Cover photo © Bob Kieser
In This Issue
Mark Thompson has our feature interview with Matthew Skoller. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Debra Power, Ron Addison, Jim Dan Dee, Big Jack Johnson, The Love Light Orchestra and Travellin’ Blue Kings. Scroll down and check it out!
From The Editor’s Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
Blues Blast Music Awards nominations are going to be announced tomorrow July 8th.
Voting by readers and Blues fans begins Tuesday July 12th and continues until midnight CST on Friday August 19th.
Be sure to vote!
Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
Featured Interview – Matthew Skoller
Ever since his arrival in 1987, Matthew Skoller has been a major part of the vibrant Chicago blues scene. He has recorded five albums under his own name. His heartfelt vocals and dynamic harmonica playing have allowed him to stay busy in a competitive environment.
In 2009, he joined his brother Larry on the Chicago Blues: A Living History project, which produced two albums of masterful blues music from a variety of artists including John Primer, Lurrie Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, and Billy Branch, garnering a Grammy nomination as well as a 2009 Blues Blast Music Award in the Best Traditional Blues Recording category. He also played on the Heritage Blues Orchestra’s Still I Rise album, which also received a Grammy nomination.
For his third interview with Blues Blast, Skoller talks about how he got started playing the harmonica, some of his harmonica influences, his foray into the world of alcoholic spirits, and his plans for the future.
Born upstate in Canton, New York in 1962, Skoller’s early life involved several moves due to his father’s profession.
“Everybody in the family was born in New York City except for me, which is a point that they don’t always get right. My father was professor of Cinematography at the State University in Canton. A few years later, we moved to NYC in Greenwich Village, where he taught at NYU. My dad set up film departments across the country. Next we moved to the West coast. where he worked at UCLA for several years. The one consistent thing in all of the moves was our record collection, which was massive, and quite eclectic.
“My older brother Larry and I were listening to all kinds of sounds, but we were drawn to blues music. In 1976, we relocated to Milwaukee, where Dad created the film department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Larry was already playing guitar. By the time I was 14 years old, I was a huge Lightnin’ Hopkins fan. There was an album called First Meeting that featured Hopkins paired with Brownie McGhee. It was the first time the two musicians had met.
“Most of the album was done like a string band with Hopkins and McGhee on guitar along with Big Joe Williams plus Sonny Terry on harmonica and Jimmy Bond on upright bass. It is such an incredible recording that I had it memorized well before the move to Wisconsin. Picture a white kid sitting in Vermont listening to Big Joe sing, “She used to live on Indiana, and she moved on down to Cottage Grove. The woman had a lean on my money, and a mortgage on my soul.” I thought he was singing about the state and a small town someplace. When I finally made it to Chicago, I got lost on the South Side one day and, in the course of driving around, I saw the street signs that clued me in on what Big Joe had really been singing about.”
Larry had been playing guitar for a few years, with lessons helping the learning curve. The brothers would join friends after school to jam, with Matthew taking on the lead vocal role, improvising lyrics along the way. One day, Larry had an idea.
“Out of the blue, he told me to go buy some harmonicas. There had been some harmonicas in the house that both of us tried to blow, but never took very seriously. Following his suggestion, I went to the music store and bought four Hohner Marine Band harmonicas for about $6.50 each. You couldn’t try them out, and once you blew into them, you couldn’t return it. I knew enough to know that you could blow and draw on a harmonica. I am not a mystical person, but while I sat in the car checking out the new instruments, a feeling came over me that I would blowing the harp for the rest of my life.
“In 1971, we lived on Morton Street and 7th Ave in the west Greenwich Village. The actor Elliott Gould lived on the same block. He would hang out with us kids. He played stickball, street hockey, and the big one was basketball. My brother Larry was a very advanced, graceful basketball player. Gould took a liking to Larry, taking him to Knicks games and inviting the kids to hang out at his apartment. One year, he gave everyone on the block a Marine Band harmonica. That was my first exposure to the harmonica.
“The first harmonica riff I managed to learn was a long, mournful note from Sonny Terry that was him going from a “number 4” to a “number 5” draw, letting the harp wail. That was the most magical sound to me. I was completely bit after that. Then I discovered the other harmonica players.
“From early on, the two harp players that had a profound effect on me were Rice Miller (Sonny Boy Williamson II) and Junior Wells. Later on I got into James Cotton, Big Walter Horton, and the other masters. As I became more proficient, and my ear became better so that I was could actually hear what he was doing, I fell head over heels for Little Walter. I never tried to be a Little Walter guy in the same way that I immersed myself in the Rice Miller style. Whenever I want to do some graduate work, I go back to Little Walter to chip away at that mountain.
“One could call Miller a minimalist. His music was accessible. I could hear the riffs, then the find the notes. With Little Walter, he was so virtuosic that a lot of times the notes you think he is playing are actually silence. I also loved how playful Miller was with his hand vibrato chops, something that I found quite exciting. because it reminded me of the human voice. Several other aspects of his playing that were attractive were the percussive effects he could create on the harp, and how he could play horn lines, some jazzy stuff. And he was a great wordsmith too! It was all so magical.
“He also had a really, pronounced, very fast throat vibrato that he used in an elegant way. That technique can take over your style, to the point of being annoying. It is like putting too much salt in a dish, so you have to be careful. The instrument can be quite annoying in the wrong hands.
“I would say that 80% of the time, I play acoustic harp so that I am free to do hand vibratos. It allows me to use the harp as a vocal instrument. It is like going from a Hammond B-3 organ through an amplifier to sounding like a trumpet with a mute on the end of it playing wah-wah-wah. Playing harmonica can be like having 3–4 instruments at your disposal. Tonally, it is very versatile.
With the exception of one period, Skoller has stayed true to that course, wanting to put a harp in his mouth every time he see’s one. During the pandemic lock-down, he found himself unmotivated and sad, rarely touching a harmonica. Thankfully, the desire to play has returned.
Music has not been the sole avenue that Skoller has utilized to support himself/ He got involved in wine sales at a time when money was tight. It opened up a whole new world to explore, and he dove deep into it.
“Spirits are still part of my program. In 1990. I didn’t have a lot of gigs, and I had just started dating a woman who has been my wife for close to thirty years. She came up to me one morning, want ads from the Chicago Tribune in hand, pointing to one that said, “Must have good communication skills, and love wine.” She looked at me, saying “Go get your job, baby!” So I put on the one suit that I owned and went to interview for a job selling wine over the phone. The cool thing was they taught you sales skills as well as wine knowledge. I ended up being the Rookie of the Year. It helped that I lived in France for a year around 1984, spending most of my time trying out all of the different styles of wine.
“In 2001 , I played the Blues Passion Festival in Cognac, France, with brother Larry on guitar. He met a woman who worked for the festival, eventually moving to France to marry her and start a family. We both started digging deep into the Cognac culture. After meeting a local master distiller who took us under his wing, Larry had the idea of taking unblended cognac selections from single family vineyards across the various sub-districts of the Cognac region to market and distribute in the US. We were pioneers in bringing artisan cognac to the United States.
“I was told that getting this started was going to be very difficult because Hennessy, Remy Martin, Martel, and Courvoisier had the market cornered. Those people were so right! It was really, really difficult. I spent many years, and many partners, trying to make the project lucrative. It would take a huge amount of money to combat the big four, which we didn’t have.”
While his venture in selling spirits did not pan out the way he envisioned it would, Skoller gained a lot of useful knowledge. And he got the idea for an event that combined his interests in a way that allows him to share his passions with others.
“I developed an event called “Cognac & Blues with Matthew Skoller”. It is an amazing experience. I did one 3-4 months ago at the City Winery in NYC, with the great Junior Mack on guitar. In the past here in Chicago, I have used guitarists Billy Flynn or Lurrie Bell as my accompanist. People sit at a table with all of this stemware and a tasting place mat. There are five different cognacs and a couple cognac aperitifs poured and situated on the place mat for sampling. My accompanist and I sit in front of the table, starting things off by playing a song. Then I introduce each cognac, literally pairing the cognac to my music. Everyone has loads of fun, as they get copious amounts of cognac and music, leading them to great heights of joy! However, the pandemic destroyed whatever little business we had built, and I was tired of the uphill battle”.
In 2016, Skoller released an album entitled Blues Immigrant, with several songs addressing his thoughts on being an “outsider” as a white blues musician. The title song was nominated for the 2017 Blues Music Award in the Song Of The Year category, the second nomination he had received for that award. The first recognition came for the song, “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music,” which was the title track for a superb Lurrie Bell project that Skoller produced.
With the world slowly getting back to some form of normal, Skoller is excited about new opportunities that have come his way. He recently received some good news that certainly has raised that excitement a few more notches.
“I just got a grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Events to help finance a new CD project, so I have to get started on that with my band, Chicago Wind, which is morphing into something different than it was before the pandemic. Guitarist Tom Holland has been working with other artists and his own band. Vocalist Deitra Farr has announced her retirement.
“It will still be the same rhythm section with Felton Crews on bass and Marc Wilson on drums. Those guys are amazing, one of the best rhythm sections in the business. They are always right in the pocket, bringing decades of experience. On guitar, it will probably be Will Crosby when he is available. We will call the band Chicago Wind, as that is going to be my brand moving forward. If you go to see Chicago Wind, you’ll at least know Matthew Skoller will be in the band, singing and playing harmonica.
“I also recently started collaborating again with the great guitarist, Will Crosby, who did the arrangements for my very first recording, Bone To Pick With You. He also played guitar on that 1996 release. I first saw him in Eddy Clearwater’s band. I was struck by his creativity and technical mastery on the guitar. Will had been touring with the Staple Singers, then in 2012 he was hired by Aretha Franklin, playing in her band the last five years of her life. So he has been outside the blues community for a spell. We ran into each other, deciding to play together, which we do on Monday nights as a duo at Lizard’s Liquid Lounge in Chicago.
“Some time back, Will figured out how to support himself without having to play $100 gigs at the tourist blues clubs in the city. I wasn’t so fortunate. I spent many, many years doing just that. These days, the only two clubs that I play are Buddy Guy’s Legends and Rosa’s Lounge, and I don’t play them very often. One thing the pandemic taught me was that I could lose all of my gigs, and still survive.
“I think a lot of the club owners have effectively burned out a lot of musicians by overworking them. A standard gig might be a 70 minute set starting at 9 pm, then a half hour break, followed by 80 minute set, another 30 minute break, and then a final 60 minute set. That is brutal and really hard on your body, especially for older musicians. It just drains you. Now that I am emerging into being an elder, at least chronologically, as a soon-to-be 60 year old musician, I don’t want to waste the finite amount of gigs I have left to play. I am not interested in making the Chicago land baron club owners any wealthier than they already are.
“I understand why my colleagues work at those places. You are between a rock and a hard place in this industry as you try to earn a living, and those clubs are steady work, so I totally get it. But as I learned, I don’t need them, those gigs aren’t good for me, and I don’t see myself going back in that direction.”
For several years Skoller has been the Program Director for the Logan Center Bluesfest, which is arts center for the University of Chicago. Another outgrowth of the free time that the pandemic provided is a new feature on Skoller’s website,
“There is a section that I call “Blues And World Report With Matthew Skoller,” a series of podcasts including five interviews that are available on my site and on Spotify. I started with singer Deitra Farr, then did one with a 25 year old outstanding musician, Jontavious Willis, who I brought in to play last year’s Logan Center fest. I also interviewed drummer Kenny Smith, who was seven years old the first time he heard me play, at Century Hall in Milwaukee, where I sat in with his dad, Willie Smith, and the Legendary Blues Band.
“Then I did a two part, epic interview with Lurrie Bell, who I have known since 1981. I recommend both of them to anyone who is a Lurrie Bell fan. We are close, old friends, so Lurrie really opens up. We also play a bit on it. Additionally, I have a Jimmy Burns interview that will be published soon, and a two-part Billy Boy Arnold interview talking about his career and his newly released, outstanding memoir. I also have one with Bobby Rush, who also released his memoir. He and Billy Boy didn’t drink or do drugs, so both books give a sober recounting of the golden years of Chicago blues that we fetishize so much. I highly recommend both books to all blues lovers.
“I also have Part 1 of an interview with Dom Flemons, an award-winning acoustic artist who was a member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops. We were in the midst of talking on Zoom, and suddenly all of the electricity went out on my block, one of 2,500 Commonwealth Edison customers affected. It took some time to reschedule as Dom has had a very busy spring.
“I love all aspects of creating a podcast – the research to prepare, the interview, the editing, and the writing it compels me to do. So I am getting back to work, playing gigs to survive, and dealing with some family issues, but also trying to create the time and resources to do the podcasts on a regular basis, hoping to figure out some method of monetizing the podcasts down the road.
“There is an awakening happening right now. Jontavious Willis is part of a group of young African-American blues artists and fans. They are embracing the music of their ancestors, owning it, while being extremely articulate and militant about their knowledge of the music. They don’t need anyone to tell them what blues is. They certainly don’t need old white guys telling them what the blues is. I’m talking about Jontavious, Marquise Knox, Andrew Alli, Stephen Hull, Buffalo Nichols, and of course Christone ‘Kingfish’ Ingram.
“These young artists are formidable as artists, and as human beings. The list goes on and is growing quickly. I am so happy to witness this generational phenomenon. It would interesting to unpack this and figure out why it is happening right now. Their presence and their analysis of what has been going on in the blues industry is causing a lot of people who have not wanted to think about race and blues to acknowledge the current racial upheaval, a moment of coming to consciousness for people who have been blind to it. I think it is a very important moment. People need to have some tough conversations so that they can understand the difference between cultural appropriation and cultural exchange. I think it is a fantastic turn of events. I’m super excited to see what these young artists will bring to the world.”
Previous Blues Blast interviews with Matthew Skoller:
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 – 1 of 6
Debra Power – I’m Not From Chicago
Self-Released – 2022
10 Tracks; 44 minutes
Debra Power is a dynamic pianist from Canada with a powerful voice and excellent songwriting skills. She took home Calgary’s award for Blues Recording of the Year for her debut album, Even Redheads Get the Blues, and has been both a semi-finalist and a finalist in the International Songwriting Competition. She has also been a semi-finalist in the solo/duo category in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and was nominated for Best New Artist at the Maple Blues Awards in 2017.
Power collaborated with some excellent musicians for her latest album, “I’m Not From Chicago”. For example, the late Harpdog Brown joined her on harmonica, Mike Clark played saxophone, and Steve Pineo is featured on guitar, and throughout the album their solos are all extremely tasteful. Additionally, guest singer Keeshea Pratt joins Power for a duet. Their beautiful song, “What Colour is Love,” also delivers a powerful message about racial prejudice which is much needed in these times of increased hate speech.
The album features all originals (with one exception) and includes a variety of tempos and moods. “The Last Time I Saw Memphis” is an intriguing story of a drunken night in Memphis and a spooky close encounter with what might have been Elvis’ ghost. The title track is noted to be inspired by Gil Anthony, who is also not from Chicago but also loves the blues, and “The Woman with the Hole in Her Heart” accurately describes the depression many felt secondary to the COVID lockdown.
The album ends with two amusing songs. The first is about people who carry too much emotional baggage around with them, and the final song has an “old-timey” feel to it, as Power reminisces about how mother would use both her first and middle name to let her know she was in trouble. (“Debra Marie—get in this house. Debra Marie—you’d better watch your mouth!”)
The only relative weakness of the album is that Power sometimes emphasizes the amusing story-telling quality of her voice to the degree that melodic tone can be sacrificed. However, her singing abilities are clearly evident in two songs: “The Woman with the Hole in her Heart” and “The Colour of Love”.
Overall, “I’m Not From Chicago” is a very enjoyable album, and it seems clear that it will bring Debra Power even more notoriety.
Reviewer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6
Ron Addison – Ride On
Ride On is Ron Addison’s testament to moving his life along after great personal loss. His wife of 44 years passed away and his work here was a means to help deal with his grief and feelings. Careers in the military as a chopper pilot and Virginia as a State Trooper who began a full time career as a musician when he retired. His band the Tomcats are Herb Olshin on lead guitar, Brian Seiler is on drums, and Will Dowell on the bass. Addison handles the vocals and plays some guitar, too. Blending blues and rock, this is his second album.
The title track begins with a deep bass groove and Olshin giving us a taste of his riffs. Addison’s vocals are soulful as he sings about moving his life along. The guitar solo and lead is great. “There Must Be A Better World” follows, a song about life’s struggles but expressing hope there is a better existence elsewhere. The organ fills in nicely here and the guitar work is good, but it’s Ron’s weathered, country tinged voice that really gives this feeling. Next is “Carletta,” with a bit of a Latin flair. Olshin offers another nice solo and Addison winds his way well through this one.
“Picnic With You” is a first date story about a picnic where the “meal” was served up by the participants, resulting in an unexpected addition eight months later, but they persevered and revisited the scene of the crime to reprise the outing. Olshin stings on guitar and Addison continues to deliver his downhome styled vocals to good effect. Up next is is “The Sun Shine Down My Way,” a slow bluesy ballad with piano and sax added. It’s a pretty litle number. “Hoo Doo” follows that, with Addison getting grittier and offering up a slow rocking song with a little Latin influence to boot. The guitar work is expressive and it’s another fun romping cut.
Ron delivers a tasteful cover or the hit “Rainy Night In Georgia.” His country-tinged vocals, piano, organ and guitar help sell this one. “And I Know” offers up a steady groove and strident beat. Great accompanying vocals and harp and guitar solos make this one good. “I’ll Cry” is another smooth ballad with some restrained guitar work. “Down On The River” features more strident guitar and an up tempo beat. ”My Heart Can’t Be Broken Anymore” follows that, a slow blues with fine, big guitar and some nice organ support. The final track is“Ain’t No Grave, a resurrection story mixing Gospel and funky blues. Organ support is once again solid and the sax solo is nice as Ron sings with emotion.
Some of the backing musicians and female vocalist are uncredited, but they do a fine job in addition to the band. Addison’s sophomore effort is an excellent continuation of his work and we hope to hear more from this guy and his band!
Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer 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 – 3 of 6
Jim Dan Dee – Real Blues
11 songs – 37 minutes
Real Blues is the second full length album from Canada’s Jim Dan Dee and continues where their first, self-titled release (which was warmly reviewed in Blues Blast Magazine in February 2019) left off. Featuring 10 self-written songs and one classic cover, the band inhabits a similar place in the blues-rock spectrum to the likes of George Thorogood, Pat Travers and Rory Gallagher.
Frontman Jim “Dan Dee” Stefanuk has a powerful, muscular singing style that fits the rough-hewn music perfectly. His raucous guitar is provided excellent support by the rock-solid rhythm section of drummer Shawn “Stix” Royal and bassist Dwayne “Gameshow” Lau, while Jason “Bobby” Sewerynek’s sax adds stabbing support lines and swinging solos.
The album opens with the one cover, a pulverising reinterpretation of Guitar Slim’s “The Things That I Used To Do” before leading into the driving upbeat shuffle, “Weep For Me”. The tremolo rhythm guitar on the mournful title track that follows is great, as is the slashing slide guitar on “Two-Timing Woman”. Stefanuk’s wonderfully ragged guitar takes centre stage on the slow blues of “The Doctor” while Sewerynek’s sax adds real drive to one of the album’s highlights, “Two Shakes Of A Lamb’s Tail”. The rollocking “Bleed Me Dry” maintains the pace and features notable interplay between Stefanuk’s guitar and Sewerynek’s sax, with a definite nod towards the Delaware Destroyers.
The heavy slow blues of “Hang “Em High” packs a rocky punch, while “T For Trouble” has an early 70s feel to it, mixing riffs that are reminiscent of early Deep Purple re-interpreting “Mannish Boy” and a fine sax solo from Sewerynek.
The grinding “Lost In The Dark” features Stefanuk’s slide guitar echoing his vocal melody while album closer “Money Don’t Work On The Devil” is an irresistible boogie with an earworm of a chorus and a superb vocal performance from Stefanuk.
The album was recorded at The Vault studios, excellently produced by the band and mixed by Kevin Dietz. It may a relatively short release, clocking in at just over half an hour, but there is no fat on these songs. The performances are punchy and high energy and it’s safe to say that Jim Dan Dee must be a ferocious live act.
If your tastes lean towards full-blooded, guitar-driven blues-rock a la George Thorogood, you will find much to enjoy in Real Blues.
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 – 4 of 6
Big Jack Johnson – Stripped Down in Memphis
M.C. Records MC-0090
9 songs – 41 minutes
When Big Jack Johnson died at age 70 in 2011, the planet lost a giant figure in the world of Delta blues. But he lives again here as he joins forces with harp players Kim Wilson and George “Wild Child” Butler and delivers a bare-bones, deep-in-the-pocket set of tunes from the M.C. Records vault that see the light of day for the first time ever.
Born in Lambert, Miss., and one of 18 children, Johnson was known affectionately as The Oil Man because he supported his own 13 kids by delivering fuel for Shell Oil during the day. The son of a fiddle player, he was influenced by the electric guitar stylings of B.B. King and started working professionally in his dad’s band at age 18.
After polishing his skills with Earnest Roy Sr., C.V. Veal & the Shufflers and Johnny Dugan & the Esquires, he picked up the bass and joined forces in 1962 with drummer Sam Carr and harmonica player Frank Frost to form the Jelly Roll Kings, one of the most important trios ever to emerge from the Delta, recording a couple of albums in their 15-year career before he went solo with his debut CD, The Oil Man, on Earwig in 1987.
Possessing a booming voice and doubling on guitar and mandolin, Big Jack’s at the top of his game on this one. The songs here were culled from outtakes from two previous releases, 1998’s Lickin’ Gravy and 2000’s The Memphis Barbecue Sessions. But they’re far more than that – especially when you consider that the Memphis album captured the W.C. Handy Award – precursor to the BMAs – for country blues album of the year. A Blues Hall of Famer, it was his only win despite about a dozen nominations.
Produced by M.C. head honcho Mark Carpentieri, both of these sessions were recorded at Memphis Sound Works where they were engineered by Posey Hedges and were captured in duo settings. Wilson, the founder and front man of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, shines on five cuts, ripping and running on harp without benefit of amplification. A native Alabaman who recorded in Chicago with Willie Dixon, Jimmy Dawkins and Cash McCall in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Butler was a skilled reed player and vocalist, too, which comes through loud and clear on his four cuts.
A laid-back, fun effort in which the artists were obviously enjoying themselves, the action kicks off with The Oil Man and Kim putting their own spin on Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me to Do.” Wilson invokes first-generation masters as he plays counterpoint to Johnson’s string work to open, working the full range of the diatonic, before Jack’s rich voice takes command. Wild Child sits in for the Big Jack original, “Run Blues Run,” next with Johnson keeping tempo with a heavy foot as Butler lilts across the reeds with a much lighter attack.
The Oil Man swings on electric six-string to kick off Andy Gibson’s familiar instrumental, “The Hucklebuck,” before trading measures with Kim who delivers a fiery closing solo. Up next, Wild Child’s at the mic to deliver his own song, “Aching All Over,” an unhurried complaint about being mistreated by his lady. His hushed reed work is mirrored by Big Jack’s restraint on guitar, which makes his powerful pipes even more potent throughout.
Johnson’s prowess on mandolin comes to the fore in “Part Time Love.” Made famous by Little Johnny Taylor, it drives steadily forward with The Oil Man on vocals and Wilson doubling the notes emanating from his stinging strings, before launching into a sprightly instrumental cover of Big Jack’s “Alcohol.”
Another Butler original, “See Me Coming,” follows with Johnson giving Wild Child full rein to rip, run and talk over the guitar for the first half of the instrumental, gives Big Jack a break and then takes command again to close. Their cover of Big Jack’s “Going to Norway” swings steadily throughout before Kim joins the action for a sprightly take on organist Bill Doggett’s instrumental “The Hully Gully Twist” to close.
If you’re a fan of acoustic blues, you’ll definitely want this one. 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 – 5 of 6
The Love Light Orchestra – Leave the Light On
10 songs, 34 minutes
John Németh, Joe Restivo and Marc Franklin have performed feats of magic and awe with their exceptional “side-project” supergroup The Love Light Orchestra. These Memphis based Bluesmen have figured out how to create new music that fully lives within a hallowed tradition but is also fresh and original. Nemeth is a well known singer and harp blower with an irreverent greasy Soul Blues style. Guitarist Restivo and trumpeter/arranger Franklin are members of the Bo-Keys, the premier Memphis based Soul band. Forming a 9 piece band in 2016 for a live tribute to Memphis Big Band Blues, the 3 collaborators have not just kept the music flowing they have transcended..
The Love Light Orchestra’s debut studio project Leave the Light On is a short 34 minute blast of pure Vintage (with a big “V” meaning 40’s and 50’s vintage) Big Band Blues. Leave the Light On is a platform for Németh, Restivo and Franklin to flex their creative muscles within the freeing confines of the form. For an album that sounds so classic and familiar all but 1 track is original, the sole cover is a reworking of the B.B. King classic “3 O’Clock Blues,” a fitting tribute to the King of Memphis Big Band Blues.
What distinguishes this music is the authenticity, care and originality the 3 leaders bring. Franklin’s horn arrangements smack of classic troupes while adding rich layers. A great example is the tough kitsch of Restivo’s original “I Must Confess.” Surging horn figures punctuate each stanza while playing counterpoint to Restivo’s raked 50’s Go-Go riffing. It is Restivo’s reverb-dripping tube-warmed guitar tone that anchors this recording in vintage waters. His tasty and deeply personal playing is given depth and heft by his tone. It sounds like he ripped a tear into his amp speaker, a la early Chess singles, in tunes like “Tricklin’ Down.”
The revelation of Leave The Light On, which isn’t much of revelation for those of us hip, is John Németh the soul shouting leader of a new breed of young lion Bluesmen and Blueswomen. Németh contributes 4 tunes all of which are bullet proof. The most compelling, and the one that highlights the innovation of this band, is the medium tempo cheater’s lament “Come On Moon.” The narrator gets caught with another man’s wife while they are “deep in love.” He runs out the back door and is begging the moon to come out and light his way. The simple yet poetic lyricism is majestic, the propulsive and menacing horn arrangements leer and Restivo’s extended manic guitar solo over the mad dash out the back door is frenetic. It is Németh’s multifaceted delivery and impassioned, terrified and mischievous delivery that transcends.
The Love Light Orchestra has a number of players contributing, anchored by drummer Earl Lowe’s fantastic rhythms and the dearly departed upright bassist and educator Tim Goodwin. The rest of the band includes: Gerald Stephens and Al Gamble on piano, Matthew Wilson on electric bass, Scott Thompson and Paul McKinney on trumpet, Jason Yasinsky on trombone, Art Edmaiston on tenor sax and Kirk Smothers on bari and also.
This is the premier Blues Big Band working today. They inhabit the music and express themselves within it. Leave the Light On is a modern masterpiece in traditional Blues that transports you to a bizarro future sock hop in space. Enjoy the ride.
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 – 6 of 6
Travellin’ Blue Kings – Bending The Rules
Naked – 2022
11 tracks; 42 minutes
The original incarnation of the band was a mix of Belgian and Dutch musicians who released their debut album Wired Up in 2019. However, restrictions during the pandemic made it impossible for the members of the band to meet up and play, so the band regrouped with an all Belgian line-up who have now produced a second album of entirely original material. The experienced line-up is now JB Biesmans on vocals, sax and harp, Jimmy Hontelé on guitar and backing vocals, Patrick Cuyvers on Hammond, piano and backing vocals, Winne Penninckx on bass and Marc Gijbels on drums; strings are added to one track by Dries de Haas. Writing credits are shared between JB, Jimmy and Patrick, JB presumably the lyricist as he is involved in every tune except an instrumental.
JB has the sort of gruff vocal style that will be familiar from many blues-rock bands. However, the TBKs have a more varied musical approach and the album has plenty of strong moments. Opener “Too Many People” was released as a single, not surprising as the band rocks out over a core riff that recalls Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips”, everyone on top form with sax, guitar and organ all prominently featured. JB’s sax leads into “Do It Baby” before the nagging guitar riff takes over and the Hammond solos expansively and JB comes back in for a short solo. “Never Never Land” is the track with strings, a ballad with a torrid guitar solo as JB emotes about “distress, despair and desolation”. “What Needed Doin’ Done” may have a grammatically dubious title but is a proper blues, JB frustrated by his relationship. The other track released ahead of the album was “Gotta Get Away”, a chugging blues-rocker with a rough and tough vocal, brooding backing vocals and a spiralling guitar solo.
“Hold Your Horses” has an old-school R&B feel as it races along, propelled by sax and swirling organ, a great song that definitely gets the toes tapping. “A Stiffer Drink” has a funky New Orleans edge, keys again prominent before the title track “Bending The Rules”, an instrumental which has a cool, jazzy vibe. The slow blues “If Only…” and “Shut Eye” both contain good guitar features before the album closes with a bright and soulful encouragement to “Live Your Life”.
Whilst it does not break any new ground, this is a solid release from The Travellin’ Blue Kings, no weak tracks and very listenable.
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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