Issue 16-40 October 6, 2022


Cover photo © 2022 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Our staff is on the road this week so we are featuring a “Vintage Interview” with Otis Clay from our January 9, 2014 issue for your reading enjoyment. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from The Boneshakers, Rory Block, Mick Simpson and Lauren Glick. Scroll down and check it out!



 Featured Interview – Otis Clay 

imageWhen it comes to deep soul, there’s no argument that Otis Clay is king. Along with Otis Redding, Tyrone Davis, Wilson Pickett, Johnnie Taylor and Sam and Dave, he helped shape the sound of the New Generation in the ’60s with his incendiary, soul-wrenching, horn-filled, gospel-tinged performance.

Today, at 71, the West Side Chicago legend steadfastly carries the torch, delivering the music to a new audience long after most of his early contemporaries met their reward. He was inducted into the Blues Music Hall Of Fame last spring and was recently nominated in two categories for the 2014 Blues Music Awards, but he doesn’t show the slightest sign of slowing down.

Whenever Clay takes the stage, angels stop to listen. He’s equal parts grit, growl and heavenly joy, seamlessly melding the worlds of blues and gospel into one with a hint of other musical styles thrown in for good measure. Other folks do the same, but Otis has built a huge following on both the secular and spiritual sides of the street. His soul releases have been frequent, consistently fresh and well-received, and one gospel album in particular still is a consistent seller 20 years after it hit the streets.

It’s no surprise that he can juggle both worlds so well when you consider his upbringing. Many artists born when he was were frowned upon by members of “proper” society for choosing a path in the blues, but the duality is his birthright. The youngest of ten children, he’s the son of Anthony and Elizabeth Clay, and came into the world on Feb. 11, 1942, in rural Waxhaw, not far from the river in northwest Mississippi.

“There really was only one type of music in the house,” Otis remembers, “and that was gospel. But my father now, he was a farmer; he was a renter; and an entrepreneur. He had a juke joint, and in the back room, you know what they was a-doin’…he was gamblin’ and all that stuff. My mother was a church lady. But in the house, whatever my mother said, that was the law.

“You had the perfect balance there, you know…devil or angel…and I had the choice.”

Mom made him go to church every Sunday. It served his soul while also serving as the true center of the community. “We would go to church on Sunday, and play ‘church’ the rest of the week,” he says. “We’d imitate the preacher, and if there was singin’ goin’ on, imitate the song. That was going on as far back as I can remember.”

Clay got interested in music early, playing both guitar and drums. There were several vocalists in the family, and their home often served as a rehearsal studio. “We would sit there and watch ’em,” he recalls. “When the rehearsal was over, we would always try to imitate them. That’s how it all started.”

And secular music entered the home via the radio.

image“At noon, we listened to Sonny Boy Williamson, coming out of Helena, Ark.,” Clay says. “Every Saturday night, it was the Grand Ole Opry.” Among his early favorites were country superstars Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, as well as mainstream artists, including Rosemary Clooney and Vaughan Monroe.

By the time Otis was a teenager, he’d already served stints in two gospel groups, the Voices Of Hope in Muncie, Ind., where the family moved briefly, and the Christian Travellers back home in Mississippi. At age 16, he settled in Chicago and began singing professionally with the Golden Jubilaires. By the late ’50s, he was a member of Charles Bridges’ Famous Blue Jay Singers, who toured the East Coast extensively. For Clay, they were a perfect fit. “We were like variety singers, jubilee singers,” he says. Created first at Fisk University, jubilee singers generally were a group of males who sang traditional black spirituals along with secular harmony music.

“We’d work all week goin’ to schools, and hotels and things like that, and on Sunday, we’d find a church. My exposure to a white audience goes back to 1960 with my experience with the Blue Jays.” Their weekday repertoire appealed to the masses and included standards like “That Old Gang Of Mine” and “Mother Machree” as well as covers of current hits like “The Twist.”

Clay tried to follow the path of Sam Cooke, who had made the jump from singing gospel with the Soul Stirrers to a solo secular career. In 1962 he hooked up with Columbia Records at the same time as another Chicagoan, Major Lance. Soon after, Lance had a major hit on his hands with “Monkey Time.” Sadly, however, Otis’ recorded four sides never saw the light of day.

His first vinyl pressing turned out to be “Let Jesus Lead You” two years later while singing lead with the Gospel Songbirds, a group that included Maurice Dollison Jr., who later became better known amongst blues aficionados as guitarist Cash McCall. The two men worked in several spiritual ensembles together, and he gave Clay the nudge he needed when he finally launched a solo secular career.

It happened when McCall went into the studio for George Leaner at One-derful! Records, Otis joined him, quickly earning himself a contract with the label. “It wound up like goin’ home,” Clay says, “because George would sit down and talk to me about things. It was like dealing with your father, really.”

Leaner released Clay’s searing ballad, “Flame In Your Heart,” in 1965, followed in quick succession by the gospel-flavored “I Testify” and the classic bass-driven burner, “Easier Said Than Done,” in which the singer is torn between his unforgettable love for a lady and the realization that the relationship was destroyed by her lies. Several other minor successes followed, but Otis’ first major national hit came in 1967.

image“That’s How It Is (When You’re In Love)” followed. Written by McCall, it ended up among the Top 30 on the Billboard R&B charts, followed closely by another hit, “A Lasting Love,” backed by a cover of the Harold Burrage classic, “Got To Find A Way.” Otis and Burrage were both West Side Chicago residents and close friends, and Clay recorded the tune as a tribute after Burrage died the year before.

But Otis’ stay at One-derful! was about to end. Leaner decided to close the business. It’s possible he was a visionary who saw hard times ahead. The civil unrest of the lat ’60s was approaching fast, and would bring the popularity of black music in America to a screeching halt.

But before he did, Lerner secured Clay a spot with Atlantic Records’ Cottilion label. “George was always going to look out for me,” Otis recalls.

The move proved a blessing. Instead of recording in the Windy City, Clay quickly found himself at the FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Ala., where everyone from Arthur Alexander (“You Better Move On”) to Jimmy Hughes (“Steal Away”) to Mac Davis (“Baby, Don’t Get Hooked On Me”) and the Osmonds (“One Bad Apple”) laid down tracks, joined by a who’s who of folks in the music business, including Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and more.

His first release – the first ever on the Cotillion imprint in 1968 ­– was a soul-sanctified cover of “She’s About A Mover,” the 1965 hit for the Sir Douglas Quintet. Written by Doug Sahm and considered by some critics to be the best song ever written in the Lone Star State, it was a hit. Four more singles followed, including “Hard Working Woman,” under the direction of Chicago soul-blues legend Syl Johnson, and “Is It Over?,” produced by the legendary Willie Mitchell.

Based in Memphis, Mitchell was the most important producer and arranger of his time, working with the Hi label, and recording Johnson, O.V. Wright and Al Green. Otis met him through Pervis Spann. More than 50 years later, Clay still can’t pin down the role Spann played in his life. He was an important player in the Chicago music scene as disc jockey on WVON, the radio station owned by the Chess brothers. To Clay, the Blues Hall Of Famer was a mentor, good friend and part-time manager, too.

Mitchell was moonlighting from Hi when he and Otis met. That was a common occurrence back then. “Willie was doin’ a lot of production projects,” Clay says. “He was having success with a lot of folks. He had a million-seller with Denise LaSalle. That’s the way the industry was at the time…if somebody was havin’ success, everybody was going that way.”

By 1971, however, Otis and Willie were joined at the hip. “Things started burnin’ up,” he says.

Clay left Cotillion and moved to Hi, and the relationship proved magical. It began with the beautiful “Home Is Where The Heart Is,” followed by a cover of “Precious, Precious.” The song had been a smash for female vocalist Jackie Moore about a year earlier, but Spann, who loved it, insisted it needed a man’s touch. As usual, he was right.

imageAs good as those tunes proved to be, however, nothing could top “Trying To Live My Life Without You,” penned by Eugene Williams. After a long day in the studio working with Otis on other material, Mitchell heard George Jackson playing it on the studio piano. He liked it so much that he went straight to the telephone and called Clay in the middle of the night to get him to listen to it. Otis’ version of the song climbed to No. 24 on the R&B charts in 1972 and earned him an appearance on Soul Train. That performance still lives today on YouTube. And subsequent versions laid down by Bob Segar and the J. Geils Band climbed as high as No. 5 on the pop charts. The song also provided the title track for his first secular LP.

One more soul hit, “I Didn’t Know The Meaning Of Pain,” followed before another Jackson composition changed Clay’s life dramatically. “If I Could Reach Out (And Help Somebody” was a heartfelt appeal for more love and cooperation in the world, an end to hunger and poverty. The spiritually uplifting message made the artist reevaluate his life. “When that song came out, I said: ‘Wow! I can’t do what I’ve been doing,’” he says. “I’m going to have to go in another direction.”

Not only did the song lead him back to gospel, but it also fueled his strong social conscience.

More successes followed for a succession of labels, including Kayvette, Bullseye Blues, Blind Pig and his own imprint, Echo, with Clay interspersing secular material with the divine.

The world literally opened for him in the late ’70s when he traveled to Japan for the first time. He had strong reservations about the trip, with Pearl Harbor and World War II still strong in his mind. What he found when he got there totally shocked him.

“They were up on my music,” he says. “They knew the songs and knew what they meant.” He’s been a superstar there ever since, and his 1983 album Soul Man: Live In Japan, recorded for Bullseye at the famed Budokan Arena in Tokyo, has proven to be one of the most seminal of all soul-blues recordings.

“We’ll take it anywhere we can get it,” Otis chuckles. “But we never reached that thing where we wanted it in America.”

He’s a favorite in Europe, too, as evidenced by a pair of CDs recorded live in Lucerne, Switzerland, and overseas success fueled a revival of interest in his career back home.

Between new releases and reissues of his early material, Clay has produced a long list of CDs in the past 30 years, including gospel albums The Gospel Truth, released in 1993, remains a best-seller.

But Otis refuses to pause for even a deep breath.

2013 proved to be a banner year for him. Not only was he enshrined in the Blues Music Hall Of Fame, but he’s also earned nominations for the upcoming Blues Music Awards as Soul Blues Male Artist Of The Year and Soul Blues Album Of The Year for his Truth Is release. That disc is competing with an O.V. Wright tribute CD he also was involved in. Clay’s vocal power assists Johnny Rawls on three tunes on the recording, entitled Remembering O.V.

imageOh, yes, and another Clay release recently hit store shelves. Trying To Live My Life Without You is a brand-new CD that came about as the result of Otis work on the new documentary, Take Me To The River.

Directed by Martin Shore, who’s worked as a touring blues musician himself, it was filmed in Memphis, with much of the material recorded at Mitchell’s legendary Royal Studios under the direction of his son Boo, who co-produces the film. It deals with a long-standing tradition in the music scene: the mentorship of young artists by the musicians who’ve preceded them.

All of the senior tunesmiths in the film worked with members of the younger generation who grew up within 100 miles of the River City. Clay lent a hand with the Bo-Keys, the sensational eight-piece band whose members served time in the B.B. King Orchestra, the Hi Rhythm Section and with Otis Redding before going out on their own. The movie documents the production of their 2011 CD, Got To Get Back!

Otis’ music is featured in the soundtrack along with the works of Terrence Howard, Mavis Staples, Booker T. Jones, Bobby Rush, William Bell, Snoop Dogg, Frayser Boy, the North Mississippi Allstars, among others. And the work includes scenes from one of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s last recording sessions.

Away from the stage – and screen, Clay is deeply involved in a totally different form of mentoring.

No stranger to non-profit work, he toiled previously as chairman of the board of Tobacco Road, Inc., a group on Chicago’s South Side that helped redevelop the historic Bronzeville neighborhood, the traditional heart of black culture in the city. One of their successful endeavors was to revitalize the legendary Regal Theatre. Once one of the most important venues in music history, it had fallen into disrepair. The group turned it in to a cultural and education center with a state-of-the-art showroom that seats 1,100 people.

Today, he’s neck-deep in the work of People For A New Direction. Based on the West Side, where he makes his home, it’s composed of successful people from many professions who are trying striving to stem the tide of poverty, crime and violence at a grassroots level through local initiatives aimed at the younger generation. Sadly, many young folks are running directionless in the streets, he says, while their elders are living behind locked doors.

“We’re gearing up for 2014. We’re trying to provide scholarships and other things,” says Clay, who serves on the board of directors. “It’s so much needed nowadays, especially in the black community. There’s always a stereotype of what’s happening there.

“We’re trying to create an element to break that. We’re trying to pull together a community where older people are never behind closed doors. There’s not a generations gap, there’s a communications gap. And we’re out to change it.”

There’s one thing for sure: Otis Clay is a determined man. If anyone can help bring about change, he can. And he won’t tolerate anyone standing in the way. He’s got an unyielding will and powerful allies in this world and beyond.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This “Vintage Interview” originally ran in the January 9, 2014 issue.

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 4 

imageThe Boneshakers – One Foot In The Groove

Take It To The Bridge Records

10 songs – 41 minutes

The Boneshakers’ 25-year career has seen them experience many highs (not least their recent collaborations with the magnificent Mindi Abair) and several lows (perhaps most obviously the death of original singer, Sweet Pea Atkinson, in 2020). One Foot In The Groove however is a glorious, life-affirming celebration of their blues-infused funk and rock.

Produced by John Wooler and recorded at Steakhouse Studio in North Hollywood, CA, the new album contains 10 tracks of funky blues-rock that bear repeated listening. The current line-up comprises original guitarist, Randy Jacobs, vocalist Jenny Langer (ex-Moonshine Society), Jon Gilutin on keyboards, Nathan Brown on bass and Sergio Gonzales. Together, the musicians have played with a veritable Who’s Who of modern blues and soul, including Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Patti LaBelle, Coco Montoya and Keb’ Mo’. They also lay down a series of irresistible grooves that support and highlight Langer’s superb voice. In addition, the album features guest appearances from the Texacali Horns (Joe Sublett and Mark Pender), Coco Montoya on guitar, and Bernard Fowler and Sir Harry Bowens on backing vocals.

One Foot In The Groove contains two self-written songs (the Jacobs/Langer funk-blues of “Big Legged Man” and Jacobs’ spikey closer, “Powerful Notions”, which has a typically top drawer solo from Montoya, nicely contrasting with Jacobs’ more funky sensibilities), together with a variety of well-chosen covers. While The Rolling Stones’ “Let’s Spend The Night Together” may be exceptionally well-known, it’s great to hear a re-working of William Bell’s 1968 soul gem, “I Forgot To Be Your Lover” with superb vocals from Fowler in a duet with Langer. Likewise, “Mr. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” was originally written by Jacobs’ old band, Was (Not Was), with Bob Dylan, and the re-working makes a fine choice as opening track on the album. Some of the re-interpretations are also quite striking: Donnie Fritts’ title track removes the original’s country influences and replaces them with funk and blues. “Let’s Spend The Night Together”, by contrast, is played relatively close to the original.

Highlights abound, from Jacobs’ wah-wah solo in “I Am The Blues” to Langer’s vocal on Steve Van Zandt’s “Ain’t Got The Fever No More”, where she combines vulnerability with assertion and grit, perfectly rendering the lyrics. Gilutin’s keyboards on French soul singer Sophie Baudry’s “Ice Cream And Cigarettes” are a delight. As are the contributions of the Texacali Horns, adding swinging emphasis to tracks like “More, More, More” and “Mr. Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore.”.

But this is not an album where individual musicians take solo after solo. What is perhaps most striking is the ease with which the musicians wear their virtuosity, focusing entirely on the song and delivering each track with emotional depth and sincerity.

If you like your blues with a heavy dose of Detroit funk, a little Memphis Soul and a dash of rock, you will find much to enjoy on One Foot In The Groove. A very impressive release.

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 – 2 of 4 

imageRory Block – Ain’t Nobody Worried

Stony Plain Records

11 tracks

Rory Block spent the lockdown period playing lots of her favorite songs. She had what she called “Campfire Sessions” where she’d do classics for the fun of playing great music. She also kept with her ongoing project to pay respects to the ‘Power Women of the Blues” and that all gave rise to this album. She does not intend to improve on classic songs, she plays then because she likes them and they pay honor and respect to those who performed them.

This is Block’s Third Volume of Power Women of the Blues and celebrates songs from the 1960’s through the 1980’s. Ten covers and her own most famous cut are offered up here. She handles all the guitar work, vocals, and percussion; this is all her show.

The album begins with the Staple Singers gospel classic “I’ll Take You There.” Stripped down to acoustic guitar, hand claps, vocals and backing vocals, the song resonates the feeling of the original with simplicity and reverence. Next is Rory’s take on Gladys Knight and the Pips and “Midnight Train To Georgia.” The song is also another superb rendition. Mary Wells’ “My Guy” is next, a tune penned by Smokey Robinson. Done in the original key with Block singing her head voice, the cut has a pop feel as the original does and Block delivers another fine cover. Rory next moves to Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car,” remaining acoustic and delivering another excellent version of a another classic.

Koko Taylor’s “Cry Like A Baby” is next and Rory delivers a gritty and cool performance here. On the outro, Block remembers her conversation with Koko where Taylor called her Little Miss Dynamite, a cool touch. “Love Has No Pride” is the famed Bonnie Raitt song and Block offers up a version with great feeling and emotion. Etta’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” is delivered here in a stripped done acoustic cover that work well. Block then delivers her own top cut, “Lovin’ Whiskey,” a song that she has sung for over three decades and is her most successful tune. One cannot argue that her song belongs with these others and Block delivers the goods once again.

Block moves to Martha Reeves and the Vandellas with “Dancing In The Street.” Here we get another sweet acoustic version that exudes the joy of the original. Carol King’s “You’ve Got A Friend” is next; Block sings with deep feeling and gives the listener goosebumps as she soars through this classic piece. Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten’s “Freight Train” concludes the album. A song misappropriated and often still miscredited, Cotton was a left handed guitar player who played a guitar strung for right handed play, but played it upside down. Her fingers picked the bass lines while she thumbed the melody.  A self taught guitar player, she began writing great songs like this in her teens. She was actually Nanny to Pete Seeger and his siblings. Block pays homage to Cotten with beautiful finger picking and an ethereal vocal style.

Block as won seven Blues Music Awards.  She is a force to be reckoned with in acoustic blues.  Here we have another super set of tunes that will garner all sorts of accolades because the work here deserves it. Kudos to Rory for another exceptional celebration of Women of Song!

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 4 

imageMick Simpson – The Slow Blues Sessions

Mad Ears Productions

11 songs time – 57:57

Brit guitarist singer-songwriter Mick Simpson has been putting in his dues over a career spanning more than forty years as an in-demand session man and solo artist. Once you give this recording a listen you will more than understand why. Not only is he a gifted guitar master, but he is also a fine singer and songwriter as well. The tone he achieves in his playing is quite an astonishing thing. His expressive vocals go hand-in-hand as an extension of his guitar notes. The able-bodied band assembled here gives steady support and enhancement. Keyboard and bass player Andy Littlewood doubles as producer and engineer. Pete Nelson handles the drum seat. The MEP Collective contributes horns. The album is a collection of songs from his recordings of the last twelve years along with one as one new one.

No need to comment on varying tempos in the songs, as this is The Slow Blues Sessions. All songs are composed by different configurations of Simpson and Littlewood. Mick’s plaintive vocal style is well represented on tracks like “Love Me Tonight”, You Gotta Change” and “When The Sun Goes Down”, among others. The guitar playing throughout is an air-piercing thing of auditory beauty. He combines acoustic and electric guitars in the lovely and deliberate “Shelter From The Storm”.

On the majestic instrumental “A Father’s Son” Mick’s guitar sounds as if it is soaring towards the heavens. The closest comparison would be to Jeff Beck. The other instrumental is in a similar vain, perhaps a little more austere. The guitar tone he uses on these songs is truly magnificent. The acoustic piano frames the song nicely.

A mournful atmosphere is attained on “Unfinished Business” as the guitar competes with piano and organ swirls. B.B. King like guitar inhabits the blues of “Somewhere Down The Line”. More B.B. King guitar on “Sweet Lorraine”. It also includes organ, trumpet and strings. Mick delivers a heartfelt yearning vocal on this one. A Jeff Beck-like intro leads into “Drowning In My Tears” with strings once again. Strings are found on six of the songs. A bit difficult to tell if they are real or synth generated as there is no mention of strings in the liner notes. Promises broken is the theme of “Promised The Earth” that features nice melodic guitar as usual.

Mick Simpson delivers a cohesive melding of poignant songs, poignant vocalizing and tantalizing guitar. His well-versed band ties it all together. It always puzzles me that someone of this caliber isn’t more widely known. If there is any fairness left in this world, music lovers would buy this gem by the droves.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4 

imageLauren Glick – Lush


CD: 10 Songs, 34 Minutes

Styles: Soul Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, All Original Songs

I have a soft spot for torch singers in the blues: Laura Green, Shirley King, Sayed Sabrina, Erja Lyytinen, Claudia Carawan. These charming chanteuses and their pearly pipes aren’t only fit for jazz clubs or jazz CDs. Neither is Lauren Glick, presenting her new album Lush. When we hear that word, we typically think of a jungle or a drunk. Well, Ms. Glick sets that jungle ablaze and gets us addicted to her va-va-voom voice instead of vodka. Take the opening track, “Don’t Add Up.” “You’d better think about all your questions, baby, ‘cause they don’t add up all the time.”

That line, delivered with such soft yet searing soul, would make the sneakiest of cheating partners shake in their walking shoes! It’s four minutes of fire, pure and simple. The other eight original songs continue in this vein, each one smoothly mixing the best of soul and the best of blues in equal measure. If the highlight and chief draw of Lush is Lauren’s vocals – and it is – she pulls out all the stops. No timid teenager is she, but an all-caps WOMAN, and she won’t let listeners forget it. On track five, she belts, “I’m not into you, ‘cause I’m onto you, and I don’t know what I’m going to do. I cut my hair and I changed my name, took a trip down memory lane.” Ouch. This isn’t typically something that happens to the unseasoned. Here, Glick demonstrates she’s seen it all. “Little White Lies” will add pep to your step, and the hard blues rocker “Poor Boy” showcases blistering guitar, pounding drums, and understated, gritty keys.

At Lauren’s side (vocals, bass, and keyboards) are Scott Malaby on guitar, Bobby Malaby on drums, and Matt Vangasbeck on additional keyboard.

“Over the past few years, I’ve really embraced the blues,” notes Glick in her promotional materials. “I’ve always loved it musically, but I came to realize that, as a singer, it’s a very comfortable and natural place for me. My voice is really throaty and soulful. That’s what flows from me pretty much effortlessly. So I decided to lean into that full-force over the past couple years, and that really helped me find my niche.”

Lauren has finally found hers – a place for her Lush and vibrant style to shine!

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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