Issue 8-14 April 3, 2014

Cover photo by Daryl Weisser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue  

Marty Gunther has our feature interview with Charlie Musselwhite. Our Video Of The Week is a clip of Nikki Hill performing at Royal Garden in Trondheim, Norway.

We have six reviews for you.  Steve Jones reviews a new album from Mudcat. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD by Skriver Bjarnesen Band. John Mitchell reviews a new release by Downchild. Rhys Williams reviews a book by Ron Levy and an album by John & Sylvia Embry. Marty Gunther reviews a new CD from Soulstack.

We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

NEW ON OUR WEBSITE – Chris A brings us a review and some great photos from 2014 Experience Hendrix Tour, CLICK HERE to see them.

Also, the complete lineup for the 2014 Chicago Blues Fest. CLICK HERE

 From The Editor’s Desk  

Hey Blues Fans,

Just a quick reminder that the deadline is fast approaching to submit your music in the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards. We need to receive all your submissions by April 15, 2014.

To get complete information, CLICK HERE or see the ad below in this issue

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music! 

Bob Kieser

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 6  

Mudcat – You Better Mind

30 Miles Up (Self Released)

9 tracks

Daniel Dudeck, better known I many parts as “Mudcat,” is an eclectic and talented musician. Born on the Missisisippi River banks in St. Paul and raised in Tybee Island,Georgia, Mudcat began busking for listeners at a young age. He was schooled in the blues, roots and rock by Dickey Betts, Taj Mahal, Cora Mae Bryant, Cootie Stark and Frank Edwards. His music ranges from blues to gospel to Cajun who can make both a sacred and a secular audience feel moved. He and his band hit you full force with their bluesy Americana sound.

I counted this as his 18th release on his website. I have heard a few of them and reviewed a couple of them previously. I’ve enjoyed them all. He mixes it up on each album, giving us some fresh sounding original tunes with a really big sounding band. Eskil Wetterqvist is on drums, Lil’ Joe Burton blows trombone, Shannon Kirk is the bassist, David “Snave” Evans provides guitar, harp and flute, Chad Mason is on keys, Darul Dunn lays out some sax and Mico Bowles is on trumpet. Dudeck leads the vocals with everyone backing him and also plays guitar (including some mean slide). The slide and trombone are the two predominant elements that really sell me on his sound. The vocals are also solid and the songs and arrangements are well done, too.

Mudcat starts with a song based on the old adage, “When Mama’s Happy.” If you need to know the rest you must be from another planet. It’s a good hook tune with a nice beat and some testifying by Mudcat. The whole band gets involved early and the song becomes a Mudcat party waiting for you to join in. Big solos abound! “Calamity Jane” follows, where Dudeck sings of his bullwhacking, country girl. Filled with clichés, Mudcat still sells this with his approach. The slide sings along with him and Kirk joins in and explains who Ms. Jane is; an untamable woman with a wanderlust who can out drink any man.Burton’s trompbone solo here and other throughout are spectacular. He can blow you over or make you go aflutter with this vibrato thing he does; he and the horns are a force to be reckoned with.

“Falling” slows things down a bit. Mudcat begins with some slide and then gets into the ballad. The horns and backing vocals play along with the vocals nicely as this one progresses, and the slide solo is cool, too. “Spitting in the Eye of the Devil” starts out with a long piano intro that laments to us sweetly. Then Dudeck comes in with the band harmonizing as they all sing about his woman and these slow country blues make you sway back and forth in your seat. Dudeck then takes us to church with “You Better Mind” as he takes us to our judgment. The pace picks up and the band swings with him. Nice piano work here followed by a slick harp solo. Later we gets some slide and a flute solo and then later some pretty horn work is featured.

“Gone” follows and has an intriguing vocal angle, with long, drawn out phrasing. Good horn and guitar work on this one, too. “San Antone” takes us to Texas with a little swing as Mudcat sings and swings to us. “Commodicide” adds a funky guitar line and beat as Mudcat sings about our plight as we commit commodicide with our material ways. The organ here is a nice addition to the song and then we have some beautiful trombone. A solemn commentary on life is what we have here with this song. The CD finishes with “All Ways,” going a little more up tempo and a lot more upbeat as Mudcat sings of his love. Lots of good guitar here and the band all participates to close out a good little CD.

Mudcat’s fans will adore this one and if you are not a fan it may convince you to take notice and become one. I think this was a fun listen and well worth a spin or two! You’ll enjoy Mudcat, his band, his songs and occasional and social commentary!

Reviewer 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 work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

2014 Blues Blast Music Awards Submissions Open

It is that time again to let publicists, artists, labels and Blues industry contacts know that submissions in the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards are open until April 15th, 2014.

We will again offer you the opportunity to put your eligible Blues music releases directly into the hands of our 30 nominators for consideration in this years awards. Submissions are free and can be sent from March 1st until April 15, 2014.

The Blues Blast Music Awards honor the BEST in today’s Blues music and are voted on by music fans all over the world. This years release eligibility period is April 1st 2013 to April 30th, 2014. All music released during this period is eligible for consideration.

Complete information is at this link

2014 Blues Blast Music Awards Ceremonies Announced

Mark Your Calendars! The 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards ceremonies will be held on Thursday October 23rd, 2014 at the Fluid Events Center in Champaign, Illinois. It is a great new 10,000 sq ft facility and will be a great show!

Look for more information on hotels and artists later this year.

 Featured Blues Interview – Charlie Musselwhite  

Eleventh time’s the charm!

Charlie Musselwhite has finally taken home a Grammy after a career that spans the early ‘60s. But Charlie is nothing if not a mild-mannered, courteous, friendly and patient man.

“It was 11 nominations,” Musselwhite says with a chuckle, still enjoying the afterglow of winning Blues Album Of The Year honors with Ben Harper for their powerhouse release, “Get Up!”, on the revitalized Stax label. It was the successful pairing of old friends, the seasoned harmonica master and his cohort from the younger generation who’d already won two statuettes in other genres: Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album.

Although Charlie made an early name for himself in Chicago and has been living in the San Francisco Bay area for decades, his roots are still firmly planted in the Mississippi mud.

Born in Kosciusko, Miss., on Jan. 31, 1944, Musselwhite moved to Memphis when he was three, spending summers back in the Magnolia State with his grandparents and other relatives throughout his youth. Many members of his family still call the Hill Country home. Although not professional musicians, his father played guitar and harmonica and built his own mandolin, and his mother played piano.

“I run across some of the really old harmonica instructions that used to come with the harps he bought,” Charlie says today.

By the time he was a teenager, Musselwhite was already deeply involved in the blues. Memphis proved to be the ultimate melting pot of society, where country, Western swing, jazz, Delta blues, rockabilly and rock ‘n’ roll collided and musicians of all color shared lives and tunes.

While Elvis Presley, nine years Charlie’s senior, was across town rerecording hits by Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Big Mama Thornton, young Musselwhite was a ditch digger, laying concrete floors in cotton warehouses and doing factory work for a paper manufacturer to make ends meet.

“In the South, when you’re diggin’ dirt, it’s wet and all heavy, and you have to put it in a wheelbarrow and run it up a ramp,” he says. “And the heat and the humidity…and you were only makin’ a dollar an hour. It’s gives you an attitude. Factory work sounded pretty good after that.”

On the side, he also delivered moonshine in a 1950 Lincoln auto and immersed himself into a group of musicians most of us have only read about in history books – a virtual who’s who of folks who worked jug bands and minstrel shows – the black equivalent of the vaudeville circuit, learning more about the harmonica and life with each passing day.

“Playing in Memphis was for my own gratification…there was something in me that needed to be satisfied,” he says. “Those folks were tuned in and sensitive to things that mattered…about how you treat people and the quality of life on the ethereal level.”

Musselwhite spent time in the home of Will Shade, harp player and band leader of the legendary Memphis Jug Band. “I also spend time with Furry Lewis, Memphis Willie B., who played guitar and harp on a rack – Willie Borum was his name, Earl Bell and Abe McNeil, who were guitar players, Ray Robey, who was a fiddle player and guitar player. He was with the Memphis Jug Band, too,” Charlie recalls.

“Gus Cannon (founder of Shade’s chief competition, the Cannon Jug Stompers)…I used to go over to his place, drinkin’ with him. Everybody was drinkin’ then! It’s a bad old Southern tradition. I didn’t know it when I started, but it all had to end eventually.”

The lessons Musselwhite received in the company of those old-timers set him apart stylistically when he moved to Chicago in 1962. Like many of his compatriots, he followed Highway 51 north in search of a job that would pay the princely sum of $3 an hour.

“I’d seen various friends of mine leave and come back to visit,” he recalls. “They’d be drivin’ a brand new car – a red Oldsmobile or somethin’ – talkin’ about how great the jobs were. The pay would be good, the benefits. After a while, it seemed like I had to take that highway up North to take one of those big Yankee jobs. It was really a different world. There was so much work in Chicago, you could walk into a factory and go to work right then.

“People like Muddy and Wolf, they had 45s, and were regular musicians touring all the time. But a lot of the guys didn’t have it that good. They’d get a gig in a club and they’d work there in residency or somethin’. Then there’d be a shooting or somethin’ and they’d close it down. You’d just go to the factory and work until you could land another gig. You could bounce back and forth like that real easy.

“In the summertime, I’d drive around with my windows down. I’d find a band playin’ the blues. Sometimes some trio would come up from Arkansas to visit some relative, pick up a little gig, and then they’d be gone. You’d never see ‘em again.”

The first job Musselwhite landed was as a driver for an exterminator. “It was perfect for me,” he says, “because I learned how to get around the city right away. That’s when I saw posters and signs and things advertising Muddy Waters. I even remember seeing Elmore James’ name up on a place. I wanted to go see him, but he died before I got there.”

Soon, he discovered dozens of blues joints by sight and found others simply by following his ears.

“There was a club at 39th and Indiana called Rose And Kelly’s that was like a harmonica player’s hangout,” he recalls. “Carey Bell would be there. Good Rockin’ Charles. Shakey Horton. It was across the street from Turner’s Lounge. I’d go back and forth between the two clubs to see what was goin’ on. J.B. Hutto played Turner’s all the time.”

At the time, Chicago was dominated by dazzling group of reed-benders who, like Charlie, had migrated from the South. But Little Walter Jacobs, Big Walter Horton, Mojo Buford, Little Willie Anderson and Junior Wells, among others, had adapted their play to a more urban, electrified sound, allowing Musselwhite’s hip, but more rural offerings to stand out from the crowd.

He took up residence in the basement of the Jazz Record Mart on the corner of State and Grand on Chicago’s North Side. Still in existence today at a different location, it was owned and operated then, as it is now, by Bob Koester, founder of Delmark Records. And first generation blues superstar Big Joe Williams was his roommate and, soon, his playing partner.

“I got into a fight with Bob Koester and moved over to the old Wells Record Shop in Old Town. Then Big Joe moved over there with me, too,” Charlie says. “When we were stayin’ there, down the street was a little neighborhood bar called Big John’s that didn’t have music. There was some holiday that came up, the Fourth of July or somethin’, and they thought Big Joe was a folk singer. They didn’t know what they were gettin’ into. They asked him to come down and play, and Joe asked me to come play with him.

“That’s when everything really changed for me,” he says. “We did so well, they said ‘Come back tomorrow.’ They were sellin’ so many drinks, they really liked us. We started packing the place on a regular basis.”

After a while, he moved to an apartment on the South Side near the El tracks at 62st and Dorchester, right around the corner from Junior Wells. It was one of the most dangerous, gang-ridden neighborhoods in the city. Blackstone Street, home to the infamous Blackstone Rangers, dead-ended right at his front door.

“Boy, did it get interesting for me,” he chuckles.

But it also put him in neighborhoods where blues was king, and Musselwhite was a star ascentent.

At the time, Big Joe told an interviewer: “Charlie Musselwhite is one of the greatest living harp players. He’s right up there with Sonny Boy Williamson.” And Big Joe knew first-hand. He and the original Sonny Boy had been playing partners for years until Williamson murder in a robbery in 1948.

The pairing proved to be a blessing for the Chicago blues community in general. It happened by accident, but Charlie and Big Joe were responsible for opening the city’s wealthier North Side to the music and better paying gigs.

Williams couldn’t stay put in one town for very long, Musselwhite recalls. He’d split from time to time, leaving Charlie behind to hold down the Big John’s set, aided by a drummer, bass player and Mike Bloomfield, another future star who’d dropped by one night, sat in on piano and never left.

“It just kept gettin’ better and better,” remembers Charlie who also toured with Robert Nighthawk, Johnny Young and Hutto. “We started talkin’ to Big John’s owners about hirin’ other blues bands on the nights we weren’t workin’, and they did. Eventually, they had live blues there every night of the week.”

Previously limited to the rough-and-tumble South and West Sides, where most people of color called home, soon other clubs were emulating Big John’s and the music taking the foothold north of Madison Avenue and eventually giving birth to that clubs like the Kingston Mines, B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted and Rosa’s that rule the scene today.

At the time, the Paul Butterfield Blues Band was making major waves in the business. “I didn’t know him at first,” Charlie says. “He was playing sorority parties and things on the South Side and hanging out in some of the clubs. But quite a few times, people would come up to me and say ‘You’re Paul.’ I’d say ‘No, I’m not,’ and they’d say ‘Well, you play harmonica – you’re Paul!’”

Eventually, the two met and became friends.

After Butterfield struck gold on the Elektra label, Vanguard Records signed Musselwhite to a deal. The band proved to be an instant national success with a lineup that included young lions Harvey Mandel and Barry Goldberg on guitar and keyboards along with a pair of veterans for the rhythm second. Bass player Bob Anderson was one of the most popular sidemen in the city, and drummer Fred Below literally invented the Chicago drum sound through his work with the Chess brothers in the ‘50s. Their album, “Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band,” debuted in 1966 to rave reviews, and became a regular part of the rotation on underground radio stations in the San Francisco Bay.

It was during that period that Charlie caught the eye of a young Dan Aykroyd when playing a club near Kingston, Ontario, dressed like he always did at that time with his hair slicked back, donning a black suit, pointy-toed shoes and sunglasses. Years later, Aykroyd styled his character after Musselwhite for his performance in “The Blues Brothers.” It’s well documented that John Belushi, meanwhile, fashioned his half of the duo after Curtis Salgado whom he befriended in Eugene, Ore., when filming “Animal House.”

“That album put me on the road and gave me a career,” Musselwhite says. The band was so well received on the West Coast that he decided to pull up roots and relocate in 1967. “Blues was exotic back then…hippies didn’t know what blues was,” he remembers. “To their credit, though, they were real open to everything. So they were playin’ me on the radio and comin’ to my gigs. I remember walkin’ down Haight Street, and these hippies would know me by name.

“Here I am, comin’ out from Chicago and playin’ at the Fillmore, and there’s all this music around and all these clubs that nobody seems to know about. There was a real disconnection between them and their surroundings.”

Lowell Fulson, Little Joe Blue and several other artists already were established in the area, playing in small venues, playing to people of color. Only after Musselwhite came West, however, did they start attracting a younger, more affluent crowd of all skin tones.

Another thing that helped was the arrival of Detroit transplant John Lee Hooker. The first time Musselwhite met the boogie king at one of his gigs, they became fast friends even though Hooker was just passing through Chicago. Once Charlie relocated, it didn’t take John Lee long to see the virtues offered by California a few years later. The two men became neighbors of sorts, with the harp player in Berkeley and the guitarist in Oakland, and remained close. John Lee served as best man when Musselwhite married wife Henrietta in 1981.

Despite recording steadily through the ‘70s and early ‘80s for labels that included Cherry Red, Arhoolie, MCA, Capitol, Crystal Clear, Blue Rock’It, CrossCut and Kicking Mule and touring regularly, Charlie didn’t truly ascend into international prominence until kicking a lifelong drinking problem and signing with Bruce Iglauer’s Alligator Records in the early ‘90s. That partnership produced the hit disc “Ace Of Harps,” followed by three more solid offerings, including the introspective “The Wall” in 2010. Always in demand, Charlie’s also several recorded several more albums on Virgin, Telarc, Real World, Narada, New West and his own Henrietta label.

He’s never been shy about incorporating other forms of music into his own.

“When I was growin’ up, I would go around to any kind of junk stores, lookin’ for old blues 78s,” Charlie says. “But anything that looked interesting, I’d buy that, too. They were only a nickel or a dime apiece. So I had stacks and stacks of these 78s. Out of curiosity, I’d pick up stuff that just had weird titles or somethin’, and I discovered other kinds of music that had a feeling to it that reminded me of blues, like rebetiko from Greece, flamenco and more.

“It occurred to me that probably every culture has its music of lament, lost love, hard times. Everywhere you go, somebody’s singin’ about ‘my baby left me!’

“In touring, I’d search for the local music, go listen to some guy playin’ on the corner, then get somebody to translate what he’s singin’ about. Even though I couldn’t talk their language, we could play together effortlessly because we were playin’ from the heart instead of the head.

“Fortunately, I learned from those old country blues players in Memphis who didn’t really keep track of how many bars there were before they made a chord change, so it taught me to anticipate…oh-oh, gonna make a turn here.”

That’s pretty much how folks who don’t speak English understand the blues so well, Musselwhite says. “A lot of people hear blues…they don’t know what the words mean. But they can feel it.”

He jokes that he’s only played one song in his entire life, that he changes the key or speed to make it sound different. In truth, though, what he’s really saying is that he’s developed his own unique style.

Charlie’s no stranger to getting into the studio with folks from other musicalities, too. He’s featured Cuban Cuarteto Patria on the “Continental Drifter” CD and has recorded with INXS, Tom Waits and many others. He raves about the talent of Cyndi Lauper, with whom he recorded her “Memphis Blues” album, which remained No. 1 on the Billboard charts for 14 consecutive weeks when released in 2010. They also toured together.

But he does admit that he’d only heard her music previously when his daughter was playing it in her bedroom. It was only after he and Cyndi started rehearsing that he realized she was the person responsible for “Girls Just Want To Have Fun.”

“She started out wanting to sing blues,” he says. “Once she got popular singin’ rock, she wanted to go back to it. But her manager would tell her ‘Naw, you’re gonna lose your audience.’ She stuck with it for a long time, but finally decided to do what she wanted to do at age 57 or 58, and that was the blues.”

What’s next for Musselwhite? He’s reluctant to say, fearing he’ll jinx his plans. But he does have plenty of irons in the fire, including another solo album, possibly to be recorded in Memphis. And there’ll definitely be another disc with Ben Harper down the road.

The pair met when Ben opened for Hooker in the mid-90s, and they knew immediately that they were plugged in musically. “We knew we liked the same things,” Charlie says. “But the studio really confirmed our suspicions. It’s been quite a trip!”

But the trip ain’t over yet!

Visit Charlie’s website at:

Photos by Daryl Weisser and Bob Kieser as marked © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

Interviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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 Video – Nikki Hill  

This is a clip of Nikki Hill performing at Royal Garden, Trondheim Norway on April 27, 2013.. Click the video image above to watch the video.

You can see this rising Blues star at the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in Florida on Saturday April 12, 2014. Click on their ad below for info and tickets

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 6  

Skriver Bjarnesen Band – Nothing But Love


CD: 14 songs; 51:34 Minutes

Styles: Modern Electric Blues Rock, Rock and Roll

What is “March Madness”? Colloquially, it refers to the NCAA college basketball playoffs, but it also applies to several other things: the often-tumultuous start of spring, the end of “cabin fever,” and in this case, the arrival of high-powered blues and rock and roll from Denmark. The Skriver Bjarnesen Band has “Nothing But Love” for these styles of music and their globe-wide fans. Guitarist Henrik Skriver started working with singer Jesper Bjarnesen in 1987, forming the rock band Shotgone. They toured Danish clubs and festivals for almost a decade and released 2 CDs with fresh compositions: “Red E” in 1993 and “A Second Gone” in 1995. Shotgone split up in 1996, but they continued to work together as a duo. In 2008 they formed the Skriver and Bjarnesen Blues Band, again playing clubs and smaller venues with a repertoire of blues standards. Calling their music “blues-based rock” or perhaps more accurately, “rock-based blues,” they claim inspiration from the Allman Brothers, ZZ Top, Albert Collins, Dave Edmunds, and others. Along with bassist Michael Wedgwood and drummers Claus Daugård (winner of a Danish Grammy) and Erik Lodbjerg, the band and several special guests offer us fourteen eclectic originals. Here are three that will score the most points:

Track 04: FREETHROW: “Catch My Eye” – Even performing artists seek out entertainment from their fellow musicians, as Skriver and Bjarnesen reveal in this riveting rocker. Whom do they wish to see the most? “I’d rather see a man with a soul than a popular name who’s just a-playing a game, and his smile’s just an empty hole.” Skriver’s sizzling shredder and Martin Jonsson’s popping piano will command listeners’ and dancers’ attention.

Track 07: TWO-POINTER: “Listen To Me Baby” – With an electric-blues intro to die for and lyrics that will make one laugh and cringe knowingly at the same time, this track tells the tale of a man engaged in a failure to communicate with his lover: “Feels like climbing a mountain with your arms tied behind your back, like running 500 miles with your feet in a sack…I just can’t say a word, but I’m dying to be heard. Now give me space to get it out!”

Track 13: THREE-POINTER: “Get Along with the Blues” – Oscar Martin Eriksen guest-stars on trilling, thunderous harmonica during a spicy stomp: “We’ve been having a good time, you and me, laughing and a-joking and being free, but now it’s all over, and it’s hurting me. Because it’s someone else you choose, I’ll get along with the blues.” As with track four, this penultimate number features Erik Lodbjerg on drums. If one didn’t know this band’s country of origin, one might guess that they and “Get Along with the Blues” hailed from Chicago or Texas.

If you’ve got “March Madness” and “Nothing but Love” for blues and blues rock, check out the Scriver Bjarnesen Band!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 34 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 6  

Downchild – Can You Hear The Music?

Linus – 2013

11 tracks; 45 minutes

Canadian blues institution Downchild return with a new CD, their 17th to date. Operating since 1970 their nearest equivalent is probably Roomful Of Blues though this set contains no reworkings of older classics, as Roomful usually do. In fact all the material comes from within the band, eight from leader Donnie Walsh, two from Chuck Jackson and one from Gary Kendall. Donnie plays guitar and harmonica, Chuck sings, Gary plays bass, with Pat Carey on sax, Peter Jeffrey on trumpet, Michael Fonfara on keys and Mike Kirkpatrick on drums.

The CD opens in swinging style with the title track which rocks along wonderfully, the horns prominent, the piano dancing and the harp soloing like a third horn part – an irresistibly catchy tune for the dancers. “I’m Always Here For You” follows with another catchy tune, just a hint of New Orleans in this one, Donnie taking a solo on baritone guitar, Michael contributing a swirling organ solo and the horns again playing an integral part. There is more of a rocking blues feel to “I Need A Woman”, especially in the strong guitar solo before the pace drops for the ballad “Blue Moon Blues”, the first of Chuck Jackson’s tunes, co-written with Pete Schmidt and Shane Scott. It’s a slow blues which opens with some gentle guitar and piano beneath Chuck’s vocal before the horns come in on the second verse. The longest cut on the album affords the space for an extended guitar solo from Donnie. That NO feel recurs on “Fasten Your Seat Belt”, an apt title for a fast-paced rocker with great second line drumming from Mike, a storming sax solo from Pat and Donnie back on harp. “This Road” features Donnie on slide, Chuck’s slightly deeper voice reflecting a feeling of reminiscence in the lyrics: “Those were the days and they won’t be back no more”. Michael’s honkytonk piano adds to the old-fashioned feel on this one.

The horns are absent from the second half of the album. “Mississippi Queen” (not to be confused with the Mountain song) is Chuck’s song about travelling with an itinerant girl singer through the delta from Memphis to New Orleans. “One In A Million” is a catchy tribute to that special person in your life, a touching song with nice harmonies and the organ providing a warm blanket with Donnie’s expressive slide also a strong feature. “Don’t Wait Up For Me” is another rocker with piano and slide guitar at its heart. “Worn In” is bassman Gary’s contribution and it’s a good song with some nice wordplays: “I’m tired, but I’m not tired out. There’s spark left in my battery, throw the switch and let it out”. Donnie’s harp and Michael’s twinkling piano work very well here as the main featured instruments. The closing instrumental “Scattered” is a feature for Donnie’s harp playing as he solos over a great shuffle from the rhythm section and Michael’s piano.

This is another solid album from Downchild. As a lover of horn sections this reviewer would have enjoyed hearing more from Pat and Peter but there is not a weak track on the album, so that is a minor criticism!

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 – 4 of 6  

Ron Levy – Tales of a Road Dog – The Lowdown Along The Blues Highway

Web Book/E-Book/Print Book

512 pages

What can one say about Ron Levy? The man has been amongst the foremost musicians, songwriters, arrangers and producers of the blues world over the last 40+ years. He played piano and organ with B.B. King for seven years, Albert King for 18 months, Roomful of Blues for four years and many others besides. He was the in-house producer and/or backing musician on many of the great Black Top, Rounder and Bullseye Blues records in the 1980s and 1990s, as well as releasing a number of his own solo efforts under the Ron Levy’s Wild Kingdom banner (his first now out of print album remains one of the unheralded modern classics).

Levy has now published his first book, Tales of a Road Dog, which is part-autobiography and part-anecdotal record of the surprising number of blues legends whose paths have crossed with his.

Levy grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and started playing piano after seeing Ray Charles in concert in 1964. There must be something in the water in that part of the world: one of Levy’s classmates was Bob Margolin, later to be Muddy Waters’ guitar player. From a young age, Levy was obsessed with music and this obsession clearly continues to this day. So while he writes movingly about his family and his faith, the vast majority of the book relates to the musicians he has worked with and the albums he has played on.

While his stories sometimes confirm what is already common knowledge (Albert King, for example, was a demanding boss with a penchant for firing band members), many have not been published previously and provide an informative and entertaining insight into the personality of various legends. Otis Spann mischievously tells Levy about his secret marriage to an English princess and the castle in which they live and the Rolls Royce he drives whenever Spann makes it over to the UK. Spann then makes the young Levy swear to never tell Spann’s loving wife Lucille back home in Chicago. B.B.’s warmth and humanity is demonstrated when he warns Levy off the illicit substances with which the young pianist briefly dabbles. Nina Simone’s prejudice and racism is witnessed first hand at the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

Levy has a sardonic wit and writes well. When writing about rumours that Albert King was B.B.’s brother, he drily notes: “There were rumors they were [brothers], but B.B.’s father, also named Albert, assured me many years later, in no uncertain terms, that was not the case.”

And from a musician’s perspective, Levy provides some fascinating details about some great players. For example, while it may not be surprising that Albert King’s sense of pitch and time was “absolutely 100% perfect”, Albert’s ability on the organ may not be common knowledge, and his absolute certainty of how his music should be played is captivating. “Brother Jack McDuff taught me some cool modern jazz chords, 13ths, flat 5s, some passing tones and the like. I was so excited, I couldn’t wait to use them and show off my new knowledge. We had a little mini-rehearsal breaking in another new drummer (which was pretty routine by now) and I played some of these chords on a slow Blues. Albert suddenly stopped and went berserk. “Whut in the hell is wrong wichu? I don’t want no mutherfu*kin kinda funky jazzy ass sh*t chords on my tunes! THIS IS THE BLUES, DAMMIT! What in the fu*k is that sh*t? Damn, boy. Ain’t you loined nuttin’ from me yet? This is how you play a damn Blues chord.” He then proceeded to come over to my B-3 and play an Ab 7th chord with the b7th right below the tonic on top, with the 3rd on the bottom. He even changed the Hammond drawbar tone settings!”

While Albert was a master of improvisation, it is perhaps surprising to learn that Luther “Guitar Jr” Johnson was quite happy to play the “exact same solo, note for note, each night, once he had it perfectly honed. Each night he’d play it with intensity and conviction.”

In addition, a number of the stories are flat out hilarious, from the references to a certain drummer’s wig, to the tale of how Levy nearly joined The Fabulous Thunderbirds.

The book is available in three different formats: a web book, an e-book and a print book. All three feature 26 chapters of absorbing stories, tracing Levy’s path from his childhood in Cambridge, Massachusetts, to the current day. Five chapters are dedicated to his time with B.B. King but generally each chapter focuses on specific musicians or individuals (such as Roomful, or Hammond and Nauman Scott), on specific tours (the “Brasilian” tour) or specific periods (The Rounder Chronicles). The web book features over 2,500 photographs, over 350 embedded music video links and downloads of three of Ron’s albums: Funky Fiesta!, Best Grooves & Jams, and Mo’ Blues & Grooves (which feature guest artists such as Albert Collins, Jimmie Vaughan, Ronnie Earl, Johnnie Bassett, Sax Gordon and Smokey Wilson). Over time, Ron is adding new photos, music links and chapters. In addition, readers can email Levy directly with comments and questions. The e-book contains 50 images and the print book contains over 100 photos and both enable a download of Funky Fiesta! but no music links or additional album downloads.

Since the web book was first published in 2013, it has undergone various edits to correct some typographical errors and failed music links, as well as to add additional photographs and music. It would probably still benefit from some additional editing to link together the various stories slightly more smoothly. There is a slightly disjointed feel to some of the chapters, as if Levy has poured out his memories in relation to a specific incident but without considering how best to relate that episode in the context of the overall book. Levy does not present his life and his stories chronologically, which is a good thing in order to avoid boring the reader, but as a result it would help to have some over-arching themes to connect all the anecdotes.

Overall however this is a highly enjoyable read and recommended to all fans of modern blues. Tales of a Road Dog is passionate, humorous and intelligent, if boisterously rough around the edges. As such, it is probably a pretty fair reflection of its author.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 6  

John & Sylvia Embry – Troubles

Delmark Records

17 songs – 66 minutes

1980 was a pretty bleak year for popular music. Disco had peaked and the charts were once again filled with middle of the road songs such as Olivia Newton John’s “Magic”, Styx’s “Babe” and Air Supply’s “Lost In Love”. The future for blues looked bleak. Eric Clapton had led a depressing procession of talented players who, despite the best of intentions, were giving the genre a bad name with limp performances, flaccid recordings and over-driven, over-long and over-blown guitar solos. But even in those dark days, there were significant signs of life, of musicians going back to the basics and finding once again the driving heartbeat of real blues. In Chicago, Albert Collins released Frostbite and in Texas, The Fabulous Thunderbirds put out What’s The Word, their second album and still an all-time classic of raw, stripped-back electric blues. And in numerous bars around the world, unheralded bands continued to produce great music for a small but appreciative audience.

Troubles, first released in 1980 and now re-released on the Delmark label, is a small gem of a record that perfectly captures the rough and ready Chicago sound of the late 1970s. And it kicks like a mule. Much of the album, originally released on Razor Records as After Work, was recorded on just one day: 19 January, 1979, the day after John recorded his single “I Love The Woman” b/w “Johnny’s Bounce”, both of which are included on this disc.

Queen Sylvia Embry played bass and sang with a warm, passionate gospel-tinged voice. A second vocalist, drummer Woody Williams (Lefty Dizz’s brother), also features on a number of songs and he adds fine harmonies to the cover of Wilson Pickett’s “I Found A Love”. Johnny “Guitar” Embry was very much a guitarist of the Chicago school, with strong hints of Buddy Guy, Sammy Lawhorn and a little Magic Sam in his Stratocaster playing, whether on instrumentals such as “Razor Sharp” (which also features Riler “Iceman” Robinson on guitar) or staying in the pocket and providing top class rhythm support.

Half of the ten tracks on the original album were originals and the other half a good selection of covers. This re-release benefits from the addition of five top quality out-takes (three of which are live recordings) as well as John’s single. Some of the songs are the standards the band would have played every night in the smoky bars in which they plied their trade – “Mustang Sally”; Freddie King’s “I Love The Woman”, Jimmy Reed’s “Going To New York” and BB King’s “Worry, Worry” – but every song is played with such verve and power that it is exciting to hear them all.

The liner notes are fascinating, for example explaining that “Keep Your Hands Off Her” was the first song of the recording session. The vocal levels had not yet been set but the band was on fire and it was agreed that the musical value of the number outweighed the slightly ropey production, so it was included on the album. Overall, however, the production values are very good, with each instrument clearly recorded but with the ambience, fire and slight looseness of a live gig retained.

The only disappointing issue in respect of Troubles is that it was the only album released by John and Sylvia Embry. John died in 1987. Sylvia later released an album with Jimmy Dawkins and appeared on a number of compilations for the likes Arhoolie and Alligator before returning to her first love of gospel music. She died in 1992. It is a crying shame they weren’t able to release more records, but at least we have Troubles to remind us of their talents.

If you’re a fan of classic, no-frills, guitar-driven Chicago blues, you must hear this album. It is a little beauty.

Reviewer Rhys Williams lives in Cambridge, England, where he plays blues guitar when not holding down a day job as a technology lawyer or running around after his children. He is married to an American, and speaks the language fluently, if with an accent.

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 6  

Soulstack – Five Finger Discount

12 songs – 48 minutes

Self-produced CD

Soulstack follows up on their successful debut album, Big Red, with this original blend of blues, soul and roots.

Hailing from Kitchener, Ontario, about 100 miles west of Niagara Falls, they’re led by singer/guitarist Jonathan Knight, who produced the disc and wrote 11 of the 12 songs with partner/keyboardist Mark Wessinger. Adding to the mix are 2010 Maple Leaf Awards Drummer Of The Year Tom Bona, bassists Harpo Peterson and Josh Knight as well as new addition Chris Latta, a six-string powerhouse who doubles on baritone and standard guitars.

They lay down smooth, clean grooves as they present material that’s hard to pin down, but possesses hints of the bluesier sides of Little Feat, The Band and Bob Dylan. Along with Knight’s crisp vocals, Wessinger’s work on the 88s is stellar throughout.

A soft keyboard riff kicks off “Long Way Down,” with the full band climbing on board, driven forward with a rapid-fire answering riff on guitar over a fast-paced, triplet-driven rhythm pattern. The gentle message is that we all have problems – deal with them. For “Not The Only One,” the theme changes to attempts to woo a lady who has many admirers. “Want You To Stay” is a strong blues in which the singer takes all the blame in a troubled relationship.

The message continues with “Fold Up Your Heart,” targeting someone who chooses loneliness over the pain of a broken relationship. The production slows down for the funky “Warm Bed To Sleep On.” It’s a love song about a guy who simply needs a little company to take away the sting of being down on his luck. That tune eases into the equally mellow “Friend,” which sings the praise of having a buddy to call when things get bad.

The pace quickens once more for a gathering of friends who are “Hanging In The Kitchen” and having a good time until dawn. “Have Mercy” is a lament for a hard-working man delivered with a Latin beat, while “All A Man Can Do” sings about a woman who can’t be true, which leads directly a song in which the vocalist is born for love only to hook up with a gal “Born To Make Me Cry.” The band rocks out on “Living Room” before a live version of the Staples Singers’ 1955 hit, “This May Be The Last Time.”

Soulstack delivers a paler shade of blue in this well-conceived work, which is available through iTunes, CDBaby and Amazon. It’s an album that will grow on you a little more with each new song. Give it a spin.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. 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.

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Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, MN

Road 2 Memphis Challenge, Two days of competition, Solo/duo: Sunday, April 6, 1:00 at Amsterdam Bar & Hall, 6th & Wabasha, St. Paul, 5 acts competing.

Band: Sunday, April 27, 1:00 at Wilebski’s Blues Saloon, 1638 Rice St., St. Paul, 7 acts competing. Winners of both competitions will represent MnBS at the 2015 IBC in Memphis. $10 suggested donation, both events

Also, Benefit for Allison Miller (daughter of Dee Miller, Dee Miller Band) Sunday, April 13, 1:00, Wilebski’s Blues Saloon, 1638 Rice St., St. Paul Acts to perform: Steve Clarke, Annie Mack Band, Jimmi “Prime Time” Smith, Dee Miller Band, Who Nu.

Allison remains hospitalized in critical condition due to very serious complications of influenza B (double pneumonia, one collapsed lung, one infected lung, dialysis, leg amputation.) More info/donations: or

To donate to silent auction (by April 11) contact Christina Hoglund @  More Info  at

Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society is proud to present Damon Fowler at The Muddy Waters 1708 State St. Bettendorf, IA on Sunday April 6th at 6pm. Admission is $7 for MVBS members and $10 for others.

Also, The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents the preliminary round of the Iowa Blues Challenge at 6:00 p.m. Sunday, April 13 at the Muddy Waters. Four bands will play thirty-minute sets starting at 6:00 p.m. Competitors are Phineas J’s, Harris Collection, Mercury Brothers, and William Bixby Band. Two of the bands competing in the IBC Preliminaries will earn the right to move into the IBC Final Round, to be held in Des Moines on May 17, at the Hotel Fort Des Moines. $5 MVBS Members/$8 Non-Members

For more info visit

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

2014 Friends of the Blues Concert Series –  All shows held in Waseka, IL unless otherwise noted.

Thursday, April 03, James Armstrong, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Tuesday, April 08, Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Thursday, April 17, Annie Mack, Moose Lodge, Thursday , May 8, Tullie Brae, Moose Lodge, Tuesday, May 20, Ori Naftaly Band, Moose Lodge, Thursday, June 5, Sad Sam Blues Jam, Moose Lodge, Tuesday, June 24, Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Tuesday, July 8, Brandon Santini, BB Sportsmen’s Club , Wednesday, July 16, Albert Castiglia, Longbranch Restaurant, Thursday, July 31, Terry Quiett Band, Venue TBA, Tuesday, August 12, Laurie Morvan Band, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, Tues or Thur, August 26 or 28, Nikki Hill (& Matt Hill), Venue TBA, Thursday, October 02, Sena Ehrhardt, Moose Lodge

The Blues Society of Central PA – Steelton, PA

The Blues Society of Central PA will be welcoming spring with our BSCP Spring Fever Show on Sunday, April 13, 2014 from 4:30 – 9:00 PM at Champions Sports Bar 300 N. Second St. Highspire, PA. Admission at the door will be $15.

Blues music will begin at 5:00 PM with a 30 minute show by Colin John, 2014 Blues Foundation IBC solo/duo semi-finalist. The music will continue with 60 minutes of blues harp and vocals by the Dane Paul Russell Band. Dane Paul was the late Bobby Parker’s harp sideman. The BSCP will prouding be featuring our headliner, Vizztone Recording artist, Long Tall Deb & The Werewolves of Alabama to heat up Champions and end the chill of winter with a 90 minute set of burning blues. More info at:

River City Blues Society – Pekin, IL

River City Blues Society presents live Blues featuring Ghost Town Blues band at 7:30PM Friday April 18th at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Admission: $6.00 general public or $4.00 for RCBS Members For more info visit: or call 309-648-8510:

The Ventura County Blues Society – Ventura County, CA

On Saturday, April 26 the Ventura County Blues society presents the The 9th Annual Ventura County Blues Festival at Moorpark College with its best lineup yet, featuring headlining performances by Kim Wilson’s Blues All-Stars; Delta Groove All-Star Blues Revue featuring Sugaray Rayford with Kid Ramos and friends; Sista Monica Parker; , Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers; , Michael John and The Bottom Line and friends, including vocalist Karen Lovely; and Lightnin’ Willie.

Returning as Celebrity Emcee is noted actor-musician, Mickey Jones. Food and craft vendors, guitar giveaway, and, for the first time, a Ticketed V.I.P. area. Benefits the American Diabetes Association and community charities. Presale General Admission tickets $20. in advance, $30. at the gate; V.I.P. tickets $100. (limited quantity available). More information at

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, Illinois

Crossroads Blues Society is proud to present the second annual Field of Blues Festival on Saturday, June 28th at Rockford Aviators Stadium in Loves Park.

Alex Wilson Band is opening beginning his set at noon. Next up is an international act, Italian blues and singing sensation Linda Valori at 2 PM along with super guitar player Luca Giordano and our own Barstool Bob Blues Band with Bob Levis on guitar, Al Terrano on bass, Link Leary on drums and Don Collins on harmonica.

The Jimmy’s will bring their swinging blues at 4 PM. At 6 PM, the ever cool Doug Deming and Dennis Gruenling will take the stage with the Jewel Tones.

At 8 PM our headliners will be John Nemeth!

Between acts we will feature local acoustic blues man Dan Phelps. 10 hours of music from noon to 10 PM (we close at 10:30 PM). Tickets will once again only be $10 in advance and $15 at the door.

Check us out at or call festival chairman Steve Jones at 779-537-4006 for more information!

The Illinois Central Blues Club – Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club has announced the line-up of talent for the Blue Monday live performances and jam sessions held every Monday night at The Alamo, 115 North Fifth, Springfield, IL from 8:00pm to midnight. Additional information on any performer listed below is available upon request. April 7 – Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, April 14 – The Blues Expressions, April 21 – Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans, April 28 – Greg Glick

Questions regarding this press release can be directed to Michael Rapier, President of ICBC, at at 217-899-9422, or contact Greg Langdon, Live Events Chair, at or by visiting

P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555     © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine 309 267-4425 

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