Issue 17-12 March 23, 2023


Cover photo © 2023 Laura Carbone

 In This Issue 

Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Jimmy Hall. We have eight Blues reviews for you this week including a book from Chicago Blues guitarist Steve Ditzell plus new music from Eric Bibb, Mississippi MacDonald, Big Harp George, Savoy Brown, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Richard Ashby and Martin Lang & Rusty Zinn. 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 – Jimmy Hall 

imageA live performance by singer and multi-instrumentalist, Jimmy Hall, is a difficult experience to describe.  He has an extremely powerful and extraordinarily soulful voice, and occasionally, (when the spirit moves him), might intersperse preaching in-between the verses he is singing.  He has an energetic swaggering persona while onstage, which is often described as very similar to Mick Jagger’s style.  And he somehow manages to appear calm and laid back in-between the times he works himself into a melodic frenzy that appears cathartic for both him and the audience.  Additionally, Hall’s wonderful sense of humor reveals that he does not take himself too seriously and makes it clear that many would desire to have him for a friend.  It is not surprising that Jimmy Hall was once described by Johnny Depp (in a conversation with Gina Hughes) as “the coolest person I know”.

Hall is best known for the ten years he spent as the lead singer/harmonica/sax player for the group Wet Willie, who had a huge hit with a song Hall co-wrote entitled “Keep on Smiling”.  But Hall also toured extensively with Jeff Beck, with Hank Williams Jr., was briefly part of the Nighthawks, and was part of the supergroup BHLT (Dickey Betts, Jimmy Hall, Chuck Leavell and Butch Trucks).  He adapts easily whether the genre is Rhythm & Blues, Rock, Country, or Southern Rock, always with a soulful influence.  Blues Blast Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with Jimmy Hall while on Joe Bonamassa’s Keeping the Blues Alive at Sea (KTBAS) cruise.  Throughout the interview, nearly every artist who walked by stopped to joke with Hall, a testament to his likeable personality.  And some offered their opinions about his work.

Joanne Shaw Taylor noted that Hall is “great—and a bit naughty” and Mike Farris noted:

“Jimmy is soul, blues, and southern rock international royalty!  Have you seen that video of Jimmy and the band in Macon in the park in 1973?  It was magic!  When I first saw that, I thought to myself ‘Jimmy is everything!’  I think I was the first one to say he is like another Mick Jagger.  But if you had shown that video to Mick Jagger, he would have said, ‘if I could only be like that dude’.”

Hall was born to a musical family, and was raised in Mobile, Alabama with United Methodist influences.  His mother had the children singing in the church choir and performing in school plays.  Hall recalled that they actually performed operettas in grammar school, and in the fifth grade he landed the lead role in HMS Pinafore.  It was in during that performance that he realized he felt comfortable and belonged on the stage.

“I grew up with a musical mother who played piano and encouraged my musical ability.  She noticed when I was only three or four-years-old that I could sing.  For example, I could sing a tone she played on the piano.  So, she encouraged me and if there was an opportunity to sing at school, she made sure I would step up for it.  She also had me dancing.  First it was dancing with this girl to “Singing in the Rain”, doing step-brush-brush-slide.  Then I got chosen for the lead in HMS Pinafore.  It was the night of that show, when people were applauding like crazy, that I thought, ‘I want to do this.  I feel at home up here’.  So, then I joined the school band.  Violin was my first instrument, but in seventh grade my brother was in the band playing clarinet and my mother said she always loved saxophone and would buy me one if I would play it.  So, I jumped ship and started playing alto sax.  I started my education with music theory and learning how to read music.  In the ninth grade I had the best band director who really mentored me and inspired me.  In fact, my brother, sister, and I were invited back for an event at our old school to honor our achievements in music.  Later I started listening to the radio and heard people like Slim Harpo, the Beatles, the Yardbirds and the Rolling Stones.  When I heard Mick Jagger play harmonica on “Little Red Rooster” I decided I wanted to learn harmonica.  There weren’t many people who played it back then, and it was hard to find instruction on how to do it, so I fooled around with it and basically taught myself, although I got tips from some of the pros.  I’m not shy about approaching them, so I learned from Taj Mahal how he plays those octaves, and John Hammond taught me how to focus my breath a bit more.”image

Hall’s brother, Jack, played bass in Wet Willie, and his sister, Donna, provided backup vocals.  Hall is very appreciative of the success Wet Willie enjoyed, but also acknowledged the many other collaborations that followed, such as the five years he toured with Jeff Beck, and his more recent collaboration with  Joe Bonamassa.

“Jeff was always wanting to change things up.  Jeff could have something going along and he might really like what he’s doing, but he was always looking ahead already, wanting to change things up.  My steadiest touring with him was 2014 through 2019.  In 2019 Johnny Depp became involved.  Johnny was such a big fan of Jeff’s guitar playing, and also of his personality.  And, in a way, Jeff never had any kids, so it was almost like a father-son mentorship for them.  That’s what I saw, anyway. In 2019, Johnny would sing some and I would sing some on the tour.  He was always nervous about singing and I would remind him that people wanted him to succeed.  He brought a whole new flavor to the show.  And, he brought people in to fill the seats.  People wanted to see Johnny Depp play.”

“My history with Joe Bonamassa goes back pretty far as I would hear about him in blues circles.  He started when he was so young, but I never saw him back then. I saw Joe for the first time at the Blues from the Top Festival in Colorado.   I had played earlier in the day and then Joe came on and just killed it.  He played his ass off.  It was the first time that I really saw the depth and breadth of his talent.  Then I got invited to join and sing on some of the songs on Reese Wynans’ album, which Joe produced.  I also had the opportunity to provide some vocals for Joanna Connor’s album, which Joe produced, and on his album with Eric Gales.  He said if I ever wanted to do an album, he would love to produce it, so we started planning it.  I could tell he had a real natural ability and a knack for producing.  He knows what he wants to hear and knows how innately to encourage and direct a singer.”

The result of their collaboration was the album entitled Ready Now, which was co-produced by Josh Smith, and has received excellent reviews.  Most of the songs are co-written by Hall and Jeff Silbar. One of the upbeat songs on the album, “Jump for Joy,” has a particularly enjoyable video which includes bystanders on the sidewalk.  Hall explained how the idea for that video occurred.

“We had top notch players on this record—all seasoned studio players, so by the end of it, we had spent the budget for the record and there wasn’t much left for promotion and videos.  They had a videographer come to Nashville, so we were just going to film this video outside of the club Third & Lindsley.  But then he said he had a crazy idea that I should go downtown Nashville, on Broadway, and he would be in front of me moving backwards and we would have to plow our way through the tourists.  I had no idea how fun it was going to be to do it and to see the looks on people’s faces.  It turned out to be a really good idea and many say they love that video.”

Hall is currently touring with his son, Ryan, playing keyboards.  He noted that both Ryan and one of his other sons, Alex, are musicians and songwriters.

“Ryan wrote one of the songs on the album called ‘Dream Release’, which is about Gregg and Duane Allman’s brotherhood.  Ryan is very creative and is a gifted poet.  He worked on this song and said he wanted it to be on the album, but he wanted it to stand up on its own merit,  not because he was my son.  When I first played it for Joe, I didn’t tell him my son wrote it and he fell in love with it right away.  He said it was so unique and he wanted to put French horns on it, and he decided he wanted to play guitar on it himself.  It has an ascending, triumphant chorus and is very uplifting.  I’m very proud of Ryan.  My son Alex, also sent me some songs, but unfortunately none were quite the right fit for this album.  However, he contributed many production ideas.  For example, it was his idea how to end one of the songs.  I’m happy Alex was involved creatively with the album.”

On the KTBAS cruise, Hall played also accompanied by JD Simo.  They seemed to bring out the best in each other musically, and their playful chemistry was captivating to watch.

“JD and I worked together on a couple of the Allman Family Revival shows and hit it off right away.  So, when I said I needed someone for this cruise he just jumped on it.  He is such a positive, energetic guy.  I’m still finding out about all of his accolades, like how he played guitar for the soundtrack in that Elvis movie and does a lot of session work.  He’s just a good all-around player.”

imageHall is a prolific songwriter and has stated that his most famous song, “Keep on Smiling,” was a song in which he was partially giving himself a pep talk after dealing with the difficult break-up of a relationship.

“I had seen where the Allman Brothers had the practice of ‘what happens on the road stays on the road’ when it came to groupies and infidelity, and I tried that too.  I tried to rationalize the infidelity, but then my girlfriend stated that if I was going to do that, then she was too.  I said we should try it, but it didn’t work out, like anybody could have predicted.  That led to some of those lyrics:  ‘you’re about to go insane, ’cause your woman’s playing games. And she says that you’re to blame’. ”

“We were both blaming each other.  I wasn’t able to look at myself and reflect on what I was doing.  We weren’t even able to break up face-to-face after eight years together.  She went home to Little Rock and ran into an old high school flame and decided she wanted to be with him.  She wouldn’t even talk to me about it, so I wrote songs about it.  For example, ‘Midnight to Daylight’ was one of the songs.  The words were, ‘that’s when I miss you the most—midnight to daylight’.  We were co-dependent and didn’t even know the word at the time.”

While often the greatest blues songs seem to emerge from painful experiences, more recently, Hall’s songwriting is focused more on the joy in his life.  He explained that this shift is due, in large part, to the wonderful relationship he has with his wife, Karen.  Hall frequently mentions his wife during his shows, and described the series of synchronistic events that led to them meeting.

“My band, Wet Willie, had a night off, and we heard that this band, Nantucket, who were on our same label, were playing in a club in Greenwich Village, so we decided to go.  Karen’s older sister had a college professor who managed bands on the side and was the manager of Nantucket.  He invited Karen’s sister to attend, along with anyone else who wanted to attend, so that is how she ended up going there.  I was in the lobby, people-watching, and I saw these three striking young ladies come in and I could tell right away that they were sisters.  Then she came over to me and said she thought she had seen me on TV and liked my music.  I could tell she had brains and loved music, so we exchanged phone numbers.  Then I played a gig in North Carolina when she was visiting her home, so she came to the show and we really started falling for each other then.  I was still living in Macon, Georgia at the time, but we dated long distance, and I would fly to New York to see her. ”

“Then one time I was working on my solo album in Nashville and the lights went out.  I asked if we lost power, but then saw this glow coming towards me and there she was, walking toward me with a cake for my birthday and wearing a pink satin top hat and a Miss America-type sash that said, ‘Happy Birthday Jimmy’.  I couldn’t believe she flew on the plane with this cake on her lap so it wouldn’t get smushed and that she put this outfit together.  This is the kind of thing she would do to show she cared a lot for me.  It was a big moment and I started crying when I realized what she had done. At one point her mother was talking to me on the phone and said ‘by the way, if you don’t already know it, my daughter is madly in love with you’ and I said ‘I’m good with that’.”

“It was a beautiful courtship and ever since then I’ve been writing songs for her.  For example, ‘Holding On for Dear Love’ is about how we’ve weathered through every storm and we’re holding on tight to each other and plan to go to the finish line together.  I’m very happily married, and I like to write about it.  That’s what I’m passionate about, and I want to write about that joy.”

The title track of the new album, “Ready Now” (written by Hall and Silbar) has a powerful message about moving forward in life and not remaining stuck in unhealthy habits. Hall noted that numerous people have found inspiration and encouragement in this song, including one of his brothers.

image“I had a younger brother who passed away last year.  He fought alcoholism through the years and sometimes he didn’t fight it, he just wallowed in it.  He was doing his last rehab program when I played this song for him.  He loved it and said it helped him make a decision about his life.  He wanted to finish the program and make it to the finish line.”

“However, during the last few weeks of his rehab he started feeling ill and his arm swelled up and he was extremely fatigued.  He went to get checked out and found out he had a rare form of salivary gland cancer which spread quickly.  He did chemo, but the cancer traveled to his brain and he started having seizures.  In the end, they released him because he wanted to be at my mom’s house for the end of his life.   Another friend became sober and called me after he got the album.  He said he played that same song for a friend, and it helped him get sober.  I think it has an important message that can help many people.”

Now in his early seventies, Hall has lost none of the range or power in his vocal ability.  And his onstage presence appears just as energetic as when he was in his thirties, with no sign of slowing down.  He was asked what was next on the horizon for him professionally.

“They are going to do a tribute to Jeff Beck at the Royal Albert Hall and I’m hoping and praying that they might include me, but I don’t want to be the guy who stands around with his hand in the air, because I know a lot of people want to be involved with that.  Also, my wife and I have discussed possibly doing a Rendezvous with the Blues Volume II.  Mostly, I just want to keep moving and tour more on my own and work more internationally.  My wife and I love to travel and see new places and experience new adventures. ”

“Other than that, I just want to keep on writing songs.  I can’t wait to get into the studio again.  People tell me to ‘keep writing your soul, your passion’.  You know I have been through some intense therapy for depression and I find that music is a way that I can safely let loose and let some emotions out.  It is very powerful.  I’ve learned that I have a gift and I want to share that gift with others for as long as I possibly can.”

Jimmy Hall’s live performances are an experience that should not be missed.  You can find out more about his tour schedule (including his annual return to Macon for his birthday bash in April) and how to purchase his albums at

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


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

imageEric Bibb – Ridin’

Stony Plain Records

15 tracks/60 minutes

Eric Bibb is a child of the 1960s, growing up in Greenwich Village with an activist father who marched with Dr. King. Father Leon Bibb was also an actor and folk singer, so Eric was influenced by him along with Bob Dylan, Odetta, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Richie Havens and Taj Mahal (who appears here on one track). Many of those artists hung out at the Bibb’s home.

Ridin’ follows on the success of Eric Bibb’s 2021 acclaimed album Dear America. A dozen of the tracks were composed at least in part by Bibb. The other three are traditional tunes that Eric puts his stamp on. Guest appearances by Taj Mahal, Jontavius Willis, Russell Malone, Amar Sundy, Harrison Kennedy, and Habib Koité

“Family” opens the album and it’s a great song about how we are all family and need to treat each other that way. There is a deep groove that drives the song along, cool backing vocals and Bibb’s inimitable vocals.  The title track follows, a great cut about riding together on the freedom train.  He mentions getting off the track but that things are now back on track, picking up survivors so the movement growing and growing over time. Powerful lyrics, a throbbing beat, some wickedly cool slide and a great guest artist make this one another top-notch cut. “Blues Funky Like That” features Taj Mahal and Jontavius Willis backing Bibb up. Great finger picking, shared lead vocals and another vibrant  beat help to make this a winner.

Next is “The Ballad of John Howard Griffin” and features Russell Malone on guitar. Griffin was an American journalist and author from Texas who changed his skin color and posed as a black man in 1959 and traveled the south to experience segregation and injustice first hand. He wrote about and championed racial equality and wrote the book Black Like Me. Griffin and family were threatened, he was beaten and experienced what it was like to be a black man in the ugly times of the late 1960s. The song celebrates his efforts to expose the abuses and evils of our society, “500 Miles” is a traditional tune that Bibb delivers with reverence and feeling.  Some pretty fiddle and banjo are added here to good effect. Up next is “Tulsa Town” where Bibb pays homage to the history of the racial massacre in 1921 in Tulsa, the Black Wall Street where African American businesses thrived. 1,200 homes were burned and 300 people were killed. After 100 years reparations were paid to the three survivors and their families. Another moving piece.

The instrumental interlude “Onwards” follows, with some pretty finger picking and slide guitar. Malone returns on guitar for “Hold The Line,” a beautiful and simple number about sometimes just maintaining the status quo is the best we can do. “I Got My Own” is next with the French Saharan blues guitarist Amar Sundy adding his electric guitar prowess to this cool cut. Bibb picks on his acoustic guitar and sings while Sundy tastefully wails along with him.

Canadian guitarist and singer Harrison Kennedy appears on “Call Me By My Name,” a song that pays respect to those black soldiers, sailors and airmen who served in the military and deserve recognition for  their service and certainly not to be called “boy.” Kennedy plays electric guitar while Bibb stays on acoustic guitar and the two trade vocal leads.  “Joybells” follows with unlisted accompaniment; the other vocalists and players add beautiful depth to the cut as the names of many whose lives were cut short are recited. “Sinner Man” is a cut recorded live at the Wheatland Festival featuring Bibb and his String Band. Harp, bass, fiddle and other accompaniment add depth to this one as Bibb sings. Another powerful cut.

“Free” features West African musician Habib Koité accompanying Bibb. Electric and acoustic guitars interplay as Bibb sings about maintaining your gains and letting go of impediments will make you free. Koité chants in his native tongue and plays traditional instruments to great effect. “People You Love” is a beautiful ballad which has acoustic guitar, piano and slide guitar added. Bibb sings with emotion and feeling. “Church Bells” is the instrumental outro interlude to take us home. Guitar, fiddle, flute, piano and other sounds merge into a beautiful concluding cacophony of gentle sounds.

Bibb delivers another truly superb album here. His performances and guests make for an outstanding set of tunes that will surely get noticed and paid high regard in the awards world. Bubb has won many a blues music award and was nominated twice for Grammy’s; this album is destined to garner that sort of recognition. I most strongly recommend this one to all blues fans!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8 

imageMississippi MacDonald – Heavy State Loving Blues

APM Records

10 tracks – 42 minutes

Mississippi MacDonald has been playing guitar since he was eleven years old. While his prominent first name moniker would indicate a Southern US heritage, he is in fact from London, England. He cites the pivotal moment in his life as the night on November 27, 1991, when he saw Chuck Berry perform citing it as a “transformative experience”. He became obsessed with learning about the music that came from the southern US, so much so that he his constant reference to the southern state just led to his friends calling him Mississippi, his actual first name disappearing and not found in any of his biographies that I could locate.

His next step into the blues came in 2004 when he traveled to America for the SXSW music festival held in Austin, Texas. Soul blues surfaced as he heard Al Green’s Greatest Hits album and The Soul of O.V. Wright. His tours in America led him to meet many of the blues’ greats, including B.B. King, Pinetop Perkins, Otis Clay and many others.

His first album was released in England in 2014. With this current release, he has now eight albums. In England, he has received three British Blues Awards nominations and has charted #1 on UK’s Independent Blues Broadcaster’s Charts. His 2021 Do Right, Say Right album made the Top Ten list on many US publications’ lists last year, including my own annual list I prepare for the  Kentuckiana Blues Society’s monthly newsletter.

His current band includes Phil Dearing on guitar and keyboards, Lucy Dearing providing backup vocals, Elliott Boughen on bass, and “Texas” Joe McRoury on drums. Phil Dearing also produced and arranged the album.

The album opens with a tale of “Howlin’ Wolf”, MacDonald’s guitar weaving its way through the song amid his deep baritone and Phil Dearing’s synth horns providing the accents. He notes that “When Howling Wolf came to play, they didn’t know what he was laying down.” offering a rebuke to the fans who could not understand what the Wolf was doing when he started.

The title song “Heavy State Loving Blues” speaks of having “too fast, too much” which includes fast cars and fast women in a deeply soulful blues number that his soul heroes would certainly have been comfortable with. Memphis’ Vaneese Thomas joins MacDonald for a fiery duet on “Blind Leading the Blind”, her gravelly vocals excellently matching his baritone.

On the soulful “Heading South”, he proclaims he is gone to Louisiana, noting that he “left her at 3 AM in the morning”.  On “(I Ain’t Going to Lie) No More”, the horns and keyboards perfectly align with MacDonald’s pleading vocals as he tries to provide assurance to his love.  The first cover song, O.V. Wright’s “I’ve Been Searching” from his 1973 Memphis Unlimited album, is MacDonald’s tribute to the soul great.

He advises on a beautiful slow ballad that “I’ll Understand” if his lover who left him would just come back. The second cover song, Zack Logan’s country song “Trouble Doing the Right Thing” is given a full blues treatment. On a swampy song, “The Devil Wants Repayment” for “all of the sins you done” and he notes the devil always gets his due “even at 99 years old”.

He concludes with a tribute to Albert Collins on “Blues for Albert” offering Collins’ styled riffs. MacDonald’s guitar constantly soars with slow, tasteful licks.  A brief spoken story of his own background and how a Collins’ record completely changed his life fills in the mostly instrumental cut.

Mississippi MacDonald has very capably demonstrated that he is a next generation blues man carrying on the soul blues traditions of his predecessors.

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 – 3 of 8 

imageBig Harp George – Cut My Spirit Loose

Blues Mountain Records

13 tracks/55 minutes

Big Harp George is George Bisharat, a former criminal defense attorney, law professor and political law commentator who gave all that up to become a blues singer, songwriter, and chromatic harmonica player. He lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and blows some uniquely mean harp. This is his fifth release, and is his best yet.

George began his musical life in 2014 with Chromaticism, a Blues Blast and BMA Best New Artist Debut nominated album. He did not rest on his laurels, releasing Wash My Horse in Champagne in 2016, Uptown Cool in 2018, and then Living in the City in 2020. Each new album garnered him more and more attention and accolades, and this latest release showcases his talents and skills with a dozen new songs and one really well-crafted cover.

George handles the lead vocals and harp. Chris Burns is on keys and Kid Anderson is on guitar and also adds other stringed instruments, drums and vibraphone on some tracks. Drums and percussion duties are shared between Derrick D’Mar Martin and June Core, and Joe Kyle, Jr. is on the bass. There is a lot of great horn work here with Michael Peloquin in tenor throughout and is on baritone sax on two cuts; Doug Rowan is also on baritone sax, Ed Morrison and Jeff Lewis are on trumpet, and Mike Rinta is on trombone while also adding tuba on a track. Ben Torres plays the flute on one cut. Backing vocalists are Lisa Leuchner Andersen (two tracks), Loralee Christensen (one track) and are predominantly handled by the Sons of the Soul Revivers (James Dwayne and Walter Morgan). Lastly, Lulu Bisharat barks on the sixth cut. Chris Burns produced the album which was recorded at Greaseland Studios.

“It’s Tuesday” starts things off, a swinging and driving cut that bounces and bops in a cool manner. George leads the charge on vocals and harp while the backing vocalists call to George and provide harmonic depth to the track. The chromatic work is spectacular, the horns blare, and the guitar and backline lay down a sweet groove, setting a high benchmark for the rest of the album, and the other cuts live up to. The lyrics are also fun as George testifies to how cool Tuesday is, including being tongue in cheek about taking the trash out. Next is “Pile Driving Sam,” with more humorous lyrics as to the ladies liking their pile driving Sam. A heavy bass line, slick horn work and great vocals and grunts make this one fun. A big guitar solo and some vocal backing reminiscent of the doo wop era also make this one neat and cool. “Give Me The Dark” follows, taking the tempo down a bit as George croons to us about preferring the evening hours. A sultry, swinging cut with more cool and brassy horns, bass fiddle, fine vocals  and delectable chromatic work sell this one.

“Bustin Out” is a nice instrumental that has a cool Latin flair to it as George’s harp trades licks with the horn section.  He and band have a ball as they float and fly through this swinging cut. George blows some really great licks as do the tenor sax and trombone. Up next is “She’s A Woman,” the lone cover. George give this Beatles cut a great workover as he transforms it to West Coast rhumba of sorts.  The organ and harp interplay and the horns add their sweet sounds to the mix. “My Dog Is Better Than You” is another jazzy, swinging West Coast blues where George tells his woman off. There is some excellent tenor soloing here followed by some stinging guitar. The horns are tight, the pacing is quick, and the barrelhouse piano adds a nice touch. “Jump Abu Luka!” is up next, another sweet instrumental with some shouting fill-ins by the Sons of the Soul Revivers. Geroge’s harp floats and glides through the cut and the organ and band do a great job backing him.

“Prince of Downward Mobility” follows, a song of failure and throwing away the good life. Bisharat is a master of taking life a little less seriously and gives us another creative set of lyrics in this fine song. He blows with great emotion as the band cruises along with him effortlessly. We get a nice piano and then guitar solo here to also enjoy. “Ranty Town” is a song where he suggests his woman get a ticket to Ranty Town and just leave him be. The harp and tenor sax are executed well here once again. He gives her several options to expedite her departure with trains, planes, autos, an electric scooter and even his pogo stick. A pretty, slow, straight blues is next, “Behind the Eight Ball.” George and company give it their all as they wind their way through this with feeling. The harp is dirty, the groove is deep, and the accompaniment is exceptional all around.

“Take a Knee” has Andersen on acoustic guitar as George and the Soul Survivors take us to church on this one. The harp is poignant and the message that Black Lives Matter is equally poignant. Next is “Sunrise Stroll,” a light and airy instrumental with cool harp that flows and moves along breezily. We get some more outstanding guitar and some trumpet, tenor sax and other horns flesh out the sound well. The album concludes with “Captain Jack” and some more Gospel infused sounding vocal accompaniment. George sings with emotion, the Sons of Soul Survivors are full of solemnity and the sound and lyrics are dark and filled with despair. The harp and pacing throughout add to the darkness as do the howls from Mrs. Andersen.  Well done!

I’ve listened to all of Big Harp George’s albums and I must say they keep getting better and better and better. This one shows a lot of variety on styles and feelings as George plays some wickedly cool harp and the band does an equally admirable job in support. He’s surely got some talented players joining him here on this album. This album comes most highly recommended.

Big Harp George handles the chromatic harp as few can and delivers and powerful and exemplary set of performances for us all to enjoy. I think this album is destined to garner attention over the next sets of award seasons- kudos to Mr. Bisharat and the musicians and singers here for creating a superb album!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 8 

imageSteve Ditzell – Deep Chops – High Life, Hard Dues and Unsung Heroes

The Adventures of a Chicago Blues Guitarist

Self-Published 2022

163 pages

Everyone has a story. Blues musicians probably have some of the best ones imaginable. When I joined Crossroads Blues Society almost 20 years ago, I met two great Chicago Blues guitar players who had relocated to Rockford, Illinois. One of them was Steve Ditzell.

Steve was a fiery guitar player along with being a solid vocalist and songwriter. I use past tense as Steve’s health issues preclude him from continuing his music career, so he is now working on his writing as he moves forward.

This great biography was done as a short run of 50 copies to promote Steve’s new writing career. He is now working on formally publishing the book through a publishing house and is considering releasing it as a package deal with copies of his album Blues For Theresa.

Ditzell began his musical journey after growing up in a very strict Baptist household in upstate New York.  While the Devil’s Music and even dancing we not allowed, the Blues called to Steve and became his life’s love and calling. He got into his first formal band at age 18 and that began his journey.

A big fan of music, Steve’s earliest big influence was Eric Clapton and Cream. He played bass in the style of Jack Bruce and longed for a voice even close to Jack’s. His college days in New Haven, Connecticut, at Paier School of Art pretty much were spent majoring in drugs, marijuana, booze, beer and listening to and playing music. Elmore James, Tampa Red and Jesse Edwin Davis, the slide player for Taj Mahal, were huge early influences. Davis’ version of “Statesboro Blues” not only floored Ditzell but Steve also reminds us it also moved Duane Allman; Allman had a cold when he first heard this song and used his legendary Coricidin bottle to be his slide. Music was a hot commodity in New Haven as were drugs and booze.

He then got to see Cream in New Haven, his all-time favorite band. It spurred his interest in playing guitar instead of bass, so he began to play the six stringed axe. This was also followed by a period of depression induced by LSD and became a deep gorge that he spiraled into and emerged from after a period of time he spent in his family’s basement in Ithaca, NY. Ditzell pulls no punches in telling his story, remaining brutally honest throughout.

He followed this cleansing of his body and mind by living in a cabin in the woods where he lived predominantly off the land, until his landlord passed away and her family sold the cabin.  He got a job processing vehicle engine blocks and parts for scrap reuse as steel and played in local bands after that and honed his skills on guitar. He decided Chicago was the way to fix his other addiction, the Blues.

In 1975 he hit Chicago and found Theresa’s Lounge. After building up confidence and getting a chance to sit in, his talent got him an offer to be part of the house band full time (and later part time when he was touring). In all, he played with Theresa’s House Band through 1984. The lead guitarist was Sammy Lawhorn whom Steve respected and loved.  He dedicates the first chapter of his book to Lawhorn who is under-appreciated and under-recorded. Anecdotally, Lawhorn would occasionally drink to excess, pass out on stage, and allowed Ditzell to be the lead guitarist from time to time.

He first became part of Fenton Robinson’s touring band. That was from 1976 to 1977.  Fenton was another huge influence to Ditzell. They parted ways when Robinson decided a keyboard player was more of a need than a rhythm guitar player; Fenton did not want the added cost of another body in the band.

It was then that Koko Taylor was looking for a rhythm guitar player and Steve served in that capacity from 1978 to 1980. Steve notes that you always knew where you stood with Koko as she was very in your face; there we no secrets or talking behind your back. She and he did well together, touring all over, but two things got Steve to want to move on. One was that he yearned to play lead guitar, something he had few opportunities to do in Koko’s band. The second was that the touring involved non-stop driving from gig to gig with Koko’s husband Pops doing all the driving himself, sometimes as much as 36 hours. Steve felt the advancing years of Pops with the long drives as something he was more than a little concerned about, so he moved on amicably to play lead guitar with a man who he met and grew to love and respect at Theresa’s: Junior Wells.

Wells was no angel and loved to kid and dig and even torment people (mostly in jest). This began in January 1981 and went through mid-1984 when Ditzell was broke and had to take a year off to financially get himself reestablished. His life on the road left him financially strapped and full-time day job work was the solution. He also tried out to pitch for the White Sox in 1983. He got a much longer try out than virtually any other pitcher, but at age 33 things just did not work out for his baseball career.

He also picked up tours with Buddy Guy who he also met and loved working with. Buddy opened the Checkerboard Lounge, another famed old Chicago Blues club.

After his year at a day job, Ditzell again began touring with Wells, who said he was welcome back any time. This new touring period with his old mentors and friends went through 1994.

Steve moved to Rockford, Illinois in April 1993 with his girlfriend and first long term love of his life Maggie. He gigged and toured with many folks, including his own Band Blue Lightning.  It was in Rockford that Maggie’s health began to deteriorate, and she was moved to a nursing home for a very short spell and Steve did not accept this so he took her home and cared for her himself.  She finally passed with Steve at her side in late December 2013, just 3 days before her 64th birthday. They were together 25 years, the last 10 as husband and wife. He was one of the most dedicated spouses I have evet met; their love ran deeply.

The book is not chronologically written. It begins with a chapter on Sammy Lawhorn. The next chapter is mostly his early life and is entitled “The Devil’s Music.” The next chapter is “Theresa’s Lounge.” I was moved to put on Steve Ditzell & The Blue Lightning Band album Blues For Theresa as I read this chapter. Not only was it appropriate but I got to hear Steve, Junior Wells and the great backline of Marty Binder on drums and Dave Kaye on bass as I read the story about the lounge. Recorded in 1994, Steve spiffed up the songs with some added second lead guitar work and re-released it in 2005.

Chapters on Buddy Guy, Junior Wells and Koko Taylor follow that, offering anecdotes and fantastic nuggets of information on his work with these great artists and his behind-the-scenes life touring with them.

The final chapter is “More Heroes and Adventures,” a whirlwind  ride through blues nobility and other icons Steve worked with. Some of the most interesting stories are included here.  He also adds an “Epilogue” after the final chapter because he claimed he really wasn’t finished.

The impetus for the book began early in his career. So as not to forget his memories as a musician, he would jot down notes and put them in a cigar box. He and later Maggie would joke that they would be the basis for his book of his life story. Life on the road and working never allowed that book to happen, but a few years ago carpal tunnel syndrome and other physical maladies cut his playing career short, so he began to write. He also took care of his elderly Dad in Florida, not mentioned in the book, which consumed a lot of time and probably also delayed the start of his new endeavor with his writing career.

Writing replaced gigging and last year he finally completed this biography, but not before he has several starts and stops. He had to teach himself how to write, emulating several of his favorite authors, Including Ernest Hemingway. His terse and direct manner in relating his story to us is certainly in that style, but he also maintains a conversational approach that is engaging and something that keeps the reader locked in and looking for more.

The book is his story in 163 pages. He says there could have been so much more, but in this he offers a rich and interesting life story in this volume that even the casual blues fan will love. Fans of Chicago Blues will read these stories with rapt attention and enjoy the inside look at life of a gigging and touring Bluesman. He doesn’t hold back; the dialogue is often abrupt and filled with how he and his band mates and associates really conversed and some of the harsh realities of life he and others faced. The book is real, honest and a true insight as to how a man overcame his adversity and issues from drug and alcohol abuse. He also talks about being a little surprised how he managed to make it so far in life (he’s now in his early 70’s), and how he managed to do what he loved to do best in life: play the Blues.

I really enjoyed reading Steve Ditzell’s story and I look forward to its release to the public so other blues fans and artists can read and appreciate this great piece of biographical work! You can order the book directly from Steve Ditzell by emailing him at:

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


 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

imageSavoy Brown – Blues All Around

Quarto Valley Records

12 songs – 46 minutes

Savoy Brown was one of the original blues-rock bands to come out of England in the mid-1960s and Blues All Around is, almost unbelievably, their 42nd album. Sadly, it is also likely to be their last, given the death in December 2022 of the band’s leader, singer, guitarist, primary songwriter and sole remaining original member, Kim Simmonds. Recorded when Simmonds’ health was already failing, Blues All Around is a fitting final release, adeptly showcasing the band’s heavy blues-rock approach and Simmonds’ always solid guitar playing.

Simmonds’ illness also informed the recording process itself, with his guitar and vocal tracks (he also contributes organ and harmonica to the album) being laid down first, before long-running bandmates, bassist Pat DeSalvo and drummer Garnet Grimm, added their rhythm parts. In addition, one of the side effects of the chemotherapy that Simmonds received was peripheral neuropathy, which deadened the nerves in his fingers and hands. As result, he played more slide guitar on the album than he might usually do, to compensate for his loss of dexterity.

Simmonds wrote all 12 songs on the album, which is bookended by two versions of “Falling Through The Cracks.” The album opens with a 43 second version that features just Simmonds’ finger-picked electric guitar and the half-whispered words “falling though”, and closes with a five minute ode to loneliness, again with just Simmonds and his guitar. In between, the band lay down a series of mid-paced blues-rock stompers that follow the heavy riff-based formula popularized by the likes of Deep Purple in the late 1960s.

Simmonds is adept at creating slight variations to the classic 12 bar song structure, such as the descending riff replacing the V-iV transition on “Black Heart” or the reverse turnaround on “Hurting Spell”.

Lyrically, the songs follow the traditional paths of betrayed love (“Black Heart” or “Hurting Spell”), desire (“Texas Love” or “My Baby”), travel (“Going Down South”) or past reminiscences (“California Days Gone By”), which Simmonds sings in a likeable, weathered voice. But Savoy Brown albums have never really been about the lyrics or the vocals but more about the groove of the songs and Simmonds’ guitar playing and in that regard Blues All Around ticks all the right boxes – particularly in relation to Simmonds’ slide guitar playing, which is outstanding.

Recorded at Subcat Studios in Syracuse, NY by Ron Keck, there is a liveliness and vitality to Blues All Around that is perhaps surprising, given the circumstances in which it was recorded.

Savoy Brown never achieved superstardom, maybe due to the remarkable number of line-up changes they endured over the years, but they will be warmly remembered by their many fans and Blues All Around is a fine memorial to a superb guitarist and songwriter.

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 – 6 of 8 

imageJoanne Shaw Taylor – Nobody’s Fool

KTBA Records – 2022

11 tracks; 45 minutes

Joanne Shaw Taylor’s 2021 release The Blues Album and live follow-up Blues From The Heart were definitely blues albums but on her latest album Joanne gives us a set of songs that play to her strengths as vocalist and guitar player but are more in the rock and ballad style than blues. Again working with Joe Bonamassa and Josh Smith as co-producers, the album was recorded in L.A. with many of the usual JoBo collaborators: Reese Wynans is on the B3, Calvin Turner bass, Lemar Carter drums, Joe and Josh on rhythm guitars; also involved are keyboardist Deron Johnson and backing vocalists Danielle De Andrea, Gaby Moreno and Jeff Young. Tina Guo guests on cello on one cut, Carmen Vandenberg adds a guitar solo to one track and a horn section of Steve Patrick and Jeff Bailey (trumpet/flugelhorn), Barry Green and Matt Jefferson (trombone) and Mark Douthit and Jimmy Bowland (saxes and flute) appear on two tracks. Joanne, of course, is on lead vocals and guitar throughout. Joanne wrote most of the songs here, some in collaboration with Beth Nielsen Chapman, James House, Sharon Corbitt and Leslie Satcher; Joe Bonamassa has a credit on one song, Josh Smith co-wrote one with Calvin Turner and Dylan Altman and there is one cover.

The album opens in strong fashion with the title track, Joanne’s initial riff recalling George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord”, before Joe and Josh add to the chunky riff. Joanne’s vocal here is excellent, really suiting a song which sets out her personal philosophy about relationships: “I’m someone to no one, I’ve always lived by that rule, ‘cause when you’re nothing to no one, baby, then you’re nobody’s fool”. Acoustic guitar adds a Spanish/Mexican feel to “Bad Blood”, a tale of a relationship that ended on a sour note while “Won’t Be Fooled Again” is quite a ‘poppy’, radio-friendly, song, enriched by a soaring solo from Joe. The horns beef up the heavier “Just No Getting Over You” in which Joanne appears to be heading in quite the opposite direction to the previous songs, seeming totally smitten, hence perhaps the sub-title of the song – “Dream Cruise”!

The album tends to alternate heavier and lighter songs and next up is the stripped-back ballad “Fade Away”, Joanne’s breathy vocals set against solo piano and Tina Guo’s cello. True to the format, “Then There’s You” is a full-on rocker and “Runaway” a light tune with a folksy feel from the gentle guitars and acoustic underpinnings. Joanne started playing at age 16 when she was spotted by Dave Stewart of The Eurythmics whose “Missionary Man” (co-written by Annie Lennox) is reprised here, Dave guesting on the track. “Figure It Out” is another rocker, a frenetic tune with a heavily distorted solo from guest Carmen Vandenberg. In contrast there is plenty of delicate guitar work on “The Leaving Kind”, a gentle ballad of regret with acoustic and electric guitar solos, both impressive, before the horn-driven “New Love”, written by Josh Smith/Calvin Turner/Dylan Altman. From the opening sax solo this is a powerful, soulful number that pounds along with positive, forward-looking lyrics to end the album on another high note.

This is not a blues album, but Joanne’s vocals and guitar work are solid throughout and there are several strong songs here.

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 – 7 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.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

imageMartin Lang & Rusty Zinn – Mr. Blues, Mr. Blues

Random Chance Records

14 Tracks;   53 minutes

The latest release by harmonica player Martin Lang and guitarist Rusty Zinn is an impressive collaboration by two headliners who have each released numerous records on their own.  They emphasized the equality of their contributions through the distribution of two different versions of the album. One version has Zinn’s name first and his photo on the left, and one has Lang’s name first and the location of their photos switched.  They shared equally the lead vocals for the album, and the different styles of their singing offers some nice diversity, (with Zinn’s smooth tenor voice alternating with Lang’s gritty sound).  Both musicians also provided some original songwriting (although Lang contributed five songs and Zinn only one).

Lang & Zinn recruited nine outstanding musicians to join them on this project, including two extremely sought-after musicians:  Johnny Iguana on piano and Rodrigo Mantovani on bass.  The album is also produced by the highly respected Dick Shurman.  With such a lineup it is not surprising that there is much to love about the album.

Mr. Blues, Mr. Blues opens with an up-tempo, fun song, entitled W-A-S-T-E-D.  There are three instrumental songs on the album and one of them, “Mickey”, especially showcases the talent of all the artists, particularly highlighting Iguana’s keyboard work.  However, his keyboards might be even more impressive on “You’ve Gotta Stop this Mess”.  The second instrumental, “Rose & Kelly’s Boogie” pays homage to the South Side Chicago blues club by that name.  And Zinn’s vocals, while always clean and beautiful, particularly shines on his original song, an especially likeable shuffle entitled “Don’t You Want a Man Like Me”.

While all of the tracks are great, the true gems on the album are Zinn’s original, the title track (written by Martin Lang), and Lang’s song about the contradiction between one’s words and one’s actions.  That track, “The Things You Say”, offers impressive and tasteful solos by both Zinn and Lang.  Mr. Blues, Mr. Blues also offers an excellent rendition of Fenton Robinson’s “Cryin’ the Blues”.

With so many blues bands straying farther and farther toward the rock end of the blues-rock continuum, it is refreshing to hear an album celebrating the classic Chicago blues sound.  With the combination of talent on Mr. Blues, Mr. Blues, it is not surprising that there is truly no weak aspect to it, and it is one of the few albums that listeners will play straight through without ever skipping a track.  Blues purists in particular will be eager to add this exceptional album to their collection.

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

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