Issue 17-6 February 9, 2023

Cover photo © 2023 Roman Sobus

 In This Issue 

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Breezy Rodio. We have six Blues reviews for you this week including a blues book by Marina Bokelman and David Evans plus new music from Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Dale and the South Woodlawners, Eric Demmer, The Fat James Band and Sweet Bourbon. Scroll down and check it out!



 Featured Interview – Breezy Rodio 

imageAs any bluesman will tell you, once the music grabs you, there’s nothing you can do to break its spell. And that’s the case for Breezy Rodio, a gifted, guitarist who emigrated from Italy to Chicago, where he’s worked his way up through the ranks and established himself as one of the most distinctive and inventive artists in the city.

Now in his mid-40s and someone who’s spent more than half his life in the Windy City, Breezy had just returned from a whirlwind tour across South America and was relaxing at home on a bitterly cold, snow-blown afternoon when Blues Blast caught up with him recently.

“I’m staring out the window, and it’s coming down hot…but it is what it is!” said the man whose music can take the chill out of the most brutal of winter days. Born in Rome in 1980, he moved on his own to the States at age 16 and grew up and was educated in the city.

“I don’t come from a particularly musical family, but I was always sensitive and drawn to it as a child – especially hard rock. I always enjoyed the melody, catchy tunes and stuff,” observing that “some people are touched by music, and some people don’t care.”

Rodio picked up the six-string for the first time at age 12 and took classical guitar lessons. But his focus began to change through his burgeoning love of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Iron Maiden and others – something, in hindsight, that might have laid the foundation for the path he walks today because most of those group started out playing in styles rooted in the blues.

Listen to Breezy play today, however, and it’s virtually impossible to detect any of that early influence because of an attack that’s chockful of crisp, original, single-note runs and fat tone that incorporates lump, swing, jump and funk elements gathered from the Windy City tradition. It’s an attack that he brands as “Chicago West Side modern blues.”

While most guitarists tinker with tone and sound for years before finding a comfort zone of their own, Rodio remains eternally grateful because he settled into his early in his studies, noting: “My passion for made a difference when I really started to dig in and learn how to play. I spent ten, 12 hours a day – maybe more – at it, something I did for years until I started gigging regularly.

“I was possessed by the guitar – and obsessed with practicing! And it really was an obsession…I need to practice, I need to learn…You feel the pressure of learning and improving, and you can’t stay away from it.”

When attending Concordia University in suburban River Forest, Breezy notes, he took part in a yearlong foreign-exchange program at a sister school, Roskilde University in a suburb of Copenhagen, Denmark, “and my roommates were all saying: ‘This dude is fucking insane!

“‘He takes his guitar to the bathroom!’”

At age 17, his love for rock began taking a backseat to the blues else hearing Stevie Ray Vaughan for the first time and falling in love with the way he played. “I got hooked!” he remembers. “If you asked me back then, I’d tell you I wanted to play like Stevie. I spent a couple of years idolizing him – and then I discovered Albert King. That was a life-changer!” – not surprising because Albert was Stevie’s biggest influence.

Rodio freely admits, however, that as much as he loved Stevie back then, his tastes have changed. Today, he prefers the stylings of Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie’s older brother.

In truth, however, Breezy’s no copycat. His chops on the six-string are his and his alone, something that’s even more distinctive because of the power he generates by picking with his thumb rather than a pick or other fingers.

imageIt’s a technique he polished during his formative years in city, when he had the good fortune to study with four of the most tasteful and stylish musicians Chicago has to offer: Billy Flynn, a Grammy winner for his playing in the movie Cadillac Records, Johnny Burgin, who cut his teeth on the West Side of the city with Tail Dragger as Rockin’ Johnny before launching a career of his own, Guy King, a transplant from Israel who’s a master at both blues and jazz, and Joel Patterson, whose skills bridge those artforms, Western swing, old-school country and more.

“I always wanted to get out of the pentatonic box (the old one-four-five),” Breezy says. “And they showed me how to jazz things up by throwing in bebop and jazz licks. They’re all special players with their own musical vocabulary. And I was always asking ‘em: ‘Hey, man, how do you do this?’…‘Show me how you play this…’”

He picked up even more through osmosis by watching other Windy City talents perform, especially Lurrie Bell, and he claims to be Lurrie’s No. 1 fan. He draws other, diverse influences from Nat King Cole, Ray Charles, guitarists from the golden age of Chicago blues in the ‘50s and ‘60s and early reggae artists, too, a list that includes Gregory Isaacs, Dennis Brown, Bob Andy and Desmond Dekker.

“I do know there are guys (guitarists) out there who can chop my head off in a minute,” Rodio admits. “But you know what? What I do…they can’t touch me because I do what I do — and I’m the best at it!

“For me, it’s being classy and powerful at the same time. I’d rather please people’s ears than wow them by being flashy and playing a lot of notes at one time. And I’m not a Wes Montgomery kind of guy, incorporating chords into the melody. To be honest, I don’t know if I’d be capable of doing that on a solo (chuckles). Maybe I’ll learn it some time.”

Breezy’s first work as a professional came while living in New York during a year away from college in the late ‘90s. He hooked up with Inventing Eve — a pop group that gigged in Queens and Manhattan – after an audition but became a fulltime member of the Chicago blues community in 2000, when he returned to the city and took a part-time job to help fund his studies.

And what a job it was! He became the doorman at Blue Chicago, a Near North nightspot that’s booked blues acts seven nights a week since 1985. It was there that he captured the interest of Linsey Alexander, a real-deal bluesman and Delmark who’s been a fan favorite since relocating from Mississippi in the ‘50s.

Rodio credits Linsey — who bills himself as “The Hoochie Man” and remains a top draw across town at age 80 – with instilling in him the deep sense of rhythm that infuses his play today.

“He’s a character, a natural-born entertainer,” Breezy says. “People are mesmerized by his look, his facial expressions and stuff. For a good year, I was at the door when Linsey was working…every Tuesday and every other weekend…just watching him day after day. I absorbed his repertoire – which is huge. He knows a gazillion songs – soul, R&B and blues!”

Apparently, the other doorman, Lorenzo, told Alexander that Rodio played. But he was unable to bring him to the bandstand because of a house rule that barred employees from the stage.

image“Then one day, I bumped into him at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted,” Breezy remembers, “and he called me up. He was really happy with the way I sounded.

“A couple of days later, he phoned me and said: ‘Hey, man, I’m going through some changes, and I’d like to hire you to play guitar for me – but I need you to learn my material first.’ It took a few months, during which I sat in, before I gave my notice.

“And three years later, I became his bandleader.”

Their partnership endured for almost a decade, during which they played as many as 300 nights a year, traveled extensively across the U.S., Europe and South America and recorded four CDs: the self-produced If You Ain’t Got It and with three Delmark releases that followed, Been There Done That, Come Back Baby and Two Cats.

But their professional relationship did get off to a rocky start.

“There’s a saying: ‘You learn the hard way, you learn the right way,’” Breezy says. “And with Linsey, it was definitely the hard way!

“He was very funny on- and off-stage, cracking jokes. But onstage, he turned into a scary bandleader, fucking with the musicians all the time, especially the guitar player. The music had to be perfect…no mistakes, no hesitation, and you had to have a really good ear, and I’d get yelled at all the time.

“The first two years were rough, and then things changed. In 2013, we had a fantastic tour all over Europe with Nellie ‘Tiger’ Travis and Harmonica Hinds…40 cities in 35 days – or something like that. And he made me his bandleader.”

Rodio’s early struggles were self-defeating – so much so, in fact, that he considered quitting music altogether even after he’d formed his first band and started hustling his own gigs. He became so distracted that Linsey suggested they take a break for a while, wished him well and sent him out on his own.

Fortunately, however, he his struggles caught the attention of his friend and drummer, Kevin Patrick, who borrowed a line from a Bob Marley song and told him: “Breezy, your train is bound to glory. You just have to stay on it!”

Rodio took the words to heart.

“Being a fulltime musician is not easy,” he insists. “Being a fulltime blues musician is even harder. You see all your friends getting good jobs, getting married, buying a house – and you can’t do all those things unless you’re a superstar, which I’m not. So it’s real easy to give up.”

It took a few words from another friend, Gerry Hundt, the multi-instrumentalist who spent years as a member of Nick Moss & the Flip Tops, to convince him to continue on the path he walks today.

“Gerry Hundt and I were at the Green Mill (a legendary jazz club in Uptown) one night watching Joel Patterson play, and he told me: ‘You just have to keep doing what you’re doing, Breezy. Eventually, there’s gonna be emptiness — a lot of space — around you because people give up.

“’All you have to do is outlast them all.’

image“That idea stuck with me. I wrote song about it…‘Gerry Told Me.’ It’s cut No. 10 on my latest album, Underground Blues.”

Taking Patrick and Hundt’s words to heart, Breezy recorded his first album, Playing My Game Too, in 2011 with backing from several of his personal favorites, including Linsey, Lurrie, Rockin’ Johnny, Guy King, bassist Bob Stroger and guitarist Dave Herrero, too, an all-star offering that was graced by appearances from Spanish harp player Quique Gomez, keyboard player Marty Sammon and a full horn section, too.

A second self-produced disc, So Close to It, followed in 2015, reaching as high as the No. 2 spot on Roots Music Report’s Chicago chart and featured top Windy City blues talent: Lurrie, harp player Billy Branch, keyboard players Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi and jazzmen Chris Foreman (organ), Art Davis and Bill Overton (horns). It proved so successful that it enabled Rodio to launch multiple tours across Europe and South America along with appearances in Canada and Mexico, too.

The Chicago music community is a special place, he says gratefully. “When you get to know guys and they see you’re passionate, that you have potential and you’re a nice person, they’ll be on your CD to support you…they’ll keep it real and help you.

“Coming from out of town, all those guys were legends to me. Now, they’re friends. It’s more than a family…it’s blood. We’re bound together by music.”

The same year, working as Breezy Rodio and the Coolers, he released Strange Situation, an all-original reggae effort. But he eventually came to realize that some fans wouldn’t understand mixing reggae and blues on the bandstand and he made the decision to stick to blues fulltime.

It proved to be a good choice because, thanks to a helping hand from Alexander, he signed with Delmark a year later. Without knowing it at the time, he was the last artist signed to the label by Bob Koester — who’d founded it in 1953 – prior to turning it over to its current owners, Julia A. Miller and Elbio Barilari.

He made his debut with Sometimes the Blues Got Me in 2018, which hit the street just prior to the management change. It was recorded in less than eight hours – a feat Rodio credits to producer Steve Wagner, a superstar in the control room for Delmark from the ‘60s until his retirement a few years ago.

“Steve’s one of those guys who feels the blues,” says Breezy – who earned a Blues Blast Music Awards rising star nomination after its release, noting that Wagner – who was in the studio for three Rodio CDs — possesses uncanny vision when it comes to recognizing that a first or second take is so good that it’s unnecessary to try for a “more perfect” new one because more attempts often produce less feel.

“I’ve come to understand that what I call a ‘mistake’ really isn’t. It’s just something that I feel I could do better. But Steve’s able to just close his eyes, listen to the groove and know instinctively if all the right ingredients are there. When he says ‘trust me, let’s move on,’ I know he’s right.”

Rodio’s follow-up, If It Ain’t Broke Don’t Fix It – which was supervised by Miller and Barilari, featured contributions from guitarists Kid Andersen and Monster Mike Welch and earned a spot on Living Blues magazine’s list of the Top 50 albums of 2019. He was planning a third Delmark release when the world ground to a halt during the pandemic.

“COVID changed a lot of things,” he says, “I had the material ready. Unfortunately, with all the delays and stuff, we couldn’t get together. I love the guys at Delmark, but they had other artists scheduled ahead of me and wanted me to wait.

“But I’m sure we’ll be able to collaborate together again.”

imageInstead, Breezy teamed with Anson Funderburgh and traveled to Wire Recording in Austin, where the Lone Star State legend produced and made a guest appearance on Rodio’s Underground Blues. Engineered by Stuart Sullivan and released last August, it walks the tightrope between traditional and contemporary blues.

It opens with the slow-burning “Half Way in the Devil’s Gate” before a rock-steady shuffle, “C.H.I.C.A.G.O.,” which uses the letters to spell out all the positive attributes Rodio finds in the city. Other pleasers include “Underground Blues” — a complaint about being in lockdown, “Playing My Game Too,” “That Damn Cocaine” – a bittersweet memory about trying to set an addicted friend straight, “The Asymptomatics” – an instrumental workout, “Let Me Go,” a 12/8 blues that bemoans the closing of B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted, and the autobiographical “Gerry Told Me” and “Bluesoned.”

Most recently, he also partnered with vocalist and keyboard player Joe Barr, a larger-than-life figure in the Chicago R&B scene, for Soul for the Heart, which was released on the French imprint, DixieFrog, last September.

“I’m just humbled and appreciative of all the people who like what I do,” says Breezy, who’s a very, very busy man. “I’m going to the U.K. in October to record my new album. It’s going to be all-original but not going to have any shuffles or slow blues. It’s going to be soul-blues, and I hope the old-school blues lovers won’t be disappointed.”

If you’re looking for the sound of Little Walter and Muddy Waters, you won’t find it, he advises. But if you’re a fan of the horn-drenched sounds emanating from blues bands on the city’s South Side since the ‘60s, you’ll find a lot to love. It’ll be produced by Marco Cinelli of the Cinelli Brothers, a five-time U.K. Blues Awards band-of-the-year nominee and the runner-up in the recent International Blues Challenge, and it will be released to coincide with Rodio’s already-booked 2024 European tour.

“2023 is already packed,” he says proudly. “The only month that’s still open is November. I’m about to do 20 shows non-stop in the city and then the Winter Blues Festival in Iowa on Feb. 11. Then I’ll be going to Spain on March 1 for a tour to Spain, Switzerland, Germany, France and Belgium. I’ll be in Chicago from June through September, before leaving for my fourth tour of Japan. And I’ll also be doing a little tour with Mike Zito and Albert Castiglia, too.

“I hope to see all my fans somewhere in my travels.”

Rodio also asks one small favor of all blues fans: “The music scene has changed a lot in recent years, especially in the generation of Netflix and other streaming that give you everything you want without leaving home,” he says. “People are less inclined to go out and see live music.

“But there’s one thing that people could do to help us. It may sound cheesy, but it makes a huge difference nowadays…support your favorite artists on social media. Following someone on Instagram, Facebook or YouTube doesn’t cost you anything and takes only five seconds of your time, but it makes a big difference.

“When you’re trying to book a festival, the first thing the booker will do is look at the artist’s Instagram page to see how many followers he has and then check out how many clicks he has on YouTube.”

If you’re trying to bring one of your favorite blues groups to town, this simple trick will help make it possible, he insists. Give Breezy a few clicks, too – and check out his music and where he’ll be next by visiting his website:

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



 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6 

imageMarina Bokelman and David Evans – Going Up The Country: Adventures In Blues Fieldwork In The 1960

University Of Mississippi Press

328 pages Softcover edition

Blues records were the rage in the Roaring Twenties era, and into the following decade. But as many African Americans began to migrate to the north in search of greater opportunities, the music saw a decline in interest, especially for the acoustic forms which became too down-home for many big city dwellers. Many artists plugged in, embracing the electric instruments that allowed musicians to break through the everyday noises of city life. Meanwhile, key artists like Son House, Skip James, and Rev. Gary Davis slipped into the mists of time, often presumed to no longer be of this world.

But the folk music revival in the 1950s eventually sparked renewed interest in the roots of blues music. By the mid-1960s, dedicated fans were doing extensive research that lead to journeys south to try to “find” some of these artists. In a time free of cellphones and the Internet, their work required many skills to uncover any traces or slim references that might lead to an important discovery. One might liken it to being a private investigator of the blues.

Marina Bokelman and David Evans met at UCLA, which was one of three colleges at the time that offered a degree program in Folklore. They were students in the Folklore and Mythology program, with abiding interests in music. By June of 1966, they were living together in a shack near the road to Topanga Canyon, starting to plan their first trip south to conduct fieldwork, which in those days usually meant a very dry academic approach that seemed to be the exact opposite of what you would want when applied to music, especially music that touched the mind, body, and soul. The basis for their first trip was to uncover as much information as possible about blues singer and songwriter Tommy Johnson, the author of a song that became the title of this book.

The first few chapters of the book give Evans space to explain their approach to fieldwork while Bokelman touches on how they edited their field notes. In another chapter, she reviews the cameras she used to take photographs that featured throughout the book, delving into the challenges she faced with lighting and reluctant people, and the methods she employed to overcome the obstacles. She also provides a tutorial on viewing the photos in order to help readers to process all of the important details.

Then each of the authors take a chapter to describe their life up to the point of meeting at UCLA. Born and raised in Spanish Harlem in Manhattan, Bokelman grew up surrounded by music. When her father was recruited by Howard Hughes to work in the aerospace industry, her family moved to Los Angeles. She was soon learning to play guitar, sing folk music, and began to attend shows at the famous Ash Grove club, which was the West Coast bastion for folk music. Artists like guitarist Brownie McGhee exposed her to the blues.

In his chapter, Evans starts his story with his birth in Boston. His father did well in the insurance business, allowing the family to move to the suburbs. Eventually his parents managed to get him into Phillips Academy a very prestigious private boys high school, where he quickly lost his growing interest in rock ‘n’ roll music. Once he reached Harvard University, Evans was inspired to start playing guitar and banjo. His love of the blues stems from a 1962 concert featuring Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon, and a fortunate meeting at a local record store with Al Wilson, who would go on to be a key member of Canned Heat. Also included is his remembrances of his first field trip to the New Orleans area to meet Babe Stovall and Roosevelt Holts.

The chapter entitled “Sometimes The Field Came To Us” is a chronicle of their experiences with Robert Pete Williams and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Both musicians were booked at the Ash Grove. The authors were “volunteered” to house both men, giving them a chance to get to know them, and along with Wilson, gather information that would prove fruitful in their fieldwork.

The meat of the book are the chapters devoted to two trips to the South. The first covered a span from August 10 through September 16, 1966, focusing primarily on areas in Louisiana and Jackson, Mississippi. The unique feature of this book is that their experiences are laid out in the notes that they wrote at the end of each day. It is not a story based on recollections, but actual notes detailing the arc of their daily experiences. Readers will not only learn about who they visited, what they learned, and any music that was played, but also about what they ate, the fights they had, and the often squalid conditions they endured in their pursuit. The daily reports include notes for both authors, creating a more complete record of the activity, that also entailed shopping at thrift stores for blues record that Evans would then sell by mail to help finance their ventures.

One quickly gains an immense amount of respect for both authors for the many hardships they overcame. They would spend hours trying to find a house with nothing to go on but an address and vague directions. They often arrive at someone’s home only to find they aren’t there, leading to several more attempts before finally making the connection. The couple pose as being married in order to avoid creating any unease, going so far as to buy a pair of wedding bands. Traveling with limited funds, a night’s stay in a decent hotel becomes a rare treat, with bug infested, dirty rooms or shacks the usual fare. They also have to tread carefully to avoid any suspicions of being Northern agitators for voting rights and equality for the Black population.

One might think that the daily diary would make for a boring read. But as you get deeper into the narrative, you began to root for the duo, and join in the joy when things come together, allowing them to spend time with a musician, to record some meaningful music on their portable recorder, and gather information on names and places that just may result in future rewards. They endeavor to meet their “subjects” on their own terms, striving to keep their encounters real and authentic as possible when two cultures interact.

The 1967 venture ran from August 13 until September 10, not waiting for the ceremony to award Evans with his MA degree in Folklore & Mythology for his thesis entitled “The Blues Of Tommy Johnson: A Study of A Tradition”. They first headed to check out an archive in Waco, Texas that had important details for Bokelman’s thesis work on the song “The Coon Can Game,” a blues ballad that crossed racial lines. Once they make it to Cleveland, MS, it takes plenty of cleaning supplies, bug spray and elbow grease to make the only available rental seem better than the about-to-be-condemned condition they found it in.

Highlights of this trip include a visit with Fiddlin’ Joe Martin, who regales the authors with stories about Son House, Willie Brown, and Robert Johnson. They sneak in a visit to Dockery Farm before returning to Crystal Springs, MS, managing to catch guitarist Houston Stackhouse, who was visiting the area. They manage to get some recordings of Stackhouse, who put off playing until a local funeral was well under way out of respect. Evans is delighted at meeting Mott Willis, a skilled guitar player that he considered a “missing link” between several generations of blues musicians.

The final chapters document the rest of the story for the authors. Bokelman ends going back to nature, delving into cultures in mountain regions while sharpening her skills as an herbalist and healer. Evans follows the academic track, eventually landing at Memphis State University as an associate professor overseeing their master’s and doctoral program in Musicology, specializing in southern regional music. He started the High Water Record label through the University, eventually releasing numerous LP’s and CDs of blues and gospel music. He has written extensively about the music, authored three books, including one on Tommy Johnson, and has continued to play music in a variety of settings.

This book stands as a testament to the those hardy souls who risked like and limb to travel the Southern states, and in some cases back up North, in a dogged pursuit to “rediscover” many now legendary blues artists. Because of their efforts, artists like Son House, McDowell, Davis, Skip James, and others had another opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. Thanks to this effort by Bokelman and Evans, we now have a far better understanding of what it took to pursue and enhance our knowledge of the music. A revealing look at time of change……….

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 – 2 of 6 

imageJoe Bonamassa – Time Clocks

J&R Adventures JRA92072

10 songs – 57 minutes

A guitarist with chops so distinctive that he’s become an industry unto himself, Joe Bonamassa has steadily pushed the boundaries on his most recent studio albums, redefining his playing style in different ways he’s set foot in the studio. And that’s never been more evident than on this interesting effort, which ranges from introspective ballads to balls-to-walls blues-rock guaranteed to get even his harshest critic to sit up and take notice.

Recorded at the height of the coronavirus epidemic, it was produced long-distance by Kevin Shirley, Bonamassa’s longtime partner, thanks to electronic wizardry that hooked up the board Joe was using at Germano Studios/The Hit Factory in New York City and Kevin’s at The Cave in Sydney, Australia – the end product of which was polished by Bob Clearmountain (Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen) at Mix This! in Pacific Palisades, Calif.

The uncertainties and struggles of life under COVID are reflected in lyrics that deal with anxiety and insights along with moments of deep contemplation, all of which are laid down atop expansive arrangements across multiple genres that fluctuate in depth and intensity to reflect the mood.

Like the theme, for Joe, being sequestered in Manhattan was almost a return to his beginning because, as he mentions in the liner notes, it had been 20 years since he’d recorded Blues Deluxe in the city at a time when, as a struggling artist, he was buyin lottery tickets and hoping to hit the jackpot while living on peanut butter-and-jelly sandwiches and ramen noodles.

The all-star lineup includes Steve Mackey (Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, Tinsley Ellis) on bass and Anton Fig (Bob Dylan, the Stones) and Bobby Summerfield on percussion along with Bunna Lawrie on didgeridoo with Mahalia Barnes, Juanita Tippans and Prinnie Stevens providing backing vocals. They’re augmented by Shirley on keys and percussion, Lachey Doley on piano and Rob McNelley along with The Bovaland Orchestra.

Bonamassa penned all ten tracks in partnerships with Shirley, Summerfield, James House, Bernie Marsden, Tom Hambridge, Angela Bonagura and Charlie Starr of Blackberry Smoke. The disc opens with  “Pilgrimage,” a 56-second instrumental fronted that’s similar to a cinematic mood-setter, opening quietly after a brief silence and then building in intensity to an unexpected close.

It gives way to “Notches,” a seven-minute blues-rocker with psychedelic overtones in which Joe’s strong, single-note lead lines play counterpoint to the rhythm. The lyrics describe Bonamassa’s worldly adventures and allude to difficulties encountered along the way, noting that all the paths he’s traveled lead back to his home and the blues. A blues-rock run opens “The Heart That Never Waits,” a sly tip of the hat to Robert Cray, before settling quickly into a steady, mid-tempo shuffle in which the female chorus mirror the chorus.

The music sweetens with “Time Clocks,” which opens as a ballad and builds intensity after the first verse. It’s an autobiographic number that states the singer’s never been fond of having to punch in at work and that he’s only been good at “ringing bells, kissing rings.” It gives way to “Questions and Answers,” a full-bore rocker that deals with the bitterness he’s endured because of a deceitful gal pal, a theme that bubbles under the surface of the contemplative blues-rocker, “Mind’s Eye,” which expresses exasperation and the need come to terms with both sides of the story.

Driven by a regimented military beat, “Curtain Call” follows and finds Bonamassa on acoustic for “the march of a broken soul.” Another rocker, “The Loyal Kind,” precedes “Hanging on a Loser,” a true-blue effort that features Joe on slide and comes with a honkytonk feel. “Known Unknowns,” a song of regret following failed attempts to save a relationship, brings the disc to a close.

As usual, Joe Bonamassa’s fretwork shines throughout but his lyrics are just as strong in this set. Strongly recommended for lovers of blues-rock.

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 – 3 of 6 

imageJeff Dale and the South Woodlawners – Blood Red Moon

Pro Sho Bidness

11 songs, 33 minutes

Jeff Dale is a great Bluesman. He is one of the many real deal Chicago disciples following in the footsteps of white-boy acolytes such as Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield. Having worked with legends such as Lowell Fulson, 2021’s excellent Lowell Fulson Live!, and David “Honeyboy” Edwards, award winning DVD/CD I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ that I Know: Live at the G Spot, Jeff Dale has spent over 40 years building up his dues making himself a hell of a career. On his newest record Blood Red Moon, Dale and his band The South Woodlawners lay down a fresh blast of old school informed modern Blues that vamp and stomp.

Jeff Dale sings and writes with a knowing smirk. A slightly nasally gruff tenor, Dale cleverly spins yarns about love, depression, love, love making and his sweet home Chicago. Supported by Aaron Barnes on bass, Glen Doll on harmonica, Brian Lara on drums, Derek Phillips on keys, Jon Siembieda on guitar, Steve Sax on, well, saxes, with help on a few tracks from Dane Little on cello and Elizabeth Hangan on background vocals.

Together this unit creates something fresh and familiar. It is so hard to hit that perfect balance of reverence and invention. Dale’s guitar, sometimes sliding, complemented by his band and bolstered by his clever originals do the work. The music is locked in and effortlessly tight, while never sacrificing feel and vibe.

Like some of the best Chicago Blues, the quick 11 tracks on Blood Red Moon prioritize feeling and lyrics over long jamming or extended musicality. Playing with strong locked in grooves tunes like brawling opener “You Made Your Own Bed” and rough and tumble “At the Wolf’s Door” keep the vibe moving straight and strong while Dale lays down his stories with a talking style. The slinky “Cicero” pays homage to parts of Chi-town you want to avoid. The title track brings some Dr. John Gris Gris to the mix.

Stand out track “Autumn Blues” highlights Jeff Dale’s songwriting chops. This drum-less performance brings a well written lens to seasonal depression. Like contemporaries Al Basile or Tom Hambridge and inspirational legends like Willie Dixon or John Lee Hooker, Dale brings a plain spoken everyday language to deep truths about life.

Blood Red Moon was written throughout the pandemic lock down. With song titles such as “Trouble Know Where I Live,” “Push Comes to Shove,” and “Things’ll Get Worse” it is clear Dale was processing the turmoil roiling around him. It is a testament to Dale and Company’s musicality that this record is celebratory and engaging. Seemingly incapable of being a bummer, Dale has created a salve for hard times.

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


 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 6 

imageEric Demmer – So Fine

Gulf Coast Records – 2022

12 tracks; 51 minutes

A sax player, Eric Demmer started out as a roadie and got his first big break when he joined Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown’s touring band in 1993, a gig he retained until Gate’s death in 2005, including playing with Gate on Eric Clapton’s ‘From The Cradle’ tour. Demmer’s name may be familiar from credits on recent albums by The BB King Blues Band and Tito Jackson, but this is his debut release under his own name. Recorded in Houston, Texas, and produced by Eric and Gulf Coast label boss Mike Zito, Eric handles most of the vocals and plays sax, supported by a core band of Barry Seelen on keys, Hugo Rodriguez on guitar, Dennis Delfino on bass and Jerre Jackson on drums; The Grooveline Horns (Carlos Sosa, Fernando Castillo and Raul Vallejo) add support to some tracks, additional vocals come from Darrell Lacy, Melanie Covington and Eric’s daughter Danielle. Drummer Jordan Almes replaces Jerre on three cuts, Shawn Allen adds B3 to two tracks and there are guest appearances from Mike Zito, guitarists Jonn Del Toro Richardson, Mark May, and The Funky Rick Marcel.

The song writing credits are not given on the album but all seem to be original. The overall style is at the funky end of the blues spectrum, with a few gentler tunes mixed in for variety. Opener “Don’t Talk To Me” sets the pattern with funky bass lines underpinning a horn-driven tune as Eric sings in a gravelly, semi-spoken style before delivering an excellent sax break. Jonn Del Toro Richardson plays lead guitar on “She’s So Fine” which has a snaking latin rhythm before what is the outstanding song here, “Will It Ever Be The Same”, Mike Zito taking over the vocals on a wistful Americana tune with ringing guitar and a sax solo that builds beautifully from studied start to rousing finale, the lyrics apparently inspired by the terrible events of 9/11.

Eric injects humor into songs like “What Was I Thinking”, a funk-driven tune with spoken vocals about a relationship that does not turn out as Eric expected! Similarly, Eric proclaims that “I’m A Guitar Player”, although he does not actually play that instrument, just that he is one “deep down in my heart” on a fast-paced tune with Hugo’s lead work underpinned by Jonn’s second appearance, this time on rhythm guitar. More ringing guitar features on a rocking “I’m Alright” before Eric drops the tempo for a sensitive ballad, “Start It All Again” which is probably his best vocal of the set. “Get Out Of Town” bounces along with a full horn arrangement and wah rhythm guitar, overlaid by a striking slide guitar solo from Mark May. “Let Me Go” is another ballad, but this time Eric’s vocals sound strained, the track salvaged by the sax and guitar work. “Just Can’t Wait” and “Any Day Getaway” are both funky workouts, the latter featuring Eric’s daughter Danielle whose convincing vocals work well here. The final track has a familiar title, “Have You Ever Loved A Woman” but is not the Billy Myles/Freddie King song (though it clearly takes inspiration from those familiar lyrics) and provides a fast-paced end to the album with more fine sax work over what sounds like two guitarists though only Hugo is credited.

Eric’s debut album has some fine moments and will certainly appeal to those who enjoy the funky end of the blues and strong sax work.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6 

imageThe Fat James Band – Mountains In The Sky

Rotund Records And Whitewing Music

14 songs time – 70:40

Talk about your late review, this album by the Washington State band was recorded in 1998 and 1999, but for some reason it never saw release. After the passing of guitarist-singer Fat James(James Grosvenor) and bassist Tracy Arrington, the surviving members Dave Cashin(keyboards) and Chip Hart(drums) have approved it for release. Four bonus live in radio studio tracks have been tacked on to the original album. They were basically a rock and blues-rock outfit. James possessed a forceful set of pipes to go along with his energetic guitar skills. The band supplied a very sturdy foundation for him.

The specter of Jimi Hendrix hovers over a few of the selections. The title track “Mountains In The Sky” has a bit of Hendrix attitude in the lyrics and delivery, as well as Hendrix influenced guitaring. He unleashes distorted Hendrix-like guitar on “For The Love Of A Woman”. “Sweet Dreamer”, released as a single during the band’s life, is a tribute to Jimi. They also do an eleven minute plus version of “Little Wing”, as one of the bonus tracks, that employs Hendrix-like distorted guitar and spacey atmospherics. It uniquely has the piano also assisting with the melody in the prolonged introduction.

The sole instrumental “I’ll Remember You”, is mellow and melodic. James lets loose with a very dramatic guitar assault. Dave Cashin lays down some heavy organ against James’ guitar onslaught on “Witness”. Tracy Arrington provides “thump and pluck” bass on “Should’ve Gone Left”. “Should of turned left instead of turned right”. Tracy Arrington takes the lead vocal on the funky “Tell Me Why”.

The four added songs stand up just as well as the original album. They were recorded at KNKX in the Live Room in 1995. Fat James’ strong voice gives a good showing to Otis Redding’s “Try A Little Tenderness”. “We Both Got Lucky” bounces along as a nice rocker that benefits from complimentary guitar and piano. Next up, the short “She Really Likes Me” chugs along at a brisk pace.

It is sad that two of the band members aren’t amongst us to revel in the late release of their project, but chances are this music is rising up to them in heaven. In the annals of classic rock, this stands as a solid and well performed endeavor. Ok, it doesn’t rise to the ranks of the great purveyors of the genre, but it is nothing to be taken lightly.

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

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 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6 

imageSweet Bourbon – Slippery Slopes

Self released

9 songs, 40 minutes

Live albums can bring out some of the fire and heat in the Blues. Live documents can show the true spirit of a musician and, when the crowd is right, be a testament to the electric connection between artist and audience. Countless bootlegs and poor quality albums exist from some of our favorite artists. But, when a musician plans out a live recording and makes a high quality artifact capturing their unique magical abilities live it can be pure bliss. Buddy Guy’s Live: The Real Deal, Albert King’s Live Wire/Blues Power, Albert Collins Frozen Alive! or any of Robert Cray’s consistently excellent live albums are just a few examples.

Dutch Blues Rock band Sweet Bourbon has made their career off the strength of their live recordings. Making their recording debut in 2015 with Live at Trianon, Sweet Bourbon have released their 3rd live installment in Slippery Slope. Recorded in September of 2021, Slippery Slope finds the band roughly swinging through a series of Rock flecked Blues and R&B.

Sweet Bourbon is at its core Chris Janssen on guitars, Rene Van Onna on vocals and Willem Van der Schoof on keys. Rounded with a sensitive rumble and roll is Ruben Ramirez on drums and Roeland Van Laer on bass. Always incorporating excellent backing vocals, on Slippery Slope Suzan Wattimena and Henny Oudesluijs support with nicely tuned vocal arrangements.

The performances on this set are solid. This is a tight band that is well rehearsed and has great interplay. Janssen in particular shines with a nicely crafted distortion tone and well executed lead playing. Van Onna and the background singers work well together to help bring out the sung-in-English lyrics. There is a nice hint of their Dutch accent which this reviewer always prefers to singers trying to pretend they have an American accent. It just sounds more real and natural and brings a deeper dynamic to the singing. The band works through hard charging bar Rock, syncopated NOLA inspired marching and some good 70’s styled Blues Funk. There are even a couple nice acoustic moments to offer an audio palet cleanser from the hyped up Blues Rock.

Sweet Bourbon is a really good band and clearly has some great music waiting to come out of it. Slippery Slope is performed well, but there is a little bit of fire missing. The music feels almost too restrained or distant at times. It could simply be the audio quality, which is good but gives a lot of room space. It could also be that the band was a little less loose knowing they were recording. Regardless, Sweet Bourbon rocks the Blues with style and Slippery Slope is a fun listen.

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

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