Issue 9-49 December 3, 2015

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

 In This Issue 

Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Chicago’s slide guitar queen, Joanna Connor. We have 5 music reviews for you including reviews of music by Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Wee Willie Walker, John Mayall and a compilation album of songs by the late Jeff Healey. Bob Kieser has Part III of the photos from the King Biscuit Festival.

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

 From The Editor’s Desk 

Hey Blues Fans,

OK first the bad news! Here in the Midwest winter is is beginning to make it’s presence known!

The good news? This time of year you can get a great buy for advertising your Blues music release or festival event with our Fall Advertising Sale. But you gotta hurry as this lowest price of the year sale ends on December 15th. For details, see our ad below in this issue.

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 5 

Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans – That’s What They Say

ManHat Tone Records

15 tracks / 47:31

What exactly is a Vestapolitan, anyway? Vestapol (one of many spellings) is an open guitar tuning and the term is commonly used to describe the relationship between different chords. Brad Vickers uses this type of tuning, and he also was looking for a cool name that started with V for his band. It looks like he solved his dilemma, as Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans certainly is catchy! Fortunately this group has a lot more going on than just a clever name, as their unique blend of American roots and blues is both entertaining and enthralling.

Brad, a Long Island native, is a singer, songwriter, and guitarist with impressive credentials. He has played with Bo Diddley, Hubert Sumlin, Odetta, Chuck Berry, and Jimmy Rogers, not to mention appearing on two of Pinetop Perkins’ Grammy-nominated albums. He has put out five albums of his own with his Vestapolitans since 2008 and the latest, That’s What They Say, is the best of the bunch. Vickers was joined on this project by a core crew of Margey Peters on vocals, bass, and fiddle, Bill Rankin on drums, and Dave Gross on the double bass, banjo, mandolin, percussion and piano. There were a lot more people involved in the studio, as you will soon see.

The album starts out with Tampa Red’s “Seminole Blues” and the trio of Vickers, Peters, and Rankin give this song a lovely acoustic treatment with jangly bottleneck guitar and a backbeat drums. Then the band launches into the traditional “Don’t You Love Your Daddy No More,” which was taught to Brad by Leadbelly. Matt Cowan and Jim Davis brought their sax and clarinet in on this one, which give it a cool New Orleans ragtime feel. Brad takes the lead vocals on both of these, and his voice is mellow with a laidback drawl.

After these openers, the remaining songs (a baker’s dozen!) are originals that were written by Vickers and Peters. These two have mature song-writing skills, and they penned clever lyrics to go along with the fantastic music that is heard throughout.

It sound like they had a lot of fun putting together That’s What They Say. There is a bit of Chuck Berry in “Another Lonesome Road” which is a neat duet with Brad and Margey on vocals, and a little yakety sax from Jim Davis. They also has a blast with “Mama’s Cookin’,” and Peters’ litany of international treats will get your mouth watering as she is accompanied by Davis and Matt Cowan on sax and Little Mikey on backing vocals. Both of these tunes are timeless, and sound like they could have been recorded any time in the past sixty years.

The band also cut an awesome ragtime track, “21st Century Rag,” which provides Margey and Charles Burnham the opportunity to bring out their fiddles. Like the title suggests, this song recounts how the things we have become used to are falling by the wayside. This is a funny contrast as this song has a definite old-time feel to it with its richly acoustic tone, including nice round double bass from Dave Gross.

One of the standout tracks is the a capella song, “Fightin’,” and you will find that it is certainly the most serious of the bunch. The lyrics are a wonderful blend of gospel harmonies from Vickers, Peters, and Mikey Junior, and they are a poignant conviction of the terrible things that people do and the way we treat each other nowadays.

Brad Vickers and the Vestapolitans have a winner with That’s What They Say, thanks to solid songwriting and their excellent performance in the studio. If you are a fan of roots or Americana music it would be in your best interests to check it out for yourself and pick up a copy if it strikes your fancy. If you want to see their live show you are in luck if you are on the east coast of the United States. The band has plenty of shows coming up in the Philadelphia/New York/New Jersey area as well as in Florida. Go to their website for details on shows and how to buy their CD.

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


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 Featured Blues Interview – Joanna Connor 

Blues music is usually not thought of as a living, breathing organism that is capable of functioning and growing on its own.

But maybe blues music should be thought of in those terms.

Instead of merely being on display like some sort of museum piece that just sits on a shelf and gathers dust, blues music is around us every day and seems to morph from one form into the next with unfetered ease.

This can be witnessed in a number of different places, including on a long road trip from Chicago to Terre Haute, Indiana.

Slide guitarist supreme, Joanna Connor, explains.

“The blues will always be a part of popular music. I’m not a huge rap or hip-hop fan, but that’s what my kids absolutely love. I was on a trip to Indiana State University with my 17-year-old daughter and she had this CD from Gucci Mane – a hip-hop artist who is from Atlanta. I’m listening to this thing over and over for like four hours, when it hit me; this guy is doing the Delta blues … but it’s rap. That hit me so hard. I thought, ‘This is like the new blues music.’ It’s really primitive in a way and is so grooving and dark, but it definitely has the blues in it. So the blues are in everything,” she said. “The old saying is, ‘The blues will never die’ and I believe that. It’s growing and changing, even though some of the blues purists may get mad. There’s just a whole new generation playing it and there’s a whole new interpretation of the blues that is going on these days.”

Connor has long been one of the artists that were not content to just kick back and play the same old thing. She’s a blueswoman, for sure, but she plays the blues the way she feels them, not the way some old book says she should. That’s one reason why she’s became one of the ‘must-see’ guitarists of the past two decades. That’s also one of the reasons why 2015 has been such a good year for Connor.

“It’s been a pretty amazing year. As you get older you realize that there’s never a perfect year; they have their good and their bad. But it has been a great year. That video of me playing slide on “Walkin’ Blues” ( that a big blues fan named Sodafixer 2 posted (from 2014’s North Atlantic Blues Fest) last summer really, really took off,” she said. “I was never really into the internet, I was like, ‘Aw, whatever,’ but that video has gotten like 12 million views around the world, so that was pretty exciting. It’s opened up some doors to some festivals and some travel.”

Maybe the most exciting news of the past few years for Connor centers around that trip to Terre Haute. That’s where her daughter is set to be an Indiana State Sycamore next winter.

“My youngest child, who is my daughter, signed a basketball scholarship with Indiana State University this year. She’s getting a full ride there, which was pretty much the best news of my life,” laughed Connor. “We’re really proud of her – she’s a senior in high school this year. And my son – my oldest child – got a pretty nice job and he’s also into music, too. It’s more of a part-time thing, but he does a lot of hip-hop . So life’s good; I’m living in a nice spot and my gigs just keep going. I play three nights a week at the Kingston Mines and just picked up a weekly gig at The House of Blues. Life’s pretty sweet.”

As if having her wickedly-hot slide guitar technique going viral through cyberspace – along with the impressive accomplishments her two children are in the midst of – were not enough, there’s also the little matter of Connor stepping into the studio this year to cut her first new studio album in well over a decade.

“Yeah, I’ve not been in the studio in 12 years. But my bassist – Lance Lewis – who was also my drummer for years, kind of put the band together and recorded the tracks and then I went in and wrote some stuff with him and played guitar and sang. We’re going to have about 70-percent original material on it,” she said. “It’s kind of varied; there’s some real deep blues and some swampy blues and some jazz. It’s a cool thing and MC Records (the label issued 2002’s The Joanna Connor Band to critical acclaim) has decided to put it out, which is really exciting. It should come out in May of next year.”

Twelve years is a long time for a working artist to go between studio releases, but as it turns out, Connor was really in no big rush – and under no pressure – to create a new record.

“Well, I’ve always been kind of on the edge of the blues world and I’ve always pushed the envelope from day one. That’s kind of rocked the boat in some good ways, but it’s also done the same in some bad ways. A lot of people have criticized my writing or my playing, so I kind of got jaded,” she said. “I thought that until I really had something to say, I was just going to play (and not record). And the music business seemed to be in such a strange place since the advent of the internet, so I’ve been sitting back and watching. At the same time, I was working so much – gigging everywhere – and raising my daughter pretty-much by myself and taking her to all this basketball stuff since she was about 11, so I was just exhausted. I would literally not sleep for two days a week. So there were a lot of factors involved (with the length of time between CDs). If Lance hadn’t asked me to get involved in this project, who knows? It may have been another two or three years before I went back into the studio.”

Although any number of songs from her Blind Pig catalog (starting from the very beginning with 1989’s Believe It!) would certainly indicate otherwise, Connor says she doesn’t really think of herself as a natural-born songwriter.

“I’m really not a writer, per-say. I think my strongest point is being an improviser of the guitar on stage. I don’t really feel the need to write,” she said. “My son, for example, has written more music in four years than I’ve written in my lifetime. He loves to do that. But that’s not so much my calling. I always feel like if I can’t write a better song that what’s already out there, then why should I?”

Connor blew into the Windy City from her home place of Worcester, Massachusetts back in 1984 and quickly found herself immersed in Chicago’s thriving blues scene. Even though some of the faces and places have changed since then, some of them do remain the same.

“The scene is still really vibrant, in the sense that there are still clubs all over the city to play at. There’s still many people from all over the world coming here to see the blues and people are still being converted to the blues,” she said. “I started off at the Kingston Mines with Dion Payton and the 43rd Street Blues Band – we really started off at the Checkerboard and then went to the Mines on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Which is kind of funny, because that was in 1985 and here I am in 2015, playing those same nights with my band at the Mines.”

The Kingston Mines may have been one step ahead of the curve when it comes down to expanding the typical demographics associated with blues fans.

“I have noticed from traveling all over between 1988 and 2005 that the blues crowd is pretty much my age, or older; like 40-plus years old. But at the Kingston Mines, the owner – Doc Pellegrino – was smart enough to encourage the college-aged crowd to come in, by letting them in for free during the week,” said Connor. “The hours help too; it’s open until like five in the morning. Once it hits around 11 p.m., the majority of the crowd I’m playing for is between 21- to 30-years-old. It’s been really amazing, but my son’s generation – the millennials – really enjoy the blues and we rock it up a lot, which they really like. It’s like Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers and The Stones and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. They love all that. But when I travel and do festivals, it’s not really like that in other places. I really think the Kingston Mines has a corner on that market and it’s really, really encouraging to see that and I hope that it spreads more on a national level. But right now, my biggest demographic of really hard-core fans is between 21-30.”

There are still plenty of excellent blues to be seen and heard in Chicago these days, but as Connor notes, there are a lot of the great ones missing, too.

“Yeah, a lot of the great ones are gone; a huge amount. God bless Buddy Guy, who’s still amazing. I’ve known him since the old Checkerboard days and whenever he sees me, he says, ‘Joanna, you and me are the only ones left.’ That’s intense, but that’s true,” she said. “We still have guys like Lil’ Ed and Lonnie Brooks – who doesn’t do much because of his health these days – but to be frank, the people that should have taken the place of guys like Son Seals, the people that are in my age group in their fifties, the drug culture hit Chicago so hard in the 1980s, that it took a lot of them out. The crack and cocaine epidemic probably took out a good 50- or 60-percent of the people that should really be prominent right now. It did knock out a really important wave of people and that’s a real shame. It might have been like that with alcohol in the blues scene at one time, but the drug scene decimated Chicago. Thankfully, that’s really not the case anymore. We do have Billy Branch, who is doing great and Melvin Taylor, who is doing better now and Carl Weathersby, who is awesome. Then you have guys like Toronzo Cannon and Mike Wheeler who are great, but there would have been so many more than that. But this is still a great town for the blues.”

Another great one – who is still around, but doesn’t play as much as he used to – is the highly-underrated Dion Payton. He really gave Connor her start in Chicago and as she found out, Payton played the blues just one way – authentically.

“When I moved to Chicago, I had had a band in Massachusetts, but I was mostly a singer and rhythm player. I really wanted to learn to play the guitar, so my whole goal was to come to Chicago and learn as much about the blues as I could. My whole thing was I wanted to play guitar in someone’s band. So I started stalking Dion Payton, because I loved the way he played. Well, I ended up in his band and probably one of the greatest things about that was he was such a taskmaster. He put me through all kinds of stuff. He’d go, ‘Why are you playing that? Play this. Where’s your E string? It’s not ringing. Don’t play that, play this pattern. Don’t ever play what I’m playing, you play something else.’ At the time, I was like, ‘Ahhh …’ But he really taught me so much,” she said. “He was just so particular with the whole band. We used to rehearse five days a week. But I’m really, really glad I chose him and that he was so rough. At the time, I couldn’t play and sing at the same time. I’d kind of do a B.B. King and sing and then play a solo. Dion told me, ‘I’m not playing with you anymore; you have to learn to play rhythm and sing at the same time.’ So I did. Now I can play anything and sing, but not back then … I was in my early twenties and he really pushed me. He was hardcore and let you have it, but I’m really grateful for that now.”

While he may indeed have been ‘hardcore,’ that didn’t mean that Connor was intent on striking out on her own and leaving Payton’s group just a couple of short years after hitting Chicago. Instead, she was encouraged to do so by Pellegrino.

“I really didn’t want to (start her own band) at the time. Doc said, ‘You’re getting really popular here (Kingston Mines) and people like to hear you sing, so I want to give you your own night.’ I was like, ‘What?’ So he gave me Tuesday nights for a month and that kind of made me put my band together,” she said. “That kind of made me leave Dion, because I felt like it was a conflict of interest. And then things took off. But it was all because Doc pushed me out of the nest, even though I didn’t feel like I was ready at the time.”

As anyone who was seen Connor play can attest to, (and for those that haven’t, once again, simply check out: it’s almost as if the guitar has done something to wrong her and she’s paying it back with all the might she can summon. If there’s a guitar player who is any more physical than what Connor is, they have yet to surface.

“One guy said, ‘Man, you play like you’re mad at the guitar.’ I don’t know where that comes from, but I’ve always kind of been that way. I really can’t explain it,” she said. “I guess that’s why people equate me a lot with rock, because rock music is pretty aggressive. So that is in me. I came up really loving Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers … but I really listened to everybody and I still do. I guess that I just get up on stage and turn into a maniac.”

Connor’s favorite instrument of abuse has remained by her side for a couple of decades now.

“I’ve played the same Les Paul, pretty much exclusively, since 1990. It was given to me by Gibson and I love it. That guitar feels like part of my body; I call it my third child,” she said. “Amp-wise, I was with Victoria Amps for a while and I love them, but then Supro came along and they sent me an amp called the Coronado and I love that amp and use it also. I also have an old Peavey Chorus 212 that I use and it’s really loud and powerful. I’m not a real gear-head, but I’m always looking for a particular sound, so I try and dial it in. I always try and find a good sound, but that all starts with my guitar.”

While she adores the big 70s’era rock-n-roll bands, Connor’s path to the blues started with, well … the blues.

“My mother was a huge music lover and was a classical pianist coming up and really wanted to do that. But she was born in 1930 and where she came from, it was like, ‘No, women don’t do that.’ But she loved music. She moved to New York in the 1950s and actually heard Charlie Parker and all those guys. She loved the blues and the first music I remember hearing was blues and jazz,” Connor said. “One of the first albums I really liked when I was 5 or 6 was Taj Mahal’s Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home double-record set. That was the first music I really loved and I would play it over and over … I just loved the whole album and the way he looked on the cover with his cowboy outfit and the rainbow. I’ve heard blues my whole life … Ry Cooder and Robert Johnson … and my mother took me to see Buddy Guy when I was 10-years-old, back in 1972. I also heard a lot of classical music and Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. My mother also took me to every Newport Jazz Festival and I saw Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis. I was really fortunate that my mother loved music that much. She even brought home .45s back in the 70s of reggae, back before Bob Marley was even well-known. It’s all because of her.”

The bug to play music eventually bit young Joanna Connor, but it would be awhile before she started fooling around with the technique known as ‘slide guitar.’

“I really didn’t even know what slide guitar was. I played classical guitar when I was really little and then I quit, because I didn’t want to practice. Then when I was in high school, my best friend got a guitar and that kind of spurred me on again,” she said. “My mom was working at a college and one of the husbands of a co-worker taught guitar. It turned out this guy taught blues and ragtime and slide. So it was kind of like fate, I guess. I started off playing the really early stuff, like Blind Blake and Blind Willie McTell – all the blind guys – and Blind Lemon Jefferson and Skip James. The really old stuff. Well, he also loved Ry Cooder, so he started teaching me some of that, too. He was the one who taught me the slide.”

Her children will always remain in the A number-one slot for Connor, as they well should. And though she’ll be wearing the royal blue and white of Indiana State University (thanks to her daughter) and may listen to a bit more hip-hop (courtesy of her son), with them pursuing their own goals and dreams, that may open up a bit more of Connor’s daily planner for delving deeper into the blues in the upcoming years.

“Well, with my daughter about to go off to college, for the first time since I pretty much started my music career in Chicago when my son was about a year old, I’ve always had a child and my music. Now I’ll be like the ’empty-nester’ and I’m kind of sad about that. But mostly I’m over-joyed for my daughter and now I can devote more time to music,” she said. “It would be nice to be on more festivals and I’d love to do a tour with Walter Trout, or someone like that … like a real guitar-heavy tour. I’d also really love to produce some people and maybe do some behind the scenes stuff. I have a dream of taking a lot of the African-American women singers in Chicago and put them all together and produce an album for them, like a Showdown kind of thing. I’ve also been playing more acoustic guitar lately and I’d like to do an acoustic album in the future. But I’m kind of just winging it right now.

Visit Joanna’s website at

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist, author and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He’s also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.

 Featured Live Blues Review – King Biscuit Blues Festival – Part III 

On day three of the King Biscuit Blues Festival things got really intense as the festival featured 31 acts on 5 stages. I was wearing down by day 3 but I did manage to catch some great Blues.

My day started at the main stage with a set by David Kimbrough. David was born into the Blues. He is the son of Blues legend Junior Kimbrough. You could hear that heritage in his music.

Next I got to hear some dobro blues by Reverend Robert with Da Bones Man on the Lockwood Stackhouse Stage.

Next I got over to the Front Porch Stage to hear a few songs by Leo “Bud” Welch. We recently featured this 83 year old Bluesman on the cover of Blues Blast Magazine. To read that interview, CLICK HERE.

Then I headed back to the main stage to catch some of a set by Don McMinn. Don is a local favorite at the KBBF and has been featured several times in the past few years.

Going back and forth there were again many Blues performers busking for tips all along the streets. One of the buskers I caught on Saturday was Guitar Mac. Mac is a solo guitar player and singer who had a the most coveted busking spot right outside of the main stage gate in front of the popular Delta Cultural Center all weekend.

Continuing on to see more great Blues I heard a great set by Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Bob Margolin & Bob Stroger on the main stage. They had a young up and coming Chicago Blues player named Omar Coleman sitting in on harmonica and vocals. Also sitting in was former James Cotton guitarist, Tom Holland. Like his beloved father Willie “Big Eyes” Smith before him, Kenny stepped out front from behind the drum set for a couple songs to lead the band on vocals and harmonica.

After that I saw Larry McCray, another favorite at King Biscuit. Larry is a monster Blues guitar player. If you have not heard him, make a point to catch him live as soon as you can.

Next up was the Andy T Nick Nixon Band. This talented group of musicians has been the house band at the Blues Blast Music awards for the last 2 years. They had Dana Robbins sitting in on sax and Bob Corritore on harmonica. Great stuff!

Andy T and Nick Nixon also featured another couple of young performers, the Peterson Brothers during their set. 18 year old Glenn Peterson on guitar and 16 year old Alex on bass were clearly thrilled to be playing with such an amazing backing band.

Next on the main stage I heard Ruthie Foster. Another great set by another great performer!

Then it was back to the Lockwood Stage one last time to catch a few songs by Lucky Peterson.

The final act I heard was Blues legend Taj Mahal. A fitting way to end an awesome festival.

If you have not ever attended this festival you need to make plans now to make it next year. Next years festival will be held in Helena, Arkansas on October 6th, 7th and 8th, 2016. Visit their website at for more info. They will announce the 2016 lineup in May of 2016 but do NOT wait till then to make your plans! Hotel rooms are scarce and many hotels are fully booked as you get into the festival season so make your plans now. I promise you will not regret going to this event.

Photos and commentary by Bob Kieser © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine

 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 5 

Royal Southern Brotherhood – Don’t Look Back

Ruf Records 1215

14 songs – 68 minutes

Here’s a question for you: What do you get when you take a group of superstar musicians out of their comfort zone in the bayou, sequester them in a rented house along the Tennessee River in North Alabama and move them to the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals to produce an album?

It doesn’t take much of a stretch to guess that they’re going to produce a CD that will knock your socks off, and that’s just what Royal Southern Brotherhood did with Don’t Look Back: The Muscle Shoals Sessions, a collection of 14 tunes that absolutely explodes with emotion.

According to Native American legend, the Yuchie tribe called the Tennesse the “Singing River” because the sound of its waters lapping at the shore sounded like a woman singing. Band leader Cyrill Neville and his cohorts used that inspiration to come up with some of the material you’ll find here. The rest was gathered from the band’s experiences on tour.

Grammy winner Tom Hambridge produced this disc for the band, which won a 2014 Blues Music Award for best DVD for Songs From The Road. This one features Neville on vocals and percussion, joined by his regular rhythm section of bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott. The guitar lineup, however, is brand new. Mike Zito and Devon Allman are both gone. But string-benders Bart Walker, the operatically trained vocalist who doubles on mandolin and banjo, and Jimmie Vaughan’s son Tyrone add their own brand of fire to the mix. Rounding out the sound are Cyrill’s brother Ivan (keyboards) and a horn section comprised of Jimmy Hall and Max Abrams (saxophone) and Paul Armstrong (trumpet).

The music cooks from the start. A searing guitar line atop a powerful rhythm kicks off the blues-rocker “I Wanna Be Free,” which details a lifetime of struggle with no sign of hope. The desperation expressed in that song is relieved in “Reach My Goal,” a fast shuffle that offers up the wisdom to take life as it comes and never give up until you reach what you want. The title cut, “Don’t Look Back,” is a slow blues that starts with a Spanish feel but turns into a country-flavored funk, fueled by Walker’s vocals and banjo. It carries the previous messages forward, cautioning not to obsess on the past; look forward to a brand new day.

The band delivers a little funk with “Hit Me Once,” a tale of meeting a beauty on the sidewalk in the Treme section of New Orleans, offering her a cigarette and winding up with a night of pleasure that seemed like a dream. The theme continues with “The Big Greasy,” which sings praises to the Crescent City partying on a Saturday night.

The thoroughly modern, guitar-driven “Hard Blues” follows, recounting the feelings of a man whose woman runs off with his best friend, before the mood brightens dramatically for “Better Half,” a love song that expresses gratitude for the support and understanding that’s turned the singer into a better man in every way. In the days of request radio, this tune would be in heavy rotation, breaking the feelings down to basics.

“Penzi” is an Afro-Cuban style tune that states that every boy and girl deserves to be protected because each of them is a love child, while “It’s Time For Love” is a rhythmic, bluesy request to take a relationship to the next level. “Bayou Baby” speaks of a woman who can cook jambalaya and gumbo simultaneously, shake her booty and also cast a spell on you if you step out of line, while “Poor Boy” delivers a message that you don’t have to have money to be good in the sack.

A wah-wah guitar line introduces “They Don’t Make ‘Em Like You No More,” which implores the subject of the tune to keep throwing her love on the singer, while “Come Hell Or High Water” is an autobiographical blues that promises to return home after too many days on the road. The CD concludes with “Anchor Me,” another tender, romantic ballad.

FAME (Florence Alabama Music Enterprises) Studios has produced classic recordings by Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, Aretha Franklin and a host of others. Don’t Look Back deserves to be considered among them. Available everywhere, and solid from beginning to end.

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 – 3 of 5 

Wee Willie Walker – If Nothing Ever Changes

Little Village Foundation

CD: 12 Songs; 47:05 Minutes

Styles: Contemporary Jazz-and-Soul-Influenced Blues, Ensemble Blues

Lady Luck is sought after by many a musician, but she’s said to be fickle. Who can predict the artists upon whom she’ll bestow favor? Some make it big, like Rick Estrin and Kid Andersen, and some make it HUGE, like one McKinley Morganfield. Others, even though their talent and passion for the blues is more than obvious, aren’t so lucky. Consider “Wee” Willie Walker, one of the stars of the soul record label Goldwax Records. Currently living in Minnesota, he’s been performing for over 40 years, and is still going strong, yet not getting the huge recognition he deserves. “The music world is full of injustice,” co-producer Rick Estrin writes in the liner notes of If Nothing Ever Changes. Walker should have reached the top, according to Estrin and yours truly. Want proof? There’s no wrong note on this CD’s tracks. To be fair, only number five, “Not That I Care”, is a Walker original, but that’s a minor quibble.

This isn’t merely an “ensemble” album, but in this reviewer’s opinion, it should be a “chorus” album, in the Greek sense. The array of musicians involved is ocean-vast: Jay Hansen on drums and percussion; Randy Bermudes on fender bass; Jim Pugh on piano and organ; guitarists Chris “Kid” Andersen (who co-produces with Estrin and also performs on Moog and Mellotron), Bob Welsh, and Rusty Zinn; Terry Hanck, Nancy Wright, Frankie Ramos, and Eric Spaulding; trumpet players John Halblieb, Manny Angel, and Tom Poole; Farris Jarrah on trombone; background vocalists Lisa Leuschner Andersen, Donnie Woodruff, Will Russ, and Dennis Dove; guest pianist Nate Ginsberg; guest “Moog” synthesizer player Lorenzo Farrell; Rick Estrin on harmonica; horn arrangements and strings by Mike Rinta; Timba Harris on violin; Don Dally on viola; Nicci Welch on cello; and guest vocalist Curtis Salgado.

The following three tracks, the one original and two covers, will make blues fans go “WOW!”:

Track 05: “Not That I Care” – Our lovelorn narrator, adds these four words to all of his questions regarding his lost partner: “Does she still close her eyes when she dances?” he croons. “I just wonder – not that I care.” That latter statement is the biggest white lie some people ever tell, but Walker makes it sound like gospel truth.

Track 06: “Is That It?” –The title of sly number six is what our hero says after asking his current love why she’s leaving. Musically, this is the perfect combination of blues and jazz, not sounding exclusively like one or the other. Think of Starbucks’ Doubleshot Espresso and Cream: the two liquids and flavors blend in the right balance during this Rick Estrin song.

Track 10: “Hands of Time” – “Payback’s a ‘draaaag’,” Walker drawls in this jaunty song about karma, co-written by Andersen and Estrin. Strange: the elongated word was supposed to rhyme with “itch”. Speaking of itches, tune ten is an earworm for sure. Even a Q-tip won’t get it out.

Some say Nothing Ever Changes, but let’s hope Wee Willie Walker’s blues recognition will – from relative obscurity to ubiquity!

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.

 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 5 

John Mayall – Find A Way To Care

Forty Below Records – 2015

12 tracks; 47 minutes

Despite turning 82 this year John Mayall shows no sign of slowing down. It is barely a year since his “A Special Life” album and in that period he also issued the “Live in 1967” set which featured the short-lived version of The Bluesbreakers that spawned Fleetwood Mac. “Find A Way To Care” again features his road band of Rocky Athas on guitar, Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums with John playing mainly keys with some occasional harp. Indeed, part of the intention here was to feature John’s keyboard skills which are often under-appreciated. On three tracks the band is augmented by the horns of Richie Rosenberg on trombone, Mark Pender on trumpet (both ex-Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes) and Ron Dziubla on sax and the album was recorded in Encino, California in early 2015. The material consists of five songs written by John, one in collaboration with Greg Rzab, one from fellow expat Brit Matt Schofield and six covers from some of the greats of the blues such as Muddy Waters, Percy Mayfield and Lightnin’ Hopkins.

The album opens with Don Robey’s “Mother In Law Blues” with a burst of harp, rolling piano and a typical John Mayall vocal. Percy Mayfield’s “The River’s Invitation” is a frequently covered tune but John finds a way to give it a new twist with a punchy horn arrangement and his own organ work leading the way on an excellent version. The first original “Ain’t No Guarantees” also features organ on an uptempo groove with some interesting drumming from Jay. Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “I Feel So Bad” rocks along well with John sounding a little like Ray Charles on electric piano and the horns again providing great support. The horns stay on board for the title track which has some terrific guitar from Rocky, John reflecting on his life: “I appreciate the things I can do, I ain’t got time for feeling blue. Looking back where I’ve been I’m still following my dream.” Muddy’s “Long Distance Call” is stripped back to the basics in a sparse arrangement with John on piano and minimal backing from the band. In contrast Lonnie Brooks’ “I Want All My Money Back” is a full-blooded affair with John contributing both organ and piano over the busy rhythm section, Rocky providing the central solo in fine fashion.

Greg and John’s collaboration “Ropes And Chains” is a gentler affair musically though lyrically it’s strong stuff as John seems to be lured by an attractive female and determined to make her his: “Hey baby, you’d better be free ‘cos ropes and chains won’t keep you from me”. “Long Summer Days” seems to be autobiographical as John recalls scenes from his youth, including reference to his well-documented time living in a treehouse, the piano and cool accompaniment matching the mood of the lyrics. Charles Brown’s “Drifting Blues” is another tried and tested blues and John plays it pretty straight, another slow blues with John’s piano supported by some gentle, laidback accompaniment. Matt Schofield’s “War We Wage” is one of the highlights here with John’s organ underpinning the serious lyrics and Rocky producing some sweet guitar fills; Rocky does not get a lot of solo space on this particular album but his solo here is worth waiting for. The closer “Crazy Lady” is in sharp contrast to the previous track as John tells the story of a girl he met in 1972, accompanying himself on solo boogie piano.

As with “A Special Life” last year John Mayall has again produced an album that is equally as good as those he made many years ago. Well worth checking out.

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 – 5 of 5 

Jeff Healey – The Best Of The Stony Plain Years

Stony Plain Records SPCD 1380

12 songs – 54 minutes

When the world lost Jeff Healey at age 41 in 2008 after a valiant, three-year battle with sarcoma – cancer of the bone and soft tissue – it was stripped of a phenomenal guitar talent and far more. His skills bridged jazz, blues and swing, and he spread his musical knowledge as a highly respected radio broadcaster in his native Canada, a pursuit he attacked vigorously after growing wearing of the road as his health failed.

Healey developed his own style after picking up the guitar at age three after losing his sight to rentinoblastoma. By laying it in his lap, he was able to use all five fingers on the fretboard, allowing himself more flexibility than most guitar players as he wrung more feeling from the strings, as this album clearly shows.

Assembled by Stony Plain Records chief Holger Petersen, who provides a loving tribute in the liner notes, this CD is a collection of tunes gathered from Healey’s four releases on the label — there are 17 more in his catalog — and presents him at his best as he reinterprets material that dates as far back as the turn of the 20th Century. Although most are rooted in the world of jazz, all swing from the hip with a strong blues feel.

Written by Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, the disc kicks off with a classic take of the Nat King Cole hit, “Three Little Words.” Healey’s stylized vocal delivery could have been amplified by a megaphone here rather than state-of-the-art microphones. His single-note guitar runs are sensational as he trades licks with Tom Pletcher and Dan Levinson on cornet and clarinet. Jeff’s style turns to strumming in accompaniment to Drew Jurecka’s violin solo for the instrumental “The Wild Cat,” an Eddie Lang-Joe Venuti original.

Hoagie Carmichael’s familiar “Star Dust” is next with Healey turning it into a sweet love song atop a simple arrangement. “Shiek Of Araby,” written in 1921 as a tribute to Rudolph Valentino, follows with all the feel of the Flapper Era, aided by a swinging horn section. Jeff’s six-string mastery comes to the fore for the instrumental “Guitar Duet Stomp,” in which he contributes both guitar lines, one uptempo and single-note, the other chorded. He follows with “Sing You Sinners,” a tune from the 1930s movie “Honey” that became a hit for Tony Bennett two decades later. It features another stellar guitar solo.

Healey’s vocal and trumpet prowess are on display for a version of the familiar “I Would Do Anything For You” and Johnny Mercer’s “Pardon My Southern Accent” before reinventing “Some Of These Days,” a 1910 Sophie Tucker hit. He dips into the Bing Crosby songbook for “My Honey’s Loving Arms” and follows with Carmichael’s “Hong Kong Blues” before ending the set with a version of “Sweet Georgia Brown.”

If you never got the opportunity to see Healey, this will provide a solid glimpse of the master at work. He breathed new life into songs that are weaved for eternity into the fabric of American life in the last century while showing utmost respect for the originals. If you’re looking for something cutting edge or ultra-modern, look elsewhere. But if you have a love for the sound of small jazz combos and enjoy a trip down memory lane, this one will be right up your alley.

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.

 Blues Society News 

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DC Blues Society – Washington, D.C.

The DC Blues Society rings in the New Year with Full Power Blues and special guest Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner. The evening includes a traditional southern-style dinner, party favors, midnight champagne toast, raffles and a very reasonable cash bar. Seating is limited. Buy tickets at or call 301-322-4808: only $35 in advance ($30 for DCBS members) and $40 at the door ($35 for DCBS members). Metro accessible and ample parking. Full Power Blues provides the groove to dance into 2016, playing smooth Chicago-style blues with a side of modern soul. Appearing with them: Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner, who was inspired by the songs of Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf at the age of 8. Clarence never fails to entertain with his skillful and joyful guitar playing.

Join DC blues lovers on December 31 for electrifying entertainment, great food and a friendly atmosphere. The DC Blues Society provides the best New Year’s Eve value in metro DC.

Piedmont Blues Preservation Society – Greensboro, NC

This year’s Piedmont Blues Preservation Society Blues Challenge winners in the Band category: The Dangerous Gentlemen’s (Anderson, SC; Brevard; Lexington; and Mooresville, NC), in the Solo/Duo category: Michael “Blind Dog” Gatewood (Greensboro), and our first Youth Challenge winner, Seth Williams (Reidsville, NC)

To help the winners with expenses, The Piedmont Blues Preservation Society is having a Telecaster Guitar Raffle in which one lucky winner will win a beautiful black limited edition Telecaster Guitar! Raffle tickets are available through their website: One may also make a tax-deductible donation directly to the Memphis or Bust Fund at the Society’s website. (PLEASE NOTE: Raffle ticket holders do not have to be present to win)

A Memphis or Bust Fundraising Party will be held January 10 at The Blind Tiger, 1819 Spring Garden St. Greensboro, 27402. The winners will be on hand to perform at the event. The benefit will have silent auction items, raffles, and the winner of the Telecaster Guitar will be announced.

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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. There will 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: 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. 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.  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.Dec. 7 – Mary Jo Curry & Tombstone Bullet, Dec. 14 – Brother Jefferson, Dec. 21 – Hurricane Ruth, Dec. 28 – James Armstrong

Additional ICBC shows: 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

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


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