Issue 9-44 October 29, 2015

Cover photo by Marilyn Stringer © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Elvin Bishop. We have 4 music reviews for you including reviews of music by Guy Davis, Sid Whelan, Kevin Selfe and Alex Lopez. Rick Nation has commentary and photos from the 2015 Hot Springs Blues & BBQ Festival.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4 

Guy Davis – Kokomo Kidd

M.C. Records MC-0078

13 songs – 62 minutes

Multi-talented entertainer Guy Davis proves once again why he’s in the forefront of the songster blues tradition with this seemingly effortless, but technically complex album, the 13th disc in an arsenal that consistently attracts awards consideration.

An accomplished actor, storyteller and educator whose mission as a blues ambassador regularly takes him to the four corners of the world, Davis plows new ground with Kokomo Kidd, producing and mixing himself in the studio for the first time as he delivers eight extremely introspective originals as well as five cover tunes that he’s reworked and made his own.

This is Davis’ second release on the M.C. label, a follow-up to Juba Dance, which was nominated for Acoustic Album Of The Year in the 2014 Blues Music Awards. A multi-instrumentalist, he accompanies himself on acoustic six- and 12-string guitar, banjo and harmonica, and also contributes work on keyboards and percussion.

Assisting in the production are Professor Louie on keys, John Platania and Chris James on guitar and mandolin, Mark Murphy on bass and cello, and Gary Burke on drums. Charlie Musselwhite and Fabrizio Poggi, Davis’ partner on Juba Dance, each make a guest appearance for one cut each on harmonica, as does Preservation Jazz Hall Band member Ben Jaffe on tuba. Backing vocals are provided by David Helper, Miss Marie Spinosa, Audrey Martells and Zhana Roiya.

Davis lays down a steady banjo rhythm line accented by Jaffe’s horn to weave the story of “Kokomo Kidd,” a Depression-era bootlegger who winds up an advisor to Republican insiders in Washington, hacking emails, keeping Supreme Court justices high on drugs and keeping secrets along the way. It’s based on the legend of a real-life ne’er-do-well who began life as a coal man delivering fuel to the White House.

Next up is the truly bittersweet “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long,” a ballad dealing with the real-life loss of his mother, actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, and folk singer Pete Seeger, who served as his role model. It’s a tune that’s certain to bring tears to the eyes of anyone who’s suffered the loss of a loved one and been unable to say farewell.

“Taking Just A Little Bit Of Time” follows. It’s an upbeat, but somewhat subdued song of praise for life away from the bright lights to enjoy life in the country. Another Davis original, “She Just Wants To Be Loved” is centered on a phone call from a woman who’s suffered abuse and breaks down in tears because she feels unloved. Like “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long,” it will tug at your heartstrings.

Davis pays tribute to Piedmont blues harmonica players Sonny Terry in “Like Sonny Did,” contributing a harp line straight out of Sonny’s songbook and accented with his trademark vocal whoops. It’s a tip of the hat to the master after having starred in a Broadway revival of “Finian’s Rainbow,” which featured Terry’s harp work in its 1947 debut. A reinterpretation of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay” follows, delivered at slow tempo, upping the romantic values of the tune to the heavens. Then Davis dissects Willie Dixon’s “Little Red Rooster” with the aid of Musselwhite. His cover slows the pace dramatically, wringing more feel and more of the Delta out of the song than most previous recordings.

“Maybe I’ll Go” is a song about a romance that doesn’t work. It’s based on a Mississippi John Hurt song and delivered in the style of Piedmont guitar great Elizabeth Cotton. Another love song, the upbeat “Blackberry Kisses,” follows and includes a waltz time break before “Have You Every Loved Two Women (But Couldn’t Make Up Your Mind?)” A new tune, it has a ’20s feel, aided by Poggi’s harp work.

Davis revises that decade next, however, with a version of Tommy Johnson’s “Cool Drink Of Water.” A retake of Amos “Bumble Bee Slim” Easton’s 1930s classic “Bumble Bee Blues” follows before a stunning reworking of Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” concludes the set.

Available through all of the major online outlets, Kokomo Kidd delivers simple themes directly atop richly layered musical accompaniment. Strongly recommended.

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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 Featured Blues Interview – Elvin Bishop 

His latest album may be titled Can’t Even Do Wrong Right (Alligator Records), but whether it’s through the proper alignment of the planets, hard work or just plain ole good living, it seems like Elvin Bishop has sure enough managed to do a lot of things right in 2015.

Especially when considering that in a six-month stretch from early May until late September of this year, Bishop probably needed a wheelbarrow to tote all the awards and accolades he accumulated.

At the 36th annual Blues Music Awards (BMAs) in Memphis, Bishop took top honors in the Band of the Year, Album of the Year (for Can’t Even Do Wrong Right) and Song of the Year (for the title track) categories.

Then, at the 2015 Blues Blast Awards in Champaign, Illinois, Bishop garnered Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, as well as Male Blues Artist of the Year.

Not a bad trick for an old dog who is now into his sixth decade of playing the blues.

“I don’t know what’s in the air, but this has been my lucky year. I’m amazed,” Bishop recently said. “But I’m kind of a realist. I got nominated for a lot of awards early in my career and I learned there’s two things that you don’t want. You don’t want to be nominated in the category with an old person – which I have become – and you definitely don’t want to be nominated in the category with a guy who just died, because you can forget it then. I was always happy to see the old guys win and I’d clap for them, but in the back of my mind, there was always this little voice that said, ‘I didn’t see too much wrong with my record.’ But that must be what these guys that are in the category with me now are thinking. I think the voters look at me and say, ‘Look at that old son of a bitch … he might not be here next year, so we better give him something this year.'”

Bishop’s big year really started in earnest back in April, when The Butterfield Blues Band was finally inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“Yeah, that was a Hell of a thing, wasn’t it?” Bishop asked.

This long overdue invite couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group (Paul Butterfield – harp/vocals; Mike Bloomfield – guitar; Elvin Bishop – guitar; Mark Naftalin – keys; Jerome Arnold – bass; Billy Davenport – drums; Sam Lay – drums), one that has long been a watershed unit. Not only did The Butterfield Blues Band perfect the template for mixing blues with the modern sounds of rock – basically creating a template for blues/rock that is still being followed today – it also inspired about a billion harp and guitar players in the process and also managed to make the ‘old-fashioned blues’ sound downright cutting edge at the time.

“It was a great apprenticeship for me; I was lucky to be in that band. The whole band was just in the right place at the right time,” said Bishop. “There was luck involved and there was talent involved and it was the right thing to happen at that time.”

Maybe the most important thing The Butterfield Blues Band accomplished – intentional or not – was the way that it set a shining example for the Civil Rights movement in a very turbulent time for this nation. Because in the early and mid-60s, there sure were not may inter-racial bands to look up to. And not only that, but a vast majority of music lovers here in the United States wouldn’t even give blues music the time of day.

“It was really at a crossroads. The blues is a great big beautiful thing and at that time, the general white public in America had never really – to any extent – got together. The mixing of the races of any kind was really not encouraged where I came from in Tulsa, Oklahoma. People think, well Oklahoma was not like Alabama or Mississippi was, but in a way, it was worse. In the ’20s, they had race riots there and bombed the black Baptist church … it was ridiculous. Civil Rights was just getting ready to happen – it was kind of swelling up – and the time was just right to have the white public become aware of blues. It’s such an attractive music and is such an electric and strong thing. We were lucky to be at the right place at the right time. I don’t think we were as good as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Magic Sam and those guys, but we were able to play it strong enough to be able to deliver it, you know? It was mostly just a matter of the music speaking for itself.”

There easily could have been some highly-explosive fireworks set off when Arnold and Lay left the Wolf’s band to become the rhythm section for The Butterfield Blues Band. But even though the big man could have resorted to violence – or at the very least held a grudge – against the Butterfield camp for lifting his bassist and drummer, Bishop said there was never an issue with Howlin’ Wolf.

“No, you have to understand it wasn’t like that (stealing Arnold and Lay away from Howlin’ Wolf). The Chicago blues scene in those days was very fluid. It was a beautiful thing and set up in such a way that the musicians didn’t get rich, but it sure encouraged a lot of improvement and made the music thrive,” he said. “In Chicago in those days, you started (playing) at 9 p.m. and went to four in the morning; five on Saturdays. I don’t care if you were Muddy Waters, or who you were, at about two in the morning, you would be glad to see any kind of help you could get, you know what I mean? That meant there was a lot of sitting in going on and it was like a big employment agency. You could go from club to club sitting in and guys would hear if you could do a decent job on their music. If you could, they’d put it in the back of their mind and the next time they needed someone, they might call you. That encouraged all the musicians who wanted to improve themselves and get better gigs to learn everyone’s tunes, so they’d be ready when their time came. This led to a lot of musical progress. Not only that, but the pay was so pitiful. The average sideman would make about $10 or $11 a night. And if somebody offered you $12, you were gone.”

He originally hit the big city to study at the University of Chicago in 1960 as a National Merit Scholar. However, it didn’t take long before those studies included jamming and hanging out with legendary characters like Little Smokey Smothers and the one-and-only Hound Dog Taylor.

“I remember we used to play these really low-down places on the west side of Chicago like on west Madison and Roosevelt Road. We’d be right down on the floor, they wouldn’t even have a bandstand. He’d (Taylor) be sitting in a chair and he had those ole long legs and he’d be playing ‘Meet Me in the Bottom” and his knees would be sticking way up over the chair,” laughed Bishop. “His pants would be hiked up way over the top of his socks and he’d be stompin’ his foot and he had that ole rapturous grin and he’d just go for it. We’d rehearse at his house and he was some kind of relation to Sleepy John Estes. I remember Sleepy John coming by there one time. He used to send me to the liquor store and he’d give me some money, but it would never be enough to cover what he wanted, so I’d have to kick in some more. He’d get his half-pint and he’d be happy and we’d rehearse. Then we’d go to the gig and not play any of the tunes we rehearsed. He was a Hell of a guy.”

With the resume that Bishop has crafted since the early 1960s -compiling an amazing back catalog of songs that his fans know by heart – it would be really easy for him to just tour in the spring and summer and play his hits instead of hitting the studio to create new music. But apparently, Bishop is not wired that way and he just simply cannot turn off the switch that controls his songwriting.

“I have come to the realization that I don’t have to (make new albums on a regular basis), but yet I wake up in the morning and the first thing on my mind is ‘I’ve almost got this tune, what’s the perfect way to say this or that?’ I’m working on a couple of new tunes right now that I think are going to be pretty good,” he said. “I don’t know, but it (songwriting) seems to be something that’s important to me and that’s what I do … I guess it’s my identity, because I do think of myself as a songwriter. So I guess I better go ahead and do some.”

Bishop has long been known for his propensity to garden and to grow a good bit of the food that he and his family consumes. In a way, his musical career could also be viewed in terms of gardening, as it has largely been self-sufficient and self-contained. It really hasn’t seemed to matter a whole lot about which record labels he’s been on throughout the years, because Bishop has managed to nurture his music his way, playing the music the way he wants, instead of being influenced to play it as wanted by a board of executives.

“You know, I just kind of hook up with whoever will put up with me,” he laughed. “But all of my songs are written with my limitations in mind. I don’t have much other choice than to be true to myself. I just write stuff that minimizes my weak points and maximizes my strong points, you know?”

Things are vastly different in the way that music is not only made in 2015, but in the way that music is consumed, as well. When Bishop was finding his way onto the national scene, if you were not tethered to a major record label, there was a very likely chance that your music would not be heard outside of your own immediate surroundings. Technology has radically altered the landscape so much these days that a certain level of technical knowledge and ability may be more valuable than any kind of record company allegiance is.

“A young Elvin Bishop in these days would know a Hell of a lot more about computers and about the tech world than I do. He would have found a way (to make it). It was never any kind of technical knowledge that I had, it was the burning desire (to play music) that got me over,” he said. “I mean, billions of people do have that desire, but only a few of them are going to make it. I really feel for the young artists coming up today, because it’s hard to get your foot in the door.”

There are plenty of other mine fields that the up-and-comers must find their way around in the 21st century, things that Bishop didn’t have to plot his way around.

“We had radio that multiplied things by ten thousand and they don’t have that anymore; it’s all fragmented. And there ain’t the clubs to play in anymore and there’s no fuckin’ record stores … I just don’t see how it happens these days,” he said. “When young guys go out on tour now, to fill up those Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, they’ve got to take low, low dough. You’ve just got to be young and have gettin’ high and chasin’ chicks be enough for you these days. You sure ain’t gonna’ make any money until you get good and going.”

In addition to his place in the pantheon of blues music, Bishop is also rightfully viewed as one of the founding fathers of the genre that became known as ‘southern rock.’ In the early to mid-70s, that blending of country, rock and the blues (along with plenty of jazz) was a major force, so much so that Capricorn Records was a major player in the industry and was home to acts like Bishop, The Allman Brothers, The Marshall Tucker Band, Charlie Daniels Band (CDB) and Wet Willie – to name just a few. He’s even been name-checked in songs by the CDB on “The South’s Gonna Do It” (‘Elvin Bishop sittin’ on a bale of hay; he ain’t good lookin’, but he sure can play’) and Molly Hatchet on “Gator Country” (‘Elvin Bishop out struttin’ his stuff with little Miss Slick Titty Boom’). While there are a few notable exceptions these days (Blackberry Smoke quickly comes to mind), there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of younger bands trying to make a name playing southern rock.

“I don’t know why that is. I do know that when I came up, I was one of those guys – and evidently there were a whole lot of other guys – that loved a variety of American roots music. If you listen to Ray Charles or Jerry Lee Lewis, you hear a mixture in their music. There’s gospel, there’s country, there’s blues and it’s all mixed up and that’s a beautiful thing to me,” he said. “I know one thing for sure – it’s (southern rock) the only commercial category that anyone ever felt comfortable stuffing my ass into. I was lucky it came along, but gosh, any musical trend, if you want any kind of prediction or any kind of true assessment of, you’ll have to ask somebody else, because it’s always a total surprise to me.”

It may be hard to fathom today, what with music pouring out of telephones, computers and every television set on the planet, but at one time, you really had to seek music out, instead of music finding you whether you wanted it to or not. That makes finding and falling in love with the blues much easier now than it was back in 1963.

“Now, people have so many more options. The minute they pop out, they’re exposed to music of every genre. There’s all this stuff on the computer and various radio stations and TV and all that. I’ll tell you something, when I first started out, I lived way out in the country and we didn’t have any electricity – I’m takin’ bout in the ’40s. Not only was there no TVs and no computers, we had a radio that had a battery that weighed about 10 pounds and It worked when the weather was right,” Bishop said. “I came up listening to the birds and animals, more so than any kind of recorded music. Now, it’s so radically different; kids are bombarded with music from the time they’re about one year old. When I came up, to hear any blues at all, you had to actively seek it out. Your main exposure to music those days was through the radio … at least until you got old enough to go out to clubs and dances.”

Back in those days – in Oklahoma – that meant listening to plenty of country music.

“You really did listen to what everybody else in your race listened to, and for me, that was country music. That music is just in the pores there (in Oklahoma), you don’t have to practice that,” he said. “But you know, that must have been the same case with black people in the south with blues … they listened to their stations. Everything was segregated back in those days, except for one thing – the radio. That was the one thing they couldn’t segregate. That’s how a few white people found out about the blues.”

Bishop is about as respected as an artist can be and glancing back on everything he’s done since he first hit the mean streets of Chicago, playing the beloved blues that oozes from the core of his very being, it seems like there’s not a heck of a lot of territory for the man to conquer. Could that mean that retirement is eminent for the 72-year-old and Red Dog (his ever-present 1959 cherry-red Gibson ES-345)?

“I’ll probably be like B.B. (King) and they’ll just have to drag my ass out of there. My wife thinks about me retiring, but I tell her – shit, it ain’t football and you don’t have to retire when you’re 30,” Bishop laughed.

Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 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 Live Blues Review – Hot Springs Blues & BBQ Festival 

Take the 19th annual Hot Springs Blues Festival, add a KCBS sanctioned BBQ competition, place into one of the most historic thoroughbred tracks in the country, add a sprinkle of showers and…viola! It’s the first annual Hot Springs Blues and BBQ Festival!

Hosted by the Spa City Blues Society, the festival has featured winners, past and current, of the IBC for several years, as well as local talent and nationally renowned headliners. Notables such as Larry Garner, J.P. Soars, Zac Harmon, Coco Montoya, and Samantha Fish have been featured, setting the bar for quality entertainment.

This year the SCBS teamed with Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, sponsor of the annual “Smokelawn” BBQ Competition, and moved the combined event to the infield of venerable Oaklawn Park. The BBQ competition was held Sunday, drawing 29 teams from Arkansas and surrounding states. In addition to thousands of dollars in prize money, the winners in each category took home unique trophies whose columns were filled with track dirt from Oaklawn Derby Day. This year’s Derby was won by eventual Triple Crown winner American Pharoah. When the tasing was done, Sarah Jeffers(center) presented Fire Dancer BBQ with the Grand Champion Trophy and the $3000 prize money.

Music was a two day event. Two stages offered a continuous entertainment, with bands appearing on the main stage and solo/duo acts alternately performing on the Gazebo. Local acts included Trey Johnson and Dave Almond’s mix of hill country blues at the Gazebo.

Other Gazebo artist’s included past IBC winners Ray Bonneville, Lucious Spiller, Eric Hughes, and Randy McQuay, 2016 Solo winner.

The main stage featured bands like local favorites Salt and Pepper, John Calvin Brewer Band, and Heavy Suga and the Sweetones in the afternoon.

Saturday night’s first headliner was Grammy nominee Shemekia Copeland. The eight time Blues Music Award winner and 2010 Blues Artist of the Year (Living Blues) did not disappoint. With songs ranging from her new “Outskirts of Love” to gospel inspired, soulful R & B she entertained with all her heart. And the crowd responded by staying on their feet.


Saturday’s Closer was Texas’ Los Lonely Boys. With their “Texican Rock n’ Roll” they turned the infield into a dance floor. The Garza brothers, Henry, Jojo, and Ringo, kept the place rocking with Texas Blues offerings reminiscent of Stevie Ray Vaughn, to soft rock sing alongs like their Billboard #1 hit “Heaven”.

Oaklawn Park’s Silks Bar hosted an after party jam featuring BBMA nominee Ghost Town Blues Band. As one would expect from this high energy, entertaining group of musicians, the music was loud, raucous, and lively. A great end to a near perfect day.

Sunday, the weather turned iffy but the music kept the crowd present. Sunglasses and straw hats gave way to umbrellas and make-shift trash bag rain coats. The show continued with more IBC winners like Nashville’s Stacy Mitchhart Band.

And then Portland, OR’s Ben Rice Band. Rice, the 2015 winner of the IBC’s St. Blues Guitarist award is one of only two artists to make it to the IBC finals in both the Band and Solo/Duo categories.

As the rain moved out and darkness approached, the temperature on the infield fell but the heat onstage continued. Grammy winner Keb Mo took center stage with his easy flowing ballads of love, life, and relationships. A true crowd favorite, he featured many selections from his latest CD, “BluesAmericana” but also performed older hits “on demand” when requested by the fans.

Overall, considering the change in venue, change in dates, addition of the BBQ competition, and uncertain weather, the festival appeared to be a success. It was certainly a bargain. For $20 patrons got two days of great music replete with IBC winners, Grammy and Blues Music Award winners, and very talented local artists, along with award winning BBQ. Well worth the price of admission!

Photos and commentary by Rick Nation © 2015

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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4 

Whelan – The Story Of Ike Dupree

Presidio Records – 2015

13 tracks; 53 minutes

Sid Whelan gave up playing for a decade and only picked up a guitar when asked to fill for his niece’s band. Reinvigorated and full of new songs, Sid set up the eponymous band Whelan and released “Flood Waters Rising” in 2013. Always intended to be the first disc of an Americana trilogy, things were put on hold as Sid’s next batch of songs veered more towards the sort of blues and soul which would suit the addition of a horn section. Sid is based in NYC and horns were added there to three tracks by Ron Horton but Sid also made good use of an old contact by recruiting the great trombonist Fred Wesley to arrange horns from his home base of North Carolina on most of the other tracks. As a consequence there are a lot of musicians on the disc: Whelan is Sid on guitar and lead vocals, Richard Huntley on drums, Mark Manczuk on all manner of percussion instruments, Marco Panaska on bass and Jerry Z on keys; Fred Wesley, Alan Ferber and Victor Wesley play trombone, Eleazer Shafer and Ron Horton play trumpet, Phillip Whack, Michael Blake and Michael Lee Breaux play sax and Randy Weinstein harmonica; backing vocals are by Sid, Capathia Jenkins, Robbi Hall Kumalo and Darryl Tookes who arranged the vocal sessions.

Only two tracks on the disc are without horns: “Every Time I See Her” pays tribute to Sid’s wife in a sparse arrangement with some nice finger-picking and “Too Cold Ohio Blues” is Sid’s reminiscences about his time in Ohio: “it rained for forty days, snowed for forty nights, so dark in the daytime people never turned off their lights”. This one is an acoustic shuffle with excellent harp that recalls Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Elsewhere the horns under Fred Wesley’s guidance provide some great accompaniment and offer a variety of styles for Sid to explore.

In the liner notes Sid states that during these sessions he was listening to some classic blues albums (BB King “Live At The Regal”, Albert King “Born Under A Bad Sign” and T-Bone Walker) and it shows! Opener “Nothin’ But The Blues” has a definite Albert King vibe with a sensational horn arrangement by Fred as Sid sings about the perils of depression in his solid baritone voice. The BB influence shows through clearly on a lovely slow blues “Long Lonely Night” with Sid playing some stinging leads over a subtle horn arrangement that suits the song perfectly. “Rainmaker” is a jazzy piece with a great sax solo and some cynical lyrics about corrupt business practices while “Steak For Two” swings from start to finish (undoubtedly the T-Bone influence), Sid sharing vocals with Robbie Hall Kumalo.

“Down The Line” has something of a rockabilly feel with twangy guitar and the horns sticking to reinforcing the main tune. Two songs are linked by reference to the album’s title character: Ike first appears in Sid’s tale of being conned in New Orleans, “That Lil’ Face”. In that song Ike is a disagreeable biker with a prison record but the reasons for that are further explored in the title track which points the finger at the abuse of power by the police in post-Katrina NO, all done to a basic Bo Diddley beat punctuated by stabbing horns.

“Ice Water” is Sid’s song about the crooked bankers who created the financial crisis: he imagines that they will all go to hell but will then crave ice water! Musically the song takes an old-school soul approach with a well-judged sax solo.

The three songs with NYC horn arrangements are “Blues Said: “Old Man…” in which the blues is “standing in the doorway with a smile on his face”, a slow, jazzy blues with superb trumpet work throughout; “Down To The River” is a complete contrast, a funky tune with soulful backing vocals and a pounding beat over which Sid recounts a conversation between a drinker and a womaniser; album closer “Lighten Up” is a reprise from Sid’s earlier Americana album and here is played in a New Orleans style with fine piano, subtle background vocals and a rasping sax solo, an ode to enjoying the moment and not getting too serious.

This is a thoroughly engaging album with lots of styles covered. All the material is original, excellently recorded and the horn charts are superb throughout. This is a disc that deserves to be heard and is recommended.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4 

Kevin Selfe – Buy My Soul Back

Vizztone VT-KEV-01

13 songs – 59 minutes

Multi-talented Kevin Selfe and his band, the Tornadoes, have been wowing audiences from their adopted home base of Portland, Ore., for the better part of a decade, but should make waves nationally with Buy My Soul Back, a thoroughly modern album that delves into themes that regularly run through the blues.

Originally from Roanoke, Va., Selfe discovered the blues late in life, when he was a student in meteorology at North Carolina State University. His roommate, a bass player, introduced him to the works of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James, and, by the time he graduated with honors, changed his path in life from TV weatherman to dyed-in-the-wool bluesman.

He was barely out of college when he joined the Fat Daddy Band, a regionally popular group based out of Roanoke, which was an International Blues Challenge finalist in 2002, during his six-year membership. A two-year partnership with 2008 IBC finalist Little Rodger Crowder followed before Selfe went on his own and formed the Tornadoes. In addition to touring on their own, the band worked behind a pair of Chicago greats, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater and Cary Bell, accompanying the latter on the last gig before his untimely death.

Equally gifted as a guitarist and harmonica player as well as a songwriter, Selfe relocated to the West Coast in 2007 and has released three previous CDs under his own name, Self-Contained (2006), the nationally charting Playing The Game (2009) and Long Walk Home (2013), which peaked at No. 13 on the Billboard Blues Chart.

He’s assembled an all-star lineup for this disc, his first on the Vizztone imprint. Joining him here are regular bass player Allen Markel (formerly of the Insomniacs), perennial Blues Music Award nominated drummer Jimi Bott, Mannish Boys’ harp player and bassist Mitch Kashmar and Willie J. Campbell, Ana Popovic and Tommy Castro organist James Pace and Fabulous Thunderbirds pianist Gene Taylor as well as guest vocals from Sugaray Rayford and backing vocals from 2015 BMA winner Lisa Mann. Also contributing are Kevin’s regular timekeeper, Don Shultz and a horn section consisting of Joe McCarthy (trumpet), Chris Mercer (tenor sax), Brad Ulrich and Peter Moss (baritone sax) and pianist Steve Kerin.

Virtually all bluesmen take a vow of poverty when they pick up an instrument, and the theme runs strongly through this collection of 12 originals and one cover. A New Orleans-style horn line kicks off “Picking Empty Pockets” to start the disc. It’s an autobiographical tune about smiling on the outside while living in the back of a beat-up van. Moss’ stellar baritone work sets the tone with Selfe delivering a searing six-string solo to conclude. Kashmar’s harp introduces “Fixed It Til It’s Broke” and remains stellar throughout as Kevin puts his picking skills on display. The song’s a stern warning to someone who wants to affect a change in the singer’s life when no alterations are needed.

The title cut, “Buy My Soul Back,” is a straight-ahead modern blues about having regrets years after selling one’s soul to the devil for musical success. It swings from the jump with another rock-solid performance from the horn section and tasty extended six-string solo. “Digging My Own Grave” sings about doing backbreaking work in the field to put food on the table. It’s delivered with a feel and simple arrangement that would fit in any Hill Country juke.

The pace changes dramatically for the contemporary “All Partied Out,” a slow blues regret about waiting up in the morning alone, hurting and wondering how the singer had wound up in this condition, but knowing it was from pushing himself in the wrong direction for so long. “Keep Pushing Or Die Trying” provides a much brighter outlook, delivered with a slight country feel and driving piano line from Taylor, as does “Bluesman Without The Blues,” featuring Rayford on vocals. It’s a funky number about dressing, eating and living too well to be making the music Selfe loves.

An interesting, countrified cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire” based on Johnny Cash’s “Ring Of Fire” follows before five more originals bring the disc to a close. “Don’t Tear Me Down” is subdued jump blues plea to communicate better with his woman while “Double Dipping” is a New Orleans-flavored funk about a loose woman. “Viriginia Farm” sings praise for the simple life Selfe left behind while the instrumental “Pig Pickin’” comes across with a solid Chicago flavor. The poverty theme returns full circle to conclude the set with “Staring At The Bottom,” another solid blues with imagery of being so far down, the singer’s going to have to dig to the other side of the world to get out of the hole he’s in.

Modern blues for modern times. Available through Amazon and iTunes, this one’s definitely worth a listen…or two…or three. A powerful statement from a musician who’s clearly on the rise.

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

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4 

Alex Lopez – Is it a Lie

Self Release

10 tracks / 30:37

Alex Lopez figured out early on what his priorities were, and he stuck to his plan. Born in Cleveland, he took to music early on and was inspired by bands from the original British invasion. After moving to Florida, he continued to record and play out, but eventually Alex made the decision to put family first and took time off from the gigging world. During his time away he got back in touch with the blues, courtesy of guitar greats that included Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, and he wrote and recorded a lot of original material. Well, now his family is raised, and he has jumped back into the deep end of the pool with his new album, Is It a Lie.

This disc is almost an EP, coming in at around 30 minutes, but Alex managed to fit ten of his original songs on it. If you do the math, you can figure out pretty quick that there is no room for fluff; there are no endless guitar solos or choruses repeated over and over again. It must have been hard for him to resist, as Lopez is a capable behind the microphone or on the guitar. He provided all of the guitar and vocal work on this release (and was the producer, too), with John Baccoli on bass and Craig Robison behind the drum kit. Everything was put on wax over at Atomic Audio Recording in Tampa, Florida.

Alex’s voice is not what we usually hear in blues music, with his tenor range and a curious blend of smooth 50s, warbly 70s, and howling 80s blues and rock sounds. This is a good match for his guitar-driven songs, and the overall package provides a unique vibe.

Most of the album is made up of blues-rock songs, though each sounds a bit different than the others. The opener, “Can’t Hide Your Love,” has a driving beat that is reminiscent of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” This is followed up by “Morning Blues” which has a smooth feel and a few neat transitions when the rhythm guitar alternates between choppy and smooth phrases. The best of these is probably “Company Man” which is has equal parts of British blues-rock and funk.

There are a couple of accessible tunes that have enough pop in them that they could be radio friendly, though each of them clock in at just a touch over two minutes. “Smile at Me” is one of these, with a 50s love song feel and a touch of backing vocals. And “I Need to Know” is an upbeat song that is easy to get stuck in your head.

One of the standout songs on the album is the title track, which is labeled as a reprise even though it only appears once. “Is it a Lie” has a funky bass and drum foundation with solid rhythm guitar and killer leads, including an impressive solo. It would have been nice to get a few more minutes of this song!

Lopez interspersed a couple of acoustic songs that they serve to highlight his guitar skills. The first is “Cheatin’ Blues,” a fast-tempo tune with a fairly conventional blues construction that includes plenty of resonator guitar work. The other is the closer, “The Night is Closing In,” which is a slow and sober ballad that includes a short but tasty guitar break. This was a good choice to end the album on, sort of like a train pulling into the station at the end of a journey. It was a short journey, but Alex went to a lot of places on it!

Alex Lopez’s Is it a Lie provides fresh songwriting and musicianship in the blues-rock format. Take a listen and see if it is what you are looking for, and if you are around northern Florida head over to Alex Lopez’s website to see where he is playing next with his band, the Alex Lopez Xpress!

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

 Blues Society News 

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Crossroads Blues Society – Byron, IL

Crossroads Blues Society continues to work hard to keep the blues alive.

Our second Saturday monthly blues at the Hope and Anchor English Pub in Loves Park, IL go on. The Jimmy’s are in on November 14th and our annual Christmas Party and show will feature Jimmy Nick and Don’t Tell Mama at the Pub. $5 cover after 7 PM. There will also be a special New Years Eve Show featuring Dave Fields and then 2016 starts off with John Primer on January 9th and Tad Robinson on February 13th.

First and third Fridays at the Lyran Society Club on 4th Ave in Rockford: 11/6 Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames (CD Release Party), 11/20 and 12/4 with the New Savages and 12/18 The Blues Hawks. All shows are 7 to 10 PM and there is a fish fry or steak dinner available. No cover, open to the public.

The AHL’s Rockford Ice Hogs will once again feature blues bands from 5:15 to 6:45 PM prior to every Friday home game. 10/23 is the New Savages, 10/30 is Recently Paroled, 11/27 is Dan Phelps and 12/11 is Macyn Taylor. There are 7 more Friday games in 2016.

First Sunday Blues at All Saints are from 4 to 6 PM. The Blues Hawks are 11/1 and Macyn Taylor on 12/6. Shows are free, donations go to People Helping People, the local food pantry.

We are almost ready to announce our 2016 festival lineup for August 27, 2016. Stay tuned for more upcoming events!

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. Nov. 2 – Lazer Loyd, Nov. 9 – Johnny Rawls, Nov. 16 – Noah’s Back Alley Blues Band, Nov. 23 – John Lisi and Delta Funk, Nov. 30 – Studebaker John, Dec. 7 – Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, Dec. 14 – Brother Jefferson, Dec. 21 – Hurricane Ruth, Dec. 28 – James Armstrong

Additional ICBC shows: Nov. 5 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm w/ guest host Sam Crain, Nov. 19 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm, w/ guest host Sally Weisenburg, Dec. 3 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm w/ guest host, Dec. 17 – James Armstrong Presents @ The Alamo, 6 pm w/ guest host

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

DC Blues Society – Washington, D.C.

DC Blues Society presents the 8th Annual College Park Blues Festival Saturday, November 14, 2015 from 6:00 pm– 11:30 pm. This FREE fundraiser (Ritchie Coliseum, College Park MD 20742) sends the winner of the DC Blues Society’s Annual Battle of the Bands, DC Mudd, to the 2016 International Blues Challenge. No tickets required for exciting concert of different blues genres. Singer, songwriter and guitarist Patty Reese has been a fan and critic favorite of the Mid-Atlantic Region for many years. The Patty Reese Band is celebrated for its ability to fill the dance floor with blues rock or to bring tears to your eyes with a soulful ballad. Patty’s band will move your feet and your touch heart with its infectious rhythms and grooves. Also appearing: Jesi Terrell and The Love Mechanic Band, featuring the exuberant, powerhouse vocals of their lead singer and Chicago blues veteran Jesi; The Ron Hicks Project – one of the best local blues band playing music spiced in the south, cooked in Chicago and served in the DMV; and DC Mudd.

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

Southeast Iowa Blues Society – Fairfield, IA

The Southeast Iowa Blues Society is proud to present “A Night of All Iowa Blues Challenge Winners” at the Best Western Fairfield Inn, Fairfield IA. November 7th, 2015.

Featuring 1st place solo/duo act “Tina & Brandon” at 7pm and followed by 2nd place Band act “Zach Harris Band” at 8:30pm…Doors open at 6:30pm. Tickets are $10 in Advance & SIBS members and $12 Day of Show.

Food and Beverage available…don’t miss Tina & Brandon before they go to Memphis to compete in the International Blue Challenge and the Zach Harris Band, a young, passionate up and coming Blues band…all from Iowa!! For more Info. call 641-919-7477 or go to

Central Iowa Blues Society – Des Moines, IA

Central Iowa Blues Society and Lefty’s Live Music are proud to present Selwyn Birchwood, Alligator recording artist, from Tampa, FL., appearing at Lefty’s on Sunday, November 1 at 7:00 PM, all ages until 9:00 PM, $10 general admission.

This rising, young blues guitarist, lap steel playing vocalist and songwriter has won the 2013 International Blues Challenge, 2015 Best new blues album and the Albert King Guitarist of the Year awards. Selwyn will feature some hits from his latest release, “Don’t call No Ambulance”. You can’t miss this special show!

Check out Selwyn’s bio, band info, photos and tunes at  For more information go to

Minnesota Blues Society – St. Paul, MN

The Minnesota Blues Society presents the Blues Studio For School fundraiser will be held on Sunday, November 15 from 12:00pm – 5:00pm at Minnesota Music Cafe 499 Payne Ave. St. Paul, MN. 100 percent of the proceeds benefit MN Blue Society’s Blues for Kids program. The suggested donation is $10. The “Blues Studio for School,” is a six-week workshop that seeks to instill in children a deeper appreciation and awareness of blues music, its history, and influence in contemporary culture. The event will feature live performances by Joe Filipovich’s band. The Blue Cities. Squishy Mud, Armadillo Jump and Joyann & Sweet Tea are also scheduled to perform. In addition to live music, there will be a bake sale, auction and a cash lottery. Support for the Blues for Kids program can also be shown by contributing to the Kickstarter campaign     For more info:

P.O. Box 721 Pekin, Illinois 61555     © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine (309) 267-4425


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