Issue 16-34 August 25, 2022


Cover photo © 2022 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Matthew Stubbs. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including a book about Muscle Shoals music plus new music from Emanuel Casablanca, John Primer, Shemekia Copeland, StrumBroads and The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer. Scroll down and check it out!

 From The Editor’s Desk 


Hey Blues Fans,

The votes are in and we are tallying up the totals. We will announce the winners by mid September or sooner. Stay tuned!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser



 Featured Interview – Matthew Stubbs 

imageFans of traditional blues have received a big boost in the past few years with the emergence of GA-20, the Boston-based trio who hit high notes last year with their stellar album that celebrated of Hound Dog Taylor and the 50th anniversary of Alligator Records.

Created by Matthew Stubbs, the longtime guitarist in Charlie Musselwhite’s touring band, GA-20 dug deep into Taylor’s catalog on that one, walking a tightrope between the modern era and the golden age of Chicago blues, delivering a sound steeped in the past but imbued with 21st century appeal.

Far more than a cover band, they quickly built an international following and have followed it up with an all-original effort that maintains a contemporary-but-retro balance that seems effortless but actually involves plenty of planning – something that Stubbs discussed at length with Blues Blast recently as he and his trio were about to embark on a tour that would crisscross America before a month in Europe before the end of the year.

Now in his early 40s, Stubbs grew up in Hampstead, N.H., a picture postcard town a few miles north of the Massachusetts border, where his father, a guitar player, regularly rehearsed his band, Coupe de Ville, in his home, and he and his group remain regional favorites today.

“He was into the blues, but also early rock-‘n’-roll, too – he was a big Bo Diddley-Chuck Berry fan,” Matt says. “When I was old enough, he started taking me out when he played and to shows, too – Joe Cocker was the first one, and Aerosmith, too.”

His exposure to the blues came through exposure to several of the galaxy of stars who’ve populated New England since the ‘60s – Roomful of Blues, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl and former Muddy Waters bandmate Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, all of whom captured Stubbs’ interest from his seat in the audience as a teen.

“I got my first guitar when I was around 13. I got it…I liked it…but it really took a year to get me addicted,” he says, noting that one of the first performers whose music truly caught his attention was Lenny Kravitz – something that prompted his father to turn him on to Jimi Hendrix and more.

Soon, young Matt was plunging down the same rabbit hole so many other musicians have followed while educating themselves about the blues. Jimi led him to Buddy Guy and B.B. King. And by the time he was 15, he was taking lessons from a couple of teachers through whom he received introductions to Freddie and Albert King, Guitar Slim, Earl Hooker, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and Brewer Phillips – the enigmatic second guitarist in Hound Dog’s House Rockers, all of whom provided through their music the building blocks that helped build his career today.

“As soon as I got into them,” he says, “I had blinders on. From 16 or 17 to my late 20s, I was just obsessed with blues, early R&B and rock-‘n’-roll. I wasn’t into ‘current’ music, just the opposite.  I wasn’t in to pop and psychedelic rock until much later.”

Already going to jams with his father and playing in front of audiences at 15, Matt joined Coupe de Ville a year later. By the time he graduated high school, his path in life was pretty much set. He enrolled in the prestigious Berklee College of Music and moved to Boston that fall, but dropped out after his freshman year.

“It was ‘music 24 hours a day,’ and I loved it,” he says of the school that’s produced Vanessa Collier, Al Di Meola, Kevin Eubanks, Anthony Geraci, Bruce Hornsby, Wyclef Jean, Quincy Jones, Branford Marsalis, Susan Tedeschi, Nestor Torres and dozens of other world-class talents. “But for me, there was not a lot of actual playing guitar.

“It might have changed, but back then, you only got one 30-minute, one-on-one lesson a week with your teacher and a couple of ensemble and then it was all lots of other stuff. That was cool. But, for me, as an 18-year-old kid, I wanted my guitar in my hands all day, and I was still taking lessons on the side from non-Berklee teachers ‘cause I wanted one-on-one time with people that I dug.

“That was the catalyst that made me leave.”

Stubbs spent the next year studying with four different private instructors each week, devoting an hour or two to each of them, and gigging out up to four times a week, too, noting: “It was much cheaper — and much more focused on what I wanted to learn.”

It only takes listening to a few measures of his fretwork to know that the method of instruction he pursued has served him well. His no-frills, no-note-wasted attack delivers fat tone with plenty of sting.   An attack that emulates the ‘60s, he says, it rings true with mainstream fans while presenting something “new” to listeners who’ve been exposed to rock-heavy riffs throughout their lives that might have them falsely believing that they have no love for blues.

Most of that crowd grew up listening to guitarists inspired by Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Peter Green and others who blended blues and rock during the British invasion of the ‘60s.

“There’s nothing wrong with the blues-rockers,” Stubbs insists, “but when I hear the word ‘blues,’ that’s not where my head goes. Three records in, that’s been GA-20’s mission…to make records that people want to listen to.”

Throughout the 2000s, Matt became a fixture in the New England music scene, earning multiple honors in the Boston Music Awards. Fronting the short-lived Matthew Stubbs Band, and a big-band ensemble with horns that featured the dynamic Kit Holliday on vocals, he made his recording debut with Stop Licking That in 2005. He subsequently released two instrumental CDs — Soul Bender on VizzTone in 2007 and Medford & Main on Nick Moss’ Blue Bella imprint in 2009 – both of which were delivered in trio format and came with a strong Memphis influence.

In the midst of it all, he also went out on a couple of East Coast runs with Janiva Magness thanks to an introduction that came through Mark Poniatowski, a fellow Bostonian who previously served as her bass player, Matt uprooted himself for Los Angeles, where she was based, after she invited him to join her regular road band, leading to a dizzying number of other projects, too.

Initially, he filled out his down time by playing with John Németh and gigging occasionally with James Harman, Lynwood Slim and Junior Watson, too.

imageOne of the best percussionists on the West Coast, June Core was playing with both Németh and Charlie Musselwhite at the time. In 2007, he served as the catalyst for Matt to join Charlie after Kid Andersen moved on. He’s been with him ever since, appearing on two of Musselwhite’s CDs, including the Grammy-nominated live set, Juke Joint Chapel.

Until GA-20, his only other side project in the years since was Matthew Stubbs & the Antiguas, another all-instrumental trio, which delivered an experimental mix of psyche rock, afrobeat, garage rock and acid blues – something he describes as “cinematic music” — and released a eponymous CD in 2010.

In 2018, however, Stubbs needed to find a new direction.

In 2013 Musselwhite teamed up with Ben Harper and they won a Grammy for the CD, Get Up!, in 2014, the duo reunited for No Mercy in This Land, a follow-up that would eventually garner another trophy, and they were booked for a tour to promote it.

“Charlie let the whole band know that it looked like he was gonna be out for the full year with Ben’s band,” Stubbs remembers. “For the first time in about 12 years, I was gonna be off the road.”

It proved to be a bit of good fortune, but around the same time, Matt says, he became buddies with Pat Faherty, a singer/guitar player who’d recently dove head-first into the blues after primarily being interested in jazz and other style of music and a stint with the progressive rock/death metal band Revocation.

“Pat was already a pro,” Stubbs says, “but he started followin’ my band around, comin’ to a lot of shows, and he took a few lessons with me, too. He wanted to learn traditional blues and didn’t want to do any of the shredding stuff or anything like that.

“So, when Charlie said that, Pat and I were like…well, we’re both kickin’ around Boston…why don’t we set up a little trio.”

It didn’t take much discussion before they decided to focus on the mid- to late-‘50s Chicago-style blues in a manner similar to John Lee Hooker with Eddie Taylor, Louis Myers and his brother Dave, Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers and Hound Dog Taylor and Brewer Phillips and in a format that included two guitars and drums with no bass player – like the House Rockers – while playing quietly and using small, vintage amps.

Curious about their band name GA-20? Fans question the origin frequently, Matt says, noting: “They think it means Georgia Hwy. 20 or something like that.”

Believe it or not, however, it’s a direct tie-in to the sound they produce.

Gibson launched a new line of guitar amps in 1950 and designated the model as the GA-20, and several of the biggest stars in the Windy City used it when they laid down many of their biggest hits – and a model that Stubbs records through frequently today. And, he jokes, he decided to name the trio GA-20 “because all the other good band names had been taken.”

During their first year, he and Flaherty worked with multiple drummers and kept things low-key and stress-free as they worked any gigs they could land – everything from neighborhood wine bars to large rock clubs. After penning a few originals – and with former Roomful of Blues percussionist Chris Anzalone in tow, they decided to record what they thought would be nothing more than a demo EP.

image“I sent it to two labels at once — Alligator and (New York-based) Colemine Records,” Matt says. “Alligator (Musselwhite’s frequent home) turned me down. (Label founder) Bruce (Iglauer) said it was ‘too distorted and too retro-sounding.’ Colemine (a retro-soul label with no other blues acts) really dug it, but they said they wanted a full-length album.”

The trio quickly went into the studio and added four cover tunes — from Clifton Chenier and James Harman, J.B. Lenoir, Bo Diddley and Slim Harpo – to the mix. Released as Lonely Soul in October 2019, this disc debuted in the No. 2 position on Billboard’s blues chart and the opening track, “Naggin’ on My Mind,” featured Musselwhite and Luther Dickinson as guests.

At that point, Stubbs and Faherty were ready to hit the road but both Anzalone and Mick Toscano, their other frequent percussionist, both had other commitments, and were replaced by another friend, jazz drummer Tim Carman, who’s held down the bottom ever since, quickly fitting in hand-to-glove despite no prior history in the blues.

As the calendar turned to 2020, GA-20 had a new, four-tune EP, Live Vol. 1, in the can and were getting ready to release it. But the world had a different plan.

COVID-19 was already beginning to put a stranglehold on the other side of the world, forcing Colemine to delay its release until the band could tour to promote it. Then, a few months later, a conversation with Iglauer triggered what would be a major change of direction and an unexpected career boost, too.

“That July, I got an email from Bruce,” Matt remembers. “He’d seen the band at The Hideout when we came through Chicago before the pandemic and said he’d enjoyed our set after seeing us live – a lot more than when he heard us on record.

“I sent him a reply and told him we really appreciated it, but that if he was interested in signing us, we were already under contract with another label — and were very happy with ‘em.”

But wait a minute…

Stubbs quickly realized that the upcoming year, 2021, would serve as the 50th anniversary of Hound Dog’s first album and the golden anniversary of Alligator Records, too. After all, Bruce launched the label to record him, and the eponymous Hound Dog Taylor & the House Rockers was the label’s very first LP.

“After I sent the email, I got to thinking,” Matt says, noting: “a lot of people were already comparing us to Hound Dog. We weren’t playing any of his songs at the time, but just like him with two guitars and drums and playing Chicago-style blues – and I really wanna work with Alligator.

“It’s a historic label, and I grew up listening to a lot of early Alligator records…I started thinking: ‘What if I could convince our record label and Bruce to put out an album together?’

“I mentioned it to the owner of Colemine, and he loved the idea. He was an Alligator fan, too. Then I talked to Bruce. It took a few phone calls but we were able to figure how to work things out.”

imageAlthough Colemine has co-partnered on projects with other labels in the past, the resulting product, GA-20 Does Hound Dog Taylor: Try It…You Might Like It, is the first-ever venture of this type for Iglauer, and it’s far more than a cover album.

“We were all fans of Hound Dog, but didn’t know every song or every part inside and out,” Stubbs confesses. “Our concept was to capture the live, party-off-the-rails excitement Hound Dog delivers on all his records.

“We started working on the songs in August. The guys would come over to my house in Providence and we worked things out on my little screened-in patio. We’d all come with a couple of Hound Dog songs and try ‘em with the goal to capture their spirit because we’d never be able to sound just like those guys. And because there were no vaccines at the time, we had to keep our distance.

“We narrowed it down to ten or 11 tunes pretty quickly. And even though there wasn’t very much going on at that time, there were one or two outdoor places that were having bands. We took a couple of those gigs to try things out under the radar to see how the songs felt live.”

When it came to recording, Stubbs built a home studio, using photos from the ‘70s that Iglauer provided to mirror the set-up he’d used on the original sessions in the ‘70s and making only minimal changes to accommodate the recording process.

Both Matt and Pat have a huge love for vintage hardware and bought and tried out several different, cheap guitars and Silvertone amps before deciding they had equipment that produced a sound that echoed the work of their predecessors. They had to turn to smaller model amps because the Silvertones the House Rockers used would have rattled the walls of the smaller room.

“More Pat than myself, but he and I searched out of those Kingston Teisco Kawai guitars that Hound Dog would use,” Stubbs notes. “They’re so-o-o cheap, and it’s easy to find ‘em. We started buyin’ em from anywhere from 50 to 200 bucks then rehearsed with them to figure out which ones were closest in tone.

“A week before the actual session, Pat found the guitar that was the closest to the model that Hound Dog used, took it to his guy to get set up, and that’s the one you hear on all the slide parts.

“We lucked out. The other ones sounded close but they weren’t quite as close as the one he used.”

And Matt made sure the room was as dead as possible to eliminate reverb, which would have sounded different than Taylor’s barebones, almost piercing sound – a technique that Stubbs and his cohorts adopted solely for this project by eliminating some of the high end on both guitars and vocals.

About the only things they didn’t do was make Flaherty grow – and slice off – a sixth digit nubbin like Hound Dog did in real life or play with a cracked amp head, something the Chicagoan did for decades.

imageAlthough recorded in digital rather than analog, the rest of the project was captured old-school in a day and a half with amps beside the drums in a stage setting, only a handful of mics and the band working in unison in the same room with only an engineer for company. With Pat on slide and the mic and Matt handling all of the fills, rhythm and quasi-bass runs, Carman laid down rhythm on a set of vintage tubs not unlike the ones used by Ted Harvey on the original recordings.

Released to rave reviews in August 2021, the album proved to be an instant winner, charting No. 1 on Billboard in the U.S. and receiving similar recognition in the U.K. and Australia, too. And the album received a 2022 Blues Music Award nomination in the best emerging artist category, losing out to Rodd Bland’s Live on Beale Street, a tribute to Bobby “Blue” Bland, his father.

The retro feel that GA-20 established with their Taylor effort powers the band’s new album, Crackdown, but the overall feel is more balls-to-the-wall and slightly more “contemporary” because the return of reverb and room ambiance they produce in live performance have returned with a bite. Delivered from the intersection of early blues, country and rock,  it’s loaded with what some reviewers have termed “maximum-intensity rocking” and “tough, insistent vocals.”

Loaded with fat fretwork, and elements of swamp, surf guitar and more, it was  conceived as a follow-up to Lonely Soul, Matt says, noting: “I really wanted that one to sound ‘50s…maybe a little early ‘60s. On this one, though, I was comfortable making it sound more ‘modern’ – a term I use very loosely…just more ‘modern’ than the ‘50s.

“’Dry Run,’ the first single, is a bluesy country song in my mind – somewhere between Slim Harpo, Jimmy Reed and country music. To me, both those guys have country in their music even though they’re playing the blues. And then the opener, ‘Fairweather Friend,’ is bluesy with a garage-rock attitude with drums like The Kinks or The Ramones slipped in. And with ‘Gone for Good’ we do have some straight-ahead blues, too.”

Recorded at Q Division Studios in Somerville, Mass., where they laid down Lonely Soul, it was captured live with everyone in the same room, and the band did extensive experimentation with guitar and amp setups on this one, too. “We just kinda let these songs grow on their own,” Stubbs adds, “with allowances for more low end and other sonic choices that I was doing before.”

Currently in the midst of a tour that will take GA-20 from coast to coast before a lengthy foray to Europe, Stubbs says: “I hope people will come see us live because that’s what we like to do the best. We’re pretty much touring non-stop through the end of the year.”

Check out Matt’s music and where GA-20 will be in your neighborhood by visiting the band’s website:

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


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageChristopher M Reali – Music And Mystique In Muscle Shoals

University of Illinois Press

288 pages Softcover Edition

An Assistant Professor of Music at Ramapo College in New Jersey, author Christopher Reali refers to himself as a cultural musicologist in the biography on his website. His new book certainly reflects both the attention to detail that you would expect from an educator, and his ability to place the subject under consideration in a broader context that reveals impacts that extend throughout the greater society. With 100 pages devoted to Notes, the Bibliography, and the Index sections, readers can be assured that Reali has done a yeoman’s job in gathering the research that informs this effort.

The city of Muscle Shoals has rightfully maintained a treasured slot in the pantheon of American music. Located in northwest Alabama near the Tennessee River on what was once Cherokee Indian hunting grounds, the region flourished after the establishment of the Tennessee Valley Authority, modernizing the area and creating jobs through new industries. The author also traces the start of the region’s musical prominence to a Native American “Singing River” legend that is still featured in advertising and literature promoting the greater Muscle Shoals region, which lies on the eastern edge of the “Mojo Triangle,” as referred to by author and musician James Luther Dickinson, comprised of the territory contained between Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans.

Starting in the 1950s decade, Muscle Shoals, along with the nearby city of Florence, AL, experienced the start of musical growth with the formation of several recording studios, which also created a need for quality musicians to be on staff, to be close by if need arose. The first studio to hit the big time was Rick Hall’s FAME Studio, starting with Arthur Alexander’s 1962 hit “You Better Move On”. Hall eventually put together a stellar session group consisting of Jimmy Johnson on guitar, Barry Beckett on keyboards, David Hood on bass, and Roger Hawkins on drums, known as the Swampers. Their ability to tailor their sound to a particular artist made them invaluable during recording sessions for artist like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett.

As the FAME studio gained traction with each hit record, more artist and record companies wanted a piece of the magic being created in the small town. As the author points out on page 87, there were 13 tracks that made it into the Top Twenty on the R&B charts in 1967 that were recorded in the city. Four of those records made it to #1 on at least one major R&B hit parade, including massive hits like Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman,’ and Aretha’s “I Never Loved A Man (The Way I Love You)”. The author fleshes out the facts and chart information with stories about various recording sessions, including several, like one with Rod Stewart for his album Atlantic Crossing, where the artist is surprised to discover that the studio musicians on all of Shoals soul and R&B hits were white men.

Reali traces the growth of FAME’s success and the advent of other recording studios through the years of glory and into the times of inevitable conflict. Hall’s band, now called the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, splits with the studio owner in 1969, opening their own recording venture as the Muscle Shoals Sound Studio. The role of Atlantic Records partner and producer Jerry Wexler in bringing attention to burgeoning recording scene gets the appropriate consideration.

To complete the story, Reali ties in the financial impact that the recording industry brought to the region, and delves into some of the racial issues that invariably came into play, not unexpected for a city in the deep South, and sessions that often mixed black singers with white musicians. But none of that changed the perception of Muscle Shoals as the land of hits. Another part of the saga is the advent of country music in the Shoals studios when the lure of soul music began to fade, bringing new life to the local industry. There is also a section that looks at the various items of recording equipment utilized in some of the studios.

From the aforementioned artists through others from the Staple Singers to the Rolling Stones, Traffic, and Paul Simon, the specter of the Muscle Shoals recording industry looms large in the legacy of American music, to the point that the legacy is now used a marketing tool to bring tourism to the area. Thanks to a fine effort by the author, readers can now enjoy a well-rounded, succinct history of Muscle Shoals, and many of the musical highlights that have been created there over the last seven decades. A solid addition to the College of Musical Knowledge!

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 – 2 of 6 

imageEmanuel Casablanca – Blood on My Hands

Kings County Blues KCB-0001

16 songs – 60 minutes

A Brooklyn-born multi-instrumentalist, Emanuel Casablanca has toured the world as vocalist and/or lead guitarist for several major players across the music spectrum but debuts as a front man with this highly autobiographical, hourlong set. It’s a star-studded roller coaster of a ride that delivers a powder keg of blues-drenched emotion.

The front man for the New York City soul/funk/rock band VICE, Casablanca has joined forces in the past with Daxx Nielsen of Cheap Trick, Bernard Fowler who’s been proving backing vocals for the Rolling Stones for 30 years and bassist Doug Wimbush of Living Colour. And world-class talent from both the blues and rock worlds are present for this coming-out party, too.

“I made it a point with this album to try to explore the essence of an imperfect past,” Emanuel notes on his website. “There are things that I’ve done that I’ve tried to repent for. And in exorcising those demons, I’ve made an attempt to…reveal my true self despite all the flaws and imperfections.”

Chockful of deep beats and raw emotion, the disc features a cross-section of major guitar talent, including bluesmen Eric Gales, Albert Castiglia and Felix Slim who doubles on harp. Also featured are metal/hard rock god Paul Gilbert and Briton Paul Howells of the alt rock group Fizzy Blood who co-produced, engineered and mastered the effort at The SubCar Studio in Long Island City, N.Y.

They’re joined by two other major blues talents — two-time BMA horn player of the year Jimmy Carpenter and Florida-based vocalist Kat Riggins – and a rhythm section composed of Julian Chobot and Maximillian Sebastian (bass), Ben Zweig, Teddy Sideropolous, Theodore Augustine and Poyraz Aldemir (drums) and Trinidadian percussionist Sanga of The Valley.

Fair warning: Fifteen of the 16 cuts here are originals, and almost all of them – like the CD title – bear sanguine references. But fear not. The lyrical content is full of deep, introspective imagery that provides counterpoint to what might appear on the surface to be a bloody mess and something to be avoided.

“Afraid of Blood,” which opens, kicks off with the sound of an explosion that’s followed by intense guitar flourishes and unsettling words that find Casablanca looking at his reflection and realizing that the person he fears most is himself. It’s a highly experimental composition that sets the tone for the 56 minutes of disquieting grooves that follow.

Next up, “In Blood” is a ballad that features Gilbert delivering straight-ahead blues runs that build in intensity as Emanuel finds himself caught in a downpour and says he gave his heart to his lady but she took his blood. Gales comes on board for “Blood on My Hands,” the admission of guilt of a killer awaiting execution, before Riggins and Sanga join forces for “Like a Pulse,” a sweet love song with acoustic overtones that describes the lady as “my rhythm…my heartbeat…like a pulse.”

The mood darkens for “Bloodshot Eyes” with Castiglia laying down two-four runs that emulate the beating of a heart as Casablanca bemoans living a life full of broken dreams, backstabbing and sleepless nights before Slim delivers sweet harp runs to open “Nashville,” which recounts playing at a honkytonk and getting waylaid by a couple of ladies. The rocker, “Sunday Talks,” expresses that something’s missing in the conversation before the uptempo “Thicker Than Blood” brightens the mood as it describes awareness that Emanuel will never be fooled by his woman no matter what she does.

The sole cover in the set, Robert Nighthawk’s “Anna Lee,” gives Carpenter space to shine before Casablanca teams with Brother Dave on the rapid-fire “Testify,” which vows that no woman will be able to break his heart again and yields to “Devil’s Blood,” which states that if you climb into bed with Satan, you’ll never win, and “Blood Money,” which finds the singer so desperate for cash that he’s contemplating a robbery.

Four more numbers — “Fantasies,” a reflection delivered from the end of life, “My Nerves,” a plea for help for a cure for hopelessness, “Shaky Tables,” the fight to bounce back from the brink, and “Rottenpockets,” the description of being pursued by the police – bring the disc to a close.

Despite the dark theme that flows throughout, Blood on My Hands has a lot to offer if your tastes run toward cutting-edge, 21st Century blues. Emanuel Casablanca is a talent. Here’s hoping that his future is brighter than his past!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageJohn Primer – Hard Times

Blues House Productions

13 tracks/66 minutes

John Primer has had a long and storied career as a bluesman.  He grew up in a sharecropping family in Mississippi. He lost his father when he was only four years old but his father’s guitar and singing along with an older cousin made Primer love the blues and gave him the desire to become a blues musician. His dream was to play with Muddy Waters.

The desire turned to reality when he left for Chicago in 1963 at age eighteen. He played for tips on Maxwell Street and then joined Pat Rushing and formed the Maintainers who played on Maxwell Street every Sunday. They expanded their gigs to more and more nights of playing on Chicago’s West Side.  He moved on to front The Brotherhood Band and then in 1974 began a sewven night a week stint with the house band at Theresa’s Lounge on the South Side. He joined Willie Dixon’s Chocago Blues All Stars in 1979 and then in 1980 joined Muddy Water’s new  Legendary Blues Band and was the band leader and opening act; he had achieved his dream! Muddy unfortunately passed away in 1983, but Primer stayed with the band until 2001 when the Checkerboard Lounge finally closed.

Primer also played with Magic Slim’s band after Muddy passed and was involved with Slim for thirteen years and won a WC Handy Award. He also fronted his own band, recording on Wolf Records label, the same label as Slim. In 1997, his third record The Real Deal was nominated for a Handy Award (now BMA) and he now has received many an accolade and award in the 25 years of his solo career.

This new CD features John and his Real Deal Blues Band. In addition to Primer on guitar and lead vocals, Steve Bells plays harp, Lenny Media plays drums and David forte handles the bass. Guests include rick Kreyer on 2nd guitar, Johnny Iguana on keys and his daughter Aliya Primer debuts on vocals on “Tough Times.” Primer wrote all thirteen songs on this album.

The album begins with “You Got What I Want,” a flowing and vibrant cut with Primer at his best. His distinctive vocals shine here as they do throughout and his guitar is exceptional. He gives us a tasty solo on guitar and Steve Bell then follows with a short harp solo. They reprise their instrumental skills later in the song to good effect. “Don’t Wait Too Long” follows, a nice shuffle with a great guitar introduction. Iguana shines on piano and then it’s Bell’s turn to shine. Primer finally gets to solo and it’s a great one. Next is the title track with a hill country vibe as the bass drum stomps and Primer hits the slide guitar hard. Piano and harp add to the mix, but Primer really is the star with his slide work. Slow blues are next in the moving “Blues Blues Blues,” a deep and cool blues. John‘s guitar stings and Bell’s harp punctuates nicely. The tempo picks up with “I Won’t Sweat It,” with another well-done intro by Primer. Bell and Primer once again display their prowess on this driving cut. “Chicago” comes next, a straight up blues shuffle paying tribute to his hometown. Bell solos first and then it’s Primers turn to display his chops and he does so well. “Tough Times” features John’s daughter Aliya who joins the band and is the vocal lead. She does and exemplary job on this fine, slow blues cut. Bell and Primer offer more solos and the younger Primer sings with emotion and feeling. The seventeen-year old really can sing!

The pace quickens on “All Alone,” a fine Chicago blues cut.  Both he and Bell solo and then Primer takes us home with more slick guitar and his ebullient vocals. “My Sugar Mama” retains the fast pace as Primer lays down a nice groove on his guitar. Bell again solos first, which leads into a big Primer guitar solo. After another verse, Iguana gets his turn and then Primer delivers some more sweet guitar licks. Next up is “You Mean So Much to Me,” a bouncing cut with another fine introduction on guitar by Primer. Bell and Iguana give us some licks and later Primer also solos nicely. It’s back to slow and deep blues with “Try To Make You Mine,” another well done piece with an even longer and moving intro by John’s guitar. Steve gives us a signature solo on his harp and then it’s Primer’s turn to shine with his guitar. Another winner. “Hot Meal” is another slow blues with all the grease one needs to make this one another one for the listener to enjoy thoroughly. Primer sings with emotion as Bell answers his vocal call. Bell then joins the fray for a subdued solo. Primer then sings and follows that with a restrained but cool and long solo of his own. He then returns to close things out on vocals and guitar. The final track is “Whiskey,” and, of course, Bell and Primer get some more solo time in as they deliver an excellent finale to a really fine album!

Primer’s return to recording post pandemic shows he’s not lost any of the edge that his music has. He wrote a bunch of great songs that Rick Barnes produced for him at RaxTrax Studio in Chicago. The result is thirteen outstanding new tracks laid down by John and The Real Deal Blues Band. All the songs exemplify John’s long commitment to Chicago blues and keeping the flame burning. This is a really great album which I most highly recommend for adding to your blues collection. It is one you will listen to over and over again!

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 – 4 of 6 

imageShemekia Copeland – Done Come Too Far

Alligator Records – 2022

12 tracks; 46 minutes

Those who thought that Shemekia Copeland’s last album Uncivil War was hard hitting will find that she has even more to say this time around! Once again working with producer Will Kimbrough in Nashville, Shemekia pours her heart and soul into these songs, mainly written by Will and Shemekia’s long-term manager John Hahn, tackling contemporary issues like racism, gun violence and child abuse, as well as the historic theme of slavery. The core band throughout is Will on guitar, Lex Price on bass and Pete Abbott on drums, with guest spots from a host of guitarists: Sonny Landreth, Kenny Brown, Kevin Gordon, Oliver Wood, Aaron Lee Tasjan and Pat Sansone (who also plays keyboards); other musicians are B3 giant Charles Hodges, Cedric Burnside on guitar and vocals, Joe Cabral on sax, Cedric Watson on fiddle and African gourd banjo, André Michot on accordion and triangle, Washboard Chaz, Fats Kaplin on fiddle and pedal steel and backing vocalists Lisa Oliver Gray, Megan Murray and Telisha Williams.

The first four tracks really hit hard, each one with a strong message. “Too Far To Be Gone” references the incident when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus to a white person. Shemekia insists that people of colour have “come too far to be gone; if you think we’re stopping you got it wrong”, played over a rocking tune fuelled by Will’s guitar and Sonny Landreth’s slippery slide work. “Pink Turns To Red” tackles gun violence head-on, another heavy rocker, this time with Kevin Gordon and Will fuelling the tragic tale of another shooting in a school. Shemekia is thinking how she will have “The Talk” with her child, that difficult conversation in which you have to tell your child never to get into a situation where they might end up getting shot: “as sure as you’re black there’s a target on your back”. After that harrowing and dramatic performance Shemekia goes back to the early days of slavery in “Gullah Geechee”, aided by African instruments and a mournful backing choir, her man being dragged away by the slavers the very day of their wedding, another powerful song and performance. Later in the album the quiet, acoustic “The Dolls Are Sleeping” tackles child abuse in a stark and moving performance and Cedric Burnside duets with Shemekia on the title track “Done Come Too Far” that uses some of the same lyrics as the opening track in a Delta blues re-working of the theme of equal rights.

Susan Werner’s “Why Why Why” comes from an album entitled Flyover Country and the band strikes an appropriate country feel for a ‘weepie’ about infidelity, followed immediately by “Fried Catfish And Bibles” which combines country with Cajun, courtesy of fiddle, accordion and washboard, on a tale of a backwoods cabin where both items are equally available. Ray Wylie Hubbard’s “Barefoot In Heaven” combines those themes in a blues and country-tinged tune that foresees the author making it to Paradise: “When I get to Heaven, the people tell me, I get a halo, some wings and a harp. That’s well and good but what I want to hear is Sister Rosetta Tharpe”! Shemekia goes full Country on the autobiographical “Fell In Love With A Honky”, a comic song in which her country guy seems to be swapping Hank for Otis and, after all “love is much bigger than plain old black and white”.“If your head is small, barely got an IQ, or you can look like Einstein, here’s what you do” sings Shemekia as she offers some cynical advice to wanna-be pop stars over a funky backbeat in “Dumb It Down”. Shemekia always records a track by her late father, Johnny Clyde Copeland, and this time it’s “Nobody But You”, just the core trio behind her to close the album with a splendid, rocking blues shuffle.

This is a hugely impressive effort from Shemekia and her team, even better than Uncivil War, which was nominated for a Grammy. This one should be a shoe-in come Awards time!

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 – 5 of 6 

imaheStrumBroads – Smoke


CD: 11 Songs, 48 Minutes

Styles: Mellow Blues, Americana, All Original Songs, Debut Album

Thirty-five years ago (yes, I’m that old), I fell in love with a terrific Trio: Dolly Parton, Linda Ronstadt, and Emmylou Harris. Their harmonies were like the Northern Lights – stunning, shifting, and so high above me that I could never hope to reach them. Our family played their cassette tape (yes, I’m that old, too) time and again until it wore out. We were addicted. The StrumBroads, a female duo with silver-golden hair and voices to match, have invoked happy memories of their world-famous predecessors. They currently have gigs on the West Coast, but with time and more promotion, hopefully they’ll be known throughout the US and worldwide.

Their debut album Smoke is a lilting collection of eleven original songs. Several are excellent examples of this magazine’s preferred music, such as “Say Goodbye to the Blues,” “Blue Diamond,” “No Cash Blues” and “The Body Snatcher” (these last two are highlights, as I’ll explain later). Others are lovely in and of themselves, but they outright kill the blues mood (“Beautiful Day” and “My Friend”). “What Kind of Love is That” is like a monochromatic oil or watercolor painting, blending cyan, cerulean, navy and indigo in a flowing representation of our genre’s color. Even on the rock number “Narrow Mind,” one can sense our protagonists’ relentless positivity. All their edges are blunt. Think ruler instead of razor. However, when it comes to a warm and heartfelt vibe, these two and their companions more than measure up.

The StrumBroads are Sonny Hess on guitar and vocals and Kathryn Grimm on guitar, mandolin and vocals. Stalwartly supporting them are Leah Hinchcliff on bass guitar, Ward Griffiths on drums and percussion, and Myrtle Brown on backup vox.

“No Cash Blues” is a mellow ballad that turns the last word in the title into the most beautiful one in the English language. It begins with acoustic rain falling gently on listeners’ ears, with the strummers veering into lusty territory: “I’m looking for a man to love me just the way I am. I’m looking for a man, and I’ll give him whatever I can. He’ll be my only. We won’t be lonely. We’ll sing the No Cash Blues. . .” Can passion survive poverty? The Broads think so. “Money, it ain’t the end-all, be-all. Having somebody is all the ‘rich’ I’ll ever need.”

What about one’s looks and physical attributes? Unfortunately, sooner or later a feared foe comes along and gives us a rude awakening: “Stop! Stop! There’s been a ‘Body Snatcher’ here. Stop, stop! Well, I need to make it clear. I’m still young and I need to plead my case: someone has snatched my body and put an old one in its place.” Dig that boisterous bass from Leah Hinchcliff and Ward Griffiths’ dynamite drumbeat. For the record, I’m still wondering what happened to the lissome high-school senior in my prettiest photos. Is she gone? Totally.

With a bit more fire, Smoke could have incinerated my house. Thank the StrumBroads for that!

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageThe Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer – Live At The King Eddy

Tonic Records – 2022

12 tracks; 58 minutes

Canadian duo Shaun Hall (harp/vocals) and Matthew Rogers (guitar) got together in 2006 as The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer and have released six previous albums. This is their first live album and was recorded over three nights at The King Eddy in Calgary, using the famous Rolling Stones Mobile Studio which was used to record Sticky Fingers and Exile On Main Street for the Stones as well as a host of other acts like Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac and The Who. The duo has acquired quite a reputation as a live act and this album draws on their previous releases to present a vivid picture of how they sound live. It also marks a period during which each man has branched out with solo projects, so this may be a final summary of their duo work, depending on how they proceed from here. They are aided on stage by backing vocalists Dawn Pemberton and Andrina Turenne and keyboardist Geoff Hillhorst, but the essence of the band is the guitar/harp combination. Musically you can hear influences as diverse as Hill Country blues, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, rock and country, a real mix.

Opener “Cry A Little” is a good summary of the band’s basic sound, dominated by Matt’s rhythm work behind Shaun’s vocals and harp interventions. Perhaps deliberately, Shaun’s vocals are rather back in the mix, so the rhythm set by the guitar is the dominant feature though the foot-tapping rhythm is helped along by the backing vocalists who add a gospel tinge to the tune. “Mama’s In The Backseat” is even more uptempo, adding a bit of a country hoedown feel, before the keyboards are featured in spacey mode on “Do Whatcha”, a steady paced tune that recalls “Smokestack Lightning”. “Pretty Please” is a frantic rocker as Shaun begs his girl for her attention before “Roll With The Punches” takes us firmly into Hill Country territory, led by the harp and some thick slide work by Matt.

The only song from outside the band is “Hard On Things”, written by fellow Canadians Corin Raymond and Robert Vaarmeyer. It marks a change of pace for the band, thereby acting as something of a mid-point album interlude before the chugging pace of “Love Me ‘Fore Ya Leave Me” returns to the generally uptempo approach, the vocalists again well featured. “Sarah” sounds like a woman to treasure: “Sarah, my sexy Sarah, you make me happy, so very happy, like a hippie listening to the Grateful Dead”! “Father’s Son” returns to the Hill Country blues side of the band before a reprise of “Roll With The Punches”, on which Dawn takes a lead role this time around, combined with “Sweat This Pain”. On the album sleeve this is the final track, but in fact there are two additional cuts not listed on the artwork: “Get Out” is an extended track typical of the band’s upbeat repertoire before “Treat Me Kind” acts as a short, quiet finale to the show.

If the duo’s separate projects do take them in separate directions, this disc may be a final summary of their career, in which case existing fans will definitely want a copy.

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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