Issue 16-50 December 22, 2022


Cover photo © 2022 Laura Carbone

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Josh Smith. We have six Blues music reviews for you this week including new music from Demetria Taylor, Niecie, Herman Hitson, Rob “Wild Boar” Moore, John Fusco and Malaya Blue Scroll down and check it out!


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 Featured Interview – Josh Smith 

imageChild prodigies come and go in the blues. Some disappear in adulthood. Others become stars in their own right. But Los Angeles-based Josh Smith is cut from different cloth altogether. Recognized as one of the top guitarists on the planet, he’s released about a highly reviewed albums in his career while both comfortable and willing to yield the spotlight to others rather than demand it for himself.

An established talent in his mid-teens when Jimmy Thackery described him as being “only three heartbreaks away from being a true guitar genius,” Josh has gone on to fulfill that prophecy with about a dozen highly reviewed albums, his own line of six-strings, pedals, instructional books and more. But since adulthood, he’s achieved most of his acclaim while serving as the foundation behind American Idol winner Taylor Hicks, R&B superstar Raphael Saadiq and others.

And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Even today, after being named by Guitar Player magazine as one of its Top 30 blues artists in the world, he’s still in the shadows, currently serving as the musical director for Joe Bonamassa as well as his partner in the recording studio, too. He was on the road in Boise, Idaho, with when Blues Blast caught up with him a few weeks ago.

Born Oct. 7, 1979, in Middletown, Conn., but raised in Pembroke Pines, Fla., where the family laid down roots when he was two, Smith’s a pleasant, soft-spoken, easily approachable man and a deep thinker, too, who’s consistently used common sense and his inner strength to pave his path to success.

The son of parents who were both trained as psychologists but eventually became restaurant owners in downtown Fort Lauderdale after becoming disillusioned with the grind of their previous positions, operating a couple of diners that closed early, which allowed space for quality family time at home.

“I was lucky to have their record collection,” Josh notes. “They liked good music.”

Dad Joel was deeply into the blues — especially Albert, B.B. and Freddie King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf — and loved the Allman Brothers, Rolling Stones and Beatles, too. And he owned just enough greatest-hits jazz albums to whet his son’s interest — Thelonious Monk’s ‘Round Midnight, Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue and John Coltrane’s Giant Steps – too. Mom Jane, meanwhile, was a lover of the R&B and soul sounds of Stax and Motown..

“I got my first guitar at age three on Oct. 11, 1982, the day of my sister Lindsay’s birth,” Smith says. “They got it for me on the way home from the hospital” — and it’s fair to say that he hasn’t put it down since! “There’s a lotta pictures of me draggin’ it around the house and tryin’ to figure out stuff on it. And from what my folks told me, I asked for lessons when I was six…‘hey, I really wanna play this thing!’”

Their initial foray took them to a strip-mall music school owned by Yamaha, which proved to be an instant disappointment. After a single lesson, the instructor attempted to up-sell his parents into buying a better guitar along with a stack of instructional books – something that Joel immediately thought wasn’t right.

After a search through the want-ads, his folks eventually secured the services of a recent University of Miami grad, a jazz enthusiast named Rino. It proved to be an excellent match. In addition to teaching Josh all the essentials, he also started giving him invaluable lessons about music theory from the jump. Just a few months into training, his folks say, Rino took them aside and told them: “Josh is really good…but more importantly, he has timing like an adult.”

It was input that might have prompted some parents to push their child harder to pursue the instrument. But throughout his youth, Smith insists, they were always supportive but never pushy as he pursued his path – although it’s true that they did threaten to hide his six-string if he didn’t keep up with his homework – something that really wasn’t a problem because he was an honors student.

In a world dominated by heavy metal at the time, Josh emulated his rock heroes, Eddie Van Halen and Steve Vai, for a while. But the more blues and jazz he listened to in the home, the more his interest went in a different direction. He was so in love with the guitar that he practiced from the moment he got home from school until bedtime. And when he tried playing with other kids, he was often frustrated, discovering that they couldn’t play at his level and weren’t interested in the same music.

After Rino left for New York to pursue his own career and Danny Cuthbert replaced him. “He started getting me into the deeper stuff,” Smith remembers. “He would tell me who’d be playing on the records…not just B.B. and Albert King. He told me about Otis Rush and Magic Sam, Hubert Sumlin. That really helped igniting my blues passion even further.”

Three years later, Danny imparted all the theory he could provide and Josh moved on to his final instructor, Tommy Lee Stryder, a rocker who took his studies in a different direction – a relationship that ended when Smith was 12 when family friends with bands invited him to start play “Wild Thing” and “Louie Louie” at house parties and nightspots.

Somewhere in his early training, Josh learned that supporting musicians are just as important as headliners, too. “It wasn’t just the lead guys that fascinated me,” he remembers. “Listening to all those Stax records and hearing Steve Cropper play all those parts or Jimmy Nolen playing with James Brown…I started realizing that all those things were as important as playing lead.”

imageAnother favorite – and major influence — has been jazz master Cornell Dupree, a session player whose work graces dozens of hits from Aretha Franklin. Brook Benton, King Curtis, Joe Cocker, Donnie Hathaway, Van McCoy, David “Fathead” Newman and more.

“Luckily, I fell in with good musicians right away,” Smith says. “I was a young kid and they were willing to tell me when I was fucking up – something I never took as a negative growing up.

“I took it as a positive. I wanted to know when I was doing something wrong…if I wasn’t playing a Motown groove right. I wanted to know right away what I was supposed to be playing to have my pocket feel right. When I started playing gigs with adults, I was kinda asking for constructive criticism all the time.

“I always wanted to improve…something that I guess has always been an obsession for me. They’d tell me, and I’d work on it. There was nothing more important to me back then than impressing those guys — so when I’d come back to the next gig, I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.”

The only other thing Josh ever wanted to do in life other than playing guitar, he insists, was to play second base for the New York Yankees – something he quickly understood would never happen. “I loved playing baseball,” he says. “I was all hustle – but I couldn’t hit. I played until high school when kids’ arms were getting better and they started throwing curve balls. I  went: ‘Wait a minute! I don’t think I can do that!’

“I was just wa-a-ay better at guitar.

“I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. I don’t do drugs. I’m a guitar player 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 43 years old. I try to keep that flame lit all the time – and it’s never diminished yet!”

One of those good musicians he fell in with early is another protégé, Derek Trucks. Just four months Josh’s senior, they met for the first time when, at age 12, Smith still wasn’t playing out. A Jacksonville native, Derek was booked for a weekend gig in Miami and Josh and his dad attended opening night. The two kids bonded between sets and they struck up another conversation at the close of the night as Joel chatted with Trucks’ dad, Chris.

“Wouldn’t it be neat if you could sleep over and we could jam?” Josh asked – and the improbable happened. Realizing his son would be in good hands, the senior Trucks agreed, and the boys stayed up listening to a Robert Johnson cassette that Derek had recently acquired and jammed the night away.

For the rest of their childhood, the two young guitar masters played together frequently, eventually working the Florida festival circuit as a duo, and they remain good friends today. “We don’t cross paths often now,” Smith admits. “But when we do, it’s special.”

So was the night not long after when Josh jammed with pros in a nightclub for the first time. It occurred at the Musicians Exchange in Fort Lauderdale – for 25 years prior to shuttering in 1996, the most important stop south of Atlanta for touring artists on the blues highway.

“We went down there, I signed the board and got up to play,” he remembers, “and Motel Mel (who ran the jam with his band, the Innkeepers) called ‘Messin’ with the Kid’ tongue-in-cheek ‘cause he thought it was funny.

“But I was prepared, and that kinda cemented the whole deal. The audience went crazy because this little kid could play. I was hooked! I knew immediately that this was what I was supposed to be doing for the rest of my life!”

As this writer can attest (he used to sit in occasionally with my band in that era), even though Josh’s appearance in those days mimicked Stevie Ray Vaughan with long hair, black, flat-primed Stetson and jeans, at 12 or 13 years old, he was already playing circles around many of the pros on the signup sheet.

Returning for the jam every Monday, he quickly started getting invitations to sit in elsewhere. When someone suggested he attend the Thursday-night jam at Club M in Hollywood and hosted by the Rhino Cats, a collection of adults who bridged jazz and blues and were all children of jazz artists, Smith’s career literally took off. “The first time I went there, they let me play the whole set,” Smith remembers, “and the crowd went crazy.”

After a few more successful trips, the vocalist/keyboard player, Rick Cafaro, and bassist Mike Nadaoka asked him to join the group.

“I think they saw that if they advertised that they had this 13-year-old kid playing with them, they’d get more gigs and people would show up,” he says. “And it did kinda work that way. But I didn’t care. All I wanted was the experience.”

More exposure came through Kenny Neal, Tinsley Ellis, Lucky Peterson and others who invited him to join them on stage at the Exchange and Cheers, the Pompano Beach club where the Rhino Cats regularly worked one stage on Friday nights while national acts worked the other. And it didn’t hurt that Josh’s dad eventually took over the kitchen at the Exchange and had him tag along after school on work nights.

image“He’d cook and I’d watch the band soundcheck and then stay for the show,” Josh says. Even when I didn’t get to sit in, I met everybody there. And I had a little practice amp that I kept in the back room near the kitchen, and I’d play by myself when the bands were loading in. Inevitably, somebody’d peek their head around the corner and say: ‘Who’s that back there?’ When they saw I was a little kid, they were like: ‘Do you wanna play with us tonight?’ I actually got to play ‘Shotgun’ with Jr. Walker & the Allstars! I didn’t realize how cool that was when I was 13. Looking back now, though, wow!

“Man, you just grow so quickly through that!” he says. “I’m so-o-o grateful. I think they all wanted me to succeed because they saw my seriousness and passion.”

At 16 and billed as Josh Smith & the Rhino Cats, the band launched a three-month summer tour, which was initially financed by Josh’s folks who sold the family diner to buy a tour van with dad hitting the road with his son and mom returning to her former day job. The band released two albums — Born Under a Blue Sign and Woodsheddin’ – by the time the child protégé was 17.

He moved on to form his own group, Josh Smith & the Frost, shortly thereafter, and he was 18 when he and the band teamed with Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines to cut Too Damn Cold, an album recorded at the legendary Ardent Studios in Memphis – a meeting that occurred after Thackery had invited Josh to join him at a Fort Lauderdale studio where Gaines was mixing his new, live album.

“Honestly, it was all a blur for me until I was 21 or 22,” Smith admits today. “I was on the road all the time and just trying to figure out how to keep a band together and how to make ends meet.

“Guys were always comin’ and goin’, and there was never enough money for any stability. But I didn’t care. All I wanted to do was get in that van and play gigs – and get better and better.”

But frustration began to set in when Josh came to realize that Trucks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang – all young men about as old as he was — were signing with major labels and making it big while he was still sleeping in his van between gigs and making $400 a night.

“It’s funny to say that I got disillusioned as a child, but I did!” he insists. “I’d been beating my head against the wall and I wanted to grow up, pay bills and be a responsible adult – something that was even more important then because I was living on my own and I’d just met Niki, the woman who’d become my wife.”

With no other marketable skills, Smith realized he had to make a major move. And once again, family was there to lend a helping hand – this time in the form of an uncle, David Michael Frank, the Emmy-nominee composer whose works include Forrest Gump, The Babysitter’s Club, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and hundreds of episodes of TV shows.

“For the first time in my life, I thought that maybe I’d never be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan or whoever,” Josh says. “I thought: Let me go visit my uncle and see what the scene is like in L.A. Maybe I’m just destined to be a guitar player – and it’d be amazing if I could make a living doing that, too.”

A three-month visit to the West Coast during which he jammed every night provided enough evidence that work as a session player could be promising, even though it meant he probably wouldn’t be playing much blues or be able to do his own thing.

Throwing caution to the wind, he and Niki got married, jumped in the van and headed west without any real prospects. And for the first ten months, Josh worked a job as a tester for video game maker THQ, whose product line includes everything from WWF WrestleMania and Star Wars titles to Jeopardy!, Wheel of Fortune and more, by day while trying to make inroads as a musician at night.

“Life could have been a lot worse than having to play video games all day to make a living,” he chuckles. “And 20 years later, it worked out kinda the way I thought.

“I ended up doing a good number of sessions and some touring, and a lot more pop work. But the business is very up-and-down with periods of success and then others where I didn’t make a thing. I wouldn’t be where I am now if Niki hadn’t been the anchor and breadwinner she was during those early years.”

Josh eventually spent two years on the road with R&B singer/Virgin recording artist Ricky Fanté, a former Marine who hit the jackpot with the tune, “It Ain’t Easy,” which led to appearances on all the late-night talk shows, followed by several years with Hicks and Saadiq along with other work with hip-hop artists Benny Cassette and Tara Ellis, actress Taryn Manning and others.

“For years,” he says, “my life was going from gig to gig, being on the road and in sessions…sometimes playing music I liked, sometimes music I didn’t. But it was teaching me a lot about being a better professional guitar player along with learning about recording, engineering and producing just by observing.”

Somewhere along the way, however, Smith began to realize that even though he was subjugating his services to help put the shine on others, he was starting to make a name for himself, too, noting: “I started getting recognition for my abilities as a guitarist, which was different than anything I’d ever anticipated as a kid when all my heroes with artists who played guitar, not simply musicians.”

Crossing paths frequently with other top session players including Michael Landau (Boz Scaggs), Steve Lukather (Toto/Ringo Starr All-Star Band) and Larry Carlton, they regularly started asking him: “Why don’t you make a new record?”

imageFor a while, Smith was torn. He was already working steadily, but he was aware of a growing fanbase that had sprouted up during his travels. Finally, in 2009, he recorded a multi-directional instrumental CD, Inception, that he hoped would “serve as a calling card to say: ‘Look, I can do all of these things…’ and get me back out there a little bit.”

Almost simultaneously, he notes, “this label in Germany, Crosscut, showed some interest in releasing a blues album, Deep Roots, that I’d done early on in L.A.  They retitled it and released as I’m Gonna Be Ready.

“The next thing I knew, I had a booking agent over there, started doing gigs – and I realized how much I missed doing my own thing and playing the blues…along with all of the new things I’d been learning for the past 15 years. I found that I had a voice, something to say – and folks seemed to care!

It was amazing to me that I’d fly around the world, play a gig and people would actually show up” – just like in his teen years with the Rhino Cats.

Crosscut subsequently released two more CDs. Josh recorded Don’t Give Up on Me with his Saadiq bandmates and served as an R&B-infused love song for Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King and ‘70s blues, while Over Your Head was delivered in a power-trio, improvisational format that was targeted for a European audience that loves blues with a decidedly hard-rock edge. They were followed by Burn to Grow on VizzTone and the self-produced Live at the Spud, a set recorded at The Baked Potato, a Studio City, Calif., nightspot.

While it’s true that some of his recordings stretch the boundaries, Smith insists: “I don’t do anything for any reason other than it feels right. If you come to see me play a ‘me’ gig now, it’s all blues, but you’re gonna get lots of jazz, rock and R&B because it’s all the same to me. It doesn’t matter if I play a song with an incredibly complex, jazzy chord structure or some hard-rock thing.

“To me, I still feel like that kid playing the blues. I’m still thinking of Albert King or Otis Rush no matter what I’m playing.”

His latest effort – and his pride and joy – is Bird of Passage, an album that debuted last spring and caught even his most fervent fans by surprise by delivering a truly old-school set of traditional blues and swing with horn and organ accompaniment. It was influenced because of his love for Blue Note Records and big-band albums produced by Wes Montgomery, Grant Green and Kenny Burrell, all of which feature guitar- or organ/guitar-led trios and big horn sections.

Along with other projects, it’s one that Josh has been mulling over for years with Calvin Turner, a former Saadiq bandmate who’s both a world-class bassist/arranger and one of his closest friends.

“He kept picking at me for years: ‘When are we gonna do that record? We gotta do it, man! Nobody’s doin’ that,” Smith says. “It’d be good not to have to put on your jazz costume for a day, but just go out there as yourself and play your Tele with a big band!’

“Once I decided to do it, he and I had the songs written in a week, and Calvin arranged the horns. He’d moved back to New Orleans, where he’s from, by then, so I flew him out and we recorded the quartet section – me, Calvin, (drummer) Lemar Carter and the great Larry Goldings on organ – completely live in one day of sessions — and then we flew to Nashville and did the horns a week later.

“I’m so incredibly proud of that record.”

As much happiness as Smith enjoyed from that release, his true passion right now is the recording studio, Flat V, he built in San Fernando Valley and already has produced a smorgasbord of top blues and roots recordings, including Eric Gales’ Grammy-nominated Crown, Seth Rosenbloom’s Keep on Turning, Reese Wynans and Friends’ Sweet Release and others for Jimmy Hall, Guy King, Andy Timmons, L.A.-based Brazilian Artur Menezes and several others.

And it’s the place where Josh teams with Bonamassa to capture sounds for Joe’s Keeping the Blues Alive imprint – a partnership that began with the Wynans release, which was such a pleasure to produce that the duo quickly started making a list of who they wanted to record next.

“Larry McCray’s name was the first name out of both of our mouths,” Smith remembers. “Larry was really important to me, and I’d tried to do a record with him a year earlier on my own without being able to make it happen.

“I first met him when I opened for him at the Grand Emporium in Kansas City when I was 13 on my first tour. He was so-o-o kind and encouraging to little me. I’d already loved his albums, and I’ve been even a bigger fan ever since. Here’s a guy who can really play, sing un-believable.

“To me at that time, he was the very definition of contemporary blues. But I think the blues audience has a way of overlooking that. Even though he got his moment on a major label back then, life didn’t go the way he thought it would. And Joe felt the same. We’re in agreement that we want to help people who are important to us to get the little bit of a leg up that they deserve.

“We both know what a tough choice it is to be a blues musician right now and how difficult it is to invest it in a record – and do it right. Unfortunately, most of the records made in our world today are an afterthought because the artist has to have something to sell on the bandstand, made as cheaply as possible and after pulling in all the favors that you can.

“We’re not spending a ton of money, but we’re spending enough to have the time to make as good a record as we can.”

The end product, Blues Without You, has reestablished McCray on the front burner of the blues world – as has 4801 South Indiana Avenue for Joanna Connor. The duo have also worked together on three Joanne Shaw Taylor CDs and have several more projects in the pipeline, including one from Louisiana great Marc Broussard and another entitled Blood Brothers from Albert Castiglia and Mike Zito that will drop soon on Mike’s Gulf Coast imprint.

“Producing is something that I never thought I’d be doing to the extent that I am now,” Smith admits, “but I’m so happy to be doing it because it allows me to keep growing so-o-o much!

image“I’m finding new ways to be creative. It’s amazing to be able to help someone to reach a level that they don’t even know they have. They set a goal to make a statement, and my job is to get it past that…better than they ever thought they could. And that’s really fun to do!”

Bonamassa has become so comfortable with the partnership that he’s enlisted Smith to produce his next CD, the first in 20 years not supervised by Kevin Shirley, who remains a close friend. “We’ve been doing so many together that he wanted to do one our way for a change,” Josh notes. “I tried to push him into something different.”

And in his spare time, Smith recently debuted a prototype for second version of the FLATV model guitar he markets in partnership with Ibanez. Like the Eminence Signature Series speaker and pedals he’s designed, it’s something that comes from his “nerdy” side when it comes to perfecting his tone and equipment.

And if Josh isn’t busy enough already, he’s now serving as Joe’s musical director – something that he’d never planned to do. In fact, he says, his mind was set never to go on the road again unless he was playing his own material.

“But Joe asked me matter-of-factly: ‘Hey, will you come do a tour with me?’” Josh says. “He was promoting the Time Clocks album — which has a lot more guitar on it — and said: ‘I need somebody to play guitar while I’m singing’” – an unusual request because Bonamassa has rarely had a second guitarist on his shows in the past.

“I said: ‘Sure, I’ll play rhythm for you.’ Why not? He’s one of my best friends.”

Once on the road, however, Bonamassa found that he wasn’t touring with an extremely talented collection of older musicians. The energy had changed because for the first time in his life, he was playing with someone his own age – something that was enhanced by Josh’s go-getter attitude and his suggestions that tightened up the show.

“When you’re an artist and you don’t have a musical director (the case for Bonamassa throughout his career), it’s all on you,” Smith notes. “Joe’d never had someone…an outsider…coming onto his gig and getting him to think about changes. So he asked me to stay – and then he decided to switch up his band, too.”

Ceasing on the moment, Josh suggested bringing both Lemar – his longtime drummer — and Calvin on board. Joe was familiar with Carter because of their studio work together. But he’d never heard Turner play bass despite being aware of his skills as an arranger.

One rehearsal, however, was all it took with Bonamassa exclaiming: “Man, this is a special group, you and those guys – and I want to make it a thing!”

Well aware of Joe’s loyalty to the musicians he hires and how well he treats them, Josh says it was an easy decision for him to stay on board. And the end result is that it’s made their studio work considerably easier, too, because they can do almost everything they do in a studio setting now on their bus between gigs.

“Basically, I’m touring with all of my best friends right now,” Josh notes. “And, yeah, I’m not playing my own music. But it is what it is. We’re making our own little Wrecking Crew/label thing happen, and it’s pretty exciting!”

Come what may, however, Smith insists: “Even if you don’t know me because of the break I’ve taken from the blues, check out my music and the records I’ve produced because I love the world you’re in.

“I miss being out there on the blues scene – in America especially – because I’m a lifer! And take a listen to Bird of Passage. I promise you’ll like it!”

Check out that CD – and all of Josh’s other projects, too – by visiting his website:

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageDemetria Taylor – Doin’ What I’m Supposed To Do

Delmark Records

12 songs – 52 minutes

Doin’ What I’m Supposed To Do, Demetria Taylor’s second Delmark release after 2011’s Bad Girl, is a hugely impressive and enjoyable mix of Chicago blues and modern R&B. With a nice blend of originals and well-chosen covers, pristine engineering and mixing by Julia A. Walker at the Delmark Riverside Studio and superb performances by all the musicians, the album underscores why Taylor was the 2022 recipient of the KoKo Taylor “Queen Of The Blues” Award given by the Jus’ Blues Foundation.

Taylor’s band is top drawer: Melvin Carlisle on drums, Larry Williams on bass, Brian James on keyboards and Mike Wheeler and Carlos Showers on guitar. In addition, there are guest appearances by Deitra Farr on one song and Billy Flynn on two songs. As you would expect from such an ensemble, they provide consistently subtle, muscular and dynamic support to Taylor’s excellent voice, while also being given ample opportunity to shine in their respective solo slots.

The opening track, “83 Highway” was written by Taylor’s father and originally released in 1972 as “Wreck on 83 Highway”. Taylor’s interpretation benefits from inspired piano from James and some typically powerful guitar from Flynn. It is immediately followed by the funky R&B of Wheeler’s “Baby Be Good” and “Bad Girl Day” (featuring a marvelous bass line from Williams) and Taylor is wholly comfortable with one foot in each camp. On the syncopated title track, her voice is both assertive and yet beguiling at the same time.

“Blues Early This Morning”, written by Taylor’s mother, sees her in a joyful duet with Farr while also highlighting Flynn’s classic Chicago single note blues phrasing. “Welfare Blues” has great solos from James and Wheeler. It’s worth noting however that this isn’t an album of mere technical virtuosity and endless solos. The musicians serve the song first and foremost, but when they do take solos, they do not waste a note. They are also adept at adding little licks such as the Steve Cropper-esque fills on “Done” that enhance the vocal melody. Likewise, the funky rhythm guitar on the Taylor original, “Nursing My Kitty Cat”, really adds impetus to the song, as does James’ rollicking piano.

Perhaps the best-known cover is Magic Sam’s “You Belong To Me” which is given a shot of R&B whilst retaining the original vocal melody. The album closes with the jaunty, self-penned and autobiographical “Young Gun Taylor” with more fine playing from Wheeler and James in particular.

Doin What I’m Supposed To Do is an apt title for what is a commanding release by Demetria Taylor. Well worth investigating.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6 

imageNiecie – Queen Of The Hill

Ride The Tiger Records – 2022

12 tracks; 48 minutes

Born in Detroit, Niecie has traveled far and wide in her career, having lived and played in Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston and Nashville. It was a chance encounter with Magic Slim that made her move from rock to blues and this is now her sixth album. Produced by former Allman Brothers keyboard player Johnny Neel, guitarist Doug Jones and Niecie herself, the album features a large number of players, including both the co-producers who were also involved in writing much of the original material here, along with Niecie and bassist Ger Hoffman. Other musicians include guitarists Chris Anderson (The Outlaws), John Conley and Luke Davis, bassists Randy Coleman and Dennis Gulley, drummers Daryl Davis and David Northup and backing vocalists Christine Neel and Melissa Alesi. Niecie handles lead vocals throughout in her particular style, an even, at times almost spoken, approach which works better on some songs than others, but does help her to avoid the vocal excesses that some singers adopt.

Niecie sounds a determined lady who knows what she wants as she describes herself on the title track: “some call it stubborn, I call it strong-willed”. Her semi-spoken style of singing allows her to create a dramatic story line, as she does to good effect on the Latin-inflected “Welcome To My Web” where you can sense her drawing in her ‘victim’! Strong slide guitar and keys provide musical drama and fire to “Hidden Agenda”, allowing Niecie to convince us that there are threats out there. Niecie examines female empowerment and recommends the need to be able to flex with the storms, just like a “Willow Tree”. “Every Kind Of Blues” is Johnny Neel’s co-write with Angela Russell and the heavier feel suits Niecie, backed by more strong keyboard and slide guitar work. Of the quieter songs “Nothing Left To Lose” is a winner with keening slide over warm keys and steady rhythm work.

There are three covers from icons of the blues world. Ruth Brown’s “5-10-15 Hours” has great piano work and Niecie carries the tune OK although her version lacks the sassy dynamism of Ruth’s original. Two more female greats (Etta James and Sugar Pie DeSanto) combined on the original “In The Basement” and, like in that original, the backing vocalists create a ‘live’ feel behind Niecie. Arguably the best of the three covers is an adaptation for a female vocalist of Albert King’s “The Hunter”, written for him by Booker T & The MGs during the Born Under A Bad Sign sessions; in an extended version Niecie is well supported by the band, the swirling keys, strong guitar and swaggering rhythm spurring her on to one of the best vocals of the album.

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 

imageHerman Hitson – Let The Gods Sing

Big Legal Mess – 2022

9 tracks; 35 minutes

Now in his eightieth year, Herman Hitson has lived an interesting life. Born in Philadelphia, raised in Jacksonville, Florida, the young Herman started playing in a band in 1959. He met and played with Jimi Hendrix, at one time sharing a room, and Hitson is thought to be the person who encouraged Hendrix to sing. Sessions recorded with Hitson, Lonnie Youngblood and others were later released as being by Hendrix, whereas it seems that all the guitar parts were, in fact, Hitson’s. Hitson has played with a host of luminaries, a list that includes Bobby Womack, Garnett Mimms and Wilson Pickett, and has released occasional music in recent years from his current base in Atlanta. On this disc Hitson recorded in Memphis with Will Sexton on guitar, Mark Edgar Stuart on bass, Will McCarley on drums and Al Gamble on organ; Art Edmaiston adds horns to a few tunes and there is one cut on which there are backing vocals from Marcella Simien and guitar by Jack Oblivian. Hitson plays guitar, mainly in wah-wah style, and sings. There are several songs reprized from Hitson’s previous recordings, including two from the controversial Free Spirit sessions, once attributed to Hendrix.

The title track appeared on Free Spirit and here opens the album, funk and soul edging towards psychedelic rock with Hitson’s wah-wah guitar and spacey keys; the title is the one line chorus, otherwise it’s an instrumental piece. “Ain’t No Other Way” was a 70’s single and this remake takes us into James Brown territory, including a “sock it to me” interjection and some riffing horns in the background, as well as some discordant guitar. Hitson’s take on “Back Door Man” retains some of the sense of menace contained in Howling Wolf’s original version though the dominant, swirling keys take us more towards The Doors’ version on their eponymous debut album. “All I Want Is You” is an uptempo soulful tune with more fine organ work and a singalong chorus that gives it a 60’s sound whilst “Feast Of Ants” is an instrumental crafted in the studio and credited to Hitson, Sexton, McCarley and Stuart, a tune with a rather menacing feel from Hitson’s eerie wah-wah guitar.

“Suspicious” is another from the Free Spirit album, once thought to be sung by Hendrix. Hitson states that Jimi was on the session but played bass only. Here the strong core riff and wah-wah underpin the whole song, Hitson almost speaking the lyrics which clearly display a degree of paranoia about his lady. The strongest cut on the album, for this reviewer, was “Bad Girl”, originally released as a single in 1970 and written by Lee Moses; Hitson is well supported by the backing vocals, swirling organ and a fine horn chart which combine to drive the song along impressively. Hitson’s strained vocals work well on a song with a suitably menacing feel, “Stray Bullet”, which may be autobiographical and relate to the time when Hitson’s girlfriend was killed and he was initially arrested for the crime, later to be found entirely innocent. The album closes with another instrumental entitled “Yampertown Funk”, echoes of James Brown sitting alongside more wah-wah guitar and the horns/organ combo.

It is always good to hear a veteran musician getting the chance to record in the later stages of their career and Music Maker Foundation is to be congratulated on bringing Herman Hitson back to our attention.

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 – 4 of 6 

imageRob “Wild Boar” Moore  – I Used To Be Wild


CD: 10 Songs, 51 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Ensemble Blues

If you could take a drink from the fountain of youth, would you? I’d have much more energy and be at my almost-mythical high school weight if I did. On the other hand, growing older has its upsides: wisdom, nephews and naps. I Used To Be Wild, like Chicago blues guitarist Rob “Wild Boar” Moore. Now we’ve both mellowed out, but one thing’s for sure: we still love the blues. On his latest CD, Moore offers nine original songs and one cover (“I Need You So Bad” by B.B. King). His vocals are well-seasoned by age, experience, and adult refreshments. He converses his way through the album rather than belting it out. This adds a candid, casual atmosphere, as if Rob were right there in your living room, telling it like it is about his current life situation. What his singing lacks in wildness, his smoking lead guitar provides in spades.

Who inspired Moore the most? States Bill Dahl in the liner notes, “While attending high school in the Windy City’s southern suburbs in 1971, Moore gravitated to Alice’s Revisited, a North Side venue presenting a steady blues diet. Rob quickly became entranced with the slashing licks of southpaw guitarist Otis Rush. ‘I started going every month to see Otis,’ he says. ‘I wanted to sound like Otis.’ Moore met Muddy Waters at Muddy’s South Side home that December. ‘He pulled out a guitar,’ said Moore. ‘So I started playing it. He said, ‘I’ll let you sit in!’

Accompanying Rob (lead guitar and vocals) are Vince Salerno on sizzling tenor and baritone saxophones as well as harmonica; Tom Linsk on keyboards, Ron Haynes on trumpet, Thomas Klein on rhythm and slide guitars, Heather Tackett on bass, “Legendary” Merle Perkins on drums, and the Boarettes – Ary Paloma, Amy Lowe, and Christine Wilson on background vox.

In my humble opinion, Moore’s sense of humor is his greatest asset. Several of the songs have tongue-in-cheek titles such as “Forty-Nine Years Between Kisses,” “Medicare Baby,” and a romping, stomping ode to COVID called “Six Feet Apart.” “I used to be wild,” he also says in the opening number. “Now I’m just a boar. I used to act kind of crazy, but I don’t do that stuff no more.” You’ll have to listen closely for more funny lyrics, but he and his colleagues have still dead-serious prowess as blues musicians. You might snicker as the backup singer Boarettes croon “Medicare Baby” a la the Supremes – especially if you’re on it. They make Medicare sound like bubblegum-flavored ice cream with a cherry on top. These three ladies turn life-or-death travails into laughing matters, and that’s a welcome change of pace.

Rob moved to Miami at the end of 1986. Now, in 2022, he’s back in his old Windy City haunts. That’s why this release may be brand-new, but it’s a clear homage to his old life and old ways. I Used To Be Wild, he says. So did I, but you know what? We both know the blues IS the fountain of youth.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageJohn Fusco – Borderlands

Rocket 88 Records R88R-JF-001

10 songs – 49 minutes

Since making his debut on CD as a singer/songwriter a few years ago, John Fusco has proven himself to be as equally as talented a bandleader as he is a screenwriter and movie/TV producer. The filmmaker who gave us Young Guns, Hidalgo, Thunderheart and The Highwayman, he’s a storyteller with few peers as this disc, which delivers a blues-filled saddlebag of what he terms the “Wild West Soul of America” shows.

Raised in Prospect, Conn., Fusco spent his early adulthood in the South as a laborer and blues singer. He turned to writing after experiencing vocal problems after co-founding and serving as the keyboard player/lead vocalist/harp player of the Travis McComb Band back home and touring with the Virginia-based Dixie Road Ducks.

A martial arts expert who’s always been fascinated with Western and Native American themes, his first-ever screenplay – a modern-day retelling of the Robert Johnson legend of selling his soul to the devil – became the blockbuster film Crossroads after being submitted as his master’s thesis while studying at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

This is the third disc Fusco has released since 2019 when he made his debut on the Checkerboard label with John Fusco and the X-Road Riders followed by John the Revelator a year later. Like those CDs, this album delivers a film-noire mix of blues and roots held together by gritty lyrics – in this case, the description of folks who find themselves trapped between past mistakes and an uncertain future. The songs unfold like a film script and are infused with coyote howls, mariachi horns and much, much more.

Fusco plays keys throughout. His pleasant, well-worn voice fits perfectly with the theme of his material. The set was produced and arranged by George Walker Petit, who contributes guitar, fretless bass, percussion and ocarina. They’re joined by Matthew Backer on guitar, Russ Lawton of the Trey Anastasio Band on percussion, Patrick Richard Ross on mandolin and Acadian fiddle, Connor Young on trumpet, Stuart Paton on congas, Jane Boxall on marimba, Michael Hartigan on accordion and Ashley Betton on backing vocals.

The quiet chirping of a dove followed by a horn flourish open “Coyote Man” before Fusco launches into a description of the title figure, a solitary “sailor on the sand who takes our children by the hand and leads them across the Rio Grande” – but also “diablo’s righthand man” who lets 60 wayfarers to die after one of their wagons gets stuck. A Spanish guitar runs are featured in “Dance of the Seven Veils,” which describes a cantina on the border, where the patron longs for the owner’s daughter as she dances seductively and pays for her company by killing Rio Hondo John, who preaches against the house of sin.

A stellar slide run from Backer drives the unhurried complaint, “Bad Luck Rides Shotgun,” which states “every time good luck tries to hitch a ride, bad luck shoots her through with misery” and flows into “Horseback Jesus,” the description of a highly scarred traveler who looks like a runaway slave, preaches peace and brotherhood and prays for his attackers’ salvation with his last breath after they’ve shot him.

The mood brightens for “Cowboy Picture,” in which the singer’s riding with his father during the most beautiful sunrise he’s ever seen before the image-drenched “Countrified Noise” describes the pleasures of a “simple man who likes to play his guitar real loud.” A seven-minute opus, “Cyanide Whisky” paints the picture of a woman who loves you like an angel but “you’ll wake up with a devil in your bed” before “Knighted by the Queen” visits another saloon where the owner has smallpox scars on her face but a regal attitude and a young man from New Orleans rules on the piano.

“Run, Rez Dog, Run” opens with the distant call of a coyote before it erupts into a country-bluesy hootnanny before yielding to a reworking of the traditional gospel number, “Ain’t No Grave,” to bring the album to a close.

Blues takes many forms, and John Fusco has a style that’s truly all his own. Check out this pleaser and I’m sure you’ll agree. It’s 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.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageMalaya Blue – Blue Credentials

Blue Heart Recordings

12 tracks

British blues singer Malaya Blue is rapidly becoming noticed in the Blues World.  Her debut album, Bourbon Street, garnered four nominations for 2015 British Blues Association Awards. Her 2016 CD Heartsick came shortly thereafter and her star rose further. Her next effort was Still which was produced by three-time Grammy-winning producer Dennis Walker. Walker also collaborated on this album and unfortunately passed away three weeks after the tracks were laid down.  His work Robert Cray, BB King and other legends ensures his legacy as an outstanding producer, and his work with Malaya was also certainly noteworthy.

Appearing on this album with Malaya on this album are Brett Lucas (noteworthy guitarist from Detroit who also plays with Thornetta Davis and Jeremy Spencer of Fleetwood Mac) on guitars and percussion, Richard Cousins (founding member of Robert Cray’s band) on bass, John McCollough (Irish organ and keyboard legend who leads Sinead O’Connor’s band and has played with Van Morrison and many others) on Hammond and keys, Sam Kelly (famed UK drummer who has worked with many including Robert Plant, and Gary Moore) on drums and percussion, and Chris Rand (who performed with Stones members Charlie watts, Ronnie Woods and Mick Taylor) on saxophones. The tracks were laid down live with no overdubs or manipulation in the studio.

Malaya opens with the first of these all-original cuts, “Your Act Has Worn Thin,” a slick song with a stinging guitar solo and impassioned vocal work by Blue. “Wrong Kinda Love” follows with a funky groove, pretty Hammond work and a great delivery by Malaya. Next is “Oh, What A Fool” where Malaya gives us a sultry ballad with some great sax behind her along with some pretty piano and organ work. The cut concludes with a big finish which further showcases Blue’s talents.

“I Can’t Find No Love” is another cool blues ballad with some guitar punctuating the passionate performance nicely along with a restrained solo that adds well to the song. She follows that with “The Time We Had,” another slower number delivered with great feeling. Piano, Hammond organ and vocals build in intensity throughout the cut before Malaya takes us home with a sexy conclusion. “Curious” has a little bit of a jazzy, Latin feel to it as Malaya sings with a breathy intensity. Organ, baritone sax and some good percussion help make this special.

“I’m Having Dreams Again” is another great ballad where Malaya displays her vocal prowess. Guitar, organ and saxophone again are standouts in this performance. “Good Intentions, Bad Results” has a cool bass and guitar groove that gets the body moving to the sound. Blue gives another sultry performance as the song flows and throbs seductively. Blue sings of a relationship that had the makings of working out but failed dues to her partner’s efforts. The guitar again stings sweetly here. Then we have “Bring Me Your Sin” where the dobro sets the down-home mood for the listener and then Malaya breaks out into a driving and very cool cut with electric guitar in full support.

The tempo slows a bit for “Set Me Free,” another pretty and emotive ballad with some more strident guitar support. “Howlin’ Mercy” begins as a simple acoustic guitar and vocal duet and stays that way for about four minutes until the rest of the band appears and Malaya shift gears for a rousing final concluding minute. “Messin’ Around” is the final track, a bouncy and lively cut about just what the title states. Some final guitar soloing is featured here along with some more great piano and Hammond work.

Malaya Blue is a superb chanteuse whose vocals range from sexy and sultry to powerhouse, in your face stuff. She’s a talent vocalist and has a superb band supporting her.  This album is a fine fourth addition to her body of work and it resonates with the fine vocals and musicianship throughout. This is one helluva good album!

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

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