Cover photo by Arnie Goodman © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine
In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Leo Bud Welch. We have 5 music reviews for you including reviews of music by Last Chance Saloon, Andra Faye & Scott Ballantine, Kevin Conlon and The Groove Rebellion, Charlie Sayles and The Blues Disciples and Hot Roux. Rick Nation has commentary and photos from the Big Dam Blues Party.
We have the latest in Blues society news. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Featured Blues Review – 1 of 5
Last Chance Saloon – Self-Titled
Mad Ears Productions
CD: 10 Songs; 41:07 Minutes
Styles: Contemporary Electric Blues Rock, Contemporary Electric Rock
Is the “free market” really all that free? Economists have been debating that point for centuries. Ostensibly, it’s based upon people making informed and rational choices about what they buy, being “free” in a consumer sense. With that said, what will blues fans get if they buy the self-titled debut album from the UK’s Last Chance Saloon? In four words, a blues rock album. In fifteen words, an album that is almost pure rock, even though some songs contain the word “blues”. Each of the ten tracks are originals, which is a plus, but listeners won’t find anything traditional on this CD. Another quirk of the “free” market is that musicians have to balance what they want to play versus what sells. No one can please everyone all the time, but in trying to appeal to both the blues and rock audiences, the Last Chance Saloon hedges their bets.
According to the band’s website, “Their sound draws on a wide range of influences, blending rock, blues, pop and Americana, and their music has been described as ’21st century blues with hook-ridden vocals’.” The denizens of the Last Chance Saloon are Andy Littlewood on lead vocals, guitar, keyboards and bass; Mick Simpson on lead guitar; Pete Nelson on drums and percussion; and Dave Hunt on harmonica.
It’s tough to earn a living as an artist, and even tougher to get widespread recognition. Since this is their first release, the Saloon has a long journey ahead of them, but they’ve made some headway. The “News” section of their webpage reveals that they’ve been played on Get Ready to Rock! Radio, “After Midnight” with Alex Lester on BBC Radio 2, and the BBC Introducing Show. What will help them earn national and international fame, besides polishing their craft, is concentrating exclusively on the blues. They’ve got talent, for sure, but what they need is focus.
The one song that will appeal to even the purest of purists is solid number four:
Track 04: “Fistful of Mojo” – Metaphorically, this track’s title describes what every blues band needs in order to succeed. It’s one thing to have decent vocals, and another to have more-than-decent instrumentation, but to get noticed, one has to feel the blues, and be imbued with their vibrant voodoo. “I’ve got a fistful of mojo and a skip in my step, money in my pocket and another sure bet. Got a head full of ideas, a desire for life, know how to play the system, gonna do it, do it, do it right.” Check out the music video, displaying the “mojo” in this catchy tune.
Littlewood’s vocals lie squarely in the “talk-singing” range, but they’re conversational and accessible for listeners. At a real saloon, as on this album, it’s all about camaraderie, not ambience. Its atmosphere is cordial and a bit shady.
Get ready to rock at the Last Chance Saloon!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 36 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.
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Featured Blues Interview – Leo Bud Welch
There are several tangible ways for an artist to know that they’ve ‘made it.’
There could be the big new car in the driveway of the big new house.
There could be stacks of cash lining the inside of a bank vault.
They could even have their face plastered on every channel of every television set all across the nation.
But there are also other ways for an artist to know that they’ve made their way to the big time.
Consider what happened after a recent concert appearance by one of the hottest new blues acts on the scene – 83-year-old Leo Bud Welch.
“One lady asked Leo to sign her breast and he did and then they (other women) formed a line and I had to step in and get them stopped, because they were pulling them out and lining up for him to sign them,” said Welch’s manager, Vencie Varnado. “I had to ask them to stop the line.”
Much to his client’s regret, no doubt.
“Yeah, that was a good thing that happened to me. They were pullin’ ’em out for me to sign ‘Leo Bud Welch’ on. We old folks call that on their titties,” laughed Welch.
As one might imagine, based solely on that tale alone, things have been going rather magnificently for the Mississippi-based bluesman these days.
“It’s been great so far; everything’s been going great. Some shows don’t go as good as others, because everything don’t work exactly like you want it every time,” he said. “But as long as I’m out there, I’d say we’re doing great.”
Welch has not only been burning up bandstands all across parts known and unknown for the past year, but he also made his big-screen debut in 2015 in the movie Mississippi Grind. The film – starring Ryan Reynolds and Ben Mendelsohn – is about a road trip through the south and not only features an original tune by Welch, but it also contains a cameo by him playing the song in a Memphis-based club.
“The way that came about is they were looking for an artist to perform live in a scene in a blues club in Memphis. Some of the people involved in producing and directing the film were familiar with Leo’s record, Sabougla Voices, and they really liked the tempo of “Praise His Name.” But they wanted a more blues-like song with the same tempo,” Varnado said. “They wanted it (the song) to be about an unknown woman that a man was attracted to. They gave Leo the idea and then he wrote the song, “I Don’t Know Her Name.” That’s how he came about being selected to be in that particular scene. Jimbo Mathus is on drums and Stu Cole is on bass.”
The cool thing about the song is the way that it went from an idea in the producer’s head on to Welch and then out as a finished product in less time than it takes to bake a cake.
“Me and Bruce Watson (head honcho of Big Legal Mess Records) and them all got together and came up with that song … they want to put that all on me, but we all came up with that song together,” Welch said. “And it didn’t take very long (to write the song).”
While he doesn’t really sit down and have what might be described as a ‘writing session,’ Welch does keep a catalog of bits and pieces – and sometimes fully formed songs – in his mind, ready to be called on when the occasion rises.
“It doesn’t take me but about two days to write two songs. The way I write ’em is as I play ’em. I don’t never just sit down and write songs,” he said. “I write ’em in my head … I keep them all in my mind. I keep them up there and I know where they’re at when I need one. I have the words and then I translate them into my music. I don’t try to be like nobody else. I try to be like Leo Bud Welch. I let my fingers do the walkin’ and the strings do the talkin.'”
His first album – the afore-mentioned Sabougla Voices (Big Legal Mess Records) hit the world like a bolt out of the blue and easily found its way onto just about every ‘best of’ list in 2014. That record was rife with down-and-dirty blues riffs, but at its heart was very much a core of gospel and church-related themes, making it one fascinating listen. The follow-up, I Don’t Prefer No Blues largely takes off where Sabougla Voices left off, although many of the traces of gospel are missing off it.
“I think that was Bruce Watson’s idea (to follow up the gospel album with more of a blues-based record). He was the one that caused that. He wanted to do a gospel record first, and after we done that, we did the blues one,” said Welch. “I was talking to Vencie and told him that I told my pastor (at Welch’s church) that I was going to go out and play me some blues. He (the pastor) said, ‘I don’t prefer no blues.’ Well, they took the name of the album from that … I Don’t Prefer No Blues … that’s how that idea came up. So one of my albums is gospel and the other one is blues.”
Welch’s path to stardom is vastly different than the way than most of today’s ‘media darlings’ obtained their moment in the sun. In 2015, it’s not uncommon for a rash of 8- or 9-yar-olds to become the next biggest thing going, thanks to a 10-second clip on YouTube. But while Welch has had oodles of talent and skill on his side for several decades, the one thing he never had going for him until recently was a bit of money and a bit of guidance. Those are the two main reasons that he didn’t cut his first album until he was 81-years-old.
“I didn’t have nobody helping me (until he met Varnado). You know, it takes money to make money and I didn’t have none,” Welch said. “I met Vencie and he said he’d help me with the money and put me in front of all kinds of people all across the world. That’s what got us on the road today.”
It wasn’t like Varnado had any kind of a master plan in place when he met Welch for the first time. No, the origin of their partnership is more humble, more organic than that, as Varnado explains.
“I retired from the Army in 2011 and my son – who was about 15 – was interested in playing the guitar. I wanted him to learn from the old guys before he learned the way the book says to play. I had known Leo my whole entire life, but had never heard him play until my birthday in 2013,” he said. “I’d always heard people talk about it (Welch playing), so I took my son by there to meet him and to get Leo to play something so I could record him and get something on my computer. It took me about two years to convince Leo to play something for me and then I paid him to play my 50th birthday party.”
That birthday gig is really what led to Welch’s coming out and first real recorded output.
“I secretly recorded Leo at my party and I called up Fat Possum (Records) and told them I had something from an 81-year-old blues artist they might be interested in. There was this intern that answered the phone and he said they really didn’t do blues anymore, so I left all my contact information with him,” Varnado said. “Within three minutes of me hanging up, Bruce Watson called me back. I learned later on that he didn’t call me back to be friendly; he said they always get a lot of crazy calls. But because of my persistency, he invited me by his office that day and he watched a couple of minutes of the video (from the birthday party). Then he asked me if I could get Leo to come in the office with his amp and guitar. I told Bruce that it had taken two years to get this far, but I’d see what I could do. Leo didn’t have a way to get to the office, so I drove down and picked him and his guitar and amp up and took him there. He played about three songs and Bruce asked him had he ever recorded? Leo said ‘no’ and Bruce asked him if he was interested in it and Leo said ‘yes.'”
After that, a recording session was scheduled for two weeks later.
“About three or four sessions later, Sabougla Voices is a result of that,” Varnado said. “That’s the true story of how he came to record his first album at 81.”
Even though he’s played music since he was a teenager, this is the first time that Welch has ever really done it for reasons other than it being a pastime, or to just entertain people around his hometown or church. Prior to that, Welch’s life was filled with plenty of long days stuffed to the gills with plenty of hard labor.
“I worked on a farm all my life and then I cut trees for 35 years … I worked for a dollar a day and then at the end of the week, you ain’t got nothin’ but five dollars. I plowed mules in all the dust and stuff and then I ran a chain saw, cuttin’ trees for 35 years, “said Welch. “All that noise up in my ears … a lot of times I have a hard time understanding people’s last words (at the end of a sentence) and I say that’s cause I ran a chain saw all those years. You know what kind of a noise that is, don’t you? But I’ve been retired since ’95. I’ve been looking for this opportunity (to get out and play music) and I’m happy it came along.”
Instead of dusty run-down logging camps, Welch now gets to spend his time on stages all over the world, playing his unique brand of the blues. While it might have taken longer to reach this point in his life than he would have originally liked to, Welch still says that he knew someday, somehow, he’d be doing just what he’s doing in 2015. After all, he was once offered an audition with B.B. King (back in the late ’40s), but couldn’t afford the bus fare it took to get from his home to Memphis.
“I’ve been to France and Germany and all over. And Vencie is responsible for all that happening … praise his name! But I always had no doubt about it (making it by playing music). I always had that in my mind,” he said. “I knew that someday somebody would listen to me and people all over the world would like me. Things have worked out just right – I’m doing what I love to do.”
He hasn’t had to work very hard at convincing audiences that he’s a real-deal bluesman – heck, he’s one of the oldest bluesmen currently playing the blues. But he’s had to work a little harder at getting his pastor and some of his congregation to see there’s nothing sinister or evil about playing the blues..
” A lot of people ask me, ‘How do you sing the old blues and gospel, too? That’s devil’s money.’ But then when you see them, they be wantin’ some of that devil’s money,” Welch said. “After the album (I Don’t Prefer No Blues) I was sittin’ in the church and he (the pastor) came up and said, ‘You put my name on that album?’ I think he was wanting to make a big thing out of it. I said, ‘No, I didn’t, but they (Welch’s management team) did.’ It wasn’t his name, but it was him sayin’ ‘I don’t prefer no blues.’ Well, then he said, ‘You owe me some money.’ See, he’d didn’t want no blues, but he wanted money from the blues. A lot of them hollar about devil’s money, but there ain’t nothin’ they can do about it. You know, there’s a lot of people that go to church that love the blues. All those songs (both blues and gospel) are about life.”
The way Welch sees it, the blues and gospel can get along just fine and real religion can often times be found outside the church, as well.
“You don’t got to go to church to have religion,” he said. “You can get religion just sittin’ in your house all day, if you want to.”
“The way I see it, music is either good or bad. I think people try to pigeon-hole music based on what artist does it, or what color the artist is. There are some songs that no one can tell me why one is gospel and one is blues. “Going Down Slow” is considered a blues song and “Your Mother Loves Her Children” is called a gospel song. Why is that? The contents of both songs are the same. One is about, ‘Hey I’ve had my fun and I’m growing old and dying and want my mother to pray for me.’ and “Your Mother Loves Her Children” is the mother reaching out to her wayward child through prayer,” he said. “One is blues and one is gospel, but there’s no difference. Just because somebody says this one’s blues and this one’s gospel, that’s the way it is. But they can’t give you an explanation why one is called blues and the other is gospel … it’s crazy to me. I’d sum it up by saying that gospel is music about your relationship with deities and blues is about your relationship with human beings.”
The late, great T-Model Ford really locked into his own sound when he had the late, great Spam backing him up on drums. The two shared an almost telekinetic sense of communication between them and rare were the times when words had to be spoken when they were up on the bandstand. It seems that Welch has found his ‘Spam’ in the form of the dynamic Ms. Dixie Street, his drummer for the past couple of years. Just like T-Model and Spam, Leo Bud Welch and Dixie Street go together better than peanut butter and jelly.
“I love the way that she beats the drums,” Welch said. “We go really good together and can work out things when we’re playin.’ If something’s not right, I can tell her and she’ll listen and there’s some things that she can tell me … I can’t tell it all. We got to listen to one another and work together to be together and that’s what we do.”
If there’s two things that Welch’s guitar sound are, they would be distinguishable and unconventional. Put it this way, just by hearing a couple of notes, it’s easy to tell that you’re listening to Leo Bud Welch play the guitar.
“I learned how to play by watching my first cousin (R.C. Welch) play. That’s how I learned when I was 15 years old. When he was big enough to go out courtin’ or whatnot, he’d tell us (Welch and his brother) to not mess with his guitar. We’d tell him OK. Well, one time we got out his guitar – we didn’t have electricity or nothin’ like that – and started ramblin’ and bangin’ around on it,” Welch said. “He came back in and slipped up on us and we had that guitar and the music goin.’ He said, ‘I thought I told you boys not to play my guitar.’ But then he said, ‘I tell you what, I ain’t gonna’ say anything else about you playin’ my guitar … ya’ll play it better than I can.’ It sounded good to him, so then I started goin’ out and playin’ out in the woods and at picnics and everybody went to sayin’ I could beat him (playing the guitar) and he got mad at me about that.”
Those looking to replicate Welch’s sound may have a hard time doing so. According to Varnado, the pink, speckled and sparkly guitar that Welch plays – emblazoned with his name plastered across the top – is a one-of-a-kind axe.
“If you’ll notice, Leo plays with a no-name guitar that I personally customized and I’m no technician. I had to learn all this stuff on the fly, in the last two-and-a-half years,” said Varnado. “That helps Leo to be able to sound like Leo.”
Another thing that helps set Welch apart on stage – aside from Dixie Street on the drums and his customized guitar – is his stage attire. He may feel more comfortable in blue jeans and a work shirt, but Welch is one bad-lookin’ cat on the bandstand, decked out in a sharkskin suit with a paisley tie and red alligator shoes.
“Well, I have to give my manager credit for that, because he suggests that I wear this, or I wear that. I said, ‘What? You tryin’ to make me look good?’ And he says, ‘I ain’t tryin’ to make you look good, I’m tryin’ to make you look your best,'” said Welch. “That’s where I got the part about being dressed real nice. If it wasn’t for that, I might be runnin’ to the shows in some ole cut-off blue jeans. Back in the old days, that’s all we’d do; run around in cut-off blue jeans. But now, you got to be clean.”
Smooth as it went, that transition from blue jean funky to slick suited sharp didn’t just occur overnight.
“What I’ve made it my business to do, is developing Leo’s brand as unique to him. I brought that along slowly, because I didn’t want him to be similar to other artists. I wanted his brand to be unique,” Varnado said. “Coming up with different outfits for different settings is one way to help me to continue to develop his brand … not to copy off any other artist or do anything that they do … but to develop Leo Bud Welch’s brand, so it’s unique to him.”
He may be into his eighth decade on this earth, but Welch has not one bit of ‘oldness’ or ‘can’t do that anymore’ about him on stage. When the music moves him, it does so literally.
“Leo plays a wireless guitar and performs with a headset (mic). That’s so that he can present like the blues guys used to do on the porch before electricity made its way to them,” said Varnado. “When Leo feels like getting up and dancing, he can do that (with the wireless rig) and never lose a beat. And when he feels like looking at a pretty lady over in the peanut gallery and singing to her, he don’t have to worry about the mic, because it’s right there with him. That way, he doesn’t drop any vocal lines.”
“You can’t wish back, but I can think back when I was young and I used to really kick it (now he performs in a chair for most of his set). But now I say I’m going to sit down before I fall down,” Welch laughed. “But yeah, that’s (getting up and dancing) all a part of my music.”
Visit Leo’s website at www.leobudwelch.com
Photos by Arnie Goodman © 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 – Big Dam Blues Party Festival
What would you do to gain entry to the inaugural edition of the Big Dam Blues Party? Would you ride a bicycle 100 miles? 62? 50? Many patrons did!
Held in conjunction with the Big Dam 100 bike race, the festival was sponsored by the Arkansas River Blues Society(ARBS), KABF radio, and Blues for a Cause. North Little Rock’s Argenta Arts District was the setting, just past the finish line for over 2000 avid bike riders. Anyone who participated in the ride received free admission. For those who preferred to drive downtown, tickets were only $10.
The winners of the ARBS Blues Challenge kicked off the event. Solo/duo winners Trey Johnson and Jason Willmon took the stage first, followed by the John Calvin Brewer Band. These two acts will represent ARBS in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, January 2016.
John Calvin Brewer Band
Local Favorite Charlotte Taylor and Gypsy Rain appeared next with her gritty down-home blues.
Appearing just after sundown were the Peterson Brothers, a young duo from Bastrop, Texas. Relatively unknown here in Arkansas, they brought the crowd into boogie mode with their blend of Delta Blues with a Texas influence. Glenn, 18, sailed effortlessly through riffs that would make Stevie Ray smile. Alex, 16, kept things upbeat and rolling with bass licks that rival those of more seasoned performers. From traditional favorites like “Hideaway” to more contemporary original material, they kept the crowd entertained with snippets and teasers from other classics.
Next on the stage was Mississippi blues queen Tullie Brae. Accompanied by her band, the Medicine Man Revue, Brae’s performance seemed a blend of Blues and New Orleans Jazz with a sprinkling of old country. They performed many selections from her latest self titled CD, including “Everything Turns Blue” an apparent crowd favorite. With her black top hat, cut-out lace, and flowing black kimono she brought to mind sultry nights on Bourbon Street where music reigns supreme.
Headliner for the evening was the legendary Coco Montoya. With his “upside down” left handed mastery of the Strat he brought out tunes and licks that were obviously influenced by his mentor, the great Albert Collins. Song after song he kept the crowd mesmerized with his prowess. Many were from his latest CD “Songs from the Road”, imcluding “I Got a Mind to Travel” and my favorite, “Senorita”.
While this was the first venture into festivals for the Arkansas River Blues Society, plans are being discussed for next year’s edition. Hopefully they will be able to bring even bigger artists to the stage and attract larger crowds. For a first foray, it appeared to be a great success!
Photos by Rick Nation © 2015
Rick Nation is a freelance writer and photojournalist based in Bryant, AR and a member of The Blues Foundation. While he has a deep appreciation for classical music, his love of the Blues and old time “Honky Tonk” music keeps him searching out live music venues in the region, and slipping over to Memphis and Clarksdale, MS whenever possible.
Featured Blues Review – 2 of 5
Andra Faye & Scott Ballantine – Coulda Woulda Shoulda
Vizztone – 2015
13 tracks; 47 minutes
Andra Faye was a member of Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women from 1992 until the group’s retirement in 2009 and Scott Ballantine is an experienced guitar player who plays in a wide variety of styles. This is their second collaboration, recorded in Indianapolis in 2014: Andra plays mandolin, fiddle, bass, Scott acoustic and steel guitar and both contribute vocals. The material consists of five songs jointly written, two by Andra, one by Scott and five covers.
Andra’s “Walkin’ Home To You” opens the album with a pleasant song that celebrates the simple pleasures of a successful relationship, Andra’s fiddle adding to the country feel of the tune. Scott’s “Crackheaded Man” is also sung by Andra and features her mandolin, the lyrics exploring the perils of dope addiction, sung to a classic country blues rhythm. The joint composition “It’s A New Day” goes against the pessimism of the previous song as Andra beseechs us to ‘seize the day’ and take that opportunity to “lay down your bottle, lay down your pipe, lay down your cell phone, let go of the hype”. The interplay between Scott’s acoustic picking and Andra’s mandolin is a feature of the middle section. The first cover comes from Florida pianist Liz Pennock whose “Take It Slow” is a sultry ballad that Andra sings very well. The jointly penned “Blues For A Crappy Day” flows well with Andra’s fiddle work and Scott’s acoustic work as Andra tries to find the positives in an otherwise poor day and is followed by the hilarious “Too Much Butt (For One Pair Of Jeans)” which comes from the pen of R. Bruce Richardson, Andra relishing the humorous lyrics as she bemoans that designer jeans are simply not made for a woman of more generous proportions!
Returning to the positive side of thinking Andra’s “One Dream At A Time” is a lovely, jaunty tune with some exquisite high note mandolin picking. The title song “Coulda Woulda Shoulda” finds Andra admitting that although she recognizes that there are times when she should have acted in a particular way, she chose not to, the best illustration being finding her guy with another woman in a bar and throwing a drink in his face, resulting in Andra being thrown out of the bar! Andra and Scott get a lovely tone on their instruments on the gospel tones of the traditional “Standing In The Need Of Prayer”, Scott’s world-weary voice taking the lead and Andra singing the harmony vocal. Their own “Workin’ Mama Is Gone” finds Andra telling the guy who has access to several of those old blues devices such as a ‘mojo hand’ and a ‘black cat bone’ that he will still not get her back. John Hiatt’s classic “Feels Like Rain” is played slowly and reverentially and brings out all the emotions of the well-known lyrics. Another cover, Mike Dowling’s “When You Gonna Stop Your Drinkin’?” takes us back to the humourous side of the couple’s style, a great song with the memorable refrain: “When you gonna stop your drinkin’? When a better way is found to get the whiskey down.” Andra and Scott’s “Clyde” closes the album as Andra explains that she is leaving town with her first cousin Clyde who is happy to leave as he knows that Andra “just got paid and my car payment’s way overdue”: the song also follows on well from the previous song as some drinking seems to be involved!
Those who enjoy well played acoustic music with a mix of intelligent and amusing lyrics will find a lot to enjoy in this album.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK who enjoys a wide variety of blues and roots music, especially anything in the ‘soul/blues’ category. Favorites include contemporary artists such as Curtis Salgado, Tad Robinson, Albert Castiglia and Doug Deming and classic artists including Bobby Bland, Howling Wolf and the three ‘Kings’. He gets over to the States as often as he can to see live blues.
Featured Blues Review – 3 of 5
Kevin Conlon and The Groove Rebellion – Going Back To Chicago
8 songs – 34 minutes
San Francisco-based multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Kevin Conlon returns to his Chicago roots with this thoroughly modern and funky excursion into jazz and blues.
An upright bass player, guitarist and percussionist, he migrated from the Windy City, where he was a familiar face on the blues scene, to Los Angeles in the early 1980s as part of the jazz fusion group Panacea before moving north to the Bay Area later in the decade, where he laid down the groove in jazz and R&B ensembles.
This is the second release for The Groove Rebellion. The first, the well-received In Transit, featured a four-piece ensemble with rotating drummers playing a set of Conlon originals that leaded more toward straight-ahead jazz with blues overtones layered atop a heavy beat. The lineup changed dramatically for this one, which shifts the delivery in more of a modern blues vein.
Another all-original, Conlon-penned production, it features Robert Wilkinson on guitar, Sasha Smith on keyboards, Aux Cayes on Hammond B-3 organ and Amanda Jackson on backing vocals. Drummer Richard Cunico and sax player Mark Secosh are also present from Groove Rebellion’s original lineup.
Like the energy you’d feel at the L stop at State and Lake, which are depicted on the album cover, “The Hustler” kicks off with a syncopated shuffle beat and horn intro before Conlon delivers a string of image-packed lyrics that speak against being offered for sale on the street that he has no interest in buying as well as advertisements for pharmaceutical drugs he really doesn’t need to take. His vocal delivery is relaxed and slightly behind the beat. Wilkinson’s six-string solo mid-song is brief, but tasty, and the band swings throughout.
“Temptation” offers a strong taste a Chicago from the first guitar riff as Conlon sings about a woman he can’t get out of his mind after a brief encounter. He wants to make his move, but knows it could cost him his life. Cayes’ B-3 solo drives the tune to a higher level. Next up, the title cut, “Going Back To Chicago,” is a stop-time excursion with a thoroughly modern feel propelled by Wilkinson’s guitar. On his lyrical return, Conlon’s accompanied by a pistol and gunning for a cousin who not only stole his woman, but also took his last dime.
The pace slows for “One Question,” a slow blues that begins as a telephone discussion with a doctor, but evolves into a parable about problems in a relationship. The woman shows up on the singer’s birthday and tells him she’s leaving with no forwarding address. Talk about a bad case of the blues! The music gets funky again with “She’s Got The Shake,” a horn- and guitar-fueled blues about wanting to make a romantic move, but holding back because she’s got so much going on.
The rhythms remain rich for “Voodoo,” another stop-time romp about another woman, and the subdued “Muddy Water,” a cautionary, true-blue warning about the threat of losing your way by going places you shouldn’t, before the uptempo “Well Gone Dry” concludes the set, delivering questions about the possible end of a romance.
Available through all of the major online vendors, this is a well-presented mix of bluesy R&B with some jazz overtones, and would be perfectly comfortable at either a blues joint on Chicago’s North Side or at a jazz palace like the legendary Green Mill. Highly recommended for any blues lover with a taste for something different.
Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.
Featured Blues Review – 4 of 5
Charlie Sayles and The Blues Disciples
10 songs – 35 minutes
Charlie Sayles hails from Boston and has lived for years in Washington, D.C., but you’d never know it from his style of play on the harmonica. He elivers a diverse mix of sound that’s a little bit swamp, some Chicago and all the way original.
Sayles picked up the instrument for the first time after listening to Sonny Boy Williamson records while serving in one of the most honored military divisions in American history, the legendary Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne, during the Vietnam War. But it didn’t take that conflict to teach him the blues. He knew them up close and personal as the son of a trumpet player from the rough-and-tumble Roxbury neighborhood who spent his youth bouncing from one foster home to another.
He settled in Atlanta after his military discharge and started playing on the street for tips. The patch he still wears over his right eye bares witness to the troubles he endured. Life was hard, but he never lost faith while developing his own unique style of play, which features broad chords, interesting tricks with percussion and an easy-flowing movement across the reeds.
Now in his late 60s, Sayles has played with a litany of diverse musical talents that include folk music superstar Pete Seeger, bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe and bluesman Bobby Parker and appeared as far away as Shanghai and as close to home as Carnegie Hall. Each of his three prior releases on London’s JSP label bare witness to his diverse talent, but he’s remained pretty much in the background back in the U.S. except for funding from the National Endowment for the Arts to teach harmonica behind prison walls. A photo from one of those lessons graces the back cover of this album.
Sayles handles all vocal duties here while Tony “The Legend” Fazio handles guitar and bass. A Berklee College of Music grad, Fazio’s extremely active in the D.C., area, splitting time among Charlie, The Electrofied Blues Band and Memphis Gold. Filling out the sound on this collection of Sayles’ originals are drummer Greg Phillips and Andrew Garbutt, who relieves Fazio on bass for three cuts.
It’s easy to see from the material that Charlie’s a man of deep faith. The first half of this disc consists of songs that deliver a spiritual message. “Those Things Of Old” would be comfortable in any Mississippi juke, soaked with a Delta feel. Sayles’ words are non-denominational as sings praise for religious training. His harp play is restricted to echoing a loping guitar line before a sweet solo at the break.
The message comes full force in “Jesus Christ,” a mid-tempo shuffle. Lazio’s guitar carries the tune throughout with Charlie proving with a very brief Chicago-style harp run mid-tune. The slow blues “New Day Coming” continues the theme, complete with an extended, traditional solo. Next up, “These Chains” drag the singer down, but he’s more concerned with the people around him. It’s a cautionary tale with a strong message not to drink, do drugs or keep repeating the same mistakes.
The next song, “Vietnam,” is a personal remembrance of what it was like to be serving his country in a place where jets screamed like birds overhead and where you didn’t know if you were going to still be living the next day. It’s a slow blues – and by far my favorite on the disc — that tells the story of a particular gloomy Thursday afternoon with big guns going off in the distance while being in camp and contemplating life.
Oddly, however, he says, the saddest part of that journey was when Sayles finally say goodbye to the mud and pain. What he experienced during a brief stay in New York City was even harder to deal with. At least in Vietnam, he could recognize his enemy. In Manhattan, they could be anywhere.
“Everybody’s Got Something To Say” revisits spirituality before Sayles the launches into “Arella,” which sings the praises of a woman who really can cook. Charlie’s harp talents are on display here with a tasty intro and the first extended solo of the set. “I Don’t Want To Die” is really a complaint about the trials present in life, delivered around a brief high-register harp solo. “Laughin’ And Grinnin’” is the realization in afterthought that it might have been a mistake to party so much the night before. The disc concludes with a bit of funk in “Green Peace,” a strong statement about protecting the environment by investing in solar and wind power instead of relying on oil.
Despite the religious overtones in the package, Sayles delivers his beliefs without getting preachy, and the underlying tunes are sprightly, swinging and upbeat. He’s got something to say, and he does it in a way that doesn’t offend. Charlie is an under-appreciated talent who bubbles beneath the mainstream, and this CD would be a worthy addition to any blues lover’s collection. It’s available through all of the major online vendors.
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 5
Hot Roux – Stranger’s Blues
Hi Hat Records & Entertainment HHE 3406
10 songs – 36 minutes
Fronted by singing drummer Jerry McWhorter, Hot Roux delivers a gumbo of blues, swamp and country that would be comfortable in roadhouse along the Gulf Coast even though the band is based in Ventura, Calif., a coastal community not far from Los Angeles.
Primarily known as the rhythm section for guitar great Albert Lee and having worked behind a who’s who of bluesmen, including James Harmon, Lynwood Slim, Kim Wilson and Kenny Neal, the band usually tours as a three-piece. But they’ve produced much broader sound for this CD, which was recorded live in studio.
McWhorter and bass player Brent Harding wrote all 10 of the songs that appear here. Their regular guitarists Ed Berghoff and Tommy Harkenrider share six-string duties with legendary string-bender Franck Goldwasser, aka Paris Slim. Sam Bolle and Steve Nelson relieve Harding on the bottom for three cuts. Also making guest appearances are harmonica player Jacob Huffman, guitarist Pat McClure and sax player Bill Flores.
Named for the basic ingredient in all Cajun cooking – a combination of flour and oil cooked down to a dark blend, Hot Roux kicks off the festivities with “Broken Again.” It’s a country-tinged blues-rocker delivered atop a single note lead from Berghoff in which McWhorter states sweetly that he’s bidding his gal farewell because he only has one heart and doesn’t want it to be broken again. Goldwasser gets down and dirty for “Stanger’s Blues,” a slow shuffle that’s got a big-city, dark feel. This time, the message is that no one wants to have anything to do with the new guy in town.
Harkenrider assumes the lead for “Woman Where You Been,” accented by Huffman on harp. It’s a walking blues with a Chicago feel. McWhorter’s vocals are crisp and clean, his delivery pushing the tune forward a millisecond behind the beat. The loping “Seven Lonely Nights” depicts the days since the lady went away, driven by Goldwasser’s chucky guitar riffs and stinging solo. “Big Mama’s” describes a bar where the lights are low and the owner will “cut you down to size” if you act out of line. It’s delivered with a Slim Harpo-style swamp feel.
Flores’ sax propels the rocker “Tick Tock,” which warns “one more tick and we won’t be talkin’ anymore.” Next up, “Anna Lee” is a slow blues love song that gives Harkenrider a chance to spread his wings on an extended single-note solo and occasional runs. The syncopated “Red Pepper Baby” describes a woman who’s almost too hot to handle, but too good to avoid. Apparently, she’s unforgettable, as the next song, “Can’t Get You Off My Mind,” clearly states. A military drum beat propels the reprise, “Another Seven Lonely Nights,” to conclude the set.
There’s nothing over-the-top here. Hot Roux cooks, but stays out of your face and in total control as it delivers solid music from one song to the next. Available through Amazon and iTune, it’s guaranteed to keep your toes tapping or your feet moving on the dance floor throughout the night.
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