Issue 9-35 August 27, 2015

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

  In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with JJ Thames. Our Video Of The Week is Robert Randolph & The Family Band. Marilyn Stringer has photos and commentary from the Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza. We have 5 music reviews for you including reviews of music by Bernard Allison Group, Larry Griffith, Billy Hector, The Original Legends of the Blues and The Nighthawks.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

I have been working hard on putting together a great show for this years Blues Blast Music Awards. You probably saw the press release about the amazing lineup that went out Tuesday. It talked about the 23 artists we had scheduled to perform this year that included Anthony Gomes Band, Andy T – Nick Nixon Band, Chris O’Leary Band, Tad Robinson, Oscar Wilson from The Cash Box Kings, Bob Corritore, Magnus Berg (all the way from Norway!), Dave Specter, Bobby Messano, Big Harp George, The Duo Sonics, Missy Andersen, Slam Allen, Ghost Town Blues Band, Markey Blue, Fo’ Reel Band, Slam Allen, John Ginty, Alexis P. Suter, Deb Ryder, Altered Five Blues Band, Eight O’ Five Jive, Big Dave Mclean with Steve Dawson and Dan Phelps. WOW what a show!

But you know how sometimes when you finish something that you have a vague feeling that maybe you forgot something? I had that feeling because I remembered that our artist roster actually has 24 performers listed. Then I got an email from another artist asking why they were not included and sure enough, I left off a really good one, Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys! Sorry guys!

Bad on me but good for all the fans because there are actually 24 of the best in today’s Blues music performing including Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys. You don’t want to miss this one. The 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards are September 25th in Champaign, Illinois. So get your tickets now at the Blues Blast Music Awards website at

And speaking of great shows, our good friends the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford, Illinois have as great show for you this weekend!

The 6th Annual Crossroads Blues Festival at Lyran Park in Rockford, IL is this Saturday, August 29th. The show features Albert Castiglia, Dave Specter with Sharon Lewis, the Mike Wheeler Band, Stormcellar with Jo Fitzgerald, and Jimmy Nick and Don’t Tell Mama.

And advanced tickets are only $5 WOW! Visit for more info and tickets or just click on their ad below.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

  Blues Want Ads 

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We will assign subjects and stories and also entertain your ideas too. These positions require professional writing/journalism experience.

If really loves the Blues and want to spread the Blues word you could be a good candidate! If you are interested, please send an email to and tell us about your Blues background. 

Please include your resume and phone number with the email.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 5 

Bernard Allison Group – In the Mix

Jazzhaus Records

10 tracks / 57:20

In any business it is hard to try to live up to the success of one’s father or mother, but in the music business there is the added challenge of trying to meet the expectations their fans and trying to make new ones. Bernard Allison has been walking this tightrope for his entire career, and has done an admirable job of living both in his father’s world and in the one he has created for himself.

Bernard Allison is a supremely talented singer, songwriter, and guitarist, who also happen to be the son of the late Luther Allison, the Chicago bluesman who was renowned for his red-hot live shows. Bernard got an early start on his career, joining his dad on stage at the age of 13 and moving on to play lead guitar for Koko Taylor’s Blues Machine a week after graduating from high school. He has been recording solo projects for the past 25 years, and has since made his home in Europe where they appreciate his music too!

In the Mix is Bernard’s 17th solo album (if I counted right), but it is his first release in almost six years and it is a bit of a departure from what he has done before. He is a killer guitarist, and with friends and tutors like Johnny Winter and Stevie Ray Vaughan, that is not too surprising. But this time around, he has put aside the usual heady guitar work and focused more on the vocals and arrangements, making this a rock solid disc in all dimensions. Allison was the producer, vocalist and guitarist, and he was joined in the Minneapolis, Minnesota studio by the core band of George Moye on bass, Mark “Muggie” Leach on the keys, and Mario Dawson on the skins.

Bernard wrote five new songs for this project and the other five tracks are well chosen and rearranged covers, including two written by his father. Given his recording hiatus, it is cool that Allison starts this set with “Five Long Years,” and surprisingly this is the Colin James version, not the oft-covered Eddie Boyd hit. Here we get to hear contributions from two guest artists: Bruce McCabe on piano and Jose Ned James on the sax. There are a few stout lead guitar licks, but this song remains accessible to a large audience with its conventional rock approach.

This is followed up with a “Call Me Momma” tune that Bernard co-wrote with his mother, Fannie Mae Allison. In this funky and soulful piece, Jose’s sax takes an early lead over Leach’s B-3 and Bernard uses his solid tenor voice as he sets the example of asking a sage woman for advice, even as a grown man. It is apparent that his mother brought him up right, and that he wisely continues to learn from her experience.

There are a few well-chosen covers on this disc, including Tyrone Davis’ “I Had It All the Time” and a funky take on Freddie King’s “I’d Rather Be Blind,” but there is also more great original work to be found here: Bernard is a mature songwriter who know what he is doing. One of these is “Lust for You,” a collaboration with another master, Ronnie Baker Brooks. This could have been a blues or rock song, but the instrumentation makes it come off almost like a country tune. It is not what would be expected from either of these gentlemen, but its complex structure and different sound work out really well with the other songs on the albums.

There is plenty of other great original music, too. After slowing things down with the rhythm and blues of “Tell Me Who” Bernard cranks out some righteous straightforward blues with “Something’s Wrong.” The band really shines here with the tight backline of Moye and Dawson keeping the beat under the dueling keyboards of Leach and McCabe. Allison does not disappoint his old fans here, as he takes the opportunity to show off a bit on the guitar with an awesome solo towards the end.

It would be a shame not to mention the two songs that were written by Luther Allison, as there is nobody more qualified to cover them than his own son. “Move From the Hood” is one of the strongest tracks on In the Mix, with a bouncy 12-bar blues shuffle feel, fun doubled sax and organ lines, and a couple of killer guitar breaks. The other tune is the closer, “Moving on Up” which delivers the message that there can be hope, despite whatever the present circumstances are. Leach’s Hammond carries most of the melodic weight in the song, including a trick solo midway through.

Bernard Allison is his own man, but he is not hiding from his heritage either and In the Mix is his most thoughtful and well-planned album to date. This mix of blues and soul is powerful and should bring his music to a wider range of fans that expect more than guitar pyrotechnics. Keep an eye on his website for tour updates, and hopefully he will be coming to this side of the Atlantic so we can see him again soon!

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

 Featured Blues Interview – JJ Thames  

She was like a stranger in a strange land and was a lot worse off than just being in between the proverbial rock and a hard place.

She was in the middle of New York City, had no job, no money, no place to live and basically had little hope of turning any of that misfortune around anytime soon.

The only thing that the dynamic JJ Thames had was her supremely-gifted voice.

So that’s what she turned to in one of her darkest hours.

“I went to West 4th Street, because I didn’t know any other place and I found a corner. I stood there and I cried. And then I sang and I cried and I sang and I cried. I was singing traditional jazz standards and people gave me money … I was shocked,” she said. “I didn’t have a guitar, a keyboard, I had nothing but my voice and my heartbreak. That’s all I had. I was in contact with my rawest emotions and there’s no way that I could hide them when I sang. My times were so rough that I really began to understand the true essence of the blues.”

To say that things have turned around for Thames in just a few short years from those lean and uncertain days in New York City would be a major understatement.

She’s turned into a major force to be reckoned with on the soul/blues scene, has a still red-hot album on the charts and is busy traveling the world, spreading her music and her message of perseverance to the masses.

“I’ve had the opportunity to get over to France – we just came back from there last week – and was received very, very well there,” she said. “Basically, we’ve accomplished a lot of international success this year and even though the album (Tell You What I Know) (DeChamp Records)) is going on two years old now – it came out in January of 2014 – it still continues to reach people. For it to be two years old and still be on the roots music charts is an indication that people are still liking it. They’re still listening to it, still buying it and downloading it and they’re still getting to know it. So in essence, this has been another year of being introduced to people. I’m very honored to be in that place. People are recognizing our music and that in itself has made the year an amazing year.”

Thames – who first took to the stage at age 9 and had developed a regular following by the time she was 17 – has the follow-up to Tell You What I Know written, and after her current U.S. tour wraps up in late November, she plans on heading into the studio in December, with a target date of early 2016 slated for the disc’s release.

Just as he was on her debut release, Grady Champion will be heavily-involved in album number two for Thames.

“Yeah, I’m still with the Champ and hopefully will be for awhile. He’s still going to be the executive producer of it,” she said. “Grady is a consummate professional. He’s very … the word I like to use for Grady is passionate. He’s passionate and committed to what he believes in. One thing he always says to me, as well as my label-mate Eddie Cotton, is that he was a fan of our music before he actually went into business with us. That means a lot. For someone who’s accomplished as much as he has as an independent artist to be a fan was amazing. He works just as hard for us, to get our music out and win us new fans, as he works for himself. That means a lot.”

Thames, Champion and Cotton are all spear-heading what seems to be a new movement – or maybe more accurately, a reawakening – of the classic soul blues sounds long associated with the Jackson, Mississippi area. A sound brought to prominence by labels like Malaco and Waldoxy and nurtured along these days by Catfood and DeChamp Records.

“It’s authentic. The music is based on experience and we all write our own music based on our experiences,” said Thames. “Lyrically speaking, it’s real music. When it comes to my own music, I pull from country, I pull from blues, I pull from reggae, I pull from soul and R&B. When you think about the history of soul music, that’s what it is. Ray Charles is a perfect example. He pulled from so many different aspects. When it comes to music, especially now, people as a whole are very interested in different genres. Technology has afforded us, where instead of purchasing a whole record, you can purchase singles. In that, if you went down a person’s iPod, or whatever they’re listening to their music on, they may have a song that’s country and one that’s blues and one that’s jazz and classical … and soul encompasses all those different sounds in one genre, so to speak. That captures people across language barriers, across color barriers, across belief systems. It touches people. If you think about the definition of soul – the mind, the will and emotion – you’re touching the mind, the will and emotion of people across the board.”

She was born and raised in Detroit, so Thames has an intimate knowledge of not only the Motown sound, but the sound of the urban, inner-city blues, as well. But shortly after she turned 17, Thames made her way to Jackson, Mississippi, where she was immersed in the deep soulful blues that can only be found in the south. That gives Thames the unique perspective of being equally comfortable whether putting a big city spin on her tunes, or whether flavoring them with a more country, more pastoral touch.

“The urban blues is more technology-savvy. They use a lot of different sounds that you will not find in the rural blues. I’ve fallen in love with the rural blues since living in Mississippi,” she said. “I love the sound and the grit and the rawness of it, whereas the urban blues is a little bit more refined. You’re going to have more electric instruments and you have bigger bands with more pieces and more voices. And it’s recorded completely different, as well. I’m still learning myself, but I think it’s (urban blues) geared toward more up-tempo tunes than the rural blues. They’re more party-oriented.”

She’s no doubt found that sweet spot right between urban and rural and that’s a big part of the reason that Thames has managed to turn so many heads and build an impressive legion of fans. The way she commands a stage is becoming legendary in its own right and that has led Thames to being tagged as ‘The Mississippi Blues Diva.’ While she doesn’t appear to take issue with the handle, she’s also quick to point out that name was definitely not self-given.

“I did not give myself that name – I did not,” she laughed. “It just kind of fell on me and someone put it in the press and it stuck. I’m like, ‘Man, I don’t want to be known as a diva.’”

However, the way Thames sees it, a ‘diva’ does not have to automatically have negative connotations attached to it.

“It’s funny, but when I travel to different places, people go, ‘Wow. You’re so down to earth and so chill. We expected you to be something else (based on her nickname).’ But in my experience as a quote-unquote diva – since they want to call me that – is the opposite of what the traditional definition of a diva is,” she said. “I think it’s humility. The idea of being a diva is to attract people to you and what I’ve learned is that the most attractive quality an artist can have is humility. Understanding that at any given time, people can decide not to listen to your music or not to attend your shows. It’s the humility of knowing that what you get to do everyday is a gift. It’s not something you should take lightly; it’s an honor to be able to stand in front of people and use that gift to touch their hearts and become a soundtrack to their lives. To me, that’s what draws people towards you.”

‘Relentless energy’ might be an adequate way to describe what Thames delivers to her audience from the bandstand. Regardless of where or when she’s playing, the mighty Thames is going to give every ounce of her blood, sweat and tears to make sure her crowd is fully engaged. Obviously, she was born with the desire to bring it every single night, but that passion and dedication to her audience was honed from stints singing backup for bands like Bad Brains, Slightly Stoopid, Outlaw Nation and Fishbone, bands that couldn’t be further away from the blues if they tried.

“It was the energy that went into every single show. I watched these guys night after night after night after night and they always had the same energy. Some artists get on stage and wait for the audience to give them energy,” she said. “But really, you have to give it first and then they’ll give it back to you. Then you get this synergy happening back-and-forth …. then, it finally gets to a point where it climaxes and explodes and everybody’s going nuts. It becomes this experience for both performer and the audience and that’s what I learned from those bands.”

Even as well-rounded and versatile a vocalist and performer as Thames is (she’s classically trained and also has a background in jazz), it might surprise some of her fans to know that she was involved in the hardcore ska/punk/reggae/rock scene before leaving her mark on the world of soul/blues. But it’s evident that Thames really dug her time with that style of music – and who knows – if circumstances were different, she might still be involved in it.

“When I left that vein of music, it was almost heartbreaking, but I felt that I kind of aged out of it. For people like Miles and Kyle (Doughty and McDonald, from Slightly Stoopid) and H.R. (Bad Brains vocalist), they’re men and they can stay in that field forever and no one will think anything of it,” she said. “But when you look at the reggae/rock genre, you really don’t see women age in it, so to speak.”

While touring with those groups, Thames kept her eyes and ears open and learned things that she still uses today.

“Oh, absolutely. From H.R., I learned how to do that cross-genre thing. I’d watch H.R. do a straight punk song and then go straight reggae – I’m talkin’ about Bob Marley, Bunny Wailer straight-reggae – and then go to something that was almost metal,” she said. “That was amazing. That’s when it started sparking in my mind that I could do that. People want to hear different things; they’re not just single-genre people. I learned that from being out with those guys. Those were key component things that I was able to take an implement into my own career. Even though I went in a whole different direction in roots music, it still applies. So when you come to one of my shows, you’re going to hear it all. When I was in France, I did “No Woman, No Cry” (Bob Marley song). But I put my own jazz twist on it and I followed that up with a traditional blues tune. I’m one of those performers that if it hits me and feels good, I’m going for it. That keeps me from being locked into one area.”

Thames and the Jackson, Mississippi area go together as well as peanut butter and jelly in 2015, but that wasn’t always the case. Her first excursion to the Magnolia State came when she was 17 years old and she moved from the Motor City area down south with her parents.

“I went (to Mississippi) kicking and screaming. I did not want to move to Mississippi. I had planned on going to New York from Detroit initially, but I was pregnant with my oldest son at the time. My parents were moving to Mississippi in order to be the senior assistant pastors at a church here. They had waited for me to graduate (high school), so I kind of messed up their plans,” she said. “I was planning on going to New York and my dad was going to retire from General Motors and move down here and go full-time into the ministry. It was a crossroads for my entire family and it hinged on me moving into the next season of my life as an adult. Three months before I graduated high school, I got pregnant and my mom was like, ‘Well, I guess you’re coming with us to Mississippi.’ They were basically my financial support at that time … and I didn’t really know what I was going to do with my life at that time, so hey, I went to Mississippi. It was very much a culture shock to go from a very populated, urban environment to just miles and miles of grass. It took me awhile to adjust, personally.”

Thames found her way into the local community of musicians rather quickly after settling in Mississippi and eventually, she did make it up to New York City.

“I did not have any money, I was staying in a shelter apartment (in the south Bronx) that I wasn’t even supposed to be in … I mean, I wasn’t really homeless at the time … I was, but I had a roof over my head, but there were gigantic rats and all kinds of critters in the place,” she said. “I remember taking a shower and there was a hole in the window they had in the shower. It was the dead of winter and you’re trying to take a shower and even though the water’s hot, you’re freezing. And the toilet didn’t work. There were just so many things …”

So many things that Thames wasn’t prepared for and probably didn’t even think about when she decided to turn a recording session into an extended stay in the Big Apple.

“I had went to New York to record with a gentleman that I had met on a previous trip up there to see eZra Brown, who was one of my mentors. When I arrived in New York (for the sessions), I had no band, no where to stay, no nothing. I get there and was pulling my suitcases into the studio and he says, ‘You could have taken the time to drop your stuff off.’ I said it was no big deal. What I didn’t want to tell him was I had nowhere to go,” she said. “We recorded and he said, ‘I’ve never seen anybody record like you,’ because I was just so relentless. We started at 7 o’clock in the afternoon and recorded until 5 o’clock in the morning. He kept saying that we could pick back up tomorrow, but I kept saying, ‘No,no, let’s get them done.’ Little did he know, I wanted to stay in the studio because I had nowhere to go.”

Eventually, Thames’ resting place became trains around the city, where she would sleep when she could. She pulled her bags between the studio and the trains until she was able to get into the shelter with the hole-ridden shower in it.

“Finally, he figured it out and then he helped me get a bar-tending gig and that turned into me becoming an assistant manager at another restaurant,” Thames said. “He was very instrumental in that. There were just so many steps that went along with my journey. During that time, being homeless and not knowing where money was coming from and not knowing what I was going to eat, that was when I really learned how to sing the blues. And I was nowhere near Mississippi; I was in New York City.”

She finally made her way out of New York and back to Mississippi, but Thames really didn’t encounter a storybook homecoming when she first landed back in the deep south. Matter of fact, things got worse for Thames, who was in her late 20’s at the time.

“During my second stint in a shelter (this one back in Mississippi) – I was in the system at that point and had my children (her second son passed away in 2006 from Lymphoma, before he was even two years old; her youngest son was born in 2010) with me, as well, which made it a whole different blow – I was at rock-bottom. For me, that was rock bottom, because at that time, I was looking at my children and thinking that I couldn’t even be a good mother to my kids,” she said. “Yeah, I had dreams and aspirations and goals, and more than anything in the world, I really felt this (singing) was the only thing I was supposed to do with my life. The thing that I have always known is that I’m supposed to sing. But you have these two little boys looking at you and they need everything from you and financially, you just can’t do it.”

Those who create art from thin air are a supremely confident group, as they very well should be. Still, it would be a stretch to think that during those dark and desperate times that Thames could ever imagine that one day she would be touring France or gazing out onto the crowd at the Chicago Blues Festival. However, Thames said there was no doubt in her mind that she would one day begin to turn her dreams into reality.

“When I hit that rock bottom, I looked around and realized that I was living my deepest fear and it didn’t kill me. I decided that if this was as bad as it can get, hey, I can do this. That’s when I said to myself that there was no where to go from there but up. We had to be out of the shelter by 8 a.m. And I would take a shower in the morning and that’s when I wrote that song (the title track to Tell You What I Know),” said Thames. “While in the shower, I had this melody and I would just sing it to myself – ‘Tell you what I know; tell you what I know.’ That’s what encouraged me and fueled me. I made up my mind that I was going to accomplish everything I knew was on the inside of me – that I was going to do whatever it took to walk that out and show my children that dreams do come true.”

A song of triumph, self-belief and never giving up, “Tell You What I Know” hit number one on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales Chart and stayed in the top 10 for over two months.

Her children probably didn’t completely understand the circumstances they were in, or even what their mother was going through at the time, but looking at things with the perspective of a little bit of age on their side these days, they have a clearer appreciation of the way their mom battled through long odds to break free from the system.

“I have a 15-year-old who is living with his dad in Tucson, Arizona and he’s 6-6, weighs 220 pounds, wears size 17 shoes and plays basketball. They’ve been scouting him (for college) since he was in the eighth grade. To have your 15-year-old call you and say, ‘Mom, I know that I can do anything … anything … because I watched you and I know that nothing is impossible,’” Thames said. “To have your kid tell you that, it pays for every tear, every hard night, every fear … it cancels all that out. Even if I didn’t reach the upper echelons in this music world, knowing that my kids understand that you stick and you stay and you push no matter what, it’s worth it. It’s hard knowing that your kids went through that, but knowing that at 15, he’s able to look at that and say, hey, my mom kept pushing and look at where she is now. She’s touring France and is on the radio in Africa. He sees those things and that’s a daily reminder to me of humility and that I have to continue to think of all the people that have been invested in my career and invested in my life.”

Thames is recently married, and in addition to her star ward-bound musical career, her and her husband have a general contracting business. But maybe more importantly than all of that is the work Thames is undertaking to help those that are currently traveling the path she once trekked.

“My main objective when I get on stage is to motivate; to inspire; to touch people and encourage them. Now, I’m really focused on utilizing influence. The causes that I’m in the process of really supporting now is, number one – teenage, or young, moms. I was one and I understand the emotions and the struggles of that and the things that you miss, in just your personal development. The internal things that you miss because you’re so focused on helping to develop another child, when you’re still just a child yourself. I want to inspire young mothers to not just be good enough, but to be more than enough so they can inspire and help others … to pay it forward. I want to help them with their dreams and then help to see those dreams become reality,” Thames said. “The other cause I’m definitely invested in is ‘at-risk youth.’ I really believe that when you have influence, you should use it for something bigger than yourself.”

As amazing as her back story is, one has the feeling that JJ Thames is only just getting started and the story she writes from here on out should be something to follow, for sure. So what’s up next?

“I don’t think I had dreamed any further; I think I had dreamed to right here,” she said. “So in the last month or so, I had an epiphany and said, ‘OK, now you’ve got to dream some more, kid.’ So that’s what I’ve been doing – dreaming for the next phase. This is not the top of the mountain, this is just the middle of it. There’s a peak up there that I see that I need to get to.”

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist, author 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 

Larry Griffith – Get Up


CD: 5 Songs; 21:40 Minutes

Styles: Ensemble Blues, Contemporary Electric Blues and Blues Rock

People all over the world know “Man shall not live by bread alone”. The inner self must be nourished just as much as the body. Even though Matthew 4:4, prescribes “every word that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD” for spiritual sustenance, another “victual” is awesome: music. Larry Griffith, a native of the inner city of Cincinnati and now a resident of Atlanta GA, knows this firsthand. He has been physically and spiritually hungry, in a chronic way. Last December, on a review of his album Hard As It Gets, yours truly mentioned that Larry was raised with nine other siblings in a crumbling tenement. He’s traveled light-years away from that existence, encouraging people to Get Up and prosper. Music was his salvation, and on this five-track CD which is more like an EP, his gratitude shows.

If the blues are comparable to food, Get Up is a quick snack on the road. It’s not even thirty minutes long, clocking in at a gaunt 21:40 running time. Fast food offerings may be terrifically tasty, thanks to our friends Fat, Sugar and Sodi-Yum (ha ha), but they leave us yearning for more. So does this release, which motivates blues fans to get up and dance. The fun is over too soon. While it lasts, however, it sizzles with sensational instrumentation and festive blues flavor.

This is an ensemble album, packed with far more musicians than songs. Along with Larry Griffith, as he performs on vocals, guitar and drums, are Rashaan Griffith on keys and horn arrangements, bassist Tim “T-Groove” Henderson, Carlos “The Breeze” Capote on harmonica, Jim Ransone on guitar, and Rusty “Haymaker” Hayes joining in with these five on harmony vocals. Backing them up are the Solid State Horns: Nick Longo on alto and baritone sax, Bob Lewis on trombone, and Ken Gregory on trumpet and sound engineering.

These three selections, out of five originals, were hard to classify as “best” – all are great.

Track 01: “My Jack is Jumpin’” – Everyone needs “M-O-N-E, M-O-N-E-Y”, which might have been a catchier title for the opening number. After suffering unemployment and hard luck, our narrator finds himself rolling in dough: “My jack is jumpin’. Let me tell you something. Never had but a little bit, but now I’ve got a whole truckload of them dead Presidents.” The slick, strutting beat might be more addicting than cash itself.

Track 02: “Get Up” – Is this an invitation to leave one’s seat and move one’s feet? Indeed, but it’s also an ultimatum to the souse in this tune: “Get up (get on up). Get out (get on out). [You’re] stinking from your drinking.” The guitar and Solid State Horns are smoking.

Track 05: “Why, Baby?” – Smooth harmonic vocals grace the last track, featuring a lover who might have been “planting more than flowers” in the garden her man bought for her. This is the most traditional, Chicago-style track on the album, which will please purists.

If fans don’t have much time, not even a half hour, they should Get Up and party anyway!

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 – 3 of 5 

Billy Hector – Old School Thang

Ghetto Surf Music

11 tracks/49:40 Running Time

Billy Hector is veteran guitarist with roots in the Asbury Park and Jersey Shore music scenes. This oft-awarded, self described workingman’s musician, has released sixteen albums to date and is a revered icon in New Jersey and beyond.

Mr. Hector is most comfortable in a power trio configuration but when he throws in a badass horn section augmented also with the occasional b-3, the results are stupefying. Four tracks including the title track are done in the trio format. Track 4 “Fake ID” adds an extra guitar in the presence of Mickey Melchiondo. Track 6 “Come On Home” includes Ken Sorensen on harmonica Winston Roye on cowbell.

The horn section consists of Tommy Labella on sax and Steve Jankowski on trumpet and trombone. Along with organist David Nunez they appear on tracks 1, “She’s Gone,” track 2, “Goin’ Down,” track 5,” Vitamin Big Daddy,” and track 11, “People Of The World.” On track 10, “Short and Sweet Blues,” Pete Maurer plays trombone and Carlos Francis, trumpet.

Rounding out the rhythm section are Sim Cain on drums (tracks 1-7, 9 & 10), Larry Crockett (track 8) and Rich Monica (track 11), Tim Tindall is on bass (tracks 1, 4 ,5,6, 7 , 9 & 11. Winston Roye plays bass on tracks 2, 3, 8 & 10. Just as in his live performances, Billy likes to mix and match his bassists and drummers.

On track 9 there are backing vocals by Susan Lastovica (Mrs. Hector) and Joshua Mark.

Now to the music. Billy Hector is a driven guitarist. Old School Thang contains two slow Blues numbers, track 7, “Evil, Slick ‘N Sly and track 10, “Short and Sweet Blues.’ There’s a medium tempo ballad, track 9, “Rita.” Everything else is let it all hang out, up tempo, get out on the dance floor and groove, Blues, Rock and Funk.

Hector’s voice is strong, confident and convicted. It augments his playing in a similar way that Jimi Hendrix’s vocals complimented his playing.

Standout tracks include track 1, “She’s Gone,” a layered, deftly crafted, guitar and horn driven scorcher that includes a snatch of a chorus possibly borrowed from Alvin Cash and the Crawlers, “Twine Time.” Track 2 is a cover of the Don Nix tune, “Going Down.” Though the song has been recorded by countless artists to the point of saturation, Hector does a very credible version on the order of Freddie King. Track 5, “Vitamin Big Daddy,” is a fun guitar burner that throws in some Jazzy horn lines that recall “Walk On The Wild Side,” by Jimmy Smith. Can’t avoid the crazy fun hooks in track 4, “Fake Id.”

…Got my baby and my cocaine

got my pork roll and cheese

got my dba (?) card

and my fake id…

Whoa daddy. That combination could be bad for your heart.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 5 

Original Legends of the Blues – Still Carrying The Flame

12 tracks/45:22 running time

At first glance, the blues peruser might not recognize the name of the group. The resumes however of the Original Legends of the Blues, firmly pass the Blues background check.

Sideman to the stars, drummer Jimmi Mayes, Mississippi bred, Chicago raised, caught a regular gig at Big Duke’s Blue Flame Lounge in the Windy City before his 18th birthday. After auditioning and playing for Little Walter, he played with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and others knee deep in the Chicago Blues scene. He later played with the Flamingos, Joey Dee & The Starliters, Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Jimi Hendrix and many others. Mayes sings and/or plays drums on five tracks.

Trumpeter James “Boogaloo” Bolden should be familiar to anyone who saw B.B. King live anytime during the last 35 years of B.B’s life on planet earth. The barrel chested Bolden, (could he be related to Buddy?) spent those last 35 with King and was his bandleader. Bolden also tenured with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. In college at Texas Southern University, he was in the world renowned Ocean of Soul marching band and the TSU Jazz Ensemble.

Charlie “Tuna” Dennis, also a B.B. King alum (15 years) is a guitarist and vocalist who also toured with Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt.

Tenor saxophonist Eric Denner was in Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s band for 12 years.

Barry Seelen is a very much in demand Houston based keyboardist who toured with the late Mighty Sam McClain.

Master percussionist Herman Jackson has recorded and played with a long list of major artists including the Count Basie Big Band, Cannonball Adderly, Al Green, Joe Tex, Johnny Adams, Joe Sample, Willie Nelson, Professor Longhair, Irma Thomas, Dave Holland, The Moonglows, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Steve Cropper, Angela Bofill and so many others.

Rounding out the Original Legends of the Blues is former Dickie Betts right hand man Mark May on guitar. Contributing also on guitars were producer/engineer Rock Romano (vocals too) and Jay Gordon. Russell Jackson contributed bass lines and vocals as well.

7 of the 12 tracks on this disk were written or co-written by members of the group. The remaining were written by B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Lonnie Youngblood, Roy Hawkins and Muddy Waters.

With such a talented and varied cast (ten musicians, 4 vocalists), this band is able to give the listener multiple looks and deliveries. Just because Boogaloo Bolden and Tuna Dennis worked for B.B. King over 50 years combined, the B.B. influence is not always evident. Bolden’s lead vocals are more Joe Williams than B.B. While Mr. Dennis sticks mainly to his rhythm guitar role, his solo on track. 5 “Why I Sing The Blues” is unlike Mr. King’s and his vocal on track 10, “Edumacation”, emanates from his own heart.

Fancy, layered guitar solos by Mark May and Jay Gordon are peppered throughout the production. When the horns chose to blow, they shine. Standout tracks include the New Orleans second line influenced track 4, “Royal And St. Pete” and the Jimi Hendrix at his songwriting peak-penned track 6, “My Friend”. Drummer Jimmi Mayes, who worked with and was a friend of Hendrix gives it a valiant try. His reading, while not as soulful as the original still lends hallucinogenic credence to the potency of the lyric.

Yeah, this one’s headed straight home to you…

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

 Featured Blues Review – 5 of 5 

The Nighthawks – Back Porch Party

EllerSoul Records 2015

12 tracks; 45 minutes

After two electric albums The Nighthawks return to the acoustic formula that was so successful with their Last Train To Bluesville release which won a BMA for Best Acoustic album a few years back. This one was taped before a live audience at Montrose Studios in Richmond, VA. The Nighthawks remain unchanged with Mark Wenner on harp, Paul Bell on guitar, Johnny Castle on bass and Mark Stutso on drums. The band has two great plusses over many ensembles in that all members sing well, harmonize excellently and all contribute to the writing here, the two Marks offering a song each and Johnny two, one track being credited to the whole band and there are covers from a range of blues and roots sources.

Muddy Waters is clearly a touchpoint for the band and this set opens with a splendid version of Jimmy Rogers’ “Rock This House” done in a laid-back, fun version with strong harmonies from the band. Relaxed takes on “Walking After Midnight” (Alan Block/Don Hecht) and “Down In The Hole” follow, the latter featuring some fine harp from Mark Wenner. Ike Turner’s “Matchbox” romps along with some nice picking from Paul and a firm vocal from Mark Stutso whose drums set the pace all the way through before “Tiger In Your Tank” (Willie Dixon) follows suit (though in a less frantic version than on Joe Bonamassa’s recent “Red Rocks” version); Muddy’s spirit is certainly invoked here though as the vocals (unsure who is singing this one) sound sufficiently seductive and there is some fine acoustic slide work from Paul. Johnny’s short rockabilly tune “Jana Lea” is a good interlude before another Muddy song “Rollin’ Stone” follows in a suitably menacing version with plenty of tough harp.

Mark Wenner’s writing contribution is a bouncy piece of country-inflected blues in which Mark confesses that he learned plenty of defensive strategies in life but never learned to “Guard My Heart” and Mark Stutso seems similarly upset by love in the confessional blues “Down To My Last Million Tears” (written with his regular co-writer Norm Nardini).

There is no doubt that this fine live album will appeal to long-term Nighthawks fans and lovers of well-played acoustic blues and roots.

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.

 Video Of the Week – Robert Randolph & The Family Band 

Here is a video of Robert Randolph & The Family Band at the New York State Blues Festival last month playing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”. Robert Randolph is the headliner at the Illinois Blues Festival on Friday, September 4th at 10:30pm. To see Robert Randolph all of the great artists at this years Illinois Blues Festival live on Labor Day Weekend, visit their website for your tickets now at

 Featured Live Blues Review – Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza 

20th Annual Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesapalooza July 30th-August 2, 2015 Sam’s Wood site, Mammoth Lakes, CA

There is always a “first time” for everything, and Mammoth was a first for me this year. Driving up into the mountains, through a portion of Yosemite, switch backing through Tioga Pass, and dropping down near Mono Lake, just the views along the way made the drive there well worth it. I was told that Mammoth was “different” and that it was. Tucked in the towering trees, the festival grounds were covered with finely ground wood chips, and all of accommodations were close enough to walk, although a trolley was provided throughout the festival. The stage was large and the lighting was some of the best I have ever seen. The food, beverages, and vendors were top notch and the atmosphere was friendly: it was truly “A Mammoth Experience” and a great place to spend the weekend. Although California has been suffering a 4 year drought, the rain decided to arrive for those four days, threatening in the afternoons with some giant thunderclaps, and only managed to dampen a couple shows in the end. Otherwise the weather was glorious, and if you can handle the 8500’ altitude, then the journey is well worth it. I can understand why the residents of the area are very proud of their festival. And it does sell out! Tickets were hard to come by weeks before the festival.

The Thursday Night Kickoff lineup started off with Tommy Castro and the Painkillers. Tommy, and longtime bassist, Randy McDonald were joined by returning keyboard player, Mike Emerson, and his new drummer, Bowen Brown. Tommy and Randy, who have been playing with each other for decades, have a great time, and with the addition of Mike and Bowen, they always play a great set!! Perfect start for the festival.

The second and final set for the evening was Robben Ford. Robben put down the blues as only he can – a master.

Friday Night “Rock ‘n’ Blues” started at 3:30pm with the Hadden Sayers Band. I have never had the opportunity to see Hadden do an entire set with his own band – I usually see him with Ruthie Foster (which he joined on Saturday). Hadden has a unique, rich voice, with lots of character, and it was such a thrill to hear him front the whole set. He has certainly garnered a large set of new fans, including myself – a definite “must see.” His Band included: Aaron Bishar – drums, Dave DeWitt-Keyboards, and Jim Cherwinski – bass.

Next up was Carolyn Wonderland and her band. Another “first” to see Carolyn take over a big stage and really let herself play to that stage and audience. Her voice is compared to “Janis Joplin” and although I can see why, she has her own style, and, along with her powerful voice, she is a talented guitar and lap slide guitar player, as well as doing a quick spot on the trumpet. Great set! He band included: Col El-Saleh-keyboards and Kevin Lance-drums.

Third on the lineup was John Nemeth’s band. Along with his normal four piece band, he brought along a trumpet and trombone and really hit his song list in style, covering his new album, along with all (my ) favorites from previous albums. John’s sets are always full of soul, solid blues, and his voice and harmonica playing rank up there with the top performers of this century. His band included: Johnny Rhoades-guitar, Danny Banks-drums, Matthew Wilson-bass, Bruce Jenner-sax, and John Habib-trumpet.

Closing out the night was Trombone Shorty. With his own light show provided, Troy Andrews aka “Trombone Shorty” puts on a show that is a full speed ahead for the 90 minute set. Troy plays the trombone, trumpet, tambourine, and sings the entire time while the rest of the band keeps the pace behind him. It’s a party straight from New Orleans! His band included: Michael “Mike Bass” Ballard-bass, Joey Peebles-drums, Pete Murano-guitar, Dan Oestreicher-bar.sax, and another sax – name unknown.

Saturday is The Grand Tasting & Bluesapalooza. As I was warned, the festival fills up for the gigantic Festival of Beers from 12:00 to 5:00. The festival is the major fundraiser for the CCBA – California Craft Brewers Association. With over 80 breweries represented, and one winery (for those non beer connoisseurs), the back of the festival was lined with tents and tasters (thousands?) for the entire afternoon. I wandered back there and witnessed the fun, tasted some beer, and quickly headed back to the stage for the music. But for the beer drinkers, they had a really good time!!

First up was Reno’s Jelly Bread. Having only seen a short part of their set in Portland, I was pleasantly surprised by the great set they performed. This band is definitely making a name for themselves and is another “must see” again. The band included: Cliff Porter – drums and lead vocals, Dave Berry-Guitar/lap slide, Jeremy Hunt-bass, Eric Matlock-keys, and Sean Lehe-lead guitar.

Next up was Shane Dwight. Originally from NorCal, Shane now resides in Nashville. It was great to see him again after many years and he ripped out a great set along with long-time bass player – Kevin Stewart – and drummer Jackie Enx.

Just as the next band took the stage, the weather decided to make good on the predictions and the rain began. Being unprepared for the big temperature drop, I had to head back to the condo for some dry clothes and foul weather gear and only caught a small part of the beginning of Rachel Rodriguez set, and the last song of the Delta Wires. According to my posse, they were both great and I hope to catch them again sometime.

The thunder let out a few final explosions, the lightning quit threatening the festival, the rain cleared up, and Ruthie Foster’s band safely took the stage. (Kudos to the festival for taking such great care for everyone’s safety!) She can always bring sunshine and raise the spirits no matter what Mother Nature has in store. With bass icon – Larry Fulcher joining her band, and Hadden Sayers back on stage, it was a phenomenal set. And as always, her talented band mates – Scottie “Bones” Miller on keys and mandolin and Samantha Banks on drums – were there, making Ruthie Foster one of the favorite performers of any festival or event. Personally, I could listen to her 24/7 and never tire of anything she and the band want to perform.

Taking the festival energy to a completely different level, Jonny Lang closed the night with his fiery, intense performance. Jonny has come a long way since I first heard his name back in the 80’s. What a great way to end the beer drinking frenzy day and a great lineup preceding him. (I was unable to obtain band member’s names).

“Soulful Sunday Hangover Party” is the description given to the last day by the festival. It started a little early (9am) for our group so we missed the first band – The Mark Sexton Band – and just caught the last few songs of the second band – The Suffers. Kam Franklin was the lead singer and the rest of the band members names are unknown. But they were an enjoyable mix of gospel and blues and Kim had some great stories embedded in her songs.

I did not want to miss the next act: The Slide Brothers. Having seen Chuck Campbell play with Experience Hendrix a few years back, and then with The Campbell Brothers in Silver City, NM, in May, he was definitely was a “must see.” Along with Calvin Cooke on the lap steel and lap slide, the two of them took us to slide heaven, or church, and it was an incredible set. Perfect Sunday morning combo of blues, country, and gospel.

Sunday is short day, and the final set ran from 1:30 to 3:00, leaving attendees to either head home, go to the free jam after party, or just enjoy the beautiful area. The final act was Robert Cray. And as always, Robert Cray did an excellent set.

I would highly recommend this festival, although be warned: tickets do sell out, and rightly so. It is not over crowded but is set in the forest and as the shirt says “It’s all about Altitude.” And if you decide to come, take some time before or after to enjoy Yosemite National Park, and the wonders of Mono Lake. It is well worth the trip. Thanks to the organizers and volunteers for a great, well organized, friendly festival. It will be on my list of festivals to attend each year. Check out their website ( and Facebook page for more info and photos!

Photos and commentary by Marilyn Stringer © 2015

 Blues Society News 

 Send your Blues Society’s BIG news or Press Release about your not-for-profit event with the subject line “Blues Society News” to:

Maximum of 175 words in a Text or MS Word document format.

DC Blues Society – Washington, D.C.

The free 27th Annual DC Blues Festival is Saturday, September 5, 2015 from noon-7:30 pm, featuring Sharrie Williams, “Princess of Rockin’ Gospel Blues”. Festival venue: Carter Barron Amphitheatre, 16th Street and Colorado Avenue NW, Washington DC 20011. Bring the family for a day of soulful and electrifying blues, music workshops, Musical Instrument Petting Zoo and other child-friendly activities. No tickets required.

The festival offers an exciting lineup of diverse blues. Sharrie Williams is a three-time Blues Music Awards Nominee and international performer, trained in jazz, gospel and drama. Although she credits Koko Taylor, Etta James and Aretha Franklin as influences, her style is all her own and she’s earned a reputation for outstanding vocal performances. Also appearing is guitarist, singer and songwriter James Armstrong, “The Ambassador of the Blues”. The son of musicians, James was born to play the blues and his style honors traditional blues while adding contemporary grit. Rounding out the lineup are several DCBS favorite bands.

Be a part of the excitement and spirit at the premier DC Blues event!

Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

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.

Friends of the Blues – Kankakee IL area

The Friends of the Blues announce their 2015 Concert Series. All shows start at 7 pm. August 27 – Albert Castiglia with Maybe Later – The Longbranch – L’Erable IL, September 8 – Laura Rain and The Caesars – Moose Lodge, Bradley IL, September 17 – Reverend Raven and C.S.A.B. – Kankakee Valley Boat Club

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. August 31 – Maurice John Vaughn.

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     © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425

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