Issue 17-10 March 9, 2023


Cover photo © 2023 Joseph A. Rosen

 In This Issue 

Bucky O’Hare has our feature interview with Ronnie Baker Brooks. We have eight Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Barbara Blue, The Lucky Losers, Damon Fowler & Friends, Bridget Kelly Band, Jewel Brown, Teresa James, Kurt Allen and Richard Ashby. Scroll down and check it out!


The Blues Blast Music Awards honor contemporary Blues artists and their recordings.

Artists with major labels and independent artists are eligible. All submissions are digital. No physical CDs needed.

For complete information, click HERE.


 Featured Interview – Ronnie Baker Brooks 

image“Writing and recording original material. I love that part of it just as much as playin’ live on stage. Just gettin’ in there and makin’ an idea become a song and watchin’ the song become something for the audience. I love that process, I really do. It’s like almost havin’ kids (haha).”

Ronnie Baker Brooks is the live-wire Blues-power torch bearer of the rocking, funky Chicago Blues. Literally the heir to the throne, Ronnie is the son of revolutionary genius Bluesman Lonnie Brooks. While learning at his dad’s feet, Ronnie also made a point of paying his dues and coming up right. Earning his place in his dad’s band and then breaking out on his own, Ronnie is known as the preeminent live Bluesman scorching stages all over the world.

With his reputation as a live musician and with only 4 solo records to his credit, Ronnie is sometimes overlooked as a recording artist. However, his 4 albums are pinnacles of modern Blues. Pulling from R&B, Funk, Rock, Rap, Soul and anything else he hears in his head, Ronnie has delivered a catalog of original, exceptional, and timeless recorded music.

I asked Ronnie to talk about his recording career because I think it is underrated. With just this one question Ronnie launched into an hour and half monologue in which he described the creation of his 4 albums. A cogent and engaging storyteller (like all good Blues musicians should be), Ronnie also used the framework of his recording career to outline the ever present influence of his father who passed in 2017, the legacy of the Blues and the history of the modern Blues scene. What is presented below is an edited fraction of the oral history that Ronnie laid on me.

Ronnie Baker Brooks’s music, and clearly his whole being, revolves around the gift that is the relationship he has with his dad. Even though Lonnie Brooks has passed, the loving, guiding relationship he had with his son is still vibrant and real today. Mr. Brooks’s spirit clearly still holds his son everyday. Ronnie was born with the music jones and his father shared his music freely, even when young Ronnie was mischievous.

“Do you remember the old reel to reels? My dad used to record on that. He would do ideas, demos and stuff on that. So I’m like 7-8 and I’m sitting with Dad and trying to learn these songs. One day Dad was gone and I’m tryin’ to play with the reel to reel to learn a song and record. The reel to reel messed up, man. Tape was everywhere (big laugh). I didn’t know how to fix it so I left it alone.”

“Dad came home. He said ‘Ronnie, I know ain’t nobody in this house mess with this but you. I’m gonna give you a chance to tell me the truth. You tell me the truth I ain’t gonna spank you.’ I said Dad it was me I did it. He said, ‘I know. I appreciate you tellin’ me the truth.’ he said, ‘but please, next time you want to record or do something, let me sit here with you. Because you don’t know and I got songs on these tapes that I need. Ideas, you know.’ I said okay Dad, okay Dad.”

“Man, about a week later I tried it again (chuckles). I messed it up again. Tore it up, tape everywhere. He comes home from work, that’s when Dad was working day jobs and playing gigs at night, and he saw the tape and he said ‘God damn it Ronnie, I told you, now I’m gonna get you.”

“Normally I go to bed at 9 on a Friday, man, it was 6 or 7 o’clock, Dad’s gettin’ ready for this gig, I jump in the bed (hahaha). From my bed I could see the front door. Normally when Dad leaves I would always walk Dad to the door, carry his guitar to the door. He would always kiss me on my forehead and I would beg: let me go with you. man, let me go with you. ‘No son, you ain’t old enough yet, one day, one day.’ This time I was trying to play I was asleep. I’m like okay he gonna leave, he ain’t gonna get me.”

“Man, he got to that door, he set the guitar down, he thought about. He looked, he saw me in that bed, he pulled off his belt, man, and he lit me up (big laughs). ‘I told you to leave that stuff alone.’ I cried, man. My dad was so cool, man, he didn’t like to do that stuff cause he knew my heart wasn’t there. After every night, on these late night gigs, he would come home and bring me an Almond Joy, a candy bar. And he brought me a candy bar that night, man. I know he felt bad about it, that he had to spank me, but he had to show me.”

By the late 1980’s Lonnie Brooks was one of the main stars of the Blues revival on the major label of the revival Alligator. Ronnie and brother Wayne, who is also a talented Bluesman in his own right, were no longer sneaking into their Dad’s basement music room and messing with his gear. They were part of the Brooks organization carrying equipment and getting a chance to play a couple numbers each night.

“My Dad would always push me and my brother Wayne to write our own material. He would always say what’s gonna be the next ‘Sweet Home Chicago,’ what’s gonna be the next ‘Got My Mojo Working.’ So you guys got to write about your stories and hopefully that song will carry on to the next generation. Where someone can grab onto it and build on it, and tell their story.”

Ronnie, being the oldest, got his chance first as his dad’s rhythm guitarist. Growing and developing his style, Ronnie was writing his own songs, opening the shows and making a name for himself. Working on Lonnie Brooks’s 1996 masterpieceRoadhouse Rules  propelled Ronnie to a new level, and a new phase in his relationship with his dad.

image“He went down to Memphis to record his record Roadhouse Rules. I really helped out with that record. My dad allowed me, let me put it that way (chuckles), because he didn’t really need me. I wrote the first track ‘Hoodoo She Do,’ for him. He trusted me and that gave me confidence, it gave me a lot of confidence that my dad trusted me.”

Using his dad’s band and riding off the high of the Roadhouse sessions, Ronnie created his debut statement of high octane Blues Rock: Golddigger. Ronnie remembers the crucial moment when he brought his new creation home for his dad to hear it for the first time and the life altering wisdom and support his father gave him.

“We got it done, man, and I brought it back home to Chicago and I played it for my dad in the basement. It was just me and Dad with a glass of wine, man. He just listened from the beginning to the end. He wasn’t given’ me nothin’, he was just really listening. At the end of the record, finally, he looked up at me and he said, ‘Son, it’s time for you to go out on your own.’ I said wait a minute, man – me, you and Wayne, we a team you know? He said, ‘Yes, we always be a team but they need to know you as a solo artist and they’re not gonna know you that way if you continue to play with me.”

“I came to tears, man. I never thought about leaving my dad, never crossed my mind. What my dad said to me was very key, he said: ‘If it don’t work, you can always come back. You’ve always got a gig here’ And when he said that to me, man (trailing off with emotion in his voice).”

“Look, Lonnie Brooks is my dad (laughing). I’m looking at one of my favorites of all time every night. I’m like, I can’t do that. So it was a lot of pressure. But, when he said I could come back, I said, okay and I jumped off the bridge.”

Jumping off the bridge meant building up the Ronnie Baker Brooks organization. The elder Brooks thought his son was gonna take his band with him. But Ronnie, the dutiful son, did not. Ronnie pulled together his own team. Central to that team, and to his continued musical education, was Golddigger’s producer, the R&B legend Jellybean Johnson.

“Jellybean Johnson is a producer, musician, guitarist and drummer from Morris Day and the Time. He comes from the Flyte Tyme camp with Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam. He was in the movie Purple Rain. He’s a Minneapolis R&B legend. Bean produced ‘Black Cat’ for Janet Jackson, he produced New Edition, a lot of R&B stuff. Bean’s resume is off the charts of the stuff he’s produced. But I was the first Blues artist he was producing. So that was a challenge for him, but, it was comfort for me. It allowed me to be my own artist, but, he had the experience from that world to bring over here. And I hope I brought the Blues over to him. So it was a great match, man. Bean’s my brother forever, man, forever.”

Ronnie also needed a band. He drew on his many years of touring with his dad and relationship building. He knew exactly who he wanted backing him up. First was a drummer Ronnie had befriended many years earlier at a shared bill with Lonnie Brooks and the Buddy Guy/Junior Wells band.

“I remember seeing at the gig Jerry Porter, this young kid playing with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells, man. They opening for Dad now, this how far this go back. Jerry got on this wife-beater t-shirt with these big ol’ muscles, man. And playin’ the drums like, you remember Bam Bam from Flintstones (cracking up, big laugh)? He was beating those drums, man, he had Buddy Guy on his tippy toes, man! Cause Buddy loved it, he was on his tippy toes playin! I’m like who is this dude? We connected, we connected that day.”

Jerry Porter had subsequently taken a day job. But, Ronnie convinced him to get back into the game. He said: “Man, Jerry with your talent there is no way in the world you should be workin’ for UPS, man, we need you!”

Then they needed a bass player. Ronnie had another guy in mind:

“Vic Jackson was on bass. He had been playing with Junior Wells, when Junior was doing his own thing. Junior had called me to do some gigs with him and I did a tour with Junior. I was Vic’s roommate. Vic was like ‘if you ever start a band, man, I would love to work with you.’ I said okay, man. This was back in the early 90’s I wasn’t even thinking of no band, you know. When I finally got ready to do my own band I remembered that moment and I called Vic.”

“I have to thank those guys, man, because they helped me with the creative process of playin’ live shows and trying out stuff. And it worked, you know! And eventually I got Daryl Coutts, who’s still playin’ with me now today on keyboards. Those guys were very key.”

With a hot band and a killer new record the Ronnie Baker Brooks machine was primed and ready. Weekly gigs at Bugsy’s outside Chicago and endless touring honed the team. But, it was hard to get a record deal so Ronnie did it himself.

“Now I started Watchdog Records because first of all, at that time, there wasn’t many record companies signing young artists like myself at my age. One of the reasons was we still had a lot of legends left that were not recorded. You know, not gettin’ the attention they deserved. So there definitely wasn’t no room for me (laughing).”

“So I said forget it. I ran into my friends Big Head Todd and the Monsters. We did a show with them here in Chicago. I went on the bus with them, they all around my age. I said man I’m tryin’ to do this record and I can’t get a record deal. They said ‘man, put it out yourself.’ I said what? They told me if you put it out yourself you have full control. All you have to do is sell it to the distributors for a certain amount and then collect your money if you’re selling. Get yourself a mailing list. They gave me the formula, man.”

image“From my local gigs here in Chicago, every now and then I’d go off with Dad, I was buildin’ a fanbase. I would collect the names, man, I had built up a huge mailing list. It helped me sell the merchandise, the CDs and all that, to prepare me for the next record. I would just take whatever I made from Golddigger and saved it for the next record.”

“I was doing that all by myself. My mom and my sister Jackie, that passed away, they helped me start the label. They would do all the book keeping and all the accounting for me. It freed me up to be the creative artist. And I had my dad, I had Jellybean on the artistic side of it. Yes, we had a little machine going here. It inspired me.”

Ronnie was also inspired by a late night phone call from Jellybean with a mind blowing new fan:

“It was like 4 o’clock in the morning,” Ronnie remembers with awe in his voice, “My phone rings and it’s Jellybean so I answer it – what’s up Bean? He said ‘Baby Bra, I’m here in Vegas, man, I gave Prince your CD, man, he loves it!’ I said you kidding me man (laughing). He said ‘No man, he love that Golddigger, man, he love Golddigger.’ I said wow! I could not sleep for 2 days, it was crazy, man. It was so inspiring, so inspiring. First of all to know that Jellybean was cool enough to do this with me and then to know that Prince dug it. Aw, man, so I started writing more material, just writing, writing, writing. And that became Take Me Witcha.”

Take Me Witcha is Ronnie Baker Brooks’s line in the sand. A masterpiece of guitar based Blues Funk Rock that perfectly synthesizes his real deal Blues upbringing and his fully modern understanding of R&B, Soul and Rock. Truly drawing from Prince’s exceptional cross pollination of music, Ronnie was on fire. It was important to Ronnie that he use his new band on this record. But, the music was so large in scope it needed additional support too.

“I got a couple tracks I let Bean hear.” Ronnie remembers Jellybean saying, “Man, we gotta get Michael Bland, Sonny Thompson and Chance Howard on this one. We gonna do a block of songs up here in Minneapolis.”

For those who don’t know, those musicians were Prince’s band at the time, The New Power Generation. Jellybean and Ronnie also found a creative home in Memphis at Niko Lyras’s Cotten Row Recording Studio and got to work. Ronnie wanted Buddy Guy’s daughter Shawnna to rap for him. Shawnna had a major hit drop right at that time with Ludacris and couldn’t make it work. The Guys and the Brooks have a long familial history and Ronnie sees Buddy as a beloved uncle. But, that didn’t stop him from checking in with Buddy about the missed opportunity.

“I went to the club to see Buddy at Legends. He said ‘Hey man, I heard you were trying to get Shawnna to do a track with you.’ I said yeah. He said ‘yeah, she can’t do it now but I’ll do one.’ I said what (laughing)? He said ‘get the track ready and when you ready get it over here to me and I’ll do it.”

“We were tracking ‘Take Me Witcha,’ the song, title track of the album. That was supposed to be Buddy Guy on that record. What happened, we got the track done, we saved a slot open. I did the solos and everything, I always cover my butt. If Buddy wants to come in we gonna give him this spot, but we got a solo just in case he don’t come.”

“Man, thank God I did that because Buddy got busy too. I went down to the club and (chuckling), I said: Buddy I got the track ready. He said: ‘Okay man, I’m gettin’ ready to do this tour let me get with you when I get back.’ And he was gone, man. It was right after he did his January residence here in Chicago at Legends and February he’s gone. At that time he was gone till like June. I was like I can’t wait so I just put it out.”

“I’ll never forget this too, man (laughing). I’m gonna tell the story, man, it’s the truth. I went down there after the record was done, I said ‘Buddy, I know you were supposed to play on the record and you got busy you couldn’t do it. But, let me go on the road with you. I’ll play for cheap.’ And he looked at me, he said ‘Man, you don’t play my club for cheap.”

This is the kind of family love and connection that exists for Ronnie in the Blues community. Ronnie remembers:

“I’ll never forget one night playing at Legends. Jellybean flew in to play with me. The place is packed, wall to wall people. Standing on their chairs in the back trying to see us. I had my eyes closed. I’m playin’ my solo and I hear people screamin’ and hollerin’. I’m thinkin’ aw they’re screamin’ for me (giggles). Buddy walks up on stage, man, I didn’t know I had my eyes closed. I look over, I get scared, I say whoa. He said (with a low Buddy Guy impression) ‘yeah, I came up here to fuck witcha.”

Ronnie and Jellybean took this feeling of community and acknowledgment from their elders into the next project The Torch. A massive double album, Ronnie just let it all fly on The Torch. Some of his heaviest Rock, some of his deepest Blues, some of his stanky-ist Funk, The Torch is a summation of Ronnie’s mission to preserve and push forward the Blues. One song in particular, “The Torch of the Blues,” is a validation and benediction.

“I had Jimmy Johnson, Willie Kent, Eddie ‘The Chief’ Clearwater and Dad sing ‘The Torch of the Blues.’ And man, you know I never won any awards, I got 1 award maybe, but I haven’t won that many. I’ve been nominated and we all love to be acknowledged and I appreciate that. No disrespect, I appreciate the nominations so much. But to be acknowledged by Jimmy Johnson, Willie Kent, Eddie Clearwater and my dad on a song, that’s my award brother.”

image“I tried to pay all of them and they would not accept a dollar, they wouldn’t even let me pay for parking. I’m serious. They said, ‘look man, we see what you doin’. You keep doin’ what you doin’. Anything you need from us, we are here.’ Oh man, to have that in the room on the track. That moment when we cut the song wasn’t nobody sick, it wasn’t a funeral. We were there for the Blues, we were there for the Blues. And you could feel it in the room, man.”

The one thing Ronnie could do to pay back these legends was support their art. Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater asked Ronnie to produce a song for him. What started as a jam session at Clearwater’s house turned into a full album, the vibrant West Side Strut. Recorded in Chicago and Memphis, the album ends with a beautiful benediction from Clearwater, one of his last fully realized artistic statements, the haunting track “A Time for Peace.”

“I brought it back and that was the last song I played for him, ‘A Time for Peace.’ Man, he looked at me with a tear comin’ down his face. He said ‘Ronnie, I am so proud of you, man. This is great, thank you.’ He was crying, man. It’s bringing me to tears now thinkin’ about it cause he’s gone, man, you know. He trusted me to do that. It was a great moment.”

Fast forward almost 10 years to 2016. Ronnie has built his reputation through preaching the gospel of the Blues far and wide. He has solidified his place as one of the most incendiary live Blues acts going. He has paid tribute to his elders and kept the Blues alive. He has played at the White House for both of the Obama inaugurations, rubbed shoulders with Rock royalty like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton and made some high end connections. Ronnie is becoming one of the legends he has apprenticed at the feet of.

It’s time for Ronnie to get back into the studio. Ronnie decides he wants to work with his dream collaborator, Steve Jordan. Steve Jordan was the drummer in the first Late Night with David Letterman World’s Most Dangerous Band. A thrilling musician and producer, Jordan has become the go to guy to pull together unique forward thinking Roots based music. Having met a few times, it was after a recording session Ronnie guested on that he knew this was the right match.

“Big Head Todd was doing a record and Steve Jordan was producing it. They were cuttin’ here in Chicago and I went to the studio and did a track. I didn’t even hear the track but 1 time, man. Steve’s like ‘nope, grab the guitar, grab one of them Gibsons.’ I said, man, I didn’t bring no pedal. He said ‘you don’t need no pedal board. Plug into that amp, we got that Super right here. Play.’ I’m just messin’ around with it. He said ‘that’s great! That’s the best solo I’ve ever heard you play.’ (laughing) He just let me go for it. If you overthink it, it’s gonna be too much.”

“Steve when he’s in creative mode,” says Ronnie observing the very different way of working, “if you don’t know him he can be very New York hard, you know. You got to come with it. You can’t be bullshittin’. But he’s got a soft side, once you make that connection, now it’s great, it’s beautiful, and it took me a minute with that with Steve.”

Steve and Ronnie went down to Royal Studios in Memphis, the home of so many classic Soul hits to record what would become Times Have Changed. They enlisted the legendary Hi Rhythm Section of Willie Weeks on bass, Charles and Teenie Hodges on organ and guitar respectively, and guitarist Michael Toles, a member of the Bar-Kays who also played with Isaac Hayes among others.

As they are recording, the engineer brings out the actual mic that Al Green always sang into. Guest stars abounded: Angie Stone, Steve Cropper, Bobby Bland and of course Lonnie Brooks. Ronnie, still trying to figure out how to connect with Steve Jordan and surrounded by so much history and talent, was feeling a little intimidated.

Ronnie was told by Steve: “I know you’re used to doing everything yourself. Writing, arranging, producing, even accounting and all that. But, I’m here, I’ve got you. Don’t worry about nothin’ but making this music. Just follow the vibe.”

But it was still tough at first. Ronnie’s breakthrough came early on while recording the instrumental “Twine Time.”

“I just hit this chord, man (Ronnie sings a very funky rhythm). I just kept hitting that chord. Steve’s like ‘Yeah Michael (Toles) I like that let’s keep that.’ And Michael said ‘Hey man, that ain’t me.’ Steve said, ‘Is that you Ronnie?’ I said yeah. He got up off his drums, came in the booth and grabbed me by my shoulders. ‘That’s what I’m talkin’ about! That’s it!’ When he did that to me, man, all that New York hardness and feeling intimidated went out the window. I felt like I connected with Steve Jordan. I’m like yeah, that’s all I wanted was to connect with you brother. And the session went from there, it was awesome.”

Times Have Changed is a fully mature statement. Coherent and consistent even while featuring so many guests. The record is also the final recorded works of both Ronnie’s dad who would pass away shortly after the album’s release and the great Memphis legend Bobby “Blue” Bland.

Bland came in to duet with Ronnie on the Robert Cray/Eric Clapton song “Old Love,” a staple of Ronnie’s live set and a favorite song of his mother’s. The elder statesmen held everyone in rapt attention on his day in the studio. Telling these highly accomplished musicians about his early days, wisely the engineers recorded it all.

image“Bobby’s talkin’ into the microphone, we think he’s gettin’ ready to sing, he’s holding class. And nobody’s saying nothin’. Even Steve Jorden’s like: Wow, great! Bobby says, ‘Well I came here to sing, I done talked enough, let’s do the track.’ He said to me, ‘Son, you can sing, can’t you? Lonnie Brooks your daddy and I know he can sing.’ (laughing) And that broke the ice, everybody started laughing, you know.”

Times Have Changed and the connection Ronnie and Steve made lasted. Inspired and held by the experience, Ronnie was transformed and fortified for hardships to come.

“Each record I do I try to build a platform for me to be better. That particular session with Steve Jordan made me a better musican, man. It really did. It taught me how to work in the studio with this caliber of talent. And then it built my confidence in delivering the song. He gave me pointers on when I’m writing. He would tell me how he writes songs, how John Mayer writes songs. Some of the stuff I was already doing, but it gave me that stamp of approval. Okay I’m on the right track.”

“When my father passed Steve was crucial. He called me and talked to me like a therapist, like a big brother would: ‘You got to keep going, man. You know what your daddy did. He did this for you and your brother to keep going. He gave you this platform.”

“I said to Steve there were several people that died from our record, I was so hurt. Steve was like, ‘Look Ronnie, this is the legacy record, they blessed you. You just keep doin’ what you’re doin’, man. This is part of the process.’ It helped me. All the problems I had in my life I had my dad to go to. He’s no longer with me, so that was important to me, Steve being there along with several of my other friends.”

Ronnie Baker Brooks has created a genre defining and defying career. Having an open heart and a learner’s mind, Ronnie has opened himself up to the music and the wisdom of his elders. His most important teacher is his father. Ronnie and Mr. Brooks spent so much time together making music and sharing their lives. It wasn’t until much later that Ronnie was asked by his dad to produce an album for him. Their album never came to fruition, but father and son spent some magical time working out songs in the same basement Ronnie had nearly destroyed his dad’s reel to reel. This time Ronnie was the audio engineer.

“My dad stopped the session of us recording. I’m workin’ my gear. I’m tryin’ to mix stuff and put stuff together for Dad. He said, ‘Wait a minute, man, you remember when I had to whoop your butt for messing with my reel to reel?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘I’m glad you didn’t stop, man. Cause I don’t know how to run this stuff you got today.’ He said, ‘I’m so glad you kept goin’, man. I used to be sitting down here writing stuff. I’d turn around and I could see you, you would hide around the corner. And I knew you were there and sometimes I’d act like I didn’t see you. But, I could feel you, I could feel you watching me, man. I’m so glad you kept goin’ son.”

Ronnie keeps going. Ronnie keeps pushing and expanding the parameters of the Blues. He can do that because he has been raised in the Blues. Ronnie understands that the Blues exist in people, in community and in individuality.

“We all soldiers. This music is important to so many of us, man. I feel it’s my duty because I’ve been blessed to be around these great musicians to keep it goin’. I used to think of it as an obligation. I was putting pressure on myself because you’re not obligated to do it, you gotta love this shit to do it. And I love it. I was talking to Tom Marker here in Chicago (Blues radio DJ) telling him the same thing. He said, ‘No Ronnie, it’s an honor.’ And when he’d said that to me it like took the ton of bricks of the pressure off me. You know what, you’re right, this is an honor, man. So I’m honored.”

Check out Ronnie’s website: for more info and upcoming shows.

Writer Bucky O’Hare is a slide guitarist, songwriter and singer. Based out of South Eastern Massachusetts, Bucky plays Slide Guitar Soul Jazz and Funk Blues inspired by the music of the 60’s and 70’s all around New England.


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

imageBarbara Blue – From The Shoals

Big Blue Records – 2023

13 tracks; 65 minutes

Barbara Blue has had a long career, from her native Pittsburgh,and now rejoicing in the title of ‘The Reigning Queen Of Beale Street’, recognition of a long-standing residency in Memphis. However, for this album she recorded in another famous center of Southern music, Alabama’s Muscle Shoals. The material is mainly Barbara’s own, assisted by Davor Hacic (aka Hutch) on eight songs and by Mark Narmore on three; there are also two covers. The musicians include heavy hitters like the rhythm section of Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie on drums and David Hood on bass, Clayton Ivey is on B3 and Wurlitzer, Mark Narmore is on piano, guitar duties are shared between Hutch and Will McFarlane, horns are Brad Guin on sax and Marc Franklin on trumpet; Kimbelle Helton adds backing vocals. Barbara handles all lead vocals and Jim Gaines produced the album.

There is some fine playing throughout the album and Barbara shows that she can handle soulful material, ballads and more upbeat songs. Barbara avoids over-singing or screaming and stays within her vocal range, with just a hint of grit in her delivery which works particularly well on the more soul-based songs, such as the two covers which appear together at tracks 3 and 4. “Tell Mama” is a classic and this version does not stray far from Etta James’ 1967 version, the familiar horn arrangement present and correct, Barbara delivering a vocal that is less strident than Etta’s but which works fine; three years earlier Jimmy Hughes wrote and recorded “Steal Away” (not to be confused with “Slip Away”, though both songs have similarities) and Barbara reprises the song well.

The album opens with Barbara’s tribute to “The Shoals”: “There’s a powerful magic that makes the music of The Shoals, it reaches deep down and grabs you” and references some of the greats who have recorded there, like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett, all played to a funky tune with horns and a striking guitar solo. “Nutthouse Blues” is a seven minute long blues referring to Jimmy Nutt’s studio where the album was recorded with solo opportunities for the four keys and guitar players, the horns sitting this one out.

“Severed” is a soulful ballad with gospel-tinged B/V’s, co-writer Mark’s piano and slide guitar well to the fore before a rocking riff leads us into “Curse Of Beauty” a strong song which benefits from the return of the horns as Barbara seems in thrall to this attractive person. We return to the emotive ballad style with a warm “Lost Young Love” but Barbara rings the changes with the down-home and risqué “Slide Man”, appropriately featuring lots of slide guitar. Another lengthy slow blues “Too Far” finds Barbara emoting about someone for whom “your happiness will always be too far”, the extended guitar solo really catching the mood of desperation, as does the sax solo that follows. The next tune lightens the mood as the two guitars and horns exchange riffs and Barbara sounds grateful that she was “saved from the darkness” but accepts that “Nothing Lasts Forever”.

The last three songs carry significant emotional weight. “Never Stopped Loving You” does what the title suggests, the heartfelt lyrics well supported by a stately guitar solo, the last section of the song shifting into more soulful territory courtesy of the backing vocals. We then get two longer cuts which make reference to the history of the region: “Song Of The River” has a spoken vocal about someone being taken away from their home and having to walk 600 miles to get back to their river, set against stately slide guitar and a chanted vocal harmony from several members of the band; the album closes on a tougher note, a chugging rhythm, lots of moody slide and doom-laden lyrics about those who died on the journey through Mississippi, the “Trail Of Tears”.

Barbara Blue deserves to be better known. This is another strong album and the fact that it is being distributed by Chicago’s Earwig Records will perhaps give it a wider level of promotion.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

imageThe Lucky Losers – Standin’ Pat

Vizztone Label Group – 2022

12 tracks; 50 minutes

This is the fifth album release from San Francisco’s Lucky Losers, Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz. The album is entirely original, Cathy contributing nine songs, Phil four, collaborating with Daniel Caron or Chris Burns. The duo share the vocals and recruited a strong cast of seasoned musicians to assist on the recording. Sessions were at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland studio, Kid playing guitar on all but two tracks where he shifts to organ to allow Ian Lamson to play lead; Kid also adds banjo to one cut and produced, recorded, mixed and mastered the disc – a genuine renaissance man! Chris Burns is on keys, Endre Tarczy bass and Jon Otis drums and horns are added by Terry Hanck (sax on one track), Michael Pelonquin (sax on four), Mike Rinta (trombone on three) and Brian Catania (trumpet on three).

Both Cathy and Phil sing well on a variety of songs. Opener “Pack Up The Bags” finds the protagonists ready to leave town in search of a better life, the horns adding a swagger, especially the trombone, while “Somewhere In The Middle” has a deep, funky sound with clavinet and wah guitar high up in the mix, the lyrics encouraging people not to be forced into taking sides: “somewhere in the middle of the river lies the truth”. “Rich Strike” is the tale of a rank outsider winning the Kentucky Derby and races along, propelled by Kid’s banjo and Phil’s harp and the horns really give you the desire to “Try New Orleans” as they provide that classic second-line rhythm. The final track with the three-man horn section is the slinky “Down In Memphis Town” which references MLK’s assassination and “a burned out building next to Stax” – so not a sugar-coated portrait of the Bluff City.

“You Can’t Lose With A Winning Hand” is pushed along by the piano as Cathy and Phil exchange some verbal barbs about betting habits on another foot-tapping tune. “Rust Belt Blues” may have a jaunty rhythm but that merely disguises disquiet about the demise of former industrial areas, a serious song about part of the population left behind. “High Two Pair” has a soulful vibe with warm organ, tuneful guitars and campfire harmonica before Phil asks a partner to “Finish What You Started”, a gentle tune with more relaxed harp work.

In another serious song, Cathy complains about the bad guys and lists some of those responsible for the current situation: “I could see it coming, nobody got a word to say. The world is weeping, They Wrecked My Town”. The music is a stately ballad with fine piano over a solid band performance that runs to six minutes, topped off by Ian Lamson’s emotional guitar solo.

The final cut is the title track on which Terry Hanck’s tenor sax plays a significant role over a celebratory tune, Cathy and Phil clearly content with their lot and not wanting to change anything, making a joyful end to an album that definitely has a serious side.

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 8 

imageDamon Fowler & Friends – Live at the Palladium

Landslide Records

10 tracks – 79 minutes

Florida’s Damon Fowler is a fabulous guitar player who is overdue for major recognition of his work. He started playing guitar at age 12 and quickly developed an affinity for the lap steel, dobro and particularly the slide guitar. He started gigging around clubs in the Tampa Bay area where he first gained recognition.  He has worked with a vast array of blues greats including Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and many others. He also was a member the Dickey Betts Band and Butch Trucks’ Freight Train.

Live at the Palladium is his 9th album and his first live recording. His 2009 album, Sugar Shack, on Blind Pig Records gained him some major recognition and was followed by two more albums on that label prior to the demise of Blind Pig. The music on this album was recorded at St. Petersburg, Florida’s Palladium Theater. In addition to his guitar, Damon does all the vocals. Other members of the band include Dan Signor on keyboards, Justin Headley on drums, and Chuck Riley. Jason Ricci joins in on harmonica on five tracks and Eddie Wright who co-wrote tracks 8 and 9 with Damon joins in on guitar on those two tracks and on the final cut. the album consists of eight originals written or co-written by Damon and two covers.

Damon rips off a guitar run to kick off the set and quickly moves into a funky “It Came Out of Nowhere”, which will quickly put you in mind of a Gregg Allman- styled southern rock sound. Dan Signor’s piano is a standout on the cut as well.

The first cover is Guy Clark’s “The Guitar”. Opening with a quiet guitar run, the song is a spoken word story of a discovery of an old beaten-up guitar that was found in the window of a pawn shop. When played the guitar unveiled an unexpected majesty (well demonstrated by Damon) that he could not quit playing and he wonders if the guitar was playing itself. And it ends with a touch of the supernatural thrown in, perhaps in the vein of a “Crossroads” story.

Fowler advises that “I’ve Been Low” noting that there are “times when I am happy, times when I cry”. Justin’s drum provides a driving beat with Dan’s piano again providing strong backing as Damon lets loose with a throbbing guitar run in the latter part of the song.

Jason Ricci joins on “Some Things Change” offering a driving harmonica accompaniment to Damon’s guitar. Ricci continues to shine on a slow, passionate “Don’t Feel Like Going There Today” perhaps expressing a bit of depression, but nevertheless an engrossing piece of music for his audience. Damon rolls out the blues as he laments the “Tax Man” keeps calling him on the phone, but he is never home. He states that “I am not sure what I owe.” Ricci’s harmonica cries throughout. He cites at the end of the song that it is a true story.

Little Walter Jacobs’s “Up the Line” is the final cover with Ricci obviously taking Walter’s harmonica lead in a rousing tune as Damon sings “I’m cuttin’ out, baby / Girl I’m goin’ up the line / If I stay another day / you’re goin’ to drive me out of my mind”. Damon again cuts loose with a fabulous guitar run and Justin keeps a driving beat going.

Eddie Wright joins on “Fruit Stand Lady”, a bouncy little tale about picking up fresh fruit from a little lady selling at a stand alongside of the road and notes that “she is fine and she is mine”. “I can’t get enough of her peanuts.”  “Old Fools, Barstools and Me” has a country blues feel as Damon relates “that I can’t stand people, but I can’t stand being alone”.  the song starts low and slow and builds to a crescendo.

The album ends with an almost twelve-minute version of Damon’s song “Sugar Shack”. Jason Ricci rejoins the band, Damon lets loose with some excellent slide work, and the rest of the band joins in on the jam.

Damon’s vocals can bring thoughts of Gregg Allman or Damon’s friend, Mike Zito. His guitar work is certainly entirely his own style but can be compared to music from Warren Haynes. And the album is beautiful southern soul.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

imageBridget Kelly Band – Winter’s Coming

Alpha Sun Records – 2022

16 tracks; 71 minutes

Florida’s Bridget Kelly and husband Tim Fik return with another well-filled album of predominantly rocking blues. The inspiration for the title was a remark made by Bridget’s late father Peter, in a last voice mail message which opens the album. His remark that “winter’s coming” clearly inspired Bridget and Tim to write the title track which appears in two versions. Bridget and Tim wrote all the songs here and, as those familiar with their previous albums will know, their music is very much an in-house affair, recorded at their home studio, in a trio, though on this occasion Tim handled both guitars and bass, alongside Bridget on vocals and Roland ‘Boss’ Jones on drums.

Version 1 of the title track is a heavy rocker with a bass line that would not be out of place on a Black Sabbath album and some fast-fingered guitar pyrotechnics as Bridget sings broodingly of “dark clouds above my head”; the second version is a little lighter, both vocally and musically. The next three tracks are all rockers: “Whirlwind” is arguably the heaviest track with a churning riff which pushes Bridget into a powerful vocal, Bridget is warned about “Cottondale” by the Devil himself (sounds a bit harsh for a small Florida town!) and “Heartbreakin’ Blues” has some screaming guitar as Bridget again references “winter coming fast”. “Say What You Want” is a bit more melodic with more fast fingering on the guitar solo and “Gypsy Blue” adds a Thin Lizzy feel with the twin guitar attack.

On the second half of the album Bridget and Tim seem to have tried to broaden the style with a couple of country-tinged tunes, “Travellin’ Bone” having a really catchy riff and “Party Time” some good slide guitar, both good time songs. Bridget gives us her best vocal performance on the Southern Rock tune “Poor Girl” and “I’m Lucky” is a brooding tune with a low register vocal that contrasts with Tim’s jagged guitar salvos. Bridget sits out the last two tracks, Tim handling vocals on “Get Along Well” and providing layers of guitars on the lighter, jazz-tinged instrumental “Ride The Wind”.

The music of The Bridget Kelly Band is firmly at the rock end of the blues spectrum, featuring Tim’s heavy-riffing guitar style. If that is the sort of blues-rock you enjoy this one may be for you.

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 

imageJewel Brown – Thanks for Good Ole’ Music and Memories

Nic Allen Music Federation

10 Tracks – 38 minutes

Jewel Brown has had a storied career. She was born in Houston, Texas on August 30, 1937. She started singing in church and played her first show at age 12. Her first recordings were cut when she was just a teenager. In the mid-50’s, she recorded a series of hit songs with Clyde Otis on Liberty Records. In the 60’s, she was appearing in jazz clubs across America, many of which were owned by Jack Ruby (yes, that Jack Ruby).

Her greatest fame came from an extensive run as the vocalist for Louis Armstrong and His All-Star Band from 1961 to 1968, which ended when Armstrong became ill. She continued to headline her own shows, primarily in Las Vegas into the early 70’s. She ceased performing at that time to take care of her aging parents. While she stepped away from show business, she started up several businesses and became a successful insurance agent, a career that she only gave up on retirement in 2000.

However, her musical legacy was not forgotten. In 2007 she was inducted into the Blues Smithsonian Hall of Fame. In 2013, she was nominated for the Blues Music Award for Best Contemporary Female Vocalist (The Koko Taylor Award). In 2015. In 2015, she received a Congressional acknowledgment for her contribution to the arts. And in 2020, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner proclaimed December 12, 2020, as Jewel Brown Day.

Now at age 85, Jewel has her first songs with her name on them as the composer. Working with Nic Allen, the album’s producer, she co-wrote seven originals and performs three covers.

She opens with an update of the classic Harry Belafonte song “Have You Heard About Jerry”, here just referenced as “Jerry”, a tale of violence that occurred following an argument with his strong boss. The jazzy samba excellently introduces Jewell’s still strong vocals. The short “Pain & Glory” is an acapella testament about faith with a chorus of male gospel vocals. She asks “Why Did You Do That” on a tropical-tinged jazz number. The bluesy swing with male backing vocals declares that she avoids the foolishness of others and prefers to follow the path to the Lord.

The synth –driven “Which Way Is Up” shows she can still rock out. Here she notes that her “whole world was upside down”, but now she “knows what direction to go”. On the slow, sensual horn-driven “Nitches and Glitches”, she “will not take it no more” and is fed up with her former lover’s game playing as her male chorus urges her to move on.

“Flatitudeis about fake flattery. She rejects insincere comments and advises that a simple acknowledgment that her work is good is all that is needed. “I Love Sunshine, Even More Rainy Nights” is another slow, smoky jazz number in which she states that “rain puts her in the mood”. A sexy sax and smooth guitar accompany her vocals and provide a strong emphasis to the mood. Eddie Curtis, her ex, wrote “Song of The Dreamerabout getting back to her love and is another smooth love song.

“On The Road” is a passionate look back to her days of touring with Armstrong. She states that “I’m loving the beautiful view/I’m always thinking of you.” The song offers a reminiscence of her time away from home, her enjoyment of the tour, and her appreciation of Armstrong’s support acknowledging him as “giving me my art”.

The album ends with a bit of jump on “How Did It Go” as she notes that “you betrayed my trust”, so “go take a hike”.

Her web site cites her as “The Most Jazzy Blues Singer on Earth”, which is certainly an apt description of her performance on this album.  So, if you enjoy your blues mixed with soft jazz and period styled instrumentals, this is certainly well worth your listen.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.


 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

imageTeresa James – With a Little Help from My Friends

Blue Heart Records – 2022

10 tracks – 37 minutes

Houston, Texas born Teresa James started playing piano at age 5, added guitar at age 8, and has never stopped playing music since then. She studied classical music through her sophomore year in high school. Now located in Los Angeles, Teresa has released several previous albums both as a solo lead and with her band The Rhythm Tramps with the first, The Whole Enchilada, dating back to 1998. Here she foregoes the Tramps to perform with friends. The Tramps are led by her husband Terry Wilson, who co-produced this album and provides the guitar, bass and backing vocals. They are joined by new friend Kevin McKendree, who also was a co-producer of this album and provides keyboards and guitar. Kevin also performed with Teresa on her previous album Rose Colored Glasses.  Tramps’ drummer Richard Millsap completes the regular lineup for the album.

Teresa and her band have performed with most of today’s major blues artists and have toured internationally. She and the band have been recipients of many awards over the years, and she was nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2008 for “Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year” and the band received a Grammy nomination for “Best Contemporary Blues Album” in 2019 for Here in Babylon.

Terea rightfully describes her vocals as “Texas-bred sass”. She moves easily from Texas styled blues to Memphis Soul, and a bit of New Orleans jazz and probably all points in-between.

As can immediately be inferred from the title, this is an album of Beatles covers and could just as easily have been called Meet The Beatles.  While the songs are indelibly The Beatles, Teresa’s Texas-styled vocals and a translation towards the blues makes the songs her own.

McKendree’s barrelhouse piano and Wilson’s guitar accents “Ticket to Ride” with Nicki Bluhm providing backing vocals. The early treatment of the song follows the Beatles songbook but gives way at the end to a full blues run that provides a preamble for the rest of the album.

“Taxman” is given a 60’s era psychedelic turn with ringing guitars sliding through Teresa’s smooth vocals. “Don’t Let Me Down” backed by slide guitar and some funky keyboard becomes a strong R&B song.  “Happy Just to Dance with You” is propelled into Memphis soul territory with Lucy Wilson providing backing vocals.

Yates McKendree, Kevin’s son, adds guitar as Teresa makes “Oh Darlin’ “a whiskey-soaked blues song. Philly soul permeates her version of “You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away” which was an acoustic number when performed by The Beatles but here is given a fuller arrangement.  “Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me and My Monkey” gets a Muscles Shoal touch with Terry Wilson throwing in a tasty guitar solo.

“You Won’t See Me”, written by Paul McCartney in 1965, gets a polished Motown sound amid some nice slide guitar and moving piano in its new incarnation. 1964’s “No Reply” adds some R&B and gospel to the sound.

George Harrison’s “Think for Yourself” from 1965’s Rubber Soul was one of George’s philosophical songs that likely was pointed to the other members of The Beatles or could be just a statement to the listeners. In Teresa’s hands the song becomes a Texas shuffle with a strong piano lead and probably a general admonishment to a lover.

It is hard to believe that many of these songs are now nearly 60 years old. Yes, many of you will certainly recall the formation of these songs and many will have learned of them in passing through the generations. While the songs are clearly those of The Beatles, Teresa brings a freshness and warmth to her versions of the songs. Her affection for the songs is clear. Teresa’s love of the songs is clearly genuine and provides an album well-worth your listen if you ever loved the music of The Beatles or if you simply want to hear the joy Teresa brings to her music.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8 

imageKurt Allen – Live From The Red Shed

Titanium Blue LLC

9 Tracks – 52 minutes

The Kurt Allen Band are true road warriors, playing up to 200 shows every year for over a decade, slowed down only by the days of COVID. Their previously well-received album, Whiskey, Women & Trouble, had the unfortunate timing of being released immediately before everything shut down for the pandemic, which obviously stopped their touring for the album.

Kurt has been recording his shows at various locations over the years simply to review the performances to determine where the band might improve potential areas of their shows. He had not set out to release a live album, but his set recorded at The Red Shed in Hutchinson, Kansas on May 8, 2021, proved to be one of the bands’ top performances and which he determined provided a clear demonstration of his bands’ capabilities and skills.

The three-piece band consists of Kurt on guitar and vocals, Gregory Schaberg on drums, and Bill Morlan on bass. The album consists of eight originals mixing songs from their earlier catalog along with one new addition and one cover.

The album opens with the driving sound of “Graveyard Blues”. Kurt’s guitar blazes out in true classic blues-rock fashion while noting “my back is against the wall, and I am fading fast.” “Bad Love” is the new addition to the band’s repertoire. Kurt growls that “I’m so happy now that you are gone. You put me down for so long.”

“How Long” is a slow, smooth pure blues burn. He asks “How long have you felt this way? Take my love and throw it away”. His guitar whines expressing the feel of the song. Next, he moves into the swamps for a funky tale of the “Voodoo Queen” as Bill’s bass drives the opening before Kurt’s guitar rings out and he exclaims that “she put a spell on me”.

On another all-out rocker, Kurt declares you better “Watch Yo Step” cause “I’ll be watching you”. He further states “that you say you are at your mother’s, but your mother says she has not seen you.” “When I Fall” offers a slow boogie.

The title song “Whiskey, Women & Trouble” from his 2020 album emphasizes the three things on his mind. He likes his “whiskey neat” then she sits down next to him and “whispers things sweet”. “Trouble is on my mind”.

The sole cover is a searing version of Son House’s “Death Letter”, in which he received a letter citing “Hurry, Hurry! The woman you love is dead.” He concludes “Farewell, farewell honey. I’ll meet you on Judgment Day.” Kurt concludes the album with the advice of “Better Think Twice” “…about the things you say, about the things you do”. ” I am watching you.”

If you like roaring guitar with classic three-piece blues rock, this is an album that should definitely interest you.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

imageRichard Ashby – Arkadia Blues

Self – Released

8 tracks – 28 minutes

Born and bred in the deep south of New Zealand, Richard Ashby has been working as a musician and teacher for over 20 years. After relocating to Sydney in 2008, he has established himself as a performer, composer and educator. He is particularly passionate about guitar teaching and guitar ensembles. Performing regularly in several established groups and as a freelance guitarist, Richard brings a wealth of experience to all his performances, whether as a soloist or group member.

Specializing in jazz, blues, world and popular music, Richard has performed throughout Australia and New Zealand as a sideman and as a featured artist at many prominent jazz and blues festivals and venues. He also regularly works as an accompanist and recording musician throughout Sydney. His website indicates that he is a member of Spyglass, a group shown to have one full album and an EP available on Bandcamp.

The album consists of eight original instrumentals that were written and recorded during the COVID lockdowns that occurred through 2020 and 2021. The album was finally released this past December. While rooted in blues, Richard sought to incorporate other stylistic influences including jazz, funk, and even country. Richard plays all the instruments heard on the album.

The album opens with “Straight 8 Strut”, a traditional blues rock which he cites as reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughan. “Rumba Numba” provides a light, bouncy beat. “Shoo Fly” returns to the traditional blues rock with Richard providing an underlying organ accompaniment. The title track, “Arkadia Blues” is cited to be a tribute to guitar great Danny Gatton and has an older rock style.

“It’s A Vibe” slows things down and offers some jazzy runs. The funk-inspired “Bedford Row” continues the jazz feel with Richard citing John Scofield as the influence for his guitar playing on the song.

“Let’s Boogaloo” is a throwback reference to the music style Boogaloo, which had some popularity in the 1960’s. Originating in New York, it mixed Latin music with then popular Doo-Wop and R&B and was performed primarily by Latin musicians, such as Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria, who had a national hit with his cover of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man”. In Richard’s hands, the song extends the jazzy feel of the previous songs.

The album ends with a countrified “Chicken Grit”, which Richard cites as featuring “chicken pickin’ guitar” and you can certainly hear the strut of the chickens in his playing.

Throughout the album, Richard demonstrates the influences that have affected his guitar playing. As discussed, a mixture of jazz intertwines with blues offering a very diverse sound.

Writer John Sacksteder is a retired civil engineer in Louisville, Kentucky who has a lifelong love of music, particularly the blues. He is currently the Editor of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

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