Issue 16-46 November 17, 2022

Cover photo © 2022 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Tinsley Ellis. We have ten Blues music reviews for you this week including new books from Barbara Dane, Scott Billington and Shawn Amos plus new music from Brett Littlefair, Too Slim and the Taildraggers, Howlin’ Wolf & His Wolf Gang, Tomi Leino Trio, Woody Mac, Angel Forrest and Williboy Taxi. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – Tinsley Ellis 

image“In the 60’s the first Blues I heard was the Rolling Stones doing ‘Little Red Rooster’ with Brian Jones playin’ that slide part. And then the Mayall album was so big for guitar playing. Eric Clapton of course and then Peter Green and Mick Taylor. But then there were so many others. The Animals were doing Blues songs. And of course the Yardbirds, that was the first one I heard that was like over the top. And then along came Cream, and Cream just like blew my mind. You know Cream just hits the sweet spot. Blues is my love but Rock n’ Roll is my heritage and they just kinda blended it perfectly. I definitely consider my music Blues Rock because if I was to declare myself a Blues artist I’d consider myself an imposter. Blues Rock describes the 2 things – my passion and my heritage.”

Tinsley Ellis is one of the most consistently inventive and endearing pillars of Blues Rock. A first rate guitarist with an instantly recognizable sound, a clever and endlessly imaginative songwriter and tireless road dog who wields his prolific recording catalog far and wide bringing the good word of the Blues to anyone who will listen; Tinsley has defined and exemplified all that Blues Rock can be. Based out of Atlanta a conversation with Tinsley is to be taken on a joyride through the low country backwoods with his rumbling Southern drawl casually peeling off pearls of wisdom and as he jokes “pithy remarks.” More than anything Tinsley is a student. A history major in college, Tinsley brings an academic’s rigor and a researcher’s zest for hard uncovered treasure to his art. Professor Ellis, pulling from his early British Invasion influence, begins with his theories about Blues Rock as a form and the exception that proves the rule.

“Blues Rock is people influenced by Jimi Hendrix. You know you had stuff before Jimi Hendrix and Cream, you have to put Cream in there because they blew up before Hendrix and were a big influence on Jimi Hendrix. But, stuff before that falls into more like Blues or maybe Rockabilly. And then stuff after Hendrix, you know I hear Hendrix influence on even the greatest Bluesmen of our time. But you know it’s always really great when someone comes along that’s not influenced by Jimi Hendrix. That’s what makes Lil’ Ed so special. Lil’ Ed and his band are the most Blues thing on the planet. Their sound and their style is totally oblivious that Jimi Hendrix ever walked the face of the earth. The rest of us are guilty as charged, no matter how high we stacked our pompadour, we heard it! Lil’ Ed appears to be from another planet, the planet of Chicago, and it’s wonderful that he’s completely untouched by that. But that’s really rare.”

Tinsley Ellis the great interviewee often fills interviewers up with many stories. His first experiences listening to B.B. King. His love of touring and the challenges to be faced. But, Tinsley hasn’t always discussed his early days in Atlanta.

“I was born in Atlanta and my dad moved us when I was like 2 years old down to South Florida. So I actually grew up in Broward County area, Hollywood, Florida. Came back up here (to Atlanta) to go to college in 1975. I was also kinda fleeing the Disco of South Florida. Disco music was kinda taking over, I kinda fled that to come up hear. Of course Disco followed my right up here (haha). In South Florida I saw B.B. King a number of times. I saw Howlin’ Wolf in concert and Muddy Waters. But you had to be like a famous Blues artist to get all the way to the bottom of South Florida. In Atlanta it was a little more on the circuit so I got to see a lot more people.”

“In Atlanta I started playing. You know Southern Rock is my only birthright I’ve got, so playing in bands doing Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker type music. They’d always let me do like “The Thrill is Gone” or something like that, sneak ‘em in you know. Then in the late 70’s, out of college I was able to join a band that was already going called The Alley Cats. I joined that band around the same time (bassist) Preston Hubbard joined the band. He was from Providence (Rhode Island) and he had been in Roomful (of Blues), he met a woman from Atlanta. We started touring and Preston schooled me on traditional Blues that he had learned from Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl. I still have in my basement cassette tapes Duke Robillard made from Preston. That’s how I learned a lot of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and stuff that I was not really exposed to.”

image“We toured the East Coast. (Hubbard) left and joined the Fabulous Thunderbirds and I got with a band. There was a singer from Louisiana that had moved to Atlanta, he had lived in Boston for awhile, named Chicago Bob Nelson. He and I formed a group called The Heartfixers and that’s when I started makin’ albums it was 1981. Chicago Bob left The Hearfixers and we rediscovered Nappy Brown the old Blues singer. Did an album with Nappy Brown and toured Europe and toured America with Nappy Brown. Then around that time I started noticing: where did all the Heartfixers go? They had all been replaced by other people and I was like the last guy in the band (chuckling). So I started performing under my own name. That’s when I got with Alligator records in the late 80’s, 1988. Getting with Alligator Records was the turning point in my career. You know I’ve always had my best success on Alligator.”

Tinsley’s story, continuing on to Chicago, is another area he hasn’t often shared. Tinsley paints a vivid picture of late 80’s early 90’s Chi-town and the vibrant community that surrounded Alligator Records.

“I had just signed with Alligator records. We were based out of Chicago mainly in the late 80’s, early 90’s because now so much of our work was in Chicago. A Lot of people in Chicago, the musicians, were like ‘who is this young hippy whose been signed by the Blues label Alligator Records? You know what are they doing? There are so many great Blues artists in Chicago they should have singed. And who’s this hippy?’ And the first people who were really nice to me were Lonnie Brooks and his sons Ronnie Brooks and Wayne Baker. They always have a special place in my heart. They sat in with me and then gradually I began sitting in with the other Blues artists up there like Albert Collins and Otis Rush and Son Seals and Buddy Guy. So it took me a second but I really feel a kinship with Chicago.”

“We lived up there in a hotel called The Heart of Chicago. It was right out of something like in the Blues Brothers movie. Cars driving by the window a foot away from the bed. Screeching on the breaks you never know when a car is gonna come through the window or something (chuckles). Walking around the neighborhoods up there. I was a hanger-on at Alligator Records much like Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf or Willie Dixon hanging around Chess. I was hanging around Alligator. It was really a great scene. And damn the sad thing about it is all those people I was hanging around with there Koko (Taylor) and Lonnie Brooks and Otis Rush and Son Seals, they’re all gone. It’s just a shame but you know the whole next generation with Ronnie and Wayne. So the music lives on and with Lil’ Ed of course. He’s one of the few artists, maybe the only artist, who’s still around from when I got there on Alligator. It was a great scene. I’m so glad I was part of a community while it was still goin’ on. Yeah it was a special time for me.”

When you listen to Tinsley’s play his guitar there are many influences wrapped into his distinct style. For this listener’s ears the influence of Freddie King is paramount. The way Tinsley attacks his phrases, the way he finishes his bends, even his choice of guitar, all drip with the Texas Cannonball’s genius accomplishments.

“I’m not old enough to have heard Freddie King like when ‘Hideaway’ was on the radio a lot. I got into Freddie King because in the early 70’s when he was recording the albums that King Curtis produced I think they were Capital maybe (they were on Cotillion a subsidiary of Atlantic Records), he was on a PBS special. It was a transition between his early years with the pompadour and the instrumental songs and then the Leon Russell period where he’s playing arenas. This was a PBS special I think it was called Soundstage and I watched that and I was like ‘who is this guy?’ Because you know that would have been around 1971 or 1970 maybe. I saw him on there and it just blew me away, connecting the dots. He was the guy who wrote the song on the John Mayall album ‘Hideaway,’ and Clapton doing ‘Have You Ever Loved a Woman.’ And all of a sudden it seemed like okay then this is a guy that’s the missing link between Blues and Rock.”

“When I started playing more Blues in the shows that I was doing in the bar bands in the late 70’s I found that the Freddie King songs always went over great. Especially those instrumentals – ‘The Stumble,’ ‘Hideaway,’ ‘San-Ho-Zay,’ and ‘In the Open.’ We did all those songs. You know vocally not as easy to pull off, what a singer he was. I’ve always done his songs on my albums. In fact the very first Heartfixers album that we did in 1981, we did ‘I Love the Woman’ which was coincidentally his first 45, maybe even the flip side of ‘Hideaway.”

image“I still bring his playing into everything I do. The attack. He used a metal finger pick and a metal thumb pick. So he always had that attack. He could sort of form the metal claw when he played. He played at a 100 watt level which means he played a (Fender) Twin Reverb type amp. It was very clean, almost no distortion really, just clean and in your face. Coincidentally I’m such a Freddie King fan that I use a metal guitar pick. And when Gibson did a run of 200 Freddie King reissue guitars I bought one of the 200. It’s almost too nice to play. I used it on my albums and I’ve only brought it out once to play in public. But it’s a reissue of his red 1960’s Gibson ES-345, the one he’s pictured with on Freddie King Gives you a Bonanza of Instrumentals. So I bought one of those and I use the metal guitar pick so that puts me right in the Freddie King fanatic territory.”

Tinsley was searching for that Freddie King sound even before he bought that reissue. The number 1 guitar in his arsenal is a sunburst ES-345 with the Varitone switch. For those of us who are not familiar, the Varitone switch is a special circuit added to the ES-345 signal that allows the player a number of different tone options. As Tinsley explained to Premier Guitar’s Ted Drozdowski ( it is impossibly hard to replace but well worth the hardship in tone variation.

“I got that guitar because the very first Blues show I saw was B.B. King in North Miami Beach in the early 70’s and B.B was playing the big hollow-body with the Varitone switch on it. I’ve gotta have one of those. First I started with a cherry read 335 but I wanted the Varitone switch so I could get tone that he got on Blues is King is very wonderful live album with the Varitone and the reverb. That’s probably my main guitar. If I was flying to do a festival that’s the one guitar I would bring. It’s very similar to the reissue Freddie King one.”

Being a proud Atlantan, Tinsley is deeply influenced by the Allman Brothers. “The Allman Brothers reclaimed the Blues crown for America” Tinsley proudly asserts. “Prior to that it was all about Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac and Cream. You know Hendrix and the Allmans bring our music back to us.”

“Well they were the local band growing up when I was a teenager. I never got to see Duane Allman, I just missed him. But I saw them right when Chuck Leavell joined the band. I’ve got every damn thing they’ve done. Growin’ up as a fan, then Dicky Betts would start sitting in with us and I sat in with the Greg Allman Band. Finally I got the big opportunity to open up for them and sit in with the Allman Brothers band on a number of occasions. If someone had told me that when I was a teenager I’d have thought they were really pulling my leg. (chuckles) Yeah I’ve been really blessed being able to record with their members. Chuck Leavell is such a big part of my biggest album Storm Warning. And that was Derek Trucks recording debut, that was 1994 and he was only, I think he’s only 14 years old then. They’ve been very nice to me and I sure miss ‘em.”

Although the Allman Brothers have factored into Tinsley’s music throughout his career, his 2022 romp Devil May Care is an explicit love letter to the Allmans. This love letter was also given the stamp of approval by one of the more dedicated Allman fanatics, and pretty a fantastic player in his own rite.

“When the pandemic hit and I went into total songwriter mode I found myself listening to even more of their recordings from the Duane and the Chuck Leavell eras. Then I found that I had a nice collection of those style songs. Let’s face it I’m never gonna be Muddy Waters, I’m never gonna be Freddie King, the only birthright I’ve got is to play Georgia music and I feel real natural doin’ it. I brought that up to Bruce Iglauer and he let me take a chance and get the album very much in the Allman’s spin or flavor. Turns out it hits a real sweet spot with Blues Rock fans. I’m not trying to be something I’m not, you know.”

image“Half the album is definitely channeling their sound. I even launched a preemptive strike and sent it to Warren Haynes cause I didn’t want him to think I was rippin’ them off. He called it an homage and I took that as a very nice compliment. One thing that’s great about Warren he’s played in so many different types of groups. And he will talk about the Allman Brothers Band ad infinitum about who played what guitar on what song and stuff like that. What a great wealth of information he’s been and what a great passion he has for their music as well.”

Tinsley Ellis is a prolific songwriter. Clever and witty, Tinsley writes songs that are personal and relatable, about life and love, hardships and victories. Bringing a craftsman discipline, Tinsley has a process.

“Songwriting is very much my passion. There’s really no such thing anymore as like a Blues songwriter, like somebody who does that exclusively. Blues songwriters also perform and they’re band leaders and do different projects. Songwriting is something I can’t really do in conjunction with touring. So right now, (off the road) I’m totally in the songwriter mode. Which means in the morning I get up, I’m an early riser, I also stay up late, but I get up early. I get a cup of coffee and I go down stairs and I fire up my recording studio. Then I work on songs that I’ve got that are partially written or if I’m looking for inspiration I’ll play some music. You know some Leon Russell or Freddie King or Peter Green or Sam and Dave. I hopefully get inspired to write, but sometimes the inspiration doesn’t come but it’s great havin’ it downstairs. I actually did some this morning.”

“I’ve really only got one song that was ever a Blues hit and that was “A Quitter Never Wins” which Johnny Lang sold like 2 million copies of. It’s also on the new John Mayall album. You know John Mayall got me into this whole Blues thing to begin with. When I heard he was doin’ that song I cried because he’s like royalty. He did a very beautiful version of it on his latest CD (The Sun is Shining Down).”

In 2013 Tinsley participated in Blues at the Crossroads, a legendary line up of Blues greats who “busted (Tinsley’s) balls” because he was the “kid.” Don Wilcock’s 2018 Blues Blast interview with Tinsley hilariously details this fantastic tour, Born out of Blues at the Crossroads, a new tour is being planned for late next year or early 2024.

“I’ve got several very exciting projects in the works and you’ll get the scoop on them actually. In addition to me being out there playing in my usual band format I’m going to be part of a tour. It’s a tour that celebrates the 3 Kings: B.B., Albert and Freddie. Guess which King I’m gonna be? (pause) Freddie King. Although I’m no Freddie King I’m gonna do my best. Coco Montoya and Ronnie Baker Brooks are gonna be the other 2 kings. With Coco focusing on Albert and Ronnie focusing on B.B. and then all of us jamming at the end. It’s gonna be a very big festival performing arts center tour. I’m very excited about that.”

Tinsley Ellis is as important a modern Bluesman as there is today. Although he would certainly demure from the compliment, Tinsley is a Bluesman. The Blues come in many forms and are open hearted enough to embrace all types of expression. With his relentless commitment and his effervescent presence, Tinsley is one of the torch bearers. Constantly pushing, Tinsley is continuing to move forward and challenge himself and he shows no signs of turning down his energy or his volume.

“I haven’t done this in many years, I’m going to do a solo acoustic shows called Tinsley Ellis: Acoustic Songs and Stories. Cause I love to talk. I’m gonna do some Delta Blues on my 1937 National Steel and I’m bringin’ my Martin D-35 out. I’ll be doing some songs that I have recorded and written, doing them acoustically. Maybe talkin’ a little bit about how I wrote the songs. Then tellin’ some stories, some of them ribald, tellin’ stories of the road. And then doin’ whatever the hell I want to do. Maybe throw in a Bob Dylan and a Gregg Allman song or a Buddy Holly or Leo Kottke. But a lot of it is gonna be me talking, cause I like to talk and people like that. You know I’m not goin’ soft on yah I’m trying something different. It’ll be rockin’ acoustic. Venues have told me to turn down no matter what my delivery system. I think what they’re tellin’ me is turn down the vibe (strain in his voice). You know it’ll be rockin’.”

Writer 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.


 Help Wanted – Writers 

Do you really know your Blues and enjoy telling others about it?

Blues Blast Magazine is looking for a few good writers to volunteer to help us out. We need writers for music reviews who know Blues and can write a minimum of two reviews a month.

We will provide access to downloads or physical CDs, DVDs and books for review. The writer keeps the album, book or DVD for doing the review. We get music submissions from all over the world. We publish music reviews each week so there is a steady flow of music that needs to be reviewed.

These are volunteer positions that need a person who really loves the Blues and wants to spread the Blues word! Must have good writing and composition skills, good grammar and spelling!

Familiarity with WordPress software that we use to post reviews or willingness to learn is helpful. (If you are familiar with Microsoft Word, it is similar. Very easy to use!)

Experienced writers are encouraged to send samples of previous work. All Blues Blast staff started out as volunteers like this. We have kept those with dedication on as staff writers afterwards.

If you are interested, please send an email to and tell us about your Blues background. A resume and/or writing samples are always appreciated too.

Please be sure to include your phone number in your email reply.


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 10 

imageBrett Littlefair – Toetappin’

Self Released

14 Tracks

Toetappin’ is the Adelaide Roots & Blues Association Blues Album of the Year for 2022. This Australian bluesman wrote all the songs here and delivers some fine solo performances on songs that move the listener hypnotically and make their toes tap at the same time. This is his third album and features Brett on electric cigar box guitar, harp, percussion and vocals. The songs are short, focused and deliver a quick punch; they range from just over three minutes to one that’s not even a minute and a half long, yet they deliver his messages.

“Baby We Can Burn” gets things moving.  Laying down a nice guitar groove and blowing some mean harp, Littelfair grabs the listener and makes them pay attention. “Broadsided” follows, another slick cut with slide and a solid vibe. “Whiskey Blues” slow things down a bit and Brett sings and picks out another cool and brooding cut.

Up next is “I’m Beat,” another cut about being down and out. The vibe is more upbeat here, as Brett moans out the vocals and picks out a livelier groove. “See You At The End” is a driving cut with a great boogie and some gritty harp added. “Scratchin’ for Scraps” takes us into a more solemn mood as Littlefair give us some emotive vocals.

“Step Back Boss”  show us a little more liveliness as Brett boogies for us. Its back to a darker feeling with “Ten Long Years,” a somber and darker cut. “Man Of The Hour” has a thumping and throbbing beat and Littlefair give us a cut about a man folks want to be with. “Judgement Day” is acapella vocals with Littlefair taking us to church, a mere 1:19 in length but a powerful cut nonetheless.

Next is “Headin’ South,” a travelling blues with some very cool guitar work. “Fadin’ Fast” returns to slow and darker blues as Littlefair groans out his lead vocals. Another thumping beat with “All Night Long” gets the toes tapping as Brett sings of his woes that he lives through. The album concludes with “Poor Ol’ Me,” with some raw harp, a heavy bass drum beat and distorted vocals.

The mood and feeling here is dark and truly bluesy. Littlefair takes us through feelings of despair and hopelessness as he makes some interesting and well-crafted music. He’s very old school, taking on the style of deep Delta blues. Littlefair’s songs are a release for the emotional heaviness and hurt his work depicts. If you are looking for some very interesting and rootsy tunes, then look no further. Brett Littlefair may be just what you are looking for.

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 – 2 of 10 

imageToo Slim and the Taildraggers – Brace Yourself

VizzTone Label Group VT-UW3

12 songs – 72 minutes

An in-your-face blues-rocker who’s split his time between Tacoma, Wash., and Nashville in recent years, Tim “Too Slim” Langford and his well-traveled trio, the Taildraggers, take no prisoners with their latest CD, an effort that simply blazes from the jump.

Fronting an act that formed in the Evergreen State in 1986 and has been hitting the blues Top 10 charts consistently since the mid-2000s, Too Slim is at the mic and manhandles the six-string throughout this hour-plus set, inspired by a wide range of forebears, including from Lightnin’ Hopkins, Freddie King, Duane Allman, Robin Trower and more.

Honored as a hall of famer and lifetime achievement winner by three different organizations in the Pacific Northwest, he and the Taildraggers have a trophy case packed with more than 40 national and regional awards – including album-of-the-year honors from Blues Blast in 2016 for Blood Moon — and their exploits have been displayed on two MTV shows, The Real World and Road Rules.

Backed by his longtime, powerhouse rhythm section — bassist Zach Kasik and percussionist Jeff “Shakey” Fowlkes, both of whom provide backing vocals, Too Slim recorded this disc in front of an exuberant audience at Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee, Wash. It’s a 12-tune effort that incorporates multiple influences in an all-original set that mixes blues, classic rock and Americana.

Built atop a steadily repeating guitar hook, “Mississippi Moon” opens the action and finds Too Slim awakening from a dream in a cold sweat after images of hellhounds and alligators streaming in his head as his life passes before his eyes. Using a formula that works successfully throughout the album, it flows effortlessly into “Fortune Teller,” a cautionary rocker that continues the message that the singer needs to change his life…today…before “Cowboy Boot,” a seven-minute workout in which the footwear serves as a cashbox that runs dry after a life lived with no regrets.

Up next, “Devil in a Doublewide” powers from the open but eases on the throttle as Too Slim describes a lady with “green teeth and two black eyes” who resides in the title trailer before the initially unhurried “Givers and Takers” quietly suggests that the former is getting harder to find in an ocean of the later before gradually picking up intensity throughout. A plea for clarity follows in the medium-paced rocker “Free Your Mind” before the propulsive “When Whiskey Was My Friend” serves up an original that would fit comfortably in a set by ZZ Top.

Too Slim adopts a Chuck Berry-style attack for the blazing “Letter” next then shifts to ‘60s rock for “My Body” and the Jimi Hendrix-esque “Blood Moon” and “Twisted Rails” before the rapid-fire “Good Guys” brings the action to a close.

If you’re a mainstream blues lover, you’d better Brace Yourself for this one because it’s a rocky ride. But it’s one that blues-rock fans will adore.

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 10 

imageBarbara Dane – This Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song

Heyday Books

488 Pages

Singer Barbara Dane’s autobiography This Bell Still Rings: My Life of Defiance and Song, is the long awaited story of the jazz, blues, folk, world music and gospel pioneer, who at 96 years old, writes vividly, with clarity, focus and honesty. Dane can add her truly talented writing skills to her varied artistic arsenal of gifts.

Dane hails from Detroit, where her Arkansas parents opened a pharmacy and soda fountain to further their chances for their growing family.

Dane discovered her teenage voice as she took Bel Canto singing lessons to further her marvelous instrument. Her singing started in public as a teen by leading protesters on picket lines for both union and civil rights protests in Detroit thru folk singer Pete Seeger. Once she was old enough Dane joined the communist party, as she married Rolf Cahn and moved to California.

Once in Berkeley they struggled to raise a family though loving their new environment. Dane tells her story from the perspective of growing up in the 1940s and 50s as a woman of conscience that could think for herself and find her own path. Barbara also re-evaluates many decisions in her life, how her father ended up standing by her in times of turmoil , how she approached the many obstacles in her path( and not holding resentments but walking on). She also paints a vivid picture of what women in that age were up against, with repeated misogyny, sexual harassment and closed doors. Dane’s confidence leaves much of an impression on the reader. Barbara never went for what was easy but for what felt right.

By the 1950’s a career in singing opened up as a result of needing to feed her family with her second husband Byron Menendez and two new children, Paul and Nina. San Francisco had a burgeoning traditional jazz scene and Dane was drawn to it as result of discovering jazz records as a teen. Soon she was singing with Turk Murphy’s band plus old timers like George Lewis and the demand for her music culminated in Trouble In Mind, her first LP( and greatest in classic blues singing) with old timers like Pops Foster on bass and cornetist Darnell Howard. Now Barbara was truly “On Her Way”, as her hit song says.

Before long she was being courted by Albert Grossman( Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary’s manager ),playing Grossman’s Gate Of Horn in Chicago. Hugh Hefner put her on his TV show Playboy After Dark. The Ash Grove in Hollywood moved her down to LA to take up a residency there. Dot and Capital Records recorded her. Dane was soon working with Memphis Slim, Little Brother Montgomery and Willie Dixon as her backup, recording with Earl Fatha Hines, Benny Carter and Earl Palmer. Dane was offered a Euro tour with Louis Armstrong as well as playing on his Timex Allstars of Jazz on national TV. Dane toured the East Coast with Jack Teagarden. The West Coast with Bob Newhart. She became close friends with Lenny Bruce, whom she shared several residences with in Chicago and SF. At the same time her left wing viewpoints kept the FBI on her tail constantly. She lost two State Dept tours, one with Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry to India and the Louis tour to Europe as a result of her politics.

Barbara was responsible for Brownie and Sonny getting signed to Fantasy Records in 1958, their first recording as a duo. By 1960 Dane decided a nightclub in SF was a way she could keep herself and her group, pianist Kenny Whitsell and former Ellington bassist Wellman Braud working. Barbara found a financial backer and opened Sugar Hill-Home Of The Blues in North Beach. They would play host to a who’s who of blues talent- Brownie and Sonny, Blind Gary Davis, Fred McDowell, T-Bone Waker, Big Mama Thornton, Jimmy Rushing, Lonnie Johnson, Tampa Red, Big Joe Williams, Lightnin Hopkins, Mose Allison and Dane’s favorite blues singer Mama Yancey.

For Yancey’s gig Barbara brought a brass band to greet Mama at the airport and a dozen red roses. Barbara’s mission was to give the old timers recognition for their long and difficult careers. As a result Ebony magazine did their first ever feature on a white woman singer in 1959, showing her with friends Muddy Waters, Little Brother Montgomery, Mama Yancey, Big Joe Williams, Memphis and Dixon and more. The fact that this woman was so beloved by African American music icons speaks to her passion for the music. How else do you explain Count Basie buying her plane ticket to an LA gig from NYC or Ella Fitzgerald writing her a week after meeting her in Chicago to tell Dane she has a bright future in music? Barbara brought the unknown Chambers Brothers to Newport Folk Fest to sing with her in 1964.

Barbara soon was in Mississippi during the voting rights drives by SNCC along with Pete Seeger, Judy Collins, Phil Ochs and others. By 1968 Dane became the first American singer to tour Castro’s Cuba, where her son ended up going to school as a teen but eventually living there full time as Paul became Pablo Menendez , now leader of the famed Mezcla band. Dane became friends with Castro. The amazing portrait this book gives of both Dane’s commitment to peace and justice during Vietnam and Civil Rights shows both her passion to righting wrongs as well as what the era felt like from fifties through the sixties, with the tumultuous changes coming hard and fast. Barbara was in the forefront of all of it!

This is a fascinating must read about a social justice seeker who also happens to be one of the greatest vocalists from the forties till her retirement at age ninety three in 2019. Look for her documentary out in 2023, The Nine Lives Of Barbara Dane, directed by Maureen Gosling.

Writer Mark Hummel is an American blues harmonica player, vocalist, songwriter, and long-time bandleader of the Blues Survivors. Since 1991, Hummel has produced the Blues Harmonica Blowout tour, of which he is also a featured performer.


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 10 

imageScott Billington – Making Tracks: A Record Producer’s Southern Roots Music Journey

University Press of Mississippi

324 Pages Hardcover edition

Rounder Records has long be one of the finest purveyors of American roots music. Many Blues Blast readers undoubtedly treasure many of the recordings that the label released starting in the early 1980s. One name that often appeared on those releases was producer Scott Billington. A working musician who also spent time employed by a Boston record store, Billington met the future owners of Rounder through the Boston Blues Society. He was hired by the label to help promote releases, quickly proving himself adept at that task, which lead to more responsibilities including graphic design.

Once he talked his way into an opportunity to produce an album, he found his true calling. With noted author Peter Guralnick, he co-produced an album, Hangin’ On, with blues legends Johnny Shines and Robert Jr. Lockwood that received the 1980 W.C. Handy Award for Traditional Blues Album of the Year (now the Blues Music Award). The following year saw a release from the multi-talented Texas music legend Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, a man of strong convictions who could be difficult at times. But Billington was able to bring out the best of Brown, leading to his Alright Again! album with backing by a full horn section taking home a Grammy Award in 1982 for Best Traditional Blues album.

Over 14 chapters, Billington shares his experiences with a number of key artists in the blues realm, as well as some giants of Louisiana music. The journey starts with guitarist Sleepy LaBeef. With a booming deep voice and a wide repertoire that had some fans affectionately referring to him as the “Human Jukebox”. Mixing stories from a live show with reminisces of the recording session for the Electricity album, Billington honors an artist who deserves to be more than a footnote in the history of music.

Other sections that will appeal to blues lovers include the piece on Brown, that finds the producer hitting high notes as he helped Gatemouth find a new, and appreciative, audience, a path that was not without some tough moments. There was quite a bit of affection between Billington and the legendary R&B singer Ruth Brown. Again, he captures the essence of the singer over two albums, both receiving Grammy nominations, and describes how Bonnie Raitt helped shine the spotlight on Brown late in her career.

Billington worked similar magic with the seemingly ageless Bobby Rush, taking the singer to New Orleans to record with a stellar line-up of the cities musicians, along with guitarist Vasti Jackson to make sure the music stayed rooted in the tradition. The resulting album, Porcupine Meat, won a Grammy award, a first for Rush, and went on to receive a number of other awards. There were some rocky moments over the course of Billington’s relationship with the dynamic singer Solomon Burke. But once again, the producer’s knack for understanding an artist led to the classic Soul Alive recording.

Central to the book are chapters on three of the finest artists in New Orleans musical history. Irma Thomas is, was, and will always be the Soul Queen of New Orleans. Billington cut several albums with her, and shares some recollections of the Sing It project that included Marcia Ball and Tracy Nelson. For those who aren’t familiar with the work of piano genius James Booker, you will be after reading Billington’s touching tribute to the mad genius. Johnny Adams was one of the finest vocalists of any generation. His projects with Billington showcased the many facets of his artistry, and garnered the singer a new level of well-deserved respect and attention.

For those unfamiliar with the world of zydeco music, Billington serves up several lessons on the energetic music. His work with Boozoo Chavis introduced many people to a seminal artist whose “Paper in My Shoe” record in 1954 is considered the first zydeco record. Under Billington’s care, Chavis was able to update his sound without losing its roots. The piece on Beau Jocque chronicles a man on fire, intent on updating the sound and traditions with a killer band and a live show that kept the dance floor filled all night long. He and Chavis used to stage classic zydeco battles with their accordions at the Rock’n’Bowl in New Orleans, to the delight of all who attended. Another giant is Buckwheat Zydeco, who extended the music’s reach around the world, building on the legacy of Clifton Chenier.

Additional chapters go deeper into Billington’s efforts to document zydeco music as well as Rhythm & Blues he recorded, including another legend, Walter “Wolfman” Washington. An additional chapter finds the producer sharing his history and thoughts on the label that made it all happen. The book is illustrated throughout with black and white photos, many form the recording sessions. Also included is an 18 page discography by artist covering the extent of Billington’s work for the label.

After reading this wonderful saga of Billington’s career, you are left with a deep appreciation for his vision and his remarkable ability to bring out the absolute best in a wide array of artist. He combined great artists with compelling material, and stellar backing bands, then skillfully brought all of the pieces together time after time. A marvelous book worth several reads, which makes it highly recommended!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 10 

imageShawn Amos – Cookies & Milk

Little, Brown and Company

Hachette Book Group

ISBN: 978-0-7595-5677-5

296 pages

Most blues fans know the author as The Reverend Shawn Amos. He has recorded under that name since 2014. He began his career as an A&R man for Rhino Entertainment and released two albums on Unbreakable Records. He helped them establish Shout! Factory, an entertainment company specializing in audio and (mostly) video releases. His third album Thank You Shirl-ee May was released in 2005 on that label, and, like this book, is semi-autobiographical and a tribute to his mother. In 2007, he produced and performed on the Solomon Burke Live In Nashville televised concert. After a seven year hiatus from music, he began recording again as The Reverend Shawn Amos and has released a number of albums and EPs under that name and now with his band The Brotherhood.

Amos’ dad was Wally Amos, the founder of Famous Amos cookies. Born in NYC, he moved to Hollywood and worked with his divorced dad to open the first cookies and milk store that launched an iconic cookie brand. Now recently divorced himself, he wanted to tell the story of his family in this novel.

He uses characters who almost larger than life but quite real in telling his story. The book is intended for older children. It is a fast read and a well crafted story that is heartwarming and endearing. It is the story of Ellis Johnson whose father opens a cookie store on Sunset Boulevard as his real father did. He uses characters based on friends, relatives and people from the neighborhood to tell this tale of growing up, success in the face of potential failure and the resolution of family strife.

I noted on line that Disney is working on an animated series based on this novel. I think that is wonderful and I hope it works out; this is a great story about growing up in the mid-1970’s and preparing to open, of all things, a cookie store. Blues and funk music are woven into the thread of the story; his father and uncle ran a club in Harlem, there is a soul and funk radio station down the street from the store, and a famous visitor happening on the store right after the store’s grand opening. The main character, like Shawn, plays the harmonica.

This is a fantastic children’s novel. As someone whose life’s ambition after retiring is to strive to never grow up, I found the story to be a lot of fun and was taken aback by the end when a tear formed in my eye. I won’t spoil the ending, but suffice it to say it ends well. I most highly recommend this chapter book for children of all ages, from elementary school to, well, my age!

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 10 

imageVarious Artists – Howlin’ Wolf & His Wolf Gang

Wolf Records CD 120.203

16 songs – 80 minutes

When sax master Eddie Shaw took out a lease on the old Club Alex on Chicago’s West Side in 1975 and rebranded it as the New 1815 Club, he hired Howlin’ Wolf to headline his grand opening. It was an easy choice. After all, in addition to being a bar owner, he was also the bandleader of the blues giant’s backing band, the Wolf Gang, an aggregation that included guitarist Hubert Sumlin, sax player Eddie Shaw and keyboard player Detroit Jr., too.

Fortunately for blues lovers everywhere, Hannes Folterbauer – the future co-founder of Vienna-based Wolf Records – was in the audience with friends from Austria that weekend and with permission from Wolf’s wife, Lillie, to do some recording, and five tracks from those nights appear on disc for the first time ever.

Captured seven months before his passing, Wolf’s strength was obviously waning and his health failing because of kidney disease, heart failure and other undiagnosed issues, and his performance provides serves as a footnote to one of the most important musical careers ever. The true jewels of this set, however, are the 11 other tracks that display Shaw, Sumlin and Detroit as stars themselves.

Captured live between 1978 and 1996 at the 1815, at ACME Studio in the Windy City and in Vienna, this disc features extensive liner notes from Living Blues magazine co-founder Jim O’Neal and a virtual who’s who of future Chicago stars in supporting roles, including guitarists John Primer, Johnny B. Moore and Vance Kelly along with Homesick James and Eddie Vaan Shaw, harp player Billy Branch, bassists Willie Kent, Bob Anderson, Small Blues Charlie and Shorty Gilbert and drummers Kansas City Red, Ted Harvey, Tim Taylor and Robert Plunkett with Leo Davies and Joachim Palden sitting in on keys.

Shaw blazes out of the gate on the reeds to open with “Highway 61 Bound,” a tribute to the road that links New York City with the Gulf of Mexico through Clarksdale, where “my baby’s waitin’ on me.” He slows things down for the stop-time complaint, “Fannie Mae Jones,” noting he’s “paid the cost to be the boss” and feeling “just like a chicken with his head cut off” because she’s set him free. He dips into Willie Dixon’s songbook to cover two Wolf standards — “Built for Comfort” and “Little Red Rooster” – before closing with the original uptempo set-closer, “Got to Go Now.”

Wolf takes center stage for the next half-hour beginning with a languorous take on “Big House” before covering Robert Lockwood Jr.’s “Take a Walk with Me” and bracketing the self-penned “Laid Down Last Night” and “Don’t Deceive Me” around Chick Willis’ “After a While.” The sonic differences between what came before and what follows is noticeable throughout despite modern studio manipulation.

A true character at the keyboard, Detroit Jr. penned several classic numbers, including “Call My Job,” which has been covered by Albert King, Son Seals, Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials. A plea for a day off after having too much weekend, it precedes “Race Track,” about his buzzard betting on horses, before closing out with “You’ve Been Laid,” a description of his lady’s face in the morning after cheating the night before.

The best is yet to come, however, with Sumlin ripping and running on his original, “You Can’t Change Me,” as Branch lays down tasty counterpoint runs on harp. The loping “No Place to Go” follows before “I’ve Been Gone” brings the action to a close.

A time capsule of the way the blues used to be in Chicago, this disc has its flaws but there’s enough to like to make an old-timer like me smile. Give it a listen and you’ll be grinning, too.

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 – 7 of 10 

imageTomi Leino Trio – Play That Thing

Homework Records

10 songs time – 31:03

If any of your friends or family refer to blues music as “downer music”, have them give a listen to this blues band from Finland. They rock it out in fine style and get you moving. Tomi Leino leads his troop with his warm deep intonations, and energetic guitar, harmonica and piano skills. He wrote or co-wrote six of the songs. He is ably backed up by Jaska Prepula on bass and Mikko Peltola on drums. Together they have really soaked up an authentic feel for the blues.

They get off to a rollicking start with a cover of an obscure Jimmy Reed song, “I’m A Love You” that showcases Tomi’s harmonica and guitar skills. It seems like they pulled a swampy guitar riff from a Slim Harpo song for “Doreen”. Also a good showing on the harmonica. What can’t this guy do? Tomi does an excellent turn on the “88s” on “Leave My Money Alone”. They adapt the “Mannish Boy” riff to Jerry McCain’s “That’s What They Want” to good effect. The guys rustle up a spirited version of the Booker T. instrumental “Knucklehead”. As always the harmonica playing is superb.

Snappy is the best word for the upbeat “You Broke My Heart”. The swagger in Tomi’s voice fits right in with the groove of “What’s The Matter With You”. The goodness just continues with “I Gotta Move On” that has some of the best guitaring here. It just slices through the ether. This guy knows his way around some biting slide guitar as well, as seen in the instrumental “Sticky Finger”. Really nice melodic slide guitar. Tomi almost makes his harmonica sound like a Cajun accordion on the swamp rock “Pouring Rain”.

Although it is rather on the short side, they pack a lot of good feeling music into this small package. It gives me a good feeling to see blues music interpreted in such a genuine manner. The rhythm section is tight in their support of Tomi’s musicality. This is a gem of good listening from top to bottom.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 10 

imageWoody Mac – Beware the Monsters


CD: 11 Songs, 37 Minutes

Styles: Guitar Monster Blues, Contemporary Blues Rock, All Original Songs

“This CD goes to 11!” So says the blurb on Michigander Woody Mac’s website, advertising his new release Beware the Monsters. Not only does it feature eleven songs, but if you turn the volume up that high, your speakers and/or refurbished HyperX headphones will get blown out. Mac leans so far to the rock side of blues rock that he makes Jimi Hendrix look like Muddy Waters. Nevertheless, it’s perfect for a party in your backyard, garage, or tavern. Woody’s relentless, in-your-face shredding and instrumentally-drowned lyrics demonstrate exactly what kind of album this is: one full of what I call “Guitar Monster Blues.” Its incendiary energy leaves little room for interpretation, even less for introspection. Dance, drink, and dance some more.

States Allen “Woody Mac” MacMillan on his website, “Growing up in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, it was at a early age music and the guitar became a part in my life. I Picked up the guitar at the age of 11 and started to teach myself to play. I have enjoyed all types of music, especially listening to the Beatles and many other artists of the day. But I was really drawn to the feel of blues music and guitar players such as B.B King, Eric Clapton and Rory Gallagher, just to name a few. I soon found myself playing in neighborhood garages with my friends. I also enjoyed writing and creating my own songs at a early age which found me in several original music projects through the years.”

Starring alongside Woody Mac (vocals, guitar and synthesizer) are Jeff Dork (no typo) on bass and backup vocals, and Timmy Sears on drums and backup vocals. Eric Noffz guest stars on sax for numbers six (“Motor City Groove” and “I’m Alive With You,” both reviewed below).

Right from the first track, “Stand Tall,” this trio emulates key influences such as ZZ Top, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones, and the Allman Brothers. Some might call their music a “mashup,” others a “reinvention,” and still others a “chaotic hodgepodge.” Go to track seven, “Good Lord Almighty,” and pick your favorite adjective. “Good Lord Almighty. You’re freaking crazy. You gotta be out of your mind,” Woody explodes in one of his more audible vocal offerings. “You want your cake and eat it too. Love someone else while I’m loving you. Bit off more than you could chew.” This comes straight after the relatively-smooth “Motor City Groove,” featuring clear and appealing sax from Eric Noffz. “Bad Girl” has a down-and-dirty refrain, and “I’m Alive With You” is the closest thing to a slow-dance tune, although it’s mid-tempo.

This is not your average rock recording. It’ll leave you in awe of the musicians’ stamina (fueled by how much caffeine?), and at the same time, it’ll make you wonder what would happen if they slowed down and injected more blues into their repertoire. As is, it’s a shred-fest beyond compare, mixing and matching the scariest guitar Monsters to create an oeuvre all their own. Listener alert: even if their style isn’t yours, it just might grow on you.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 43 year old female Blues fan. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 10 

imageAngel Forrest – Angel’s 11 Vol. II

AD Litteram

11 songs time – 46:24

Canadian chanteuse Angel Forrest presents her latest CD in her three-decade career, having received many accolades in her native country. Among her achievements was her tribute to Janis Joplin and subsequent live CD of Janis material. This is a CD of duets plus one triplet (? lol). From what I gather with Canadian singers. Three of which I am familiar with. Her husky voice is riveting, keeping the listeners’ attention. Having a strong backing band is a big plus. All the well-crafted songs were written by Angel Forrest and Denis Coulombe.

Ricky Paquette’s vocal is the perfect fit for Angel’s on “Living In Bardo”. The searing electric guitar lines are attributed to him as well. Denis Coulombe assists him on acoustic guitar and the two join forces for the ringing guitar intro. Coulombe duets on the island themed “My Favorite”, that is helped greatly by Dimitri Lebel-Alexandre’s Hawaiin tinged pedal steel guitar and Paquette’s deep-toned guitar. The lushly eloquent duet  “Mad River” is beautifully melancholy with Rob Lutes on this one. Canadian roots singer Harry Manx vocalizes on “Gypsy Heart”, as well as lending his signature Eastern-sounding Veena with its’ sound similar to a sitar.

Crystal Shawanda joins in on “Hope” and for my money I’m hard pressed to differentiate twixt the two. Sounds like Angel is having a glorious duet with herself. WellBad contributes his powerful voice to “Everything Changes” while Ricky Paquette’s electric guitar soars up into the stratosphere. Another gorgeous blending of female voices courtesy of Reney Ray is a treat for the listener on the country-ish “Better Side”, a song that benefits from Mr. Paquette’s electric guitar and mandolin. This guy adds extra goodness to everything he touches.

I told you there would be a triplet as Kal David & Lauri Bono join Angel on the country flavored “Just Enough”. Brandon Issak’s rough hewn vocal compliments one of Angel’s more throaty and appropriate vocals on the rough and tumble “Whiskey & Wonder”. Brandon also plays harmonica and acoustic slide guitar on this one. They play nicely against Paquette’s electric slide guitar and deep-toned electric guitar. “These souls just can’t be sold” sums up the sentiment of the song. High profile Canadian songstress Dawn Tyler Watson spars with Angel on the swaggering “Glitter & Glow”. The slow, poignant and intense breakup song “Please, Please, Please” wraps things up with Jonas Tomalty trading lines with Angel against mournful guitar accompaniment.

Wow! An emotion packed vocal, lyrical and instrumental tour-de-force. Not one miscue here. The production values by Guillaime Lombart are right on the money. The musicianship is beyond reproach. As an extra bonus the photos and drawings in the enclosed booklet by Dylan Sky are works of art. Where has this lady and partners in crime been all my life. Pick up this sure thing!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 10 

imageWilliboy Taxi – Down the Road

2022, Self-Produced

10 tracks; 35 minutes

William Rossi, also known as Williboy Taxi, lives in Sardinia, Italy.  But, to listen to his latest album, Down the Road, you’d imagine he’d be right at home in the center of Clarksdale, Mississippi.  Inspired by the music of John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly, Robert Johnson and many more, this guitarist, harmonica player, songwriter, (and taxi driver), has released an excellent album of acoustic blues.

All the tracks are original songs (with the exception of a brief sampling at the beginning of the album of an acapella version of “C.C. Rider”).  Rossi is joined on nearly every song by Vittorio Pitzalis, who contributes resonator guitar, acoustic guitar and a little electric guitar.  And, the second song, “Baby Don’t Cry” features a beautiful and tasteful addition of the violin, played by Anna Maria Viani.

There is no fault to be found in the musicianship of these artists, and at times Rossi’s playing appears to show a John Hammond influence.  Rossi also has some beautifully poetic lyrics in his songs, often powerfully portraying the experience of melancholy.  For example, in “Hurt and Pain” he states “All my life is a train that gives off hurt and pain.  When I look at the time it always seems too late.  In the morning I feel alright.  In the night I take everything with me in a grave.”  And, in “Possession of You” he notes, “You threw it all away because you were tired.  It’s a kind of depression that brings tears to my eyes, but that all keeps me moving and makes me stronger.”

The only downfall of this album is that in a few of the songs the lyrics can be a bit repetitive and fall short of a complete story.  But, overall, fans of acoustic blues will find this album very enjoyable and will want to add it to their collection.

Writer 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.

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