jazzy style before Selina comes in and Mark does his first rap vocal of the album, delivered in a distinctly English accent; despite several listens this reviewer failed to understand what the song is about! We return to more conventional influences on “The Way Things Are”, a catchy rocker with some good slide work while “Get Up” has something of a jazz-funk feel as Selina encourages someone to “Get up, stand tall and secure your place in our hearts”. “It Hurts” slows the pace and gives us the chance to appreciate Selina’s clear vocals as she describes the pain of a break-up, as well as hearing guitarist Alan play some nicely poised, subtle lines.
“On The Line” is another mid-paced rocker with ringing chords giving the song an Americana sound on to which is then grafted a short rap section, an unusual combination, to say the least. A strong bass line opens the funky “I Keep On” where lyrically Selina is hoping for the best in a new relationship. Perhaps it is unwise, therefore, to contemplate “Fooling Around”, a lively, almost pop song with some nice guitar moments in the middle section. “Hip Hop Baby” finds Selina using elements of rap techniques in her vocal and Mark giving us an actual rap in the central section before a rock solo from Alan. The sax adds a little extra depth to the sound on “Get Yourself Back”, a fairly conventional piece of blues-rock, as is “Please Me Now”, the core riff of which is where the band may be able to legitimize its reference to Muddy Waters in the PR. The anthemic “I Still Want More” carries on the rock sound with echoes of Blondie and makes a lively end to the album.
Difficult to categorize this album which does indeed display all those influences that the band claimed. The use of rap left this reviewer cold but it probably signals a credible attempt to appeal to a younger audience. The jury is still out on whether there is enough actual blues content to satisfy the appetites of Blues Blast readers.
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 – 4 of 4
Scott Ramminger – Live at 3rd and Lindsley Nashville
Arbor Lane Music – 2022
11 tracks; 53:54
Scott Ramminger almost feels like a character out of central casting, with his bluesy voice, his jazzy songs, and his stylish saxophone, all creating a hip, impossibly retro vibe. On Live at 3rd and Lindsley Nashville, Ramminger shows off his talents while displaying restraint. His sax work is Zen-like in its precision, with Ramminger only playing the right notes and omitting everything else.
The album is a compilation of two shows from the titular Nashville club, 3rd and Lindsley, plus a bonus studio track. Ramminger has a low-key, throwback energy. His voice, which has a bemused quality, is reminiscent of Elvin Bishop. His band is tight and fluent in many blues grooves, while his guitarists (James Pennebaker on one show and Joe McMahan on the other) do a nice job playing off of the music, and Ramminger’s saxophone.
Saxophone can be a controversial instrument. For some, it creates fun images of ’50s rock and Bruce Springsteen’s Clarence Clemons. For others, the saxophone can conjure Kenny G and squawky, shrill jazz. Ramminger is the former, with a beautiful, rich tone as sturdy as oak.
“I Really Love Your Smile” opens with Ramminger’s warm sax before the song kicks into a bouncing groove. Ramminger sings and hands the tune over to McMahan who solos and provides rough tremolo, like surf guitar played during a storm. Ramminger reclaims the song for his own solo, which honks in a fun way.
“This Town’s Seen the Last of Me” is ’50s rock and roll that jumps, but the star is Ramminger’s sax, which barely needs the band playing behind him. Sure there’s some guitar soloing and the rhythm section moves things along, but it’s all secondary to Ramminger. This isn’t a wild, bebop energy, but rather the controlled fury of rock and roll. He’s not exploring the song; he’s rocketing through it.
The one studio track, “Come Valentine’s Day,” is also very cool. It’s jazz, but with a rough edge, much in the spirit of Bob Dylan’s Fallen Angels album. The tune, a Ramminger original, sounds like a standard, but between his voice and his power sax, it also feels like his own creation.
Ramminger isn’t treading new ground with his music, but he’s taking a road less traveled. You don’t hear much lead sax in contemporary rock and blues, but Ramminger brings an energy to his playing that makes it easy to listen to his album. Live at 3rd and Lindsley Nashville is relaxing and engaging, but never dull.
Reviewer Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.
© 2022 Blues Blast Magazine 116 Espenscheid Court, Creve Coeur, IL 61610 (309) 267-4425