Issue 17-4 January 26, 2023

Cover photo © 2023 James Cacciatore

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Angela Strehli. We have eight Blues music reviews for you this week including new music from Larkin Poe, Johnny Rawls, Richard Gibbs, Mark Margolies, South Island Rhythm Kings, Little Freddie King, John Lee Hooker and Patrik Jansson. Scroll down and check it out!

 Featured Interview – Angela Strehli 

imageWhat do you do if you’re a singer who’s been comfortably retired from touring for decades, during which you’ve been operating a successful restaurant/nightclub, and your hubby gently suggests it’s time for you to make another solo album after a 17-year break?

If you’re Angela Strehli, the undisputed Queen of Texas Blues, you go into the studio and cut a record that soars to the top of the charts!

As fans and critics alike around the globe agree, it’s a welcome return to center stage for Angela, one of the most soft-spoken, unassuming folks in the industry despite a background that includes being one of the most important figures in the development of the Austin blues scene.

Blues Blast caught up with her a few weeks ago while she was catching her breath at home in Nicasio, Calif., enjoying a momentary break from the onslaught of weather that had been inundating the West Coast for weeks and recovering from her first tour in ages.

Born in Lubbock, Texas, on Nov. 22, 1945, the daughter of a professor father who taught Spanish at Texas Tech and a mother who ran a daycare out of the family home, Angela grew up in a community with a rich musical heritage.

Not only did rock-‘n’-roll legend Buddy Holly soar to the heights during her childhood, but the city’s also produced Joe Ely, her junior high classmate, and future country stars Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock. Other artists who rose to fame from roots in the city’s soil include Mac Davis, accordionist Ponty Bone, sax player Bobby Keys and Delbert McClinton, too.

Like most folks who grew up in smaller, isolated communities at the time, “we had to make our our entertainment,” Angela remembers. “And what’s true about Texas is that there’s a whole spectrum of music from jazz to country, and everybody had their own little pockets of interest.”

Back then, however, the blues were something foreign that bubbled under the surface in the form of the azure-tinted western swing that had been produced by the Light Crust Doughboys, Bob Wills & the Texas Playboys, Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, Spady Cooley and others who filled dancehalls prior to World War II.

Strehli began life playing cello in her junior high school orchestra, a group that included Ely on violin. She spent her nights hovering over her Zenith shortwave radio, which served as a gateway to the sounds she couldn’t hear at home.

“I got Shreveport, La., that had a blues show,” she remembers, “and there was Wolfman Jack…wherever the hell he was at…and (deejays) John R. (John Richbourg) and The Hossman (Bill “Hoss” Allen) on WLAC in Nashville, too” – and the sounds of Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and other giants grabbed her attention. “I heard something that I couldn’t figure out.

“The thing about the blues is that it can just grab you, and you don’t have a defense. It’s gotcha! And that’s what happened to me. I was completely ignorant about it, didn’t know what to call it — and I just had to start investigating.”

Blues records were extremely hard to come by, so Strehli resorted to mail order to build up a collection of – what to her – were priceless 45s. In high school, she tried out for the choir but failed to make the cut. But her interest in music was so strong that she started playing bass – an easy transition from cello.

“The guitar is too complicated for me,” she jokes today. “And I picked up harmonica. But just like the bass, I was never proficient enough to say: ‘Oh, I play this.’ No…I was just hoping to jam with folks with the same expertise.”

She attended Carlton College in Northfield, Minn., a Minneapolis suburb that’s main claim to fame is that it’s the place where Jesse James and the Cole Younger Gang tried and failed to rob the First National Bank, an event that’s considered to be the final major event of the Civil War.

“It was a wonderful school,” Angela says. “The typical student moved on to graduate schools and earned a doctorate. But my freshman year, they decided that wasn’t a great atmosphere. So they invited some of us who had maybe traveled a little bit more – I’d been to Argentina because of my dad – or whatever and brought us in to make the student population more diverse.

“It was really funny because one upperclassman who really liked me – and saw what was going on — told me: ‘Look, do this for two years. But then, just go back to Texas. Don’t go all the way on this.’”

The advice struck a positive chord because Strehli had already come to realize that, even though Northfield was a pleasant community, it lacked the ethnic and cultural diversity she grew up with in a state that was one-third Latino, one-third black and “one-third of what we used to call ‘Anglo.’”

Unable to land a summer job after leaving Minnesota after her sophomore year, Angela enrolled in an all-female program for students operated by the YMCA in San Antonio. Tasked with going into the community and polling residents about their biggest concerns, she and the other enrollees lived together on the west side of the city in a predominantly black-and-Latin neighborhood, which – she says – was interesting enough, but it also exposed her to black gospel music, something she’s loved deeply ever since.

imageThe revelation came one Sunday at a Macedonian Baptist church, she remembers. “They had some real singers, an organist — and piano player, too. I was in the back, trying to be inconspicuous. But it was wonderful!”

Prior to enrolling in the University of Texas that fall, where she eventually graduated with a double major in psychology and sociology, Strehli traveled to Chicago for the first time in an attempt to explore the belly of the blues. Following a fellow fan’s advice, she headed straight to the Jazz Record Mart to seek out owner Bob Koester, who operated Delmark Records from the same location.

The most important guide to the Windy City blues scene for decades, Koester was a walking encyclopedia of who was playing where and how to get there, making sure to provide detailed information about the various clubs and what visitors needed to be aware of before dropping in, well-aware that many of the joints he recommended were located in some of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city.

“He was so-o-o helpful,” Angela remembers. “I went to Mother Blues (one of the first North Side clubs in the city to host blues acts)…I could go there by myself. But if I wanted to go to Pepper’s (on the segregated South Side), I knew I’d better have company. I went there with a British journalist.”

After catching Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters in action during that trip — and informing Muddy that she’d come “all the way from Texas to see him,” she used a class project as an excuse to return to the city six months later, the highlight of which was making it to Silvio’s — the legendary club under the L tracks on the West Side – in time to see Wolf perform on New Year’s Eve.

As she notes in the liner notes of the LP of her new album: “I wasn’t expecting to actually meet him, but there he was at the door letting people in — an intimidating character, and I was dreadfully underdressed. Like in a film I had seen of him, I expected Wolf to perform sitting in a chair. Well, he was stalking the stage and at one point started crawling up the curtain!

“I was speechless and thrilled.”

Angela joined her first band as a vocalist – primarily, she says, because someone else was already playing bass before co-founded the Fabulous Rockets with guitarist/harp player Lewis Cowdrey. A year later, she became a backup singer in James Polk and the Brothers. An organist, sax player and percussionist who spent years as Ray Charles’ arranger, conductor and writer, Polk’s now in his early 80s and a retired college professor but still performing locally, where he’s recognized as Austin’s godfather of jazz.

“I used to go and see him perform before I was a professional,” Strehli says. “He’s such a fine person. To be in a band of his was just an instant education about the tools you need to run one yourself. There was one guy on trumpet for a while who was professional, but he couldn’t hang because he was a heroin addict. All the rest of us had various amounts of experience, but certainly not professional.

“We didn’t travel far and wide, but as far away as Midland, which was almost home. It was fascinating because I was playing in black clubs, which was intimidating because I was just a fledgling musician – and not the most confident person, either. I gained a lot of confidence just making it through there.”

Angela’s made her first record during that era when she was also performing with Cowdrey in a group that billed itself as Angela & Lewis and the Sunnyland Special, a lineup that also included original Fabulous Thunderbirds bass player Keith Ferguson. They recorded one 45, “Do Something/My Backscratcher,” which was released on the Moontower imprint more than a decade later.

It was captured at the studio opened by Hank Alrich in South Austin that for decades has served as the home of the long-running Armadillo Records label, and the opportunity to record it came at the invitation of a fan.

“It was a sensational place,” Angela remembers. “They had all Danelectro instruments, Danelectro amps…everything! I wasn’t a musician, but I knew that Danelectro was cool!”

Cowdrey’s next group, The Storm, became the first major blues group in the Austin scene – not surprising because its eventual all-star roster included Jimmie Vaughan and Denny Freeman on guitars, Derek O’Brien and Doyle Bramhall on drums and Ferguson on bass. Not long after, however, they were sharing the spotlight with Strehli’s next band, Southern Feeling and laying down the framework that turned Austin into “The Live Music Capital of the World.”

Co-founded in 1972 with W.C. Clark — one of the most beloved of all Lone Star State bluesmen – and Freeman, Strehli and the band built a steady following, but the places they played, she says, “were all small and really funky.”

But all that was about to change because of one superfan.

imageBlues aficionado Clifford Antone, a young man in his early 20s had just relocated from Port Arthur and thought that Angela, the band and the community all deserved far better. He quickly enlisted Strehli to help him open Antone’s, a new, 600-person capacity club on Sixth Street in the heart of the city.

“One of the big purposes was to educate folks about the blues,” she says, noting: “There’s a huge student population in Austin. It’s not just the University of Texas…there are five colleges (Concordia, Huston-Tillotson, St. Edward’s and Austin Community College are the others) in town.

“And Clifford realized: ‘Look, I’m gonna let these students in for maybe a couple of dollars at the most to see our heroes. They gotta get curious about it, and then come out to see the real people if we can just get ‘em hooked in.’”

Antone was probably the only person who believed it would work, and man, did it ever!

“The lucky thing in those days…unfortunately…even Muddy or Buddy Guy, they didn’t have a lot of gigs,” says Angela, who became the chief cook and bottle washer of the entire operation, doing whatever necessary to keep the doors open. “Blues wasn’t doing well, and they were happy to come to Austin.”

In those days, the headliners played with the house band for multiple nights – the only exceptions being Albert Collins who brought his group from Houston three hours away and a few other talents that did the same. But even that was special because it was no ordinary house band, it was Jimmie Vaughan, Kim Wilson and the original lineup of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, who’d struck like lightning after just being formed.

“Clifford knew they would take it seriously and be well-prepared to backup whoever it was,” Strehli remembers. “And if you’re talking about Otis Rush, you had to be really on your toes ‘cause he might give you a setlist to study…and you could do that and be so prepared…and, that night, he wouldn’t do any of those songs.

“It was a wonderful experience for all of us. To end up on stage with those people was special. And to be able to hang out with them during the day because they didn’t have much to do was special, too.”

Almost all of the top bluesmen of the era served residencies, including Otis, Albert and B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Sunnyland Slim and Jimmy Reed. When Little Milton appeared, he finished his stay by inviting Angela to join him on the road, a tempting offer that she had to refuse because of her responsibilities at home.

Many of the visiting artists offered words of advice, Angela says, including Muddy, who advised her to hold on to the last part of a phrase for a few seconds for emphasis. It was just one of many lessons that served her well and helped her to fashion herself into being recognized by the Austin Chronicle newspaper as the best female singer in the city five years in a row.

Life at Antone’s was never boring – something that was enhanced by the fact that Clifford – who died at age 56 in 2006 – lived life fast and wasn’t shy about breaking rules. He and his partners launched several different ventures to raise capital, some honest and some…well…not.

Convicted of drug trafficking in the early ‘80s, Clifford served a “vacation” in a federal prison and Strehli took over his complete Antone’s operation. Still, in his defense, she notes, he was a very charitable man who came to the aid of musicians in time of despair and adding: “He and his associates didn’t graduate college and couldn’t get normal jobs. They had to use their imagination to get by.”

Angela had started writing songs before the troubles began thanks to encouragement from Freeman. And while Clifford was away, she decided to establish Antone’s Records, installing herself as its president.

“That was another ‘somebody had to do it moment,’” she notes. “It was partly selfish because I did have a record. Between my dad and this female fan of mine who’d come into a family inheritance, I had enough money to go into the studio and make it.

“But…I didn’t want to just put my record out. I wanted to do something bigger than me. That’s why I started Antone’s – and hired a really smart person, Carlan Major, to form the business.”

imageThe label debuted in 1986 with Angela’s EP, Stranger Blues, which sold well enough that other artists wanted to come aboard, including a young guitarist from New England named Ronnie Horvath, who soon made his debut as Ronnie Earl with I Like It When It Rains.

Through the years, the Antone’s roster included dozens of releases by a diverse range of superstar artists, including James Cotton, Memphis Slim, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Doug Sahm, Syl Johnson, Pinetop Perkins, Carolyn Wonderland, Ely, Dickie Betts and dozens of Lone Star State heavyweights. Sadly, however, the operation went dormant after filing for bankruptcy following Clifford’s death and protracted legal wranglings that followed.

As for Strehli, she followed the EP with full album, Soul Shake, then joined forces with Lou Ann Barton and Marcia Ball on Dreams Come True in 1990. Prior to the release of Ace of Blues last fall, her catalog has only included a few other CDs — Blonde and Blue on Rounder (1993), Deja Blue on House of Blues (1998), the self-released Live from Rancho Nicasio (2001) and Blue Highway on M.C. Records (2005) — along with a couple of hard-to-find singles she recorded with Freeman and Wilson on V8 in the mid-‘80s.

She’ also teamed with fellow Texan Lou Ann Barton and Gulf Coast keyboard great Marcia Ball for Dreams Come True and as a member of The Blues Broads – her partnership with Tracy Nelson, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Sampson – for Live (Delta Groove 2012). She and the Broads continue to perform a couple of times a year on the West Coast today.

But Angela’s role in American popular music runs far deeper than making a few albums and running a record label and a couple of bars. She’s also responsible for putting a teenage Stevie Ray Vaughan on the path that lead him to superstardom at a time when he was simply dreaming about launching a solo career. Back then, he was simply the talented young guitarist in a band fronted by W.C. Clark that included several other Austin heavyweights.

“The first time I ever saw Stevie, I was at the Continental Club, which still exists in South Austin,” she recalls. “I was performing, and I looked out and there was this bright-eyed kid staring. Other people were drinking and having a good time, but he was wrapped in what I was doing.

“I didn’t talk to him that night…I think he was pretty shy – and I was, too.

“I don’t think he had an apartment or anything,” Angela remembers. “He was sleeping on couches and such or whatever his big brother (Jimmie) could afford. He’d spend his afternoons at Antone’s, not bothering anybody or anything like that, but just to be there in case so-and-so would walk in, which happened often.

“Albert King was one of those so-and-sos…just the gruffest guy who could make you shiver because he was serious about a lot of things. I said: ‘Look, Albert, there’s this guy here, and he loves your music so-o-o much that he has learned how to play like you.’

“Albert found that interesting. So, sure enough, he got Stevie up on stage with him, which meant the world to Stevie.”

Albert and Stevie developed a strong friendship after that first meeting. And, fortunately, it bore fruits that blues fans can enjoy today through In Session, a live set released by Stax that was recorded in Toronto in 1983 and has been reissued multiple times, most recently last year.

Already a monster on the fretboard, Vaughan was extremely reluctant to try his hand at singing when Angela first met him. “The prospect of that scared him to death,” she says. “But he could see his future, and realized that what he wanted to do was everything…play guitar, front the band and just have a trio. I’m pretty sure he might have been inspired by Billy Gibbons, who’d just gotten off the ground with ZZ Top in Houston.

“One day, he came in just to ask me: ‘How am I going to downsize where I have to really sing?’

“I said: ‘Stevie, just think of one song you love and start singing only that song until you’ve nailed it.’”

He chose Arkansas bluesman Larry Davis’ “Texas Flood,” a number first recorded in 1958 and one that Angela had been performing for years. After being schooled on the lyrics and slowly building his confidence as a singer, Stevie truly made the song his own – so much so, in fact, that Strehli actually struck it from her setlist. The title track of Vaughan’s blockbuster debut LP, he expanded the number by adding several extended instrumental segments and playing it in G-flat by tuning his guitar down a half-step with G fingering.

Strehli’s impact on Stevie’s career continued throughout his life. And as his fame grew, she says, he insisted that she accompany him to his most important gigs, including his Live from Carnegie Hall CD – on which her vocals brought down the house with her rendition of the Albert King standard, “C.O.D.” Her voice also graces other Stevie albums.

imageStill a beloved fixture in the Austin, Strehli’s been based out of Northern California since 1989. The move came after she appeared at Boz Scaggs’ nightclub, Slims, in San Francisco a week after its opening and fell in love with his co-owner, Bob Brown, the former manager of both Pablo Cruise and Hughie Lewis.

She and Bob opened Rancho Nicasio – a popular indoor/outdoor music venue, restaurant and events center about an hour north of San Francisco in Marin County – in 1993, and she’s been using the acumen she developed at Antone’s to keep it up and running successfully ever since.

A self-described “very reluctant performer,” Angela openly admits that he was the person responsible for getting her back into the studio for Ace of Blues. As she writes in the liner notes: “My dear husband looked at me and said, shortly after my 76th birthday: ‘Look, don’t you think it is time for you to make a record? I think your fans would like to hear from you…’”

Caught off-guard she reminded him that she hadn’t written any new material since putting her last CD in the can more than a decade ago. “I kinda said what I wanted to say about my life and my experiences on my previous albums,” she says now. When Bob suggested she devote the new work to paying tribute to her biggest influences, however, and added that she revisit lesser known tunes from the artists’ catalogs, she agreed.

“I thought: ‘That’s a pretty good challenge…to find a song that hadn’t been overly exposed,” she says. “Bob’s a very smart man…obviously!”

Opening with “Two Steps from the Blues,” the song that put Bobby “Blue” Bland” on the map in 1962, the disc also includes works from Elmore James, Chuck Berry, Rush, O.V. Wright, Muddy, Wolf, Rush, Otis Clay, Milton and gospel great Dorothy Love Coates.

And even though most of the songs were born in Chicago or Memphis, all of the new readings are imbued with a Texas feel. The sole original is “SRV,” Angela’s loving tribute to Stevie – a number that Angela struggled for years to write because she felt it so important to get the words just right as she expressed how much Vaughan truly meant to her as both a musician and friend.

Preparation for the recording also took a while because of the time Strehli needed to become comfortable with unfamiliar material – something that would have been far easier if she’d recorded standards.

Tying everything together on the disc is outstanding fretwork by longtime friend and frequent bandmate Mighty Mike Schermer along with two different backing bands. And all of the vocals were recorded at the same time as the musicians.

An added bonus is the packaging, which is loaded with personal memories and photos. And if you’re a vinyl fan, it’s even more special thanks to Angela sharing 12 pages of photos taken during her Austin years. The album is even more special, she says, because it’s the first release in the rebirth of the Antone’s imprint thanks to its current owner, New West Records.

For Strehli, life truly has come full circle!

Check out Angela’s music by visiting her website, And while you’re at it, check out what’s happening at her club,, too!

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


 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8 

imageLarkin Poe – Blood Harmony

Tricki Woo Records – 2022

11 tracks – 42 minutes

Sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell have released their eighth album starting with their first release in 2014. The sisters are originally from Calhoun, Georgia but have relocated to Nashville to aid their careers. Rebecca plays guitar and keyboards and provides the lead vocals. Megan plays lap steel and resonator guitar and does harmony vocals. Rebecca’s husband, Tyler Bryant of the band Tyler Bryant and The Shakedown, produced the album and plays bass, keyboards and adds programming. The remainder of the band consists of Tarka Layman on bass, Kevin McGowan on drums and percussion, Caleb Crosby also on drums and percussion, Mike Seal on B3 and Wurlitzer, and Trissa Lovell provides harmony vocals. The band’s name, Larkin Poe, originates from a distant relative who was a cousin of Edgar Allen Poe.

Eleven originals, some written by the sisters or co-written with others, encompass southern rock, soul and the blues. On this album they are improving on their storytelling and on a few songs perhaps expressing some home sickness and reminiscing about their growing up in Georgia.

The album opens with a swampy story of murder and lies on “Deep Stays Down” that starts quietly and erupts at its conclusion. The song opens with the lyrics “There’s a bullet in the gun / The gun went missing / Suspicion blew up like a shotgun shell/ Zipping Your Lips” which seems to address the rise of violence in America and the unwillingness of individuals to come forward with information. With an underlying fuzzed guitar on “Bad Spell” and a tale of infidelity, Rebecca declares “You got me ringing like a doorbell” but concludes he has her hooked saying “…you know I can’t resist a bad spell over me”.

“Georgia Off My Mind” is the first of the songs looking back to their Georgia roots. Rebecca cites “Back where the sound is so sweet and clear / Where The folks I love still hold me so dear / I gotta catch a southbound train out of here.” Looking forward, Megan’s slide guitar accents the sister’s desire to “Strike Gold” and states “Burning Rubber / Coming In hot / Call it stubborn / Give it all that I’ve got”.  “Southern Comfort” examines the things she misses about home and declares “I’m missing that Southern Comfort / Deep water, I’m going under”.  The final song focusing on the sisters’ background is the title cut, “Blood Harmony” which is a heartfelt homage to their musical heritage. “God gave mama a singing voice / and she passed it off to me.” “More than flesh / More than bone/ when you sing / I don’t sing alone.”

On “Bolt Cutters & The Family Name”, the band rolls out a ZZ Top styled boogie as Rebecca defiantly proclaims, “You can take me out of the fight / but you can’t take the fight out of me”. Megan’s slide guitar dominates “Kick the Blues”, an all-out rocker guaranteed to get your blood pumping as Rebecca tells you “Get up baby, get up / I wanna see you rock n roll / C’mon and let it all loose”.

“Might As Well Be Me” sets itself off as a slow, soulful emotional reach to a hurting lover. Offering a break from the rush of the previous songs, the song stands out on the album.  Rebecca coos “Trouble weighs on you lately / It’s there in your eyes / And it’s driving you crazy / Let me Inside”.

Immediately following the softer sound of the previous song, Rebecca’s ripping guitar battles it out for prominence on the powerhouse southern rocker “Summertime Sunset”.

The album closes back in the swamp where it started with haunting vocals telling a tale of going to “meet my maker” as the woman in the tale asks, “Lay my heart on the altar good lord / Such a weight, such a weight / I have paid with pain for my every dollar”.

Expressive vocals, tight guitar work with similarities to that of Susan Tedeschi and perhaps some touch of Bonnie Raitt, and excellently considered lyrics make this an album a winner and shows a continued growth for the talented twosome.

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 – 2 of 8 

imageJohnny Rawls – Going Back to Mississippi

Third Street Cigar Records

10 tracks/40 minutes

Recorded in Denmark and Ohio, Going Back To Mississippi is Johnny’s 21st release and with this album he used a great German trio of musicians the Özdemirs, which is their family name; Erkan on bass and sons Kenan on guitar and Levent on drums are joined by Italian Alberto Marsico on Hammond organ. Byron Harris, Jr., fills in on drums for a couple of tracks. Peter Buhi on trumpet, Johan Bylling Lange on tenor sax, Mike Williams on sax, and Travis Geiman on trombone comprise the horn section, and they are also darn good.

“Midnight Train” opens the album, a gritty soul blues about leaving his woman with no return.  Johnny tells her in no uncertain terms that it’s over in this very cool number with some stinging guitar licks. “Reap What You Sow” is another relationship cut telling his woman she’s going to miss him as she gets what she deserves. Another fine soul number with more great guitar along with horn and organ support.

The title track has a driving groove going and some really nice guitar work. Rawls sings with passion about his home state as the guitar offers some tasty licks in support. The horns shine and help drive the song along smartly. The ballad “If You Ever Get Lonely” is next with Rawls letting his woman know she’s always welcome to call on him. The trumpet, piano and organ are subline and help set the mood.

The bouncy “I Got It” follows, a fun number where Johnny lets his woman know he’ll always be there for her, because, “If you want it, I got it.” There’s some pretty and restrained guitar and horns that are a great part of the mix. “Nooki Nooki” is another fun song where Johnny asks what the song’s title means. He doesn’t know what it is but it sure feels good to him, so I guess he’s figured it out!

“Your Love” features Ramona Collins with Rawls is a really outstanding, soulful duet. Classic soul done right. Then it’s “Amazing Love,” another great love song with Rawls telling his women what her love means to him and how he could never live without her. Both of these two cuts showcase the talents of this great soul man to enthrall the listener.

The funk gets let loose with “Straight From The Bottle” with some help from Elvin Bishop. We get some pretty slide guitar here along with some down-home, juke joint funk. The final cut is a super boogie woogie tune entitled “Love Machine.” Marsico blazes on the piano keys and the horn section does double duty as Johnny and company have a lot of fun with this song. Marsico truly shines here on the 88 keys and Johnny also seems energized as the album draws to a rousing conclusion.

This album is another feather in Rawls’ cap. The former band leader for OV Wright keeps the blues and soul alive as he dazzles the listener with ten original tracks. Johnny shows us he still has got it as he give it his all on this fantastic set of tunes. I loved it and any soul music fan will, too!

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 – 3 of 8 

imageRichard Gibbs – Just For Me

The Sirens Records

11 tracks – 44 minutes

Chicagoan Richard Gibbs has literally spent his entire life perfecting his craftsmanship. His mother and father were considered gospel royalty. Both were members of touring gospel groups. His mother, Inez Andrews toured with The Caravans in the 1950’s and 60’s and his father, Richard Gibbs Sr.  toured with The Soul Stirrers but died when Richard was only two years old. Richard traveled with his mother on her tours and was exposed to the music of the church. At age 3, he became infatuated with the organ when he first heard John Green performing on it at the Redeeming Church of Christ.

He started playing the organ at age 7 at the Nazarene Deliverance Church of God and continued playing there for the next ten years. His first professional exposure was when at age 13 he accompanied his mother in a New York performance. In 1979, he moved to the Central Baptist Church where he has regularly played now for over 40 years. He has of course, been a guest at numerous other churches over the years.

He attended Chicago State University for two years but quit when Edwin Hawkins hired him to tour with his band.  he also toured as a member of Billy Preston’s band. But the major portion of his touring life was a 20-year tenure as the keyboard player for Aretha Franklin. With Aretha, he played at The White House and appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show four times. He currently tours with The Blind Boys of Alabama. His skill has also made him a highly sought-after studio musician. He is credited on over 70 recordings by many of the top artists in the gospel genre including Mavis Staple.

While focused on the organ, Richard is also skilled on the piano and bass. He plays all three instruments in the recordings on this album. Kenard Pulliam plays drums on all tracks. On seven of the songs, the music is solely from those two individuals. Nine of the eleven songs are instrumentals with the remaining two with guest vocalists Denise Rutledge on track 4 and Clyde Brown on track 10 with backup vocalists listed as Just Friends (Gus Lacey, Chuck Lacey, Janice Gilmore, Lorie Smith, Joni Montgomery and Patricia Hill) on both tracks. On the final track, Richard steps aside to allow his 18-year-old son Richard Gibbs III the opportunity to show his talent on organ and bass.

The album is dedicated to his mother and to Aretha. The songs are the music he has accompanied many times with each of those performers and is played as they would have expected him to play for their vocal performances. But now it is his time to shine with the instruments the center of the performance. So, are you ready to go to church?

The album opens with the upbeat organ driven “The Healer”. The piano is featured at the start of “I Am on the Battlefield for My Lord” and blends with his organ for a very bluesy number. “The Old Landmark” brings the swing reminiscent of “When the Saints Come Marching In”. Denise Rutledge is a very old family friend and provides classic gospel touches to “Mary, Don’t You Weep”.  “Precious Memories” again blends the organ and piano for a solemn song. The smooth “Just For Me” which was written by his mother has a brief taste of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”.  Next up is the well-known “What A Friend We Have in Jesus” followed by a piano lead on “God Will Take Care of You” with the organ providing an undercurrent. “You Are Going to Need Somebody on Your Side” provides a nice jazzy addition. Richard teamed with vocalist Clyde Brown for the composition of “Whisper a Prayer”. Another long-time friend of Richard’s, Al Willis adds guitar and Daniel Witherspoon provides strings and the tambourine to provide a very full sound. And as noted earlier Richard III plays the organ and bass while his father plays piano on the final cut “Hold Up the Light”.

If you enjoy gospel music, love the sound of the organ or simply like the sound of smooth easy-going music, this album might be one that you would find enjoyable.

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 

imageMark Margolies – Can’t You See

8th Train Records

10 songs time – 31:00

This is the debut album from the Philadelphia guitar veteran Mark Margolies. He sure knows his way around his guitar as well as providing the cool vocals. Nothing sounds cluttered here, as all the instruments come through clearly, giving a stripped-down retro feel to the music. Much of it is blues with a heaping helping of jazz to attain something of a beatnik, smoky jazz joint vibe. His band mates are Dean Shot on guitar, Steve Kirsty on sax, upright and electric bass; Nick Fishman on drums, Bill Heid on piano and Mikey Junior on harmonica as well as being the producer. Mikey contributes one original song with the rest being cover songs. “Doctor Mark” also happens to be a licensed Optometrist, hence the eye chart and phoropter on the back CD cover. It also gives credence to the album title.

The title song is more of an old school cool jazz song, written by Mikey Junior. Steve Kirsty’s sax and Bill Heid on piano compliment Mark’s swinging guitar tones to a “T”. The vibe continues with a reading of an obscure B.B. King song, “Jump With You Baby”. Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good” receives a light and breezy treatment that features Mikey Junior on harmonica.

The jazzy vibe pops up on “I’m Lost Without You” by Memphis Slim, with a way cool groove. Anyone that covers the late Florida based bluesman Rock Bottom (David Clark York) is aces in my book. Mark does a good turn on one of the few songs of Rock that I’m not familiar with, “Stompin’ Our Feet With Joy”. Rock gigged around Florida and established himself as a bit of a legend in Norway where there is a club named after him. Rock was a gruff voiced singer-harmonica player, as well as a Bonafide character. Mark delivers a solid rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s (Rice Miller) “Work With Me” with Mikey doing Sonny Boy proud with his harp stylings.

Freddie King’s “Sen Sa Shun” gets a spot on presentation courtesy of Mark’s more than able guitaring. Dean Shot holds down the fort with his rock steady rhythm guitar underneath. The other instrumental, the Benny Goodman-Duke Ellington penned “Flying Home”, takes the listener to a late night New York jazz joint.

“Don’t Drive Me” is a jump blues from Lowell Fulson with the requisite flite-fingered guitar. The mellow blues of Roy Brown’s “Worried Life Blues” is enhanced by Bill Heid’s lucid piano and the sexy sax of Mr. Steve Kirsty.

What a great respite from over-produced blues records. Jazz meets blues here to form a good marriage that will give many hours of listening pleasure to the discerning music lover. Fine music that reveals the good feelings the musicians had during the recording session.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

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 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8 

imageSouth Island Rhythm Kings – Still That Way Today


CD: 13 Songs, 49 Minutes

Styles: Classic Electric Blues, Ensemble Blues, All Original Songs

Have you made New Year’s resolutions? If so, have you kept them until now? If so, that’s fantastic. If not, fear not. You’re not alone. Old habits die hard, and as Canada’s South Island Rhythm Kings know well. “I’m Still That Way Today,” admits “Lazy” Mike Mallon regarding his lack of savvy with money and women, on the catchy title track of his band’s latest album. It consists of thirteen “classic electric blues” songs which live up to the descriptor on the back cover of the CD. Instrumentally, traditional styles (e.g. Chicago and Piedmont) and instruments (harp, guitar, bass, keys and drums) reign supreme. Vocally, the Rhythm Kings sound like your best and most trusted neighbors – candid and conversational, inviting you for a feast even if it’s the middle of January. They’re offering up blues comfort food: “Cornbread, Peas, Black Molasses” and “Sweet Potato Pie” included. No weird entrees here with exotic musical ingredients like 21st-century synth or techno beats. This is what you need if your soul must feed.

Lead guitarist Carson Mallon reveals this quintet’s motivations in the CD liner notes and on their website: “It has been said the blues is a language we all speak. From an empty wallet to a cold side of the bed, we all experience the blues in some way. It is the expressions, or the dialects, that vary from region to region. The searing slide guitar of the Mississippi Delta, the swamp-ridden Louisiana Blues, the uptown horn arrangements of Texas and the West Coast, the soul-stirring electrified harmonica from Chicago; these sounds have gone on to influence the world of music for decades. It is from these traditions that the South Island Rhythm Kings draw their inspiration. In a modern world of digital excess, this is a group of musicians who present a repertoire of old-school, real-deal blues music. You will not find any meaningless virtuosity on the new recording, only the pure expression of blues being reared on the stretch of Highway 1 from Nanaimo down to Victoria.”

The South Island Rhythm Kings are leading man “Lazy” Mike Mallon on lead vocals and harp; Carson Mallon on guitar and lead vocals for tracks six, eight and thirteen; Dan Dube on keys and background vocals; Nick Dokter (no typo) on drums and background vox, and special guests Jack Lavin (producer) on bass and Sean Kilback (recorder, mixer and master) on guitar.

Out of this tasty baker’s dozen, the most savory are the opener/title track, “You Drink Too Much Booze” (a sing-along more contagious than you-know-what), the sizzling “Someday,” the no-holds-barred slow blues masterpiece “I Live Out in the Country,” and “Sweet Potato Pie.” The best of all, however, is a swing blues number entitled “Don’t Go Away Mad (Just Go Away).” That title made this Gen X’er LOL and want to get out on the dance floor. It features killer guitar from Sean Kilback and a refrain that won’t get out of your head – possibly until summer. Although their vocals may grate a bit, as on “No Naggin’ No Draggin’, this is a minor flaw.

Make listening to this album one of your habits in 2023. The South Island Rhythm Kings remind me why I loved the blues twelve years ago, and I’m Still That Way Today!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8 

imageLittle Freddie King – Blues Medicine

Made Wright Records – 2022

10 tracks; 42 minutes

Little Freddie King has led an eventful life, having been involved in stabbings, shootings, a near fatal bike accident, a serious stomach ulcer and the 2005 hurricane. Despite all that, he remains one of the last New Orleans bluesman and, at 82 years of age, delivers a new album for which he wrote eight new songs in collaboration with drummer and producer ‘Wacko’ Wade Wright. Freddie plays guitar and sings, accompanied by his regular band: drummer Wade, Robert J Snow Sr. on bass and Robert Louis Di Julio on harp, plus occasional keys, sax and slide guitar from Ricky Stelma, Dominick Grillo and Vasti Jackson respectively. The set was recorded in New Orleans and sounds a very relaxed and engaging occasion.

Opener “Crazy Woman” sets out the stall for the disc with relaxed keys, harp and guitar before Freddie enters with his world-weary vocals – a classic blues shuffle. “Two Timer” is a similarly relaxed tune with rolling piano and harp work and sax makes its sole appearance on “Coke No Ice”, a relaxed instrumental with some fine piano work; a second instrumental, the busy “Two Wheel Cadillac”, closes the album with some excellent fretwork from Freddie. “We Are Through” has a gently funky base from Wade’s use of the drum rims as the main sort of percussion beneath Freddie’s vocals which describe a relationship that has clearly run its course. The harp has a prominent role alongside the piano on the more uptempo shuffle “Don’t Worry About Me”, a title that is apparently intended to reassure as Freddie intends to go “play in New Orleans, buy myself a gun, all the other men they got themselves one”! Some of the songs seem to be autobiographical, like “Fatherless”, Vasti Jackson’s slide work the perfect accompaniment for such a sad tale; “Canal St Corner Bar” is a slice of life in New Orleans, described by Freddie as “just another night in paradise”, a somewhat ironic comment given the drunken revelries described!

There are two covers included: Jimmy Reed’s “Caress Me Baby” and, perhaps more surprisingly, Hank Williams’ “Dust On The Bible”, Freddie’s down home version of the two songs simply demonstrating that blues and country are never as far apart as we might think. This is classic blues without any shredding or rock influences, as befits a Southern gentleman in his eighties.

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 

imageJohn Lee Hooker – The Healer

Craft Recordings

10 Tracks – 41 minutes

Originally released in 1989 on Chameleon Records, The Healer quickly became the highest charting album of John Lee Hooker’s storied career. Out of print for more than ten years, Craft Recordings has reissued the album as originally formatted. After years of lurking out of the limelight, the blues legend was matched up with a number of high-profile guests, all of whom worshiped Hooker and his influence on their music.

One highlight of the album is that Hooker never gets pushed to the background, or overshadowed by his musical compatriots. Credit for keeping the spotlight on him goes to Roy Rogers, who produced the album along with adding his guitar to several tracks, a role he handled as a decade-long member of Hooker’s band at the time.

The title cut gets the party started, surrounding Hooker with a deep Latin-tinged rhythm punctuated by Carlos Santana’s guitar licks. While Hooker conveys the healing power of the music with his vocal, the track glides along thanks to the stellar accompaniment of members of the Santana Band – Chepito Areas on timbales, Armando Peraza on congas, and Ndugu Chancler on drums. The unsung hero is Chester Thompson on keyboards and synthesizers, creating an ethereal mood with flute-like tones that are a sharp contrast to Santana’s stinging attack.

Next, Hooker dusts off one of his classic songs, “I’m In The Mood,” joined by Bonnie Raitt. Their lusty duet goes way down in the alley, and Raitt’s slide playing reminds you of how good she has always been on guitar. It is a stunning track that took home the 1990 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Recording, the first Grammy in Hooker’s career.

“Baby Lee” has Hooker trading licks with Robert Cray over a rumba groove laid down by Richard Cousins on bass and Scott Matthews on drums. He sounds right at home on “Think Twice Before Your Go,” backed by the members of Los Lobos. Cesar Rosas and David Hidalgo tear it up on guitar, with Hidalgo adding a touch of sweetness on his accordion. Another fine moment finds George Thorogood and Hooker alone with their guitars on “Sally Mae,” with Hooker singing about love troubles while they conjure up the primal sounds of Hooker’s earliest records.

In 1971, the bluesman released the double album Hooker ‘n Heat, recorded with Canned Heat, who had scored several hit records with blues songs. The remaining living members of the band – Henry Vestine on guitar, Larry Taylor on bass, and Fito de la Parra on drums – back Hooker along with Rogers on an uptempo romp through “Cuttin’ Out,” with the singer heading out on a train ride towards a better life. Hooker’s exhortations are nicely framed by fills from Charlie Musselwhite’s harmonica. Rogers and Musselwhite return on “That’s Alright,” another dark, moody track that epitomizes the Hooker sound. Musselwhite blows streams of mournful tones over the intimate dialog between the guitars of Rogers and his boss.

The final three tracks remind listeners of the essence of Hooker’s legacy. “Rockin’ Chair” finds him alone with his guitar, promising that he will be a fool no more as he tries to rock his blues away. His richly textured performance mixes gritty tension with beautifully crafted imagery. Taylor and de la Parra back the master om “My Dream,” a touching, country-tinged lament over a lost love.

The closing number, “No Substitute,” finds Hooker playing a 12 string guitar, giving the music a brighter sound. As he plays and taps his foot, he tellingly sings about past sins that have lead to realization that love is all that matters. It is a fitting ending for an album that thankfully brought Hooker a new, well-deserved measure of world-wide attention while confirming that his ability to create powerful music had not diminished with time. Undoubtedly one of the first albums to lean on the “guest appearance” concept to increase the album’s marketability, The Healer has staying power as a true highlight of Hooker’s long career. Make sure you grab a copy if it is not already part of your blues collection!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying the sun and retirement. He is the past President of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and a former member of the Board of Directors for the Blues Foundation. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years – just ask his wife!

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8 

imagePatrik Jansson – Game Changer

Sneaky Foot Records

11 songs time – 50:05

This will be my third time reviewing the Swedish guitarist-singer-songwriter and in this instance he is close to a one-man band as he plays everything except horns and harmonica. This is still primarily a guitar focused endeavor, an instrument that he is very adept at. I guess I would refer to his vocals as serviceable and appropriate for the largely rock attitude he infuses in the songs. As usual he wrote all the songs. The subjects are mainly the affairs of the heart, good or bad. He visits various genres, at times blending them.

Things get off to a heavy-handed and noisy start on “I Still Want You”. He tears off some blistering, distorted guitar over a wash of Hammond organ. His vocal here is commanding. A bit of horns appear near the songs end. Mellow, ringing guitar support rather mundane lyrics on “A Wonder Of Nature”, a loving description of his love. Intense soloing brings the song to an end.

Lovely, distorted slide guitar dukes it out with Jesper Larsson’s wandering harmonica in the energetic “Feel Bad Boogie”. The first of two instrumentals, “Rays Of The Sun”, sees Leslie guitar floating out soothing melodies. The other instrumental, “Something’s Got To Give”, surveys funk territory with guitar cutting through the horn onslaught that features a sax solo by Tommy Scheller that ignites as it progresses.

Ya Man! He has the reggae vibe down pat via the chunky rhythms, organ and horns to achieve a believable reggae sound in a tune about appreciation. The narrator tells his girl to buzz off in no uncertain terms that is punctuated by fleet-fingered guitar action on the forceful “Leave Me Alone”. A Rolling Stones influenced “herky-jerky guitar rhythm infuses the funky “Got To Take A Stand”. More Leslie guitar and a prominent bass create an urgent quality on “Hurts To See You Go”. Patrik takes it out on an atmospheric and pensive note with “Know Where I Belong” as he squeezes out every emotion from his guitar.

Even with him handling most of the instruments, Patrik still maintains a sturdy, mainly rock, blues-rock foundation. His music is approached in a professional manner, with attention to every detail due to Patrik’s production skills. If gritty, and at times soul-searching music appeals to you, you have come to the right place.

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.

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