Issue 9-4 January 22, 2015

Cover photo by Arnie Goodman © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

  In This Issue 

Tee Watts has our feature interview with Shuggie Otis.

We have 11 music reviews for you including new music from Benny Turner, JW-Jones, Matthew Robinson & The Jelly Roll Kings, Sterling Koch Trio, Skyla Burrell Band, Altered Five Blues Band, Bruce Katz Band , Eric Bibb, Diana Braithwaite And Chris Whitely and two albums from S.E. Willis.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

It is that time of year and the biggest battle of the bands is going on in Memphis, Tennessee as I type this. The International Blues Challenge features more than 200 bands and solo/duet acts all competing for the title of the best unsigned Blues act.

Blues Blast Magazine is headed down to catch the semifinals on Friday and the finals competition on Saturday.

Look for our Blues Blast Magazine shirts and say hello. See you there!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Blues Wanderings 

I made it out to catch a great show by The Smokers at a local club called Goodfellas in Pekin, IL.

The band is representing the River City Blues Society (Peoria, IL) in the International Blues Challenge this week. It is a really good band. We wish them luck in Memphis.

  Blues Want Ads 

Do you really know your Blues and enjoy telling others about it?

Blues Blast Magazine looking for a few good writers to volunteer to help us out. We need reviewers who know Blues and can write a minimum of one review or story each week. We will provide access to downloads or physical CDs, DVDs and books for review. The writer keeps the album, book or DVD for doing the review. We get music submissions from all over the world and we publish music reviews each week so there is a steady flow of things that need reviewed.

We are also looking for folks to write stories for our website, blogging style, and other occasional story assignments. We will assign subjects and stories and also entertain your ideas too.

These are volunteer positions that need a persons who really loves the Blues and wants to spread the Blues word! All of our Blues Blast Writing staff started out as volunteers like this and we kept them on as staff writers afterwards.

If you are interested, please send an email to and tell us about your Blues background. 

Please be sure to include your phone number in the email.

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 11 

Benny Turner – Journey

Nola Blue, Inc.

CD: 10 Songs; 40:55 Minutes

Styles: Traditional and Contemporary Electric Blues

Being the relative of an icon in any profession is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that relative has such a connection to a famous counterpart that s/he can use it to personal advantage and self-promotion. On the other hand, it’s extremely difficult to get out of that counterpart’s shadow. Fans and the general public make comparisons all the time, whether favorable or not. This can be a burden for the one who’s trying to succeed in the field that s/he shares with a legend. Benny Turner, the brother of Freddie King, continues to do this on his spectacular third album. According to his website, “Freddie King always recognized his baby brother’s potential to be a legendary Blues performer. Benny never took it seriously because his brother was the star. Freddie always thought he would have time to make sure Benny was recognized in his own right but time ran out.” Not wanting to lose any more time, Benny has made the world know his name.

Along with Benny on this great CD are guitarists Marc Stone, Charles Moore, and Derwin “Big D” Perkins; keyboard players Keiko Komaki, Tom Worrell and Josh Paxton; background vocalists Deanna Bernard, Ellen Smith, Tara Alexander and Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes (who also plays harmonica); second harp player Patrick Williams; drummer Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander; and a great horn section consisting of Jason Mingledorff on sax, and Barney Floyd and Mark Leuron on trumpet. Together they present ten original songs that sound both contemporary and traditional including these standout tracks:

Track 01: “Breakin’ News” – Sometimes people in a relationship can clearly see the end of it coming, but other times it’s a complete ‘news flash’: “No more worrying about you, baby, waiting up all night. I’m here to tell you, baby – I finally got it right. Breaking news, baby: Baby, I’m over you.” Our narrator is a happy man, as shown by the bouncy beat and killer guitar intro. When partners lose each other, they might win.

Track 03: “How I Wish” – Two tracks later, there’s a total turnaround in terms of theme: “So many nights in my solitude, you’ll find me rocking, trying to shake these blues. How I wish you were here, here with me.” Benny Turner harmonizes keenly with himself on the word “wish”, which could be a perfect description of his desire. His absent lover may never return.

Track 06: “Worn Out Woman” – “A man works ‘til the setting sun, but a woman’s work is never done.” Such is the moral of an all-too-common tragedy: “Time to cook dinner for that cranky man. ‘I should have spiked his coffee with a little cayenne,’ she said.” What could have caused this situation in the first place? Maybe the answer lies within a barnyard metaphor in track two, “Don’t You Ride My Mule ….”

Die-hard blues fans will love taking part in Benny Turner’s heartfelt, fulfilling Journey!

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 Interview – Shuggie Otis 

At Johnny Alexander Veliotes (Shuggie) Otis, Jr.’s suggestion, we scheduled the Blues Blast interview for 7 pm on New Years Eve. We didn’t quite make the deadline as Shuggie was in the studio putting the wraps on track number 16.

“I just finished song number 16 for my next album, within a half hour of talking to you. I thought I was done at 15. I’d forgotten about it until this morning. It just needed a little third vocal on it. I’m really havin’ fun with this new music and can’t wait to get out there with it.

My detractors say, why is he so gung ho now? Why wasn’t he like that back then? Well, I was happy then. I had a very happy life. I was married and we were bringing up my youngest son. I was being entertained by the entertainment industry and knew that I had reached a certain level of success. I kinda rested on that I guess. But the thing is, I never rested on trying to get a record deal. I must stress that. It sounds rather eerie to say that after forty years. It doesn’t scare me cuz I’ve had a beautiful life. So no one should feel sorry for me. I had better days back then than I’m having now. But still, I love life and I’m not ready to die.

Right now, I’m just really crazy about it-The new year and my new concept. I want to go out with my new band. I’ve already alerted a couple of the guys. If anybody reading this wants to hire us, I’m gonna have a seven piece. It’ not gonna be just one kind of music and we’re shooting for bigger venues too because my sound is kinda loud sometimes. Not all the time. With the Johnny Otis show you wouldn’t play loud. With my own group, I would play semi-loud for the Blues. Jimi Hendrix was not loud all the time either. Music is about accents.”

At his mention of Hendrix we seize the moment to ask about comparisons to Hendrix that started when Shuggie was a mere teenaged, seasoned sideman, stepping out from the shadows of his father’s famous wings.

“With my dad, see that was cool, I could always be a sideman with him and then it turned out I didn’t want to be a sideman to anyone else. Actually, I didn’t hear many compare me to JH, but I felt it. I was such a fan. I adore him. He was born around the same time of the month as I was. When I found that out, I was like wow, it attracted me. I’d heard one of his songs on the radio and went out and read the liner notes on the album and found that we were both born in late November.

When I finally heard my name compared to his it probably scared me. I went out and met him when he was signing autographs. I saw him jam once up close and twice in concert. Oh God, he was such an influence on me.”

The evolution of Shuggie Otis was of course seeded by his father, the great Johnny Otis, known by many as the “Godfather of Rhythm & Blues. When Shuggie talks about his evolution, a veritable barrage of R&B legends dot his history.

“I got to know Don & Dewey as a little tot running around they house when they would come over for rehearsal on Saturday’s. Don would later became Blues/Rock violinist Don “Sugarcane” Harris. I remember clearly that Don had a red glitter Telecaster. I was maybe four and have never seen another guitar like that. I was impressed at an early age with music and musical instruments.

My guitar playing just happened. You know, I wanted a guitar and um, when I was about ten I would look through the Sears catalogs and pick out my favorite ones. But I never got a Sears guitar. When I was eleven, my father came home with an electric guitar and small amp.

It surprised me a little bit cuz he had given me a drum set when I was four for Christmas. He knew I wanted a guitar. That first guitar was hard to play and the amp didn’t have much variation in tone. Being inexperienced, I couldn’t care less. I loved it. It was a Teisco Del Rey Japanese guitar. I don’t know what the amp was. I was listening to Rock back then and the British groups as well as all the Motown stuff. I was thinking about this just the other day.

I used to listen to B.B. King back when I was about nine, cuz my dad had a radio show and would have albums sprawled around. That’s when I remember listening to him and being really impressed by him. I remember looking at an album cover and he had a Gibson arch top, maple guitar with no cutaways and a single coil pickup. I can’t remember that name of the album but he’s got his eyes closed and he’s singing.

The record has Big Band arrangements and that made a big impression on me. But at that point, I still wasn’t ready to touch the guitar. It was when the Beatles came out and sparked the guitar craze that I started to crave one. It’s a craze nowadays too for some reason. So I started tryin’ to do it; Rock & Roll, Rhythm & Blues and later, Blues.

So yeah, I taught myself on a chord book. I learned all the chords out of a book. And then, I didn’t do any reading for a couple of years. Then I had a couple of lessons and learned how to read a little bit more than the little bit I knew from my father teaching me to read when he gave me the drum set early on. He also taught me harmony and theory on the piano as well, actually.

So when I got the guitar lessons, the only thing was, I didn’t like practicing that type of music. It was hard for me. It was standards, Jazz style. It was great and I learned some of ‘em. But I’m a slow, slow, reader. Anyway after a year of playing, my dad said, ‘Come on, join the group’.

Now I really dig it and appreciate it and respect it. I am glad I have that little knowledge. And I still love to read and write. It’s something that I know I can do. I don’t do a lot of writing of music on paper these days. Occasionally I do. A few months ago I did. I got the guitar and I just started writing. Every now and then I’ll do it and when I do it, I like it. Lately, I’ve been doing things on the synthesizer. I shied away from samples and stuff for a long time. It’s like, I can do all that orchestral stuff I wanted to do as a kid.

When I record, I like to do it the old fashioned way. I’m working with a digital work station right now and man, it beats pro tools to death. I’m working on an album right now and am inspired by the music I’m writing and recording. I’m really going full-fledged into it, working it constantly. The work station doesn’t say no to you whereas a computer will sometimes. I’ve had enough with that frustration on the computer.”

We ask Shuggie about his Live In Williamsburg album released in October of 2014.

“It’s working out fine. I love that album. I think it’s great. I wanna tell you a quick story about it. The album isn’t really a tight show album. It’s really laid back and everybody’s just so happy that it sounds like they don’t have to play the charts. There’s such a spirit within that album that surprised me when I first heard it. It knocked me out. I became very emotional about it. I had it here in my studio months before it came out.

Here is the story. When we got to the sound check that day, they had several Marshall amps. I got the one I wanted and it sounded great. I could get the sounds I wanted. The clean, the distortion and everything in between, all that. That night when we get on stage, the amp sounds like it’s getting ready to blow. It’s making all these rocket ship noises and I’m trying to deal with it.

I was pissed off and asked, hey don’t they have any other amps back there. They said no, they’re all gone. I said, ‘what?’ For a minute I thought somebody was trying to sabotage me as that had happened before. I had to deal with the sound and it was all distortion. I didn’t want to ask my son to trade amps cuz he was happy with his. I didn’t want to disturb him. I could deal with it.

So when I listen to the album now, it has such a personality to it. Not just with the guitar but with everybody. Everybody’s spirit was just so high and the audience was right there with us. You know, I knew that we were being video-taped but I wasn’t really thinking about it. At some point I actually forgot about it. I see maybe that’s what drove some of the guys to be somewhat animated. The video came out really nice and the guy did a good editing job.

Pressed for musical friendships and hangout partners, Shuggie continues as we toss names at him. We start with Eddie “Cleanhead” Vincent.

“Well yeah, we were good friends. He was always very kind to me, a buddy on the road. When I thank of him, I thank of somebody I’m related to, somebody in the family. He was a very nice, warm human being. His playing and singing were great. He helped me through some things when I was younger. He was very sympathetic to my problems.

It was kinda funny, he always wanted to play guitar and I would tell him I’d like to learn how to play alto. So he said, ‘I’ll teach you to play alto and you teach me guitar. And we really meant that from the heart. You know it was one of those kinda things. We never got around to it, but it sounded like it would be really cool to get around to it one day.”

Shuggie suggests that T-Bone Walker, “Godfather Of The Electric Blues Guitar” was like family to him.

“T-bone Walker was friendly to me as well. Same kind of feeling you get from somebody who is your uncle. I didn’t spend as much time with T-bone as I did with Eddie but when I would see him, especially in his later years, we would go out to visit him in the place where he was staying and being cared for. I’d take a couple of guitars and me and James Bradshaw, another guitar player with my father’s band and Margie Evans the singer, would drive out to see him.

We then ask him about guitarist Mel Brown which extends into a roll call of artists that have influenced his artistry. We also throw in Dyke of Dyke & The Blazers.

“Yes Mel Brown played in my father’s band. Like wow. I love his playin’. That song, “Eighteen Pounds of Unclean Chitlins”, ha ha! That’s one of my favorite ones. It’s really cold. I love that one.”

“Oh yeah, I met Dyke (Arlester Christian). He was a cool guy. I saw him up at El Dorado Studio in Hollywood. My dad’s studio. I saw him up there a few times. He recorded some tracks there or something. He acknowledged me. He was a nice person. We used to play that song “Funky Broadway” forever, before I ever met him. We played that in clubs and after hours clubs along with “Knock On Wood”, “Get Ready”, “Soul Man”, “Respect” and all the James Brown hits back in that period. I played those songs every night when I played with my dad.

Son House is definitely one of my favorites. One of my favorite favorites as far as Blues guitar goes. When he sings and plays, oh man. I can’t even listen to him right now. I have to be in a certain mood. When I was drinkin’, you can laugh if you want, I could really relate to him a whole lot. Heh heh heh, I would listen to those sad songs over and over. Now I think it would probably irritate me, make me sad right now, cuz I’m not drinkin’.”

“Still I will listen to him cuz every now and then I gotta have a fix of that stuff. That’s the way I look at it. I get on somethin’ and sometimes I won’t let it go for awhile. I might let it go for a couple of years and come back. Son House, Lightnin’ Hopkins , I think about them. Skip James, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, Elmore James and you know, T-Bone Walker of course. And Jr. Wells and Little Walter.

Little Walter is also a big influence on me. Don “Sugarcane” Harris used to tell me that he used to listen to Little Walter and would try to imitate that on his violin. Don said he made his own pickup for the violin by taking a stereo needle from a record player and sticking it on to his violin.

Listening to Jimi Hendrix, you can hear those same licks. A lotta guitar players are playin’ ‘em, but I mention Jimi Hendrix because, at one time, Little Richard’s band consisted of Jimi Hendrix, Don & Dewey and Billy Preston, I think, all at the same time.”

“Dewey I got to know each other because we lived on the same property. There was a guest house on my father’s property that Dewey lived in. One day I finally asked him, “What was Jimi Hendrix really like?” I had already asked other people their opinion years before. There were things that I was told that I don’t wanna mention at all. Anyway, the only thing Dewey could say was, that he was quiet. That’s all you can say about him. He must’ve really been quiet. Wow! “

“I’ve seen, watching some of those videos, that actually he was very private. I didn’t have to watch the videos to tell you that because I met him once and I could tell that he was just, hey, I’m me and I’m not gonna be talkin’ to ya. I didn’t give a sh*t. I didn’t care. I was just a young kid who wanted to shake his hand. I was smilin’, not thinkin’ a bunch of crap. I had no idea what he was probably goin’ through at the time. This was in ’68. I was gonna see him that night at the Hollywood Bowl. You can see that video right now on YouTube. I was there. I was also at the Forum in 1970.”

“Sly Stone is also one of the biggest influences on me. He’s one of those cats that you just can’t deny. Everybody knows he is a giant. It just brings so much to mind. After all these years, I recently met him. He was very kind to me. A very nice man. We used to see each other at Columbia studios but never spoke.

I would see a lot of people at the Columbia complex. I met Johnny Mathis, Andy Williams, Arthur Lee. My father knew Arthur Lee as a kid. As a matter of fact there’s a picture he took on the front lawn. The quick story is my dad like to raise pigeons. So on his radio show, he wanted to start a pigeon club. “

“He requested on the air for kids who wanted to be in the pigeon club. They were a little older than me and mostly White. There was one Black guy. He looked kind of Indian. It was Arthur Lee who went on to be the front man of Love. I talked to Arthur about it and he remembered it. I was recording “Stawberry Letter 23” when I met him. I was in the control room by myself listening to it. He came in, kind of nodded his approval and introduced himself, extending his hand. He kind of knew that I was kind of star struck. We turned out to be pretty good friends, like brothers. At one point I played in his group for a minute. I also played with my group on a bill with him.

Gerald Wilson was a great writer and influence on me. When I was a kid I used to see his albums. He knew all those guys that were writing for TV. He was the mastermind behind all that stuff even though his name wasn’t out there like it should have been. That’s one of those thangs that happen to a lot of people. He’s one of the greatest composers of all time.

He brought out so many thangs that he never got credit for. Watching TV throughout my life and then meeting him gradually, before I even got with his daughter (Shuggie’s ex wife and mother of his son Eric) , I’d hear his music on television shows, sitcoms and what have you, over and over and over. All his ideas. I told him about it one day. He just nodded. Some people prefer it that way. “

Blues Blast broaches the subject of Shuggie’s place in the Johnny Otis band by mentioning a YouTube video with the father and son featuring a guest appearance by guitarist Roy Buchanan who took three solos while Shuggie just played rhythm. Some of the comments posted thought Roy Buchanan was a solo hog. Others suggested what Shuggie confirmed. Shuggie also commented on losing his dad.

“I can clear it up. I was just a sideman on the session. I was basically told what to do. Eventually in my career, my father bowed out when I started producing things on my own. Once I started playing all the instruments and what not as well as writing. He didn’t try to hold me back ever, as far as what was gonna come outta me. He wanted the truth to come out of a person. He was all for that.

I tell you, he was bedridden for maybe ten years. He was doing pretty good there for a good part of those ten years. Then, in the last couple of years he started to get a little quiet. Then the last year, he wouldn’t speak at all when I was there. My mother said the same thing though, that he was sleeping a lot of the time. I remember that vision of the last time I saw him. I must’ve felt something, he must’ve felt something cuz I burst out in tears. I was getting ready to leave and saying goodbye to him and bam, I just started crying all of a sudden.

I got a little nervous and said, ‘Okay, I gotta go.’ We were holding hands and he pulled my hand back and said, “No, don’t go.” He looked me straight in the eye and I cried some more. Then I kinda got myself together. Cuz I’m a crybaby when it comes to stuff like that. I fall apart. We didn’t really have a conversation. It was just goodbye. He gave me his thumbs up. Go for it! So I got myself together and went home and you know, that was it. It was probably less than a couple of weeks later that he went to the hospital and died. Later that year I went on tour. That was in 2012.”

Though Shuggie has continued to work, his recorded output other than as a sideman was sparse for years. He couldn’t get a contract with a label. He explained his unique position as a legendary guitarist without industry support.

“The reality of it is, I’m not rich. I can’t live without money. So I have to go out and work. A musician cannot make money these days waiting for his royalties necessarily.

I’m lucky because, I make money through movies like The Dallas Buyers Club which has “Sweet Thang” in it. That along with Pulp Fiction, the Jackie Brown movie, Beyonce sampling my song, along with all the other people who have sampled my stuff, plus the Brother’s Johnson hit with “Strawberry Letter 23″. That money still comes in to this day. One hit can keep you going.”

He explains again, (for the record) why he turned down the Rolling Stones invitation to join as a replacement for Mick Taylor in 1973.

“I want to mention something about the Rolling Stones. When they came out, I was a big fan of them and the Beatles. I don’t like everybody in one particular genre but those were my two favorite British groups. I was past wanting to be a sideman with anyone including my father. I enjoyed playing that kind music. I needed the money and I could get it playing with him. I couldn’t get any record label attention. I did it every year for years. It became funny to me. I’d say, “I’m gonna send this out just so I can laugh afterwards when they say no to me.” It became really comical. Then I’d hear all these people imitating me. And they’re making gigantic hits. Taking little pieces of my music.”

“To be honest with you, I’d sent out a tape of stuff to a lot of people and if you heard the tape and then the music they released, you’d know what I was talking about. I heard all these “Strawberry Letter” ideas and Inspiration Information ideas in the ‘80s. I was strugglin’ back then with day jobs. It was really flattering in a way and kept me goin’. Kept me high, a natural high.”

In 2001 David Byrne of the Talking Heads re-released the Shuggie Otis 1974 classic album, Inspiration Information. It was released again in 2013 which has stimulated interest in Otis’s career. Shuggie shared his thoughts on Byrne’s Shuggie Otis project.

“He licensed it from Sony. I felt great when that happened. I only met him briefly in New York a long time ago on the David Letterman Show and the Conan O’Brien Show. I did a couple of shows in New York and David Byrne introduced me one night. That’s about all I remember about him, except for some of his music. Anyway I felt fantastic about that record coming out again because I always thought, when I was younger and couldn’t get a deal after Epic records, that that album would come out again. Sometimes your intuition works and sometimes you’re willing it to happen.”

“I was too busy using drugs. So that whole thang can really mess up a person. I’m just glad to have just any kind of a spirit today. This is New Year’s Eve and I’m looking very forward to 2015 with all the thangs I’m feelin’ right now. It’s just all kind of emotions. I’m looking forward to having a very happy new year.”

“When I was too busy using drugs, I couldn’t get anyone to represent me. So now I represent myself. I have a working relationship with Cleopatra Records in Los Angeles and I look forward to working with them.

I’m not in a slump. I’m trying to share that inspiration with the world right now. I’m all for the good feeling of the happy new year. Excited about the future.”

Visit Shuggie’s website at

Photos by Arnie Goodman © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

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

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 11 

JW-Jones – Belmont Boulevard

Blind Pig Records 2014

12 tracks; 50 minutes

A Canadian who has recorded with Kim Wilson, Little Charlie Baty and Hubert Sumlin amongst others, JW-Jones has tried to crack the US scene for years so perhaps the shift to a major US label and an in-demand producer will help. JW’s eighth CD was recorded in Nashville with Tom Hambridge producing and playing drums on the sessions with Dave Roe on bass, Rob McNelley on guitar and Reese Wynans on keys. On four cuts JW’s regular rhythm section of Laura Greenberg on bass and Jamie Holmes on drums appears. JW had a hand in six songs (four with Tom), Tom and his regular writing companions contribute four songs and there are two covers.

Tom and Colin Linden’s rocky “Love Times Ten” leads the way with Reese’s swirling organ, JW’s guitar and Tom’s drums on an upbeat opener: “Never gave a hoot about keeping score but when it comes to good lovin’ I always need more”. A storming version of Bobby Parker’s “Watch Your Step” is worth the admission in itself. The band really cooks on this from the start and the excitement generated is terrific. JW’s first writing contribution (with Tom and Richard Fleming) comes on “Blue Jean Jacket”, the two guitars meshing well on the opening section of this mid-paced rocker. Lyrically JW is reminiscing about his younger days, dating girls and learning to be a man – the common link being that jacket: “In my blue jean jacket I felt like I could take on the world”. The pace slows for another Hambridge/Fleming tune “Coming After Me”, a gentle blues with some strong lead guitar lines from JW. JW and Tom wrote the short and punchy “Don’t Be Ashamed”, JW underlining his vocals with his guitar with more than a touch of Otis Rush to these ears.

JW is the sole writer of the next two cuts. “Thank You” rocks along with some harsh lyrics: “She found another man, I guess someone had to take a stand. Thank you baby for doing me wrong”. Having already covered Bobby Parker and produced some Otis Rush style guitar, JW’s “Magic West Side Boogie” is clearly intended to honour the late Magic Sam and does him proud on a thumping instrumental which neatly combines boogie rhythms with some of Sam’s guitar styles. “What Would Jimmie Do?” (Jones/Hambridge) finds JW asking that question of another of his guitar influences, Jimmie Vaughan, with plenty of meaty Texas licks. The second cover is Buddy Guy’s “What’s Inside Of You” and JW displays his BG side with some torrid guitar. Of course Tom has produced the last few BG albums so the band gives some fine support to JW’s guitar and vocals.

JW has usually managed to find some really catchy tunes for his albums and “If It Feels This Good Tomorrow” (Hambridge/Anderson/Nicholson) is another. In another era this would have been a cert for the first single from the album; these days it’s one to download to your MP3 player for the gym. It’s a gloriously catchy tune with a wonderfully upbeat message about the guy’s new relationship: “If we both wake up dreaming, we don’t want the dream to end, ready to face the day together, over and over again. We can take this ride as far as it goes if it feels this good tomorrow.” After such an ‘up’ sentiment the song requires a great solo and JW delivers that perfectly – a superb song. JW’s “Never Worth It” is a great rocker with some crunching bass lines from Laura Greenberg and some echoey guitar with use of the whammy bar from JW. The last track is the brooding and serious “Cocaine Boy” (Jones/Hambridge) about the struggle of a young guy growing up in institutions and then getting involved in drugs: “A lifetime of nightmares and pain”. Unfortunately JW sings with distortion throughout and it is a lengthy (7.08) track, the combination of which makes the track one to which this reviewer will not return often.

Overall this is a very good album with several significant highlights and one that should finally let the US know what Canada has known for some years – JW-Jones is a class act.

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 11 

Matthew Robinson & The Jelly Roll Kings – Work That Jelly!

One Man And His Dog Records

10 songs – 44 minutes

Work That Jelly! represents the welcome return to recording of Matthew Robinson, the Texas singer and guitarist who has been performing for over 50 years, including as the lead singer of The Mustangs, with whom he toured extensively opening for the likes of Jimmy Reed, James Brown, Big Mama Thornton and Johnny Winter. In 2012, Robinson received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Austin Blues Society, a good indication of the respect in which he is held in the Lone Star State.

The opening song on the album, Taj Mahal’s “Strut”, sets the tone for what follows. The band lays down a smooth funky shuffle as Robinson sings the immortal opening line of: “You should have never said you loved me when laid across my folding bed, baby you was drinking that white lightning and you was talking all out of your head.” “Strut” features a harmonica solo from Steve Power, an organ solo from Ron D’Argenio and typically low-down-but-tasty lead guitar from special guest, W.C. Clark. The rhythm section of Pete “The Beat” Langhans on drums and Jeff Hayes on bass keeps the track in the groove throughout. “Strut” is followed by the swinging shuffle of Bruce McCabe’s “Rack ‘Em Up”, in which the rhythm section again excels and the other musicians are offered ample space to stretch out in their solos.

All 10 songs on the album are cover versions, most of which are well known and they are nearly all played pretty close to the originals (such as Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Didn’t Know”, Tab Benoit and Tabby Thomas’ “It Takes A Long Time, Baby” or ZZ Hill’s “I’m Gonna Stop You From Giving Me The Blues”) although the reworking of Little Milton’s “That’s What Love Will Make You Do” replaces the backing horns of the original with Steve Power’s harmonica and D’Argenio’s organ. Little Milton’s stellar lead guitar playing is matched by W.C. Clark’s subtle and tasteful playing on the remake). Indeed, the three songs on which Clark appears all benefit from the stardust of his superb guitar. His solo on “It Takes A Long Time, Baby” is particularly impressive.

Robinson has a distinctive and expressive singing voice, even if at times he seems to be trying to channel the vocal mannerisms of the original singer (such as on Jimmy Reed’s “Going To New York” or Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Asked For Water”). When he is utterly himself, such as on “It Takes A Long Time, Baby” or “I’m Gonna Stop You From Giving Me The Blues” it is easy for the listener to get lost in his wonderfully emotional voice.

If there is a criticism of the album, it is that the production by Steve Power does not capture the full brio of a live Matthew Robinson performance, perhaps because D’Argenio’s piano and organ is quite high in the mix, which adds a certain smoothness when Robinson’s voice might benefit from a little more grit in the backing arrangements.

Be that as it may, Work That Jelly! has more than a few magical moments and is worth investigating, especially if your tastes lean towards the smoother end of the modern blues spectrum.

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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 11 

Sterling Koch Trio – Place Your Bets

Full Force Music FFM120

11 songs – 49 minutes

As lovers of modern acoustic blues already are aware after a career that’s spanned about 30 years and included more than a dozen CD releases, Sterling Koch is one heck of a lap steel guitar player. He demonstrates his talents once again in this relatively understated collection of 10 familiar covers and one original.

Hailing from Pottstown, Pa., and like the great Freddie Roulette before him, Koch is a proponent of Chicago-style slide guitar, adding modern interpretations of techniques laid down first decades ago. His two previous releases – Slide Ruler in 2011 with Tommy Shannon of Double Trouble and Chet McCracken of the Doobie Brothers and Let It Slide in 2013 — were in electrified band format. Here, he returns to an acoustic trio format, aided by Jack Kulp on harmonica and backing vocals and Gene Babula bass. Guitar artists Joe Ciarvella and Jennifer Dierwechter add percussion and backing vocals.

A solo guitar line beneath Koch’s clear, crisp vocals kicks off a retro version of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “The House Is Rockin’” before Kulp adds background vocals, then a harp solo, giving the tune the feeling that it had been written long before SRV walked the earth. Hound Dog Taylor’s “It’s Alright,” which follows, takes on a country blues feel. It’s devoid of the distortion Taylor created by overpowering an amplifier with a cracked cone, which contributed to his unique sound.

Jimmy Reed’s “Dizzy” becomes a sweet stop-time swinger in Koch’s hands, while ZZ Top’s “Tube Snake Boogie” takes on a completely different with female backup singing and the guitarist playing acoustic rather than rocketing riffs off the rafters. A harp solo introduces Albert King’s “Down Don’t Bother Me.” While Koch’s guitar work is consistently solid, his strong, confident vocal delivery presents an odd counterpoint to a tune that deals with human suffering.

Harp and guitar share the load for Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Checkin’ Up On My Baby” before a straightforward take on John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples” and a country blues version of Otis Rush’s “My Baby (She’s a Good ‘Un).” Covers of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s “Blue On Black” and Peter Green’s “Oh Well” sandwich the only original tune, “Nothin’ But The Blues,” to conclude the set.

Available through all the major online marketers, you’ll probably like it if you prefer acoustic blues. If you’re looking for flashy fretwork and pyrotechnics, however, look elsewhere. And the presentation could have been amped up by the addition of more new music instead of a steady stream of old warhorses.

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 – 5 of 11 

Skyla Burrell Band – Blues Scars

Vizztone Label Group 2014

15 tracks; 49 minutes

Originally from California, Skyla Burrell now calls Pennsylvania home though she must spend little time there as she and her band tour a lot. The hard working band is Skyla on guitar and vocals, Mark Tomlinson on guitar, Michelle Lucas on bass and Ezell Jones Jr. on drums. The CD was recorded in Maryland with Todd Stotler at the controls and co-producing with Skyla and Mark. All the material is original, Skyla being the writer of five tracks, Mark nine and the two combining on one. The styles covered include blues, funk and rock.

The range of material can be seen from the opening five cuts. Opener “Blues Scars” is a funky blues with Skyla’s voice equally plaintive and commanding. In terms of guitars the sleevenotes helpfully tell us that on all tracks Skyla plays the first lead, Mark the second, so we can assume that the well-judged solo here is Mark. “Bluesin’ For Your Lovin’” takes a SRV riff as its base and that twangy Texas rhythm is great, a really attractive tune. Skyla sings of how she hopes that her electric guitar will help attract the object of her desires as the solo utilises some nifty slide work. “Trouble” is a short but sweet rocker with strong drumming and a rock and roll solo and “Stuck In A Struggle” is a fast-paced tune with some exciting guitar work from both Skyla and Mark. Changing the pace Skyla’s “Love Letter In Blue” is a ballad which opens with some lovely tone from Skyla and the guitar interplay recalls the Allmans in gentler mode. The song also lets us hear how well Skyla can adopt her vocals to a quieter number.

“Livin’ For The Blues” has some strong slide work with lyrics that reveal how a good blues band sustains itself when on the road: “when we get to that Tennessee line, gonna get some of that good moonshine”! Co-write “Shut You Down” is a direct warning to Skyla’s man that if he pushes her around Skyla will have to get rid of him. Skyla’s “Life Storms” is an insistent shuffle with a storming solo while “World Wide Blues” has a latin edge to the playing with drummer Ezell setting an interesting rhythm over which the guitarists play some echoey chords and stirring solos, another strong track. Slide is featured on “Full Time Gambler” in which Skyla tells us that her lover’s occupation is a problem for her as he is out at the tables every night. “Jace” is a slower number with lots of spacey guitar riffs and the very short (2.22) “Juke Jointin’ Tonight” is a fast-paced shuffle which you wish would go on longer as the band gets a head of steam going, the guitar solo meshing well with the rhythm riff. The longest track here is “6 Mile Cemetery Road” (4.38), Skyla’s impassioned vocal being matched by some emotive playing from Mark on a slow blues. The album closes with two of Mark’s songs in “21st Century Blues” and “Bad Business”: the former rocks along well on a catchy rhythm riff; the latter closes the album with a stop/start rocker, both tunes again demonstrating the togetherness of the band behind Skyla’s commanding vocal.

There is little or no filler here as the band has kept all the tunes brief and to the point with only two cuts going over the four minute mark. It is great to find a band that is confident enough in its own abilities to do an all-original album: this is The Skyla Burrell Band’s fifth album and they have never recorded a cover – a fine accolade. “Blues Scars” has enough variety and stylish playing to appeal to most blues lovers and is well worth investigating.

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 – 6 of 11 

Altered Five Blues Band – Cryin’ Mercy

Omnivibe Records

11 tracks/43 minutes

Altered Five is a slick quintet from Milwaukee comprised of Jeff Taylor on vocals, Jeff Schroedl on guitar, Mark Solveson on bass, Scott Schroedl on drums and Raymond Tevich on keyboards. Tom Hambridge produced this album, their third CD effort and featuring all original material. This album really highlights their great sound and talents.

“Demon Woman” kicks things off with gutsy vocals by Taylor and stinging guitar by Schroedl. I loved the cut and it is a great way to open the album! “I’m In Deep” also features some hot stuff by Taylor and Schroedl and also puts Tevich up front for us to appreciate. His solos play a huge part in making this tune special. They slow down for a cool ballad entitled “Find My Wings,” where Taylor testifies to us sweetly. The organ is the base support for this cut, with Taylor’s vocals and some guitar layered on to savor. “Stay Outta My Business” has Taylor telling his woman in no uncertain terms that he needs his independence. Schroedl punctuates Taylors’ words with an emphatic guitar solo that helps gets the point across.

Getting burned in the affairs of love is the theme of “Counterfeit Lover.” Taylor’s vocals build for emphasis as does Schroedl’s guitar along with Tevich’s organ. Taylor sings of his woman’s material possessions but states, “You got everything, but Baby, I got you” in “I Got You.” Taylor howls, “Who’s Your Lover” to his cheatin’ woman in a driving tune. “Move House” is mean, slow blues of the best sort. Schroedl picks out a dirty opening and then Taylor uses a host of cool but not so subtle double entendres to tell what he wants to do with his woman. Shroedl is powerful throughout on guitar.

“Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry?” is a driving cut with the organ and guitar leading the charge and Taylor singing of the up and down of a relationship where he gets the last word. Nice work again by Schroedl here. “Urgent Care” relates how Taylor needs some medical help after his woman has left him in need of help and not in a good way. Tevich and Schroedl are a huge part of this and Solveson sneaks in a cool bass line throughout. They close with “Back Button,” where Taylor tells us taking chances and living on the edge can have some great results but sometimes he needs a back button to reset his life to get out of the bigger messes. Great solos again by the organ and guitar. The boys do a neat little call and response of “Reset! Reset!” to Taylor’s laments. A fine closer for a an overall fine album!

I was very impressed with this album and all the songs presented. Altered Five is a popular band here in the Midwest and hopefully this album will let the rest of the country and world take notice! I really enjoyed listening to this over and over and I am sure blues fans who like their music hot and soulful with a little R&B thrown in will, too! Taylor’s vocals are super, Shroedl is an outstanding guitar player, Tevich’s organ work is excellent and the backline keeps it all together. There is nothing not to like here- go buy this album now- you won’t regret it!

EDITOR’S NOTE – This CD is one of the finalists in the Blues Foundation’s “Best Self Produced CD” competition for 2015.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 7 of 11 

Bruce Katz Band – Homecoming

American Showplace Music

13 tracks

Featuring a trio of superb artists and a a few great guest artists, Katz returns to the studio to present us this album. He spent a good number of years on the road with John Hammond (who is featured here on a pair of tunes), Gregg Allman, Delbert McClinton and others and now offers us a baker’s dozen mostly original cuts of some really great stuff. Katz is obviously featured on keys, with the B-3 organ as his mainstay along with the piano. Chris Vitarello is on guitar and vocals and Ralph Rosen is on the drums.

The title tracks is a flowing and grooving instrumental that opens the album nicely. Katz lays out some nice stuff as Vitarello and guest Jimmy Bennett offer some slick slide and lead guitar work. Randy Ciarlante sings and plays drums on the next cut, “King of Decatur.” This one is a N’awlins style tune with a nice groove and jiving lyric. It swings along and then Katz nails a cool piano solo in the midst of it. The close with the two guitars and B-3s is a great build up and finish to the song. Katz gives us some honky-tonk piano on “Santa Fe Blues,” a Lightnin’ Hopkins tune. Hammond appears here and carries the tune along with Bruce tinkling the keys so well in support Mart Ballou appears on acoustic bass which adds a little depth to the backing. “No Brainer” is just the three band members in a swinging instrumental that is jazzy and upbeat. The big B3 sound blazes a path for us to follow and the guitar work is also impeccable and smooth.

Katz returns to the piano for “Amelia” where he and the boys add Peter Bennett on electric bass to give us a lovely ride for about six minutes as they trade piano and guitar licks along with the bass and drums laying out the groove for us. “Wild About You Baby” is a big boogie and nice cover with driving guitar piano and with the vocals gruff and a little distorted for effect. It’s a rocking little number that gets your foot tapping (at a minimum!). Next is “The Czar” where Ciarlante returns on drums and Bennett on guitar. Katz plays some more jazz inspired B3 as the rest lay out a big and driving instrumental. Lery Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise” features Hammond again and here we get some sweet, slow blues to savor.

“Time Flies” returns us to the jazzy instrumental mode with a very up tempo an driving tune. Vitarello rocks on the guitar and Katz swings on the B3. “The Sky’s the Limit” gives us the core trio in a traditional and original swing blues. Vitarello wrote this one (he also co-authored the fourth track). It’s very Duke Robillard-styled until Katz lets loose in a major way on B3. On “Just an Expression” Chris offers up some funky guitar and Katz and Rosen follow with another swinging instrumental. These guys are addictive! “Won’t Last Till Tuesday” is a darker, mid tempo sort of jazz and blues with soulful guitar and somewhat mellower B-3 work. The CD closes to “It’s a Bad Time,” a bouncy cut where Bennett returns to play and sing. Katz fills the middle with a big B-3 solo and the songs drives along well.

Katz always produces well crafted songs and album and this one is another in that mold. Catchy, jazzy instrumentals, driving beats and amazing work on the keys, especially the B-3 Organ. He’s got a couple of great guitar players supporting him here and the band is very tight. If you like grooving, jazzy blues with a New Orleans flair done up right, Katz is your man. He takes what he learned at Berklee College of Music (both as a student and then later on the staff for many years) and his time on the road with the Broadcasters and all the music greats he’s toured with to produce great music here. I loved the album!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 8 of 11 

Eric Bibb – Blues People

Stony Plain Recording Company

15 tracks

Stony Plain Records from Canada is a truly premier roots record label and the release of Blues People adds even more credence to that accolade! Bibb is an accomplished singer, song writer and musician who has assembled in this album a collection of originals, collaborations and covers that are based on the concepts of change and hope. It focuses on African American history, from slavery to emancipation and from hard time share cropping to the Civil Rights movement. The dreams of men and women dragged into or born into slavery and then the dreams that they have had as freedom came to them in dribs and drabs over the 150 years since the end of Civil War are depicted in this CD.

Joining Bibb here in the song writing are Guy Davis (“Chocolate Man”), the Reverence Gary Davis (I Heard The Angels Singin’”, Taj Mahal and Glen Scott (arranged the traditional ““Needed Time”). He is joined by many great artists and songs, featuring the likes of Popa Chubby (“Silver Spoon”), Guy Davis (“Chocolate Man’), “I Heard the Angel Singin’ ” (The Blind Boys of Alabama and J.J. Milteau), “Dream Catchers (Harrison Kennedy and Ruthie Foster), “Chain Reaction” (Glen Scott), “Needed Time” (Taj, Ruthie, and the Blind Boys), “Remember the Ones” (Linda Tillery), “Home” (Andre De Lange) and “Where Do We Go” (Leyla McCalla).

Bibb does not go completely solo on the remainder of the tracks. Glen Scott is featured on many cuts in a variety of roles, Staffan Astner plays a variety of guitars and stringed instruments on a half dozen tracks as does Michael Jerome Brown. Paul Robinson appears on drums and percussion on a pair of cuts. Bass services come from Neville Malcom (3 tracks) and Desmond Foster (one track). A variety of other artists also perform on a single track here and there and a backing “Choir” of 6 folks appear on a couple of more cuts.

There are so many great tracks on this CD. “Chocolate Man” is a lot of fun with Bibb and Davis doing a smash up job together. Chubby and Bibb blend nicely on their guitars on the opening “Silver Spoon.” “Driftin’ Door to Door” is a great song of hope with beautiful finger picking. There’s some great slide on “Turner Station” and “Pink Dream Cadillac” is a sweet song of materialistic dreams. “Needed Time” may be my favorite, mixing an old time banjo opening with an updated hymn-like version of the song. Both songs with the Blind Boys of Alabama are moving as is the funky “Dream Catchers” with Ruthie Foster. “Remember the Ones” is a great straight up 60’s soul tune. All the cuts here have merit and are worth many a listen.

Bibb is a great artist who shows his artistry in all his endeavors. Here we find him doing a fantastic job with this album, which is destined to be one of his best. If you like Eric or acoustic blues, this CD is for you! Bibb is at his best again here!

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

 Featured Blues Review – 9 of 11 

Diana Braithwaite And Chris Whitely – Blues Stories

Big City Blues Records

11 Songs time-46:44

To stay true to the blues idiom, style and atmosphere isn’t an easy task to pull off in such a excellent way as Diana and Chris have done here. A mixture of covers and originals stand side by side like they belong. Much care was taken for this project. The singing and music transport you to a porch on a dusty road down south or perhaps in a run down juke joint. You may find yourself trying to clean the dust off your shoes after giving this a listen. You just took a trip way down south without leaving the house. Chris’s acoustic and electric guitar playing has just the right amount of raggedness to give it that slightly sloppy and funky old time blues feel. Diana’s voice sounds like the blues, warm and rich.

The traditional “Rocks And Gravel” features only the vocals of Diana and Kala Braithwaite and is basically a gospel-tinged field holler. Some greasy good guitar energizes the easy rolling boogie of the original “Florida”. Slinky slide guitar underscores Diana’s earnest vocal on “Lighthouse Keeper”, a plea for guidance. Chris captures Sonny Boy Williamson’s(Rice Miller) herky-jerky harmonica style as the sole accompaniment to Diana’s vocal on “Bye Bye Bird”.

The full band nicely recreates the New Orleans groove on “Blues March”. Jesse Whitely plays Professor Longhair style piano and Chris plays cornet to contribute to the New Orleans sound. Chris contributes his only vocal on the original “Fried Fish”, an apt depiction of road house. His always perfectly suited slide guitar enhances the vibe. He winds the tune down with his blues harp…”Fried fish, rum and ginger ale”. “Child Of Circumstance”, a story song, at seven plus minutes is the longest song here. It’s taken at a slow and deliberate pace.

“Tic Tac Toe” is another tune about a juke joint. They flat out nail these kind of songs. This and “Fried Fish” are “too cool for school”. Jesse lends his able piano once again and it wouldn’t be complete without more slide goodness. Diana is accompanied by acoustic guitar on Skip James’ mournful “Hard Time Killin’ Floor”. “Careless Love”, a song closely identified with Lonnie Johnson is given a pretty straight reading. Chris’s cornet completes the jazzy feel. The simple and sparse instrumental backing of Jimmy Reed is nicely done on his “You Don’t Have To Go”.

Whether doing cover songs or their own this record sounds like of one piece. Their love and grasp of the blues just drips out of this album. If you are a lover of down-home blues, you’ve come to the right place. Tell me how you call your hound dog.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 10 & 11 of 11 

S.E. Willis – Turtle Dove Bounce/Live At The Poor House

Mr. Suchensuch Records MS 14007

2 CD set – 25 songs – 2 hours 4 minutes

Originally from West Virginia, but living in the San Francisco Bay area, multi-instrumentalist S.E. Willis breaks new ground in a career that’s spanned the better part of 50 years with the release of this interesting double CD set, which offers solo piano blues on one disc and a live set with an all-star band on the other.

Willis plays keyboards, harmonica and accordion. He contributed the squeeze box work on Elvin Bishop’s most recent album, the award-winning Can’t Even Do Wrong Right. A roots musician of the first order whose influences range from country to zydeco, from rockabilly to blues, he’s worked with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Albert King, Roy Gaines and Jimmy Rogers, among others. He started this project in 2011, but serious medical issues kept him housebound for about two years.

Turtle Dove displays Willis in an acoustic format, accompanying himself on piano and harmonica for a collection of seven blues and boogie-woogie covers dating to 1920s and packaged with four originals.

A faithful instrumental version of Cow Cow Davenport’s “Cow Cow Blues” demonstrates his prowess on the 88s and his strong left hand. The Leroy Carr standard “How Long Blues” follows with S.E. adding solid vocals and crisp harp atop a deliberately paced piano line. He successfully delivers three more blues classics — Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vicksburg Blues,” Big Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life” and Pinetop Smith’s “Pinetop’s Boogie,” adding a personal touch to each of them — before a set of three originals — “Hard Times Coming,” “Turtle Dove Bounce” and “Drinking Blues.” The first number predicts problems ahead despite happiness now, delivered over a couple of simple, yet interesting, piano riffs and a companion harp line. The second is a love song that features an extended harmonica and piano intro. The third is a fresh, but familiar, take on having to give up booze.

Two more covers – Jimmy Yancey’s “The Fives” and Carr’s “Baby Don’t You Leave Me No More” – precede the original “Good To Go Boogie,” which concludes the disc.

Recorded at a legendary San Francisco bar in November 2011, Live At The Poor House features Willis backed by hard-working guitarist Mike Welsh and a rhythm section of Ruth Davies (bass) and Bobby Cochran (drums). Special guest guitarists Bishop and Takezo Takeda, sax player/vocalist Nancy Wright and trombonist Ed Earley add to the mix in a set that includes tastes of Memphis, the Delta and New Orleans.

Willis pairs “Rockhouse” and the original “Milk Cow Blues” to open the session, giving the band a chance to make their own statement before adding vocals on the second number. The band swings with Wright and Welsh featured here and in a blazing, uptempo cover of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” The original burner “Luckiest Man Alive” features some sweet keyboard work and precedes three blues/R&B warhorses — “Tipitina,”“C.C. Rider” and “Let The Good Times Roll” – before a bluesy version of the Ray Price country classic, “Please Release Me” and a reprise of the Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way.

The Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown standard “Boogie Rambler” leads into Curtis Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation” and another Willis original, “Cold Hand In Mine,” before Little Walter Jacobs’“Last Night,” Fats Domino’s “Don’t Lie To Me” (with Bishop on vocals) and “32 20 Boogie,” a red-hot version of the Robert Johnson standard, conclude the action.

Available through all the major online retailers, this package offers a full heaping of great music for a small price, although I had issues with both the packaging and metadata. The double-folded CD sleeve features a cover for one disc on the front and one for the other on the back, and neither hints at there being two distinct albums contained within. And if you’re plugging the music into iTunes or a similar devise, beware that both discs are electronically coded Turtle Dove Bounce. Unless you change the name of the second disc manually, your entries will mix alternately from one album to the other. Nevertheless, the music makes up for the problems.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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The Colorado Blues Society – Windsor, CO

The Colorado Blues Society Remember John-Alex Mason. The legacy of John-Alex Mason’s music is an essential part of Colorado Blues History. Please join us for this amazing event, headlined by the Cedric Burnside Project, as we celebrate the memory of John-Alex on Sunday, February 22nd. Held at the beautiful Soiled Dove Underground in Denver, all seats are reserved, so get yours early for what promises to be a celebration of one of Colorado’s own.

The Colorado Blues Society is putting together a special show to benefit the John-Alex Mason Scholarship Fund. In addition to Cedric Burnside this will be an acoustic blues show with some interesting pairings, the tentative lineup has Dan Treanor & Randall Dubis; Erica Brown, MJ and Michael Hossler; Nic Clark, Andy Sydow and Curtis Hawkins; Dr. Izzy, Robert Morrison and Richard Yale; Rex Peoples & Jack Hadley; Eef & Stacey Turpenoff, and possibly more. John-Alex was a huge believer in getting our youth involved in blues and music and his scholarship continues that belief today. Doors open at 1PM and the show starts at 2PM. Info at

Madison Blues Society – Madison, WI

Madison Blues Society will host the 8th Annual Wild Women of the Blues featuring Lisa Wenger and her Mean Mean Men on March 5, 2015, 7:00PM at the High Noon Saloon, 01 E. Washington Avenue in Madison.

This is a Benefit for Domestic Abuse Intervention Services (DAIS), the only Dane County area shelter for survivors and children of domestic violence. DAIS continues to promote awareness and education to our communities through several vital programs, and has made phenomenal strides in providing necessary resources for those in crisis and need. More info:

Also supporting MBS Blues in the Community programs. This event celebrates the talent and empowerment of women in an environment of inspirational musical performance. An exciting national blues act and her band result in a not-to-miss event.

Tickets: $15 advance / $18 day of show or MBS for members: $12 advance / $15 day of show. More Info:

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society announces The 21st Annual Winter Blues Fest, a two night event with The Iowa Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony January 30th & 31st, 2015 at the Downtown Marriott – 700 Grand Ave – Des Moines, IA

On Friday, January 30 the 2014 Iowa Blues Hall of Fame Inductions with host band Sumpin Doo begin at 7:30 PM, followed by Lil Ed & the Blues Imperials at 10:00 PM.

Then on Saturday we have 12 bands on 7 stages starting at 5:00 PM featuring Moreland & Arbuckle, The Bel Airs, Danielle Nicole Band, Kevin “B.F.” Burt, Joe and Vicki Price, Brian “Taz” Grant, Bob Pace and the Dangerous Band, Blues Challenge winning bands from IA, NE, MN, MO, Blues in the Schools performers, After Hours Jam and more.

Admission is $15 for Friday night, $20 for Saturday night or $32 for both. Special hotel room rates at the Downtown Marriott for this event are just $109 per night. For more information, complete line-up, tickets and discount lodging go to

The Great Northern Blues Society – Wausau, WI

The Great Northern Blues Society of Wausau, WI (GNBS) is Proud to announce the lineup for our 16th Annual Blues Café fundraiser to be held at the Historically Registered Rothschild Pavilion (near Wausau, WI) on 3/14/15.

The Lineup will include Left Wing Bourbon, Crankshaft and the Gear Grinders, Bobby Messano, The Chris O’Leary Band, and Samantha Fish. Doors open at noon, and Music will start at 1:00PM and continue non-stop until 11:00PM. Chairs, Food, and Cold Beverages will be available on-site. Special Hotel Rates available at the nearby Stoney Creek Inn utilizing the Code: “BLUES20”. Limited supply of rooms available so make your reservation now.

Please come, sit by the huge stone fireplace, with a beverage of choice in hand, and join us for 10 hours of non-stop glorious Blues Music on 3/14/15. Artist Biographies, directions, and Tickets are available on our Website at –

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.  January 26 – The Greg Glick Blues Band, February 2 – Robert Sampson & Blues Junction, February 9 – Nigel Mack & the Blues Attack, February 16 – David Lumsden and Friends, February 23 – RJ Mischo

Additional ICBC shows (all held in Springfield, Illinois): Jan. 15 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, Jan. 23 – Maurice John Vaughn @ Post 809, 8 pm, Feb. 5 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, Feb. 19 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, March 21 – Ronnie Baker Brooks ICBC 29th Birthday Party w/special guests the Blues Expressions. K of C Hall on Meadowbrook Rd. Springfield, Illinois.

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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