Issue 9-19 May 7, 2015


Cover photo by Arnie Goodman © 2015

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with harmonica ace Jason Ricci. Our 2015 Blues festival coverage continues this week as John Mitchell and Mark Thompson have a review and photos from the Suncoast Blues Festival.

We have 5 music reviews for you including music from Deb Ryder, Robbie Mack, Lucky 3 Blues Band, Big Dave McLean and Brother Sun Sister Moon.

We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

Our friend Randy Knight has a great show for you on Friday. It is a Blues musical theatrical production called Ghost Of The Blues and it is going to be quite a show. The show is about the history of Blues music and features Biscuit Miller as Willie Dixon, Stacy Brooks as Etta James, James Armstrong as John Lee Hooker and Bobby Wilson as Robert Johnson. This show is in Jacksonville, Florida on Friday May 8th at the beautiful Florida Theatre.

You want to see this one. To get your tickets now, click HERE or on their ad below. Visit for more information.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 5 

Deb Ryder – Let it Rain

Bejeb Music

11 tracks / 46:54

Sometimes an album comes along that just has everything going for it: solid songwriting, talented personnel that click with each other, and top-shelf production values. Deb Ryder’s sophomore solo album, Let it Rain, checks all of these boxes and then some. This disc proves that her excellent debut CD was no fluke, and that she definitely has a role in the future of blues music in the United States.

Deb Ryder is originally from Illinois, where she got an introduction to the Chicago music scene courtesy of her father, an in-demand musician and club owner. Her family moved to Los Angeles, where she often had the opportunity to sing at the Topanga Corral (owned by her step-father), opening for great artists such as Big Joe Turner, Charlie Musselwhite, and Taj Mahal, as well as her mentor, Etta James. Fast forward a few years, and you will find her still in the City of Angels, and making a name for herself as a powerful singer and songwriter.

For Let it Rain, Ryder could not have done any better than having Grammy-winner Tony Braunagel come on board as producer and drummer. They were joined in the famed Ultratone Studios in Studio City by bassist Ric Ryder (her husband), Mike Finnigan on the keys, Johnny Lee Schell and Kirk Fletcher on guitar, and the killer horn section of Lee Thornburg and Lon Price. These folks are all first-call musicians, and there are also a few guest artists that joined in to really make this a special project.

Like her debut, Might Just Get Lucky, this album is made up solely of songs that were written by Deb, and you will find that she is a very good songwriter and she does not limit herself to one sound. This record is a journey from Illinois to Louisiana, and she nails the blues sound as it is found in both of these places, as well as everywhere in between. The set opens strongly with “That’s Just How It Is” and the band is tight with killer leads from Fletcher’s guitar, and Finnigan setting the tone with his Hammond B3 as Ric Ryder and Braunagel hold the bottom end down. Deb’s voice is worthy of this fine accompaniment, as her voice is powerful and dripping with soul.

The next track brings the well-arranged horns and Schell’s guitar into the mix with the cool Latin-tinged shuffle, “Can’t Go Back Again.” This song is backed up by the swinging “You Won’t Be True” and gloriously dark “Guilty As Sin,” couple of tunes about a woman done wrong. A tasty bonus is some righteous harmonica work from guest artist Kim Wilson on the latter. You know, you just cannot beat lines like, “You’ve been talking in your sleep, and Betsy ain’t my name.” Ryder’s timing and phrasing are spot on as she adds plenty of drama to the proceedings.

Deb Ryder is not afraid of jumping into the deep end of the pool and she wrote a couple of heartfelt gospel and soul tunes, “Cry Another Tear” and “Hold Your Lamp High” to really change things up. Her voice can take on all of the genres that she tried on this disc, and these two songs are no exception. Of course, she is helped out by her steady backline and some wonderful work from Finnigan on the organ. This record really delivers the goods, and things never get dull!

On “Ma Misere,” Braunagel lays down a heavy Cajun beat as he is joined by David Fraser on accordion, and none other than Albert Lee on guitar. There are definitely benefits to recording in LA, and having Mr. Telecaster just down the hill from you in Malibu has to be near the top of the list. After this super-fun song, the disc closes out with “Round and Around,” a more bare-bones Delta and gospel-inspired track that features lovely resonator guitar from Schell and some nice harp courtesy of Wilson. This was a wise choice to end the set, as it brings the listener back to the roots of blues music.

There is not a miscue through all eleven of these tracks and kudos for this studio magic need to go out to Schell, who recorded and mixed the album.

Deb Ryder’s Let it Rain is the real deal, and we will certainly be hearing more from her. Though you will certainly love this disc, keep in mind that her talents go beyond the studio. Judging by her show last month at Malarkey’s in Long Beach she is a tremendous live performer too, so you should be sure to check out her live show if you are around the Southland — it will definitely be a good use of your time and money!

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

 Featured Blues Interview – Jason Ricci 

Don’t let him fool you, even for a second.

Jason Ricci may call himself ‘the Richard Sherman of the blues,’ but he’s really not.

Sherman has gained a fair amount of notoriety by being an arrogant trash-talker who seeks out the spotlight around every corner.

Ricci is not arrogant, does not talk trash and is not the least bit interested in having the bright lights of fame follow him 24 hours a day.

Having said that, there are certain similarities between the two gentlemen, including being among the very best in the world at what they do.

Sherman, an All-Pro cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks is one of the best players in the National Football League.

Ricci, at 41-years-old, is now a seasoned veteran of the blues scene and is rightfully heralded as one of the most innovative and creative harp blowers around.

Another common denominator between the two; both Sherman and Ricci have never been afraid to speak their minds, nor do they mind tough questions being aimed in their direction.

Things definitely appear to be on the upswing these days for Ricci. Not only does he seem truly happy, he’s also clean and sober and looks to have his life firmly – and finally – back on track. Then, there’s also the little matter of a recent Grammy Award.

“It’s been pretty amazing … you know, Johnny (Winter) winning the Grammy (Best Blues Album for Step Back) and therefore, me getting a Grammy for being on that record. That was huge. And I got to play at the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame, with the Paul Shaffer Orchestra, to play the part of Paul Butterfield for his induction (into the Hall of Fame) at the ceremony,” Ricci said. “That was like a dream come true, because I grew up listening to that guy. I mean, there’s a few other harp players that I can think of that would have been pretty good calls for that gig, so I’m pretty grateful that I got the call on that one.”

While being bestowed with a Grammy and getting to step into the shoes of the mighty Paul Butterfield have to be unbelievable coups for any musician, and while Ricci is extremely touched and humbled by both honors, that’s merely just the tip of the iceberg as to why he’s so upbeat and positive in early 2015.

“Well, having a second – or really a third – chance at this occupation is fantastic. But what’s been even better than that (awards and honors) is this is not even why I’m so glad to be alive. This stuff here is all just butter on the biscuit, man,” he said. “All that stuff is fantastic and I’m very fortunate to have it back in my life, but it’s not my reason for living. It’s just amazing how much stuff comes when you’re not trying to force it. I’m blessed … really blessed.”

Another reason for Ricci’s optimistic view of things these days owes quite a bit to his newest group, Bad Kind.

“When I was living in New Orleans, I was in a band with John Lisi, called John Lisi and Delta Funk. He’s a guitarist in Bad Kind now, and the bass player from Delta Funk – ‘Evil’ Andy Kurz – is also in my band. You know, as typical New Orleans guys, they’re going to have a few irons in the fire (playing with a number of different bands). But that’s cool, man, because I’m not trying to do 300 dates a year like I was with New Blood (Ricci’s former band). I do want to get out there and work a lot, something like 150 tour dates a year would be cool,” he said. “My drummer is a young man named Adam Baumol and he’s absolutely phenomenal and does a super job. He’s got all those great New Orleans’ beats and I’m thrilled with him. And that’s what I’m really looking for this time. New Blood was so much about chops and these days, I’m not into shredding as much. I want a band with swagger. When I was down in New Orleans, I really fell in love with drums and bass and the way New Orleans’ rhythm sections sound and the way all those street beats are so prominent in the music. This group plays blues and plays funk, really, really well.”

Another departure for Ricci is the inclusion of two guitarists in Bad Kind.

“That’s the biggest, most obvious difference (between the two groups). New Blood, like most harmonica bands, was essentially a three-piece group with a harp player. Now I have a full band with me, so when one guitar player is playing, there’s always a rhythm,” he said. “I can’t take credit for this (two guitarists), it was really John’s move and it was incredibly intelligent. John’s like me, in that he really likes to play and likes his effect pedals and likes to play flashy. I let John pick out the other guitarist and he picked Sammy Hotchkiss who was the guitar player and one of the founding members of the legendary, underground predecessor to Galactic – Smilin’ Myron. So what we’ve got with him is a guy that plays a Gibson 335 straight into a Super Reverb with no pedals. He can do all the straight-ahead blues stuff and is all about less-is-more. He’s kind of like the guy who is keeping the band honest, right now. I wanted two guys that were so different and that’s what I got and I couldn’t be happier. Their tones are so different and it’s a nice contrast and the guys aren’t competing for solo time or any of that. It’s really making the traditional blues stuff come alive better than ever.”

All the wild musical excursions that New Blood helped write the book on are – at least temporarily – mothballed in the set-lists that Ricci and Bad Kind are currently prepping.

“What you’re not getting with Bad Kind is some of the more outrageous jazz and jazz-fusion stuff. That’s really not part of the set-list right now,” said Ricci. “There’s a small group of people that are probably unhappy with that, but my life is moving away from 30-minute instrumental montages. I’m trying to play more songs. It’s not that I’m trying to move away from more notes and more volume, as much as I’m trying to move more towards an emphasis on rhythm and feel.”

Ricci’s new collective has certainly energized him, and his enthusiasm for Bad Kind and their abilities is more than palpable. That’s a far cry from where Ricci found himself physically, emotionally and spiritually, just a couple of short years ago, when his outlook on the future may not have been nearly so positive.

“Well, I fell off the wagon (in 2010) after 12 years of sobriety … and I didn’t just fall off the wagon, I took the wheels with me, you know. There was a point there where I really needed to get loaded again and I’m truly sorry that people were hurt and let-down and disappointed and worried in that process,” he said. “But I’m an alcoholic and an addict and the solution to my problem for 12 years was music … and success and a good-looking body and a hot boyfriend and awards and records and agents and lots of tour dates. But my problem was, as soon as I got all that stuff, I was like, ‘Wow. This isn’t what I thought it would be.’ And that’s when I went back to my old standby, which was dope and booze. And I’ll be honest – it was great. For the couple of years I did it, it was a lot of relief, again.”

That initial sense of relief soon enough turned into a case of Ricci determining that he’d had enough (“I didn’t get all I wanted, I never will. But I got all I could stand,” he said) – once again. And once again, instead of giving up and throwing in the towel, Ricci picked himself back up, dusted himself off and decided to move forward. So just where does the inner strength and conviction to give sobriety another go-round come from?

“I don’t have an answer to say to that, other than it’s been the grace of God. There’s a little bit of survivor guilt around that subject, too, because there have been so many friends of mine that are just as strong, but have passed away. For me to sit here and say that there’s something in me that they didn’t have … I don’t see that as even being remotely true,” he said. “That’s not me putting on a mask of false humility or anything. It’s just that I’ve simply been lucky in terms of … I mean, there’s been interventions in my life in the form of ambulances and police officers that may have seemed like a really rotten thing at the time … but looking back at that, some of those things were blessings, man. Do I believe that God intervened in my life? You know, man, I don’t know. What I can say is that there has been a grace. But I’d like to think that the most important piece of information I’ve gathered along the way – that I can take credit for – is that it’s not me. I don’t know what’s always best for me and that’s where I try to operate from now. Not just in terms of faith, but as a place to live life in a more relaxed position. I finally decided that I have to do this (sobriety) somebody else’s way. This can’t be Jason’s way anymore; it can’t be about what I think is good for me. Making that decision has led me to living my life based upon spiritual principles. When I do that – which isn’t all the time – I’m much happier and everything goes better.”

Another area of his personal life that he’s never shied away from is his sexuality. Ricci is openly gay and has never tried to hide that from the rest of the blues community. But while he doesn’t hesitate to discuss it, his intentions on coming out were never really to blaze any trails or to become some sort of a martyr.

“It was never something I’ve wanted to do … I’m a rebel, man, and it’s not like I’ve ever tried to lay in the cut here … I’m pretty much the Richard Sherman of the blues, you know what I mean?” he laughed. “But I never wanted to be the only one doing it. The part that was the hardest on me was not the clubs or the festivals or the ‘boys club’ of certain guys that I look up to that were talking behind my back. The hard part for me, man, was the other musicians that were gay, but wouldn’t join suit. I paved the way, man, so come on. Now you’re not the only one, so come on. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, ‘It’s not the words of our enemies, it’s the silence of our friends.’ That’s what really rubbed me the wrong way. That’s what upsets me, these cats that are living double lives. It’s not that I don’t understand it, because I do. But if a few of us jumped on board, maybe we could put together a tour, or do an album or some shit like that.”

While silence may be golden for the members of the male blues community that are not straight, that’s hardly been the case when the females are concerned.

“Yeah, the female side of the homosexual community in blues music has always been very outspoken … even way back in the day. People like Gaye Adegbalola from Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women has always been there, out front. Even members of the straight community, like Bob Margolin, were tremendously supportive. But I’m just blown away at the lack of support from other gay members of the blues community. And I’ve really, really been hurt by the lack of support from the gay community (in general). Because here’s a bunch of guys that are always angry about being represented as wearing dresses or leather or having sex in porta-potties or doing drugs … and here they had a sober harmonica player. But who made the cover of all their magazines every month? Guys in dresses and leather … and sometimes Doogie Howser (Neil Patrick Harris). It’s like, jeez, come on. I mean we’ve only played two or three (gay) festivals, ever. As soon as the gay community saw the drum set being loaded on the stage, they headed for the hills, man. It was like they couldn’t wait for the drag queens to come on.”

Still …

“Well, the other part of it is now I’m dating a woman and have been for a few years. We’re engaged. But now, the gay community looks at me like I’m a traitor. So now I’m like, ‘Where were you guys when I had a boyfriend, or boyfriends, for the last 15 years?’ I just happened to fall in love with someone from the opposite sex; that’s what happened. She’s fantastic and everyone that’s been around us thinks she’s so good for me,” Ricci said. “I was as surprised as anybody else. But you know – when pressed – I’ve always identified as being bi-sexual – when pressed. But when people asked, I was gay, because it was easier and that meant there were less women on the road that would try things. It made monogamy that much easier for me. So the whole re-coming out thing has been crazy, too … I don’t like that, either. The gay community thinks I’m going through a phase.”

Born in Portland, Maine, Ricci’s first real taste at being in a performing band came filtered through a puck rock influence, while he was still a teenager. Although he may not play a ton of that kind of music on the bandstand these days, Ricci says that punk rock and the blues are kindred spirits.

“I definitely see a correlation between punk rock and the early blues. I also see a correlation between modern-day rap and early blues. This (blues) is a voice of the disenfranchised or the angry, just like punk and rap were. In the early days of the blues, the emphasis was not so much on instrumental prowess. It was delivering a message – they needed to get something out,” he said. “When we listen to guys like John Lee Hooker … I mean, you can’t know how to play guitar and play like John Lee Hooker. There’s a certain abandon that’s a part of that. I’m not disregarding the technical elements of melody, rhythm and harmony that exists in blues, but behind that, there’s sincerity there. It’s like, ‘This is what I’m singing about; it’s real and it happened to me and I’m pissed off and I’m trying not to be pissed off.’ That kind of message is very common in blues music and in punk music, although I don’t see that as much in blues music today. A lot of blues music today has become a vehicle for the solo.”

Ricci is trying his hardest to maintain a level of that all-important sincerity in the music that he crafts, and as such, he has certain rules that he follows.

“You will never, ever hear me sing the words, ‘I bought my baby a brand-new choo-choo toy.’ I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to ‘reckon’ and I’m not ‘fixin’ to do anything and I’ve never seen anything ‘over yonder’s wall,’” he said. “My songs are about being angry and feeling like I don’t fit in and are about things like dope and alcohol, real things that happened to me; not stories about things that happened in other countries or other states to other people.”

Ricci cites a couple of pivotal events when he was a young man as ones that helped to send him down the path to playing the blues for a living.

“The first was hearing the song “Trouble in Mind” as covered by Big Walter Horton on the album Big Walter Horton with Carey Bell. That particular piece of music got me interested in the blues, beyond just harmonica. It meant something to me. It touched me,” he said. “And the other thing was when my mother took me to see James Cotton in 1988 when I was 14. Cotton did the whole show and then at the end, he did an encore of the Charles Brown tune “Black Night” which was a slow, minor-key blues and he played and sang without the microphone to a room full of people in Maine. That was it. I said, ‘I don’t know how, but somehow I want to do that.’ That was the moment.”

Not only did his mother take him to see James Cotton, but she also had a few blues albums in her collection that caught young Ricci’s rapt attention.

“I just happened to go through my mother’s record collection at the time and started digging out some Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf albums that had some great harp playing on it,” he said. “My mother had a Best of Muddy Waters and also the Live at Newport Jazz Festival album. On the Best of, you had Little Walter and Junior Wells and on the Newport album, you had Cotton, so I was lucky to have a small catalog of music to go through. She also had some B.B. King and Janis Joplin and Cream and Jimi Hendrix.”

The reason that Ricci picked up a harp in the first place was to keep a spot in the punk band that he was singing with at the time.

“One of the guitar players in the band was starting to sing and I was the singer, so it was like I was getting benched. So I needed to find something so I didn’t have to get off stage. The band chose harmonica (for him to play) because it was cheap and I guess those guys figured I couldn’t ruin a song (by playing harp),” he laughed. “As long as I picked up the right key, all I could be was bad; I couldn’t trash the whole song. I think that’s why the instrument was chosen for me … you know, low expectations on the part of Jason, which were probably warranted.”

When it became evident that his band was not going to let him play guitar with the group, Ricci quickly switched gears and started taking some harmonica instruction from the gentleman that was also teaching him the six-string.

“Dave Daniels. He’s the one that introduced me to guys like Rick Estrin, Kim Wilson and (Charlie) Musselwhite and Mark Hummel and Sugar Blue and Howard Levy, even. I knew who Howard Levy was when I was 14 and that’s before the internet,” he said. “I was really blessed with tons of information, right from the get-go … just blessed. It also didn’t hurt that I grew up with Per Hanson, who was Ronnie Earl’s drummer. We had a guy in our town named DW Gill, who is a monster harmonica player. Nicky Curran used to stay over at my house when I was a kid – we grew up together. That didn’t hurt, either. By the time I was 17, I was driving to Boston to see Duke Robillard and Jerry Portnoy and Barbecue Bob and Ronnie Earl. I was just privileged, man.”

By the time he was 20 years old, Ricci was calling Memphis home. That’s where his blues DNA received another jolt, in and around the juke joints of Holly Springs, Mississippi, where he played, partied and lived with members of the Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside families. It was there that Ricci learned the only way forward was to just simply be himself.

“When I was Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside, I put on the suit and put my hair up and tried to be like Junior’s and R.L.’s kids. I tried to be tough and southern and black and I wasn’t,” he said. “The funny thing was, as soon as I stopped trying to do that, is when those guys started to like me. That’s when I started to come across to audiences better, too.”

His time playing with the Kimbroughs and the Burnsides took place in the mid-90s, before either Junior or R.L. were household names in the blues realm.

“Nobody knew who Junior was; he hadn’t died yet, so he wasn’t famous and R.L. hadn’t done the punk record with Jon Spencer (Ass Pocket of Whiskey) that got him into the Julia Roberts movie, so he wasn’t cool, either,” Ricci said. “These were gigs that basically paid in corn liquor and reefer. I think the most I ever got was $100 and that was rare. Most of the time I got $10 or $15 and a couple of grams of weed and as much corn liquor as I could drink without throwing up.”

Though he lived with David Malone Kimbrough in Potts Camp for over a year, Ricci readily acknowledges that for a large part of the time down there, he felt like a ‘tourist.’

“This music that we’re talking about was part of their (Kimbrough’s and Burnside’s) daily routine. It was something they did whether or not they profited from it. It was part of their culture. They were born into it and that is part of who they were,” he said. “I was a tourist in that world. But I was treated as graciously and as respectably as can be imagined, by a group of people whose entire lives – and the lives of their families before them – had suffered at the hands of people that looked like me.”

Ricci is currently serving probation for a felony offense that even though he pled guilty to, he says he didn’t even commit – assaulting a police officer. “What I was guilty of was falling asleep outside of a bus station,” he said. “That’s what I was guilty of, but I was charged with assaulting a police officer. That being said, man, if I’d gotten what I deserved (over the years), I’d be in prison for the rest of my life. So I’m lucky to be here; just incredibly fortunate.”

During his Indiana-based confinement the past three years, Ricci has made productive use of his time by teaching harmonica via Skype.

“Yeah, since I’ve been off the road, I’ve taught harmonica, mostly over Skype, and have been involved in several teaching conventions … we had Magic Dick at one,” he said. “Since I couldn’t leave Indiana, I just brought people in here and that was really cool. I found a way to maximize my income, while also getting to stay at home, which has been a blessing.”

Back in the day, a call from Big Al and the Heavyweights turned out to be Ricci’s first real taste of life traveling up-and-down the blues highway.

“That was probably the most important education that I got, especially in the business side of the music. Al didn’t have a booking agent or a record label, so he did all that himself. I was able to watch and see how all that was done and how he kept his books,” he said. “He was pretty cool, because I think he could tell I wasn’t going to be long for his band before I tried it on my own. And rather than trying to keep me down, he tried to help me.”

The reverence and respect that he still has for his one-time mentor – Al Lauro – is one reason that Ricci is planning a move back to his old stomping grounds of Louisiana in the near-future.

“That is one of the main reasons we’re thinking about moving there. Al’s been like a father to me. We’ve had our differences over the years, but who hasn’t had their differences with someone they really care about?” asked Ricci.

Looking back on it now, Ricci realizes that there was so much that he missed out on during his first go-round in the Crescent City. You can bet if he gets chance number-two to reside there, things will be a lot different.

“I’ve always loved New Orleans, ever since I took my first job in Mississippi when I was 20 years old. I was constantly going down there. Largely because of the gay community, but also because of the music and the food and the architecture and the support for the arts,” he said. “I’m a tremendous fan of Louisiana and New Orleans’ culture and people. I wanted to live in New Orleans my whole life and by the time I got there, I went crazy, shooting dope and smoking crack and drinking booze all day. Never once did I go to a Saints game, never once did I get a muffaletta. I missed out on that and I’d like to make up for it.”

Clear-headed and sober, now more than ever, the sense that he belongs to a community is something than Ricci really yearns for.

“It really is. I want to be part of a neighborhood where I know my neighbors and am a part of the community, and I would like that community to be somewhere in Louisiana – preferably New Orleans – which is not where I was born, but which I do consider my home.”

Ricci is also intent upon giving back to the community he lives in this time around.

“I’d like to get really involved in the education process of this. I’d like to get involved with free community service in the way of bringing music into the areas of the city where people might not have money,” he said. “I’d like to do free seminars and I’d like that area to be the city that I have chosen to call home, which is New Orleans. The three years I’ve been imprisoned in Indiana – although they’ve been beautiful and I’ve met some wonderful people – have more than anything taught me what I so easily tossed away. I’d like to give back to that city.”

At the end of the day, regardless of what he does for a living, or even where he lives, the fact that Jason Ricci has once again broken free of the shackles of addiction that have tormented him for so long is indeed remarkable. Hopefully, his continuing road to recovery can serve as an inspiration for others who need a helping hand in what may their darkest hour.

“I’m glad I’m here. What I want to do more than anything with my life – more than music or anything else – is be an example of positive living to other alcoholics and addicts or people that are struggling in any way,” he said. “Whether it be people struggling with terminal illness or sexuality or any of the things I have experience on, I would like to be able to turn some of that pain I’ve caused on other people into some experience that can be beneficial, so that at the very least, I can qualify with someone that thinks that nobody knows them. Maybe they can garner a mustard seed of hope that change is possible, and not only that, but that there is a life here that’s available to all of us that’s beyond our wildest dreams.”

Visit Jason’s website at

Photos by Arnie Goodman © 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer 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 5 

Robbie Mack – Demolicious

Root Blues Reborn Records

15 tracks/43:54

Little Joe McLerran won the 25th Annual Solo International Blues Challenge at age 25. His “sidekick” is Robbie Mack, who is better know as Rob McLerran, is Little Joe’s Dad. Robbie has been a fixture on the music scene for 50 plus years and has been inducted into the Colorado Music Hall of Fame and the Blues portion of the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Starting in the early 60’s with cowboy singer Jim Wakely’s band, he gained fame as part of the Astronauts, Colorado’s first (and only successful) surf band. The Hardwater Band (psychedelic), Boondoggle and Balderdash (swamp) and a host of country, rock, swing, blues, jazz, jug, bluegrass, doo wop, surf, marching and other bands have been home to Mack. He likes playing in a band and is rarely heard solo.

Why a solo folk blues album is now being released is rather simple- Mack found this recording he made a few years before Little Joe was born and he forgot how good it was. So now he’s released it as they work on the bands’ latest new album. And I must agree- it is a damn good CD. Mack’s vocals are a little nasal in a good way, the style of perhaps Bob Dylan. His singing is clear and on pitch and the guitar picking is impeccable.

Mack starts with some country blues; “Doctor Blues” calls out the Red Cross, Blue Cross and the Heart Fund as they won’t do him any good to cure him from the loss of his girl. “Land of Love” is a happy go lucky Piedmont blues where Mack searches for a rider to accompany him to the land of love. “Turnaround” offers us a ballad of slow blues from the shore. “Andersonville Nightmare” sings of a civil war prisoner longing for his freedom. “Who Can You Trust” is a cool little ditty with Mack ranting a bit about all the “lies” he was told as a child.

“Vanessa Jones” is a love song for the new gal in town while “Babylon” is Mack’s version of Mississippi John Hurts Avalon My Hometown.” Slick stuff. “Boys & Girls Together” tells of the story of what the sexes might do when they get together. In “Let Me Get On With You” Mack gets down to it and asks a woman he meets what he’s like to do with her. “Spanish Fandango” offers a vocal version of Mississippi John Hurts instrumental.

“Pinto Bean Advice” is a light hearted tune about over loading your pressure cooker and over cooking pinto beans. In “Pallet on the Small Side” Mack sings of some of the uses of a small, narrow, hard bed. “The Wagon” is a tune where Mack dreams of being a medicine show’s driver and roadie; I can’t recall ever hearing a song on that topic! He also sings of the Captain’s red haired daughter and that he’d be killed if Captain Jack knew what he was thinking about his daughter. One of Boulder, Colorado’s famed dance halls is featured in “Shannon’s Bar and Grill.” It’s a driving and fun little two step about the demise of the bar. He jokingly calls for a banjo solo that never comes. “Waiting to Hear from You” finishes things up; Mack croons and spoons about a woman he hopes he hears from.

Lovers of good acoustic music need to check this album out. Mack’s work is extraordinarily good. The recording occasionally has a little unintended reverberation on the vocal highs, but other than that this is an exceptional CD that acoustic music lovers will embrace and enjoy!

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 reer 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 Festival Review – The Suncoast Blues Festival  

The Suncoast Blues Festival – 24 – 25 April 2015

Friday – The inaugural Suncoast Blues Festival started with a free ‘teaser’ concert with food donations being given at the gate for local charities. Two local bands entertained the crowd: first up the RJ Howson Band mixed some originals with a range of classic blues: RJ on guitar and vocals, Brian Shepherd on drums and Greg Voorhees on bass.

Lauren Mitchell hit the stage running and never stopped in a fine set dominated by her superbly powerful and soulful vocals, ably supported by Curtis Nutall on drums, Joe Conners on guitar and Michael ‘The Professor’ Hensley on organ and bass. Lauren demonstrated in several new originals that she has now added songwriting to her great voice and her next album should be one to look out for.

Saturday – The main day of the festival featured mostly Mississippi bands, opening with 2014 IBC winner Mr. Sipp who featured several cuts from a new album due out in May. The set was at the funky end of the blues spectrum with Mr. Sipp on guitar and vocals, Phillip Coleman on keys, Jeff Flanagan on bass and Stanley Dixon Jr on drums. Mr. Sipp took a walk through the crowd, to the delight of the audience.

Another to walk through the audience, Vasti Jackson, took us through a blues journey which ranged across Muddy Waters, Bob Marley and Prince, all demonstrating that the blues is a broad church. Supporting Vasti’s guitar and vocals were Darrell Harvard on bass and Rashad Smith on drums.

Another former IBC winner, Zac Harmon gave the crowd a solid set of blues including a standout version of Dylan’s “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door” which he dedicated to military and first response workers. Zac was on guitar and vocals with a band that included Corey Carmichael on keys, Cedric Goodman on drums and ‘The Mighty Burner’ on bass.

Completing a hat trick of IBC winners on the bill was pianist Eden Brent who played solo, living up to her nickname of ‘Little Boogaloo’ as she played and sang non-stop through her set, including several cuts from her “Jigsaw Heart” CD which is nominated for a Blues Music Award.

Marking the only deviation from the Mississippi programme, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King brought some Texas roadhouse blues to the festival with a strong set that ranged across their many albums, songs often segueing into others. The band was Smokin’ Joe Kubek on guitar, Bnois King on guitar and vocals, Kim LaFleur on guitar, Shiela Klinefelter on bass and Eric Smith on drums.

Headliner Bobby Rush commanded the stage in front of his band and his ‘ladeez’. In a classic revue show, Bobby brought his great sense of humour to the festival but proved that he is also a fine musician with several outings on harmonica in a very energetic show that belied his 82 years of age. At the end of the show Bobby brought back to the stage all his fellow Mississippians for an encore of “Shake, Rattle And Roll” to close the festival on a high.

Photos by John Mitchell and Mark Thompson as marked © 2015

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 – 3 of 5 

Lucky 3 Blues Band – Blues Time

Lucky 3 Records 0002

5 song EP – 19 minutes

Chicago-based Lucky 3 Blues Band follows up their successful 2014 debut album, Howl!, with this brief, but tasty release of five original tunes, all of which have “blues” in their title.

The group consists of three longtime friends from the Windy City music scene who talked for years about starting a group. In the three years since they finally did it, they’ve become fixtures in the Midwest and beyond with their own interpretation of modern Chicago blues.

Jim Desmond delivers the vocals, while Frank Raven, former jam host at Buddy Guy’s Legends bar, contibutes harmonica and Jay O’Rourke, long-time engineer at Alligator Records, produces and adds six-string. Desmond and Raven previously teamed up in the Slammin’ Watusis, a highly popular Chicago band of the ‘90s, while O’Rourke held down lead guitar with B.B. Spin when not adjusting the dials and delivering hit after hit for Alligator, the world’s foremost blues label.

Like their bar sets, the music’s delivered in a stripped-down setting with no additional backup musicians, although an uncredited drum track, possibly electronic, accompanies the tunes.

Desmond’s smoky baritone kicks off the title tune, “Blues Time,” with Raven providing powerful, but clean response on harp. Desmond quickly drops out to give his partners space to solo. The idea: “Give us the time/We’ll blow your mind./It’s blues time, baby.” Raven hit hot spots on the high end of the harp with O’Rourke hitting the low register for “Blues On The Run” before Desmond’s intense message to an ex-love: “Havin’ fun ain’t no sin./Mr. Blues, call me Mr. Rollin’ Pin./Takin’ care of business don’t need 9-1-1/Same old blues are on the run.”

O’Rourke gets to deliver a few guitar pyrotechnics to introduce “Blues Don’t Live Here Anymore,” a short, hard-hitting statement about putting troubles in the past, before the mood shifts from over-the-top to quiet for the slow ballad, “Blues Will Never Leave You.” The pace change is dramatic, with a brief, well-modulated mid-song solo, as the song sings the praises of someone who never wavered in the face of past problems. The in-your-face shuffle, “Blues You Can Lose,” a sour, but sweet reminder that, no matter if you’re up or down, the blues will be forever at your side, helping to make you feel right.

An inexpensive digital download or CD order from any of the major online retailers, this short, but sweet EP would be a welcome addition to the collection of anyone with a taste for Chicago blues done the old-school way.

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 Review – 4 of 5 

Big Dave McLean – Faded But Not Gone

Black Hen Music

CD: 12 Songs; 53:35 Minutes

Styles: Country Blues, Traditional Acoustic and Electric Blues

Country music has been called “the light-skinned cousin of the blues,” and this description goes all the way back to its founding father, Jimmie Rodgers. We wouldn’t have “I’m Ready” or “Sweet Home Chicago” if we didn’t also have “Waiting for a Train” or “Frankie and Johnny”. This is the musical spirit that Canada’s Big Dave McLean captures with near-perfect clarity on his latest album, Faded But Not Gone. His producer and co-artist, fellow Canadian Steve Dawson, was nominated last year for a Blues Blast Music Award: Acoustic CD of the Year. Dawson also played at the 2014 BBMA’s in Champaign, Illinois. Together, he and McLean give us a fascinating glimpse into blues history, combined with postmodern tastes on twelve songs (one public domain tune, one arrangement of “Amazing Grace”, four other originals, and six covers). With a hoary, ragged voice and a raw aspect to his performance, Big Dave shows that sometimes, the best blues are sung with force, not fancy flourishes.

With McLean on vocals and guitar are the aforementioned Steve Dawson (on vocals and several types of guitars, regular and pump organ, and banjo), bassist John Dymond, drummer Gary Craig, Kevin McKendree on organ and piano, Colin Linden on slide guitar, Colin James on mandolin, and background vocalists Ann and Regina McCrary. The following original songs display the best combination of old-time country blues a la Jimmie Rodgers and modern blues:

Track 01: “Tough Times” – From the public domain comes this slow-burning gem, featuring Big Dave on baritone guitar and Steve Dawson on national steel guitar. Bask in its smoldering intro as it reverberates with melancholy grit. As for the best lyrical part, McLean shouts in a staccato burst: “I ain’t got no job, people, and there just ain’t nothing in my house to eat!” It’s reminiscent of the scene in the movie Network where the main character yells, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!”

Track 06: “Don’t Get Mad, Get Even” – Are these wise words or not? Our narrator certainly thinks so: “Don’t get mad; get even. Solid advice I believe in, and if for no other reason, you’ll know that things will be coming your way.” Fortunately, in this song, the best revenge is positive thinking. Kevin McKendree plays killer barroom piano.

Track 11: “Oh, Mr. Charlie, Oh” – Whom could the subject of this song be? The old-fashioned vibe of this creepy ballad suggests a ruthless plantation owner, the leader of a certain racist faction (“Hang me from the highest tree, oh, Mr. Charlie, oh,”) or perhaps our greatest adversary: “I ain’t going to deal with the Devil no more.” Steve Dawson plays three types of guitar: National steel, pedal steel, and electric. This masterpiece will haunt listeners.

Big Dave McLean clearly proves that country blues is Faded But Not Gone!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 35 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 – 5 of 5 

Brother Sun Sister Moon – (Self-Titled)


CD: 13 Songs; 59:30 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock, Americana

When one performs a Google search for “Brother Sun Sister Moon,” the first result that appears is info concerning a 1972 movie about St. Francis of Assisi. To find information about the duo from St. Paul, Minnesota, one must type “Brother Sun Sister Moon blues band”. According to their Facebook page, “The music of Brother Sun Sister Moon is laden with vocal harmonies, dynamic grooves of depth and exquisite musical sensitivity.” They backed up this claim when they won last year’s Road to Memphis Blues Challenge. Dave Lambert plays resonators, guitars and vocals along with his partner Donna Dahl on drums and vocals. Brother Sun Sister Moon is their third album, following Broken Wings and Dave Lambert: Live at Piggy Blues.

Lambert and Dahl possess the pumped-up energy, instrumental skills, and songwriting savvy to become far more well-known in the genre. However, in order to garner more attention, one of their first steps should be to sign with an official record label. The adjective “self-produced”, which describes Brother Sun Sister Moon, is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, they’re free to do whatever they want in an artistic sense, plus they don’t have to give portions of their proceeds to agents and producers. On the other hand, radio stations and other outlets might not play their songs, being wary of previously-unknown musicians. Moreover, the raw, unpolished feel of the thirteen original selections on this CD might be great for some blues fans, but not for all. Another step that Dahl and Lambert would be well-advised to take is to have a press release flyer for reviewers and venues that might hire them.

With that said, here are the three songs that will best “hook” hungry audiences:

Track 04: “Hambone” – This five-minute guitar extravaganza features a smoking intro and a gritty vibe that would be perfect for bar scenes in movies. It also contains the world’s easiest chorus with which to sing along: “Doo-doo-doo, doot-doo. Doo-doot-doo, doo. Doo-doot-doo, doo-doo-doo.” The rest of the lyrics are rather unintelligible, but Dahl’s vocals have a nice edge.

Track 06: “Blues You Can’t Cure” – Bang your head and stomp your feet to track six, an electrifying blues-rock anthem for the ages. “Taking chances against the odds, crying out to the gods. One thing’s for certain. One thing’s for sure: I got the blues you can’t cure.” Songs like this one mince no words, and that’s why it’s sure to be a crowd favorite at live concerts.

Track 09: “Romance at Dawn” – This Chicago-style number features another timeless theme and a startling opening couplet: “Sleep with me, baby, for a thousand years. Let me give you loving that will dry those tears.” Who can resist such a proposition, or the fiery guitar solo in the middle?

For only two people, Brother Sun Sister Moon pack a punch in the blues/blues rock scene!

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 35 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.

 Blues Society News 

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Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

Crossroads Blues Society and the Byron Park District have scheduled FREE Sunday Blues in the Park shows in Blackhawk Meadows Park in Byron from 3 to 6 PM. June 14th – Doug MacLeod and Dan Phelps, July 26th – Jimmy Nick and Don’t Tell Mama, August 23rd – Bobby Messano.

Crossroads also hosts blues shows on the second Saturday of each month at the Hope and Anchor, an English Pub in Loves Park, IL from 8 PM to midnight. May 9th – The Jimmys, the Generation Blues Experience with Justin Gates, Macyn Taylor, Dan Phelps, Steve Ditzell and Barstool Bob Levis. July 11th – Altered Five, August 8th the New Savages. $5 cover after 7 PM.

The Friday Fish Fries at the Lyran Club on 4th Ave in Rockford also continue. June 5th – Ron Holm, Bob Levis and Justin Gates, the Kryptonite Blues Jams leaders, July 3rd – Collins-Grayless Band, August 7th – the New Savages. Free shows, plus a fish fry and steak dinner are available!

First Sunday’s in June through August Crossroads has Free blues at All Saints Lutheran Church from 4 to 6 PM. Dan Phelps (June 7), Macyn Tylor (July 5) ad Justin Boots Gates (August 2); a free will donation for the local food bank, will be accepted.

The 6th Crossroads Blues Festival at Lyran Park is Saturday, August 29th. Featuring Albert Castiglia, Dave Specter with Sharon Lewis, the Mike Wheeler Band, Stormcellar with Jo Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Nick and Don’t Tell Mama $5 advanced tickets. for more info and tickets.

Central Mississippi Blues Society – Jackson, MS

The Central Mississippi Blues Society hosts Blue Monday every Monday night at Hal & Mal’s in downtown Jackson. Blue Monday features a Front Porch segment starting at 7:15 PM, followed by a set by the Blue Monday Band featuring King Edward Antoine on guitar. Blue Monday is an open jam, with visiting performers drawn locally and internationally.

For more information visit or Email: or visit Facebook:

The Detroit Blues Society – Detroit, MI

The Detroit Blues Heritage Series will present a tribute to Eddie “Guitar” Burns hosted by Carlton Washington and many others. This event will take place at the Scarab Club (217 Farnsworth in Detroit Michigan) on Saturday May 9,2015 from 2 PM until 4:30 PM.

(Wikipedia) Eddie “Guitar” Burns (February 8, 1928 – December 12, 2012) was an American Detroit blues guitarist, harmonica player, singer and songwriter. His career spanned seven decades, and in terms of Detroit bluesmen, Burns was deemed second only in stature to John Lee Hooker. Special Guest for this event will include Carlton Washington, Little Sonny (Aaron Willis ) and Billy Davis, as well as, other artists TBD. Admission is a $5 Donation/ For more info visit The Detroit Blues Society at: or email

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society – Davenport, IA

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society, Central Iowa Blues Society, Southeast Iowa Blues Society, and South Skunk Blues Society present the 2015 Iowa Blues Challenge.

The Final Round of the IBC will be held in Des Moines, IA on May 16, but first each solo/duo and band, made up primarily of Iowa based musicians, must surmount a Preliminary Round. The Mississippi Valley Blues Society Preliminary Round of the IBC will be held at the River Music Experience, 129 N. Main Street, Davenport, IA on Sunday, April 26 starting at 5:00 pm. Three (3) bands and three (3) solo/duo acts will be competing with only one (1) solo/duo act and one (1) band moving on to the final round in Des Moines.

For more info visit

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

Iowa Blues Challenge FINALS will be held at the Downtown Marriott in Des Moines on Saturday, May 16 at 6:30 PM. Admission is $10 with a $2 discount for current Iowa Blues Society members with card. For more information and band bios go to

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee IL area

The Friends of the Blues announce their 2015 Concert Series. All shows start at 7 pm. May 12 – Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat – Kankakee Valley Boat Club – Kankakee IL, May 21, The Ori Naftaly Band – Moose Lodge – Bradley IL, June 9 – Frank Bang & Secret Stash – Moose Lodge – Bradley IL, June 23 – Victor Wainwright – Moose Lodge – Bradley IL, July 7 – Brent Johnson & Call Up with Sugarcane Collins – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL, July 21 – Nick Moss Band with Chicago Blues Angels – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL, July 30 – Studebaker John & Hawks – Kankakee Valley Boat Club – Kankakee IL, August 5 – Damon Fowler Band – Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club – Bourbonnais IL, August 18 – Too Slim and Taildraggers with Polly O’Keary and Rhythm Method The Longbranch – L’Erable IL, August 27 – Albert Castiglia with Maybe Later – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL

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. May 11 – Jim Suhler, May 18 – Brother Jefferson, May 25 – The MojoCats, June 1 – Kilborn Alley, June 8 – Ghost Town Blues Band, June 15 – Dennis Gruenling & Doug Deming, June 22 – The Daddy Mack Blues Band, June 29 – Brandon Santini, July 6 – Laurie Morvan.

Additional ICBC shows: May 7 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6-9 pm, May 16 ICBC Jam & Fundraiser @ Casey’s Pub. Host band The MojoCats, 7 pm, May 21 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6-9 pm, June 4 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6-9 pm, June 18 James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6-9 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

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