Issue 8-33 August 14, 2014


Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine


 In This Issue

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Preston Shannon. Marilyn Stringer has photos from The Portland Waterfront Blues Festival.

We have 12 reviews for you including reviews of music by Selwyn Birchwood, Shawn Amos, Fife and Drom, Giles Corey’s Stoned Soul, Malaya Blue, Preston Shannon, Bad Brad & The Fat Cats, Cal Williams Jr, Duncan Street, John Mayall, Deak Harp and Dudley Taft.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk

Hey Blues Fans,

Voting continues in the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards. Have you voted yet? Nearly 7,000 votes have been cast so far and the voting period is only half over! To vote now, CLICK HERE!

And don’t forget to mark your calendars for the amazing show at the Blues Blast Music Awards on Thursday October 23, 2014 at the Fluid Event Center in Champaign, IL to see performances by Tweed Funk, Adrianna Marie And Her Groovecutters, Back Pack Jones, Annie Mack Band, RB Stone, Bernie Pearl, Lisa Biales, Mark T Small, Lisa Mann, Bobby Rush and Blinddog Smokin’, Toronzo Cannon, Frank Bey Anthony Paule Band, Dave Riley And Bob Corritore, Brent Johnson, Shaun Murphy, Steve Dawson, Rachelle Coba, Too Slim & The Tail Draggers, Sean Chambers, Josh Hoyer, and Trudy Lynn!

Complete information is on the Blues Blast Music Awards website at Be sure to get you tickets NOW! The sooner you buy your tickets, the better your seats will be!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music! 

Bob Kieser

 Blues Wanderings 

Our Friends from the Illinois Central Blues Club are continuing to bring some of the BEST in Blues to the Midwest. This past Sunday we got to see Blues Blast Music Award winner Doug Deming at the Long Bridge Golf Course Club House. And he had the amazing harmonica player Dennis Gruenling with him and the Jewel Tones.

They put on a great show and folks came from as far as St. Louis to see them.

The the next night at Blue Monday ICBC brought in the Laurie Morvan Band, a great singer and guitarist who made the finals of the International Blues Challenge a few years ago. (I did not make it there on Monday though, my bad!)

Illinois Central’s efforts to bring great Blues to Springfield Illinois continue with Blues rocker Chris Duarte coming on August 18, Candye Kane on August 24th and two time International Blues Challenge winner Lionel Young on August 25th. Check out their website for complete information on these shows.

Someone should seriously consider nominating this Blues society for the Blues Foundation’s Keeping The Blues Alive Award!

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 12

Selwyn Birchwood – Don’t Call No Ambulance

Alligator Records

CD: 12 Songs; 53:47 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Jazz and Soul-Influenced Blues

What does it take to win the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee? Floridian Selwyn Birchwood certainly knows, having accomplished this feat in 2013. He and his band vanquished 125 other groups from across the country and globe.

On Don’t Call No Ambulance, his stunning first release on Alligator Records, he makes none of the traditional mistakes common to some debut albums. There are no lame lyrics, tepid tracks or ineffective instrumentation. Half of the reason for this is Birchwood’s raw talent and the other half is his collaboration with Alligator founder and prime recording guru Bruce Iglauer. The resulting CD sports gems of the finest. That may be a cliché in this day and age, but the ore of Selwyn’s music is gold, while others perform at a silver or copper level the first time.

Don’t Call No Ambulance features twelve original tunes, each one worth treasuring. With him are Regi Oliver on baritone, tenor, and alto saxophone, plus the bass clarinet and flute; bassist Donald “Huff” Wright, and drummer Curtis Nutall. Special guest stars include Joe Louis Walker on slide guitar, Josh Nelms on rhythm guitar, R.J. Harman on harmonica, and keyboardist Dash Dixon. The following three numbers are spectacular:

Track 07: “Overworked and Underpaid” – R.J. Harman’s harp provides a rueful introduction to this postmodern tale: “Today was my last day working for The Man. Headed home early with a pink slip in my hand. Picked up my last check – won’t even clear my debt. Change gotta be made; I’m overworked and underpaid.”

So many participants in today’s labor force know the feeling all too well. Perhaps they can drown their sorrows in Birchwood’s killer lap-steel guitar solo instead of the object mentioned below. Birchwood was schooled on lap-steel and the blues life by Florida neighbor and Blues legend, Sonny Rhodes.

Track 09: “Brown Paper Bag” – Drinking can often create more problems than it solves, as this slow-burning masterpiece proves. Even though it clocks in at over nine minutes, it never gets boring. In fact, it’s like a good bowl of spicy chili: the more one ‘eats’, the better it gets.

Dash Dixon plays powerful organ keyboards as Birchwood’s shredder howls like a hungry wolf. At live festivals, “Brown Paper Bag” would be a great closer or encore performance – preferably the latter. It deserves to have the last word in fans’ hearts and ears.

Track 12: “Hoodoo Stew” – Our narrator had better look out, or he’s going to be the main ingredient in a witch doctor’s latest concoction. Just as music was the hero’s salvation in “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” so it is in Selwood’s final selection.

“I grabbed my six-string before it was too late. Before I thought twice, this is what I played….” His solo is just as mesmerizing as that of ‘Johnny’s’ fiddle, and it keeps him out of the “Hoodoo Stew”.

Readers, “Don’t Call No Ambulance” unless you want a prescription for electric-blues perfection!

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 Interview – Preston Shannon

Off the bandstand, Preston Shannon is one of the most even-keeled and unflappable bluesmen a person could ever run across.

Calm, cool and collected – that’s always been the standard operating procedure for the ‘King of Beale Street.’

So when you see Shannon’s eyes light up, a huge grin break out across his face and his body shakes with all the anticipation and excitement of a young child on Christmas morning, that probably means that the longtime fixture on the Memphis music scene is genuinely excited about something.

That something would be Dust My Broom, Shannon’s just-released compact disc on the Continental Music label.

“Man … my new CD, I am just so, so excited about it. All the (radio) jocks I’ve talked to all over the country that have heard it just love it,” Shannon said. “I know there’s a lot of us blues artists out here now playing the blues, but I’ll put it to you like this – this is my best one yet.”

For this disc, Shannon has favored his fans with sort of a best of both worlds approach, an idea he borrowed from one of the legendary forefathers of modern music.

“I took the idea from the King of the Blues – B.B. King – who did an album in the 1970s called Live and Well. At that time, when albums were still on vinyl, what he did was make one side of it studio songs and the other side songs that were recorded live,” said Shannon. “So I decided to do that. I decided to do a tribute to the late, great Elmore James, so I did seven of his songs and the other five songs are Preston Shannon, live in Europe with a big band. I had a six-piece band backing me, with three horns called Fat Harry and the Fuzzy Licks. And they did a great job, man; a great job. That’s what the album’s all about and it’s awesome.”

His new album has already been on the streets over in Europe for awhile now, and this past spring, Shannon treated his fans over there by playing some of the material live on a tour through Belgium, Holland and Germany.

“Well, last year (2013), I played a cruise ship over there for almost five months and went to 21 countries. This year, I started out in Amsterdam and played all the way to Germany,” he said. “It was great, just fantastic. They accept and they really love the blues over there … they just love it. And I love them for loving it.”

Shannon has always been blessed with the smooth and soulful golden throat of a blues crooner in the very best sense, but he’s also long been heralded as a force to be reckoned with when he straps on his guitar and his fingers start maneuvering up and down the fret board. Largely because of the fertile area he grew up in, it would be hard to imagine anything but the blues coming out of Shannon when he sings or plays guitar.

“I’m a Mississippi (Olive Branch) boy and it seems like most of the old blues players were from Mississippi. You know, guys like B.B. King, Albert King, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf,” he said. “They’re all from Mississippi – I’m from Mississippi. I was raised around the blues. That’s where I get my style from.”

Like a lot of bluesmen of his era, Shannon’s gateway to music – and the blues – came through the church during his youth.

“My parents were Pentecostal and were very religious. The pastor of the church, W.E. Garner, played guitar. And that’s what inspired me to play the guitar,” he said. “At like 8- or 9-years-old. So after I got interested in the guitar, I would pick up his and play it on Sundays. That’s how I got started playing the guitar. That’s what motivated me, the preacher of the church.”

Times were no doubt brutally tough – from both economic and social perspectives – when Shannon was kicking around DeSoto County, but the one thing that wasn’t so difficult was choices in music; simply because there just wasn’t a whole lot to pick from.

“The only music that you heard back then was blues, gospel or country. Music now has got so many different categories. You may hear something that you think is the blues, but you find out that it’s considered pop or contemporary or something like that,” he said. “But back then blues was blues, gospel was gospel and country was country. Now, you can’t really tell.”

As tough as it may have been to break away from the pack and leave your mark as a bluesman back in the heady days of Muddy, Wolf and the Three Kings, Shannon thinks it may be even more of an uphill climb for today’s generation of up-and-comers to chisel out their own spot in the genre in 2014.

“If you don’t have something that’s really unique and different as a blues artist these days, you’re not going anywhere,” he said. “There’s really no outlet for the blues these days. The only blues you’re going to hear (on the radio) these days is on special days, at special times. It’s that way all over the country – even in Memphis. We’ve got the first black radio station, WDIA, and they only play the blues on Saturday. During the week, if you do hear the blues, it’s maybe something by B.B. King or some of the older acts. Maybe – maybe – that’s not guaranteed. You just hardly ever hear the blues anymore.”

Then – or now – it takes plenty of hard work and elbow grease to break into the entertainment industry. For Shannon, that meant two decades of playing in various Memphis bands at night for hardly any money, while he earned his living during the daytime working at a hardware store there in town. Hooking up with Shirley Brown in the late 1980s, Shannon really began to make blues lovers sit up and take notice and he played in the soul-blues diva’s band for nearly five years before striking out on his own.

“Well, it was something that was brand-new to me (going solo), but I felt like it was time to take a chance,” he said. “If you don’t ever take a chance, you’ll never know, so I just took a chance. But it was real hard there for a minute – I did a whole lot of different things (to support his burgeoning solo career). I did yards, drove dump trucks … a little of everything, you know. I paid my dues, I think. I’m still paying them, of course.”

He may still be paying his dues, but it didn’t take long before Shannon’s decision to start his own group proved to be the correct one. He issued three records on the Bullseye Blues label and his 1999 release – All in Time – garnered three Grammy nominations.

Not afraid to roll up his sleeves and tackle any chore that lay before him – on or off the bandstand – Shannon’s work ethic earned him the title of ‘King of Beale Street,’ a distinction he holds with great pride.

“I got that tag because once I got accepted on Beale Street as a blues artist, club owners started giving me a lot of work and I played up and down Beale Street for a number of years,” he said. “That’s how I got the name. I’d play on that end, then I’d play on the other end, then I’d play in the middle, then I’d play in the middle of the middle … on both sides of the street.”

Titles and acknowledgments are cool, but they usually carry some sort of extra responsibility or weight with them. But in Shannon’s case, he doesn’t believe that being hailed as the King of Beale Street adds any additional burden to his load.

“I just keep on doing now what I did back then. I’m basically a blues singer – I do a little bit of R&B – but it’s mostly the blues; that’s what I do … I sing the blues,” he said.

That ability to sing the blues – plus a little bit of R&B – was discovered in a most unusual place a couple of years ago. Producers of NBC’s hit talent show, The Voice, invited Shannon to compete on the program back in 2012, even though at first he thought he was the victim of some kind of prank.

“I’m at home and I get a phone call and my wife says, ‘Someone from The Voice is on the phone. So I’m like, ‘OK, yeah, cool.’ So I go to the phone and the lady says, “Hi, Preston, my name is Valerie and we want you to be a contestant on The Voice.’ I go, ‘Yeah, OK … when?’ I was thinking that someone was pulling one over on me,” he said. “This was on a Wednesday and they said they wanted me the next Monday. What? Monday? So I said, ‘Tell you what, let me call you back.’ To tell you the truth, I had just negotiated another day or two at B.B. King’s Club in Memphis, so I had to decide what to do. I needed the money from the gig at B.B.’s, but after I found out it was for real, I wanted to do The Voice, too. So I called B.B.’s and worked it out with them, so I still had a job when I got back to town.”

Once he arrived in Hollywood, the producers of the show had him write down 15 songs (there had never been a blues artist on the show before Shannon) and Shannon naturally picked all blues songs. Well, almost all blues songs.

“I decided to put down about five R&B songs that I might have a chance to do, along with the blues songs I picked. So the producers end up choosing “In the Midnight Hour” off my list. I really didn’t want to do that one, but they chose that one, so that’s the one I did.”

So Shannon channeled his best Wilson Pickett and sang ‘In the Midnight Hour” on national television. Pretty cool stuff for a bluesman from Olive Branch, even though he’s still not completely up to speed on how he came to be on the radar of The Voice.

“Well, the people from The Voice never did tell me how that got my number. When I got out there, I asked them how they found me and all they said was, ‘You came highly recommended,” Shannon said. “That’s all they told me. But it was awesome, man. There’s really a lot of work involved in that show.”

There has never been any question regarding the kind of dynamic performer that Preston Shannon is, whether on stage at the Rum Boogie in Memphis, at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, or at the Café Bizon in Belgium. And if there is one thing that has become a show-stopping staple of Shannon’s live shows, it’s his bluesy rendition of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” That may seem like an off-kilter choice of a song for a bluesman to cover, but in Shannon’s capable hands, it really does bring the house down.

“I have really always looked at that song as a blues. I mean, Prince really did that song so well … that’s why they made a movie out of it,” he said. “But I’m a Prince fan and I just love that song. When I went in to do my third CD (All in Time), I decided to do “Purple Rain.” Really, the only thing I do different is my guitar-playing is different. I play it as who I am and what I am – a blues player. I can’t play it like Prince, so I play it like me. Blues fans love my version of that song and I love doing it for them.”

Shannon doesn’t favor the approach of covering a song just by picking one at random out of a hat. His methods for adding a song to his repertoire go a tad bit deeper than that.

“I choose a song that I feel that I can do something with. Even when doing cover songs in a night club, if I don’t feel like I’m doing anything for the song – or getting anything out of the song – I tell the band to let me know,” he said. “Because if I’m doing a song and you can’t feel nothing, it’s no good. That’s the way I look at it.”

Adding depth and feelings to songs is something that Shannon has been doing for a long time now. There was little doubt after he first picked up the guitar in church that the instrument was going to be a big part of his life from that point on. But as far as his singing voice?

“I never wanted to be a singer. I never even visualized one day being a singer and going across the country and getting paid for it,” he said. “When I got into this business, all I wanted to do was play the guitar. That’s it. I remember the first time someone put a mike in front of me, I was like, ‘No! No! No!’ But as time went on, I realized that I had enough talent to do it, so I finally decided that’s what I needed to do; to play guitar and sing.”

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 12

Shawn Amos – The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It

Self release

6 songs – 21 minutes

Shawn Amos may not appear to have a stereotypical background for a blues singer. He is the son of Wally Amos (of the Famous Amos cookie brand). He is also the founder and CEO of the digital content studio Freshwire, a venture of marketing giant Omnicom. He has worked in A&R, production and brand marketing.

Initial appearances can of course be deceiving. On the other side of the same coin, Amos’s mother was R&B singer Shirlee May, and he has produced and performed with Solomon Burke, and produced John Lee Hooker and Johnny “Guitar” Watson, amongst others. He has also released three albums before The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It, a six song EP featuring four well-known covers and two originals.

Kicking off with “Hoodoo Man Blues”, Amos and his band (Don Medina on drums, Chris Roberts on guitar and Ed Terrio on bass, together with Anthony Marinelli on Hammond B-3 organ and Gia Ciambotti and Kim Yarbrough on backing vocals) immediately settle into a deep groove on their take of the Junior Wells classic. It’s a relatively faithful interpretation, which is played with impressive conviction and muscular assertiveness.

It is followed by Amos’ own strikingly original “(The Girl Is) Heavy”, which starts with dissonant tremoloed guitar over a stuttering, funky backbeat and sinuous harp, before launching into a gospel-like chorus. The second verse switches to a laid-back shuffle rhythm which then alternates with Roberts’ dissonant guitar and the funk of the first verse as the song develops. The result is a surprisingly effective and certainly memorable piece.

“I’m the Face” by The Who was, of course, a re-working of Slim Harpo’s masterful “Got Love If You Want It” and Amos’ cover drags the song back to its Louisiana swamp roots, with fine jungle drumming from Medina. Amos’ harp work reflects the influence of Junior Wells as he sings “I’m the face, baby, is that clear? I’m the face if you want it, I’m the face if you want it, dear. All the others are third class tickets by me, baby, is that clear?”

Of the remaining covers, the Elmore James classic “Something Inside of Me” is re-interpreted as a stripped-down trio, without the horns or slide guitar of the original, although Amos still retains James’ mournful, almost funereal drone. “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl” follows Junior Wells’ version pretty faithfully and is superbly played. The musicians resist the urge to update it unnecessarily or to over-play on it, making the carnal lust of the lyrics all the most powerful.

The final song is another Amos original, “Sometimes I Wonder”, an R&B ballad in which he sings “I got a dark side on my shoulder, I keep my hands in view. You’re gonna know how my love feels, you’re gonna see what it can do. I’m gonna take me a trip now, I’m gonna fly real soon. Remember me to my children, that man of yours too.”

album is a very impressive release of Chicago-style electric blues, featuring some classic covers that Amos absolutely inhabits, as well as two high quality original tracks. Well worth listening to and we look forward to a full length album in due course.

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 Live Blues Review – 27th Portland Waterfront Blues

The Waterfront Blues Festival this year was, as always, spectacular. It is the best way anyone could spend the four days surrounding the 4th of July holiday. The setting, along the Willamette River is beautiful, there are four stages to choose from, the variety of the music with more than 100 shows will please everyone’s taste, there are river cruises packed with performers, zydeco dance lessons and a big wooden dance floor, fabulous food and craft beer, vendors galore, and to top it all off it is the Oregon Food Bank’s largest fund raiser. This year the donations brought in $1,114,004 as well as thousands of pounds of food – enough to provide over three million meals to those in need.

So, with that many acts, this cub reporter was only able to cover about half of them. Needless to say, the choice was difficult, because they were all good. Portland, and the Pacific Northwest (PNW), has a huge population of very talented musicians, and part of the fun of attending festivals in areas that are not your own, is you get to see local talent, who play in many of the different bands. Usually, the person who plays in the most bands over the weekend is drummer Jimi Bott, but he was absent this year. The person, who took over that distinction this year, for me, was bassist Lisa Mann (who has been nominated for a Blues Blast Award this year). She has her own band but also was an integral part of so many other performances – it was a real treat! Close behind her on multiple appearances was Jim Pugh on anything with keys. He spent 30 years with Robert Cray and is now playing everywhere with everyone!! More treats for the fans!

Instead of going chronologically, I am highlighting by stages. And for more information about all the bands, there is an app for that! It has in depth info about all the bands and I can’t write about all them other than they were all really great! The first, and smallest stage, is the FedEx Crossroads stage, managed by Stan Street from Clarksdale, MS. He has a lot of acoustic and smaller groups, along with Q&A workshops given by the performers from the larger bands. He also performs occasionally on harmonica and/or drums. This year he played with 81 year-old Leo “Bud” Welch. Also on this stage (in order of pics) were Tevis Hodge, Steve Cheseborough, and Mac Potts.


The next stage is the Oregonian Front Porch Stage. It is located in a large area where dance lessons are given, all of the Zydeco bands play, the IBC challenge takes place, and the atmosphere is that of a New Orleans party. Although the stage is large enough to accommodate full bands, some of the smaller sets also play there, and some of those performers can be seen more than once throughout the weekend on other stages. Pictured below are Blind Boy Paxton, IBC Solo/Duo Winner Tim Williams, Karen Lovely’s Prohibition orchestra, and the United By Music group.


Performing on both the Front Porch and the First Tech Credit Union Stage were The Homemade Jamz Blues Band with the Perry siblings – Ryan (guitar), Kyle (bass), and Taya (drums). They just keep getting better and taller!!

The third stage, First Tech Blues Stage, rotates performances with the main stage, so the crowds can either go back and forth to the stages, or sit on the grass in the middle and watch the jumbotron. Chicago’s Little Ed and The Blues Imperials were another band that played at two stages. He is pure Chicago blues and total entertainment. Along with Ed, who does get airborne, are his brother Pookie (bass), Mike Garret (guitar), and Kelly Littleton (drums).

The next band pictured is the Northwest Women in Blues, with Lisa Mann (bass), Vicki Stevens (vocals), Sonny Hess (guitar), Diane Blue (harmonica), Joanne Broh (vocals), Kelly Pierce (drums) and Marlana VanHoose with her mentor, Lisa Mann, singing Etta James “At Last”. Marlana is one of the United By Music artists and she literally blew the crowd away. From the app description “United By Music is an International performance-based program offering opportunities for Artists with extraordinary musical talents and developmental challenges to enhance their musical abilities.”


Another great PNW band of All-Stars was the Andy Stokes-Lisa Mann band. This band included Andy Stokes (vocals), Lisa Mann (bass), Edwin Coleman III (drums), Louis Pain (B3), Peter Dammann (guitar and festival Artistic Director), and Renato Caranto (sax).


Portland’s Lloyd Jones is always a favorite at the PWBF. His band includes LaRhonda Steele (vocals), Louis Pain (B3), Denny Bixby (bass), Carlton Jackson (drums), and Rudy Draco and Warren Rand (horns – not shown).

Commander Cody: George Frayne (piano), with Mark Emmerick (guitar), Steve Barbuto (drums), and Randy Bramwell (bass).

Kara Grainger: with Scott Healy (kb) and Spencer Wright (bass).

Chris O’Leary: with Dave Gross (guitar), Jason Devlin (drums), Matt Raymond (bass), Andy Stahl and Chris DiFrancesco (horns)

Dumpstafunk: Ian Neville and Ivan Neville (guitars), Tony Hall and Nick Daniels (bass), and Nikki Glaspie (drums)

Sugaray Rayford Band: pictured Gino Matteo (guitar) and Leo Drombecki (B3). His band was huge!!! And Explosive!!!

Andy T-Nick Nixon Band: Andy & Nick (guitars), Anson Funderburgh (guitar), Jim Klingler (drums), Sam Persons (bass) and Larry Van Loon (B3).

Over on the Miller Stage there was Otis Taylor Band with guest Mato Nanji: Anne Harris (violin), Otis Taylor, Mato Nanji, Taylor Scott (guitars), Todd Edmunds (bass), and Larry Thompson (drums).

Franck Goldwasser and some heavy hitters: Franck Goldwasser and Peter Dammann (guitars), John Mazzocco (bass), Jim Pugh (B3), Tony Coleman (drums – BB King’s drummer).

Frank Bey and Anthony Paule Band: Anthony Paule (guitar), Frank Bey (vocals), Paul Olguin (bass), Paul Revelli (drums), Nancy Wright, Tom Poole, Derek James (horns), and Tony “Macaroni” Lufrano and Jim Pugh (kb).


Charlie Musselwhite: Matt Stubbs (guitar), Charlie Musselwhite (harmonica, vocals), June Core (drums), Steve Froberg (bass), Jim Pugh (kb).

The Holmes Brothers with Joan Osborne: Wendall Holmes (guitar), Popsy Dixon (drums), Sherman Holmes (bass), Joan Osborne (vocals)

John Nemeth and The Bo-keys: The Bo-keys, John Nemeth (harmonica, vocals), Percy Wiggins (vocals)


Thara Memory’s American Music Program with Andy Stokes and LaRhonda Steele. Thara Memory, Grammy winner and acclaimed trumpeter is the band leader of this pre-professional group of 7-12 graders performing swing, jazz, blues in the program called “Nothing But The Blues”.

Three headliners from both stages included The Soul of John Black, Boz Scaggs, and Bombino of Niger


The first night headliners on the main stage were Los Lonely Boys and then Los Lobos. The Los Lonely Boys – Henry Garza (guitar), Jojo Garza (bass), and Ringo Garza (drums) were joined by Steve Berlin on sax from Los Lobos. Then when Los Lobos came out, Henry Garza played guitar the entire set, where normally David Hidalgo would be playing. It was a huge combo of both bands and just a whole lot of great music. Los Lobos included Cesar Rojas (guitar), Louie Perez (many varieties of six and twelve string instruments), Henry Garza (Guitar), Conrad Lozano (bass), Steve Berlin (sax/kb), and Enrique “Bugs Gonzalez (drums).


This year, the Portland Festival lost it’s very important and highly loved production manager, Jim Miller. His death was sudden, unexpected, and a huge sense of loss was pervasive this year. In a tribute to Jim, the Nimbus Myste Crewe did a second line up to the stage, the Portland musicians did a full tribute to Jim, and because he was also a bass player, the tribute included five bass players all together. Pictures are the Jim Miller Tribute dancers, Alan Hagar (guitar), Franck Goldwasser (guitar) and Bill Rhoades (harmonica), the basses (John Mazzocco, Tim Shaughnessy, Lisa Mann, Alan Markel, and David Kahl ), and Steve Kerin (kb).

Closing out the festival, was the Curtis Salgado Big Band. The advertised final headliner, Gregg Allman, canceled at the very last minute, and Curtis stepped in, flying all night after performing the night before at the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival in Davenport, IA. Curtis, acknowledged that there might be some disappointment that he wasn’t Gregg Allman, and proceeded to pull out all stops and put on the performance that only Curtis can do. Curtis Salgado IS Portland and was right where he belonged, ending the festival on a high note. He embodies what Luther Allison used to say “Leave The Ego, Play The Music, Love The People”. Thanks to Curtis, and his entire band, for being the professionals that they are as well as the best entertainers and bluesmen in the business.

Pictured: The Band, Curtis Salgado, Tracy Arrington (bass), Horns (Timothy Bryson, Dave Mills, Gary Harris), Vyasa Dodson (guitar), Brian Harris (KB), and Brian Foxworth (drums).


And finally, thanks to all the sponsors, over 2000 volunteers, the Oregon Food Bank, Clay Fuller Productions, and musicians who, once again, put on the best festival this side of the Mississippi. Looking forward to what next year will bring!!

Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2014

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 12

Fife and Drom – Introducing Fife and Drom


CD: 7 Songs; 27:34 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues, Delta and Chicago Blues

If two blues musicians, a husband-and-wife team, had only twenty-seven minutes and thirty-four seconds in which to pour out their hearts, what would they do? How many songs would they sing, and within them, what stories would they tell?

This reviewer is pleased to be “Introducing Fife and Drom,” otherwise known as Mark Marshall and Abby Ahmad. Though the couple grew up across the street from one another in Pennsylvania, over twenty years later, fate arranged their first meeting at the Crossroads Café in Brooklyn. Their band name pays tribute to fife and drum blues music, which emerged from Mississippi, and also to the Dutch word “drom,” meaning “a group moving together with purpose”.

On this debut album they’re joined by Michael Leonhart of Steely Dan, Jon Cowherd of the Brian Blade Fellowship and co-performer with Roseanne Cash, and Jackson Kincheloe of Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds. Together they present seven original songs, which contain just the right amount of eccentricity to bring bite to their blues. Some may take getting used to, but these three are addicting upon the very first play-through:

Track 01: “Wicked Tongue” – With a diabolical electric-guitar intro by Mark Marshall and gritty stomp drumbeat by Sean Dixon, the opener will make purists sit up and pay attention. “Every time I try to please you, you go and start a fight,” Abby Ahmad sneers, “but, baby, how can I believe you when your bark feels like a bite?” At the end of the song, she playfully turns the tables on her belligerent bully: “Won’t you get down on your knees, boy, and let that frown have some fun?”

Track 02: “Barnburner” – This towering inferno is an instrumentalist’s paradise, featuring seven separate ones (Alfaia, autoharp, acoustic guitar, bass, percussion, resonator guitar, and snare drum). They’re joined by Mark Marshall and Adam Minkoff on background vocals, as well as Scott Kettner and Brittany Anjou on hand claps. They all present two options: dance or depart.

Track 05: “Little Orphan Frannie”- The title character of this tune is no red-headed waif who lacks pupils. Rather, she’s a hard-bitten ward of the state who spots (and kills) her abusive father as an adult: “’Little Orphan Frannie, the resemblance is uncanny; it’s been fifteen years or so. I took one look upon his head, and I shot that [sucker] dead…I don’t care if the whole world knows.” The instrumental cacophony may be unnerving at first, but that’s exactly its point.

Abby Ahmad’s vocals are a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Sheryl Crow, with a little Edie Brickell as an accent flavor. She uses them to best effect on rowdy numbers like the first two mentioned above, but they sound syrupy on the final track, “Please, Please, Please.” Overall, though, “Introducing Fife and Drom” to the blues world is a plus for fans of the Delta variety.

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 – 4 of 12

Giles Corey’s Stoned Soul

Delmark Records 2014

13 tracks; 59 minutes

Andrew Osis came to Chicago to study at the University of Chicago but was already into music, having played in a power trio in his home town of Trumbull, Connecticut. That band was called The Giles Corey Band, the name taken from a character in “The Crucible” which Andrew and his pals were reading at the time. As Andrew fronted the band he was often referred to as “Giles” and the name stuck.

For this project Giles decided on a play on words about the fate that awaited the character in “The Crucible” – he was stoned to death! Joining Giles (as we will now refer to him) here are Marty Sammon on keys, Joewaun Scott on bass and Rick King on drums. Pat Otto adds mandola to four tracks and a trio of backing singers (Diane Madison, Mae Koen, Nanette Frank) add colour to two tracks. Giles wrote eight of the songs here, Marty Sammon wrote two (one with Rick King) and there are three covers.

Giles has played with a number of Chicago greats, including spells with Otis Rush, Billy Branch and Mississippi Heat amongst others. His first solo venture was Lubriphonic, a jam band with which all four main participants here were involved at one time or another. Giles speaks of wanting to link the jam band scene to the blues as there is much common ground and there are certainly some links on display here as the band covers a wide variety of roots music.

Opening track “Oh, Mademoiselle” has a funky base courtesy of some percolating keyboard work and lashings of slide from Giles. The upbeat “Morning Train” follows, with Pat’s mandola set against Giles’ guitar. The first cover is an intriguing run through the country classic “Don’t Let The Green Grass Fool You”. It starts out as an attractive cover with fine harmony vocals from the female trio and good piano and guitar solos. Giles’ solo morphs into a frenetic upbeat section before he returns to the original melody with some acapella vocals and the trio then take the song home; a version that takes a little getting used to!

Pat’s mandola and Marty’s piano feature in the downhome and amusing “Time Flies (When You’re Drunk)” but the heavily distorted wah-wah Giles uses on the funked up “Pork & Beans” did not work well to these ears. Gary Clark Jr’s “Bright Lights” takes the pace down a little with plenty of solid piano accompaniment and more muted wah-wah effects, the rousing chorus a high point and Giles takes a strong solo towards the end of the tune – a very effective cover.

“Rita” has more slide work from Giles, even evoking Derek Trucks at times, and it is not often you get a word like ‘Aphrodite’ in a blues tune! “Right On!” features drummer Rick on vocals on his and Marty Sammons’ very pleasant tune, the female trio adding choral harmonies to good effect and Giles adding some interesting guitar tones in his solo, this time bringing a latin dimension to his playing.

“It’s All Been Said Before” brings back Pat’s mandola on a catchy shuffle before Marty’s “Watch Myself Go Crazy” finds Marty taking the vocal on a tune which has some jazz rock influences and finds Giles in lyrical mood in his solo. The final cover is Cedric Burnside’s “That Girl Is Bad” which pounds along, driven by Giles’ slide and some great drumming, just off the beat, from Rick.

The album then closes with two more of Giles’ originals. “Home Is On My Mind” is a gentle tune with lyrics about getting home from a long journey, Giles double-tracking some shimmering slide and fast runs over a funky rhythm guitar motif. Closing track “Every Time I See Your Face” is almost acoustic with Pat’s mandola and Marty’s piano in back porch mood, Giles’ vocal very relaxed until the closing section when his vocals rise in intensity as his slide comes in over an increasingly lively backing.

This varied CD is an excellent first solo effort from Giles and is well worth a listen. There is enough strong guitar playing, especially on slide, to satisfy the guitar freaks but also a wide variety of styles are covered. Not everything works, but it is good to hear someone looking to stretch the envelope.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 12

Malaya Blue – Bourbon Street

Mad Ears Productions

Fourteen tracks with a running time of 56:45

Just the mere words “Bourbon Street” conjure up different memories for different areas of the world. It would seem that every major city in the world has a Blues club named for the real deal in New Orleans, LA.

Malaya Blue opens Bourbon Street with an ode to the most famous party street in the world. With a slow tempo Blues delivery Blue gives us her interpretation of NOLA with a soft, sultry delivery that would be welcome to the Big Easy and all of its nuances, presence and passion. Fans of Mick Simpson might recognize his songwriting style and lead guitar delivery on this tune (shares writing credits with Andy Littlewood and M. Ashforth) that has a Gary Moore feel to it. There is also a great video of the song on the Mad Ears Productions web site.

On track 2, “Forgiveness”, we are again treated to clean guitar leads by Simpson. Who doesn’t deserve a little forgiveness in their lives? Blue’s voice drips with emotion here while pleading for forgiveness for some past transgression to a man she seems almost afraid to approach with her plea. Another entertaining video of this song is on

Things pick up a bit on track 4, “Lost Girl”, with some horns in the background provided by The MEP Collective. With a forceful, somewhat Rock driven, beat Blue provides proof that her voice is comfortable in many Blues settings and can make your toes tap when she wants to.

“Bluesville U.K.” (track 7) is a mid-tempo shuffle that combines Blue’s voice, A. Littlewood’s guitar work, brass, and harmonica by Dave Hunt. The mix makes a statement for Blues in the U.K. while treating the listener to some Dixieland driven brass mixed in with some harmonica that works well here.

Track 9, “Guilty” is a song most of us can relate to. Most of us have been in a relationship where there comes a point where one starts accusing another of transgressions that are either real or imagined. With lyrics like “I say you do – you say you don’t…” one gets the message quickly that things are breaking down. With Mick Simpson providing some clean, capable, chronically good guitar licks this number stands out as one of the best examples of the talents on this recording.

Malaya Blue’s voice is the main engine driving this album and rightfully so. Her voice is sensually sexy with a range that few vocalists can match. When that voice is matched with the songwriting and instrumental excellence here the listener can’t lose. All fourteen songs here are originals with some straight ahead Blues, some Blues-rock with a little Jazz thrown in to complete the mix.

Songwriting credits go to Andy Littlewood and M. Ashforth for all songs except track 1, “Bourbon Street” that was written by Littlewood, Ashforth and Mick Simpson and track 5, “Lady Sings the Blues” which shows A. Littlwood as the sole contributor. Further credits (as listed on CD cover) go to: Malaya Blue – lead vocals and backing vocals, Andy Littlewood – guitars, keyboards, bass, and backing vocals, Mick Simpson – lead guitar on tracks 1, 2, 6, 9, 11, and 13, Giovanni Bruno – guitar on tracks 5 and 10, The MEP Collective – horns and brass, and Dave Hunt – harmonica on track 7. Bourbon Street was produced and engineered by Andy Littlewood.

Reviewer Tim “Bluzybiker” Petty spent 42 years building railroads and now spends his time supporting the music he loves and riding motorcycles – sometimes at the same time!

 Featured Blues Review – 6 of 12

Preston Shannon – Dust My Broom

Continental Blue Heaven Records

12 Tracks-Running Time/43:32

Latest in the dynasty of Beale Street monikered Bluesman is Preston Shannon, AKA, The King Of Beale Street. Shannon is a journeyman Memphis Bluesman with Frankenstein chops. Dust My Broom is his sixth release, two of which were produced by the mythical Memphis sound collaborator, Willie Mitchell.

This production showcases the artist in two settings. Seven tracks are from studio sessions in Memphis. Five are live tracks produced for radio in Europe. In both settings the sheer artistry and power of Preston Shannon purely shines. Of course, the Memphis sessions are adorned with first call players; Billy Gibson (harmonica), Jackie Clark (bass, keyboard, drums), Kirk Smitheart (slide guitar), Michael Aarons (slide guitar)and Harold Smith (rhythm guitar). The horns are arranged by Donald Hayes.

The European live radio tracks features Preston Shannon backed by Fat Harry and The Fuzzy Licks, a rockin’, Rotterdam based unit that is also the go to European touring band for Joe Louis Walker, Tail Dragger, Craig Horton, Chick Rodgers, Sax Gordon and John Primer.

Both settings are outstanding. The Memphis sessions make use of Elmore James material by covering songs that James either wrote or helped make popular. Shannon re-imprints “Done Somebody Wrong,” “It Hurts Me Too,” “Look On Yonder Wall,” “The Sky Is Crying” and the title track, “Dust My Broom.” With the addition of slide guitarists Smith and Aarons, the presence of Elmore James original work is still felt while Mr. Shannon freely explores the realm of his deep well of guitar and vocal prowess. Though traces of B.B. and Albert King can be recognized in his guitar attack, his sense of improvisational timing is largely his own. His vocals are soulful and strong. Despite sonic comparisons to Otis Redding and Bobby Womack, Preston Shannon sings like, well, Preston Shannon. The Memphis Sessions are rounded out by one composition each from Rev. Gary Davis, Muddy Waters and Hound Dog Taylor.

The Live At Lloyds European radio tracks were recorded two years ago. In addition to the Fuzzy Licks core unit, Preston has added a crack horn section and the fabled Henry Oden on bass. The set adapts two songs written by Don Robey and one by Prince. It also contains only performance written by Shannon, “The Way I Love You.” The surprise track of the whole project is the arrangement of Prince’s “Purple Rain.” Employing Tina Turnerish phrasing and Prince’s mincing yelp, Mr. Shannon effectively remains true to the original yet convincingly appropriates it as his own.

With only one Preston Shannon written song possibly more original compositions may have made the total project more balanced.

Summarily, Mr. Shannon’s solos are tasteful straight ahead urban blues with the right touch of country delta inspiration. Injected with spurts of classic R&B and even Pop influences, Dust My Broom is a great listening experience. Hopefully there is yet more in store.

Reviewer Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, CA and road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 12

Bad Brad & The Fat Cats – Take A Walk With Me

Self Release

13 songs-time-56:20

Just what the world needs, another hot-shot blues-rock guitarist-vocalist! The thing is that this one from Colorado has a different approach. Everything is recorded live with no overdubs and the sound is sharp and crisp. No heavy-handed production and clutter.

As another plus they throw in a little variety-A boogie tune here, a shuffle there…hey?…how about some accordion? Hey, don’t laugh, it actually works quite well. Bad Brad Stivers supplies the molten guitar licks and a well-suited, throaty voice. All the songs are written by him, at times wearing their influences on their sleeve. If you are hankering for some nifty blues-rock, this one will blow the dust off of your shelves quite nicely thank you.

Right off the bat an Elmore James inspired riff propels the title track. The clean guitar playing and hefty vocals are here for the duration…that’s a good thing. The lyrical content of “Leghound” is pretty self-explanatory. The song is set to a rockabilly-inspired riff and features some neat guitar solos.

The over-used patented boogie riff from John Lee Hooker and handed down to Canned Heat, Z.Z. Top, and Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit In The Sky” rears its’ boogie-head once more in “Ego Trip”. Here it comes off as more of a visit from a long lost friend. Here as elsewhere the song serves as more of a vehicle for soloing. Greg MacKenzie joins band member Nic Clark on dueling harmonicas.

“Take It Easy” is a nice leisurely blues stroll with plenty of string-bending. The hypnotic heavy drums and catchy riff of “Headin” Out” are…well…hypnotic and catchy.

A slow blues progresses to an intense, burning guitar assault on “Lucky Man”. Lionel Young adds some tasty slide guitar licks to the shuffling drums on “Other Side”. A nice change of pace is offered up on the accordion-driven “See My Way”, courtesy of Dwight Carrier.

The Zydeco lilt is a pleasant rest stop amid the guitar frenzy. “Man On The Move” returns us back to blues-rock heaven with some more driving sounds. You can hear the chugging locomotive in the rhythm of “Train Down South”. A nice surf-meets-spy movie guitar motif takes us home in the sole instrumental “Uma”.

If you are a blues-rock guitar junky, this be the place for you. The lyrics are often secondary, as Brad rips off note after note. Production is well handled as all instruments come through distinctly. This is a welcome addition to blues-rock paradise.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 12

Cal Williams Jr – Little Black Crow

Self release

10 songs – 35 minutes

Cal Williams Jr is an Australian folk-blues singer/songwriter/guitarist whose reputation has been steadily growing in recent years, both at home and in the UK. Little Black Crow is his fifth solo album, and it follows the blueprint of his previous releases, featuring impressive acoustic blues and folk songs, played with raw energy, intricate guitar and stellar slide.

Opening with “Down To The River”, Williams strums his acoustic whilst throwing in short single note flourishes around the vocal line. He sings in a gentle, high tenor voice not dissimilar to Mississippi John Hurt both in pitch and in subtle, aching melancholy, even on the upbeat numbers. “Long Legged Woman” follows, with the lyrics making explicit reference to Mississippi as Williams celebrates the love he gets from his woman.

But while there are definite Delta influences in Little Black Crow, especially in Williams’ slide playing, there are also strong hints of folk in songs such as the Neil Young-esque “Kickaround” and “Pale Blue Dress” and the vocal harmonies on tracks such as “Lead Me Down The Line”, as well as the folk-influenced Piedmont blues of Blind Willie McTell and Blind Boy Fuller.

Williams wrote eight of the tracks himself. The two covers are Bukka White’s “Parchman Farm” (cleverly re-imagined) and the traditional “Lord Have Mercy On My Soul”. The originals are as impressive as the covers, having a resonance to them such that tracks like “Lead Me Down The Line” could have been written in the Mississippi Delta in the 1930s.

Williams is joined on a number of songs by long-time collaborator, Kory Horwood, on double bass and harmony vocals and the extra voice adds additional emotional depth to songs such as “Parchman Farm”.

Williams’ guitar playing throughout is highly impressive, and his slide playing is utterly authentic, masterful and emotionally complex. “Hard Times A-Coming”, which sounds like a distant cousin to Skip James’ “Hard Times Killin’ Floor Blues”, is a prime example. Williams adroitly uses light and shade to keep the momentum of the song moving forwards.

This is a relatively short album, with all 10 songs clocking in at just 35 minutes, but there are no fillers or wasted moments on Little Black Crow.

If you’re a fan of traditional acoustic guitar blues, with a little folk influence, reminiscent of early Kelly Joe Phelps, then you have to listen to Little Black Crow. It’s a very impressive and very enjoyable release.

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 – 9 of 12

Duncan Street –Baptized by the Blues

15 South Records

Eleven songs with a total running time of 40:33

Any Blues recording that starts out with a song entitled, “Watermelon, BBQ & Beer” captures a Blues lover’s attention quickly. With lyrics like “Watermelon, BBQ and beer – that’s how we keep our cool this time of year…” this reviewer’s radar was up. Having heard this deserved classic Blues tune on The Friend’s of the Blues radio show hosted on Saturday nights by James Walker and Shuffle Shoes (WKCC FM 91.5 or as well as a few other cuts this reviewer had a preview of this solid recording before being called on to review it.

Duncan Street has a stripped down acoustic approach the Blues here that works quite well. Dave Duncan plays acoustic guitar, Dobro resonator guitar, and “an old Gibson ES125” plus vocals with Stan Street on harmonica, kick drum, cardboard box, hambone, snare drum, saxophone and vocals. Both artists live in the Southern US and the Delta feel on this recording reflects that. Duncan also produced this gem which is all originals except track 5 which is a cover of Muddy’s “I Be’s Troubled”.

“Come To Mississippi” (track 2) starts out with a hypnotic driving rhythm that reminds one of that infectious North Mississippi sound attributed to artists like R. L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, etc. “If you wanna know what the Blues is about then ya gotta make a trip down South…” takes us on a Blues journey to the Delta that we may not want to come back from. In fact Stan Street made his home in Clarksdale, MS where he has an art studio next to The Rock ‘n Blues Museum.

Track 4, “Sharpest Marble In The Drawer” is a straight ahead 12 bar Blues number that takes self-depreciation to a new level. “In this world of uncertainty there is one thing I know fo sho, I’m a natural born lover’s man, and I ain’t the sharpest marble in the drawer” is brilliant songwriting, which is typical of this recording.

The title track “Baptized by the Blues” (track 7) is a quick tempo story of so many Blues Legends you almost need a scorecard to keep up with them. When that Resonator and harmonica kick in you come to believe these Blues artists were indeed, “ baptized by the Blues.”

“Shakin’ The Bacon Down” has a Delta Moon sound and feel to it. The song makes you want to know exactly what “Shakin’ the bacon down in the house on the edge of town” means – of course you don’t hafta be the “sharpest marble in the drawer” to figure it out.

The closing track, “The Blues Comes In All Colors”, takes on one final journey into the Blues world with a some history thrown in. We even take a little trip into the universe with lyrics like, “ even Martians get ‘em (Blues) no one is immune.” With a some somewhat subdued saxophone doing the lead here this closer works well.

This CD has almost all the bases covered with songs about food, beer, Blues history, Blues future,
baptismals, love gone right, love gone bad, joy, sorrow and an invitation to where it all began in Mississippi. This is a solid Blues outing from two masters of the genre and deserves to be in any Blues lover’s collection.

Reviewer Tim “Bluzybiker” Petty spent 42 years building railroads and now spends his time supporting the music he loves and riding motorcycles – sometimes at the same time!

 Featured Blues Review – 10 of 12

John Mayall – A Special Life

Forty Below Records

11 tracks / 44:17

It seems like John Mayall needs no introduction, but there may be a few folks out there that have never heard of the Godfather of British Blues. Maybe they do not know that over the past 50 years he has led the ever-changing members of The Bluesbreakers, which has included other legends such as Eric Clapton, Jack Bruce, Peter Green, John McVie and Mick Taylor. Or that in the late 1960s he moved to Los Angeles and never missed a beat as he continued to spread his blue and rock, but this time with a progressive path that took his blues and rock to another level.

John’s work has resulted in over 50 albums to date, and he has played with every blues artist of note while touring nearly endlessly. It appeared that Mayall was hanging up his hat in 2008 when he announced that The Bluebreakers were calling it quits, but that was not the case. Luckily for us he could not sit still and in 2009 he put together a righteous band that in just a few short days cut Tough, a terrific album that spawned a new series of tours.

Mayall’s latest effort, A Special Life, picks up where his last album left off and it is hard to believe that there has been a 5 year dry spell since he last cut a new record. It is a blessing that many of the same personnel have returned, as they are as tight of a crew that a frontman could hope for. This leaner band is made up of Rocky Athas from Texas on guitar and Chicagoans Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport behind the drum kit. John was the producer for this project, as well as taking on the vocals, piano, organ, harmonica, and clavinet. As before, the album only took a few days to record, and it impossible to tell as it is a nicely-produced disc that benefited from the toils of co-producer, engineer and mixer, Eric Corne.

The first track features special guest C.J. Chenier on accordion and vocals, and this is particularly apt as “Why Did You Go Last Night” was originally written and recorded by C.J.’s father, Clifton Chenier, the Zydeco legend. Mayall used to do this song back when Jack Bruce was in The Bluesbreakers, and it is definitely more blues than Cajun as Chenier belts out his vocals over John’s honkytonk piano stylings.

This is followed up by the straightforward blues rocker, “Speak of the Devil,” which was penned by former Mayall guitarist Sonny Landreth. This version is a bit faster than the original, and we get to hear that John still has a powerful voice as he holds his own again the blazing guitar of Rocky Athas. Davenport and Rzab nail a tight beat under their leader’s Hammond organ chords, and this song turns out as slick as can be. These guys having been touring together for the past few years, so it should be no surprise that they are still in sync. After this, John lets his harmonica fly as he honks out Jimmy Rogers’ classic, “That’s All Right.”

It is true that Mayall has nurtured generations of fine guitarists, but we have to remember that he is no slouch behind the fretboard either. John takes the lead guitar parts on Albert Kings’ “Floodin’ in California” and on the title track and he plays with poignancy and an artist’s touch. Any blues band out there would be happy to have him sit in on guitar!

John Mayall wrote four of the songs on A Special Life including a re-do of “Heartache” which originally appeared on his 1965 debut album. But his newer songs are stronger yet as he looks into things that are more current to him. The subjects include our terrible political climate in “World Gone Crazy” and the blessings and curses of his career in “A Special Life”. Of course he would not be the Godfather if he did not crank out a broken-hearted blues song, and “Just a Memory” fits this role perfectly, albeit with jazz-influenced piano. This slow-rolling song is powerful, and turns out to be a fitting way to end the album.

A Special Life shows that John Mayall is still able to bring out the best in a talented band, and that he has not been resting on his laurels. It is a well-crafted and personal effort and we can only hope that it will not be another five years before he hits the studio again. In the meantime, check John’s website for details of his North American and European 80th birthday celebration tour, which will certainly be worth your time!

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

 Featured Blues Review – 11 of 12

Deak Harp – Clarksdale Breakdown

Deak Harp Records

14 songs – 65 minutes

Deak Harp pays tribute to his newly adopted hometown after his move to the Delta last year with this collection of 14 original tunes recorded in one take without overdubs at Big Toe Studios in Duncan, Mississippi.

A former member of the Kilborn Alley Blues Band in central Illinois, where he formerly resided, he’s a powerful harmonica player who’s toured extensively as a one-man band, accompanying himself on guitar and percussion. He comes by his harp chops honestly, having spent six years on the road as driver for Mr. Superharp himself, James Cotton, and he’s also making a name for himself as a harmonica builder, working out of the shop he’s opened in downtown Clarksdale, Deak’s Mississippi Saxophones and Blues Emporium, where you can frequently find him busking on the sidewalk outside the store.

Guitarist Bill Abel co-produced the album and accompanies Deak on four tunes with Randy “Da Bones Man” Seppala adding drums on two numbers. Deak’s warm, full-bodied tones are evident from the first notes of “Mad Dog 20/20,” which kicks off the disc. Previously released in another version on a disc promoting Big City Rhythm And Blues magazine, for whom he also works, it recounts Deak’s time down on his luck, living in his car in Chicago, where he eased his pain with the cheap wine mentioned in the title. He and Abel trade dark licks that bring the suffering home.

The mood brightens dramatically for “If You’re Ever In Clarksdale.” Deak hits the reeds with a steady, sweet driving pattern, accompanying himself on percussion, as he sings praises of Red’s, “the finest juke joint in the whole land,” after having growing up in a city in the East where the streets “were a cage.” The pace slows for “It’s Alright,” a straight-ahead blues about a relationship gone stale, before “Juke Jump,” an instrumental that provides a wall of sound.

Deak’s skill as a left-handed electric guitarist is on display for the instrumental “Delta Wind,” accompanied by Seppala. Abel keeps the Delta going as Deak sings “Dirty Rosie,” filling in the vocal holes with a rock-solid run of harp licks. “Up All Night” is a slow grinder about having the blues in one’s soul. It remains interesting for the better part of six minutes, driven home by another bit of rhythmic circular breathing on the reeds, before giving way to “Bubba Blue,” with Deak singing about having a mean woman who doesn’t like his dog. Like many of the other tunes here, it delivers the hypnotic feel you’ll experience in a back-country North Mississippi juke — like you’ll find in “Under The Bridge,” in which Deak’s still living in his wheels in New York City playing on the street to raise enough change to have a few drinks in a bar.

“No Hurry” takes its time delivering a message about not being in a rush before giving way to “Clarksdale Breakdown” in which Deak abandons vocals for guitar and rhythm with harp accents. The Chicago-style “It’s OK To Smile” precedes “Yellowhammer Breakdown,” an instrumental, before Deak’s “Ridin’ The Rails” takes him home.

If you like barebones, in-your-face harp blowing in a traditional Chicago or Delta vein, you’ll definitely like this one. It’s a major pleaser, and available through any of the major online retailers or directly from the artist’s website.

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 Review – 12 of 12

Dudley Taft – Screaming In The Wind

American Blues Artist Group – 2014

12 tracks; 52 minutes

Dudley Taft is from Cincinatti and his latest CD was recorded in Nashville in his studio at the home he bought from Peter Frampton. The connection with Nashville is that the CD was produced by Tom Hambridge who has been extremely busy this last year with releases from Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Dana Robbins amongst others.

Dudley’s core band is a trio with Dudley on guitar and vocals, John Kessler on bass and Jason Patterson on drums. Reese Wynans adds B3 to seven of the tracks, Ann and Regina McCrary add vocals to one track and the Muscle Shoals Horn Section appears on one track; Jim Horn on sax, Vinnie Seizeilski on trumpet and Charles Rose on trombone. Tom Hambridge swaps the producer’s chair for the drum stool on two tracks. Dudley wrote most of the songs here with some assistance from Tom and Tom’s frequent collaborator Richard Fleming and there are two covers.

Unusually the album opens with the two covers. Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” sets the tone for much of the album with Dudley’s harsh voice and screaming guitar to the fore. The version was an attempt “to give it a Led Zeppelin ‘Black Dog’ interpretation” according to Dudley but it is unlikely that Skip James would recognise his song here.

Gene Chandler’s “Pack It Up” fares better, Reese’s B3 adding a mellow feel and the horns giving a funky feel to the track– a shame that this is their only appearance. Thereafter it is Dudley’s originals all the way and the style is definitely at the rock end of blues-rock.

With his large stetson and beard Dudley recalls ZZ Top and “Red Line” barrels along with something of that Texan feel, machine gun drums underpinning the guitar which is double tracked at times. The title track is a slower tune with more blues content though the distorted vocals were not a plus; the guitar solo is very Jimmy Page-inspired to these ears. In “3DHD” Dudley tells us that he “dreams in 3DHD, things are so much clearer for me”, backing up that statement with some strong shredding on guitar.

Things carry on in similar vein through the next three tracks before on “Barrio” the acoustic guitar and backing vocals from the McCrary sisters make a pleasant change from the relentlessly upbeat tunes and overdriven guitar.

At this point the album changes style somewhat as the acoustic remains in the background for “Sleeping In The Sunlight” before “Tears In Rain” comes across like prog rock from the 70’s!

Closer “Say You Will” has, according to Dudley, ‘a David Gilmour influence’ but I think he must have been listening to different Pink Floyd albums than the ones in my collection. What is certainly true is that the last few songs on the album are much more classic rock influenced than the earlier, heavier tracks but there is not a lot of blues content here at all.

Certainly worth investigating if the rockier end of the spectrum is what grabs you.

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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River City Blues Society – Peoria, IL

Here’s some Special events coming up soon in preparation to the Illinois Blues Festival on Labor Day weekend.

River City Blues Society along with WWCT 99.9 FM radio will be hosting a live broadcast shows, being advertised as “The Road to BluesFest”. The show is Free, No Cover Charge.

At each show, RCBS will have a feature performer along with the 99.9 live broadcast where WWCT will be giving away 5 pair of tickets to the Illinois Blues Festival, and 1 pair of “Chill Zone” passes at each show. This “Chill Zone” is PREMIUM VIP reserved comfortable seating close to the stage and refreshments. Doesn’t get much better.

Also, RCBS will be giving away tickets to the Illinois Blues Festival (while supllies last) to anyone who joins or renews their RCBS membership at either show. Single membership = 1 weekend pass, family membership = 2 weekend passes.

Details of the show – Wednesday, August 20 – Martini’s, Peoria, IL in the beer garden 7-9pm, weather permitting; The Bret Bunton Band performs. WWCT will give away 5 pair of Bluesfest tix and one pair of Chill Zone passes.

Come on out, support the Blues in Central Illinois and take a chance at winning some great tickets. Hope to see ya there. For more info visit our website at

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

2014 Iowa Blues Challenge Solo / Duo Finals, Sunday, August 24th at Zimm’s Food & Spirits, 3124 Ingersoll Ave., Des Moines. IA

Come join the party as four bands will compete to be the ultimate winner of the Iowa Blues Challenge Solo / Duo competition for 2014! The two Des Moines acts advancing to the finals will be Rob Lumbard and The Quay Thomas Duo and the two from the Quad Cities preliminary round are Charlie Hayes & “Detroit” Larry Davidson and The Zach & Mike Show.

The competition will be stiff as these four great acts square off at the finals held on Sunday, August 24th at Zimm’s Food & Spirits, 3124 Ingersoll Ave in Des Moines. Admission is $6 for any Iowa Blues Society members (must show card) and $8 cover for non-members. Doors open at 5:00, show starts at 6:00.

Prize package to the winner is $250 cash, 8 hours recording time courtesy of Junior’s Motel in Otho IA, opportunity for paid performances at 2015 Winter Blues Fest & 2015 Bottoms Up Blues Bash, among others, and entry into and $300 travel expenses for 2015 International Blues Challenge in Memphis TN.

Thanks to all the competing acts and sponsors – Budweiser, Summit Brewing, Cityview, Junior’s Motel, Zimm’s Food & Spirits, House of Bricks, The Muddy Waters, Central Iowa Blues Society, Mississippi Valley Blues Society, South Skunk Blues Society, Southeast Iowa Blues Society and Lizard Creek Blues Society. For more information go to

Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents the Holmes Brothers—Saturday, August 16 at the Muddy Waters, 1708 State Street in Bettendorf, Iowa. The show starts at 8:00 p.m. and admission is $15. For more info

Natchel Blues Network – Norfolk, VA

The Natchel’ Blues Network and Beach Events presents The 21st Annual Blues at the Beach Festival September 5 & 6, 2014 at 17th Street Stage – Virginia Beach VA.

Lineup includes Jarekus Singleton and Lil Ed & The Blues Imperials on Friday and Doug Deming & Dennis Gruenling w/ The Jewel Tones, Dirt Cheap Blues Exchange Dance Workshop, Damon Fowler Group, Bernard Allison and Tommy Castro & The Painkillers on Saturday.

$5.00 Daily / $8.00 Weekend Pass. For more info visit

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee, IL

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

Tues, August 19, Polly O’Keary 7 The Rhythm Method, Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmens Club, Tues, August 26, Nikki Hill (& Matt Hill), Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Thursday, Sept 18, Jerry Lee & The Juju Kings, Kankakee Valley Boat Club, Thursday, October 02, Sena Ehrhardt, Moose Lodge

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.  August 18 – Chris Duarte, August 25 -Lionel Young Band

Additional ICBC shows: August 22 – Old Capitol Blues & BBQ with Kicked to the Curb 5:30 pm, Josh Hoyer & Shadow Boxers 7:00 pm, Harper 8:30 pm, Victor Wainright & The Wild Roots 10 pm, August 23 – 8th ICBC Blues Challenge noon, Hard Road Blues Band 5:30 pm, Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet 7:00 pm, Brooke Thomas & The Blue Suns 8:30 pm, The Lee Boys & Sacred Steel 10 pm, August 24 – Candye Kane @ The Curve Inn 4:00 pm. Music starts at 2:30 pm with Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, Hurricane Ruth @ 6:00 pm

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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