Issue 16-47 December 1, 2022

Cover photo © 2022 Bob Kieser

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Corky Siegel. We have six Blues music reviews for you this week including a new book from Lester Chambers plus new music from Orphan Jon And The Abandoned, Blue Moon Marquee, Eva Carboni, Kokomo and Paolo Demontis & The Good Gheddo. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – Corky Siegel 

imageA vital cog in the Chicago music scene since the ‘60s, Corky Siegel has every right to rest on his laurels after being one of the key figures in the introduction of the blues to a new, white audience and then fusing it with classical music and in a way never heard before. When COVID struck and he was housebound, he could have said: That’s enough. I’m done.

But not Corky.

Instead of feeling sorry for himself and unable to perform for adoring audiences for the first time in decades, Siegel set his sights on an even loftier goal: to use his downtime and figure out a way to use his music to spread love, peace, truth and understanding to a society wracked with disease, political upheaval and social disorder.

Fortunately for fans across the music spectrum, there’s a reason to rejoice because Corky — one of the most gentle, good-humored and upbeat revolutionaries you’d ever want to meet – has been so productive that he’s in the process of serving up three new, subtle, multi-textured and distinctly different projects that will entertain while serving as a salve for a world in dire need of healing.

Siegel was on top of the world in the spring of 2020. He and his ensemble, Chamber Blues – a tour-de-force until that includes a string quartet and world-class musicians from multiple mediums – were relaxing at an outdoor café after a successful performance on St. John in the Virgin Islands when news of the impending lockdown in the U.S. broke.

It was a painful announcement on several levels, he admits, noting that he’d recently received a dire warning from an advisor that – at age 76 — he had to stop spending and start bringing in more cash in order to avoid impending trouble. A bad-enough message on its own, the words came on the heels of having had to buy a new car after his old one exploded, leaving Corky and wife Holly stranded in the middle of Wisconsin.

“So there were were,” Siegel says, “having just spent money to pay everyone really well, which is something I always did – but that was okay because we were calling this date a ‘vacation.’ We were losing a little money but we had all these gigs booked – none of which happened. As Holly, says: ‘Mother Nature sent us to our rooms.’”

What for most folks could have been conceived as the onset of major problems, however, turned into yet another opportunity for the man who describes himself as being “an innocent victim of my own good fortune.”

A gifted harmonica player, keyboard player and composer who was born on Nov. 24, 1943, and grew up on the South Side of the Windy City, Corky’s path to the blues came while studying music at Roosevelt University in the Loop. He was playing harp at home one day when a neighbor heard him and subsequently turned him on to the music of Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.

As someone who was covering Fats Domino, Little Richard and Chuck Berry in a trio in South Side clubs at the time, the uninhibited sounds struck him to his core. And he dove headfirst into the music shortly thereafter when he befriended guitarist Jim Schwall – a fellow member of the university’s jazz band – and started jamming at his apartment.

At the time, Schwall was also playing harp behind Mike Bloomfield, a founding member of both the Butterfield Blues Band and Electric Flag and one of the greatest guitarists in the history of American music. Schwall taught Siegel – who’d been playing in a rudimentary style akin to Bob Dylan — how to play in second position and to bend reeds – both blues essentials – and quickly elevated his attack, laying the groundwork for the techniques that still serve him well today.

They started learning songs but took a different approach than many of the other white bluesmen were doing at the time. While the great majority of the others were copying their licks and arrangements note-for-note off the originators’ LPs, the duo took a different approach. “I’d listen to the record one time,” Corky says, “and then try to play it like I felt when I was dancing around the house.”

That tactic alone would have set them apart from the crowd. But their sound was even more unique because, when they played out in public for the first time as a duo, Jim was on an amplified acoustic six-string in a scene dominated by blaring electric guitars. Trading off vocals and with Corky primarily playing piano and adding percussion via a bass drum and hi-hat situated underneath his keyboard, they debuted at a Hyde Park coffeehouse not far from the University of Chicago.

Despite a sparse crowd, it was a successful – and memorable – night, during which they were approached by a pair of then-unknown playwrights who liked their playing so much they wanted to enlist them for help on their new work. The writers turned out to be James Rado and Gerome Ragni. For the next six months, Siegel and Schwall toiled away on the charts for what would become Hair – albeit with a significant plot change and other major alterations years later.

Luck was on Siegel-Schwall’s side when they decided to land gigs in the numerous small clubs that populated the South Side in that era, too. Their first excursion took them to Pepper’s Show Lounge at 43rd and Vincennes. “To me, it was just another bar,” Corky remembers, “and we were probably the only two white kids for miles around. We went in and asked: ‘Can we play?’” – without any hint of an idea that it was one of the top blues clubs in the city — and the world — in its day.

After a brief audition, the owner, Johnny Pepper, hired them on the spot for a regular Thursday-night gig – but he insisted that they work as four-piece with a rhythm section instead of a duo.

“From nine at night till four in the morning, we’d be playing with the rhythm section from whatever band was in town but off that night,” Siegel says, “and we…we were just learning to play.”

The first night, they were accompanied by Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer and bass player. “And who comes to sit in with us?” Corky remembers, “Wolf, Muddy, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Otis Spann, Willie Dixon, Hound Dog Taylor!” Corky remembers. “They thought we had a different approach. We weren’t imitating. We were just trying to play…and they lo-o-oved us!”

imageNow a four-piece with a rhythm section that other groups would lust after, the Siegel-Schwall eventually became one of the first ensembles to bring the blues north of the Loop. Butterfield had laid the groundwork for blues on the North Side through their regular gig on Wells Street. But when they hit the road after signing with Elektra, Siegel-Schwall took their place at Big John’s and played at a neighboring club, Mother Blues, too.

“Wolf came to Mother Blues and brought his family to see us,” Corky remembers fondly. “He tells ‘em: ‘Siegel-Schwall’s my favorite band ‘cause you guys are doin’ somethin’ different. You’re not tryin’ to imitate someone else’ — Muddy told us the same thing.

“Wolf hops on stage with us, tells me I’m playing ‘Down in the Bottom’ — (a song he’d first recorded for Chess in 1961) — wrong…and then says Siegel-Schwall isn’t his favorite band…his favorite band is his band — but he still wants to take us on the road with him – including two weeks at Café-a-Go-Go in New York City.

“He used to knock on my door every morning and we’d take these long walks in the (Greenwich) Village.”

One of Corky’s favorite mementos from that era is a photo from that shows him sitting on Wolf’s knee with bass player Jack Myers in the background. A giant of a man, Wolf dwarfed the diminutive Siegel so much that Holly describes it “looking like a ventriloquist with a dummy.”

Back then, though, Siegel was so green to the blues that he’s still embarrassed by an incident that occurred at Pepper’s when the joint hosted an all-day show in Wolf’s honor that was emceed by his bandleader, sax player Eddie Shaw, and anchored by his regular band, the Wolf Gang.

“Eddie invites me up to play, and I’m feeling really, really out of place,” Corky recalls, “because there hadn’t been another white person on stage all day. He introduces me and says: ‘This guy might look to you to be out of place, but he’s one of us…and Wolf – who’s sitting nearby — says: ‘That’s my boy!’

“I’m on stage, and all these amazing people are sitting in…all of the very same people I was listening to on records at home. It was mind-blowing!

“This one guy shows up – and he’s definitely been drinking. He says: ‘Hey, man! Can I sit in?’ I say: ‘Why don’t you come back another time when you’re feeling better?’ And the audience goes: ‘Hey! Why don’t you let him up!?! That’s Little Walter!’

“And it gets worse…because I’m thinking: ‘Who’s Little Walter?’ So I let him sit in, he starts playing, and I went: ‘Oh, my god! That’s Little Walter!’

“It shows you how naïve and new to it all was at the time. I never read the back of the album covers. I was trying to listen to the music. I didn’t want to be distracted by anything else. So I had no idea that the guy playing harmonica was named Little Walter.

“Fortunately, though, when harmonica players showed up, I played the piano or the harmonica if a piano player showed up — so I got to play with all of ‘em.”

Signed to Vanguard Records, Siegel-Schwall’s first four LPs were produced by Samuel Charters, the top blues historian of the era, and they recorded a dozen more albums as stars in their own right. In the midst of all their success, however, a casual encounter with another “fan” early in their career led Corky down a path that literally has created a unique niche in music that will forever link lowdown blues with the sounds of formal high society.

The meeting occurred at Big John’s after an Asian gentleman finally approached the band stage one night after arriving early and staying repeatedly to the end.

“Finally,” Corky remembers, “one night he comes up to me and says: ‘I would like your band to jam with my band.’

“’Who’s your band?’ I asked. He says: ‘The Chicago Symphony.’”

The fan turned out to be Seiji Ozawa, the symphony’s Japanese-born director and one of the most important classical conductors of the 20th century.

Soon after, he began returning to the club in the company of William Russo, a giant in the world of avant garde musical composition, to join forces and kick around ideas. The end result turned out to be “Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra,” a work that gave Siegel-Schwall space to improvise in blues scales in juxtaposition to the Symphony, which was playing  charts with formal arrangements and structure.

Debuting at the upscale Ravinia Festival in suburban Highland Park, the event drew rave reviews with critics drawing comparisons to the creativity of Miles Davis and Leonard Bernstein. Siegel-Schwall subsequently started traveling the country and repeating the performance with other classical ensembles.

The work finally made it to record a few years later, when Siegel-Schwall reunited with Ozawa, who was at his new gig with the San Francisco Symphony. Released by Deutsche Grammophon, one of the foremost classical labels in the world, it became the label’s highest-selling LP ever, climbing as high as the No. 21 spot on Billboard’s jazz chart – an amazing feat because of the hybrid nature of the music.

Since that era, Corky has successfully walked a tightrope between the blues and classical worlds, expanding the scope of both in often surprising directions each step of the way, carving out a niche as a concert composer, too.

First, the San Francisco Symphony came calling, the the National Symphony in Washington, D.C., and the Grant Park Symphony in Chicago. A second partnership with Russo produced “Street Music, A Blues Concerto,” which earned the Grand Prix du Disque from the French government and other honors, and his works began appearing in ballet performances and Olympic skating events.

imageSchwall – who Siegel jokingly refers to him as “my ex-wife” – went on to earn a PhD degree and taught music at the University of Wisconsin for years, ran for mayor of Madison a few times and became deeply involved in social issues after they parted company in 1974. But they remained close friends  until his death earlier this year, reuniting occasionally to record and perform when their schedules allowed.

Siegel’s love for the juxtaposition of blues and classical music kept growing through the years and he eventually came to find that working with a string quartet was so soothing and healing that he launched Corky Siegel’s Chamber Blues in 1983 and has been working in that and other formats ever since, foregoing the traditional blues rhythm section in favor of the wooden sounds emanating from the strings and the addition of a tabla player because the sound of the Indian drums is so complimentary to the mix.

“I adored it but thought people were going to hate it,” he says. But when the ensemble debuted in Boulder, Colo., in 1987, he adds: “The critics were rabid. They absolutely loved it. I was really surprised.

“Today, we’re the only chamber orchestra ever to record for an all-blues label,” Corky chuckles. “And Siegel-Schwall’s the only blues band to record two albums for an all-classical label!”

Through it all, Corky insists, he’s still the same guy who started learning the blues so many years ago. “I’m still dancing and doing what I’ve always done,” he says. “Whenever someone asks me what I play, I tell ‘em it’s blues.

“At the same time, I want to honor every form of music” because pitch, harmony and melody carry listeners away no matter what its form and that blues players provide a special element to the mix, providing guidance to the other musicians through their ability to throw themselves so deeply into their performance regardless of what’s happening around them on stage.

After decades in the business, however, Siegel found himself in the same boat as every other musician in the world when COVID struck. And as one of seven million Americans who are immunocompromised and had to go to extreme measures to protect themselves from the infection, he had to do the same.

“Holly and I basically didn’t leave the house throughout the pandemic,” he says, which isn’t exactly true. Making the best of a bad situation, they regularly left home to stretch their legs on long walks through their North Side neighborhood.

“In the early days,” he says, “we’d see somebody coming down the sidewalk, cross to the other side…then yell to them: ‘Nothing personal!’ And we’d wave to everybody. Sometimes somebody’d ask: ‘Do you know me? Why are you waving?’

“I’d tell ‘em: ‘It’s social distancing…not anti-social distancing!’”

Shortly after their return from St. John, a promoter called, wanting to reschedule a Chamber Blues concert from the spring to November. “I started thinking: ‘Every individual is going to have to be in an airtight container,’” Siegel remembers. “‘We’re artists. Why don’t we think of something that’s creative? Let’s do something new!’”

After discussions with the Chamber Blues board of directors, the ensemble started doing video productions. “We were calling them Better Than in Person, listing about 35 reasons why (performing remotely) was more interesting and exciting than live,” he says, “because the only thing you lose is the whole group of people doing it together.

“People were watching our videos and going: ‘This is better than watching it in person!’ They were really digging it…when they couldn’t go out.”

In total, they produced five two-hour concerts before Corky changed the format and began broadcasting shorter, less formal shows twice a week over social media – 160 at last count and climbing — that have included performances as well as a few diverse interviews with Toronzo Cannon, Marcella Detroit, Schwall, Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith, director Gary Sherman, composer David Amram and others.

“Holly, who’s a graphic artist, handles the camera, Ken Goerres (an inventor, top sound engineer and fixture in the film industry) has been doing all my audio since ’73 — and I had to learn video editing. She and I were both writing and, fortunately, since I play harmonica and piano and am a songwriter, it made it possible for us to turn out a lot of content.

“That was our life – until recently.”

But not really!

As these words were being composed, he was on the verge of repeating a feat he accomplished in 2005, when he was involved in the production of three albums in a single year – which included the release of Corky Siegel’s Traveling Chamber Blues Show, Siegel-Schwall’s Fast Forward and Buried Alive in the Blues as a member of Chicago Blues Reunion, a group that included Sam Lay, Barry Goldberg, Tracy Nelson, Nick Gravenites and Harvey Mandel, and others.

“But this time,” he jokes, “I did it all on purpose!”

His latest Chamber Blues effort, More Different Voices, is already getting rave reviews, with Songs for Truth and Harmony — an all-original set recorded in various settings — with Something Wrong — a collection of previously unreleased material culled from solo concerts – soon to follow.

Despite their inherent differences, there’s a unifying thread that runs through all three works in that they all deliver what the world needs most now – a heaping helping of love. And none of them would have happened, Corky says, without generous contributions from fans and supporters to his Kickstarter and Unrecorded Love crowd-funding campaigns.

imageMore Different Voices, the seventh Chamber Blues CD, includes contributions from blues artists Toronzo and Tracy Nelson, jazz diva Lynne Jordan and saxophonist Ernie Watts, vocalist Marcella – who bridges the jazz, pop and blues worlds, Frank Orrall – the front man of the Hawaii-based alt rock/soul group Poi Dog Pounding, a string section composed of members from from Spain, Taiwan and the U.S., and tabla giant Kalyan “Johnny Bongo” Pathak. As an inventive twist, the music goes in an entirely new direction, too, with the addition of Ukrainian-born, America-based cantor Pavel Roytman.

“I’ve always had myself a lot of faith in Mr. Spontaneity,” Corky says. “It’s more like the choices happen to me rather than the other way around.”

That was the case a decade ago when he received a call from someone who knew Siegel incorporated guest artists in his performances and suggested Roytman, who’s regular role in music is to sing and lead congregants in chants during Jewish religious services.

“I had lunch with him, we hit it off really well,” Corky notes, “and I wrote a (bluesy) version of ‘Hine Ma Tov’ for him. It was the only Jewish song I remembered! It’s a chant (drawn from the first verse of Psalm 133) that’s repeated over and over.

“I decided to make it really long and explore where it would go. It starts out as ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ – (the lyrics – in Hebrew — following the same pattern) and then it gets very Mozartian and goes into other realms while maintaining a little blues on harmonica.

“We recorded it in 2014…he wanted it for his synagogue…and never did anything with it. When we were about to do this album, I said: ‘Let’s do this!’”

The timing couldn’t have been better when you consider that the decision to include it occurred prior to the war that’s raged in Roytman’s homeland and has left his hometown, Mykolaiv in the Donbas region, in ruin.

The set’s extremely interesting throughout and not as high-brow as you might imagine, beginning with Lynne’s spine-chilling vocals on the jazzy/bluesy “No One’s Got Them Like I Do,” which opens and features Corky providing counterpoint on harp. The group dips into the Siegel-Schwall songbook for a reinvention of “Twisted,” too.

And blues fans will also enjoy “Joyful Jambalaya,” and instrumental on which and rips and runs on the reeds and emits  a few Sonny Terry-style whoops as accents, and Toronzo covering his own song, “Insurance,” which takes on new life as strings substitute for his guitar runs. Other treats include Marcella – who co-wrote “Lay Down Sally” — soaring on mic to deliver her original, “There Goes My Man” and Tracy accompanying herself on keys for a rereading of the original, “Down So Low,” which first appeared in 1968 when she was working alongside Bloomfield in Mother Earth.

Corky’s other projects are far more down-to-earth.

Co-written with Holly, Songs for Truth and Harmony channels the spiritual energy of tunesmiths Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie and the teaching of the Dalai Lama, social psychologists as it delivers a passionate, blues-infused plea for kindness and truth – the seed for which was planted by Dr. L. Subramaniam, a frequent Corky collaborator and violinist adept in both South Indian and western classical music.

Siegel showed him the lyrics to one of the first tunes penned for this set, and Subramaniam exclaimed: “It’s hard to change people’s minds with words, but you can get to their hearts with song.”

As board members of the Illinois chapter of Common Cause, a non-partisan organization founded by Republicans that promotes accountability and good government and whose rolls include members of both major parties, the Siegels’ words on this one deliver words steeped with a message but conveyed in the kindest, most gentle way imaginable as they deliver a plea for more peace and understanding in a nation in which both sides of the political spectrum have grown increasingly toxic in recent years.

“Music uplifts us, unifies us, it’s healing…it’s beautiful,” Corky insists. “And politics does exactly the same thing — but in a more direct and — practical –way. Where music is more of a spiritual force, politics is a practical force that heal, too – but people don’t always use it or think of it that way. The analogy is: You can hit someone in the head with a hammer, but you can also build a house with it. The same is true with voting.

“I’ve been making recordings since 1966, and this is the first album that I didn’t write strictly for my own joy, but to join the effort to defend our democracy.”

With tunes entitled “Only Love Will Get Us There,” “Don’t Wait for Peace,” “The Question,” “Cool Fragrant Breeze (Truth),” “Big Time Losers Blues” and more and with contributions from jazz violinist/vocalist Randy Sabien and others, the message comes through loud, clear and uplifting but never confrontational.

imageThe third offering, Something Wrong – the title song is taken from an old Siegel-Schwall tune – has a different agenda. Other than a cover of Little Walter’s “Blues with a Feeling,” it’s a collection of Corky’s original tunes that have been culled from solo live performances.

Emerging from his self-imposed cocoon, Corky celebrated the impending release of all three albums along with his 79th birthday with a show in suburban Evanston in late October — one of seven performances he’s given recently, all of which he jokingly refers to as “vax or ‘masquerade” concerts to keep everyone, including himself, safe from harm.

“I’m really hard on COVID – I don’t give it a chance,” he says. “And I only got a few emails from people. They couldn’t just say they didn’t like the idea. They had to express their anger. (chuckles) I told Holly: ‘Instead of answering their questions about “what’s all this insanity about you asking for people to be vaxxed or masked” in the sweet, long email I sent ‘em, I shoulda said: “That’s the same question I got when I put Chamber Blues together!’ (laughs)

“I was feeling like COVID was going to be a beautiful time for people to realize that, inherently, we have a deep desire to take care of each other with so many bad things happening. And, politics aside, it was like the opposite happened.

“People just got sick and tired of having to mitigate around this disease that we don’t know much about compared to others. Because I care about people, I thought we’d all be going to the grocery and seeing all the old people there and take the opportunity to put our on masks. But then I realized, I’m a little weird because I stop at stop signs, too.

“It’s saying that every time I stop, I appreciate my life and the life of others enough to take three extra seconds to show it. And if I do, the chances of me running someone over are gonna be a lot less. It’s sorta a win-win!”

With everything else on his plate, Siegel already has another solo album in the works, which will include a few new tunes along with originals written as far back as the ‘70s that have never seen the inside of a recording studio, including “Queen Ida of the Zydeco,” a tribute to the Louisiana legend. “There was only so much material that could fit on an LP back then,” he says wistfully. “Things are different now.”

Fans can rejoice that there will be more performances ahead, too.

As Corky came to understand after a reunion with Jesse Colin Young, the founder of The Youngbloods, and a friend since their days together in San Francisco during the Summer of Love, being a performer provides special blessings.

“He was playing at the City Winery in Chicago just prior to the pandemic and invited me to sit in,” Siegel says. “We’re backstage with him afterward, and I asked: ‘Jesse, when you got on stage, you looked 80 years old. When you got off stage, you looked 40. How do you explain that?’

“’Music used to be about other things,’ he said. ‘But now it’s about love.’

“And then he said the profound statement that I’ll never forget: ‘What were we so worried about?’ All you can do is embrace life! Take a walk outside. Look at the sky. Make sure you’re enjoying every single second no matter the situation!”

Head to to check out Siegel’s music and find out where he’ll be playing next. And while you’re there, be sure to visit his blog. It’ll definitely be worth the trip!

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.

 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 6 

imageLester Chambers with T. Watts – Time Has Come : Revelations Of A Mississippi Hippie

Self-published – Softcover edition

214 Pages

The song “Time Has Come Today” was a huge hit, and has remained a popular song over the decades since it’s initial release. It has been used in commercials, movie soundtracks, and television shows. But how much do any of us remember about the men who conjured up the song that seemingly defines a generation at a time when the world began to change. The Chambers Brothers soared into the spotlight as their gospel harmonies combined with rock and blues influences to captivate audiences around the world.

Now one of the brothers, Lester Chambers, has written his autobiography, a look back at a career that follows an all-too familiar arc of rags to riches, and back.

The brothers grew up in Mississippi, learning to sing and harmonize in the Baptist church choir. As Lester recalls, “There was Joe with the big deep voice, George with the tenor voice, Willie with the baritone lead voice, and me hittin’ all those high notes. It just worked right out.” Their father was a sharecropper who eventually had a run-in with some white men and the local Ku Klux Klan. That lead to several brothers leaving in the dead of night for California, where George was already living in Los Angeles.

Before they left, Lester was gifted a brand new Hohner harmonica by his father. Since money was tight, he couldn’t figure out where his father got the money to buy the instrument that Lester had been lusting after ever since he heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s version of “The Fox Chase” on the radio.

Lester and Joe start performing as the Chambers Brothers, playing coffee houses and folk clubs. Once Willie was done playing with blues singer Long Gone Miles, he joined the band. In 1964, they approached Ed Pearl, the owner of the famous Ash Grove club, about playing his venue. Pearl was reluctant to add gospel to his musical menu, but finally agreed to give them one night tryout. They were a hit with the audience, earning a slot as the opening act for Lightnin’ Hopkins.

From there, the Chambers Brothers steadily built up a following, playing bigger clubs for more money. All was well until the Queen of Gospel, Mahalia Jackson, took great exception to the brothers singing gospel in clubs where alcohol was served. In her mind, that was a sacrilege of the highest order. Her campaign in the press ended up costing the band some of their gigs. But they soldiered on, eventually getting to the Newport Folk festival, which they played several times to great acclaim. That was where Bob Dylan heard the brothers. He invited them to do backing vocals for his Highway 61 Revisited album, although their studio contributions did not make onto the final release of that record.

From there, Lester takes readers through the decades as the band’s fame grows along with the money and attention. He describes chance encounters with artists like Jimmy Reed and Jimi Hendrix, a night when Berry Gordy and Diana Ross walked into a club the brothers were playing. There is a fascinating story about the genesis of ‘Time Has Come Today,” which Clive Davis, the head of Columbia Records, hated with a passion. But the brothers and their producer, David Rubinson, decided to go for it, cutting the song in one long, extended take. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Chambers has plenty of stories to tell, and many of them involve stars like Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett, being on the Ed Sullivan Show and The Tonight show with Johnny Carson.

Lester describes bringing drummer Brian Keenan into the band, who became the fifth Chambers Brother even though he was white. For one release, Keenan was cropped out of the photo used for the album cover, a record label decision that infuriated the brothers. Co-author  and Blues Blast Magazine writer Tee Watts adds a number of interviews with key people in the band’s history, including a revealing one with their sister. There are several sections of black & white photographs that help bring the story into focus.

And then there is the dark side – the health issues that Chambers has battled at various points, including a cancer diagnosis with a chilling prognosis, a crooked manager, and a record label that couldn’t figure out how to market a band that mix blues, gospel, and soul influences with a psychedelic rock sound. Another issue is the lack of royalty payments over an extended span of time without any explanation.

The real trouble centers around their hit record, which was written by Joe and Willie. Lester maintains that the brothers had an agreement that everything would be shared equally. The rift caused the brothers to finally go their separate ways, despite the efforts of family and friends to resolve the issue.

Things got so bad that Lester was homeless, until some caring individuals intervened, got him connected to the Sweet Relief Musicians Fund, which provided financial assistance. He still suffers from injuries he sustained when he was attacked on stage in 2013. But he continues to make music, now under the watchful eye of his son Dylan, who is also a musician. They are recent members of Moonalice, a rock band that has been around for fifteen years.

It has been a wild, and challenging ride. But Lester Chambers is still standing, smiling, full of love and grace. With the help of Watts, the world can now gain a greater appreciation for the contributions the Chambers Brothers made to the music, opening doors for bands to be free to experiment with sounds, not restricting themselves to a narrow sliver of the musical universe. It is an enlightening tale, and Lester Chambers tells it well.

The book is widely available online at most major retail outlets. Signed copies of the book are available at

Editors Note: Click Here to see interviews and reviews writer Tee Watts has done for Blues Blast Magazine.

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 

imageOrphan Jon And The Abandoned – Over The Pain

Vintage LaNell Records – 2022

12 tracks; 56 minutes

Orphan Jon (English) was nominated for a Blues Blast award for his debut disc in 2018 and now returns with his second studio album. Some significant changes in personnel have seen Jon’s former writing partner Bruce Krupnik depart the band (though he was involved in the writing of six tunes here); his replacement is another former Blues Blast award nominee, Alastair Greene, whose strong guitar work is a major feature of the album (which he also produced); who knows, perhaps the pair bonded at the Blues Blast Awards ceremony in 2018? Other musicians are the rhythm section of Ray Sadolsky on bass and Jason Blakely on drums; Michael Leasure replaces Jason on one cut and adds B/V’s on another, Mike Malone adds piano to two tracks and B/V’s to one, Rebecca Aguilar guests on vocals on two tracks. The band is also referred to by its acronym – OJATA. The writing credits see Jon having a hand in all bar the sole cover, aided mainly by Bruce and Alastair.

The opening track takes no prisoners as Alastair lays down a heavy, rocking riff as Jon describes himself becoming a “hot mess” when confronted by the girl in the “Tight Dress”. The heavy rock tones continue on “She”, another song about a femme fatale, complete with a frenetic solo from Alastair but the pace drops for the title track. “Over The Pain” is a strong cut, Alastair doing his best Peter Green impression at the beginning and end of the song, over which we get to appreciate Jon’s vocal range as he emotes about managing to get “Over The Pain”; the heavier central solo contrasting with the ballad feel of the track. On “Got No Name” Alastair breaks out his slide as Jon sings of tough life on the streets before drummer Ray opens “Broken Angel” with some New Orleans style drum beats, Jon singing about a chance encounter in a bar. The sole cover marks the half way point in the album: “Going Down To Mobile” is from Savoy Brown’s 1972 release Hell Bound Train, Alastair again using slide to good effect on a versio

n that he starts in semi-acoustic mode but really rips it up after the first verse.

“Living My Life” is more of a shuffle with relaxed guitar work that again allows us to hear Jon’s range while on “Somewhere Salvation” Alastair doubles up on lead and slide guitars to provide an attractive piece of classic rock. “Redheaded Woman Blues” is an acoustic tune with Alastair’s bottleneck and guest drummer Michael Leasure, but we are quickly back to a full band sound on “Everyone Knows”, the longest cut on the album, allowing Alastair to build an atmospheric backing for Jon to build his vocals about his troubled childhood before heavy rock and slide riffs come in. “Memories Of Me And You” is a slower paced rocker with a torrid guitar solo mid tune and we close with “There’s No Need” which starts slowly with hints of gospel, a feeling that is increased by the revival tent spirit of the later part of the tune as Jon plays the preacher over vibrant organ work from Mike Malone and some freaky guitar tones from Alastair.

Fans of the band will be pleased to hear a new effort from Jon and his bandmates.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageBlue Moon Marquee – Scream, Holler & Howl

Self-Release – 2022

13 tracks; 54.35 minutes

Canadian act Blue Moon Marquee is guitarist AW Cardinal and bassist Jasmine Colette. The couple met in 2012 when recording material for AW’s first album and found a common interest in all sorts of music. Since then they have released four albums and often performed as an acoustic duo. However, in recent years they have augmented their sound by using a full band, as they do on their fifth release. Duke Robillard came to Canada to co-produce and has plenty of positive things to say about BMM’s music in the sleeve notes; Duke also contributes guitar to several tracks, alongside the main band of sax player Jerry Cook, keyboard player Darcy Phillips and drummer Matt Pease; Paul Pigat plays guitar on one cut and Bonnie Northgraves trumpet on one, while co-producer Erik Nielsen adds tambourine to one. The material is all original, apart from two Lonnie Johnson songs, and the music includes blues, swing and gypsy jazz.

The title track opens proceedings with Jasmine’s double bass leading the way before jazzy organ and plucked guitar introduce AW’s deep growl as he sings of “going down to the honky tonk, I’m gonna flip, I’m gonna flop”, the bouncy tune really taking off with a barnstorming tenor solo. AW stays on vocals for his tribute to his “Thunderbird”, Duke taking the lead guitar role alongside Darcy’s Hammond which is well to the fore throughout. Jasmine compares herself to a dog tied up, desperate to be set free on the frenetic “Hounddog On A Chain”, propelled by AW’s insistent riffs and the drums/tambourine combination. AW also seems to want to break free as he sings of “dancing on the table with a rose in my mouth” at the start of “Thick As Thieves” which again features some great soloing from Duke and Jerry while “Lowlands” has a definite gypsy jazz feel courtesy of the trumpet work and Jasmine’s late night vocals. She may be disappointed by her current surroundings, but is still keen to get out and enjoy things on the next track, “Come On Down”: “Hey, when you coming down? We’re gonna shake it around, howl like hounds when you come on down.” It’s a moody tune with guitar and Hammond playing a staccato riff and the bari sax adding a doom-laden feel somewhat at odds with the words.

Lonnie Johnson’s lyrics to “Long Black Train” may well be the source of “So Many Roads” with its reference to a “mean old engineer”. The song has been put to music by BMM, very much in pre-war style, the bari sax again adding to the bottom end and playing in impressive unison with AW’s guitar. “Country Man” has a jazzier feel with Duke exchanging classy guitar leads with AW, another cut with a pre-war country blues feel. “My Wild Rose” also has some excellent guitar exchanges, this time with veteran Canadian guitarist Paul Pigat replacing Duke on a jump blues that rockets along with Darcy on piano rather than Hammond, as he is also on “Medicine Man”, another tune with a jazz feel as AW doubles on acoustic and electric guitars. Jasmine sings about her native state in “Old Alberta”, a gentle tune with brushed drums, acoustic guitar and piano alongside Jasmine’s warm double bass before AW returns to the mike for another acoustic style tune entitled “Red Dust Rising”. The album closes with a respectful cover of a second Lonnie Johnson tune “Another Night To Cry”, sung by AW (although credited to Jasmine in the artwork). AW plays well on electric with Duke in support on acoustic and piano is also featured.

AW’s gravelly vocals may be something of an acquired taste for some listeners and he is the main vocalist here. However, those who enjoy the jazz-inflected end of the blues spectrum will find much to enjoy on this album, the sound of which is excellent throughout, kudos to Duke Robillard and Erik Nielsen for that.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageEva Carboni – Smoke and Mirrors

Mad Ears Productions

12 songs time – 52:22

Sultry chanteuse Eva Carboni from the Italian island of Sardinia is a powerhouse of a vocalist. Thankfully her accent is minor, causing a few words to pass by your ears, but no biggie. Her voice is so strong and sexy that you hardly notice. The production and songwriting of Andy Littlewood (Eva co-writes one) give her a good palate to draw from. Andy also contributes guitars, keyboards, bass, and backing vocals. The rest of the players, including three lead guitarists, build a strong foundation for her vocalizing.

Right out of the box, “Building a Wall” displays her vocal capabilities. A thumping bass line propels things along with Brit Mick Simpson laying down scorching guitar lines.The title track “Smoke and Mirrors” is dramatic in vocals and Giovanni Bruno’s guitar matches her intensity. Andrius Linsdell’s haunting guitar on “Gonna Find a Way” hints at Robin Trower’s textured approach. Needless to say, Eva’s voice soars here as it does throughout. Mick Simpson makes his second dramatic guitar appearance on “Call My Name”, squeezing out every note.

It is crunch time for Giovanni Bruno as he lets loose on a heavy arena rock wah-wah infused guitar assault on “Crossed a Line”. Stylized vocals meet front porch bluesy acoustic guitar and harmonica(Dave Hunt) on “Bad Blood”. “Ain’t got no time for the vampire blues”. Late-night jazzy piano and upright bass create a cabaret atmosphere, juxtaposed against Mick Simpson’s mournful electric guitar. “Sweet Mystery” continues the cabaret theme. Littlewood supplies ringing guitars to “Midnight Blue”.

Acoustic and acoustic slide guitars create a blues meets the Middle East vibe for “Goin’ Back Home”. The one song that Eva co-wrote, “That Night”, maintains a slow-burning intensity that is enhanced by keyboard strings. Not to mention it is sexy sounding as all hell. Mick Simpson here on full out blues guitar as the CD and “Another Door Closes”. Aw shucks…This lady’s voice can move mountains.

Modern, but not slick music. Whatever she is selling, I am buying. Incorporating blues, but just a pinch plus elements of jazz and the influence of the standards this CD should appeal to music lovers of every stripe. I give it The Bluesdog Seal Of Approval!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageKokomo – Workhorse

Boatshed Records – 2022

10 tracks; 44 minutes

I believe that this is the first “blues” album I have heard from New Zealand! Having heard a number of Australian bands who have tended to be at the rock end of the blues spectrum, it was a pleasant surprise to find that this is a collection of songs with interesting lyrics, set against subtle, understated backing, generally on the boundaries between country blues and folk. The band has produced no fewer than fourteen previous albums and dates back to the early 90’s, but reckons that this is the album they have always wanted to make. Based in the Bay Of Plenty, the band consists of original members Derek Jacombs (vocals, acoustic guitar, mandolin) and Grant Bullot (harmonica, washboard), joined by electric guitarist Santiago Rebagliati, bassist Nigel Masters and drummer Ian ‘Beano’ Gilpin; Grant Winterburn guests on organ on one track and piano on another and Alan Norman plays the accordion where heard. Derek wrote all bar one tune.

The title track sets out the band’s stall with gentle, acoustic guitar rhythms with plucked electric accents, the harmonica adding a slightly wistful feel, entirely in keeping with the lyrics: “I should have been a workhorse, working just for you, for a minute of your love I would work my whole life through”. Derek has a very clear, semi-spoken style, a hint of gruffness in his vocals, but all the lyrics are clearly intelligible, even on first listen.

“Something Funny Going On” has a more blues-based sound with strong harp work, the band harmonizing well on the choruses, the song taking a wry look at the recent pandemic, people wearing masks and not knowing how the disease might affect them. Derek then recounts a chance encounter with a stranger at a gig and his tales of ancient statues, but Derek does not care, he knows that life will go on and “Bars Gonna Close”, a lively song with some fine guitar work from Santiago, well underpinned by piano. “Driving After Midnight” goes back to the quieter style, harp and the accordion giving the song a gentle feel before the country blues sound of “Born To Bad Luck” and “I’m Going Fishing” in which Derek invites us to join him in his happy place.

Stately mandolin leads us into “Sundog”, a mainly acoustic tune dedicated to “a big ole dog” before the band takes us for a ride to get some “Highway 29 Blues”, a song that warns us that “Highway 29 is a vale of tears, something lost and never found again”; the music suits the lyrics with dobro and harp providing a mournful sound over an acoustic base. “The Ballad Of Kowhiterangi” is a folk tune written and sung by bassist Nigel whose very English accent rather takes you by surprise as he speaks, rather than sings, the tale of an old farming community where life was a whole lot simpler than modern times. Derek returns to lead the band on “Room With A View”, another gentle tune that recalls French chanson, perhaps due to the harp playing in a low style that sounds a little like violin, plus accordion and piano!

Overall this is a pleasant listen with good variety of instrumentation and interesting songs. It is not really a blues disc, though it certainly contains some blues elements.

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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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imagePaolo Demontis & The Good Gheddo – Live Blues Blast

Self-Release – 2022

14 tracks; 74 minutes

When reviewing Paolo Demontis’ previous releases Blues Blast writer Greg Szalony suggested that “after two CDs of much the same, it may well be time to add a few musicians into the mix”. Well, looks like Greg’s advice has been heeded, as Paolo has joined forces with established trio Good Gheddo to form this quartet: Paolo on harp and vocals, Vincent Petrone on guitar and vocals, Paolo Sclaverano on bass and Luca Bozzola on drums. This album was recorded live in April 2022 in Rivoli, Italy and we get to hear the whole show here, a substantial fourteen tunes, three originals and eleven covers.

As Greg noted in his previous reviews, Paolo sings with a heavy accent, but is clearly a master practitioner on his chosen instrument. The accent is less of a problem on familiar tunes like Billy Boy Arnold’s “I Wish You Would”, rather more so on less frequently heard songs like William Clarke’s “Lollipop Mama”, but both tracks have great solo work from harp and guitar. Many of the tunes are reprised from the cream of harp players’ repertoires and there are some familiar names there, Paul Butterfield, Little Walter, Slim Harpo, James Cotton as well as more ‘modern’ exponents like Gary Primich and Tim Gonzalez. The Butterfield selection is “Born In Chicago” (though actually written by vocalist Nick Gravenites) and is given a rough and ready treatment, the shortest cut on the album. Little Walter’s “Juke” is the classic for harp players to strut their stuff and Paolo really impresses here, the tune placed at the start of a rousing finale to the album, immediately followed by the familiar sounds of “Shake Your Hips” (complete with vocals through the harp mike), Primich’s “Triple Trouble” (distorted vocals did not help here) and Cotton’s famous instrumental “The Creeper” which closes the show in fine fashion.

Material from outside the harp players’ union includes Johnny Winter’s “Talk Is Cheap” which opens the set, Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man”, played in a slightly more funky style than we usually hear, and “Another Fine Day” by Patrick Ford, the drummer brother of guitarist Robben. The three originals are neatly shared across the band: Vincent’s shuffle “Talking To You” sounds good and the vocals are clearer (perhaps Vincent singing on his own song?); as on most of the tunes here, the instrumental features are strong, this time mainly the guitar. “Don’t Touch My Blues” is a slow blues from Paolo which opens with an extended statement from Vincent before Paolo enters on vocals; at seven minutes there is ample space for both men to feature at length. The third original “I Believe” is credited to the whole band and works off a nagging riff from which Paolo launches a fine solo.

Overall this live recording shows what the band is all about with plenty of guitar and harp work on show.

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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