Issue 8-16 April 17, 2014

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Blues rocker Kelly Richey. Eric Steiner has photos and commentary from the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival

We have eight music reviews for you.  Marty Gunther reviews a new album from JJ Thames. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new album by The Danny Petroni Blue Project. John Mitchell is doing triple duty this week reviewing new releases by Leo Welch, Bobby Murray and Billy Branch And The Sons Of The Blues. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new album by Steve Howell & The Mighty Men. Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD from Willie May.  Steve Jones reviews a new album from Tweed Funk.

 From The Editor’s Desk

Hey Blues Fans,

We are all one big Blues family and here in our backyard in Central Illinois one of our own needs help. Dave Chastain, the biggest name in Blues Rock around here is in need! Dave Chastain & Sue Schnarr Baker’s home was destroyed by a fire last year. They lost everything and insurance is not covering most of the cost. So this weekend there is a benefit put on by all the area musicians to help raise money for Dave & Sue. The event starts at 2:00pm this Saturday, April 19 at the Limelight Eventplex, 8102 North University Street, Peoria, Illinois 61615. For more information and advance tickets CLICK HERE.

The musical line-up for the event includes Kickapoo Junction, The Bill Porter Project, Robin Crowe Band, The Junkyard Dogz, The Jim Davis Group, Rooster Alley and The Dave Chastain 3 (DC3). Then there will be a huge Jam by all of the musical friends Dave Chastain has made touring the US and Canada over the years. There will also be a large array of Silent Auctions items so please try to make this great event and help out one of our own in need!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music! 

Bob Kieser

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 8

JJ Thames – Tell You What I Know

11 songs – 41 minutes

DeChamp Records DC100214

The fertile Detroit music scene has always been a major contributor to blues, soul and all combinations of both. Clara Smith, Sippie Wallace and Alberta Adams laid the foundation, followed by Aretha Franklin, among others. But people better make room on the list for classically and jazz-trained JJ Thames.

Although dubbed the Mississippi Blues Diva, tall, powerful and beautiful Thames – pronounced “Timms” — is a full-bodied, sultry-voiced Detroit native, the daughter of a blue-collar worker at General Motors. She started performing as a child, and has worked as a backup singer for the reggae/rock band Outlaw Nation as well as rockers Fishbone, The Beat, Bad Brains and Slightly Stoopid. And she’s shared the stage with chittlin’ circuit superstars Marvin Sease, Bobby Blue Bland, Peggy Scott Adams, Denise LaSalle and Willie Clayton after following her heart to Mississippi.

It’s clear that soul-blues is her calling. At age 30, Thames’ stage presence and vocal delivery are more reminiscent of singers from the golden era of the art form than they are of most blues belters on the scene today. Her delivery is never rushed, and her ability to express deep emotion is on par with someone twice her age as she delivers everything from down-home juke joint styling’s to full-blown torch songs, all containing messages of positive affirmation.

Available through CDBaby, this is Thames’ debut disc after one previous release of a single. The CD is one of the first productions on Grady Champion’s new DeChamp Records imprint out of Canton, Miss.. If this disc is any example of what’s to come, the label appears set to become a rival for Malaco, based a few miles south in Jackson, which also is JJ’s home away from home.

Champion serves as Thames’ executive producer and contributes harmonica on this one, and it’s mixed by Sam Brady, who also contributes keyboards. They’re joined in the studio by David Hyde (bass), Vince Barranco (drums), Celeb Armstrong, Eddie Cotton Jr., Doug Frank and Danny Scallions (guitar), Richard Beverly (trumpet), Todd Bobo (tenor sax) and Mike Weidick (trombone).

A cross between African chants and gospel, the Thames penned “Souled Out” kicks off the set above a solemn, solitary drumbeat as she sings: “Oh, Lord/Hear my cry/Gonna tell this story/Before I die.” It’s a strong, simple statement that links the work to the beginning of the blues tradition. Next up, “Hey You” spins the listener in a different direction as it carries the theme forward. “You see my daddy/Pimp turned preacher/I was born to play this game,” she moans. It’s a down-and-dirty country blues with a rhythm pattern straight out of a juke, but with ultra-modern feel.

The funky “I Got What You Need” delivers a strong sexual message complete with horn section and Memphis stylings before Thames slows things down with “My Kinda Man.” It’s a sweet ballad that details the qualities she’s found in her companion: A country boy who loves his mother. The mood darkens for the soulful “No Turning Back,” which describes what it’ll take to get over a bad relationship.

The slow burner “Can You Let Somebody Else Be Strong” delivers the message that, even if you’ve been a person who comes through in the clutch all your life, it’s not a sign of weakness if need a little help now and then. The sassy “I’ma Make It” sings the praises of a new lover before Thames reprises the Ray Charles classic, “I Believe (To My Soul)” in a manner that would put a smile on the master’s face if he were around to enjoy it.

A burning solo from Scallions highlights “Just Enough,” which finds the singer in the afterglow of a reunion with a lover she thought she’d cast aside. The introspective “Rhinestones” – about feelings of inadequacy – follows before the autobiographical title tune, “Tell You What I Know,” concludes the set.

This presentation is velvet smooth and total class from start to finish. If your tastes run to urban soul-blues, you’ll love this one.

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.

 Featured Blues Interview – Kelly Richey

The line between being at the peak of the summit or being at the very bottom of the valley is a thin one.

One day you’re at the top of your game and the next day you’re not sure what’s going to happen.

Such were the winds swirling around the fabulously-talented vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Kelly Richey back in 2005.

“I developed trigger-finger (snapping of the flexor tendon) on my left thumb and I was devastated. I had been playing so good and everything was going great (in her career) and then a hand injury,” she said. “They were telling me in order to fix it, I was going to have to have surgery and I was not about to do that. When that hit me, I really had to step back.”

As it turns out, Richey, who also teaches guitar, avoided surgery by using one of the techniques that she shows her students.

“I’ve taught almost as long as I’ve played guitar and one of the exercises that I would have my students do is to practice playing with no thumb (touching) on the back of the guitar to build hand strength. Well, that saved me. I had to play month’s worth of gigs without my thumb touching the neck of the guitar,” she said.

A potential career-ending injury is never a good thing, but this one ended up having a positive, but unexpected, effect on Richey’s explosive guitar playing.

“During that process, I had to slow down a little bit and make every note count. That made me a better player. I was ‘talking’ too much,” she said. “I was playing too many notes, and this made me stop and think. I can look back and see a definite growth period during that time. What could have been catastrophic ended up being a real blessing in disguise. It’s ironic how you can look back on things and think they’re terrible, but in the end, they really help you. Now, my thumb doesn’t bother me at all anymore.”

Hearing the first few notes from the Kelly Richey Band’s new live CD – Live at the Blue Wisp (Sweet Lucy Records) – will let a person know that Richey is as fit as a fiddle these days and is playing up one heck of a storm. A real burner from start to finish, Live at the Blue Wisp is packed with all the ingredients that have led to Richey being rightly heralded as one of the hottest guitarists on the scene. Even though the disc has been on the streets for less than a month now, positive receptions have been flowing in.

“It’s really been fantastic and I’ve put out a number of live releases in between studio albums throughout my career,” Richey said. “But I think it’s the strongest live CD that I have. It’s my first live album to feature all original material on it. And the rhythm section I have is just world-class. They’re tremendous and the organic chemistry going on onstage is very powerful.”

Richey’s finely-tuned rhythm section is Ken ‘Big Bamn’ Smith on drums and Freekbass on … well, bass. And as Live at the Wisp proves, adding that duo to the mix is akin to throwing gasoline on Richey’s already intensely-burning fire.

“They force me to give absolutely everything I have, and then go inside and look for a little bit more. I’m used to wearing out my rhythm sections and I can’t wear these guys out,” she laughed. “I’m trying and it’s not over yet, but so far I haven’t been able to.”

With Big Bamn and Freekbass both having survived interstellar orbit with stints in the great Bootsy Collins’ band, it’s to be expected that they would bring a large degree of funk with them to the Kelly Richey Band. And that they do, creating a match made in Heaven, even though there may have been a moment of early trepidation.

“When he (Freekbass) found out I was going to make a change (in bass players) and he contacted me, I thought about it decided that this is either really going to work or it’s going to be a mess. It’s not going to be anything in between,” Richey said. “And it works. The holes that he creates, I can fill up, and vice-versa. It just works very well. It gives me the platform rhythmically to bounce off of that I’ve always wanted. Those two are just so rock-solid.”

With a drummer and bass player behind her that’s steady enough to set your watch to, that leaves Richey the luxury to do what she does best; lean back and let it rip.

“I don’t have to worry about any fluctuation in the groove or tempo at all. I can just close my eyes and take off, and when I come back, they’re standing there looking at me,” she said. “That’s comforting to know that I’m so well supported up there and that I don’t have to continue to invent the wheel onstage all night long.”

Blues lovers around Richey’s home base of Cincinnati, Ohio may have noticed a new band popping up now and again – the Kelly Richey Blues Experience.

“There’s a club here in town that every now and then asks me to come and do a cameo appearance, and it’s blues. I take in a little practice amp – a 1967 Fender Princeton, a couple of Tube Screamers and my old Strat, and that’s it. The first time I did this, there was a drummer and bass player there and after we played, the club owner said, ‘Wow. When you do this again, this is who I will pair you up with.’ It was really just magic. They’re two really great players from Cincinnati and when I went and sat in with them, I thought, ‘Wow, I haven’t played ‘blues’ – the really stripped-down kind – in awhile.’ What I’m doing with Freek and Bamn is blues on steroids. So that was a lot of fun. It’s really about getting back to my roots.”

She probably didn’t know it at the time, but pre-production work on her last studio album, Sweet Spirit (Sweet Lucy Records) may pay future dividends for the Kelly Richey Blues Experience in the future.

“Right before I did Sweet Spirit, I had released a poetry book (Whisperings – A Collection of Poems by Female Guitarist Kelly Richey) where I had gone through literally eight boxes – not exaggerating, 10, 000 poems that I had written throughout my life – from stuff on bar napkins to notebook paper,” she said. “And at that time, I discovered three milk-crates of old cassette tapes. And Sonya Ziegler, who does all of my photo editing and helped me put the poetry book together, said if I would transfer those milk-crates of tapes to digital, she would listen to them. I had no idea what was on those tapes, but we ended up with 74 hours of song potential that she found. She identified a collection of song ideas for me to get in and work with for Sweet Spirit. Then, she went back through and identified 28 potential new blues songs on those tapes.”

Plans are for those new blues tunes to see the light of day via the Kelly Richey Blues Experience.

“I’ve had in the back of my mind, kind of going back and connecting the dots, all of this much more traditional blues music – like Bessie Smith, Sippie Wallace, Memphis Minnie – that kind of riff-driven blues music,” Richey said. “All that had been percolating, so when I started sitting in with this rhythm section, I asked them if they would like to develop these ideas – kind of like a Jimi Hendrix Band of Gypsys thing; experimental. And they said, ‘Absolutely.’ So I’m starting to do some local Kelly Richey Blues Experience shows and I’m going to spend the summer working on material. With having both rhythm sections to bounce ideas off, I’m going to do a blues record this fall. No preconceived notions or anything like that; I’m just going to do this and see what happens, see what it is.”

Consider it a best-of-both-worlds scenario for Kelly Richey fans. Those that want to see her shred can still do that, and those that prefer a more traditional approach to the blues can see that, as well.

“Some people really want to be able to sit closer to the stage and experience more of an organic thing that’s not as in-their-face,” she said. “And some people, they just love watching me go nose-to-nose with Freek … now they’ll be able to do both.”

Of all places, Richey’s musical DNA has its roots in the 8-track player of an old pickup truck and in the faded words etched on an old blacklight poster.

“My mom and dad bought me an old pickup truck after I graduated high school and a friend of mine gave me an old 8-track player with a Cream live 8-track tape stuck in it. So I listened to that for at least 50 to 60 thousand of the 100, 000 miles I put on that truck,” she said. “And I only moved once as a child – from one side of Lexington (Kentucky) to the other – and when we moved into our new house, it was of course empty; empty except for this poster leaning up against the wall in the basement. It was one of those fuzzy, blacklight posters that someone had left behind. It said, ‘See you in the next world, don’t be late.’ I had no idea who the character in the poster was, I just thought it was cool and so I kept it.”

Considering that she hadn’t a clue who Jimi Hendrix was at that time, it’s a wonder that Richey didn’t simply toss that poster in the trash. Instead, it somehow worked its way into her very being.

“Yeah, ironically a lot of things that came to me (musically) were from that era. Cream, Hendrix … I just love blues-based rock. When I first heard a band in someone’s basement playing “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin, I didn’t know who Zeppelin was, either,” she said. “I had just gotten a guitar, and when I discovered this music, it’s almost like I had been raised somewhere without civilization, concerning this music. And when I found it, I couldn’t get enough of it.”

Although she might not have been familiar with Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix as a young girl, she still knew real music when she heard it.

“I was raised in a white, southern Baptist church and our church was burned to the ground when I was 5 years old, because it was the first church to integrate. We had a lot of interaction with the African/American community and my mom played piano for the church and my aunt played organ, so I was really involved in music,” Richey said. “I saw from a young age the difference between black gospel music and white gospel music and our church embraced that. So that was in my DNA, as well. And when I heard blues-rock music, I didn’t know why I liked it better than other kinds, but I think that sound had been growing and incubating in me and it resonated for me.”

And it continues to resonate inside Richey, with the nightly time she spends up on stage serving as an oasis, letting her put aside all the rest of the hours she spends daily worrying about her record label, her publishing company and tending to every other aspect of keeping her career on track.

“When I play guitar, I want to be able to close my eyes and leave. It’s my one escape. Sometimes I feel as an independent artist, the very last thing I get to do is just play guitar,” she said. “When I finally get on stage after 20 hours of driving through the night, I want to close my eyes and leave. And that free-form blues-based music is what allows me my exit strategy. I think what people like about my playing is, they get to go, too. If I’ve had a successful night, I’ve left the building, everyone has gone with me and we came back in for a safe landing.”

Richey has constantly managed to grow, progress and, even mature, over the span of time since her first album – Sister’s Got a Problem – came out in 1994. A key component to that has been her ability to rationally look at, and critique, her own work.

“Doing so many records, both studio and live, I’ve had to really sit back and listen to myself play. And there’s a lot of things that make me go, ‘Oh, my God, that again?’ I’ve learned by trial and error. Sometimes when I listen back to my records, I’ll get a grin on my face and go, ‘Oh, yeah.’ And sometimes it’ll be like, ‘Ehhh,’” she said. “Just having to be honest and confront that is important. And I’ve also asked for people’s opinions and then I’ve listened. I’ve learned from all that. When I did Sweet Spirit, Sonya said, ‘Kelly, you do not need to do another self-indulgent guitar record. You need to do a record with songs.’ And she was right. So I made every note on that record count. It became a personal challenge to me.”

Recently, the first blues song that Richey ever wrote, a tune called “The Blues Don’t Lie,” was featured in a February episode of ABC Family’s The Fosters.

“I was really excited to have a song air on that show. That was cool,” she said. “I’ve got quite an extensive catalog of songs at this point, so my publishing is out there for consideration for different TV and film things and I hope that increases down the road.”

Richey is extremely energetic and intense about the music that she creates and the way that she plays that music live – whether with her band, solo, or with the newly-minted Kelly Richey Blues Experience. But speak with Richey for just a moment or two and it’s readily obvious that there’s something that rivals her burning fire for peeling the paint off her well-worn Fender Strat – her thirst for teaching and the passing of her knowledge to others.

“I am a passionate guitar teacher. I have a real capacity to be patient with people learning and guitar is a tricky instrument to learn to play. It’s very physical,” she said. “I just launched a new Web site and there’s a virtual classroom and I have over 120 instructional videos on there. I’ve always taught lessons, but because I’ve toured so much, it’s limited my ability to teach.”

Thanks to technology, some of those issues that existed between Richey and the time she could spend with her students have been reduced.

“I started teaching through Skype and I also became a guitar instructor through TrueFire ( My students can send me a video of them playing and then I can send them a video response and that’s a wonderful format,” she said. “My virtual classroom has three packages – beginner to intermediate and then intermediate to advanced and then how to play lead guitar. So I would love to be able to focus on my guitar teaching. Five years from now, I’d love to be able to play just the shows that I really enjoy playing and teaching guitar. I just enjoy that interaction with other people that you get through teaching. I want to give back something of service. To me, that’s what music is all about.”

Visit Kelly’s website at:

To see a video of Kelly’s amazing Blues Rock chops Click HERE

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He’s also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 8

The Danny Petroni Blue Project – The Blue Project

DPS Records

CD: 10 songs; 46:20 Minutes

Styles: Jazz and Funk-Inspired Blues

When massive natural disasters strike, one fantastic way to recover (especially if musically inclined) is to do what New Jersey’s Danny Petroni and company did: put musicians to work. “The Danny Petroni Project, (featuring Ku-umba Frank Lacy),” said Danny, “has been a labor of love.” Superstorm Sandy had just devastated the Jersey shore; towns in and around Tom Rivers and inland towns like Sayreville were heavily damaged. Many musicians and music-related business were down – gigs cancelled, venues damaged, all music productions stopped in the immediate area.

Within a few weeks the ‘Danny Petroni Blue Project’ was born. “If I could create a blues record with original songs that I had been writing, employ local musicians and use local music production impacted by Sandy…that would be something,” said Petroni. “I contacted [lead vocalist, trombone and flumpet player] Frank Lacy, [bassist] Gene Boccia, [violinist] Gary Oleyar, [drummers] Dave Halpern and John Allen and the rest is history,” said Danny. With an energy stronger than any hurricane and the most striking enthusiasm, lead guitarist Petroni and his fellow artists present ten original songs. Inspired by jazz and funk as well as blues, these three pack the biggest wallop:

Track 02: “Taste Like Chicken” – What’s more delicious than the meat mentioned in this lip-smacking track’s title? “It tastes like chicken, but it tain’t, as juicy as a melon, but it ain’t. I’m not a connoisseur [hilariously pronounced con-a-SEWER instead of con-a-SIR], no ‘parlez-vous Francais’ – when I see you walking in the club shaking it that way.” Some people prefer not to have horn sections in their blues songs, but the one here is hotter than a pan of fried fowl. As an added bonus, Frank Lacy interjects, “Tack-tack-ta-tackety-tack, all right!” at the very end.

Track 04: “Requiem for a Working Man” – Danny Petroni might have coined a new term in his tale of toil: “He lost his job down at the factory because of some kind of ‘outsorcery’,” Lacy sings of an industrious man named P.C. The hard-bitten refrain of ‘Working, working, working, working…” is reminiscent of gears grinding or a clock ticking ever-so-slowly. Layonne Holmes, Ricky Collins, and Katrina Harper join in on background vocals, especially harmonizing on “Work hard, toil and trouble.” Calvin Jones plays a mean and mournful upright bass.

Track 09: “Mouse in the House” – What kind of rodent drinks all of one’s beer? “Uncle George,” the dead ‘rat’ whom our narrator has slain for stealing his lover. Even while incarcerated, he can’t avoid vermin: “I sat in my jail cell, and from the corner of my eye, I seen a tiny mouse scurrying, scurrying on by!” John Drymond’s funky Hammond B3 organ and Dave Halpern’s drums add sly touches to the best pure blues song on this album.

“The Blue Project” may be musically eclectic, but one thing’s for sure: out of unspeakable tragedies come unique works of art. !

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 8

Leo Welch – Sabougla Voices

Big Legal Mess 2013

10 tracks; 34 minutes

The music of the churches in rural southern states retains the rough-hewn feel of yesteryear, albeit often with electric instruments. This release gives us ten examples of what one might find in a church in Mississippi on a Sunday. The combination of Leo’s rough, world-weary voice singing praise to the Lord and music that is pure North Mississippi Hill Country blues will delight fans of both gospel and Hill Country styles.

There is an interesting story here. 81 year-old Leo Welch phoned the offices of Big Legal Mess to see if they might be interested in releasing his recording. An intern was in the process of telling him that they did not release much blues any more when label boss Bruce Watson overheard the conversation, took over and invited the caller to stop by to play a few songs. Hearing his authentic blues and gospel voice, Bruce signed Leo on the spot and the CD now available is the result. The promo copy available for review gives no details of personnel but there is guitar, bass, drums and some keyboards, as well as backing voices from the Sabougla Voices. There is also no information on where these tracks were recorded but one can imagine that they were made in church back in Leo’s home area of Calhoun County, Mississippi.

Opening track “Praise His Name” is a good example of the general style here with a repetitive guitar riff at the heart of everything, the band following Leo’s lead on a fast-paced blues before Leo’s voice comes in with support from the backing choir. The rolling blues of “Take Care Of Me Lord” follows a similar pattern but at a slightly less frantic pace. “You Can’t Hurry God” adds some honkytonk piano to the mix and the handclaps that accompany the drums sound just as they would in a church setting. “Mother Loves Her Children” is different in approach, a slow refrain with just acoustic guitar and gentle brushwork on drums. “Long Journey” is another slow blues, recounting Leo’s faith that at the end of this life there will be the resurrection. “His Holy Name” rocks along with ringing guitar and busy drums while “The Lord Will Make A Way” follows in quiet, reflective mood to close the album, just Leo and his acoustic guitar giving us a final expression of his faith.

This is not an album for the casual listener to blues-rock or the slick production values we find in many contemporary blues and soul recordings, but if the ‘real deal’ voice of blues and gospel as can still be heard in the churches of the south interests you this will be an album to seek out.

The music here is not to this reviewer’s personal taste but all credit to Big Legal Mess for issuing these recordings from a man who has devoted his life to his music,his church and his community.

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 8

Steve Howell & The Mighty Men – Yes, I Believe I Will

Self Release through Out of the Past Music

10 tracks / 43:00

When Texas comes up in a conversation most folks immediately think of Dallas or Houston, and musicians always extoll the virtues of Austin. Well, Steve Howell of Steve Howell & The Mighty Men hails from Marshall, Texas, which is a lot closer to Shreveport, Louisiana than any of these places. That is fortunate for us because his brand of American roots and blues music is flavored by the Sportsmen’s Paradise and the Lone Star State; it is the best of both worlds.

Steve is an acoustic guitar genius and vocalist that was born in Marshall and raised in East Texas and Louisiana, which launched a career that was originally inspired by Mississippi John Hurt’s magical finger picking. He kept up his music through a stint in the Navy overseas and after his service ended he played with artists and bands around Shreveport and his East Texas hometown.

Yes, I Believe I Will is Steve Howell & the Mighty Men’s fourth self-released disc, and it is very special. Steve is joined by friends that he has been performing with for more than 20 years, including Chris Michaels on electric guitar, acoustic guitar and bass, Dave Hoffpauir on drums and Jason Weinheimer on the keys. This album is comprised of ten traditional and cover songs, and has a very natural acoustic sound to it. It was recorded by the band and mixed and mastered by Weinheimer, but do not think of this as a garage band project, as the production values are high and it is a very well-made disc.

This set is not danceable nor is it something you will hear on the sound system in your local juke joint or roadhouse, but it is perfect for sitting back with your favorite beverage and just savoring the listening experience. In a day and age of over-processed commercial tunes, one hit wonders and cookie cutter instant hits, Steve Howell & The Mighty Men are doing work they can be proud of. The first track on the CD is “I Had a Notion,” a re-do of the song that Nick Katzman and Ruby Green contributed to The Best of Kicking Mule Record Inc. Volume One (this is required country blues listening). “Yes I Believe I Will” can be in the lyrics of this tune, and this laid-back mostly acoustic blues number will gives a good idea of what the rest of the album has in store for the listener.

This is confirmed by the traditional “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning,” a 19th-century African-American spiritual that was originally recorded in 1928 by Blind Willie Johnson. Howell is a fine acoustic player and his interplay with Michaels’ distorted electric guitar is certainly mesmerizing, but even more striking is the honesty and genuine tone his hoarse singing voice gives to this powerful song. The harsh electric guitar solo might not seem like it would fit into this serious folk blues track, but it works out perfectly as it bridges 150 years of musical and social history.

On the other end of the spectrum is “Wasted Mind,” a 2005 song from songwriter and banjo man Danny Barnes. This is a slow-paced modern country ballad with a heavy snare drum and even heavier lyrics. This song is a stone-cold bummer as it describes a lot of the aimless young folks that have no ambition and limited future possibilities. The music takes a backseat to the words on this one: “They got books at school / But that ain’t cool / They got paintings at the art museum / You ain’t never gonna see ’em / Because they don’t serve light beer.”

Those that are craving more blues will be glad that Howell included Nick Katzman’s “Devil’s Side” on this disc, though it is not entirely conventional. It is very slow paced and Weinheimer’s key have almost a circus organ effect to them. The glum lyrics build drama for inspired guitar work from Chris Michaels, making this one of the standout tracks of the CD.

The band ends their set with a classy folk remake of a 1800s Irish tune, “Rake and Rambling Blade.” There is a marvelous texture of acoustic guitar and muted electric guitar with a tasteful banjo accent that fits in well with the somber lyrics that describe the life a no-good highway robber. This is the last piece of the mosaic that makes up this album, making it a complete journey through everything that is good about the American music of the south.

Yes, I Believe I Will is a Steve Howell & The Mighty Men’s best work to date and if you are a fan of roots music, folk music or country blues it is a must-have for your collection. Even electric blues aficionados will surely find many things to like amongst the ten tracks this talented quartet put together. Listen for yourself and see!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 8

Willie May – Moon Chillun

Self Release

The most rewarding music invariably emminates from the pen of a musician willing to take chances. Willie May is a musical sponge that takes from the musical spectrum to create his wholly original vision. His multi-instrumentalist approach lends variety to his songs. Having a gruff voice portrays a certain urgency in his lyrics.

Gospel meets country blues on the Dobro and accordion driven “Riverside Blues”. Hints of Captain Beefheart’s delivery surface in the vocal. “Geraldine” is an ode to a “tough as nails” girlfriend that packs a gun and a razor. The tune also features the almost ever-present Dobro.

Evan Laedke’s organ and electric piano are heavily featured on the gospel-tinged “Back To Glory”. A menagerie of characters passes through the “Blues Parade”; set to a reggae beat and featuring Willie on kalimba(thumb piano). Where else would you find a lyric like- “She took out half her teeth and gave me half a smile”. Five year old Regan Rickard collaborates on the lyrics with Willie on a tale of a school day gone bad-“Jason Twisted My Arm”.

Accordion provides the backdrop Willie’s whiskey soaked vocal on the easy loping “Sometimes”. Willie’s jaw harp gives a unique bent to “Thirty Days”, a rough and tumble blues about getting back to his girl. Dobro and harmonica chug this one along quite nicely. The narrator’s senses “leave the building” in the hard-charging rocker “On Vacation”, with Willie’s electric guitar leading the assault.

Strummed acoustic guitar underpinned by mellow electric guitar closes the festivities out on a mellow note with ” Everything Is Alright”.

The vision shared here is a quite unique and challenging effort offering many rewards. Willie’s style can’t be “pigeon-holed”, as various musical currents visit any particular tune. The supporting musicians add to the atmospherics without being obtrusive. This being his fourteenth CD, Willie seems to have an endless imagination to draw from.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 8

Tweed Funk – First Name Lucky

Self- Released

11 songs

Tweed Funk’s latest release offers the listener a tasty choice of cuts that expresses the musicality and feel of the band performing live. By limiting overdubs and minimizing production efforts, the sound is raw and everything was done in one or at most two takes.

Tweed Funk is a Milwaukee based group of blues/soul/funk musicians who can tear up a stage. Led by the effervescent and cool Smokey on lead vocals, their swinging sound will get fans up on their feet and moving! JD Optekar provides the guitar, Eric Madunic is on bass (and lead vocals on one cut), Nick Lang is on drums, and John Lovas (sax) and Kevin Klemme (trumpet) are the horn section.

The CD is a fun mix of originals and four covers. The CD blasts off with”Blues In My Soul,” where they get into the funk right off the bat. Smokey is crooning he’s “got the blues down in my soul” while the boys chime in on a nice vocal harmony. Optekar plucks out a dirty guitar lead and the horns punctuate the the solo nicely. That transitions into a forthright and driving cut entitled “Time to Burn.” Optekar takes the first solo and later Lovas offers up a little homage to the saxophone gods. “Hoodoo Power” has some of that grooving Philadelphia soul sound to the guitar line and horns. Smokey testifies how he’s worked to make his woman happy because she’s go that hoodoo power. JD gives us a short solo and the horns plays some nice transitional stuff between choruses, verses and the bridge. “Divided” is a slow social commentary about the divisiveness of our land where Smokey asks “if we will ever be one again?” JD lays out a thoughtful solo in keeping with the tone of the cut and later Lovas again gives us a nice solo in the latter half of the tune.

The band switches to a swinging sound with “Deed is Done” as the guitar and horns set the tone with a pretty intro. Smokey bounces through the vocals and occasionally the horns together answer his calls. The sax and then trumpet solos go first here and Klemme gives us sweet some fluttering lip effects to finish the solo off. What would a good blues album be without a song about adult beverages and other pursuits? “Sippin Misery” is a beautiful slow blues where Smokey really bares his soul and Klemme puts the trumpet cup to great use as he make the horn flutter and moan in a blissful, bluesy manner. The down tempo here is a big contrast to the rest of the stuff and really lets the boys show some variety in their approach. Lang’s using the brushes thoughtfully and the whole sound is really slow and well done. The last original is “Get It On,” not to be confused with the almost similarly named Marvin Gaye song. Brian “Looper” Lucas appears here on harp as he and Smokey share the front of the band. He blows some mean stuff here in support of the band. Optekar wails on a later solo that is big and hairy and fun. Lucas and Smokey and the band take us home to close things out quite well.

The covers are also pretty darn good. “Let the Good Times Roll” is given a nice coat of new paint as Smokey shouts his ass off to sell this one. “Sugarfoot” also features Smokey in his role as one of the coolest blues shouters out there expressing himself as few can. “I Got Loaded” and “Knock on Wood” strike me more as big and fun party songs than a means to go out and do something new and different, but they do represent the band’s fun side and they are executed well with the big and diverse sound of this band. Madunic holds his own vocally on the latter number.

So album number three from this band is now out and available and I must say I think it is the best of the three so far! If you want to swing and jive with the Wisconsin kings of funk, blues and soul, then pick this album up and enjoy- you won’t be disappointed! Highly recommended!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 8

Bobby Murray – I’m Sticking With You

Self-Release – 2013

11 tracks; 55 minutes

Born in Japan to a military family, Bobby Murray started out playing in the North West, befriending a young Robert Cray. The entertainment at his and Cray’s high school graduation was Albert Collins with whom Bobby played off and on for many years. Later recruited by Etta James, Bobby stayed with her for twenty years until her death in 2012. Bobby moved to Detroit in the 90’s and this new CD gives us a good idea of his talents on guitar and as a songsmith. Working with Etta for so long, Bobby must know a good singer when he hears one and a variety of Detroit singers do the honours here. Bobby wrote all the songs, one with Frankie Lee Jones and another with Linnea Murray. The style is mainly soul-blues with some tasty guitar playing from Bobby.

The album was recorded in Detroit and produced by Bobby and engineer Brian “Roscoe” White. Bobby’s regular band of Dave Uricek (bass and vocals), Mark Thibodeau (keys and vocals) and Renell Gonsalves (drums) play on all tracks except “Comin’ Atcha” on which Bobby and Mark are joined by engineer Brian on guitar, Ron Pangborn on drums and Nolan Mendenhall on bass. Vocals come from Wiley “Red” Redding, Tom Hogarth, Barbara Payton and Paul Randolph, with backing vocals from most of the band, along with Anamaria Ylizaliturri.

Opener “Finders Keepers” was co-written by Bobby and Frankie Lee Jones, another person Bobby has played with over the years. It’s a fine slab of urban soul with superb vocals from Wiley Redding and Bobby’s rhythm and lead work is spot on for this sort of music while Mark’s organ solo fits the mood like a glove. The title track follows with Paul Randolph’s only vocal, his voice slightly more gruff than Wiley’s on a song where Mark’s clavinet style keys give a hint of 70’s disco against which Bobby plays some stinging guitar in his solo. Tom Hogarth sings soulfully as he tells us all the reasons why he loves his girl which make “me want to holler “Ooowee””. “Comin’ Atcha” has a less convincing vocal which appears to be Bobby and bassman Dave in unison though the guitar playing is exemplary.

Barbara Payton provides the only female lead vocal on “Rock My Soul”, a testifying piece of soul with some fine guitar fills from Bobby. Tom Hogarth returns on “Shake It Baby, Shake It” although I did not care for the almost spoken vocals in parts of this one. Wiley is then back on “Baby Needs Some Lovin’ Too”, possibly the strongest track on the whole album, a real piece of sweet soul music for which Bobby finds some lovely phrasing to further enhance the song. A third ‘baby’ song follows with Tom in charge of “Baby, What Took Your Love Away”, Bobby’s guitar again very expressive against a background that sounds almost like a horn section but must be Mark’s keyboards – another great tune! “Bad Case Of The Blues” is a slower paced piece which Bobby starts off with Mark on piano behind him. Lyrically we are in classic blues territory with roosters crowing at dawn, the guy working two jobs, his girl disappearing off to places like Memphis, Chicago and New Orleans, but Wiley’s vocals deliver those familiar themes very well. The last two tracks both feature Tom Hogarth on lead vocals. “Moving On Down The Line” is a shuffle and Bobby gives us some of his most stinging guitar lines here. “Building Of Love” has a strong vocal and chorus but the distorted wah-wah effects are probably the only time on the album that I did not care for Bobby’s playing.

This was the first time I have come across Bobby Murray and I was impressed by his playing and ability to capture the soulful side of the blues. This is a CD worth checking out if you like your blues served up in soulful style with some tasty guitar licks.

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 Live Blues Review – Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival  

The 5th Annual Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival featured nationally-touring headliners Curtis Salgado and Janiva Magness at the prestigious Coeur d’Alene Resort in Northern Idaho from March 28th-30th, 2014. Curtis and Janiva turned this world-class destination resort into a juke joint with 11 very talented regional and local bands that included many current and former International Blues Challenge competitors. I’ll begin my review of some of the high points of the festival with Friday afternoon’s acoustic set in the lounge and the blues cruise, followed by highlights from Saturday night’s main stage featuring Curtis Salgado and Janiva Magness, and end with a short re-cap of Kenny Andrews’ soulful Gospel brunch at the Dockside Restaurant.

Ray Roberson and Miah Flores opened the festival with a free set of acoustic blues in the elegant Whispers Lounge. Two of the many highlights for me were “Fleuretta” from the Thunder Over the Coeur d’Alene CD and the title track from Blues Train. The duo is often joined by Neil “BZ” Beese on standup bass. Together, Ray and Neil have represented the Inland Empire Blues Society and the Boise Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and they made it to the semi-finals in 2006 and 2010. Ray and Miah’s set included a spirited “Fleuretta” from the Thunder Over the Coeur d’Alene CD and the title tune from Blues Train.

Lake Coeur d’Alene Blues Cruise
Friday night featured a CDA blues festival tradition: two boats joined together that enabled festival fans to see both the Kenny James Miller Band and The Fat Tones. I thought I would get seasick as I’m generally not “boat-friendly,” but the vessels were so rock-solid that I could not tell we had left the dock and were plying the waters of this 25-mile long lake. Despite a windy downpour out on the deck, each act played inside with dance floors that were consistently filled throughout the two-hour cruise.

The Kenny James Miller Band is led by Ken Sederdahl on guitar with Mark Cornett on bass and Mark Miller on drums. Formed just three short years ago, the Kenny James Miller Band has garnered a number of blues award nominations from members of the Inland Empire Blues Society, and last year, Mark Cornett won in the blues bass category. In 2012, they won the Spokane-area’s local blues completion and made it to the finals of the Washington Blues Society’s International Blues Challenge at the Taste of Music Festival in Snohomish, Washington. Crossing over to visual media, they’ve produced a well-received video of “Thank You, Lucille,” dedicated to B.B. King’s guitar, and they have opened up for B. B. King and The Outlaws. The band’s also played Idaho’s historic Wallace Blues Festival as well as regualars at a number of festivals in Montana, such as Rockin’ the Rivers and Blues in the Springs.

The Fat Tones are one of the most popular blues rock trios in the Pacific Northwest. Led by Bobby Patterson on guitar, Bob Ehrgott on bass and Zach Cooper on drums, this trio is poised to make the leap from a regional act to a nationally-touring one. The Tones’ set ranged from some of their popular originals like “Illustrated Man,” “Full Time Job” and “Ain’t No Doubt About That” to inspired reinventions of Delbert McClinton’s “Why Me?” and Mark Knopfler’s “Sultans of Swing.” Other highlights included “My Big Deck” from Sounds Like a Party and “Plain Jane” from Fifty Bucks and Free Beer. This year, The Fat Tones are playing festivals and clubs on both sides of the Cascade Mountains, ranging from the Wallace Blues Festival and the Keeping the Blues Alive Award-winning Mount Baker Rhythm and Blues Festival in Bellingham near the Canadian border to Jazzbones in Tacoma, The Central in Kirkland and Daley’s Cheap Shots in Spokane.

After the boats docked, the music continued in the Plaza Shops’ Center Court with a free concert from the winner of the 2014 Washington Blues Society International Blues Challenge, Bakin’ Phat. Bakin’ Phat. Bakin’ Phat is led by harp man and lead vocalist Dave Allen and Dennis Higgins on guitar, and keeping the beat are Pat Potter on bass and Ken Danielson on drums. They played more than their Memphis-set at the shopping center and the dance floor was consistently filled throughout the evening. Each of the members have been playing in different bands around the region for decades, but they formed in 2012, and in two short years, earned the right to compete on Beale Street in the world’s largest gathering of blues talent.

The Coeur d’Alene Resort: Idaho’s Newest “Pop Up” Juke Joint
Saturday’s music began with Anita Royce and the High Rollers featuring young guitar slinger Forest Govedare, followed by the Sara Brown Band. While I look forward to seeing Anita and her band play during my next visit, my day began in a resort conference room featuring Sara’s set. In 2002, Universal Studios in Hollywood recognized Sara as “Singer of the Year” and in 2012 and 2013 Sara won the Inland Empire Blues Society’s award for the “Best Female Blues Performer. Supporting Sarah is Pacific Northwest blues veteran Dave Keely and an estimable engine room of bass player and songwriter Jesse Brown and Jeff Curtis on drums. The band’s set included originals from their Pretty Penny Shoes CD and innovative versions of K.T. Tunstall’s “Black Horse & Cherry Tree” and Slim Harpo’s “Ti-Na-Ni-Na-Nu.” Highlights on the Sara Brown Band’s blues calendar include a hometown performance at Town & Country Days in Kettle Falls, Washington, the Wallace Blues Festival and the Rock Cut Festival in Orient.

As Sarah ended her set, I headed back to the Whispers Lounge to catch the Doghouse Boyz – Neil Elwell on vocals, acoustic guitar and dobro with Ramiro Vijarro on bass on bass and vocals. Over the course of their afternoon-long set, they brought up guest “Boyz” Jesse Kunz and Andrea. Jesse’s an award-winning harp player based in Coeur d’Alene who plays with the Fur Traders and Andrea performed an understated and thoughtful interpretation of John Prine’s classic blues song, “Angel from Montgomery.” I didn’t catch Andrea’s last name and a day-and-a-half on Facebook couldn’t fill in that black, but I hope Coeur d’Alene blues fans will support this young woman when she sings around town.

Saturday’s main stage shows were held in a large conference rooms that held the 1,200+ blues fans and featured stages and light shows at each end of the room. The Randy Oxford Band kicked off Stage One before the Curtis Salgado Band while the Big Mumbo Blues Band kicked off Stage Two before Janiva Magness. The evening ended with an all-star jam hosted by award-winning International Blues Challenge competitor Sammy Eubanks who hails from Post Falls, Idaho.

The Randy Oxford Band delivered one of the strongest sets I’ve seen from a band that has performed at the International Blues Challenge multiple times. The band worked through a number of new tunes on their latest CD, It Feels Good. Joining Randy were Randy Norris and Manuel Morais on guitars, Polly O’Keary on bass and Richard Sabol on drums and the sultry Jada Amy on lead vocals. This time out, the band included bits of fun, synchronized stage business that reminded me of Blind Pig recording artists Big James and the Chicago Playboys – another band featuring the blues trombone. Randy’s set ranged from upbeat rhythm and blues to Spanish flamenco featuring Manuel on vocals (in Spanish). Next month, Randy Oxford will return to Seattle’s Triple Door to host a joint CD release party promoting It Feels Good alongside Polly O’Keary’s new Compass. This summer, the Randy Oxford Band will return to the Midwest with gigs at the Playing With Fire Festival in Nebraska followed by the Spirit of Kansas Festival in Topeka.

The Big Mumbo Blues Band included one of the surprise guests of the festival. Percussionist and drummer Peter Rivera sat in with the band and sang hits from his early days with Rare Earth, arguably one of Motown Records’ most successful white acts signed in the late 1960s. “I Just Want to Celebrate” and “Get Ready” brought blues fans to their feet with Peter’s exceptional “still got it” vocals backed by a band that has pure funk running through its veins. Together, the members of Big Mumbo have received more than a dozen awards from the Inland Empire Blues Society’s annual blues awards in the guitar, male and female singer, sax and Musician’s Choice categories. Charles Swanson alternated between sax, vocals and percussion, Rick Smith and Mike Tschirgi anchored the band on bass and drums and Danny McCollum played keyboards and Pat Barclay did an amazing job as a left-handed guitarist playing the instrument upside down. The Big Mumbo Blues Band has a strong presence on Facebook; join their 1,000+ fans and “Like” their page online.

Festival Headliners: Curtis Salgado and Janiva Magness
Last year was a big year for Curtis Salgado. Not only did Blues Blast Magazine readers honor his Alligator Records release, Soul Shot, as Soul Blues Album of the Year at a very special awards show at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, he also received three Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation in the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, Soul Blues Male Artist of the Year, and Soul Blues Album of the Year categories. No stranger to the awards stage in Memphis, Curtis also won the 2010 and 2012 Blues Music Award for Soul Blues Artist Of The Year. This year, the Oregon Legislature passed Senate Concurrent Resolution 205 honoring Curtis as a State Treasure. Curtis’ career has taken him from the Blues Brothers and Robert Cray to Roomful of Blues, Santana and his 2014 line-up includes Tracy “Big Dog” Arrington on bass, Insomniacs alumnus Vyasa Dodson on guitar, Brian Foxworth on drums and Craig Stevenson on keyboards.

I had heard that Curtis has had more than his share of health troubles recently – including an operation to remove a cancerous lung tumor and liver transplant – but he was jumping, dancing and moving to the music like a teenager. Curtis’ set featured “What You Gonna Do,” “Love Man” and “She Didn’t Cut Me Loose” from Soul Shot, but he reached way back to his early Curtis Salgago and the Stilettos 1991 CD for “Too Loose” and “Star Bright, Star Light.” Curtis’ harp-playing was inspired, and his last few songs sounded just like an old-time revival meeting buoyed by soulful vocals.

Janiva Magness’ set was an exceptional tour-de-force drawn from her critically-acclaimed 2012 Alligator Records release, Stronger For It as well as from her earlier The Devil is an Angel, Too. Last year, Janiva won her fourth Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year Award and Song of the Year Award for “I Won’t Cry.” Like Curtis Salgado, she also has received a Blues Music Award in the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Award. That’s quite an accomplishment: Janiva was only the second blueswoman ever to win that award. The first woman to receive it was the Queen of the Blues, Ms. Koko Taylor. In addition, Living Blues magazine readers voted Janiva Magness as Female Artist of the Year in that prestigious publication’s annual Readers’ Poll in 2013.

Janiva brought her road-tested band to Coeur d’Alene: long-time collaborator and bassist Gary Davenport, the award-winning drummer Matt Tecu, blues/funk guitarist extraordinaire Zach Zunis, and versatile keyboard player Jim Alfredson. Not only are her bandmates top-notch musicians, each of them are competent background vocalists with just the right vocal range to complement Janiva’s material (and I think that’s rare among contemporary blues bands). Janiva’s set included a diverse set from her most recent Alligator Records releases, and she brought out a cigar box guitar that she bought from Florida guitarist J.P. Soars. She punctuated a number songs with it, and it worked. She opened with “Whoop and Holler” from Stronger for It and the song invited audience participation from the opening bass and drum lines. Her set also included the award winning “I Won’t Cry” and while she filled that song with a determination built on sadness, Janiva’s attitude shined through on a spirited version of a song that might remind fans of a relationship gone awry, “There It Is.” One of the many surprises of this set included a song from her June 24th release, Original, on Janiva’s own Fathead Records. Janiva and her band treated the Coeur d’Alene audience to the second-ever public performance of the heartfelt and reassuring “Everything is Alright.” Based on the audience’s enthusiastic reaction to the song, “Everything is Alright” will be one of the many gems on Original.

I left shortly after Sammy Eubanks hosted the All-Star Jam, but look forward to seeing him again soon. He also represented the Washington Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge and he’s won more awards as a vocalist from both the Inland Empire and Washington Blues Societies. Originals like “Riding Alone,” “Shuffling Off to Memphis” and “Dancin’ Like a White Guy” are fan favorites wherever Sammy Eubanks plays.

A Brunch Filled with Praise
While many people of faith were in houses of worship on Sunday morning, Kenny Andrews used a music stand in the resort’s Dockside Restaurant as a pulpit. By day, Andrews is a Music Minister at Spokane’s Cavalry Baptist Church and when not working in the church, he’s working on his New Creations record label. He’s been featured in national and regional Gospel publications and web sites for his innovative approach to Gospel. When he won a car in the “Gimme the Mic” singing contest, he returned the car and used the proceeds to support his music ministry. Kenny brought a talented group of soulful singers and a talented sax player to the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival to honor the Lord’s name. Kenny’s command of Gospel shines through his music and dedication to the Lord’s work. His intergenerational ensemble blended contemporary and traditional Gospel faithfully together.

If You Go… Travel Links
It took me less time to get from the Spokane International Airport to Coeur d’Alene than my morning commute to Seattle. I was surprised by the public art, diversity of ethnic restaurants (Greek, Mexican, Brazilian and Irish) and friendly and welcoming people there. Especially when I got lost en route to the SpringHill Suites, Idaho’s first green-certified LEED hotel. I was pointed in the right direction after a great lunch at a local family-owned Mexican restaurant, El Paisa. There’s activities aplenty for children, too: I enjoyed learning about the Mudgy Moose Trail along Lake Coeur d’Alene and through Downtown Coeur d’Alene. It’s based on a 2008 children’s book and includes five life-size bronze statues positioned at locations where Mudgy pauses in his search for Millie.

If you add the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival to your 2015 blues festival calendar, start with the state’s tourism site and then learn more about the region through its local paper, the Coeur d’Alene press. Incidentally, the town’s name is rooted in how local indigenous peoples negotiated with white settlers after contact. Due to the indigenous people’s proficiency and experience in commerce, French fur trappers named their trading partners “Coeur d’Alene,” loosely-translated as having a “heart of an awl” (a tool used in fur cutting and shaping used long before the Industrial Revolution).

I highly recommend the Coeur d’Alene Blues Festival for its promotion of regional and local acts, and its use of national headliners like Curtis Salgado and Janiva Magness. Curtis’ and Janiva’s sets made for an exciting blues festival early in blues festival season in the scenic North Idaho Panhandle.

Reviewer Eric Steiner is the editor of the Washington Blues Society Bluesletter and former member of the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation (2010-2013).

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 8

Billy Branch And The Sons Of Blues – Blues Shock

Blind Pig Records

11 tracks; 52 minutes

Chicago harmonica great Billy Branch has been absent from the recording scene for a long time although he is a regular in the clubs in his home town. His first Blind Pig album makes up for that absence with what is definitely a contender for album of the year. The core of The Sons Of Blues have been together for many years: Billy on vocals and harp, Nick Charles on bass, Moses Rutues on drums and Sumito ‘Ariyo’ Ariyoshi on piano were in the band I saw at Rosa’s Lounge in 2007, only guitarist Dan Carelli is of more recent vintage!

A variety of guests appear: Ronnie Baker Brooks (guitar and vocals) and Johnny Iguana (organ) appear on one track each; Justin Jon Kopp plays upright bass and Billy Dickens electric bass on one track each and Andrew “Blaze” Thomas replaces Moses on two cuts. A three man horn section of Bill McFarland (trombone), Hank Ford (tenor sax) and Kenny Anderson (trumpet) add their power to three tracks and a trio of female singers (Mae Koen, Nanette Frank and Nadima) add backing vocals to four. On one track cello and violin are added by ‘Mello Cello’ and Anne Harris; Oggie Merced, James Cowan and Peter Yale add percussion to two tracks.

The material blends six of Billy’s originals plus one by Ariyo with four ‘classics’. The place to start is with the title track which from the off is an instant classic in its own right and a contender for ‘Song Of The Year’ when the Blues Blast awards come round. Propelled by the horns, further driven by some ace slide guitar work from Dan and topped off with a storming solo from Billy, the song pounds along, wittily describing the effect that the blues can have on you: “It ain’t pneumonia and it ain’t the flu but you can’t shake it once it gets hold of you. Ain’t but the one thing that you got, a crazy little feeling called Blues Shock”. Yes, Billy, once this music grabs you it’s hard to resist; this is a dancefloor filler for certain, even picking up the riff from “Knock On Wood” to close the song!

However, Billy has not finished with strong songs for this album as “Going To See Miss Gerri One More Time” is another wonderful effort, a complete contrast to the title track, a slow elegy to the late Miss Gerri Oliver who ran the Palm Tavern for over 50 years. Billy’s lyrics tell of Gerri’s migration from the south and how she established herself in Chicago, making the Palm the place to go for generations of Chicagoans, including many famous names of the music scene. Musically the song is superb, Ariyo’s piano at the core, alongside Johnny Iguana’s Hammond and the strings and backing singers, the combination making an elegant ballad which is sung excellently by Billy. Equally moving without the need for words is the closing instrumental “Song For My Mother” in which Billy’s lovely playing is echoed by Ariyo’s piano while the band move along in lilting latin fashion.

Elsewhere Billy has some fun on “Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn”, a thinly disguised piece of innuendo taken at terrific pace with the horns at full tilt and relates some of the history of his band in almost rap fashion on the opener “Sons Of Blues”, a co-write with the poet Sterling Plumpp. “Slow Moe” is a vehicle for Moses Rutues to take the vocal mike, a real old-fashioned ‘down in the alley’ piece with terrific harp and piano and a guest appearance as ‘the nagging woman’ by Priscilla McDonald. Ariyo’s “Back Alley Cat” may well be written for his boss as Billy’s harp leads the way on a short but playful little number.

The four covers are also interesting choices. One might argue that Willie Dixon’s “Crazy Mixed Up World” and John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” have been covered so often that they are best avoided. However, Billy produces high quality and exciting versions of both songs which are no doubt crowd favourites at his shows. Bobby Bryant’s “Dog House” is an amusing piece with Ronnie Baker Brooks guesting on guitar and sharing vocals with Billy. Billy’s opening harp sounds like a dog howling and Ronnie’s guitar answers in kind before the two trade verses about how they have fallen from grace with their ladies. Shorty Long’s “Function At The Junction” (a co-write with Holland/Dozier/Holland) was a minor hit in 1966 and the band go at it hard throughout on a real stomper on which Dan’s guitar and Ariyo’s piano both feature strongly and the backing singers play an important role.

It may have been fifteen years since his last recording but Billy has certainly nailed it here on a well-crafted and consistently excellent album which comes highly recommended.

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.

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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign, IL

Prairie Crossroads Blues Society is hosting Kilborn Alley’s 14th Birthday Party, Saturday April 26th at 9 pm at the Iron Post, 120 S. Race St., Urbana, IL. Joining Kilborn Alley for the celebration is Jackie Scott of Jackie Scott & the Housewreckers. Cover $12, $10 for PCBS members.

On Sunday May 18th Prairie Crossroads Blues Society is bringing recently signed Alligator recording artist Jarekus Singleton to Champaign. Jarekus will be performing at Memphis on Main, 55 E. Main St. from 6pm-9pm.

For more info: or

DC Blues Society – Washington, D.C.

Join the DC Blues Society for a dance party with live music on April 19, 2014 from 8pm-12:30am (American Legion Post 268, 11225 Fern Street, Wheaton MD 20902). Tickets: $12 in advance, $15 at the door ( Doors open at 7 pm.

Dance to live blues from 3 DC Blues Society Battle of the Band Winners. We’re throwing a party to help The Blues Foundation build the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, TN. Leave your hard hat at home but bring your dancing shoes!

Performing are the Stacy Brooks Band who represented the DC Blues Society at the 2014 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Stacy’s voice and incredible stage presence have led to collaborations with blues stars Billy Branch and Kenny Neal.

Also appearing: The Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner Band who has a reputation for blistering fret work that inspires dancers to sweat!

Rounding out the lineup: Anthony “Swamp Dog” Clark and The Blues Allstars play a mix of contemporary blues with a funk edge. For more info

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

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

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

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

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.  Advanced tickets are on sale now. The festival will be held at the Rockford Aviators Stadium in Loves Park off Riverside (just east of the I39/90 exit). You can order tickets online for $10 plus a service charge at:

You can also send a check for $10 per ticket and a SASE to: Field of Blues Festival Tickets, c/o Crossroads Blues Society, PO Box 840, Byron, IL 61010.

You can also go to the following locations in Rockford: Guzzardo’s Music, Culture Shock, CD Source, Toad Hall Records, Alpine Bank (Highcrest, Springcreek, East State and Cherry Valley Branches), Just Goods Store, and the Rockford Area Arts Council. In Loves Park The Hope and Anchor is also selling tickets. Gary’s Guitars in Beloit will also be selling tickets as will the Aviators box office and other locations.

Headlined by the great blues and soul singer John Nemeth (8 PM), Crossroads has a great lineup for 2014! At 6 PM Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones will appear with Dennis Gruenling on harp. The 4 PM band is the ever popular Jimmys! Liz Mandeville is on stage at 2 PM and the day opens with Crossroads Blues Challenge winner the Alex Wilson Band. Dan Phelps will appear between acts.

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 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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