Issue 16-7 February 17, 2022


Cover photo © 2022 Joe Rosen

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with BigLlou Johnson. We have eight Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Scott Ellison, Dave Hunt, Lowell Fulson, Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson, Tinsley Ellis, Kevin Greenwood, Elias Bernet Band and Charlie Barath. Scroll down and check it out!


 Featured Interview – BigLlou Johnson 

imageWhat’s all the noise about BigLlou Johnson, the singer…the singer?… What?!? Everybody knows he’s an emcee and the host of SiriusXM’s B.B. King’s Bluesville. But a singer? What the…

That’s right, children! In case you not paying attention, Johnson’s soul-blues disc, Bigman, has been soaring at the top of the charts since its release – and it’s no fluke. After all, you might not remember, but this is his second CD – a long-awaited follow-up to They Call Me Big Llou, a 2013 Blues Music Awards honoree as best new artist debut album of the year.

In addition to his work on the blues stage, BigLlou’s also an actor and one of the most in-demand talents for voiceover work in movies, TV and commercials, too – a seemingly cushy life that might make you wonder why he’d want to spend his time and money fronting a band, too.

But as Blues Blast learned recently, the answer is simple: It’s something that’s always been in his blood, having spent his youth in R&B bands and recording and touring internationally as a member of a four-piece acapella gospel group.

Johnson grew up at Roosevelt and California on the West Side of Chicago and played tenor sax from age 11 influenced by Stanley Turrentine. “I played in a band from grade school through high school,” he says, “and I was considered to be quite good. But I quit when I got to Columbia College (the non-profit liberal arts institution that’s produced Pat Sajak, Conan O’Brien sidekick Andy Richter, Avatar cinematographer Mauro Fiore and dozens of other talents in both entertainment and business).

“I was the only one in my family who took up an instrument. But we all grew up singin’ in Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church every Wednesday and Sunday – until girls started takin’ up my time instead of the Good Book (chuckles).

“My mother’s best friend would always take me to the corner liquor store, where they played nothin’ but the blues. I remember her proppin’ me up on the bar as a child, blues playin’ and her tryin’ to get me to drink off her finger and stuff like that. That’s one of the reasons I curse so much now (chuckles).

“My first job at 13 years was workin’ weekends at Paul’s Menswear in Jewtown (Maxwell Street), where there were blues cats jammin’ their ass off on every corner. But growin’ up, blues was nowhere on my radar,” says BigLlou who recently rebranded himself by fusing his trademark name into one word.”

It’s no secret that the blues started losing its luster in the black community in the ‘60s, when the great majority of African-Americans turned their backs to it because of its roots in slavery – something that has continued for decades but is now changing with the emergence of more and more talented youngsters of color. And it was no different for Llou on the West Side.

“Every time you’d leave the house, people would be doo-woppin’ on the street corner,” he remembers, noting that R&B dominated everything. “I was the Barry White in the neighborhood as a teenager in my band, Deep Involvement. Playing cover songs was all the rage back then. We never thought about doin’ any originals. It was all Earth Wind & Fire…Isaac Hayes…Arthur Prysock (another deep-voiced talent).

image“My first paying gig on tenor sax after Deep Involvement came with a very well-known doo-wop group from the Midwest – I can’t remember the name — at the Keymen’s Night Club on Madison Street,” an upscale hangout in the heart of the West Side. It was owned and operated by disc jockey Thomas Lewis, who died in a fire along with his wife when the building — and their basement apartment — was consumed by flames on New Year’s Eve 1994 about 20 years after it became The Factory, a teen dancehall that operated until it burned.

A large man with a warm personality, BigLlou was seated behind the desk in his home office/studio when we spoke, far more dressed down for the meet-up than his customary appearance on stage, where he wears some of the flashiest threads in the business — a habit he acquired early in life.

“We always took to the stage dressed to the nines with Deep Involvement,” he says. “It’s somethin’ we learned growin’ up. Cats from the country and other folks that didn’t grow up on the West Side, they didn’t do that.

“Today,” he chuckles, “people like to ask ‘How many suitcases did Llou bring on the blues cruise?’ because I like to dress to impress!”

Johnson became enamored with both Negro spirituals and gospel while growing up in church. And the late Paul Robeson has been a major influence since discovering him while in high school. One of the most important – and impressive – figures of his generation, Robeson was an All-American football player with a law degree from Columbia University in New York who rose to prominence during the Harlem Renaissance as a deep-voiced vocalist on concert, an actor in movies and on Broadway and a social activist around the globe before becoming involved in the Civil Rights movement.

““I fell in love with his accomplishments, but more important, his voice,” Llou says. “He was huge in Russia, where he worked for workers’ rights. They named a mountain after him. If life hadn’t gone the way it led me, I thought I was gonna use my voice like he did as a champion for those who were not so fortunate.

“It’s on my bucket list to go to that mountain and sing like he did.”

While it’s true that Johnson’s career has gone in a completely different direction, he has followed in Robeson’s footsteps by performing classical music — and learning how to control his voice — as a member of the Oak Park Concert Chorale in suburban Chicago. He was also in the lineup of the Sue Conway Victory Singers for a while, the first-ever gospel group to appear at La Scala opera house in Italy.

His work also includes also an album with vocalist Dorota Jarema, a superstar in Poland, and, closer to home, another folk icon Andrew Calhoun, who carries forward another Windy City music tradition. And, for a couple of years, BigLlou was a member of Phava, the acapella quartet Phava that toured internationally and recorded one album, Already Been to the Water.

Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf – both deep-throated vocalists with similar range – have always had a major hold on Johnson, too.

“Comin’ from Chicago,” he says, “I’ve always been enamored of Chicago blues cats, particularly Wolf…his personality and everything else. It’s not that I tried to mirror myself after him or any of that, but we were both big boys – and I fell in love with everything that he was.”

imageNow a familiar voice across America through his SiriusXM gig, BigLlou’s broadcasting career actually began early, too. He attended Westinghouse High — a school that’s produced jazz greats Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams and Errol Garner and basketball legends Mark Aguirre, Hersey Hawkins and Eddie Johnson, too — and started reporting school news over WVON — the radio giant owned by Leonard and Phil Chess of Chess Records fame – in an era when deejays Herb Kent — “The Cool Gent,” E. Rodney Jones, Pervis Spann – “The Blues Man” and Soul Train creator Don Cornelius held court.

“I always wanted to be an announcer or an anchorman,” Johnson says. “But that didn’t happen.

“My first job after college was runnin’ the board at WIND (then a talk-radio station). But after a month, they told me: ‘Sorry, Llou, but the station is going Spanish. It’s gonna be called ‘La Tremenda’…the wind in Spanish. That was the end of that!”

A job working with computers followed before Johnson launched Phoenix Talent Agency, the only black-owned and operated business of its kind in the Windy City. Initially providing extras for TV shows and movies, his roster eventually included childhood idol Turrentine, a young Halle Berry, Queen Latifah and other rising stars and his clients were regularly featured in movies produced by Robert Townshend.

Johnson sold the firm after a 15-year run in 1996 after landing a role in his first commercial for McDonalds and deciding to step out of the shadows and become “talent” himself. His unusual spelling of his first name came about when he joined the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television & Radio Artists, both of which barred registrants with the same name.

“It’s no secret that my name’s pretty common,” he says, noting that he finally added the second “l” to his birth name after running out of options.

“I went with L-l-o-u,” he jokes, “because I’m twice as nice!”

Now known as the “sexiest voice in the blues,” Johnson has appeared in several stage plays, commercials for White Castle, Kraft Foods and dozens of others in the years since. As an actor, his film credits include both Barbershop movies, Nothing Like the Holidays, the TV shows Ballers with Dwayne Johnson on BET and Mix It Up with Courteney Cox on WE.

He’s also the voice of Pete the Horse for the animated children’s video series, Jasper the Mule, and much, much more. And just prior to speaking with Blues Blast, the Society of Voice Arts and Sciences presented him with its 2021 SOVAS Award for Phillips 66 oil company’s Live Life to the Full advertising campaign.

BigLlou’s been based out of suburban Los Angeles for about a decade, deciding to abandon Chicago for the West Coast after producer George Lucas brought him west to work on the film Strange Magic, his final animated feature prior to selling his company, Industrial Light & Magic, to Disney. “I played Pare in that one and sang ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love,’” he says. “I came out for the last sessions and loved it so much, I stayed.”

Johnson’s involvement with the blues community took off in earnest in 2008 after the two giant satellite radio stations merged to create SiriusXM and program director Bill Wax hired him for the B.B. King’s Bluesville gig. And he spent hundreds of hours in the studio listening to albums during the first couple of years as homework to fill in the gaps about his knowledge.

“Blues was callin’, and I’m glad it did,” he says, noting that he spent his first couple of years filling in his gaps of knowledge about the music by listening to albums in the studio all day. It’s a job that’s led to steady work as an announcer at festivals across the country and all of the big events, including the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise, the BMAs, the International Blues Challenge and, most recently, the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas. “And I owe Bill everything for all that I am in the blues today.”

imageThat includes initiating a career as a recording artist, too.

“When I came up with the idea for my first album,” he says, “Bill insisted that I should do it, but told me: ‘Don’t use all the famous people you know. Bring some people (younger talent) up with ya.’

“And that’s what I did.”

Recorded at Rax Trax in Chicago immediately after Johnson returned home after playing a homeless priest in the comedy horror movie, Devil in My Ride, it was co-produced by harp player Russ Green – who, like Llou, has an extensive background in theater, but studied harmonica under Sugar Blue and has toured with John Primer — and Keith Stewart — Llou’s close friend and business partner –who was a member of the ‘70s soul group, Heaven & Earth. Among the lesser known talents in the lineup was guitarist Mike Wheeler who’s gone on to two successful CDs for Delmark.

Bobby Rush also provided some sage advice, too, planting the seed for what became the album title and title tune during a conversation over breakfast when they crossed paths at the BMAs.

“I said: ‘Ya know, I’ve been talkin’ to Bill about doin’ an album,’” Johnson recalls. “’Let me ask you: ‘Why is it that you be puttin’ your name…Bobby Rush, Bobby Rush…in your own music so much?’

“’The reason I do it,’ he said, ‘is so people will remember who the hell I am for those who don’t know. When you make a record, put your name in it so people know who the hell you is!’”

Johnson took the suggestion to heart, opening the CD with “They Call Me Big Llou” before powering through a collection of covers, including Solomon Burke’s “Flesh and Blood,” the standards “Rock Me Baby”, “300 Pounds of Joy” and “Help Me,” a bluesified version of Barry White’s “Your Sweetness Is My Weakness,” Tyrone Davis’ “DOGG” – a tune penned originally with Snoop Dog in mind — and Earl Thomas’ “Git Me Some.”

The BMA honors came as a shock, Johnson admits: “When they hollered my name at the awards, I didn’t know what to do! My niece hollered at me: ‘Get up…get up!’ I wasn’t prepared.”

In his world, however, it was only natural.

“I’m always apprehensive about awards,” he says. “Even though I’m an actor, a performer, I don’t take rejection well — and I don’t toot my own horn. I may play at it a little, but when it comes to doing it, I consider myself truly humble.

“Every accolade and blessing that comes my way, I’m totally, totally grateful.”

Why did it take Johnson so long for a follow-up? After all, he’s spent part of the past decade toured the U.S. and Europe in Big Llou & the Bluesville Revue in the company of Zac Harmon, Bob Corritore, Nellie “Tiger” Travis, Johnny Rawls, Jimi “Primetime” Smith and others. His voice has also been ingrained in the grooves of several other projects, including the Blind Dog Smokin’-Bobby Rush album, Decisions, songs that appeared on the 2014 compilation, The Longshot Sessions II and work with hip-hop artist Raury, too.

imageLet’s not forget, he also appeared on Chris “Bad News” Barnes’ pleasing Live CD and on Shari Puorto and Doug Woolverton’s Lightning’s Lessons: Learning Through Music Vol. 1, an album that introduces blues to children, too. And the duet he shares alto powerhouse Gina Coleman and her band, Misty Blues, new album, One Louder, is currently tearing up the charts.

It’s not like he didn’t have other things on his plate.

“My life changes every time the phone rings or I get an email,” Johnson insists. “I get one project and – whatever it is – it takes weeks of my time to get it right. It could be a play, a film, a commercial or somebody else’s project. Unlike a musician, whose fulltime job is to do that, my job’s as an entertainer, as a voice, which encompasses a lot of stuff.

“I’m pulled in so many different directions all the time, it’s hard for me to focus – because I don’t have a team like Steve Harvey, although I would like to see what that’s like someday (laughs)! But COVID gave me the time, inclination and the financial resources to get the new album done the way I wanted.

“After I won the award, I tried for a couple of years to do another one, and it just didn’t work out. Every time I got a chunk of money, Russ and I would get a group of musicians and songs and record ‘em at the same studio in Chicago that we did the first one at. I’d listen to the songs and that’d be about it! I guess I wasn’t excited about ‘em as I was the first time.

“Then I did it again when Blind Dog Smokin’ came into town. We recorded two or three songs and…it wasn’t the band…it was me. My vocal stuff just wasn’t happenin’.

“So what you hear on Bigman is probably the third or fourth iteration of those songs bein’ played and recorded. I didn’t get happy with those tunes until I called my god-nephew, Terrence Grayson, who plays bass for Victor Wainwright. I said: ‘Let me see if he can help me out.’

“He said: ‘I got you, Unc! Send me the songs!’ And what he sent back…I was crying, I was floored…it was beautiful. It was the perfect melding of what Memphis and Chicago have.”

At that point, Llou says, it was time to “find the voice to fit that – without trying to duplicate what everyone else had done before. I didn’t want to be the Barry White of the blues. I didn’t want to be the new Willie Dixon. I knew I wanted to be intrinsically BigLlou – whatever that happens to be.”

Johnson came across as primarily an old-school blues shouter on his first disc, but one listen to the new one demonstrates that he’s achieved his goal. He’s transformed himself into a complete singer with far more range, dynamics and sensitivity than he exhibited before.

But it still took a while for him to find his footing.

The music was basically set in stone after being laid down by an all-star lineup that included guitarists Gino Matteo, Joe Louis Walker and Isaiah Sharkey, Wainwright on keys, Felton Crews on bass, Woolverton and Mark Earley on horns, Anne Harris on violin and a host of others. And Johnson flew to Chicago and spent a week with Stewart, laying down vocals, but they still weren’t right.

“We recorded eight songs,” he says, “and I hated them all! There goes thousands of dollars down the tube (laughs)! Fast-forward two months and I’m talking to Ellis Hall – the modern-day reincarnation of Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles, and my next-door neighbor – on the phone. When I told him of my situation, he said: ‘Llou, bring your ass over here. I gotcha!’

“He turned me on to his song, ‘I Got the Fever’ and said: ‘I want for you to record it.’ He’s real churchy on it, and I told him I couldn’t do it. He told me: ‘I don’t want you to. I want you to find your voice with it.

“That’s what we’re gonna do…find BigLlou in this.’”

imageOne of the most interesting tunes in the set, it combines blues and jazz elements with strong sexual overtones. “Like the rest of the CD, it breaks out of the standard one-four-five blues progression,” Johnson says. “It’s all blues, but it comes at you from different angles — contemporary blues on crack!”

It might surprise some listeners to find that one of the other numbers is an updated, electric version of acoustic master Doug MacLeod’s “Chill on Cold,” Llou says. “He gave it to me Doug MacLeod-style…acoustic guitar and nothin’ but him doin’ the talkin’. And Russ took weeks gettin’ the harmonica intro just right. I’m glad he did! It’s huge now!

“And when Doug heard it, he gave me the greatest compliment: ‘I love what you’ve done with my record! You made it yours.’”

All Johnson is hoping for with Bigman, he says, is the opportunity to be heard, adding: “In doing so, if it encourages you to do something decent, something good…whatever that is…then my job is done!

“I’m sorry that I didn’t embrace the blues early in my career like I did R&B. I think everything happens when it’s supposed to happen. It’s very humbling.

“The first album, even though I won a Blues Music Award, people don’t see me as an artist. It reminds me like it was for me a lot on the playlot tryin’ to play basketball. I was tall and I could play, but I was fat, and nobody chose me except my brother. Same thing with the blues.

“I’m still sittin’ there and nobody chooses me to come up on stage to jam. What the fuck’s up with that? People I consider to be my boys and my girls, they still don’t see me other than bein’ BigLlou from B.B. King’s Bluesville. Maybe this new album will change all that!”

In the meantime, BigLlou’s still a very busy man. He was getting ready to play the English-speaking voice of God for the Audio Bible Production Project, which will be recorded in six languages and is projected to deliver an experience akin to a surround-sound movie when listening with headphones. And he’s already making plans for his next CD, a spoken-word effort laid down atop blues and jazz.

“All my life, all I’ve wanted to do is make people smile by something I created. My mother used to say: ‘All they need to do is hear you, boy,’” BigLlou remembers, noting: “This has been a good year so far!”

He remains deeply grateful to all the folks who’ve stuck with him along the way. “To all my bluesy friends,” he says. “thank you very much from the bottom of my big ol’ bluesy heart. Everything I do I do with you in mind in an effort to carry on the traditions.

“Thanks for supporting me when I’m hosting and trying to bring on the headliners as entertainingly as I can and with all the excitement and jubilation that they deserve. And thanks for supporting my recordings. Every time I work, I feel the love coming back to me – and I want to keep that give-and-take as long as I can.

“Thanks so much for stickin’ around the blues and stickin’ around me. I’m BigLlou from B.B. King’s Bluesville…satellite radio channel 74… (signing off with the title/catchphrase of another song from the album)… ’Shucky Ducky (Quack Quack)!’”

Check out the recent review of BigLlou’s Bigman album Here:

Visit Johnson’s website for more on his music and where he’ll be appearing next at:

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 8

imageScott Ellison – There’s Something About the Night

Liberation Hall Records

14 songs – 62 minutes

Tulsa-based guitarist Scott Ellison pulls out all the stops on this pleasing album, joining forces with members of the Albert Lee and Eric Clapton bands and his own unit, too, to deliver a driving, hour-long set that swings and sways from the hip as it delivers a mix of Texas and Chicago blues and blues-rock.

A veteran road dog who worked behind Conway Twitty’s daughter, Jessica James, in the ‘70s before hitting the road with Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown in the early ‘80s, Ellison was once a first-call session artist in Los Angeles, working behind The Box Tops, Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Peaches & Herb and others before launching his own group in the early ‘90s.

He made his recording debut as a front man with two albums — Chains of Love and Live at Joey’s – in L.A. before returning to the Sooner State about five years later and has been a consistent festival headliner since teaming with longtime Robert Cray producer Dennis Walker for the Cold Hard Cash, his first release on Burnside Records.

This is the 13th release for Ellison, an Oklahoma Blues Hall of Famer. His tune, “Cadillac Woman,” topped the blues charts in 2008, and songs have appeared in several major movies, including Reindeer Games and Home Front, as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Sister Sister, Joan of Arcadia and Saving Grace on TV. He penned 13 of the 14 cuts on this one, ten of which were in partnership with tunesmith Michael Price and covers Price’s biggest hit, the Bobby “Blue” Bland classic, “Ain’t No Love (in the Heart of the City).”

Recorded in Tulsa, Scott handles lead vocals on 13 of the 14 tracks, doubles on guitar and lays down bass on three tracks, too, with backing from a moveable feast of talents that includes Lee and Rick Robbins on six-string, Jon Greathouse, Dick Sims, Walt Richman and Hank Charles on keys, Scott McQuade on accordion and David Berntson on harmonica.

The rhythm section consists of bassists Lou Castro and Jon Parris and percussionists Robbie Armstrong, Jamie Oldaker, Todd Wolf, David Teegarden and Ron McRorey. Chris Campbell handles lead vocals on one number, and Ginger Blake, Maxine Waters, Julia Waters, Oren Waters and Marcy Levy – aka Marcella Detroit — provide backing vocals.

The rock-solid, unhurried shuffle, “Half a Bottle Down,” opens the action in the aftermath of a romantic hiccup as Ellison describes consuming whiskey but feeling good because his lady’s reversing tracks and returning home after a split. The title tune, “There’s Something About the Night,” bemoans the fact that it’s easy to get through the day during a separation, but problems arise at sundown. A cover of “Ain’t No Love” follows before the uptempo original, “Bury Your Bone at Home,” cautions that divorce lawyers will take you to the cleaners if you decide to roam.

The aural texture of the disc gets a little harder with the driving rocker “Blowin’ Like a Hurricane” before the rapid-fire “Salina” heaps praise on the title lady after she’s cast her spell and made him her love slave – something he doesn’t mind at all. “Meat and Potatoes” serves up a stop-time, slide-guitar pleaser with a heaping helping of food references and a smoking harp line from Berntson before “Feast or Famine” describes a lady who either loves or hates the singer, but nothing in between. The straight-ahead Windy City ballad, “Good Year for the Blues,” delivers a great assessment of 2020 and all the troubles that it wrought before the uptempo “I’m Ready Baby” professes readiness for romance to a woman who’s been eager for a while.

Apparently, it’s a good fit on some levels because she’s a “Mirror Image” of the singer, but not others – as stated in “Chains of Love,” which finds her ready to walk out. Two more numbers — “Revolutionary Man,” which praises the longevity of the blues, and “Where Do You Go When You Leave,” which wonders if “I’m the fool who looks the other way” – bring the album to a close.

There’s Something About the Night touches on many of the hot-button themes that permeate the blues, but Scott Ellison has a clever way with words that run through this one like a river. I liked it, and I think you will, too.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

imageDave Hunt – Behind the Moon

Mad Ears Productions – 2021

14 tracks; 54:23

Dave Hunt’s Behind the Moon recalls a time when rock, blues, and mainstream radio were all synonymous. His album isn’t classic rock, but leans on classic sounds and riffs, all through Hunt’s personal lens of solid vocals and tasteful guitar playing.

Hunt comes out of the European blues scene, with Behind the Moon his fourth solo album. Here Hunt sings and plays guitar and harmonica, as well as some occasional bass and drums. His vocals are often more of a rhythmic talking that reinforce the groove, perhaps factoring into what makes him such a capable drummer. His songs reside comfortably within the blues rock genre, but with some interesting surprises that catch your ear.

For instance, “Take Me to the Sun” is a Delta-inspired blues riff over a delightfully slow—almost reluctant—groove, Hunt’s harmonica howling behind it, like tumbleweeds across a desert. It’s pure blues, but the melody is reminiscent of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Funky Monks,” which, as the source material name implies, gives the tune an unexpected funky sway, and that also makes it feel modern (forgetting for a moment the Chili Peppers song is 30 years old, a long time for pop music, but mere relative seconds for the blues).

“Swamp Snake Moan,” a North Mississippi Hill country blues, also showcases Hunt’s ability to merge history into the present. For this track, it involves electronic drums. ZZ Top famously (or infamously, depending upon your perspective) used that sound to make the blues into dance music. Hunt uses electronic drums to give the track a mechanical trundle. However, his swirling harmonica and wild slide textures inject the tune with a human warmth. It’s a smart combination of elements that makes for a fun song.

One of the album’s most interesting moments is “Don’t Leave This Way,” a trippy track with shimmery guitars and harmonica that bobs in and out of the song, almost like buoy on choppy water. The track doesn’t use a full-blown drum set, which makes the song feel like it might drift out of the groove at any moment. Hunt and his co-producer Andy Littlewood chip in straight-ahead blues guitar, which sounds wonderfully incongruous against the song’s more atypical elements. It’s a neat track, but one that might have been lifted to next-level psychedelic with the addition of electric sitar.

Hunt and Littlewood are strong songwriters and musicians, which is always a good recipe for an enjoyable album. The most impressive thing about Behind the Moon is Hunt’s ability to gently twist songs so that they don’t feel like tunes you’ve heard many times before. He’s not reinventing anything but rather leaving a gentle mark that lets the listener know they’re hearing something new.

If the music world ever resets to the glory days of the 1970s and 1980s, when blues rock ruled, Hunt might have a shot at the throne.

Reviewer Steven Ovadia interviews blues artists about their songwriting process for Working Mojo.



 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 8 

imageLowell Fulson – Live! with Jeff Dale & the Blue Wave Band

Pro Sho Bidness PSB 1983

10 songs – 42 minutes

Lowell Fulson left us in 1999 but left a legacy as one of the most important songwriters and guitarists in West Coast blues. He gets to live again and play at the top of his game here thanks to the work of former bandmate Jeff Dale who came across this set while homebound at the height of the coronavirus epidemic and spending his downtime by rummaging through a box of long-forgotten tapes.

An Oklahoma native born on a Choctaw reservation in 1921 but claiming a Cherokee bloodline, Fulson was barely out of his teens when he began making a name for himself in California. His first band there included a young Ray Charles and future tenor sax giant Stanley Turrentine, too. Following a stint in the Navy during World War II, he went on to a long and successful recording career for Chess, Arhoolie, Jewel, Kent, Rounder and several other labels.

Fulson’s a Blues Hall of Fame inductee and a Rhythm and Blues Foundation Pioneer honoree whose catalog of originals included “Blue Shadows,” “Reconsider Baby,” “Everyday I Have the Blues” and several other tunes still played today. He passed at age 77 in 1999 – four years after earning a Grammy nomination for the album Them Update Blues.

A native of Chicago’s South Side who’s enjoyed a successful 40-year career of his own, Dale was a national artist in his early 20s when the Canadian band Powder Blues was appearing at a club in Hollywood in the early ‘80s and invited both him and Lowell to sit in. Their friendship they formed that day eventually became a partnership when Fulson called him out of the blue and recruited him to join forces and set up a tour.

Now fronting the band the South Woodlawners, Jeff recorded this set on a four-track Tascam Portastudio when they appeared at Club 88 in Los Angeles on Nov. 3, 1983. It remained a hidden treasure until unearthed four decades later, when the material was edited by Rich Hyland and remastered by Dave Donnelly.

Fulson delivers eight of his own tunes here along with two covers in a lineup that includes Dale and Lightnin’ Dan Sonenfeld on guitars, Phil Munsey on drums and Ron Maldonado on bass. They’re accompanied by a trio of sax players: Pete Zilchak, Steve Primo and Marshall Crayton Jr., the grandson of another West Coast blues legend, the late Pee Wee Crayton.

The original instrumental “Do You Feel It” fires out of the gate at a chaotic pace to open the action before settling down as Fulson takes to the mic the driving shuffle, “You’re Gonna Miss Me.” His warm, mid-range voice powers through the tune, which features a stellar, stinging mid-tune guitar solo. The six-strings come to the fore to open the familiar romantic complaint, “Too Many Drivers,” which first appeared on Britain’s Sue imprint in 1965, before a brief horn solo. A brief verse follows before an 80-second guitar run and another verse bring the song to a close.

“Blue Shadows,” which hit the No. 1 spot on R&B charts for Fulson and Swing Time Records in 1950, sounds close to the original before Lowell dips into the catalog of Chick Willis for a cover of the sexually charged pleaser, “Stoop Down Baby.” By the time Lowell recorded “Reconsider Baby,” which follows, he’d moved on to the Chess subsidiary Checker. Even though the tune’s been covered well over 1,000 times, there’s nothing like the master’s touch on this one, which hit the No. 3 spot in 1954.

A trio of Fulson’s minor numbers — “Do You Feel It,” “Blues Pain” and “Lowell’s Lollipop” – follow before the Jimmy Rushing-Count Basie classic, “Going to Chicago Blues,” brings the set to a successful close.

Available through most major retailers, this one’s a treasure for anyone with an ear for traditional West Coast blues.

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 – 4 of 8 

imageLuther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson – Once In A Blue Moon

Crossroads Blues Media – 2021

8 tracks; 75.12 minutes

Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson started out in Chicago, played with Magic Sam in the 60’s and with Muddy Waters between 1972 and 1980. He moved to the East Coast and released albums on Bullseye and Telarc between 1992 and 2001. He relocated to Florida in 2017 and is still active in his 80’s, as this release demonstrates. This album follows on the heels of an acoustic album in 2020 and was recorded live at The Hideaway Cafe in St Petersburg, Florida, with Luther’s band The Magic Rockers. The recording date was October 31, 2020, and, for the first time in 75 years there was a blue moon that night, gifting a title to the album. Luther handles the vocals and shares guitar duties with up and coming Florida player Chris ‘Kid’ Royal, Pat Herlehy on sax, Pete Nadeau on keys, Otis Doncaster on harp, Mickey Maguire on bass and the appropriately named Magic Drumski on…drums!

The set opens with a relaxed take on “CC Rider” that runs to over twelve minutes, so there is lots of space for everyone to show their paces and the evidence immediately is that everyone is on form. The pace increases for Luther’s shuffle “Flippin’ & Floppin’” on which Pat blows impressively before Luther interprets “Fever”, best known from Little Willie John’s or Peggy Lee’s smoky version. A medley of Muddy Waters tunes follows, combining “Hoochie Coochie Man” with “I’m A Man”. Luther starts off slowly, the sax, harp and guitar playing the familiar refrain (though we should note the effect of inflation when Luther sings that he has “$1400, don’t you mess with me”). The song builds in intensity, especially when Luther leads the band into the “I’m A Man” section.

We then get a run of three of Luther’s songs. “Thank You Sugar” rolls and tumbles along and Pat catches fire on an extended solo, well supported by Kid’s rhythm fills. Luther introduces “Stealin’ Chickens” by claiming that he really was thinking about chickens when he wrote it; a likely story, as one can discern over the extended track that clocks in at just short of twenty minutes, so again plenty of solo opportunities (notably for keys man Pete) on a song with a lot of double entendre lyrics.

The slow blues “You Got Me Wonderin’” has a lovely intro with the two guitarists playing together before Luther sings about frequent calls from a “wrong number”, but always the same guy; looks like the relationship is in trouble! The album concludes with another extended tune, this time “Mean Old World”, here credited to both T-Bone Walker and to Little Walter; only fair as both recorded the song and their versions share a lot of the lyrics.

Luther strips the song back to the basics, with harpman Otis prominent from the start, before the song builds, with fine sax and organ work, though the final section disappoints as Luther repeats ‘happy’ over and over to close out the song. To judge by Luther’s words at the end, this was the song before a break, not the finale of the evening, but, for whatever reason, it is the final song on this disc.

This is a good album of mainly classic Chicago blues, with the sax adding something extra to the band. For a guy in his eighties, Luther puts on a fine show and his band is great too. An enjoyable listen!

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 8 

imageTinsley Ellis – Devil May Care

Alligator Records ALCD 5008

10 songs – 49 minutes

Blues-rocker Tinsley Ellis is one of the hardest working road dogs in music, and the coronavirus epidemic hit him especially hard. He had just begun touring to promote his latest album, Ice Cream in Hell, in January 2020 when the world ground to a halt, but he also found himself shuttered from the world at home for the first time in 40 years.

Instead of bemoaning that reality and feeling sorry for himself, though, Tinsley put himself to work, revisiting guitars and amps he hadn’t touched in decades and establishing a writing routine that produced a whopping 200 songs in the next year. He kept fans engaged by posting some of the material online, but they have even more reason to Blues rejoice because this beefy blend of blues, Southern rock and more is the result.

Like all of the albums Ellis has released since joining the Alligator fold with Georgia Blue in 1988, the ten tracks on this one show he’s at the top of his game, delivering emotion-charged, true-to-life stories laced with fretwork that drives home their message in a style that stands out through precision, tone and feel rather than pyrotechnics.

Tinley recorded and produced this in partnership with keyboard player Kevin McKendree at his studio, The Rock House, in Franklin, Tenn. They’re joined by bassist Steve Mackey and drummer Lynn Williams on rhythm and joined by Jim Hoke and Andrew Carney, who sit in on sax and trumpet for three cuts.

A funky, extended slide-guitar run kicks off the six-minute opener, “One More Reason,” before it settles into a medium-paced shuffle and Ellis launches into an extended apology to a lady after she’s told him goodbye. It’s an act, his says, that gives him a final excuse to cry as he notes: “The monkey was off my back now, but the circus was still in town!”

The message continues in “Right Down the Drain,” a driving rocker in which Tinsley continues to regret losing everything he valued, but admits that he’s all to blame because of outside women and cocaine. His tears are expressed in every note of the mid-tune solo. The mood brightens instantly, however, from the first notes of “Just Like Rain,” a sweet Southern rocker that recounts a Sunday morning when the singer and his lady cross paths and he finally finds the opportunity to make amends.

The action heats up again for the title track, “Beat the Devil,” which opens with a brief, but searing guitar run and settles into a steady shuffle and Ellis delivers a little allegorical philosophy: that trying to compete for more in life is a no-win situation because it doesn’t matter whether you win or lose because the outcome is always the same.

“Don’t Bury Our Love,” which follows, is one of the choicest cuts in the set, an unhurried, stop-time ballad that describes the heartache of realizing that the former joy of a relationship is at an end. You feel the pain in every note of Tinsley’s guitar. Fortunately, the rocker “Juju” celebrates the magic spells cast by another lady and brings the suffering to an end.

“Step Up” opens quietly before erupting into another pleasant rocker. It revisits the theme of “Beat the Devil” as it urges listeners to stride on higher ground before the emotion-packed “One Last Ride” finds Ellis finally willing to come to terms with heartaches experienced yesterday. Two more tunes – the hard-rocking “28 Days” and “Slow Train to Hell” – use differing allusions, one upbeat and the other not, to describe separations in relationships that feel like they’ll never come to an end.

As this review was being written, Tinsley Ellis was a 2021 Blues Music Award nominee for both blues-rock album and artist of the year for Ice Cream in Hell – and you can bet your bottom dollar that he’ll be in strong consideration next year for Devil May Care, too. Like Tinsley himself, it’s a treasure!

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 8 

imageKevin Greenwood – She Knocks Me Out

BlueK Media Group

15 songs – 70 minutes

She Knocks Me Out is Kevin Greenwood’s first CD release at the age of 72 and, boy, does he have some stories to tell. As a young blues fan, harmonica player and music journalist, he interviewed and befriended some of the giants of the genre, including B.B. King, James Cotton, Junior Wells and Louis Myers (there’s a wonderful photo in the excellent liner notes of Greenwood interviewing Howlin’ Wolf in 1971), in addition to sharing the stage with the likes of John Lee and Earl Hooker, Magic Sam and Hound Dog Taylor (also documented in a photograph). The demands of raising a family led Greenwood to put aside his love of the blues for a “regular” 9-to-5 job for several decades before he started playing the music again in 2008.

The album comprises 15 self-written songs with Greenwood on vocals and harmonica and a cast of veritable West Coast legends backing him up. 15 musicians appear in various line-ups, with consistency provided by Robi Bean on drums throughout and bass shared between Kedar Roy and Jed Beyer. Together these three lay down a series of swinging, irresistible grooves (check out Bean’s efforts on the title track in particular). Other musicians featured include guitarists Steve Freund, Niko Hernandez, Johnny “Cat” Soubrand and Eric Selenger, Kevin Zuffi on keyboards, John Peterson on harmonica and Jack Sanford, Doug Rowan and John Lull on saxophone. In addition, Bob Welsh and Brett Brandstatt provide both guitars and keyboards, while Beyer also adds guitar to “Devil In Disguise”.

The resulting music is quite superb, from the subtle dynamics of “New Shoes” to the captivating swing of “Two Too Good” and the lonesome late-night groove of “Checkout Blues”, which features just Greenwood’s harmonica, Beyer’s upright bass and Hernandez’s country blues guitar. As the protagonist in the song drily notes, “life is like a hotel, and don’t you have no doubt. Keep doing what you’re doing and baby, you will soon be checkin’ out.”

Greenwood writes songs in a classic blues style with a discernible West Coast flavour, albeit with strong hints of the more muscular Chicago style (Beyer and Welsh’s channelling of Robert Lockwood Jr. and Luther Tucker on “Devil In Disguise” is sublime, while Welsh’s Muddy-style slide guitar on “Can’t Get Away From The Blues” is spot on). Lyrically, he addresses standard topics of love, lust, heartbreak and yearning, but he often manages to offer a slightly different perspective, such as on “Two Too Good.” He also sings with an appealing vulnerability and is a fine harp player, but this is not a harmonica-centric album. Greenwood leaves plenty of space for his bandmates to stretch out on a series of solo spots, giving the sense of a real band of equals.

As one might expect from a writer, Greenwood’s liner notes are informative and articulate, talking about the music, the musicians and the songs themselves.

With pristine production by Greenwood and recording by Adam Reed at Reed’s Recordings in Campbell CA, She Knocks Me Out is a hugely impressive and enjoyable album. Here’s to a follow up release as quickly possible. In the meantime, buy this.

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 – 7 of 8

imageElias Bernet Band – Better Off With The Blues


15 songs – 51 minutes

Elias Bernet is a Swiss blues and boogie-woogie pianist and Better Off With The Blues is The Elias Bernet Band’s third album. Given the ubiquity of electric guitars in so many modern blues, it is both refreshing and invigorating to listen to an album where the keyboards sit front and foremost.

The Elias Bernet Band comprises Bernet on piano, Hammond organ and vocals, Markus Fritsche on double bass and backing vocals and Bernhard Egger on drums. They are joined on various tracks by David Stauffacher on percussion and Freda Goodlett on backing vocals. All 15 tracks were written by Bernet together with Lilly Martin.

The album comes roaring out of the blocks with the Hammond-driven upbeat shuffle of the title track. Fritsche and Egger lay down an irresistible groove over which Bernet’s organ soars and swings. The breakneck boogie woogie of the appropriately titled “Light That Fire” and the funky flash of “Monkey Juice” up the pace and the intensity before the gospel ballad of “See What Lies Deeper” permits the listener to take a breath.

Bernet is an outstanding keyboardist, happily flipping between the New Orleans rhumba of “Johnny The Roller”, the wild soul blues of “Rattle Shake And Squeeze”, the swinging blues “It’s All Hidden Inside Yourself” or the Jerry Lee Lewis-inspired rock and roll of “A Little R’n’R”. On a track like “Never Look Down”, he plays with a fleet-fingered wild abandon, always keeping just to the right side of loss of control. He is given superb support throughout by Fritsche and Egger, whose control of the dynamics on a track like “Heavy Load” is particularly impressive.

The closing track, “Let Your True Self Shine” captures the album in a microcosm. With a toe-tapping groove, the track contains a sparkling piano solo as well as a wonderful vocal refrain. Its optimistic, positive lyrical message reflects the generally buoyant tone of the album overall.

Better Off With The Blues was recorded by Felix Muller at Tonstudio Nagelfabrik, Wetzikon in Switzerland, with mixing by Zach Allen at The Red Room in Nashville, TN, and mastering by Dan Suter at Echo Chamber in Zurich, Switzerland. Together they have caught some superb performances with impressive clarity. On “Overload”, Bernet accompanies himself on just the piano, but the sound is full, muscular and meaty.

Better Off With The Blues is a very impressive release from a very impressive band. 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 – 8 of 8 

imageCharlie Barath – Just Me and My Friend(s)

Self-Produced – 2021

17 tracks; 69 minutes

Pennsylvania-based harmonica player/singer/songwriter Charlie Barath is known for being able to play blues, country, Honky Tonk and Western Swing equally well, and his latest release, Just Me and My Friends is a clear demonstration of that skill. This album also features 19 other fine musicians, including Jimmy Adler and Chris Sutton on guitar, Mike Law on bass, John Burgh on Piano, and Pete Freeman on pedal steel & dobro, just to name a few. In fact, there are three other guitarists, two other bassists, three drummers, a “miscellaneous percussionist”, two violinists, a background singer and even a tuba player featured on this album.

The album, which contains all original songs (with the exception of one cover), begins with “The Forgotten Man,” a song about Chinese immigrants who built the transcontinental railroad. The field holler/work song style and background sounds realistically transport the listeners directly to the railroad worksite. It is followed by a very pretty, instrumental number, a traditional blues number and an old-time swing number entitled “I’m Losing My Mind Over You.” Some of the cleverest lyrics are in an old-school country number entitled “Little Turtle Nightlight.” In this song about romantic betrayal, Barath notes about her infidelity: “it was just a little one-night stand, with everyone I know…I’m laying here all by myself, as lonesome as can be, with my little turtle nightlight to keep me company.” One day he returns home to find “my little house was empty, everything was gone. She helped herself to everything that wasn’t nailed down.”

Clever lyrics are also found in his song about being a smoker, frustrated by extensive regulations, noting “you can’t smoke in the restaurant, you can’t smoke in the bar. And if you’ve got your kids you can’t smoke in your own damn car!” This track features an excellent guitar solo by Jimmy Adler. A final country-style song notes that his love “drives me to drink, but she won’t drive me home.”

Throughout all of the tracks, Barath’s tasteful and pure harmonica playing is featured, but on equal billing with the excellent musicianship of his friends. Some blues purists might be disappointed that not every song is bluesy, but there are no real flaws in this collection of songs. Anyone who is a fan of old-school roots and Americana music is bound to enjoy this album.

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

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