Issue 16-49 December 15, 2022


Cover photo © 2022 Rapha El

 In This Issue 

Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Ghalia Volt. We have six Blues music reviews for you this week including new music from Bywater Call, The Rock House All Stars, The Commoners, Blue Deal, Janice Harrington and Gary Smith and the Houserockers. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – Ghalia Volt 

imageIf one were to look up the word “fierce” in the dictionary, several alternative definitions would be found, including “showing a heartfelt and powerful intensity” and “attractive in a bold or striking way”.  Both of those definitions quite accurately describe the intriguing and talented musician from Belgium named Ghalia Volt.

Ghalia is also fiercely independent and has been from a very young age.  The only musician in her family, she picked up the guitar at age eleven and instead of trying to learn a song, she immediately attempted to create her own melodies.  In her teens she was a fan of punk music, then drifted over to psychobilly music, and soon discovered rockabilly music.  She then learned about the connection between rockabilly and jump blues and has been passionate about the blues ever since.

“Jump blues is my favorite music style, and when you like something, you dig into it more and more to find out where it came from.  I was digging into the roots and learned about gospel, country music, and spirituals.”

Ghalia decided to come to the United States to become more immersed in the blues and worked to make money to support her journey by busking on the streets of Brussels. She then left on a solo blues adventure.

“It could be raining, snowing, I’d still be out there, playing the same ten songs over and over again.  I finally made enough money to come here and travel for three months, so I left with just a backpack and a guitar.”

Coming from Europe, Ghalia wasn’t quite prepared for the lack of public transportation in much of the United States and didn’t even have a driver’s license.

“In Europe you don’t need a car.  We really depend on public transportation, so I was taking greyhound buses, Amtrak trains.  I tried hitchhiking too, but I guess that is not the best thing to do in the US—it can be a little scary. I’ve had to jump out of moving cars.  We don’t grow up with the gun situation like you have here, and we trust people a little more than we should. But then I would meet some good people on the road and convince them to go visit places with me, like following the Mississippi blues trail.  That’s where I discovered Hill Country blues—I had never heard of it before then.”

Although Ghalia is most known for her solo performances of hill country blues-influenced music, she initially was performing and recording with a group called Mama’s Boys, which was based out of New Orleans. In 2017 they released an album entitled Let the Demons Out.  Given that her band resided there and given that New Orleans is more beautiful than most places she had visited, she decided to settle in New Orleans herself.  Her next album, Mississippi Blend, was released in 2019, and featured collaborations with Cedric Burnside, Lightnin’ Malcolm, Watermelon Slim and Cody Dickinson.

imageGhalia then performed a few shows as a one-woman band and found that it was so well-received, she decided to record an entire album in that manner.  But first she embarked on a month-long train trip to write the songs for the album.  She headed to the west coast, crossed Wyoming, came back to Chicago, and then headed south, sometimes riding for forty hours in a row.  She wrote the songs from her experiences on that trip, as well as putting together some old writings from the scratchbook of ideas she had kept.  She noted the impact that the solo trip had on the writing of the resulting album, entitled One Woman Band.

“It’s amazing what can happen when you finally get the distractions out of the way and get centered on what you need to do.  I got back and called Ruf Records and went to Memphis to record the album at Royal Studios with Boo Mitchell.  Then I booked a tour in Europe, but it got cancelled because of the pandemic.  So, then I booked this Midwest tour.  I used all the contacts I had made from my previous travel and went back to see them.  The funny thing was, I still didn’t have my driver’s license at that time, so I was moving from one city to the next by train.  It was insane.  For every show I would have to find a way to borrow drums and the bass amp, etc., and after the show I would have to put it all in an Uber car and go back to the hotel, sometimes pushing two carts of equipment by myself.  It was so insane that I just had to get my license and buy a car.  Soon I was driving to Boise, Idaho, but that was also an experience because I had never been on a highway before.”

The sound of One Woman Band, (which features contributions from Monster Mike Welch and Dean Zucchero), is what Ghalia calls ‘Hill Country meets Blues-Rock’.  The songs on the album tend to be very meaningful and based on her experiences.  For example, “Last Minute Packer” describes living out of a suitcase, and “Meet Me in My Dreams” captures the intense emotions of tragically losing ones we love who reappear in our dreams.  She explained a few more of the songs.

“’Bad Apple’ was written after being around some very loud kids.  It’s about how if you don’t teach manners to your kids, they will grow up as they have been educated by their parents, and “Espiritu Papago” was based around a very bad situation I encountered in the Arizona desert.”

It is clear that songwriting can be very therapeutic for Ghalia, and she had to give some consideration to which of her originals was the most therapeutic for her to compose.

“I think I would say it was ‘Can’t Escape,’ because it talks about being stuck in your own mind.  I sometimes have a hard time sleeping because of my train of thoughts—it’s just constant.  I could be having sex with my boyfriend, and I would still be writing a song at the same time.  It’s a brain that never stops.  ‘Can’t Escape’ is a little dark.  It talks about if I can’t find peace in my mind I will explode, and you’ll find me six feet in the ground.  That’s what blues-influenced music is to me—sharing the feelings that everyone can relate to.  You feel like you aren’t the only one.  Songwriting is one of the most interesting parts of this job.”

In addition to gaining some experiences to inspire songwriting, Ghalia also felt that her journeys would help her demonstrate that she has paid her dues and would lend more authenticity to her playing.

“People judge you when you are a girl.  There’s a bit of prejudice against a girl playing drums or guitar and, as a European, it’s even more of a challenge.  Plus, every time I go back to Europe, my accent gets stronger, so that also requires more work. I knew that Robert Johnson would jump on trains and hitchhike and go learn the blues, and I thought that I have to pay my dues too. That’s why I call what I do ‘blues-influenced’ music and not the blues.  We don’t own this music. It’s not ours and I respect that.  But we do all have traumas and situations in our lives.”

Many musicians have discussed the shock they experienced once they realized that they weren’t prepared to handle the business part of their career, but Ghalia was always able to easily take on those challenges as well.

“It just came naturally for me.  I’m energetic.  I have drive.  Musicians need to understand that being a great musician is not going to make you artist of the year—it’s not just about the music.  There are a lot of amazing musicians out there, but they didn’t know that you have to spend a thousand hours in front of your computer booking and planning.  It takes a lot of energy.  You can be as good as you want and won’t make it.  Some okay musicians make it because they have that drive.  You have to be persistent, consistent and have a lot of energy.”

imageAlthough influenced by blues-rock, Ghalia has a unique style that seems to separate her from that genre.  She explained a bit about her technique.

“I’ll never be shredding, but then, I also wouldn’t want to.  I’m more of a ‘play one note but play it right’ kind of musician.  BB King was like that, the way he would play that one note.  I don’t even call what I do ‘picking’—I call it pinching.  To get that groove, I pinch.  It’s minimalistic, but full and raw and very organic.  I like that organic sound.”

Now that music venues have returned to normal scheduling, Ghalia is looking forward to continuing some intense touring.  She was particularly excited about having the opportunity to open for Buddy Guy on his Farewell Tour this coming January.

“I’m glad and honored that they called me to open for him during his farewell tour.  Then I have a European tour from mid-January until March, and then will be coming back for a Midwest tour.  I’m also excited that I will get to play for the first time in Spain, which is special to me because I am half-Spanish.  We recently released the vinyl version of Mississippi Blend this year, so I’m also happy about that.  And we’re also about to release a new album.  I’m almost done writing the material for that album.”

Ghalia also stated that while some of her tour would feature her as a one-woman band, she was drifting back toward performing with a full band.  She noted there were positive and negative aspects of both arrangements.

“As a one-woman band it’s really a showcase.  It’s a journey and I’m telling stories.  And I have the freedom not only with the setup of the stage, but I can be on my own schedule musically.  I’m totally free to slow down or rush it, whenever it feels good. I just love the fact that it feels right, and it is always sincere and authentic. But you are tied to the chair and drums as a solo act.  When I play with the band, I am freer to move around the stage, and of course the interaction with other musicians is what makes it so special.  It’s a totally different performance.”

Ghalia discussed the icons with whom she would love to share a stage or collaborate on a recording.  One slightly surprising one was Bobby Rush, who seems to have a drastically different style from hers.

“But we both write dirty songs, in a very subtle way.  Well, sometimes they are less subtle.  I’m writing a song I would love for us both to sing, but I will have to work hard to convince him. He’s been doing this for over fifty years and doesn’t need someone writing songs for him. I also think of Mavis Staples as my queen.  She is my legend.  I would drive all the way Ohio or to Gainesville, Florida from here just to see her.  I’m a big fan, but I didn’t take the opportunity to meet her when I could, because I don’t want to meet her as a groupie.  I’m taking my time to hopefully one day meet her backstage playing the same festival roster.”

She really does not need to worry.  When she does finally meet Mavis, Mavis is sure to recognize and appreciate the ‘fierceness’ of Ghalia’s talent.  To experience the music of this unique artist, check out her videos, and see her tour schedule visit her website

Writer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.

 Fall Advertising Sale! 


Instead of our normal Combo Ad package which includes 4 issues of Blues Blast Magazine and a month on our website for $450, our Fall Advertising Special gets you ads in six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and ads for 6 weeks on our website for the same price. Ads can be run anytime between now and October 30, 2023 for your 2023 Blues festival, album release or other music related product.

This package can add significant impact to your Blues advertising or promotion campaign. It is a great way to kick up the visibility of a new album or advertise an important event.

Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote the Blues and this package can add significant impact to your Blues advertising campaign. Use it to promote a new album, get gigs, advertise upcoming tour dates and important festivals. More than 45,000 Blues fan subscribers read our magazine each week. They are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. Our website gets more than 75,000 visitors each month.

Normal 2023 ad rates start at $175 per issue in the magazine and $175 per month for website side banner ads. Grab his great advertising package NOW! Offer ends January 15, 2023.

Reserve your space today! Space is limited and will be sold on a first come first served basis.

NEW!!! – Upgrade the sidebar ad on our website to a top banner ad for increased impact and visibility for only $100 more. (Subject to availability)

Or you may add an E-blast to all of our 45,000 subscribers for only $250. (Normally $350)

To get more information email or call 309 267-4425 today!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageBywater Call – Remain

Gypsy Soul Records – 2022

11 tracks; 52 minutes

Based in Toronto, Canada, Bywater Call is a seven piece band axed round the vocals of Meghan Parnell, supported by Dave Barnes on guitar, Alan Zemaitis on keys, the rhythm section of drummer Bruce McCarthy and bassist Mike Meusel and horns from Stephen Dyte (trumpet/valve trombone) and Julian Nalli (saxophones); B/V’s are by Tafari Anthony and Stacie Tabb, percussion by Mario Allende, producer Renan Yildizdogan plays mellotron on one cut, engineer Ross Hayes Citrullo bowed guitar on one. This is their second album release and all the material is credited to the band, with Tom Juhas contributing to two songs.

“Falls Away” is a piece of Southern Rock based round a core guitar riff over which Meghan sings forcefully, the central solo played on slide, the horns remaining in the background on this opener. The horns play a larger part on “Lover Down Slow”, Dave’s slide work and Meghan’s vocals also well featured before the title track “Remain”, another slower-paced tune with a gospel sound to the chorus and defiant vocals from Meghan. “Let Me Be Wrong” completes a trio of quieter tunes with the melodic sound enhanced by the addition of mellotron to the chorus. Meghan does not wish to get “Left Behind” as piano, horns and slide feature, another tune with a rousing chorus before the band gets funky on “Sea We Swim”, keyboard man Alan featuring on organ.

“Ties That Bind” chugs along, Meghan well supported by the backing vocalists to provide another stirring, horn-heavy chorus. The pace slows for “Fortune”, Meghan singing passionately about not being able to “hide in another man’s fortune, you can’t find the love that will bring you home”; “Go Alone” is another anthemic tune with a full band sound as the horns stand out behind Meghan’s vocals, the second half of the tune dominated by a moody slide breakdown. Meghan is stuck waiting on a lover’s call in “Locked”, the opening section of organ accompaniment gradually building in intensity as the song progresses, fine vocals with plenty of soul. The final track is “Bring It Back”, a real stomper with insistent drums from the start and a great, uptempo performance all round to close out this impressive album.

Perhaps it’s the full band sound with horns, perhaps the slide and powerful female vocals, but, for this reviewer, there is a Tedeschi Trucks feel to Bywater Call’s music on this album. Meghan’s voice at times has a similar timbre to Susan Tedeschi’s; she has fewer changes of style and approach than Susan, though those may come as she develops her considerable talents. Elements of rock, soul and blues combine to good effect on this disc, meaning that there is plenty to enjoy here and I suspect that the band would be terrific live.

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 

imageThe Rock House All Stars – Let It Bleed Revisited: An Ovation From Nashville

Qualified Records

10 songs – 48 minutes

This is an interesting one. Many acts over the years have paid tribute to The Rolling Stones, and rightfully so, given the Stones’ place in the pantheon of great rock and roll acts. Let It Bleed Revisited: An Ovation From Nashville, however, goes one step further, being a re-recording of the entire Let It Bleed album, the Stones’ classic 1969 release. “Wild Horses” (from the Stones’ 1971 Sticky Fingers) is also included as a bonus track.

The brainchild of Qualified Records, an independent record label based out of Nashville, TN, Let It Bleed Revisited features The Rock House All Stars (Kevin McKendree on keyboards and percussion, Yates McKendree on drums, John Heithaus on bass and Rob McNelley on electric and acoustic guitars) as the “house band”, with a variety of lead singers and guest musicians adding their various talents to different tracks.

Like the musicians, the singers are all top quality and include Jimmy Hall, Bekka Bramlett, Emil Justian, Lee Roy Parnell, Seth James, Rick Huckaby, Nalani Rothrock, Mike Farris, Wendy Moten, SARACHEL, Lilly Hiatt and Luke Bulla. Of the guest musicians, James Pennebaker adds mandolin and steel guitar to “Love In Vain” and “You Got The Silver”. Jimmy Hall and Stephen Hanner contribute harmonica to “Gimme Shelter” and “Midnight Rambler” respectively. Andrew Carney’s French Horn graces “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”, while Luke Bulla adds fiddle to “Wild Horses” and “Country Honk”.

Produced by John Heithaus and Kevin McKendree and recorded at The Rock House in Franklin, TN, the sound is superb (not something that could necessarily be said about the Stones’ original release).

So, we have top drawer musicians, laying down excellent performances, matched by some superb vocal performances. What’s not to like? Well, there is the nagging issue of exactly what the album is intended to achieve. The original Let It Bleed is one of the most famous rock and roll LPs of all time. It was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2005 and is on Rolling Stone’s list of 500 Greatest Albums Of All Time. Further, tracks like “Gimme Shelter”, “Let It Bleed”, “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and “Midnight Rambler” are staples of rock radio stations around the world, known and recognised by music fans who may not even be fans of the Rolling Stones.

It could be an interesting exercise to re-imagine the songs in wholly new settings, using for example different instrumentation or time signatures. The versions on Let It Bleed Revisited, however, are all played extremely close to the originals, with the harmonicas and guitars often playing the same licks as on the original recordings.

There is also a blessed sloppiness to the Stones’ originals, which help to breathe real personality into the songs, and which is something that is almost impossible to recreate.

If you are a Stones fan, you will probably enjoy hearing new recordings of some of the lesser-known tracks from the album, such as “You Got The Silver” or “Monkey Man.” It’s difficult to see this appealing to a wider audience, however.

Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin'” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.


 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6 

imageThe Commoners – Find Another Way

Gypsy Soul Records

9 tracks

The Commoners are a Canadian band built on the sounds of the Allman Brothers and the rock sounds that emanated from America’s South. This inaugural release features nine original songs delivered with the power of the contents of a charred oak whiskey barrel. These guys deliver a powerful sound that pays homage to their musical idols. They state, “The Black Crowes are a big influence for us. Derek Trucks, Marcus King, and the Allman Brothers, of course. These are the bands that we aspire to wear on our sleeves as we create our own music.” This is quite evident.

The Commoners are the quartet of Chris Medhurst on vocals and rhythm guitar, Ross Hayes Citrullo on lead guitar, Ben Spiller on bass, vocals and also on piano for two tracks, and Adam Cannon on drums, percussion and vocals. Joining them are Miles Evans-Branagh on organ and piano for two tracks, Jeff Heisholt on organ for one cut, Michael Ekhart on pedal steel guitar for two tracks, Ben Healey on lead guitar on one song, and the trio of Chantal Williams, Shezzelle Weekes and Tash Lorayne on backing vocals.

The title track gets things rolling. It’s a rootsy, Southern Rick infused cut with a throbbing beat, a heavy dose of cool organ and impassioned vocals, “Fill My Cup” is next, a rocking cut that begins as a ballad and builds into a full scale assault in a slide guitar, Marshal Tucker-esque style. Things continue in the roots rocker “More Than Mistakes.” The bass drum sets the beat as the band gets into the heaviest of grooves. It ain’t blues, but there are riffs of many a Southern Rock band infused here.

“Too Much” continues the assault. Another out ad out rocker with some in your face guitar and another big beat. They take the pedal off the gas with “Naturally,” a sweet sort of ballad that builds a bit mid way through and then goes out in a blaze of glory. “I Won’t” follows with some pedal steel guitar and a somber, soft start that once again builds into something bigger. The guitar and organ help build the emotions here.

“Deadlines” is another cut that has a softer side that transitions back and forth into powerful Southern Rock. “Hangin’ On Again” opens with an Allman Brothers ethereal slide guitar intro and we have interludes of buildup to powerful stuff and backing back down only to build again into some heavy stuff. Lots of nice slide work here throughout the piece. The pedal steel returns in “Alive.” The song begins with softer vocals and acoustic guitar. The pedal steel and organ come in to back things up and there is a slick instrumental interlude of the pedal steel guitar and the rest of the band making some cool music as the vocal lead increases in emotion to take us home.

This is a powerhouse album. It’s advertised as “roots rock” which I would more likely label as Southern Rock, but what’s in a name? What is also evident is that this really isn’t a blues album at all. It is some pretty darn good rock music, though. These guys sure can play and sing!

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 

imageBlue Deal – Holy Ground

Self-Release – 2022

11 tracks; 41 minutes

Blue Deal is a four piece blues-rock band from Southern Germany and this is their debut release. There is a thirty year difference between the youngest and oldest band members, Joe Fischer on lead vocals, keys and cigar box guitar, Tom Rollbüller on guitar, N. Grille Roth on bass and Jürgen Schneckenburger on drums; backing vocals come from Rahel Rudiger on four songs and Lena Knobloch on one. The material is all original, Joe supplying the lyrics, apart from one track which is sung by Lea Rollbühler who presumably wrote the song. The band has already toured in Scotland and is clearly entirely at home singing in English; Joe sings without discernible accent and sounds quite similar to Paul Rodgers of Free/Bad Company who is quoted as giving the band positive encouragement.

The album opens with a thumping slice of blues-rock, very much in the style of Free, based round a great riff from Tom, as Joe encourages us all to be content with our lot, to “Love What You Have”. Add in Joe’s gritty vocals and a fine central solo from Tom and you have a winner. The title track “Holy Ground” is a rock ballad with organ and lilting guitar fills, making a nice contrast with the swagger of the opener. There is a short (less than a minute) acoustic guitar instrumental with a pretentious, perhaps ironic, title, “Sonata In E-Major 7” before “Standing On The Corner” takes us back to the harder rocking style with a solid shuffle overlaid with guitar riffs and organ stabs. The sweeter side of the band comes through on “Miss You”, a gentle tune with some funky bass lines over which Joe sings of his lost love. “Go” has strong guitar work and lyrics that hint at ecological issues as the planet appears to be glad that humans are looking for another world: “You took everything I had. In my dreams I see you leaving, now let the healing begin”. A strong song with important things to say. “Memory Street” races along with swirling keys and a solid guitar riff, Joe even referencing Paul Rodgers’ interjections on Free’s mega-hit “All Right Now”.

The song not written by Joe is “Witch”. Lea does have an accent but delivers the song pretty well over chugging guitar, Joe joining her on the chorus. Joe straps on his cigar-box for a couple of songs with socially conscious lyrics: “Suicide Boogie” bemoans how we can all be self-destructive at times played over a toe-tapping riff; “Sewing Machine” is all about cheap clothes made in sweatshops in Bangladesh, the cigar-box giving the tune a dirty sound. Slide is also featured on the final cut, “Three Dollars”, giving a raw sound that is further enhanced by some uncredited and equally tough harmonica.

Overall an enjoyable album with plenty of good guitar hooks. Not at all a traditional blues album but those with a taste for the rockier end of the spectrum will find things to enjoy here. Equally, the fact that some songs go beyond the usual relationship themes give the album added value, in this reviewer’s opinion.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageJanice Harrington – 80 Years of International Friendship

Hip & Happy Records

16 songs – 67 minutes

Vocalist Janice Harrington has five children and 35 grand- and great-grandkids and bills herself as “The Great Grand Ma,” but she’s still sassy and classy – and a little bawdy, too, proving that you’re only as old as you feel with this CD, a healthy mix of blues and jazz that celebrates her 80 years on earth and was 37 years in the making.

A former USO performer during the Vietnam War era, when she entertained troops in Southeast Asia, Central America and Europe, Harrington grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, in a home filled with blues and jazz thanks to her mother, Vendora Childs, a former vocalist with the Voices of Victory Choir, a fixture on TV in Los Angeles in the ‘50s and ‘60s.

Janice has a long history of work in theater, having appeared in off-Broadway productions in her youth, penning musicals and serving since 2000 as a U.S. State Department cultural ambassador. She’s also appeared on TV’s Days of Our Lives and, most recently, was a finalist on the first season of The Voice Senior Germany, where she’s been based for decades after a brief stay in Norway.

She’s billed as “Germany’s Lady of Gospel,” a title she comes by honestly with several spiritual albums to her credit. But she’s also recorded two CDs with Denmark’s Kenn Landing Blues Band – Double Dynamite and Magic — and a Dinah Washington tribute, Yesterday Today Tomorrow.

But the blues come through loud and strong on this disc, which was captured with six different bands in Norway, Denmark, Austria and Germany between 1982 and January 2022. And all of the material is minty fresh thanks to Matthais Herbst, who remixed and remastered everything at Tonspur Studios near Munich, where Harrington is based.

The original “Old Age,” a driving blues and the freshest cut in the mix, lopes out of the gate to open as Harrington describes her surprise – and bemoans the fact — that, when she awakens, “my body’s so stiff, it feels like a piece of lead.” Guitar work from Z.Z. von Schnerck and Charles de Beaulieu shine throughout. But there’s plenty of fire in her furnace as exemplified by the naughty cover and bluesy advice to other ladies that follows in “Work Your Magic,” which recommends doing whatever necessary to “bring all his lovin’ down.”

Recorded with the Helge Iberg Band in 1985, “Listen to Me” serves up guidance in how to keep your man from straying before “Seven Day a Week Man Blues” – laid down with Lending in 1988 – recommends alternating different guys every night if the one you’ve got isn’t doing you right and “Telephone Blues” serves up a complaint about long-distance loving and calls that won’t go through. The Tor Welo Band is featured on “Wheeler Dealer,” which follows. Built atop a funky R&B bass line and delivered with a rap feel, it features sexually charged vocal interplay between Harrington and American-born Paul Weeden.

The jazzy “Too Soon to Tell” and the funkified “The Hex” precede a cover of Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” which was recorded in Vienna 1994 and teams Janice with the 23-member Rat Big Band. The minor-keyed Latin pleaser “Learn to Live Without You” serves up a change of pace before the heats on again for the funky “Mud in His Face” and the highly danceable “Blues Rocking.”

The guitar-driven “Making Plans” comes across with a Windy City feel as Harrington makes plans with a brand new man before “Norwegians Got Soul” delivers a tip of the hat to her former countrymen. Things quiet for the “Mirror Image,” the search for a kindred spirit, before Janice joins forces with husband/trombonist Werner Gürtler and “gospel son”/pianist Eggo Fuhrmann  for an unhurried take on Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to close.

Classy and traditional – and a winner on all counts!

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.

blues and rhythm mag ad image

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageGary Smith and the Houserockers  – Live at the Poor House Bistro


CD: 12 Songs, 54 Minutes

Styles: Blues Covers, Harmonica Blues, Live Album

Not so very long ago, I had the privilege of going to live concerts my father hosted at various venues in Kankakee, Illinois, under the communal name “Friends of the Blues.” Let me tell you: collectively and individually, they were terrific. From Albert Castiglia to the late, great Sean Costello to Laurie Morvan and Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials, I got to see a lot of big-name stars in the blues biz. Even if they weren’t as well-known as the ones I just mentioned, the bands we selected had three things in common. I’ll list them in reverse order for emphasis. 3) They established a friendly, easygoing rapport with everyone from their fellow band members to the audience to the sound crew and light technicians. 2) They knew how to please a crowd, playing lots of covers but making them fresh and vivid. 1) They loved the blues first and foremost.

Gary Smith and the Houserockers may have played Live at the Poor House Bistro in San Jose, CA instead of one of our locations, but we, the Friends of the Blues, would have loved them.

On September 4, 2021, they put on a live performance that lives up to the wishes they express in the album’s liner notes: “We hope you enjoy this CD, and we hope it makes you feel like you are in the front row at one of our shows.” Indeed. The sound mixing is balanced, the instrumentation crisp and clear, the vocals heartfelt, and the atmosphere jovial – like you’re hanging out with old friends (of the blues). In fact, they are, having first arrived on the scene in 1977. In 1980, Gary Smith joined the Houserockers as their front man and leader, leading them nearly overnight to become the in-demand blues band in the greater San Francisco and Monterey Bay areas. In the spring of that year, they were added to the lineup of the 1980 San Francisco Blues Festival. That launched a nearly five-year run of them being the premier genre ensemble in the area.

Joining Smith (harp and vocals on several numbers) are Sid Morris on piano and vocals, Frank DeRose on bass and second guitar, Jack Sanford on sax, Gary Weller on guitar for all tracks except the last one, Jimmy Mulleniux on drums, and special guest Johnny Cat Soubrand on guitar for the aforementioned closer.

There are lots of familiar songs to savor, including “You’re So Fine,” “Chicken Shack Boogie,” “Caldonia,” “Don’t Start Me Talkin’,” and “I’m Ready.” The only original composition is the tenth one, entitled “Harmonica Boogie.” Get up and dance, or even better, play along if you have a harp of your own. Even if you can’t pull off the showman’s tricks Gary Smith can, it’s a lighthearted romp that’ll offer good practice.

The best thing about Bistro is that it shows what live concerts are supposed to be: free-flowing, fun and full of feeling. Gary Smith and the Houserockers were “dialed in” to the blues last September, showing that their talents haven’t diminished with age. My father would be proud of them and their authenticity. As am I. They’ve gained a new fan, though they’ve been around for more than 40 years!

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.

BB logo

© 2022 Blues Blast Magazine 116 Espenscheid Court, Creve Coeur, IL 61610 (309) 267-4425

Please follow and like us: