Friday, February 1, 2019

Blues News You Can Use

It's been a busy week, the first of several in a row, but there's been a lot to happen in the blues world over the past couple of weeks.  Let's take a look......

The 2019 International Blues Challenge took place last week in Memphis.  Here are the big winners:

1st Place

Ms. Hy-C & Fresh Start (St. Louis Blues Society)

(Photo by Laura Carbone)

2nd Place

Sammy Eubanks & the Work’in Class (Washington Blues Society)

3rd Place

Celso Salim Band (Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society)

Gibson Guitar Award

Gabe Stillman (Billtown Blues Association)


1st Place
Jon Shain (Triangle Blues Society)

(Photo by Kim Hawks)
2nd Place
Theresa Malenfant & Scott Medford (East Coast Blues Society)

Memphis Cigar Box Guitar

Steve Strongman (Grand River Blues Society)

(Photo by Laura Carbone)

Lee Oskar Harmonica Award

Darryl Carriere, the Celso Salim Band (Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society)

Best Self-Produced CD

Lock Up the Liquor – The Little Red Rooster Blues Band (Central Delaware Blues Society)

A few weeks ago, the nominees for the 40th Annual Blues Music Awards were announced:

Acoustic Album
A Woman’s Soul, Rory Block
Black Cowboys, Dom Flemons
Global Griot, Eric Bibb
Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, Joe Louis Walker/Bruce Katz/Giles Robson
Wish The World Away, Ben Rice
Acoustic Artist
Ben Rice
Guy Davis
Hadden Sayers
Harrison Kennedy
Rory Block
Album of the Year
America’s Child, Shemekia Copeland
The High Cost Of Low Living, The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling
Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues, Joe Louis Walker/Bruce Katz/Giles Robson
Rough Cut, Curtis Salgado and Alan Hager
Why Did You Have To Go, Anthony Geraci
B.B. King Entertainer
Beth Hart
Bobby Rush
Lil’ Ed Williams
Michael Ledbetter
Sugaray Rayford
Band of the Year
Anthony Geraci & The Boston Blues All-Stars
Larkin Poe
Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials
Nick Moss Band
Welch-Ledbetter Connection
Best Emerging Artist
Burn Me Alive, Heather Newman
Free, Amanda Fish
Heartland And Soul, Kevin Burt
Tough As Love, Lindsay Beaver
Wish The World Away, Ben Rice
Blues Rock Album
The Big Bad Blues, Billy F Gibbons
High Desert Heat, Too Slim and the Taildraggers
Live At The ’62 Center, Albert Cummings
Poor Until Payday, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band
Winning Hand, Tinsley Ellis
Blues Rock Artist
Billy F Gibbons
Eric Gales
J.P. Soars
Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Tinsley Ellis
Contemporary Blues Album
America’s Child, Shemekia Copeland
Belle Of The West, Samantha Fish
Chicago Plays The Stones, The Living History Band
Hold On, Kirk Fletcher
Wild Again, The Proven Ones
Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Beth Hart
Danielle Nicole
Samantha Fish
Shemekia Copeland
Vanessa Collier
Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Kenny Neal
Rick Estrin
Ronnie Baker Brooks
Selwyn Birchwood
Toronzo Cannon
Danielle Nicole
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Patrick Rynn
Scot Sutherland
Willie J. Campbell
Cedric Burnside
Jimi Bott
June Core
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel
Instrumentalist - Guitar
Anson Funderburgh
Christoffer “Kid” Andersen
Laura Chavez
Monster Mike Welch
Ronnie Earl
Instrumentalist - Harmonica
Billy Branch
Bob Corritore
Dennis Gruenling
Kim Wilson
Mark Hummel
Instrumentalist - Horn
Doug James
Jimmy Carpenter
Kaz Kazzanof
Mindi Abair
Nancy Wright
Vanessa Collier
Instrumentalist - Vocalist
Beth Hart
Danielle Nicole
Janiva Magness
Michael Ledbetter
Shemekia Copeland
Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female)
Fiona Boyes
Lindsay Beaver
Ruthie Foster
Sue Foley
Trudy Lynn
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Anthony Geraci
Bruce Katz
Jim Pugh
Marcia Ball
Mike Finnigan
Song of the Year
“Ain’t Got Time For Hate,” written by John Hahn and Will Kimbrough
“Angelina, Angelina,” written by Anthony Geraci
“Cognac,” written by Buddy Guy, Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming
“No Mercy In This Land,” written by Ben Harper
“The Ice Queen,” written by Sue Foley
Soul Blues Album
Back In Business, Frank Bey
Every Soul’s A Star, Dave Keller
I’m Still Around, Johnny Rawls
Love Makes A Woman, The Knickerbocker All-Stars
Reckoning, Billy Price
Soul Blues Female Artist
Annika Chambers
Barbara Blue
Candi Staton
Thornetta Davis
Whitney Shay
Soul Blues Male Artist
Frank Bey
Johnny Rawls
Sugaray Rayford
Wee Willie Walker
William Bell
Traditional Blues Album
The Blues Is Alive And Well, Buddy Guy
The High Cost Of Low Living, Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling
The Luckiest Man, Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
Tribute to Carey Bell, Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty
Why Did You Have To Go, Anthony Geraci
Traditional Blues Male Artist
Anthony Geraci
Cedric Burnside
James Harman
Lurrie Bell
Nick Moss

(Photo by Jennifer Noble)
Finally, the Blues World was rocked by a couple of untimely demises over the past couple of weeks.  Just before the I.B.C.'s began, it was announced that singer/guitarist Mike Ledbetter had suddenly passed away at the very young age of 33.  Ledbetter was nominated for two BMA's for Singer and Entertainer of the Year and for Band of the Year with the Welch-Ledbetter Connection.  Ledbetter and guitarist Monster Mike Welch had won the 2018 BMA for Best Traditional Blues Album for their collaboration, Right Place, Wrong Time (which also made FBF's Top Ten for 2017, for what it's worth).  He also was previously a singer/guitarist in the Nick Moss Band and appeared as a guest vocalist on Ronnie Earl's Father's Day album a couple of years ago.  He was just beginning to make his mark in the blues community, and was from all accounts a devoted family man.  Please keep his friends and family in your thoughts and prayers.

(Photo  by Jennifer Noble)
Singer/guitarist Quintus McCormick passed away earlier this week, after a battle with pancreatic cancer, at age 61.  McCormick's brand of blues leaned heavily on the soul side with his smooth vocals, but he was also a fine Windy City-styled blues guitarist as well.  He relocated from Detroit to Chicago, playing with J.W. Williams' Chi-Town Hustlers while in college, and later backing James Cotton, A.C. Reed, Lefty Dizz, and Otis Clay.  He later formed his own band in the mid-90's and cut three fine albums for Delmark, the most recent was Still Called The Blues, in 2012.


Friday, January 25, 2019

Passages - 2018

This week, Friday Blues Fix pays tribute to those blues performers who passed away in 2018:

Denise LaSalle - Singer/Songwriter

Rick Hall - Record Producer/Songwriter/Owner of FAME Studios

Eddie Shaw - Saxophonist/Singer

Floyd Miles - Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist/Drummer

James "Nick" Nixon - Singer/Guitarist

Little Sammy Davis - Singer/Harmonica Player

Preston Shannon - Singer/Guitarist

Terry Evans - Singer/Guitarist

Algia Mae Hinton - Singer/Guitarist

"Sunshine" Sonny Payne - DJ/Host "King Biscuit Time"

Yvonne Staples - Singer

Josh "Razorblade" Stewart - Singer

Deborah Coleman - Singer/Guitarist

Charles Neville - Saxophonist

John "Jabo" Starks - Drummer

C.V. Veal - Singer/Drummer

Eddy Clearwater - Singer/Guitarist

Danny Kirwin - Guitarist

D.J. Fontana - Drummer

Matt "Guitar" Murphy - Guitarist

Jessie Sanders a.k.a. Little Howlin' Wolf - Singer

Nate Applewhite - Drummer

Tom Radai - Promotor/Booking Agent/Manager

Henry Butler - Pianist/Singer

Stan Lewis - Producer/Record Label Owner (Jewel, Paula, and Ronn Records)

Leslie Johnson a.k.a. Lazy Lester - Singer/Harmonica Player/Guitarist

Aretha Franklin - Singer/Songwriter

Lawrence Taylor - Guitarist

Otis Rush - Singer/Guitarist

Hosea Hargrove - Guitarist/Singer

Big Jay McNeely - Saxophonist

Tony Joe White - Singer/Songwriter

Eddie C. Campbell - Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist

Calvin Newborn - Guitarist

Jody Williams - Guitarist/Singer

Friday, January 18, 2019

Bitten By The Blues

As most regular FBF readers know, your humble correspondent's world changed when he heard the album Showdown! in the mid 80's.  The voices and guitars of Albert Collins, Robert Cray, and Johnny Copeland were unlike anything I'd ever heard before.  It was exactly what I had been searching for......the perfect combination of the rock and soul music that I loved.

While I had listened to B.B. King on TV and I had seen The Blues Brothers on TV and in the movie theater....and was also a fan of Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds, I still didn't know what the blues were until I heard Showdown! and as a result, dug a little bit deeper into the music via the label that released that great album, Alligator Records.

The only reason that I found Showdown! in the record store was because it was filed in the Jazz section.  That's the music I was into at the time and the cover caught my eye, so I purchased it....strictly on impulse.  When I started looking for more music like it, I discovered the Blues section, where most of the releases were either from labels like MCA (B.B. King, Bobby Bland, etc...), a few from Malaco (Bland, Little Milton, Lattimore, Z.Z. Hill, Denise LaSalle), or Alligator.  The Alligator albums were the ones that really drew me in.  I picked up copies of albums from Lonnie Mack, Jimmy Johnson, Albert Collins, and later I found a collection of their recordings called Genuine Houserockin' Music, which introduced me to even more of their catalog.

A few months later, at the Chunky Rhythm & Blues Festival, which was 15 miles from where I live, Alligator had the two headliners, Koko Taylor and Lonnie Mack, so not only had I heard these artists, I actually got to see them.  I was within 20 feet of them at the Festival.  By that time, I had dug even deeper, because MCA Records had started reissuing albums from the Chess Records catalog.  Needless to say, once I actually got to SEE some of these artists plying their trade, there was no turning back for me.........I was a bonafide BLUES fan at that point.

All of this came back like it happened yesterday when I read Alligator founder Bruce Iglauer's (with Patrick Roberts) recent book, Bitten By The Blues:  The Alligator Records Story, a collection of stories recounting the high points, and a few low points, in the label's nearly fifty year history.  For many years, Iglauer has had a full-page of advertising in Living Blues magazine, where he had published a memo to fans that discussed the label's upcoming releases.  He's also included a paragraph or two in each memo reminiscing about previous releases.  There have been some great stories included in those letters, and a lot of them are expanded upon in the book.

Iglauer also tells his story along with the story of he fell in love with the music as a youngster, how he hosted a radio show and booked blues acts at his college, how he ended up in Chicago and working at Bob Koester's Jazz Record Mart (and Koester's Delmark Records), how he helped found Living Blues magazine, and how he took a huge leap of faith with a small inheritance and decided to record his favorite blues band, Hound Dog Taylor and the Houserockers, after Koester declined to do so.

Iglauer's love for the music, and for the performers, comes through on every page.  He revels in their successes and mourns their failures.  Not every artist's story ends on a positive note.....such is the nature of the blues........and Iglauer goes through each of the label's successes and failures in great detail.  He's the first to acknowledge that he can be hard to work with because he sometimes has a different view of what a song should be like than the performers do, but he's also willing to acknowledge that, at times, his way may not have been the right way, but more often than not, he got his way and it worked out for the best for most of the artists.  He always took care of his artists, too, ensuring that they got their royalties from sales, something that surprised many of his earlier artists who had been shortchanged in their earlier recordings.  He also describes the business difficulties, obstacles, and hoops that he's had to jump through over the years.  While I don't really have a business head at all, it's obvious that the label's success over the years was due to a lot of extremely hard work by Iglauer, with a little bit of luck thrown in from time to time.

When a longtime blues fan looks at the music's landscape today, compared to the mid 80's (when I started listening), it's a bit sobering to see how many of the labels that sprang up during those days have gone under, or no long have new releases, or just stopped releasing blues albums altogether.  There aren't nearly as many blues festivals as there were back in the day.  The whole record industry has changed, moving from vinyl to cassette to CD to digital to streaming.  Alligator continues to survive and this past year was one of their most successful critically with their current roster garnering multiple BMA nominations announced last week.  At the same time, Iglauer realizes that many of his label's biggest fans are in the 50-60 year old bracket (as is your humble correspondent), so there's a need for his label, and the blues itself, to attract younger fans, and he is working hard to ensure that this happens.

Iglauer is honest, but fair, in his assessment of artists and other people associated with the blues.  He's also honest in assessing his own place in events as well as his place in helping with the continued popularity of the music.  It's hard to argue what an impact Alligator Records' success has had on the rest of the blues genre.  I know I would probably not be a fan if not for that fateful day at Camelot Music in Columbus, MS back in 1986.

Anybody who loves the blues has heard a few Alligator releases, and they will certainly enjoy this book.

Friday, December 28, 2018

FBF's Top 20 Blues Albums for 2018

Your humble correspondent reviewed (or is in the process of reviewing) about 200 albums this past year.  I'm a few months behind for sure.....some of these reviews won't be done until the first couple of months into 2019.....but I hate to not review a disc that someone takes the time to send me.  As it is, I try to average about four a week...sometimes I'm able to get a couple more, but it's pretty hard to do with things to do at work and at home.  This year was a pretty good year for the blues.  There were a lot of new faces for me this year and that has to be a good thing for the music.

I'm listing my Top 20 here at FBF, but in a few weeks, Blues Bytes will list all of their reviewers' Top Ten, so you will have to visit there to see who my Top Ten were for the year.  It was pretty difficult to narrow it down to 20 this year......when I ran down my list and picked my favorites, I had 33, so it took a few days to lower that number, but I'm satisfied with the results.  I hope some of your favorites are here as well.

Friday Blues Fix's Top 20 Albums for 2018

(in alphabetical order)

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty - Tribute To Carey Bell  (Delmark Records):  An excellent set that showcases all four of the Bells with guests Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Branch.  Though Lurrie Bell is the best known of the brothers, harmonica player Steve, singer/drummer James, and bassist Tyson bring plenty to the table as well.....a great set of Chicago blues that their pop would be proud of.

Big Apple Blues - Manhattan Alley (Stone Tone Records):  This was a really cool all-instrumental set that combined the blues with soul, rock, and funk with a great retro feel.  Anybody who digs Booker T or Jimmy Smith will find a lot to enjoy here with Jim Alfredson's keyboards and Zach Zunis' guitar work.  One standout track after another.

Barbara Blue - Fish in Dirty H2O  (BIG Blue Records):  I've been listening to the Reigning Queen of Beale Street for a long time and this one is easily her best with a superlative mix of blues and R&B with an all-star cast of supporting musicians.  If you're new to Barbara Blue, it's time to get on board.

Ray Bonneville - At King Electric (Stonefly Records):  A great singer/songwriter who has totally slipped past me prior to this fantastic effort, recorded in Austin but with a definite New Orleans vibe.  That won't be happening again.

Kirk Fletcher - Hold On  (Kirk Fletcher Records):  It's been fascinating to watch this brilliant young guitarist develop not only with his chosen instrument, but also as a singer and songwriter.  He says this is truly his first "solo" record.  It's certainly his best one.

Damon Fowler - The Whiskey Bayou Session (Whisky Bayou Records):  Recorded at Tab Benoit's studio in Houma, shortly after his boss, Butch Trucks' tragic death, this set came out nowhere for me....a wonderful, down-to-earth set of blues, southern rock, and soul that's a lot of fun.

Ghost Town Blues Band - Backstage Pass (Ghost Town Blues Band):  This is one of the best live albums I've heard, at least one of the best I've heard in a long, long time.  Matt Isbell and the band are at their absolute best on this awesome set, which is a must-have for their current fans and a great introduction for new fans.  Get this now!!

Buddy Guy - The Blues Is Alive And Well (Silvertone/RCA Records):  The 82-year-old Guy teams once again with Tom Hambridge for a great set of rocking blues, along with Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, and James Bay.  Guy's a bit introspective on some of these tracks, looking hard at old age and mortality, but he still straps it on for several searing numbers that show the fire is still in the belly.  This is one of his better latter-day efforts to these ears.

Dave Keller - Every Soul's A Star (Catfood Records):  I have to admit that I was thrilled to hear that Keller had signed with Catfood Records because I knew that he would be a perfect fit for their catalog of soul-blues artists, and he certainly didn't disappoint with this release.  It has a great Memphis feel with the band and Keller's infinitely soulful pipes, along with some great original songs.  Please, please check this guy out.  You can thank me later.

Tim Lothar - More Stories:  I was initially amazed at how quickly drummer Lothar picked up the guitar, but I'm equally blown away by his songwriting and singing.  He has a thoroughly modern lyrical approach though the ground he's covering is fairly familiar to blues fans.  This is an artist who deserves a bigger audience.

Trudy Lynn - Blues Keep Knockin' (Connor Ray Music):  Ms. Trudy got a late start recording, but man, has she made up for it.  She appears to have found a home with Connor Ray Music and an excellent band led by harmonica ace Steve Krase, and she just blows the doors off on this album.

John Mayall - Three For The Road (Forty Below Records):  The 83-year-old Mayall sounds like he was just getting started on this live set recorded in early 2017 in Germany with longtime bandmates Greg Rzab (bass) and Jay Davenport (drums).  The trio began working together fulltime after longtime guitar Rocky Athas departed for a solo career.  Mayall sounds great and plays keyboards and harmonica throughout, still going strong after 50+years.

Beth McKee - dreamwood acres (Swampgirl Music):  This release is a culmination of sorts for McKee, taking everything that made her earlier work so compelling and putting it all together.  One of the finest songwriters currently practicing, she captures the music of the American South......the blues, soul, gospel, country, pop, and rock.

Billy Price - Reckoning (Vizztone Label Group):  The veteran soul man headed to Greaseland Studios for a stellar set of covers and originals.  As always, he gives us some unique interpretations of a few soul classics as well as interesting takes on tunes from other genres, and some fine original tunes as well.

Brigitte Purdy - Still I Rise (Dirtshack Records):  Wow!  This one blew me away late in the year.  This young lady can sing it all - blues, rock, soul, jazz, R&B, and even classical - seemingly without breaking a sweat.  She covers a lot of ground in a short time on this release and it sounds great.  I can't wait to hear more!

Hadden Sayers - Dopamine Machine (  It's been a while since we've heard much from Sayers, but he definitely made up for lost time, releasing this powerhouse set of blues-rock and soul in a searing electric version and an equally powerful acoustic format (Acoustic Dopamine).  I give the electric version a slight edge, but you'll do just fine with both sets.

Boz Scaggs - Out of The Blues (Concord Records):  I've really enjoyed Scaggs' recent trio of albums that pay tribute to his musical roots.  This third set focuses on the blues with a great mix of classics from Bobby Bland, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy McCracklin, and Neil Young(!), along with several original tunes that blend seamlessly with the classics.

Scott Sharrard - Saving Grace (We Save Music):  Formerly the guitarist/musical director for the Gregg Allman Band, Sharrard has put together a fabulous recording that sits firmly in the Allman Brothers' wheelhouse.......blues, rock, soul, jazz coming together into a tasty gumbo.  Sharrard's got the guitar and vocal skills to make it happen and he does.

Too Slim & The Taildraggers - High Desert Heat (Underworld Records/Vizztone Label Group):  For over 30 years, Slim has been giving blues fans hard-rocking blues with nary a let-up.  This one ranks with their best efforts, with memorable songwriting and a perfect mix of blues and rock.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington - My Future Is My Past (Anti/Epitath):  I have to say that this is unlike any of the Wolfman's previous soul/blues/funk releases that keep toes tapping and booties shaking.  This is pristine after-hours blues and while Washington has always been highly regarded as a guitarist, his vocals are his secret weapon and he's done marvelous work previously on the ballads of those earlier albums.....there's an awesome version of one of my all-time favorite songs from one of my favorite songwriters, "Even Now," by the late David Egan, that finds Washington singing a duet with the great Irma Thomas.