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Hey Blues Fans,
Blues In The Digital Age - This week we have part one of a three part investigative report by Blues woman Nikki O'Neill looking at how the Digital music age, downloads and social networks are impacting the business side of the Blues. Nikki interviewed the major Blues labels, publicists and music producers to find out how they are meeting the challenge of the Digital revolution. Check out Part One - Digital Music Downloads in this issue! SCROLL DOWN!
We made it out to hear St Louis Blues man Alvin Jett & the Phat noiZ Band at a Wednesday show by the River City Blues Society in Pekin. IL this week.
With a new sax player and following a 2009 release of a new CD, Honey Bowl, Alvin and his band played to a appreciative crowd of Blues fans.
They played 3 sets of music from several of their past albums and a few favorite cover tunes. These guys are road warriors so if they make it to a town near you they are definitely worth checking out!
In this issue - Blues Reviews and MORE!
James "Skyy Dobro"
Walker reviews a new CD from The Racky Thomas Band. Greg "Bluesdog"
Szalony reviews a
new CD by Big Dez. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD by
Tip Of The Top. Sheralyn Graise reviews a new
CD by Tenry Johns. Steve Jones reviews a new CD by
All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
James "Skyy Dobro" Walker reviews a new CD from The Racky Thomas Band. Greg "Bluesdog" Szalony reviews a new CD by Big Dez. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD by Tip Of The Top. Sheralyn Graise reviews a new CD by Tenry Johns. Steve Jones reviews a new CD by The Sojourners. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Featured Report - Blues Music In the Digital Age
Blues Music In The Digital Age - Part One - Digital Music Downloads
By Nikki O’Neill
With the massive changes in technology that have taken place in the music and media world for the last 10 years, we at Blues Blast Magazine wondered how these changes are effecting the Blues music industry and Blues artists.
How are digital downloads and social networks affecting the careers of Blues artists — especially those who aren't computer savvy? How are the Blues record labels responding to the decline of record sales, new marketing trends in other styles of music, or the idea of giving away songs for free? And what are Blues publicists doing to get a Facebook user and music fan into young blues artists?
We contacted a number of prominent Blues labels and publicists to hear their thoughts on marketing the Blues in the digital age. We also included a Blues artist and founder of a Blues society, who actively uses Internet technologies for promoting and networking in the Blues community.
We asked them about record sales; free downloads; social networks like MySpace, Facebook and Twitter; placing Blues music in film and games; touring and merchandise; marketing trends in the rock and jam band world that might work for Blues, and what the future holds for Blues artists, fans and labels. Everybody answered independently, without hearing the other's responses. In part one of this report we look a how Digital downloads are impacting the Blues music market.
We sincerely thank those who took the time to respond to our questions:
Bruce Iglauer - Alligator Records
Scott Billington - Rounder Records
Thomas Ruf - Ruf Records
Jerry Del Guidice - Blind Pig Records
Randy Chortkoff and Robert Fitzpatrick - Delta Groove Productions
Joe Morabia - Blues Leaf Records
Steve Dawson - Black Hen Music
Michael Powers - Yellow Dog Records
Mark Carpentieri - M.C. Records
Richard Chalk - TopCat Records
Fred Litwin - Northern Blues Music
Michael Frank, Earwig Music Company, Inc.
Betsie Brown - Blind Raccoon (publicity firm)
Mark Pucci - Mark Pucci Media (publicity firm)
Phil Gates, founder of the Los Angeles
Blues Society, producer and blues artist
How much truth lies in the statement that most Blues fans will never touch an iPod or download music?
Scott Billington: Blues fans tend to be older, and less comfortable with digital media than younger music buyers, but, aside from mail-ordering physical CDs, it's become the only way to access a great deal of blues and roots music.
Richard Chalk: Not much. Physical CD sales are dropping, but digital downloads are rapidly growing to be the predominant means of music sales.
Fred Litwin: There's probably some truth to it in the fact that blues fans tend to be older...
Betsie Brown: No truth. Just may take longer. I think the iPad will be a very useful tool.
Michael Powers: First, I would challenge the notion that there is a typical sort of "blues fan". The blues genre has a surprisingly rich range of subgenres and overlapping roots music genres. Artists like The Soul of John Black or Woodbrain are very different from an Eden Brent or Mary Flower, and we'd expect their audiences to be a bit different as well. Having said that, I think that members of all those audiences have adopted digital music to some varying extent.
Bruce Iglauer: From my limited observation, most blues fans are mature adults. They have grown up in an LP/CD culture and like to own physical recordings. This is verified by the fact that our more 'roots rock' artists, like JJ Grey & Mofro, have about 35% download sales. This compares to 10-15% for more mainstream blues artists. That 10-15% doesn't seem to be growing, even as physical sales are shrinking, because stores won't stock niche music.
Randy Chortkoff: Not true... Delta Groove's checks from Iota (downloads) have been increasing every month. This proves that blues fans are slowly becoming hip to the ease of downloading music. This does not mean that most of us still love holding a well designed album or CD in our hands... it only means that times are changing and we must change with the times. The ones that are suffering at this point in time are the blues record labels and their recording artists.
Steve Dawson: I can’t really say, but I'm a fan, I love my iPod, and I download music. Our digital sales for all of our artists (some blues and some not) continue to increase every year, so I don't think it's true.
Joe Morabia: I don't believe there is much truth to it, as I see people of all ages with their iPods. Being blues fans or not, more and more people are walking around with them. As far as downloads, I see a large amount of our recordings being downloaded, so it is safe to assume that they are blues fans.
Mark Pucci: I don’t necessarily agree with that, although blues fans certainly don’t do as much downloading as their pop and rock music counterparts. I think more and more people are using iPods and downloading blues music, because they’re becoming more familiar and comfortable with the process. I for one, rarely do it, because I believe that in playing compressed forms of these songs, you don’t get the full fidelity of playing a physical CD, and especially compared to vinyl, which I feel is still the best way to really hear music.
Thomas Ruf: No truth at all! There is a generation gap in the way blues and music fans purchase and consume music: when we release a Louisiana Red album, we hardly sell any digital downloads, because his fans are mostly 50+. When we release a Joanne Shaw Taylor album — and her fans are 20+ in age — then 50% of all sales are digital. So making a statement like this is like saying that there are no blues fans under age 50...
Michael Frank: I think that is a ridiculous statement to make without surveying my customers. In fact I will do so and let you know what response I get. I think younger music fans are more used to downloads as their main way to listen to music, while our typical demographic is over 30 and less so inclined. However, that is changing and older fans are starting to listen to buy, or get for free, their downloads. I do think, however, the stereotypical middle aged blues fan will be slower to embrace mp3 player technology because they are used to the higher quality sound of LPs and CDs.
Phil Gates: Certain blues crowds never moved from vinyl to CD, so there will be some people that never move from vinyl or CD to digital downloads and the associated audio players. However, as digital music becomes more and more ubiquitous in our social technologies (cell phones, automobiles, computers, etc) there will be less of an "intimidating leap" to the new technology for blues fans. It will just be part of the everyday items used, and therefore easier to accept.
Have record sales gone down in the Blues world in the same way as they have in the pop and rock world? If so, what is the reason? Digital downloads and file-sharing?
Scott Billington: Sales have fallen to a level that makes it a challenge to fund new blues recordings. I believe part of the blame, though, lies in the music that most artists are releasing. Great songs and compelling performances are what draw people to music, and it's a challenge to blues artists to come up with fresh music that speaks to the contemporary world. Classic blues artists from 40-50 years ago consistently outsell new artists, and there's a reason.
Thomas Ruf: Actually sales have not really gone down — it only seems like it. Around the globe, music fans have spent about the same amount of money in total for music every year. That amount shrunk a bit in the beginning of the digital age, but it was only because there wasn't really a legal digital market available right away.
The total gross per year has shrunk a bit every year in the 5-10% range, because of the fact that a digital album costs less than a manufactured album. But the demand for music is as large or probably larger than it's ever been before.
But here is why it seems like sales are going down: every year, the industry releases 30-40,000 new albums (all genres). And unlike any other business , where a new product line replaces an old product line, the music that was released in the years and decades before is STILL available, competing with the new releases. I think that there is a choice of at least one million different albums to buy today.
Every month, there are thousands of new albums added to the market place without the old ones going away — they are still on sale. So if the cake — that is, the amount of money spent on music — remains the same size every year, but more albums get added to the market for the consumer to choose from, it's pure math to realize that the slices of the cake get smaller and smaller. There's just more and more slices of the cake. Every single release will sell less naturally only because there are constantly more releases to choose from.
Take Eric Clapton as an example: in the 70's, he only had a few albums out, and they sold millions. He still sells millions of albums, but today he has maybe more than 50 albums out in the market place. So the sales get split up between all these albums that he has out there, as his older ones still are available and selling. He's competing with himself!
The amount of albums sold per year in whatever shape or form remains about the same. But every single one sells less because there are more added to the available pool constantly. This will obviously go on and on — it's pure math logic if you think about it...
Randy Chortkoff: Yes... record labels are suffering due to theft of music on the Internet. This affects all types of music. Blues music sales have gone down dramatically, however, blues fans are loyal and honest for the most part, and we have that advantage over other types of music. If we tighten our belts and recording artists realize that the cost is very high in terms of manufacturing, art work, promos, mailing costs and radio staff, etc., then to stay in business and do what we love, the artist must make concessions. That means paying for the major part of their production costs, getting out on the road and selling product, and basically contributing financially to the overall situation until something changes. If this does not happen, then the blues (independent) labels shut down, and the artist must self-produce, self-market, promote, and take on the huge cost of sending their product to radio and reviewers worldwide... not to mention distribution to the remaining stores that sell hard product.
Steve Dawson: Ours have continued to increase, but I think that has more to do with having better artists making better albums. We still sell a huge chunk of our CD's offstage, but sales in any roots, blues and folk genres seem to be staying consistent.
Bruce Iglauer: Physical sales in blues have dropped very fast. Overall, worldwide, the record business is less than half the size it was in 1999. That includes download sales. It is no coincidence that so-called 'file sharing' began that year with illegal Napster (the current Napster is a legal subscription service). I find the term 'file sharing' very funny. If you steal my car and take your friends joyriding, are you 'sharing' my car? Or are you just stealing it? As soon as illegal Napster began, stores began closing by the hundreds, and they still are. The remaining stores need to make money with a fast turnover of CDs. That means selling hits first, rather than niche music like blues.
Jerry Del Guidice: Our physical sales have decreased significantly in the last couple of years and I imagine that trend will continue. I think this is primarily because of the way new music fans approach music today. We have an entire generation that has grown up downloading or ripping music at no cost. There is also a growing trend to rely on sites like Slacker, Pandora, or the Last.fm station for music. A new music fan doesn't necessarily want to buy music, because all the music that they want to hear can be heard for free. There isn't any need to purchase. Every computer with an internet connection is basically a free juke box with nearly unlimited choices. There are also choices like eMusic, XM Satellite Radio etc. where the monthly fee is about the same as the price for one CD.
Joe Morabia: Yes, CD sales have gone down, but I don't think there is any one reason. The economy is one, downloads is another. File sharing is one we are always looking out for, as there are a lot people who do this and offer our recordings for free, which we put a stop to as soon as we find out about them, and they usually comply as they know it is against the law.
Mark Carpentieri: Not so much digital downloads and file sharing. I believe it’s a combination of an aging demographic that has tons of blues CDs, the lack of real blues stars, and the fact you can listen to high resolution concerts and blues radio stations via the Internet for free.
Mark Pucci: I’m sure the record label folks will be able to answer that question better than I can, I think, but because the major demographic of people who listen to blues is older, they still like to purchase physical product, whether they buy it in-person or through mail order.
Fred Litwin: Yes, record sales have gone down for every genre. The main reason is the shrinking supply. It's not that blues fans are downloading blues songs for free... it's that people are downloading pop songs for free, and thus fewer people are buying music, and thus record stores are closing. When Tower Records went bankrupt, that was a huge hit, and now even the big box movers are paying less attention to CDs.
Michael Frank: Yes record sales sold at retail stores have gone way down in the blues world. I think the reasons have to do with the consolidation of mass media - commercial radio, the demise of thousands of independent record stores and large chains such as Tower Records, as well as Borders Books and Best Buy's dropping their blues sections for the most part. I think downloads and file sharing have an impact too. I do believe there is a large market for blues recordings, as evidenced by the large number of blues festivals all over the world, and the many CDs sold by artists at those festivals and their other gigs. The key to ongoing sales success is to master the art of continuous direct mail and internet marketing.
With record stores closing and many major label artists doing exclusive releases of CDs at big chains like Wal-Mart, Best Buy or Target, how do you get fans to buy music - especially the older non-iPod generation?
Richard Chalk: Traditional print media and radio advertising.
Scott Billington: None of this will work without exciting and compelling music – that's the key.
Bruce Iglauer: It's very difficult. Many older fans like the experience of discovery that happens in a store, thumbing through a bin. Even though they can go to Amazon and find the CD and maybe see a few similar CDs, it's not the same thing. This is one of the reasons that music sales have fallen so much; people don't even know that a new recording has been released. We advertise in the blues publications, including the blues society publications, and in other print media, especially around gigs. But it's very hard for labels right now, and not getting easier.
Steve Dawson: Focus on the indie record stores that are still there, and also get the word out as best you can so people can order from the website or Amazon. We still sell lots at shows, which is still the best way to get sales going.
Michael Powers: It becomes more important to have a direct relation with the fan so that they can buy directly from the source (label and artist) via mail order or direct download. If you are a fan of an artist or label, please sign up for their mailing list so you'll know about those opportunities!
Joe Morabia: The way we get people to buy our CDs is to get them to hear them. I think hearing something is the most effective way. You can take out ads in all the publications and make great covers etc., but it is the ear that will make you buy something, which is why we spend most of our promotion budget on servicing radio.
Mark Carpentieri: There’s the million dollar question. Trying to collect e-mails of customers, staying in touch with them, and working with great indie stores.
Mark Pucci: I think we need to continue to push for more blues presence on TV, syndicated radio and other mainstream outlets to help spread the word, as well as online. XM/Sirius Satellite Radio is a great vehicle – in my opinion – and I would hope that other forms of communication would develop to help reach audiences around the world to the greatness of the blues.
Michael Frank: Record stores have already closed over the past ten years, although there is a niche market for new and existing independent stores well promoted and well placed geographically. Direct marketing - online and offline by direct mail is what will separate survivors who thrive form those who fall by the wayside. It is not a matter of having enough prospective and actual customers to buy blues music. It is a matter of how to market successfully to them and how to best deliver the product based on a specific niche's preference. Giving pre-loaded mp3 players or media cards to fans who are new to the technology or scared of it, is one model being tested and I think it idea.
Phil Gates: That's the same conversation we had going from vinyl to cassette, and cassette to CD. Maybe try that model with CDs at Wal-Mart/Best Buy/Target. People like one-stop shopping, which is in part why those chains are so successful. If the brick-and-mortar CD and record shops are closing, you have to find the larger distribution chains. Maybe it’s the Wal-Mart/Best Buy/Target places, or the web, or both.
How much do your customers download songs vs. buy physical CDs? What's the percentage?
Bruce Iglauer: As I said, our more straight blues sales are only 10-15% downloads.
Jerry Del Guidice: It's about 50/50 between physical sales and downloads.
Robert Fitzpatrick: Digital sales continue to increase, even in the blues sector.
Mark Carpentieri: Still mostly a CD world.
Fred Litwin: Physical CDs are still 75% of the business.
Scott Billington: It's still less than 10% digital for most blues albums.
Thomas Ruf: The consumer has the choice how he wants to buy the music. It is changing to less physical product and more digital sales, but it's still both.
Richard Chalk: Physical CD sales are still the largest portion of our sales. However, a large and growing percentage of our customers download songs vs. buying physical CDs.
Steve Dawson: Our label is now almost 50/50 digital/CDs. CD's are still in the lead a bit, since a lot of our artists play at festivals, where they might sell hundreds at a time. Digital has gone up for us every year since about eight years ago.
Joe Morabia: As far as buying CDs, most people buy them at live shows and if not, Amazon is the place I see people doing a lot of purchasing, as the number of record stores have dwindled to a handful, and they don't always have a very large blues section.
Michael Powers: I ran some numbers and here are two examples, from albums we released about two years ago (so they're through the main part of their "new album" sales cycle):
Album #1: CD sales at retail - 57% of revenues, CD sales at live shows - 32% of revenues, digital sales - 11% of revenues. Album #2 is almost identical: CD sales at retail - 57% of revenues, CD sales at live shows - 36% of revenues, digital sales - 7% of revenues.
One thing we are just starting to try is download cards. Our artists will have cards for sale at live shows containing codes that can be redeemed for a download of their album. The idea is to have a way to sell to fans who want the music, but who don't want a physical CD because they only listen to music digitally. More of the money goes to the artist because that well-known online music store isn't acting as a middleman, and by the way, the files are higher quality (format choices include FLAC and 320K MP3) than the ones offered by the online store.
Michael Frank: I think more of my customers buy Earwig CDs than they buy Earwig downloads. But I have not tracked that or surveyed my customers.
Tell us about the ways you promote your blues artists to a younger audience or anybody else beyond your typical 50-something male Blues fan?
Scott Billington: If the right younger artist came along, it would be easier.
Richard Chalk: With MySpace and YouTube. These appeal to and are used by a younger audience.
Betsie Brown: I ask the young client to do the posting using their words but my guidance. No young person wants a person they see as Granny posting stuff.
Bruce Iglauer: We try everything we can think of. First, we promote not only to blues radio but to AAA (Adult Album Alternative) stations, like WXRT in Chicago. We also work mainstream non-blues media, including publications like Hittin The Note, Paste, etc., which are rather jam band oriented. We use Jambase, the online email service from time to time to promote artists and acts, and we've advertised on their web site. We service key bloggers with promo CDs and push for reviews and articles. We use social networking media both for the individual artists and the label. We offer free downloads on our web site. We maintain an email list of over 20,000 fans and regularly email them about both our online deals and about artist appearances in their areas. We encourage the agents who book the artists to get them in venues and festivals that aren't strictly for blues fans.
Randy Chortkoff: Internet, outdoor festivals where basic music fans love to enjoy a day in the sun drinking, eating and dancing... A great deal of these kids and other people have no idea how good blues music feels... they just want a good time. It's a great way to trick folks into becoming aware of the great sounds and artists playing blues.
Jerry Del Guidice: 50-somethings really don't buy much in the way of new artists. Younger artists have younger fans, and older artists’ fans age along with them.
Thomas Ruf: Well, obviously you try to make the artists' music and profiles available in the places where people pick it up. Older people read newspapers or watch TV for example, while the younger ones watch YouTube or write messages on Twitter and Facebook. A MySpace site works wonders for Joanne Shaw Taylor, but does nothing for Louisiana Red.
Mark Pucci: We use our MySpace and Facebook accounts to work these, and sometimes Twitter. The main way we’re reaching out to the younger demographic is by contacting publicity outlets that cater to a younger audience, including college publications and radio stations and some of the mainstream print, online and radio stations. We also work TV and cable outlets, too.
Steve Dawson: We don't really think about it. I hope the music just speaks for itself, and people pick up on it. I find that people that buy our records are all over the map age-wise.
Joe Morabia: We promote the blues to a wide range of age groups. The way we do it is to put out music that can crossover. To the blues purists, many of our CDs may not be to their liking, but we do have a lot of younger fans who follow for example Stringbean & The Stalkers, and Albert Castiglia.
Mark Carpentieri: It’s the really the artist that can attract that. We currently have Cyril Neville touring with Galactic, so perhaps that will help.
Michael Frank: On tour with Honeyboy Edwards, I and Honeyboy talk a lot to fans of all ages who come to our shows, and take special time with young kids. We have on numerous occasions called kids up to sit in on guitar with Honeyboy at small venues. I have not specifically targeted marketing to that audience yet, however. I have volunteered as a judge for various blues society competitions at the local, regional and national level, and at those I take time to talk with musicians who are competing.
Phil Gates: Some of the ways we may all promote blues to a younger audience is by exposing them to blues in a way that connects at a different level than the typical 50-something headspace. Social networks are a big part of that.
What do you feel about giving music or music-related products away for free? Do you offer free downloads to push new releases, an upcoming show or any other type of event?
Betsie Brown: Yes, but only if you can track fans and obtain information.
Steve Dawson: We always give away one song for every record. It's a free download on our site. I think it's a very valuable way to promote.
Richard Chalk: We have experienced minimal sales/revenue generation from giving away our music products for free.
Jerry Del Guidice: We offer a free download from every new release for a period of time off of our own website. I think it helps us build our email list (we ask for an email address and a zip code). This gives us the ability to let people know when our artists are performing in their area. This increases attendance at the shows and I would suppose that helps the artists sell more merchandise off stage.
Joe Morabia: We usually preview new releases with downloads for a short period of time, but it is not something we like to do, as we need to recoup expenses. Putting out a CD is a major expense, as you need to service radio and publications, etc....
Mark Carpentieri: If you own the master, then that’s your business. Not sure why you would to devalue such an important asset.
Fred Litwin: I don't like giving away music, but the occasional free download can be used to get more customers on our database.
Mark Pucci: I’m not a big fan of giving too much away; if you do that too regularly, many people come to expect it. That said, I do think a certain amount of minimum downloads can help promote an artist and album. We do a lot with podcasts and other online outlets that stream tracks, which is a good way to have people hear the music without giving it all away.
Phil Gates: Free music is a scary term. I'm not a big fan of giving away music free. However, I can see the need and benefit for special limited time occasions, such as a promotion of a CD online. It's better to set a value to these products though, and keep everyone compensating for product. The artist works hard, and should be fairly compensated. 99 cents a song is a good model. As a consumer, it's hard to complain against it.
Randy Chortkoff: It is very important and we do it as much as possible, however... all the labels are treading water!
Thomas Ruf: The industry has always given away free samples to create awareness of their product. This has not changed at all. Only the form in which promo samples are given out has changed. We still mail free CDs to those who still appreciate CDs, and we send digital promo files to those who can utilize a digital file.
Michael Frank: I give away downloads on my website, to acquire new customers, and for the same purpose, I also am giving away cds of a 4 hour - 4 part interview I did with Bill Wax, of Sirius XM Satellite Radio Bluesville. I also periodically donate CDs for radio station and blues society fundraisers and to promote Earwig artists' tour dates.
Scott Billington: It is essential to give away good content, whether it's a song or information, if you want to get eyes onto your website. If fans keep coming back, they'll eventually buy something.
Michael Powers: We do a lot of this, because we believe that our musical theme is very strong, and people who enjoy one of our artists are likely to also enjoy other artists on our roster. For several years now, we've had a "free sampler CD" offer - anyone can email us to the sampler section on our website and receive an auto-reply asking for a mailing address to which we'll send a label sampler CD. Recently, we've added a digital form of the sampler which is downloadable for free.
For more of a passive "listening experience", we have a selection of tracks streaming on our radio section of our website.
Lastly, as a little reward for our twitter followers we've been offering a different free song every week. We tweet the link every Monday, but you have to be paying attention because the link changes every week and expires the next day. All of the above is designed to give music fans an in-depth introduction to our artists, and it's all free.
Nikki O’Neill is a singer, songwriter and guitar player in Los Angeles. She fronts the Nikki O’Neill Band – a soul, r&b and rock band. She's included in Sue Foley’s upcoming book “Guitar Woman,” featuring a who’s-who list of great players like Bonnie Raitt, Ana Popovic, Me’shell Ndegeocello, Jennifer Batten, and more. www.nikkioneillband.com www.myspace.com/nikkisguitarlessons
Online Class in Music Publicity: http://www.musictalksedu.net/content/nikki-oneill
Music Business articles: www.onlinerock.com (the One-On-One section)
NEXT WEEK - Blues In the Digital Age - Part Two - Blues & Social Networking
Featured Blues Review 1 of 5
The Racky Thomas Band - Hard Travelin’
13 songs; 60:01 minutes; Splendid
Styles: Chicago Blues, West Coast, Traditional and Contemporary Blues
What should a blues band do? At least two differing opinions exist:
(1) A Blues band should play the traditional Blues by “conjuring up ghosts of Blues past.” “It’s becoming a lost art that needs to be kept alive.” Maintain a “deep respect and appreciation for Blues forefathers.” “Carry the torch for the Blues, because many bands have chosen to abandon ship.”
(2) “...artists [need] their own sound and style, well connected to Blues but not repeating what’s already been done. This is a tough row to hoe for artists. The pressure is often to do familiar songs and re-create familiar sounds. But Muddy Waters didn’t become famous by copying Son House and Robert Johnson. B.B. [King] didn’t become famous trying to copy T-Bone Walker. You’ll never beat Muddy at being Muddy. I can never understand why I get so many demos of Muddy and Robert Johnson songs. Do you really think you can bring something new to those and make me forget the originals?”
Opinion number 1 is paraphrased and quoted from the website and promo page of the Racky Thomas Band, whose CD, “Hard Travelin,’” I am reviewing this week.
Opinion number 2 is from Bruce Iglauer, founder and president of Alligator Records, from an interview with Terry Lape published in last week’s February 19 issue of Blues Blast.
First, I read the interview, and then I played the traditional Blues of Racky Thomas. I felt mixed emotions and pulled in both directions. Is the CD worthless? Or, is Iglauer wrong?
My personal conclusion: surely there is room for both. Presuming a fan can afford to purchase two CDs instead of just one, he /she can choose what to play given their mood. I am so much of a music lover that I will enjoy a traditional Blues romp, but I can also enjoy something new with perhaps a Rock edge.
The Racky Thomas Band is from Boston, Massachusetts but plays the blues as though they came right out of post-war Chicago or the Mississippi Delta. “Hard Travelin’” is a set of solid, purist-pleasing Blues. There may not be any new ground broken here, but at least, it is not music pretending to be Blues or hoping to come in under the Blues umbrella. Their fourth CD since 1995 contains seven originals by Thomas and six covered artists including Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Jimmy Rogers.
The value of the CD is enhanced by top notch artistry, especially from guitarist Nick Adams and leader Thomas on harp and vocals. Bringing deft studio work, Scott and John Aruda add trumpet and tenor sax respectively while Matt McCabe plays piano and Michael Avery and Brad Hallen propel the rhythm on respective drums and bass.
Attention grabbing tunes: Champion Jack Dupree’s “Junker’s Blues” with standout Thomas vocals and piano work by McCabe, up tempo dancers “Travelin’ Blues” and “”Ride With Your Daddy Tonight,” and next Saturday night’s WKCC radio show opener, the instrumental, “Racketeering.”
“Hard Travelin’” is an easy choice for a purchase when you are in the mood for real-deal Blues performed by accomplished musicians who care about preserving traditions, even in their new original songs.
Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and longtime Blues Blast Magazine contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at www.wkccradio.org in Kankakee, IL
To See James “Skyy Dobro” Walker's CD rating system, CLICK HERE
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
Featured Blues Review 2 of 5
Big Dez - Late Live
My first taste of French blues is this live release by Big Dez' horn driven, blues infused r & b band. And what a well oiled machine it is! Every horn line, keyboard, guitar and harmonica solo was well thought out and rehearsed and they click right in seamlessly. Not to mention the driving drummer and the funky on the money bass player. What we get is an energetic and fresh live performance.
The show is presented as a revue with an instrumental kick-off courtesy of Cannonball Adderly's "Sack O' Woe". Right from the start we are treated to the stop on a dime horn section featuring Gordon Beadle.
This is a very clean sounding live recording. Female backing vocals are added at times. Something we don't hear on live records much these days. Marc Schaeller adds well composed and driving harmonica on about half of the tunes here, often similar to Norton Buffalo.
After vocalist-guitarist Big Dez comes onstage the band launch into Dez' bouncy r & b original "You Can Smile" featuring tight horns and tasty organ. Dez has a pleasing voice that is well delivered. At times his accent makes it hard to tell what some of the lyrics are. As the show progresses this becomes a minor point as the drive and enthusiasm of the band carry you away. As evident from the ambience here, this is more of a dance-party outfit. No doubt the words are an afterthought to the audience.
Throughout Dez adorns the songs with his blistering, distorted guitar tone. He takes a long, biting solo turn on "The Come Back". You can picture him wringing the guitar's neck to bend out notes. Rodolphe Dumont contributes the occasional capable guitar solo in more of a B.B. King style.
The choice of songs range from anything like Rockpile's " I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock And Roll" to a straight blues or the funk of "Green Onions" or to one of Dez' r & b originals.
Funk and r & b touches run through most of the songs here. Bala Pradal adds a keyboard sound to "Call My Job" that recalls Billy Preston's "Will It Go Round In Circles". Marc's well crafted harp solos add a blues authenticity to the proceedings.
If all French blues bands sound this joyous sign me up. You truly get a happy feeling from these guys. I dare you to keep your boogie leg from moving..
Reviewer Greg "Bluesdog" Szalony is from the New Jersey Delta. He is the proprietor of Bluesdog's Doghouse at http://bluesdog61.multiply.com
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Booking Agent wanted
New England Area based Blues & Roots Artist seeks Booking Agent(s) for Concerts, Festivals, Swing Dances, Parties & Events. B J Magoon & Driving Sideways – Performing throughout New England area for 25 years. Contact: email@example.com / www.myspace.com/bjmagoon
Guitarist seeks touring band
Guitarist looking for band to hook up with for gigs and touring. Have pro-equipment and great attitude. Played with or opened for Johnny Clyde Copeland, Albert Collins, Freddy Roulette, Luther Tucker, Elvin Bishop, Joe Louis Walker, Joe Guitar Hughes, just to name a few. Currently residing in the Madison, Wi. area but willing to relocate. Five time winner of the Rockford Area Music Industry Award (RAMI) in the Blues Category. 40+ years playing guitar. Contact me at 608-214 7868 or E-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Band Seeks gigs
“THE SHOW OF FORCE” rhythm section experienced studio and road musicians available for short, or long term work. This drummer and bassist collectively with 60 years experience. Well versed in blues, rock and zydeco. Ready to travel overseas, or in the US. Will provide references and music. Call Steve Parrish 859 537 5423, email at email@example.com
Blues Music Reviewers wanted
Blues Blast Magazine is looking for experienced reviewers to review new Blues CD's. If you have a background and experience with Blues music and like to write, we can provide new CD's for you to review. Person must be willing to write a minimum of one review every other week. Reviewer keeps the CD's for writing the review. If interested please send a sample of your writing and a short bio of your Blues background to
Band Seeks Gigs
Deeper Blues - an internationally acclaimed Blues band is seeking festival, club and house concert dates. Band is 3-piece and travels light. First CD hailed as the "best Blues in 30 years." Johnny B. Gayden (Albert Collins) calls the band "perfectly named." Promo and videos online at www.deeperblues.com with full promo package also available. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org 217-799-1339
Featured Blues Review 3 of 5
Tip of the Top - Depot Street Blues
Delta King Records
Hailing from San Jose, Tip of the Top is a quartet of blues musicians with plenty of experience. Guitarist Jon Lawton released several fine recordings in the 90’s as the leader of Little Jonny & the Giants. He also was a major contributor to the excellent release last year from Alabama Mike, “Day to Day”. The rhythm section – Frank De Rose on bass, and Carlos Velasco on drums – have spent decades supporting musicians like Chris Cain, Rusty Zinn and Kenny Blue Ray. Aki Kumar may be a relative newcomer on the Bay area blues scene but his exciting harmonica playing has been featured in the Kid Anderson Band. Lawton and Kumar share the lead vocal responsibilities.
Their debut recording features three Lawton originals and a collection of covers that includes four songs penned by Little Walter. The band can play with a sense of urgency, as they do on the un-credited “Wait Baby” with its classic Muddy Water’s sound, or shuffle along at an easy pace like the take of “Got to Move On”. Velasco is a master of rhythm, consistently laying down a propulsive beat that always supplies a sense of swing to the proceedings. Lawton has always been a fine slide guitar player and shows his mastery of the Elmore James sound on the rockin’ instrumental “Depot Street Shuffle”. Another highlight is “Stranger Blues”, with an earnest vocal from Lawton and more outstanding slide guitar. But Kumar steals the show with his inventive harp fills behind Lawton’s work.
Kumar takes the spotlight on the Little Walter tunes. His version of “Juke” sticks pretty close to the original until Kumar cuts loose about half way through, unleashing his own inventive lines. The band manages to breathe life into “Mellow Down Easy” with a strong vocal from Kumar and a hot guitar solo from Lawton. The next track, “Temperature”, features more of Kumar’s fat harp tone and dynamic playing. Kumar turns in an emotional vocal on “Love Her With a Feeling”, the group maintaining a steady groove behind him. The disc closes with an instrumental, “Evan’s Shuffle”, that finds Kumar steadily building his solo over Lawton’s guitar. When the rhythm section kicks in, Kumar doesn’t miss a beat, playing with more power and just as much style.
It is rare to hear a band that plays with this much skill and finesse. Tip of the Top shows that even oft-covered blues tunes can gain new life when the band listens to each other and plays as an ensemble, eschewing endless solos and screaming guitars. The rhythm section of De Rose and Velasco provide the solid foundation that energizes each cut. Lawton and Kumar turn in impressive solos throughout but really grab your attention with their efforts in a support role. There is plenty of great blues on this release and I can’t imagine that there are too many blues fans that wouldn’t find lots to enjoy on Depot Street Blues. Check it out !!!
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2010 Blues Blast Music Awards
Have YOUR Music Considered For Nomination
Last year we had quite a few inquiries from Blues artists around the globe wondering how to get their recordings considered for nomination in the annual Blues Blast Music Awards. This year we are including a process for those interested to send in their recordings for consideration by our nominators. We have 30 nominators and you can send in copies of your CD to be considered. Eligibility for specific recording releases is from May 1, 2009 to April 30, 2010. For complete details about the awards and the new process CLICK HERE
The 2010 nomination process starts March 1st when we begin accepting submissions from labels and artists. Artist do not necessarily have to submit their releases to be considered but any that do will have their recordings screened by the nominators. Read all the details at the link above for a complete list of options to have your CD release considered now.
CDs for the 2010 nominations are the ones the nominators have heard. We have a diverse group of 30 nominators and they hear many CDs but if an artist or label really wants a CD to be considered by all the nominators they can send in copies of their CDs beginning March 1. CDs received will be sent to the nominators. A minimum of 30 copies are required so that all nominators get to listen to them. There is no charge for this in 2010 but we reserve the right to change this financial policy in future years. Complete information on sending in your CD is HERE
Nominators begin their initial nomination phase on May 1st and final nominations will be announced after May 31st, 2010. Voting Begins in July. The 2010 Blues Blast Music Awards will be held on Thursday October 28th, 2010 at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago, IL.
Blues Society News
You can submit a maximum of 175 words or less in a Text or MS Word document format.
Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford, IL
Crossroads Blues Society presents The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sunday, March 7th at 7 PM at Big Cities Lounge. Tickets can be purchased in advance at Big Cities or by calling Steve at 779-537-4006. The show will probably sell out in advance so don't count on tickets being available at the door. Tickets are $20 in advance, $25 at the door. The other two past shows were sold-out, so don't wait - get your tickets now at Big Cities - or by contacting Mark Thompson at Kahunablues@aol.com
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Spring 2010 Friends of the Blues shows-
March 16 - Shawn Kellerman, 7 pm , Bradley Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club,
April 13 - Perry Weber & DeVilles, 7 pm , Kankakee Elks Country Club,
April 17 - Joel Paterson Trio, Kankakee Valley Boat Club (“Rockin’ the
River”), April 20 - Too Slim and the Taildraggers, 7 pm , Bradley
Bourbonnais Sportsmen’s Club, June 22 - Al Stone, 7 pm , River Bend Bar
& Grill. For more info see:
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:30pm $3 cover. March
1 - The Blues Deacons, March 8 - Bill Evans Annual Eddie Snow Tribute,
March 15 - Shawn Kellerman, March 22 - Big Jeff Chapman, March 29 - The
Kilborn Alley Blues Band - CD Release Party, April 5 - Motor City Josh,
April 12 - Perry Weber and the Devilles, April 19 - Too Slim & the
River City Blues
Society - Peoria, IL The River
City Blues Society has started booking more of their weekly Blues shows.
The shows start at 7:00pm at Good Fellas Pizza and Pub, 1414 N 8TH St
Pekin, IL. Admission for all shows is $4 or $3 for RCBS members. Shows
currently scheduled are: Thursday March 4 -
Biscuit Miller, Thursday
March 11 -
Thursday April 1st -
Motor City Josh.
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:30pm $3 cover. March 1 - The Blues Deacons, March 8 - Bill Evans Annual Eddie Snow Tribute, March 15 - Shawn Kellerman, March 22 - Big Jeff Chapman, March 29 - The Kilborn Alley Blues Band - CD Release Party, April 5 - Motor City Josh, April 12 - Perry Weber and the Devilles, April 19 - Too Slim & the Taildraggers
River City Blues Society - Peoria, IL
The River City Blues Society has started booking more of their weekly Blues shows. The shows start at 7:00pm at Good Fellas Pizza and Pub, 1414 N 8TH St Pekin, IL. Admission for all shows is $4 or $3 for RCBS members. Shows currently scheduled are: Thursday March 4 - Biscuit Miller, Thursday March 11 - Shawn Kellerman, Thursday April 1st - Motor City Josh.
Featured Blues Review 4 of 5
Tenry Johns -The King Kong Rocker - Moving On
Bassist and vocalist Tenry Johns’ fourth CD is Moving On. Tenry Johns has taken the common route to the blues. He was born in the Mississippi Delta where he started his first band while still in his teens. After high school, he moved to Chicago as did other members of his family. In Chicago, he first played in a band with his cousin, Johnny Drummer. Johns and his brothers then formed the Johns Brothers Band with Denise LaSalle on lead vocals. He now writes and produces his own material on his own label, Tenry Music. He calls himself “The King Kong Rocker.”
The opening track, “Move On…Don’t Stop” is an R&B lite number reminiscent of Tyron Davis’s style, but not Davis’ voice. “You’ Alright” is a soul blues ode to his woman who lets him be himself. The music has more depth than the opening track. “What’s Wrong” and “I Ain’t Gonna Cheat” are OK. “You’ All I Need” is “You’ Alright” reworded and slower. The slower version is even better. “I Ain’t Comin’ Back” is one of those idle threat songs about leaving considering he hasn’t left yet. “Get Out Of That Mess” has a similar theme as “Move On…Don’t Stop.” The music on “I’m In Love” is nice. The remaining tracks are OK. “Rockin’ In America” is the heaviest rocker but it does not make him worthy of the moniker “The King Kong Rocker.” The nickname must be an inside joke because I don’t get it.
Johns’ voice is only OK; the lyrics are OK. The music is the best aspect of this CD. I especially like the lead guitar work on tracks 2 and 3 by Bob Savage and on track 8 by Larry Kucera.Reviewer Sheralyn Graise graduated from the University of Akron a while back. A former Social Services professional, she is now pursuing other interests such as music history, writing, and photography. She has been a member of the Blues Foundation since 2001.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
Featured Blues Review 5 of 5
The Sojourners - The Sojourners
Canadian bluesman Jim Byrnes contacted the Vancouver-based Marcus Moseley to get some other Canadian singing friends together to work on an album about three years ago. When the three men opened their mouths it was obvious that something special had been put together. Mosley, along with buddies Will Sanders and Ron Small, refined their stuff in the churches down south in their original homes of Ralls, Texas, Alexandria, Louisiana and Chicago, Illinois respectively after the Byrnes session and then recorded a 2007 CD with producer Steve Dawson. Their second CD was recorded two years later and is just released here; it features Dawson playing a smoking variety of guitars with a deep blues sound, a warm and soulful Mike Kalanj on Hammond B 3 organ, Geoff Hicks and Keith Lowe on drums and bass and a guest appearance by Jesse Zubot on mandolin in “By and By” to round out the wonderful sounds.
This is serious Gospel music sung by talented men with truly superb musicians backing them. These guys are standouts and have a sound and spirit that just beckons one to listen over and over again. The first time I listened to this was in my car, and when I got home I immediately listened to it three more times on my stereo; I was singing along with each track by the time I finished. It is moving music that grabs the listener with their exceptional renditions of songs of sin and redemption. They also weave in so many related styles of music to their Gospel and blues sound that makes it so rich with beauty that the listener cannot break away from it.
Dawson’s dirty and greasy slide guitar work is a wonderful addition to the Gospel sound. He’s featured in tracks like the jumping praise song “Great Day. If one has any ties to a military member, the Violinaires’ “Another Soldier Gone” is given a moving rendition that will just give you chills. “Lead Me Guide Me” is a Doris Akers classic that plays out like sacred slow blues, with the organ work and electric guitar filling in the blanks between vocals ever so sweetly. Los Lobos “(Peace in) The Neighborhood” brings us back to the headier days of the civil rights movement in a driving, forthright cover. The Reverend Guy Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” gets a big transformation from its’ Grateful Dead cover days, poignantly melancholy yet moving. The set closes out with the traditional “By and By”; uplifting vocals and some mean finger picking on the guitar leave one revived but wanting more.
I can’t say enough good things about this. Suffice it to say that if I had to buy one Gospel CD released in the last few years, this would be it. It is that good. If you have any love at all for Gospel, this CD must be in your collection.Reviewer Steve Jones is secretary of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
Live Blues Calendar
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