Issue 6-43, October 26, 2012
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Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
In This Issue
We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Johnny Rawls. Bob Kieser has photos and commentary from the King Biscuit Blues Festival.
We have six music reviews for you! John Mitchell reviews a new release from The Chris O’Leary Band. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Barbara Carr. Steve Jones reviews a new release of Blues music for children from Randy Kaplan. Jim Kanavy reviews a new album from Mighty Sam McClain. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD from Deanna Bogart. Ian McKenzie reviews a new release from ZZ Top. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor's Desk
Hey Blues fans,
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Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!
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Featured Blues Interview - Johnny Rawls
You can expect a lot of things at a Johnny Rawls show.
First and foremost, there’s the man himself.
Dressed to the nines in a custom-designed, hand-sewn suit that is the very epitome of first-class style, a Johnny Rawls show is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears.
You’ll hear plenty of gut-bucket soul blues, songs that make the men-folk say, ‘Hot damn,’ while at the same time make the women-folk want to get up and shake their groove thang.
Yeah, you can expect a lot of things at a Johnny Rawls show.
But there’s one thing that you shouldn’t hold your breath waiting to hear at a Johnny Rawls show.
That well-beaten, dead-old warhorse - “Mustang Sally.”
Just to make sure that fact is understood well in advance, Rawls has gone to all the trouble of plastering a “No Mustang Sally” decal on his red Stratocaster.
You could say he’s heading off the request for that particular tune at the pass.
“A friend of mine – a disc jockey from Dallas, Texas – gave that to me many, many years ago. And I’m taking credit for making it (the decal) famous. But the thing of it is, people at my shows used to say, ‘Play “Mustang Sally.”’ And I would say, ‘I got 17 CDs, three albums and two 45s out – all original material.’ I’m not going to become a cover band by playing “Shaky Ground,” “Mustang Sally” or “Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone,” or God forbid, “Brown Eyed Girl,”” Rawls said. “I’m separating myself from being a cover band. I’m an original recording artist and I play my songs, man; my songs.”
Although he sure doesn’t play the afore-mentioned tunes in his shows, that doesn’t mean that Rawls considers that material to be sub-par songs.
“All those are great, great songs. I love to hear Bill Withers do “Sunshine” but I don’t want to go to no club and hear some other band doing that song,” he said. “So I don’t play it, neither. I don’t want nobody pulling out their night clothes and takin’ a nap at my shows.”
Taking a nap at a Johnny Rawls show has never been an option.
A long-time purveyor of the brand of blues that mixes in healthy doses of sultry R&B and good, old soul, Rawls has been playing music and entertaining audiences ever since his teenage days in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
According to Rawls, there’s one thing that has remained a steadfast trademark of the soul blues over the years – whether sung by Lowell Fulson, Denise LaSalle or Bobby Rush – they better be bumpin.’
“These people are not going to pay their hard-earned money to hear something that ain’t jamming, you know what I’m saying? They pay their money to see you and you better be jammin’ and you better have a funky beat,” he said. “In the south, the soul blues gotta’ be a little bit dirty, too. It’s got to be booty-bumping. To play the soul blues in the south … hey, man, you got to get it. But if you do, they’re turn out in the thousands for it.”
Soul Survivor (Catfood Records) is Rawls’ latest disc and the title of it really sums up all one needs to know about Johnny Rawls.
“This is the most meaningful album I’ve put out, because I am a soul survivor. I’m one of the few of my breed that’s left. Me and Otis Clay and maybe one or two others are the only ones left that I can think of,” he said. “We are the last of the soul survivors … the last ones of this genre of music.”
And at times over the last three or four decades, that act of survival has taken all the strength and courage – along with a hearty bunch of belief – that Rawls could muster.
“Yeah, it’s taken a lot to survive. Things like not getting paid, like trying to find someplace for you and your band to stay, things like being in the middle of an interstate with your universal joint layin’ out on the highway and no money in your pocket,” he said. “Trying to find shows to play during the disco era when you couldn’t even pay a club to play at their place …man, tryin’ to survive the disco era was one of the hardest things we ever had to do. I don’t know how we did it, but we survived. But we didn’t give up and throw in the towel by no means.”
It may be just a distant memory to a lot of people at this point in time - while some may not know of it at all - but the old Hi-Hat Club in Hattiesburg never strays too far away from the front of Rawl’s mind. The cover of Soul Survivor features a reflective Rawls gazing at an old gig poster (circa the late 1970s) from the legendary joint, a show that featured Rawls, O.V. Wright and Little Johnny Taylor.
“That’s where my whole musical life began – right there at the Hi-Hat Club. That was an iconic center of the entertainment world. Everybody in show business that had a hit record came to the H-Hat Club,” he said. “Any artist you could name … Sam & Dave, B.B. King, Gladys Knight, Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson … just everybody. That was THE happenin’ place.”
THE happenin’ place was honored with a Mississippi Blues Trail Marker and on it you’ll find a whole host of legendary names that once graced the stage at the liveliest place in Hattiesburg, names like Guitar Slim, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Little Milton, Tyrone Davis and of course, Johnny Rawls.
“To be on a trail marker with those guys … man, those guys are my legends, my idols,” he said. “To be on there with them is like a dream come true. It’s like a big lifetime achievement. It’s something that will stand forever. And now that I’ve done that, I want to leave a record that will stand forever. Just like The Temptations left “My Girl,” I want to leave a signature song; something that will stand forever.”
It is true that the number of original soul blues kingpins is thinning out, but that doesn’t mean that there’s a shortage of young mavericks on the scene, either. Even though places for them to play, like the Hi-hat Club, are getting to be few-and-far-between in 2012.
“Well, what they’ve done is, all the Chitlin Circuit clubs have taken things outside of their clubs now. Instead of the clubs – there are a few left – they’ve taken the shows out into the auditoriums and outside to the festivals now. It’s (the scene) still very much alive, with new soul blues artists like Sir Charles Jones and O.B. Buchannan and Omar Cunningham. They’re some of the up-and-coming soul blues artists out there.”
Rawls’ has always understood the importance of giving his audience their money’s worth, whether he’s playing to a few dozen people at a local club or whether he’s holding center court in front of a few thousand at a major blues festival. And even though the music is the top priority, the way that Rawls presents himself to his fans is equally as important.
Never will you catch Johnny Rawls wearing jeans and a T-shirt on the bandstand.
“To me, that shows a very low-class and very disrespectful taste. People like O. V. Wright, Johnnie Taylor and ZZ Hill and those guys, in the morning when they got up to go outside to eat breakfast, they made sure their hair was right, their shoes were shined, their shirts were starched, because they knew folks would see them and say, ‘Hey, there’s Johnnie Taylor.’ And they wanted to keep their image up as artists, even when they weren’t on the bandstand,” said Rawls. “How can you look up to an artist wearing torn jeans and a dirty T-shirt? To me, that’s disrespectful to themselves and to their fans. It’s part of the lifestyle of respecting yourself, respecting the character of your music and respecting your fans. To look sharp and well-presented is class; and I’m a class person. And when my fans come to my shows, they dress sharp and decent, too. See what I’m saying? To see someone up on stage, looking like they just came out of a garbage can, or from under a bridge, is a really hurtful thing for me.”
The late, great O.V. Wright played an instrumental role in Rawls’ life, and it’s hard to imagine just where Rawls might have ended up had he not joined up with Wright in the early 70s. Rawls played in his mentor’s band right up until he passed away in 1980.
“We were like brothers - very, very close. He lived with me until he died – I was with him when he passed away. I learned a lot of things from him,” Rawls said. “Things like get paid before you play. Where we played (back in the day) you sure enough had to get paid first, because there was always a discrepancy with the money. We were in Louisiana one time and we had to gamble to get paid. We had to go into the gambling room and gamble to try and get our money. But those were good learning processes. I guess it all turned out good. I know one thing – I wouldn’t change a thing. It was a wonderful experience.”
“I just cut an album with Otis Clay that will be out next year that is a tribute to O.V. Wright.”
With his place already secured in the pantheon of soul blues greats, Rawls could probably take it easy and just tour off his past hits, not bothering to write any new material or hit the recording studio with any frequency.
But that’s not how Johnny Rawls rolls.
Instead, he prefers to crank out a new album of original material every year or so.
“If God gives you the talent, it’s not hard. And you know, everybody seems to be recording cover tunes. Everything is cover, cover, cover, cover, cover. To me, the blues can’t grow and reach new people if artists keep covering “T-Bone Shuffle” 10-hundred, million times,” he said. “How many times can you record that same song? How many times do people want to hear that recorded? I won’t record a Marvin Gaye or a Sam Cooke song, because it can’t be done any better than the original. Why would I want to do that, then? That’s why I try to come up with all-original material that’s new and fresh. One foot in the past and one foot in the future is my approach to material. I want to take R&B and soul and blues to the next level where we can reach a younger generation.”
Rawls, who produced Barbara Carr’s newest album, Keep the Fire Burning (Catfood Records), has long been considered a soul blues Renaissance man because of his impressive versatility when it comes to all things musical.
Those skills date back to his high school days.
“Number one, it came from God and number two, I had professional training from my high school band director, Mr. Carl Gates. He taught me everything I know about the business. How to book shows, how to play an instrument, how to entertain in front of people, how to promote shows, everything,” said Rawls. “Yeah, Mr. Carl Gates from Gulfport, Mississippi taught me everything I know about the business. I learned those lessons and am still putting them to use.”
While Rawls did soak up all Gates tossed his way like a sponge absorbs water, he probably didn’t realize at the time that some four decades later, he would still be using everything he learned from his high school band director on a daily basis in 2012.
“Well, I just always knew that I would play music for my life. I never knew where it would take me, I just knew that I loved music,” he said. “I just loved to sit on the porch and play music, man. Played the guitar, clarinet … saxophone … man, I just loved to play music. I just had no idea that music would take me around the world several times. I just had no dream that this would happen.”
If things go according to Rawls’ plans, he’ll be hand-delivering the soul blues right up until the good Lord calls him home, the same plan that his good friend O.V. Wright followed.
“I’m not going to retire until I’m dead. But at the end of the day, I’d like people to remember that Johnny Rawls wrote some great songs. I’d like them to remember that Johnny Rawls was clean,” he said. “I’d like them to remember that Johnny Rawls was a good-looking man, that Johnny Rawls could dance and entertain like nobody ever could before. Johnny Rawls - God damn it – that Johnny Rawls. That’s what I want ‘em to say.”
Visit Johnny's website at www.johnnyrawlsblues.com
Photos by Bob Kieser © 2012 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist 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.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.
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Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Chris O’Leary Band – Waiting For The Phone To Ring
13 tracks; 54.11 minutes
The legends of “the difficult second album” album are well documented but the Chris O’Leary Band has taken it in their stride. First album “Mr Used To Be” won many accolades and helped the band to win a Blues Blast Award for best new artist debut release (against some strong opposition) but the new album may be even stronger. Produced by Dave Gross, Chris wrote all the songs and the core band remains unchanged: Chris on vocals and harp, Chris Vitarello on guitar and vocals, Frank Ingrao on bass, Willa McCarthy on vocals, Sean McCarthy on drums, Chris de Francesco on tenor and Andy Stahl on baritone. Additional musicians include Jeremy Baum on keyboards, Dave Gross on guitar, drums and percussion, Michael Bram on drums and percussion, Scot Hornick on upright bass and Vinny Nobile on trombone.
Chris is a a strong harp player and a good singer whose voice adapts well to different styles. The band sets out its stall on opener “Give It” with its insistent drum beat, ringing guitars and harp well supported by the horns and backing vocals. “Without You” opens with a strong horn backing and a stop-start rhythm that presents Chris’ vocal very well. “Louisiana Woman” has a touch of the swamps in its tone and a despairing lyric about how down on his luck Chris is: “No mohair suit, spectator shoes; tattoos across my knuckles saying ‘born to lose’; I got a $5 dollar haircut, a dollar 50 comb, a half can of coffee, but I’m going home alone”. That Louisiana woman is not playing ball!
The pace drops for “Pictures Of You”, a ballad in New Orleans style with plenty of piano and low horn riffs. Chris does a great job on vocals here and Chris Vitarello delivers an excellent solo spot on guitar. “Hole In My Head” is a well-written song with amusing lyrics - “First time you left me, shame on you; second time you left me, shame on me too; third time I hear the door slam I know what to do, get myself a good girl, forget about you…I need you like a hole in my head” - and an excellent tenor solo. The title track has a funky NO beat and a spoken vocal which affords the opportunity for Chris to sound a little like Tom Waits.
“Jealous Hearted Man” sounds like a lost Muddy Waters song with a persistent harp riff and another strong vocal performance. “Pockets Are Full” again captures that NO feel, particularly the horns on a song that exemplifies the old saying that money can’t buy love: “It’s been a year today since you been gone. All the money I made ain’t gonna bring you home. My prospects aren’t good ‘cos our love has ended. Our pockets are full but our hearts are empty.” There then follows a run of single word titles: I particularly liked “Trouble”, an uptempo stomper with everything going on: hot horns, rock and roll guitar, strong vocals and harmonies and an exciting harp solo to top it off. “Questions” returns to NO with a gentle paced rocker: piano led with great horn accompaniment and second line drums, but special mention to Chris Vitarello’s shimmering slide guitar. “History” is the longest cut on the album and has a very nice, funky horn riff at its core, including a great trombone solo. The ‘history’ in question follows several famous lovers of the past, starting with Adam and Eve and concluding that Chris and his current lover will themselves make history! Chris’ vocal here is excellent, reminding me of Roomful Of Blues’ former singer Mac Odom.
“377-9189” is one of those late night numbers, all quiet horn riffs and tinkling piano. Chris stretches out on an extended harp solo taken at slow and melodic pace. Final track “The Prince” brings the pace back up with a swinging number which lyrically reprises the old fairy tale about kissing a frog to return him to his proper state as a prince.
When I reviewed “Mr Used To Be” in 2010 I said that Chris O’Leary was a name to watch. This time round I can be sure that this CD will consolidate the rising reputation of this band on the current scene. Recommended.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Barbara Carr - Keep the Fire Burning
11 songs; 40:27 minutes
Styles: Soul Blues
The blues is like ice cream: fans recognize what this tasty music is, and there are different “flavors.” St. Louis native Barbara Carr is a maven of “soul blues,” getting her singing career off to a good start in the church choir. She got her big break when she won a position as a singer in local legend Oliver Sain’s band, which she held until 1972. During this time, she also secured a solo deal with Chess Records and released several singles (“Don’t Knock Love,” “I Can’t Stop Now,” “Think About It Baby”). She released her first album, “Good Woman Go Bad,” in 1989, as well as several others in the ‘90s on several other labels, including Paula and Ecko. On the latter label, she had a very successful string of albums and singles over the next ten years. In the second decade of the 21st century, Barbara’s “Keeping the Fire Burning”! As she presents eleven original songs, one can “feel the heat” – especially on these three:
Track 01: “Hanging On by a Thread”--Co-written with fellow Catfood Records artist Sandy Carroll, this album’s opening number is a gritty journey into one woman’s night terror: “At the end of my rope, can’t get out of this bed. Running out of hope--dark clouds overhead. There ain’t nothing but pain, hanging on by a thread….” Some of the rhymes could have been a little more crisp and original (witness “dream” and “dream”), but overall, this earworm will crawl into one’s auditory canal and stick there!
Track 08: “Hold On to What You Got”--This lovely duet with Johnny Rawls is the finest showcase of Barbara’s vocal talent. “A good woman is hard to find, and I’m glad I got mine,” he soulfully warbles. Carr responds in kind: “We’ve been together so very long. He’s stuck by me, whether I was right or wrong!” Is there a lonely soul sitting nearby, especially if you‘re romantically involved? Don’t miss this chance to embrace him or her in a gentle waltz.
Track 09: “You Give Me the Blues”--The pathos in this song’s imagery is its best feature. Fans won’t know whether to laugh or cry: “When I come home, there’s no food to eat. Been watching TV all day long; say you fell asleep. Now my sink is full of dishes; ain’t nobody home. Nobody but you.” Barbara’s critique of her sluggish significant other might make some listeners snicker knowingly.
Joining Carr are Richy Puga on drums and congas, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, guitarist Johnny McGhee, bassist Bob Trenchard, Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, and Robert Claiborne on trombone. Together, all of these musicians sustain the “Fire” of soul blues!
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 33 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.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Live Blues Review - King Biscuit Festival
Blues Blast made it down the the Delta country in Helena Arkansas for the King Biscuit Blues Festival recently. This festival is one of the largest fests in the country and featured more than 80 Blues artists over 3 days on 6 stages.
I arrived on Thursday afternoon, just in time to catch Kenny Neal's set.
There was only one stage running on Thursday so the action was easy to follow as Wayne Toups & ZyDeCajun performed next in the late afternoon.
Wayne Toups was followed by Cyril Neville and his band.He had Johnny Sansone sitting in on harmonica
The headliner act for Thursday was none other than Bobby Rush. He had his band and the dancers with him too!
On Friday We started the day out on the Lockwood - Stackhouse stage and saw a great set by 2012 Blues Blast Music Award nominee Bernie Pearl.
Bernie was followed by Chicago Blues artist Donna Herula. Donna played a great set of slide guitar
Afterward we headed over to the main stage to catch a set by Earnest "Guitar" Roy and The MB Rhythm Section.
He was followed by Andy T and Nick Nixon. They had a couple of guests sitting in, Bob Corritore on Harmonica and Anson Funderburg on Guitar
The Chicago Rhythm & Blues Kings were up next. This great band features 2011 Blues Blast Music Award Nominee Rob Blaine on Guitar and vocals. And of course he had that cool Gibson guitar he won for best guitarist at the 2011 International Blues Challenge.
Next was a group called Tullie Brae. It was the first time I heard this band and they turned in a strong set.
I hung at the main stage all afternoon and the next act was Ruthie Foster.
Ruthie was followed by Anson Funderburg & The Rockets with Kim Wilson on Harmonica.
Kim performed quite an amazing set. I especially liked one of his solos when he used what is called a "split tongue" technique. This where he blows and holds one long note but is somehow able to play other notes as he is holding the main note as if he has a split tounge. I am not sure exactly how he does this but it was really impressive!
Next up was one of the favorite acts at King Biscuit, Paul Thorn.
Paul always puts on a great set of music but what most folks really enjoy the most is Paul's humor. His dialogue between songs is never dull!
Next I decided to head back down to the Lockwood stage to catch one of my favorites, Carl Weathersby.
I enjoy Carl's great guitar playing and his stage presence is always a treat too.
I headed back to the main stage to catch the headliner of the night Taj Mahal. Taj is usually a treat but he did not seem to be having a good night this evening. He even made all the press photographers leave the photo pit as his frustration mounted. I hope he has a better show the next time we catch him.
Since I had to leave the photo pit it was a good opportunity to head back down to the Lockwood stage to catch that stages headliner of the evening, Billy Branch & The Sons of Blues. Billy was having a great time as usual so our night ended on a high note!
Saturday started off on the main stage with Samantha Fish. Samantha is quite the guitar player and singer. She put on a great set to open Saturday's show.
Next up was our good friend Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith. Kenny is now the front man of his own band and this day it was quite an amazing band. With Bob Margolin on lead guitar, Little Frank on rhythm guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, Ann Rabson on keyboards and Bob Corritore on harmonica, you knew this was going to be a great set. And it was!
The next act was another Biscuit favorite, the Reba Russell band. Reba and her band with Wayne Russell on bass, Josh Roberts on guitar, Robert Tooms on keys and harmonica and Doug McMinn on drums put on quite a show.
There are several acts like Paul Thorn and Reba Russell that are festival "regulars" because they are crowd favorite and another such one is The Cate Brothers. With Earl Cate on guitar and Ernie Cate on keys, these guys showed why the are one of the favorite acts at this festival.
I headed back to the Stackhouse stage to catch Fruteland Jackson. Fruitland played both slide and banjo in a very interesting set of music.
I hung around to hear another act on the Stackhouse stage, Big George Brock. Good stuff!
Back at the main stage Randall Bramblett Band played next as the sun began to set.
The pace picked up a bit as Roy Rogers hit the stage with some amazing slide guitar.
The final act we got to photograph was none other than the great James Cotton. He proved he can still kick some butt with a great set of harmonica playing.
We did get to see one other great act in Bonnie Raitt. We could not get photos as Bonnie would not allow any photos during her set. I am not sure why an artist would be like this but in spite of that Bonnie had a great show.
So another great year at the King Biscuit fest and a great time had by all. If you have not ever been to this festival I strongly suggest you mark your calendars now for the first weekend in October next year and GET THERE! I promise you won't be disappointed.
Photos and comments by Bob Kieser & Marilyn Stringer © 2012.
For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE
Blues Society News
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Southeast Iowa Blues Society - Fairfield IA
The Southeast Iowa Blues Society is bringing "The Scott Holt Band" to the Fairfield Best Western on Saturday Oct. 27th at 8pm. Scott played with Buddy Guy for 10 years before making a name for himself as a Blues guitarist and keeper of the Blues. Also,help SIBS bring in the Blue Year with Samantha Fish at the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center on January 4th, 2013...more details later on this up and coming Blues artist...for more information contact www.southeastiowabluessociety.org
Suncoast Blues Society - Tampa, FL
The members of the Suncoast Blues Society are proud to join the many sponsors, including the Realize Bradenton organization in sponsoring the first annual Bradenton Blues Festival. The inaugural fest will be held on Saturday, Dec.1, in downtown Bradenton in the newly redeveloped Riverwalk area along the Manatee River. Gates open at 10 a.m and music starts at 11 a.m. with the Steve Arvey Horn Band. Additional acts include Ben Prestage, Homemade Jamz, Southern Hospitality, Johnny Sansone, Dave "Biscuit" Miller, Kenny Neal and Ruthie Foster. Tickets are only $25 and can be purchased at the festival website. For more information, please go to : www.suncoastblues.org
River City Blues Society - Peoria, IL
The River City Blues Society presents John Primer at 7:00 pm Wednesday November. 7th at Goodfellas 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois Admission: $7.00 general public or $5.00 for Society Members For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com or call 309-648-8510
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. •Oct 29 - The Mojo Cats More info available at icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
Friends of the Blues present 2012 shows:
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Randy Kaplan - Mr. Diddie Wah Diddie
Randy Kaplan produces blues music for both kids and adults. This CD is produced along the kids lines, with famed imaginary blues man Lightnin' Bobkins providing input, introducing many of the songs and adding a continuing attempt to figure out a blues name for Randy. The CD is imaginative, informative and just a whole lot of fun as it explores blues and ragtime for kids in a way they can both understand and enjoy.
Randy takes cuts from some of the blues world's legends and makes them appropriate and lyrically targeted to kids.Songs like Jimmie Rogers "In The Jailhouse Now" becomes "In A Timeout Now." Blind Blake, Robert Johnson, and a variety of other great, old time blues artists get their songs converted to something kids can understand while adults can revel in what Randy has done to these famous songs. Kaplan is full of schmaltz and has the demeanor to keep kids as enraptures as any kids' TV show does.
He also ties it together with very amusing intros and dialogue between he and Lightnin' Bobkins. Some of the blues names Lithnin' comes up with are truly hilarious. Papa Waffle Kaplan and Reading Glasses Kaplan are just two among the many that get discussed and summarily dropped. His character Bobkins and the kids who also appear hear and there are full of good and funny commentary; Mr. Kaplan's sense of humor ranges from schmarmy to novel and unique.
Randy plays acoustic guitar, harp and sings. Also featured are Mike west is on mandolin, banjos and guitar, Katie Euliss on upright bass and percussion, Colin Mahoney on drums and percussion, Bradford Hoopes on piano, Chris Leopold on trumpet, Tom Johnson on trombone, Ed Judd on tuba, Erin Parr on percussion and Cindi Kroll Haupti tap dances. There are also a number of other folks who are choristers, shakers, revelers, interjectors, irrational demanders and inquisitors on the CD. There is a nice assortment of instrumentation that kids can learn fun here, too.
The liner notes are educational and well done. I think Mr. Kaplan has outdone himself. This is a great little educational album that is as much fun to listen to as it is educational.
If you are a parent or grandparent looking for a CD to introduce blues to your kids or grand kids, this is quite the appropriate album. It would make a nice gift for the holidays or a birthday for children in elementary school. You can sample tracks on Amazon.com or allmusic.com and you will see how much fun the blues can be for kids! I tried it out on my grand kids and they enjoyed it thoroughly- the CD is a good investment in the musical futures of the youths who will listen to it and enjoy!
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
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Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Mighty Sam McClain - Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey)
14 Tracks; 48:27
Mighty Sam McClain was born in Monroe, Louisiana and began singing with his mother’s gospel group. Sam hit the road as a teenager to escape his abusive stepfather and toured on the infamous “Chitlin Circuit.” In the mid to late 1960’s Sam worked in Muscle Shoals, Nashville and New Orleans with artists like the Neville Brothers and Wayne Bennett. Mighty Sam McClain even had a surprise R&B hit with a soulful rendition of Patsy Cline’s classic “Sweet Dreams.” His career never really took off after that but he never left music behind. By the late 80’s he had relocated to New England and got involved with the recording of Hubert Sumlin’s Blues Party album on Black Top Records. His work led to a recording deal and Sam hasn’t looked back since, recording and touring consistently and collecting accolades for his work.
Mighty Sam McClain has been described as “America’s best purveyor of red clay soul-blues” and he brings his considerable talents to bear on his new disc Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey). The title comes from Sam’s realization that once he stopped drinking a lot of people stopped coming around. Sam says “It came to me like a light out of darkness – I’m not drinking anymore and I’m sharing with folks how I was helped by my faith to stop. That is how the title came to be called Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey). In my excitement, I may have brought too much Jesus to the party for some folks!”
It should be mentioned that Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey) is not a blues album. If it was, there would definitely be too much Jesus. This is a gospel/soul album that dabbles in funk and blues. Not that it’s a bad thing; the songwriting is tremendous and the delivery from Mighty Sam and the band is impeccable. If he sought to inspire, then his divine mission has been accomplished. Sam’s words tell stories, his delivery evokes deep emotion and his long time friend and collaborator Pat Herlehy finds music perfectly suited to Mighty Sam’s words.
The disc starts off with one of the most positive post break-up songs ever committed to tape: “I Wish You Well.” Sam has broken up with the lady in question but wants the best for her and pleads for the erstwhile couple to keep love in their hearts. Scott Shetler’s saxophone wraps itself around the melody and underscores Mighty Sam’s passionate pleas. “Missing You” is a slow jam that features Pat Herlehy’s bent note guitar lines crying out as Sam prays for God to help him get through missing you. “Can You Feel It” is another overtly religious track, which is ironic since the low down funk and ripping guitars will surely make you want to do the Devil’s work.
The title song starts off with a string arrangement that almost sounds Beatlesque but it soon gives way to a smooth jazz, soul production complete with Wes Montgomery style octave playing from Herlehy as Mighty Sam explains the necessity of too much Jesus. The album closes with another funk workout called simply “Dance.” Mighty Sam wants you to express your joy through prayer and dancing. Prayer and dancing seem to be the unifying theme of Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey), which features syncopated beats, pulsing horns, and frisky keyboards on several tunes. Mighty Sam has found joy through God and music and it seems the best way for him to express it is by extolling the virtues of spiritual movement. It’s not about lust or bumping body parts on the dance floor. It’s about unleashing the inner joy and allowing the energy to make your body move. Mighty Sam may have invented a new sub-genre: Gospel Funk. Just don’t do the nasty; keep it classy.
For better or worse, gospel and soul music is now covered by the Blues umbrella. It shares common antecedents for sure but they took diverging paths years ago. Anybody remember when the blues was Devil’s music? Sure you do. However, Mighty Sam McClain is a talented musician and deserves to be heard. Sadly, modern R&B is dominated by soulless producer-created acts that fail to realize soul isn’t found in auto-tuned perfect pitches and digitally controlled beats. Mighty Sam knows soul is found between the beats, in the breaths before a line is sung, and in an occasional cracking voice or spontaneous laugh. It’s about unleashing your imperfections and standing your ground. It’s from the heart and it’s rarely perfect; it fits right in with the blues, back where it all began. It might be Too Much Jesus (not Enough Whiskey) for some, but for many of us it will be just right. Somebody get me a shot.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
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Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Deanna Bogart - Pianoland
Despite a solo career that spans more than thirty years, Deanna Bogart still does not get the attention that she deserves. A talented singer and songwriter, Bogart is equally adept at getting an audience excited whether she is behind the piano or blowing her tenor sax. Her profile got a serious boost when she toured as part of the original Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue with Tommy Castro, Magic Dick from the J. Geils Band and Ronnie Baker Brooks. Anyone who has been a part of the Blues Cruise experience knows that when Deanna is on board she seems to be everywhere, playing sets with her band, appearing at one jam after another or sitting in with one of her many friends. Her high-energy stage persona makes each one of her performances a memorable occasion.
Her new project – the eighth of her career and third for Blind Pig Records – finds Bogart opting to put her saxophone down to focus on the piano, as you might expect from the title. The program includes six originals plus songs from an eclectic group of composers including Errol Garner, Willie Dixon, Pete Johnson, Harold Arlen and James Taylor. Her instrumental support includes Scott Ambush on electric bass, Mike Aubin on drums, Dan Leonhard on guitar and Jeff Reed on the upright bass.
Blues fans will definitely enjoy the rousing version of Garner's instrumental, “Boogie Woogie Boogie”, with Bogart utilizing a strong left hand to drive the toe-tapping beat. Johnson's “Death Ray Boogie” finds Bogart's nimble fingers weaving intricate lines over a blistering tempo. Her vocal approach on “I Love the Life I Live” bears a resemblance to the Mose Allison style as Bogart raises her jubilant voice in celebration. “Blues at 11” is a solo piano piece that verifies that she can be equally mesmerizing at a slower pace.
The lively pace on the opener, “In the Rain”, matches Bogart's exuberant singing and her hypnotic flourishes on the piano. “On And On And” is more of the same with a deeper, funkier groove as Bogart ponders the meaning of life and love. Her riveting performance on the stark ballad “Couldn't Love You More” portrays the depths of emotion she can conjure up. Her solo interpretation of Arlen's “Over the Rainbow” is another highlight featuring a vocal filled with nuance and impeccable phrasing, creating an emotional landscape that make this one of the best versions you will hear of this classic. “Close Your Eyes” features Bogart's soaring voice coupled with lush piano chords to close the disc in noteworthy fashion.
All that is left is the defining point of the disc, the redemptive title track that crackles with energy and passion as Bogart reflects on her creative vision before slowing the pace for an intimate piano solo. At the end, she whispers, “...Just another journeyman... and that's all right with me.”. Once you have heard Bogart's engrossing blend of boogie-woogie, blues and jazz – what she refers to as “blusion” - you will certainly fall under the spell of her masterful performances and formidable talent that places her well above journeyman status. This triumph may be the finest work of her career and therefore is highly recommended!
Reviewer Mark Thompson retired after twelve years as president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. and moved to Florida. He has been listening to music of all kinds for over fifty years. Favorite musicians include Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Magic Slim, Magic Sam, Charles Mingus and Count Basie.
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Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
ZZ Top - La Futura
American Recordings/SME Records
10 tracks - 39:28
ZZ Top in a blues publication? Are there some of you out there throwing up your hands in horror? If so, let me start with my two-penny worth.
Back in 1994 the band released an album called ‘One Foot In The Blues’, a compilation of 17 blues based tracks taken from their earlier albums. The album rose to number 10 in the Billboard blues chart. There were any number of other tracks the band could have chosen including, but not limited to, a cover of Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom on Degüello, the sixth album. Perhaps the most visible sign of their commitment to the blues was when they acquired a piece of wood from the shack used by McKinley Morganfield and his family which was located near Clarksdale, MS and had it made into a guitar. Dubbed the "Muddywood," the band sent it out on tour to raise money for the Delta Blues Museum.
After Degüello, El Loco, and Eliminator followed, and they also had blues content but around that time, arena performances, spinning guitars and the use of scientific/technical data (like the fact that for Eliminator, most of the tracks are at 120 beats per minute, declared by research to be the most effective/popular beat in the early 1980s) came to the fore. It was, I suspect that use of technology, of synthesizer sounds and the artistic flare of the performances, that turned some of the dyed-in-the-wool - blues-is-only-from-the-delta folks into sneering ‘that’s rock, not blues’ people. IMHO, ZZ Top was\is, the trail blazing, first blues-rock band as opposed to blues-pop bands (like the Stones). Others have followed, often without even one foot on the field of play. Unfortunately after Degüello the band become hooked on technology and half turned away from blues, although never completely shunning the genre.
For unidentified reasons, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard, have not issued a new studio album for nine years. There was a four track EP, Texicali, that was issued in 2012 consisting of four of the tracks now on this full length CD. Just a kind of stop gap I guess. But the wait has been worth it.
In short this CD is back to the standard of all those up to and including Degüello. It has all that raw, roadhouse blues feel that the earlier albums had and comes but with the highest of production values, courtesy of producer Rick Rubin. Blues grooves abound here not least in Heartache In Blue which features some outstanding harp work by Alabama Hall of Famer, nineteen time WC Handy Award nominee, James Harman.
Check out , ‘I Gotsta Get Paid,’ a vibrant and jangling cover of a rap song and the excellent, ‘I Don’t Wanna Lose, Lose You’. The slight downside is that in some songs Billy Gibbons’ voice seems to be getting a bit roughed up, but that aside the work by his fellow musicians is as ever outstanding. One could take some of the bass lines played by Dusty and turn them into melodies. As expected, Gibbons’ guitar work is cutting and concise, but with an edge of fuzz that makes it all sound like the little old band from Texas has come home. ZZ Top's support and link to the blues remains as rock solid as the music they play.
PS: if you go to http://tinyurl.com/9qhz672 you will find the Rev Billy G, giving a guitar lesson using licks from Jimmy Reed and others as the base for his instruction. I rest my case. WARNING: There’s a fuzz box in the setup!
Reviewer Ian McKenzie is English and is the editor of Blues In The South, [http://www.bluesinthesouth.com] a monthly blues information publication. He is the producer/ host of two blues radio shows Blues Before Midnight on KCOR (Kansas City Online Radio: www.kconlineradio.com) Fridays 12noon Central; and Wednesday's Even Worse on Phonic FM (www.phonic.fm) alternate Wednesdays at 6pm UK time (12 noon Central.
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