Issue 16-48 December 8, 2022

Cover photo © 2022 Jim Hartzell

 In This Issue 

Bill Dahl has our feature interview with Rob Stone. We have six Blues music reviews for you this week including a 6 CD box set of vintage blues plus new music from John Németh, Tas Cru, Jimmy Carpenter, Al Basile and Starlite Campbell Band. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – Rob Stone 

imageChicago’s loss was the City of Angels’ gain when harpist/vocalist Rob Stone moved to Los Angeles in 2014. But the staunchly traditional approach that Stone perfected during his lengthy stint in the Windy City continues to define his sound as his L.A. combo plays local gigs and he investigates all sorts of new musical opportunities internationally.

“L.A. is very different than Chicago – there are lots of fine musicians out here, but there’s not really much of a blues scene. There aren’t any blues clubs, but the/ opportunities in L.A. are unlike anywhere else. I’ve been fortunate to play with many great musicians in and out of blues, and that’s a very cool thing.” says Stone. “I find it pretty stimulating to get to work on a wide range of projects. But I do miss that blues community in Chicago. Going back always feels like home to me—musically as well.”

The Blues Blast Music Award-nominated CD Trio in Tokyo, Stone’s latest release on the Blue Heart label, is a considerable departure from his past outings, where he was backed by tough electric bands steeped in Chicago tradition. This time the harpist recorded with only pianist Elena Kato and bassist Hiroshi Eguchi in subtle support.

“It’s acoustic, and really stripped down,” explains Stone. “I was going to Japan every year to perform. And I thought it would be cool to have something to sell at shows that featured the musicians that the people were seeing. So one time when I was over there, we booked some studio time and recorded a bunch of material. Two of the songs we recorded were just piano, upright bass, and acoustic harmonica. The two songs were ‘Jack, You’re Dead’ by Louis Jordan and ‘Got To Get You Off My Mind’ by Solomon Burke, both known for big horn arrangements.”

“At the time, I had been playing a lot with Big Jay McNeely in L.A.,” he continues. “I visited him in the hospital just after I had returned from Japan. I was there for a few hours and he asked me what I was working on. I told him about the stuff I recorded over there. He wanted to hear it, so I played him the cuts. It was mostly electric, but these two songs were all acoustic. He got super-excited about them, and said, ‘You should do a whole record like that!’ I was excited about those two songs too, but it was nice to hear him validate that there was something different and cool about them.”

Big Jay’s enthusiastic response generated more acoustic sessions in Tokyo. “I went back with more songs in mind. This time, the whole objective was to record material that was typically done with big arrangements, but to do it in a stripped-down way. I wanted to create something that felt low-key like an after-hours club. It was really fun to do, and different, and pretty scary for me because I couldn’t hide behind the band and vocally I ain’t Sam Cooke! Doing something so sparse is terrifying!” says Stone. “Once we finished mixing and mastering, I was hesitant to put it out, so I sat on it for awhile.”

A chance L.A. encounter with legendary bassist Benny Turner led Stone to Sallie Bengtson, who operates the Blue Heart label with publicist Betsie Brown. “When I found out that Sallie was partners with Betsie and that they had a label together—Betsie’s the best publicist there is, and they are both such good people and blues supporters and total pros––I was like, ‘This is a homerun!’ So I shared the album with them, and they liked it and wanted to release it.”

Japan remains a stronghold for Stone; he was about to leave for a two-week tour when reached for this interview. “There’s a guitar player over there named Hitoshi Koide, who I always play with, who’s a seasoned player,” he says. Kato and Eguchi were once again part of his combo too. “Elena’s just such a great musician, a great person, and she’s a killer piano player,” he says. “Of course Hiroshi is a great bassist, and plays with a lot of feel. He lived in Chicago for 15 years and played with Mavis Staples, Sugar Blue, tons of others.” Japanese audiences are fiercely loyal to the idiom. “There’s not even a dedicated blues club in Los Angeles,” he marvels, “and in Tokyo there are about a dozen!”

Tokyo is a long way from Chicago, where Stone’s career as a bandleader took off as the century turned. Born in Boston, he was exposed to all kinds of music as a lad. “I grew up around Peter Guralnick, and because I knew Peter and his family basically from the time I was nine or ten, I knew of blues music and roots music. I played piano and instruments here and there, but nothing for real,” he says. “I sang in school choirs, and was always musical, but never thought of myself as a musician.

image“Now I mostly listen to blues and jazz, but I love all kinds of music. I grew up listening to a lot of other music before immersing in blues. I think other genres filter into my musical mind and psyche, and I don’t fight it. I listened to a lot of Atlantic/Stax stuff before I was listening to blues. I listened to a lot of Sam Cooke and Ray Charles before I was listening to blues, and that’s in there too.

“I got a late start on harmonica,” says Rob. “I got to college, and I guess I was 17-18. I saw Charlie Musselwhite play. I had listened to Sonny Boy. I hadn’t discovered Little Walter yet, but I had heard Muddy and Wolf and John Lee Hooker. But it just never—I guess I didn’t listen closely enough, because I never really took too much notice of harmonica until I saw Musselwhite live. And I think live blues is a game-changer. I think you can hear it on recordings, but when you see it and hear it and feel it live in the room, it can be incredibly powerful. I was just like, ‘Holy shit! I didn’t know you could do that with a harmonica!’ So literally the next day, I went and bought one and just started messing around with it and listening to different blues records I had.

“I had one harmonica in the key of C, and I would play along to anything that it would fit with. Pretty soon I started to copy licks, and then Peter Guralnick and his son Jake gave me music to listen to. For whatever reason, I was able to just pretty quickly start finding my way around the instrument. It felt natural to me, more than anything I had ever played. And I was able to pick out melodies, and I was able to emulate to some extent the things I was listening to, and it just gave me the confidence to keep going.

“I started playing in some bands in Boston and some bands like Casey Rush in Colorado where I went to school, and basically started playing gigs and learning a lot from different musicians who I worked with like Jim Aycock and John Wise, and figuring it out as I went—how to play amplified, how to play with other musicians, how to learn parts. Early on, I played with friends in Boston, and I was mostly playing horn lines, so that was cool. Pretty early, through Jake Guralnick, I got to play with Sleepy LaBeef. He was like the first major artist who let me play with him, and he was very encouraging. So in those years, I just picked up the instrument pretty quickly, and by the time I was finishing school, I was playing several nights a week in a few different bands in Colorado and developing some chops, and then playing in Boston over the summer.

“Once I discovered Little Walter, everything changed for me. Because when I first listened to it, I couldn’t understand it. Honestly, Walter’s playing was too sophisticated for my ears. I was drawn more towards Sonny Boy Williamson and James Cotton, Big Walter Horton and Junior Wells. I still love all of their music. But once I got better and started to think more seriously about tone and especially phrasing, I began to fully appreciate Little Walter in such a big way that there was no turning back. That’s just it for me,” he says. “I also took a few lessons from Jerry Portnoy, who was in Boston. It was just kind of coming together pretty fast. And that’s when I met Sam.”

Legendary drummer Sam Lay, formerly of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, rolled into Colorado Springs for a gig with his combo and changed young Rob’s life. “He was on KRCC, a local radio station that was close to my house, and I was listening to the blues show,” he remembers. “All of a sudden they were interviewing Sam Lay. I was like, ‘Oh, man!’ And I had the Magic Sam Live album, and I had a couple other things that he was on, maybe a James Cotton record. I ran down to the station and asked him to sign my records and told him that I was a harmonica player. And he said, ‘Why don’t you come out to the show? Bring a couple harmonicas!’

“I was sick as a dog, but I went to the pharmacy and bought every over-the-counter cold drug I could get and took all of ‘em. And then my buddy drove me—I didn’t have a car—to the show. That was the first time I really heard traditional Chicago blues live. “The band was Chris James, Patrick Rynn, and Sam Lay, and a piano player named Eric Leonard, who I think did maybe one tour with Sam around that time. I had never heard anybody like Sam, doing what he was doing. It felt really special and amazing.

“Sam called me up at the end of the first set, and he asked if I knew how to play Jimmy Reed. And I just said yes, but I didn’t know how yet. So Chris is looking at me like: ‘What’s wrong with this kid?’ Anyway, Sam called me back up on the next set. I was seriously not ready as a harp player to be playing with Sam Lay, but he liked something he heard, because at the end of the night he asked me to stay in touch with him. He asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘I’m in school.’ He said, ‘What are you doing after that?’ I said, ‘I have no clue!’ He said, ‘Why don’t you move to Chicago and come play with me?’

“Sam had this rubber stamp with his name and address and phone number, and he just kind of stamped this scrap of paper and gave it to me, and that was like his business card. And I kept it and stayed in touch with him, and moved to Chicago as soon as I finished school. I just wanted to get the hell out of there, because there were more exciting things on the horizon, and after talking to Sam and hearing those guys,” he says. “I moved and jumped right in and started getting my ass kicked every day!  That would have been ‘94.”

Guitarist James was Stone’s mentor during this period. “Sam was passive. Like if I messed up, he’d say over the microphone, ‘How about it for Rob Stone?’ That kind of thing. But Chris would just tell it like it is. He’d say, ‘You’re playing everything wrong!’ So basically, Chris just sort of built me up from the ground and taught me how to play ensemble blues, how to phrase–really, how to play and how to be a musician. So from being around Sam, Chris and Patrick, and touring with them and playing every night—it was just this crash course in every facet of being a musician–onstage, offstage, in the van. How to deal with the fans at shows, how to deal with the club owners, and when to keep your mouth shut.”

image“Not to mention everything I learned about how to play with other musicians and how to listen on stage and how to play complementary parts and create a big sound. The best lesson for me still to this day was just how dynamically that band played. We could be at a whisper, and then one measure later be at an explosive crescendo. Sam was such a dynamic bandleader in that way. He was a dynamic personality too, but in terms of playing, the band just played with such dynamic range.” says Stone. “Because it was so formative for me, that’s the music I almost always hear in my head when I’m thinking about what I want to deliver on stage.”

After Chris and Patrick left Lay’s band, Rob stuck around for awhile. “Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and Lou Marini came into the band, and at that point I became kind of the seasoned guy in Sam’s band. Because I knew what he liked, and I knew what he wanted musically, and I knew what he wanted in terms of how we functioned on the road as a band and all that sort of stuff. So it was kind of terrifying when those guys left, but in some ways it forced me to step up. And that’s when I started singing more,” says Stone. “Chris did a lot of the singing, and when he left, Sam didn’t want to sing all night, so I had to learn more songs. I also started introducing Sam and the band, and acting as MC. And it took me a while to grow into that, but it was an important development that eventually led to me fronting my own band.”

The harpist remained in touch with James and Rynn in Chicago. “I had been singing enough that I kind of just wanted to record it,” says Stone. “I asked Sam and Chris and Patrick if they would do that, and everybody was willing. Chris and Patrick and I wrote some songs, and the four of us got in the studio, and we banged out a record and self-released it. That was No Worries in ’98.” A remarkably self-assured debut effort, the CD, self-released on Stone’s Marquis logo, was loaded with crisp originals and well-chosen covers, all soaked in Chicago blues tradition. The combo was billed as Rob Stone & the C-Notes. “It felt too weird to just put my name alone,” explains Stone. “We were like, ‘Let’s come up with a band name,’ and we came up with that.”

A precedent was established within the trio for creating original material. “On both my records and Chris and Patrick’s records, we just workshopped the songs. We’d come in with lyrics or an idea and just kind of mess around with it together, and then land on the final version that we were going to cut,” says Stone. “The songs would start off in some shape or another. Some were in more complete shape than others, but basically there was really nothing that came in fully done, ever. Chris would always take charge of figuring out some sort of interesting—since he’s an encyclopedia of knowledge of blues music—he would go, ‘If we did this, it would be different than most of what’s out there.’ So we would look for little ways to mix things up a little and we’d work on them together. We’d usually sit in my living room in Chicago and just work on these songs for days until we were ready to record. It was a lot of fun.”

Rob and the C-Notes became a solid draw on the Chicago blues circuit. Being in the Windy City also gave Stone a chance to perform with some of his heroes. “I basically arrived around the time Sunnyland Slim died, and I missed a lot,” he says. “But when I look back at it now, I was so lucky, because so many guys were still around. I got to hang out and play with Dave Myers a lot, and was hired to play shows with musicians like Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Eddie Kirkland, and Honeyboy Edwards. Because I worked with Sam, I’d also get pulled in to play Paul Butterfield tribute shows with Little Smokey Smothers and others, and Howlin’ Wolf Band reunion shows with Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Shaw, Henry Gray or Detroit Junior, and Sam––and later Jody Williams. I also performed around Chicago a lot with Aaron Moore, Eddie Taylor Jr., and the great singer Katherine Davis.

“When I was on the road with Sam, Robert Lockwood, Jr. always played with us in Cleveland. He was tough, but incredibly encouraging and gave me sage advice and direction about my playing. These are really special memories and I feel so fortunate that I got to learn so much directly from all of these people. And on top of all of that, there was still so much traditional blues being played every night in Chicago. How cool is it that you could go see Willie Kent and Bonnie Lee on Mondays at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, Junior Wells play on Wednesdays at Rosa’s, Otis Rush at the Mines over the weekend, and Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues at B.L.U.E.S. Etc. on Sundays?  It was a very cool time, and everyone hung out together, so there was just as much to learn offstage.”

Along with Chris and Patrick, Rob appeared in Godfathers and Sons, Marc Levin’s acclaimed 2003 film documentary. “Godfathers and Sons was part of that Martin Scorsese series that PBS aired called The Blues,” says Stone. “There was one episode that features Chuck D, Marshall Chess, and Sam. In the Sam Lay one, we were playing at the Chicago Blues Festival and I was introducing him, so some of our performance ended up in the film.”

Just My Luck, Rob and the C-Notes’ 2003 encore release, emerged on Michael Frank’s well-established Earwig label. Loaded with memorable originals (“Too Late Honey,” “Playing Games,” “Never Come Back”), the traditional electric Chicago blues set incorporated Myers and Lay in its impressive supporting cast. “Just My Luck in some ways might be my favorite record that we’ve done. I find that I still play those originals constantly,” says Stone. “Earwig did a great job with that record and I was proud to be on the label. It looked good. It sounded good. And Michael got good distribution and radio play on it.”

imageThere was a long hiatus between Just My Luck and Back Around Here, Rob’s next Earwig offering in 2010, which dispensed with the C-Notes handle but featured James and Rynn along with a stellar backing crew: Lay, drummers Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Willie “The Touch” Hayes, and pianists David Maxwell and Aaron Moore. “I went to the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, which I had never gone to,” says Stone. “A handful of times throughout the weekend, I’d be introduced to somebody, and they’d comment on the Just My Luck album and say, ‘What happened to you? Where did you go?’ And I’m like, ‘I didn’t go anywhere! I’ve been playing constantly in Chicago!’”

“But it fired me up, so I instantly booked studio time, and just said, ‘Alright, let’s write some new shit and record it.’ I don’t love recording, so before that I hadn’t felt a particular need to go back into the studio. I prefer playing live. Once I’m in the studio it’s fun, but I’m not constantly writing songs and feeling the urge to record,” he says. “But after Chris and Patrick and I wrote new material and put the lineup of musicians together, I was excited and was like, ‘Let’s go!’ It was a real blast to have all those players together. I especially remember that Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith was just so incredible on these sessions. He he had so many great ideas! What a good man, and what a great musician.”

“The publicist on that was Betsie Brown, and she really made it happen. It had an international reach and broke out in a big way. That changed things for me, because after that CD I started playing internationally way more.” The narrative of one of the disc’s highlights stemmed from personal experience. “‘I Need To Plant A Money Tree’ is about my irresponsible spending habits,” laughs Rob, who played on several tracks for Chris and Patrick’s 2010 Earwig release Gonna Boogie Anyway. Stone, James, and Rynn also appeared in another film documentary, Six Generations of the Blues. “That was a production surrounding Earwig, a kind of Earwig history, that centered around Honeyboy Edwards and Big Jack Johnson,” he says. “and lots of other great Earwig artists.”

In 2014, Stone moved over to Richard Rosenblatt and Bob Margolin’s Vizztone label for Gotta Keep Rollin’. The CD’s backing lineup was again heavy on star power, with pianist Henry Gray, saxman Eddie Shaw, and guitarist John Primer joining James, Rynn, Hayes, and Maxwell. “I’d blink, and then a few years would go by. I’m like, ‘I’ve got to record something!’ I’m just not built to constantly think about the next recording project. I’m just not,” says Stone. “But I talked to Bob and Rosey and they listened to the cuts and the next thing I knew we had a Vizztone release. We did that one with the usual crew, and then added Primer and Eddie Shaw and Henry Gray. And that was great fun. I feel so lucky that I got to play a bunch with Henry on a little West Coast tour. Whenever I got to play with him, that was special. Even in his late 80s he was a badass player who could drive a band.”

Later in 2014, Stone moved his base of operations to Los Angeles. “I just moved west because there were different opportunities,” he says. “You just never know what might happen out here. I was playing at a little record shop with a stage, and Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top comes in. Then I ended up sitting in with him and corresponding with him. I’ve wound up on stages with Robert Randolph, Nancy Wilson, and Slash! It’s so strange. Early on, I connected with Big Jay McNeely, and also Barry Goldberg. Those were both really important relationships for me both musically and personally. I played with Big Jay basically from when I got here until he passed away, and I still play with Barry whenever possible.

“Barry and I, pre-pandemic, we were doing shows all the time. And we went down and played in Florida, Chicago, Calgary, Lucerne, Switzerland. The pandemic really just put the kibosh on a lot of this,” says Rob. “Through Barry, I also did some shows with the Chicago Blues Reunion (an all-star aggregation that also included Nick Gravenites and Harvey Mandel). I did an Electric Flag anniversary tour. Barry and I and Jimmy Vivino and Rick Reed and Vince Fossett, Jr. have a band that we’ve never been able to come up with a name for. We had a name but someone threatened to sue us!  We have recorded an unreleased album together and play around L.A., and that’s always a blast.” Stone’s own combo, featuring guitarist Bill Bates, bassist Brad Hayman, and drummer David Kida, performs regularly at the Escondite in downtown L.A. and other venues.

Touring in the midst of a pandemic is no easy task, but Stone manages while upholding the classic Chicago blues ensemble tradition. “I love to play with Chris and Patrick whenever we can,” says Rob. “I still go back to Chicago and play with Willie Hayes and the guys. Wherever I go, I get to work with great musicians. I’ll go to Boston and play with Chris “Stovall” Brown and other Boston players, or Texas with Chris Ruest, or Spain and Portugal and France with David Giorcelli, or Italy with Fast Frank. Traveling alone to these places is just how it is right now for me. It’s too difficult financially to travel around with a band.

“Since the pandemic started to become less life-threatening, I’ve been gradually trying to set up some international tours again and slowly figuring out stuff here at home,” says Stone. “In L.A., a lot of the venues I played have closed, or just haven’t gone back to live music yet. So that’s been a little tricky. Same thing in Chicago, really. I guess to sum it up, I’m still easing back in and trying to adjust to the new landscape.

“I’m sort of screwed because I haven’t figured out how to play harmonica through a mask yet. But I’ve got all my vaccines and boosters, and I’m doing what I can do.”

Visit Rob’s website to find out where he is playing near you soon:

Interviewer Bill Dahl is a lifelong Chicago resident who began writing about music professionally in 1977. He’s written for Vintage Rock, Goldmine, Living Blues, Blues Revue, Blues Music Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, and the Reader, and is the author of The Art of the Blues, a 2016 book published by University of Chicago Press, and 2001’s Motown: The Golden Years (Krause Publications). Bill was awarded the Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award in journalism in 2000.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageJohn Németh – May Be The Last Time

NOLA Blue Records – 2022

11 tracks; 47 minutes

In January 2022 John Németh was performing with his band on the Blues Cruise, a few weeks later I interviewed him for a UK blues magazine and he was on great form. Yet soon after that a routine dental examination revealed a benign but aggressive tumor in his jaw. The solution was specialized surgery in which part of John’s jaw was removed and bone grafts made to replace the damaged area. As John’s livelihood depends totally on the success of the operation, this has been an incredibly stressful time and everyone in the blues world wishes John the best for a full recovery. A few days before his surgery was due to take place, friends in the blues community invited John to record this disc, appropriately entitled May Be The Last Time (though we all sincerely hope that it is not). Recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Studio in San José, CA, John was joined by Elvin Bishop on guitar and vocals, Bob Welsh on guitar and piano, Willy Jordan on percussion and vocals and Kid himself on bass and guitar. John is on harp and vocals and Alabama Mike joined in on some of the group vocals with Bob, Kid and Willy. The sessions took place on two days in May 2022, just before John’s surgery. The ensemble reprises three songs by Elvin and two by John, skillfully blended with six covers that range across blues, Rn’B, soul and gospel.

The album opens with the title track, a traditional gospel tune made famous by The Staples Singers and may well have been the inspiration for The Rolling Stones song of similar title; the harmonies are terrific as John testifies impressively and wails on the harp over downhome backing. Elvin’s “Rock Bottom” is more of a rocking blues shuffle with Bob’s piano featured behind John’s buzzing harp and a good electric solo from Elvin. John reprises the soulful “Sooner Or Later” from his 2014 album Memphis Grease, here played in mainly acoustic style, followed by JB Lenoir’s “Feeling Good” which has some great acoustic bass before the group harmonies come in to add a gospel feel. “Stealing Watermelons” is a second Elvin Bishop tune on which he sounds like he is having great fun on lead vocals, leaving John to play harp on a funky, largely acoustic version.

The old Falcons song “I Found A Love” has Willy’s higher range vocals in the lead, John and cohorts adding significantly to the chorus, a version that works really well. John then tackles Hank Ballard’s “Sexy Ways”, playing some tough harp on a short, rocking version, before tackling “Come On In This House”, the Mel London song most familiar from Junior Wells’ version, John’s growling vocals underpinned by Elvin’s slide and Bob’s piano. Another cut originally on Memphis Grease, “Elbows On The Wheel”, sounds like a relaxed studio jam, a sparse interpretation of John’s song about being on the road with mainly piano backing. The familiar Slim Harpo tune “Shake Your Hips” rattles along and obviously gives John the chance to blow some harp before the album closes with Elvin’s “I’ll Be Glad”, the core lyric of “I’ll be glad when I get my groove back” clearly being a reference to John’s surgery; more excellent choral vocals on this one.

This is a joyous album and it is great to know that the surgery went well. Let’s all look forward to when John is able to grace our stages again!

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 – 2 of 6 

imageVarious Artists – Big Road Blues – Matchbox Series, Set 8

Nimbus Records – 2022

CD1: Furry Lewis In Memphis – 15 tracks; 52 minutes

CD2: Little Brother Montgomery, Home Again – 12 tracks; 45 minutes

CD3: The Legacy Of Tommy Johnson – 16 tracks; 43 minutes

CD4: Big Road Blues – 16 tracks; 46 minutes

CD5: Blues From The Delta – 9 tracks; 37 minutes

CD6: Viola White, Miss Rhapsody – 11 tracks; 42 minutes

Blues Blast writer Steve Jones recently reviewed volumes 5-7 in this massive series of reissues from the UK-based Nimbus Records and here we have Set 8 in the series. This time around the material was recorded in the late 60’s to early 70’s and some of this material therefore benefits from the relatively modern equipment available. Of the six discs here five are being reissued and one is previously unreleased. The discs are accompanied by detailed and informative notes about the recording sessions, in some cases the actual sleeve notes from the original releases.

CD1 takes us to Furry Lewis’ room in Memphis on 6 September 1968 where German blues enthusiast Karl Gert zur Heide recorded Furry on guitar and vocals, using a simple tape recorder. Furry declined a request to play “Beale Street Blues”, after which he simply played what he wished, probably a mix of what he fancied playing and what he thought his visitors might like to hear. The sleeve notes emphasize that Furry was a highly visual performer and that his ‘show’ contained elements of his medicine show routine as well as straight blues; he was also not one of those blues artists to be “rediscovered” in the 60’s, as he had continued to play regularly since his debut in the 1920’s (although recordings were less frequent).

He opens with “St Louis Blues”, quite appropriate as he got his first decent guitar from WC Handy himself. The longer “Furry Lewis’ Blues” has some pretty complex guitar work which Heide attributes to Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson influences and “When I Lay My Burden Down” contains elements of “The Battle Hymn Of The Republic” as well as some great slide work. “Kassie Jones” develops from the old tale of railway engineer Casey Jones (as in the Grateful Dead song) but incorporates what we would probably call rap today, adding some humorous touches; indeed, “Skinny Woman” has his audience in stitches. Familiar blues like “Going To Brownsville”, “John Henry”, “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” and “Highway 61” follow, the latter being cut short by the tape running out, a fact that Furry did not notice, as he was so engrossed in his performance! There are also popular songs like “Careless Love” and “My Blue Heaven” and a couple of throwaway numbers like “Old Dog Blue” and the oddly named “Spanish Flang Dang”!

CD2 was recorded January 30 1972 in Chicago, with Little Brother Montgomery on piano, sounding fully recovered after a serious illness. He opens the set with an instrumental before paying tribute to one of his mentors, Cooney Vaughan, on “Tremblin’ Blues”. Montgomery demonstrates his mastery of the piano on “No Special Boogie”, a classic understatement of a title as Montgomery plays brilliantly with both hands, changing rhythms and speeds seemingly at will. We get another version of “St Louis Blues” which shows how good a pianist Montgomery was. Montgomery pays tribute to his wife on “Jan” and she returns the favor by singing on four numbers, apparently the first time people had heard her sing: “Aggravatin’ Blues” a popular number at the time, “Dangerous Blues” a rolling blues with outstanding accompaniment, “I Was So In Love With You” a ballad which she sings in a slightly deeper tone and there is also the classic Tin Pan Alley hit “After You’ve Gone”. On that last number Montgomery pulls out a startlingly different solo which galvanizes him and Jan to provide a fine conclusion to the session.

CD3 features twelve different musicians on songs that were all, at one time or another, part of Tommy Johnson’s repertoire. Johnson recorded just twelve songs in his lifetime, but efforts such as this one have added to our knowledge of the sort of music that he played during his career from the 1920’s to the 1950’s. These are field recordings made between 1966 and 1969, originally to support a book being written by David Evan and subsequently released in 1972. It is interesting that each of the performers learned these songs direct from TJ, yet his recorded versions are different to the ones heard here, suggesting that he did not play the songs in the same way each time or that he recorded them in a certain style, perhaps thinking that that was what the record company wanted. The artists involved here are all solo guitarists: Boogie Bill Webb on five numbers, Arzo Youngblood three, Houston Stackhouse two and Roosevelt Holts, Babe Stovall, John Henry ‘Bubba’ Brown, Isaac Youngblood and Mager Johnson appear just once each; mandolin players Herb Quinn and Dink Brister accompany on two numbers, as do guitarists OD Jones and Carey ‘Ditty’ Mason. The sound quality is pretty good and the guitar/mandolin combo on “Big Road Blues” makes a lively opener; a second version (again featuring mandolin, plus a second guitarist) allows comparisons to be made as this second version is played at a far faster pace. Similarly there are two versions of “Maggie Campbell Blues”, Boogie Bill Webb’s being a shorter, more informal take than Arzo Youngblood’s. There is also the song that gave its name to one of the most famous blues bands of the 60’s, “Canned Heat Blues” and one that Canned Heat covered, “Pony Blues”.

CD4 is previously unreleased. Originally intended to accompany another book by David Evans, the publisher folded and the book never appeared, so neither did the album. These are further field recordings made between 1966 and 1971 in Mississippi and Louisiana and some of the same artists as on CD3 reappear – Arzo and Isaac Youngblood, Roosevelt Holts and Mager Johnson; in addition we get Mott Willis, Willis Taylor, Cary Lee Simmons and Robert Johnson (no, not that one!). The recordings were made at the musicians’ homes and are all guitar/vocal performances of their own versions of folk-blues tunes from their regular repertoires. Several of the songs share lyrics and refrains, as has always been common in the blues and there is a stately instrumental “Riverside Blues” that has some fine playing. Mager Johnson gets out his kazoo on “Travelling Man Blues” and there are further versions of “Big Road Blues” (terrific version by Arzo Youngblood) and “Maggie Campbell Blues” to add to those on CD3, further emphasizing the importance of Tommy Johnson to the development of folk blues. A short take on “Catfish Blues” sounds entirely impromptu and “Who Is That Yonder Coming Down The Road” shares lyrics with several others songs of the tradition. “It Ain’t Gonna Rain No More” and “So Soon I’ll Be At Home” are both spirituals, rather than blues, reminding us how close the sacred and the secular can be in our part of the music world.

CD5 features four singers recorded in 1968, another companion album to a book. The four artists here are Scott Dunbar who plays three songs, James ‘Son’ Thomas, Lee Kizart and Lovey Williams getting two each. Dunbar’s vocals are higher-pitched than most of the singers on these compilations on his selections, “Big Fat Momma”, “It’s So Cold Up North” and “Jay Bird”, the latter being an extended tune with a spoken word element. The sleeve notes explain that Dunbar had an album released in 1971 but none of these selections were on it. “Cairo Blues” is the first of James Thomas’ songs, but it is not the song credited to Henry Spaulding from 1929, rather a tragic tale of a girl who drowned while following the narrator into the river; his other track is “Rock Me Momma” which will sound very familiar to everyone, being a version of “Rock Me Baby”. Lee Kizart was a piano player who performs a lively “Bottle Up And Go” and a blues from the peak period of the Delta music scene entitled “Don’t Want No Woman Telling Me What To Do”; unfortunately the sound is not quite as clear on these two tracks though it is a change to hear piano. Lovey Williams sings in a rough and ready vocal style on two songs which will sound familiar to blues fans: the lively “Train I Ride” is “Mystery Train” in thin disguise and “Rootin’ Ground Hog” sounds very much like John Lee Hooker to these ears.

CD6 was originally released in 1972 and was the first recording of Viola Wells since her 1944-45 Savoy sides, shortly after which she retired from music until the 1970’s. Back in the 1940’s she was regarded as being a cross between Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald, though, according to Benny Carter, “Billie never had as much voice as she has and Ella will never have her personality”. Viola performs with Reuben Jay Cole on piano, Eddie Wright on guitar, Ivan Rollé on bass and Danny Gibson on drums; on the sacred tunes she is backed simply by pianist Mrs. Grace Gregory who accompanied Viola each Sunday at her church in New Jersey. Viola sounds great on a set with plenty of familiar material, like the fine version of “Down Hearted Blues” that opens proceedings. Alternating blues and spirituals throughout, the next tune is “How Great Thou Art”, immediately followed by “See, See Rider”, complete with a nicely poised, jazz-inflected guitar solo. “In The Garden” is followed by Lil Armstrong’s “Brown Gal”, “His Eye Is On The Sparrow” by Benny Carter’s “Blues In My Heart”, a fine slow blues which is beautifully delivered. “Power In The Blood” and “Face To Face” are less familiar hymns, as are the two final secular tunes: “I Fell For You” evokes a smoky jazz club with brushed drums and piano the dominant instruments; “Old Fashioned Love” is the sort of tune that Billie or Ella would have sung and Viola does a good job.

The variety of instrumentation, excellent sound quality and diverse program make CD6 the pick of the set for this reviewer, but there is no doubt that these reissues are essential listening for dedicated blues lovers who want to explore more deeply the roots of our music.

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 

imageTas Cru – Riffin’ The Blues

Subcat Records

11 tracks

This is Tas Cru’s latest effort, another fantastic set of all new songs that feature great riffs, or as he says, “That relentless melody that grabs you by the throat and just won’t let go!” These tunes embody that, with superb stories, lyrics and, most of all, outstanding guitar hooks.

Produced by Tas, he also features two stalwart musical guests: Mike Zito and Bruce Katz. Zito adds his guitar to  the opening and closing cuts. Katz plays a larger role, appearing on pianos and/or organ on each tracks. He and Zito are superb.  Tas’ studio mates are May Ann Casale on backing vocals, Bob Purdy on bass, Ron Keck on percussion, Andy Hearn on drums (with the first track featuring Lenny Milano on drums) and Bill Barry also adding organ to the top track. Tas, of course, takes care of lead vocals and guitar.

The title tracks gets things rolling. A great groove carries through the tune as Tas sings and plays with passion. Zito’s guitar is emphatic and poignant in support and on solo. Tas testifies to his passion and six string fever in riffin’ the blues. Katz helps carry the tune on organ as Tas and Zito build into a rousing finale. Next is a fun cut Tas gained inspiration from in Memphis at the Rum Boogie Bar.  “Brown Liquor Woman” was inspired by two genteel members of the opposite sex who were appalled by other women who sipped of the darker spirits.  Katz lays out some pretty piano work as Tas sings and the backing vocalists give ample support. Brown liquor women don’t drink champagne or wine like more refined females; they have whiskey and perhaps more on their minds. “Stand Up!” follows, fitting into the protest song mold as catchy social commentary. A driving beat and message make this one a winner.  Tas sings emphatically and the band supports with equal emotion. A nice guitar solo and organ backing add much to this one. Things slow down with  “One More Time,” featuring a great opening by Katz on piano and then some delightful guitar licks by Tas. This blues ballad tells the story of things that matter between him and his woman. There’s lots of pretty guitar and the organ come in to add depth and texture to the music.

“Throw It All Away” follows, a bouncing and slick cut with cool guitar featured. Tas again sings with emotion as he navigates another interesting cut about relationships. Next is “Crazy Getting In My Way,” which has a heavy beat and great vibe to it. Organ and guitar mix seductively with the vocals and wind their way to and organ and guitar duo of sorts that is delicious. “Heal My Misery” is a funky cut that moves along nicely with Katz laying on some more great organ as Tas’ guitar gets a groove on. Another super guitar solo is offered up here, too. Slow blues is next with “House Of The Blues.” Emotive and deep guitar opens the cut with Katz layering on some organ for effect. Tas the singer give us grit and feeling as the guitar and organ help to also set the mood. A huge guitar solo is featured here.

More funkiness follows with “Let It Happen.” Tas describes his doctor giving him the diagnosis that it’s not his diet that is causing his problems. The doc tells him he worries too much and needs to let life happen. Tas gives us some nice solo licks on his six string to enjoy, and then Katz follows that with a cool piano solo. To cap things off, his doctor give him a prescription for some whiskey; I need to meet that doc! Things swing on the next track with a nice boogie entitled “Miss This Man.” Tas tells his woman she’s gonna miss him if she gives him up. Passionate vocals, strident piano (including another primo solo), layers of fine organ and excellent guitar riffs make this one a great cut. The tempo cools off for the deep and haunting start of final track. “Memphis Gone” which concludes the set, with some pretty slide, piano and vocals. Things then build as Tas and the band get into it heavily. The slide and piano are outstanding as they play off each other with feeling.

This is the eleventh album release by Tas and he’s giving it his all. The songs are all top-notch. They all have great stories and are delivered with passion and excellent musicality. I truly loved this alum and I think Tas has a real winner here– this is the blues done up right. I strongly recommend this one!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageJimmy Carpenter – The Louisiana Record

Gulf Coast Records

11 tracks

Jimmy Carpenter is a two time Blues Music award winner for his saxophone work who many of us have enjoyed listening to for a long time in bands he’s performed with and on his own. He is a super musician and with this album on Gulf Coast Records he delivers a New Orleans themed album of classic songs. Mike Zito proposed the project to Carpenter and Jimmy was skeptical at first. Carpenter’s musical roots are built on the sounds of the Crescent City and he rapidly warmed up to the idea of this album.

Joining Jimmy here are Zito on guitar, John Gros on piano and B3 organ, Cassandra Falconer on bass, and Wayne Maureau on drums. They all work together to deliver that New Orleans sound that is a blend of blues, soul, R&B, rock-n-roll and more.  The band is tight and they deliver eleven truly fine performances here for the listener to enjoy.

“I Hear You Knocking” gets things rolling.  Carpenter shows us his prowess on his horn as he and the band roll through this classic with some slick guitar and piano to enjoy. Carpenter’s vocals also drip with the sound of the Crescent City. “Next is “I Got Loaded,” another standard that Carpenter and company do a super job with. The organ and sax work and solos are super. The tempo gets turned down with “Something You Got,” as Carpenter plays and sings with emotion. The band rocks it out in “Barefootin’” where Zito and Carpenter let it all hang out!

“All These Things” gives the listener something to slow dance to. This song was first done by Art Neville and was penned by Allen Toussaint under the pseudonym of “Naomi Neville.” Carpenter puts his spin on it as he croons this out sweetly and plays a nice little solo on his horn. “Travelin’ Mood” follows, another NOLA classic with Zito sliding his way through this one. Not to be outdone, Carpenter adds his own fine solo as he and the band then take us home. “Cry To Me” is next, a song first recorded by Solomon Burke. Carpenter swings a bit here, giving the song more of a New Orleans flair rather than the country/gospel feel of the original and it works just fine. “Those Lonely Nights” follows that, an Earl King NOLA standard. The piano work is pretty as is Carpenter’s sax and vocals as he flows sweetly through the song.

“Pouring Water On A Drowning Man” is a James Carr Memphis soul cut that Carpenter and the band makeover a bit into their own sound. “Bring It On Home To Me” is another classic that Jimmy pays tribute to vocally and with some soulful horn play. They conclude with “Rockin’ At Cosimo’s,” a bouncing instrumental where Carpenter picks up the tempo a bit from the Lee Allen original and delivers another excellent performance.

The songs here are not strictly all from New Orleans or even Louisiana, but Jimmy Carpenter takes them all there as he delivers to us a great album of classic cuts. I enjoyed this album from start to finish. Carpenter does a great job on vocals and tenor saxophone throughout and the bands does an exceptional job, too! Kudos to Jimmy and the rest of the guys for delivering an enjoyable and memorable album of songs that they all love and play with that love showing brightly through each number.  This is one you’ll play over and over!

Reviewer 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 – 5 of 6 

imageAl Basile – Through With Cool

Sweet Spot

14 songs, 1 hour, 6 minutes

Your friendly neighborhood blues reviewer is a digital music person beholden to my Apple Music subscription. I have not bought many CDs in awhile. But, every once in a while a master artist such as Al Basile makes the physical experience of an album’s package worthwhile. Al’s newest, Through With Cool, does not have psychedelic art work, like for example Jimi’s Axis: Bold as Love. Just tasteful photography of al and his coronet. But, it does offer a glimpse into al’s process by presenting his poetic lyricism in print complimented by musings on each tune. Allowing the listener the immersive experience of listening to and reading his words, while also getting a peak into his process, embellishes the alternatively visceral and cathartic master performances.

Al Basile is continuing his later career prolifically with his 2nd self produced record in just under a year. Having already reached some career high points with his Roomful of Blues running mate Duke Robillard producing and playing, al broke out on his own. He did retain Duke’s stellar band though. Mark Teixeira on drums and Brad Hallen on bass move effortlessly through each Blues motif allowing key-man Bruce Bears (the jovial cornerstone of Greater Boston’s Blues/Bar band community) to add depth and flavor through the ensemble. Long time horn compatriots Doug James on saxes and clarinet and Jeff “Doc” Chanonhouse on trumpet buttress al’s own sparse and emotive coronet playing. As with the last record, B’s Testimony, the proceedings are ripped through with the West Coast bottled lightning of Kid Anderson’s endless font of six string magic.

Al Basile has never sounded so assured and expressive as on Through With Cool. Many years of throat problems have been alleviated allowing al a clarity in timber and range of register he hasn’t employed before. Additionally al is still riding the intensive coronet practice regiment he developed during the pandemic lock down infusing his playing with a Miles Davis economy and depth of emotion. Effortlessly moving through classic marches, rough and ready Chicago struts, Latin tinged syncopated grooves, tender ballads and brash Blues Rock, the band brings multiple lifetimes of experience and skill to bear allowing al to float, swing and stomp with freedom and aplomb.

The real genius of Al Basile is his ability to write simple straightforward lyrics that convey depth of meaning while never sounding contrived. In the abstract love song for a person you haven’t met yet “I’m Waiting” couplets “I’m waiting for the shape of your face/gonna drive out all the others, and take their place” and “I’m thirsty for a sip of your voice/gonna drink my fill when you say I’m your choice” so clearly convey longing while twisting around one’s understanding. Desperation is put into clean relief with sturdy rhyme structure in “Not Any Place at All”:

“I go looking for a letter/But my mailbox is dry

You never send a message/and you never told me why

Used to love to hear you say/you would always be around

If I don’t hear from you baby/I don’t want to hear another sound”

Through With Cool ends with the title track – a simple solo guitar, a kick drum stomp and al making a statement about his convictions as a freed artist. This postscript to the raucous proceedings is a bold and forceful statement in its simplicity. Similar to Buddy Guy’s haunted rendition of “Done Got Old” which is the prelude to his most energetic and daring record Sweet Tea, Al taunts us. Over the 13 previous tracks al has proved that he is the epitome of cool. He is the rebel, the artist who makes art beholden only to his muse. There is nothing cooler. Although Al may think he is through with cool, it is clear cool is not through with him.

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.

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageStarlite Campbell Band  – Live!

Supertone Records (Independent Label)

CD: 8 Songs, 59 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Live Album

I am most definitely a night owl. 6 AM is when I get up in the morning – to go to the bathroom and then back to bed. Not only that, but sometimes I have a Czech language lesson at 1 AM my time (8 AM in Prague). I need more than caffeine to keep me up. How about music? If it’s blues, it fits the bill, especially when I work by “Starlite.” The newest Live! album from the Starlite Campbell Band, a fresh import from the UK, is just what I require for an eventful eve. It features seven original numbers and one cover: “A Whiter Shade of Pale” by Reid, Brooker, and Fisher. Several of the songs run over five minutes, for a total of nearly an hour. Will this grate on one’s nerves? Hardly! This is ensemble / jam blues at its finest, starring not only Suzy Starlite and Simon Campbell, but a trio of outstanding organists: Josh Phillips, Jonny Henderson and Christian Madden. Steve Gibson stars on drums. Together, they make magic in the nighttime.

The duo had been recording, playing and touring independently in bands for many years until they met in 2012, when Starlite asked Campbell, who was a British Blues Awards Nominee, to join her band as the guitar player. The love extended past each other’s playing, and the duo were wed in 2014 after a whirlwind romance, forming their new joint band, Starlite Campbell, in January 2016.

As prolific singer-songwriters, they started writing together immediately and built up a large collection of songs in a variety of styles, from Americana, folk music, electronic music, progressive rock to British blues. They fly in the face of disposable music – writing, recording and producing their work and then releasing on their independent label Supertone Records.

Let’s say you only have twenty minutes to spare instead of an hour. Which tracks are most electrifying? I’d pick the opener, “Brother,” with the jauntiest keyboard solo I’ve heard this year – a staccato telegraph-style rhythm of notes that’ll make your nerves tingle – and the ten-minute follow-up, “Cry Over You.” It’s intense without being intrusive, dramatic without being a downer. Heartbreak is one of the most popular blues themes. Here it gains a freshness tinged with rage as well as regret. If you’re in it for the full 59 minutes, “Take Time to Grow Old,” number three, features blink-and-you-miss it lyrics that land a gut punch: “Take time to grow old. There’s no need to fade away. ‘Don’t give up,’ they always say before you’re gone.” Vocally, Simon Campbell reminds me of Tom Petty, sounding like a sage on shred guitar. Suzy Starlite’s singing is warm and savory. Sustaining too, like the one friend that will stick by you, thick or thin. “Said So” is a shot of hard-rock espresso (or whiskey) with some Hendrix-style psychedelia in the middle. Lovers of torch-singer blues should try “Guilty,” a smoldering mid-tempo ballad where Starlite takes center stage. “A Whiter Shade of Pale” is a strong, smooth finish, the perfect ending to a near-flawless performance.

From beginning to end, this CD proves that a Live! concert can be as brilliant as any studio album. Even more so, for the skill on display is that of consummate blues professionals.

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

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