Friday, March 29, 2013

New Blues For You - Spring 2013 Edition

This week, Friday Blues Fix will look at several interesting new releases that have recently been released or will be available in the near future.  We've already discussed a couple recently, like Chris Antonik's Better For You and Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom's Funky Fiesta!, but there are so many great new discs out there right now that we will probably stretch this out over the next couple of weeks to take them all in.  As always, expanded looks at each of these discs will be available in the next few weeks at my favorite blues-related site, Blues Bytes.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds - On The Verge (Severn):  The T-Birds haven't released an album since 2005, when front man Kim Wilson teamed with guitarists Nick Curran and Kirk Fletcher for Painted On, their finest release since the Jimmie Vaughan days.  This time around, the guitarists are Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller and they more than hold their own.

The album itself has more of a soul/blues feel than usual, sounding a lot like the greasy soul music of 1960's Memphis or maybe Muscle Shoals with horns and background singers and keyboards.  Wilson has always done a great job presenting this style of music and he really comes through on this disc.  He's in great voice, as always, and the 12 tracks, all written by the band or the production team, are very good.

It's hard to believe that it's been over 20 years since Vaughan left the group, but over the past couple of discs, the band has really evolved from that tough Texas/Swamp blues sound that defined them during the early years, to a more R&B-flavored blues sound, especially with this recording.  That's not to say that they've abandoned their roots completely....there are several of those tracks present, and Wilson's wonderful harmonica is still in the mix.....just that their sound continues to evolve.  I really like the contributions of Moeller and Keller, two of the more interesting young blues guitar slingers to come around in recent years.

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Sunny Road (Delmark):  One of the most moving stories I've read was in Dick Waterman's book, Between Midnight and Day, when Waterman discussed his frustrating efforts in trying to help Crudup get long overdue songwriting royalties from a record company.  Crudup's incredible grace and class in difficult conditions should be an example to anyone undergoing tough times. 

You may not know Arthur Crudup, who was born about thirty minutes from where I live in Forest, MS, but if you're familiar with one Elvis Aron Presley, you've more than likely heard one or more of his songs.  Presley's first recording, "That's All Right, Mama," was a Crudup original, and Presley actually recorded a couple more of his tunes in the early years.  Crudup wasn't what you would call a guitar wizard or anything.  In fact, his abilities were pretty rudimentary, but he had a knack for songwriting and had a warm, relaxed vocal style.  

Unfortunately, Crudup was not able to have have much success as a performer and had been off the music scene for some time, even working as a sharecropper, at the time that Delmark "rediscovered" him in the late 60's and released a couple of recordings.  This session was recorded in 1969, but for some reason, was never issued until now.  Delmark head honcho Bob Koester, produced the session and drafted Chicago blues men Jimmy Dawkins and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith to play in support.  

Two things to keep in mind when you listen to these recordings.....for most of the session, Crudup plugged his guitar into the same Leslie speaker that Buddy Guy used on Junior Wells' Hoodoo Man Blues sessions....the one that gave his guitar the churchy keyboard sound on several tunes.  The same effect is present with Sunny Road on Crudup's guitar and it sounds pretty cool.  Also, Crudup's wife had recently passed away prior to these sessions, so the pain and anguish come through on his vocals pretty clearly on some tracks.  The result is one of the deepest and most personal blues discs you will hear.

Dan Penn - The Fame Recordings (Ace Records - UK):  In his book, Sweet Soul Music, Peter Guralnick calls Dan Penn, "the secret hero" of 60's R&B.  Penn composed several R&B songs for others that are now considered classics....."At the Dark End of Street," "I'm Your Puppet," "You Left the Water Running," "Sweet Inspiration," "Do Right Woman," "It Tears Me Up," and "Rainbow Road."  However, as good a songwriter as Penn was, Guralnick contends that he was an even better performer who recorded his own demo versions of many of his classics that were so good, the performers who eventually recorded them had to go above and beyond to actually surpass Penn's original versions.

Sadly, nearly all of Penn's recorded work from the 60's remained in the can, until now.  The UK's excellent Ace label has finally released two dozen of Penn's recordings for the Fame label from the mid 60's, so the truth can be determined once and for all about how good Dan Penn was.  The answer is pretty doggone good.  He's able to effectively imitate singers like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding on some tracks, but the standout tracks are the ones that he sings in his own voice, whether he's doing deep southern soul, 60's-era pop, or the down home blues.  There are several songs here that you've probably never heard that will make you scratch your head and wonder, "How was that NOT a hit for somebody?"

Penn eventually resurfaced in the 90's as a performer, and released a couple of critically acclaimed discs, but The Fame Recordings show you that the music world really missed out on something special when Penn put down the mic and decided to focus on writing and producing.

Big Bill Morganfield - Blues With A Mood (Black Shuck Records):  Muddy Waters would be proud of both of his blues-playing sons.  Mud Morganfield earned high marks last year for his release on Severn, Son of the Seventh Son, and Big Bill Morganfield's latest release continues the family's hot streak.  This is the younger Morganfield's sixth release since 1999 and with each release, he's steadily improved not just as a performer, but as a songwriter.  

Morganfield, who had little contact with his famous dad growing up, worked as a teacher, only picking up the guitar after Waters' death in 1983 and spending many years learning to play...starting out with contemporary blues, but eventually gravitating toward the traditional sounds that his father helped to create.  Blues With A Mood is the most traditional-sounding of his recordings and he has some very good musicians lending a hand, including guitarists Eddie Taylor, Jr. and Colin Linden (who also produced the disc).  In addition, longtime collaborator Bob Margolin makes an appearance.

Morganfield's vocals are strong and sometimes reminiscent of his dad and he's also a great guitarist, although the three main guitarists share lead duties on most tracks.  His songwriting is very good as well, and he also does covers from tunes played by his dad, Willie Dixon, Memphis Slim, and Junior Parker.  If you like traditional blues well done, you should check out Big Bill Morganfield, who has as firm a grasp on the genre as anyone.

Grady Champion - Tough Times Don't Last (Grady Shady Music):  The Canton, MS resident continues his hot streak with this latest release.  Champion's brand of blues blends funk, R&B, and rock and puts a contemporary spin on traditional Mississippi blues.  He's comfortable belting out a smooth soul number, he can get down and dirty with the lowdown blues, and he's equally at ease with a gospel-styled track or a modern R&B. song.

Champion started his music career as a rap artist and DJ, then gravitated toward the blues in the mid 90's, recording his own debut in 1998, then two fine releases for Shanachie around the turn of the century.  After a near-decade long sabbatical from recording, he has returned with a vengeance since 2010, when he won the IBC.  This is his third new release since the sabbatical (plus the retrospective Shanachie Days), and he is fast emerging as one of the bright new stars in the blues.

As on all his other releases, he mixes topical subjects with good time blues and soul, and also offers some interesting glimpses into his history with songs about his own roots.  He also offers advice to young people to hang in there through tough times and adversity.  Personally, I think it's not only great to  have Champion as part of the next generation of Mississippi blues stars, but I think it's really cool that he chooses to stay in the Magnolia State to ply his trade.  It's hard to go wrong with one of his releases, and this one is no exception.

Frank Bey with the Anthony Paule Band - You Don't Know Nothing (Blue Dot Records):  Pretty cool story here.....San Francisco DJ Noel Harris (Wednesday Blues with Noel) first heard soulful singer Bey in Philadelphia, PA in '99 and was blown away by his skillful soul and blues vocals.  Several years later, after Bey recovered from a kidney  transplant, Harris was able to book him in San Francisco, where he built a large and loyal following.

In a stroke of genius, Harris decided to pair Bey with area guitarist Anthony Beale and his band, and the rest is history, or maybe it will be.  This disc was recorded live at Bey's home away from home, Biscuits and Blues, last summer in front of a very receptive audience.  The set is made up of a solid mix of blues and soul classic tunes and some impressive originals.  Bey sounds great, Paule is a first-rate guitarist, and the band sounds fantastic.  There's not a lot of new ground broken here, but it's very well done, well produced, and worth hearing if you're into vintage soul and soul/blues.  Hopefully, this duo will make it to the studio soon and give us more.

That's all for this week.  Next week, we will check out more new blues for you.  Be there.  Aloha.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Ten Questions with Chris Antonik

Chris Antonik made waves in 2010 with the release of his self-titled debut recording, a stunning mix of traditional and contemporary blues that showed him to be an exceptional performer, songwriter, and interpreter of classic blues.  The disc enjoyed a year-plus stay on the Roots Music Top 100 Charts, and garnered the young guitarist/singer/songwriter a Best New Artist nomination at Canada's Maple Blues Awards.  The album received numerous accolades from listeners and critics alike, and Antonik has spent the last couple of years touring and appearing at numerous blues festivals.

Antonik's latest CD, out next week (March 26th), is called Better For You.  He wrote ten of the eleven tracks, most of which deal with topics like heartbreak, various stages of relationships, life on the road, and separation from his family, and he also sings on the majority of the tracks this time around.  His guitar work is as strong and compelling as on his debut.....even more so this time around.  There are also some fine guest stars that appear as well, such as vocalists Shakura S'Aida, Monkeyjunk harmonica ace Steve Marriner, Derek Trucks Band vocalist Mike Mattison, and vocalist/keyboardist/harmonica player Josh Williams, who also helped out with vocals on Antonik's debut.  This release has been one of my favorites so far for 2013 and I can't wait until it goes "live" next week and everyone gets to hear it.  If you're a blues fan, you will dig this CD from start to finish.  I guarantee it!

The talented Mr. Antonik was kind enough to endure Ten Questions from FBF this week.  We greatly appreciate his time and patience and hope you enjoy reading this, then go out and buy his new disc.  You can thank me later.

1.  Can you tell us about the first time you met the blues?

I started playing blues guitar around age 19 or 20.  Something about that age, lots of life changes.  The blues allowed me to handle the ups and own of life around me in a positive way.  I was in university at the time.  I remember locking myself in my dorm room for hours and practicing obsessively.  I probably kept a lot of people awake.  From my early twenties until early thirties, I was mostly just playing in blues cover bands.  It wasn’t until my early 30’s that I started writing my own material and recording seriously (I am 37 now).  It took me a while to find my way first as original artist and now as a singer.  But it all happened that way for a reason. 

2.  What was the first blues album you heard?

My first real blues experience was the John Mayall’s Blues Breakers album with Eric Clapton.  That was the record that got me hooked on blues guitar.  Clapton’s playing had such an impact on me.  The Robert Johnson box set and a Buddy Guy Greatest hits album also solidified things for me.

3.  What types of music did you start out listening to?

I have had many phases and I am appreciative of all kinds of music.  Growing up in the 80's and 90's, I went through a metal phase, a hip-hop phase, and, of course, the early 90's grunge phase.  I think once I found Neil Young, I found classic rock, then all the blues that informed classic rock.  Neil Young was the first person I admired as a guitar soloist.  His ability to tell stories and be so sincere with the notes is awe-inspiring.

4.  When did you decide you wanted to be a musician?

Music has always been a part of me and I have always been playing music in some form or another.  However, it’s only since 2010 that I have been getting recognition and doing it on a somewhat bigger scale.  I am still new to the business side.  I figure it’s a long road and I’ll keep working at it.

5.  Did you start out playing the blues or did you gravitate to it?

A bit of both I think.  Once I got the taste of blues guitar soloing and how the “rules” work so-to-speak, I started improvising and finding my natural voice.  It pulled me in once I got close.  There is also the emotional side too – the note bending and progressions allow me to channel a whole range of emotions, form anxiety, stress, pain, fear and joy.  Blues is full of happiness too.

6.  Who are some of your influences on guitar?

My main influences include: Clapton, Buddy Guy, Duane Allman, the Three Kings (BB, Freddie and Albert).  Clapton has always meant the most as a songwriting guitarist.

7.  A lot of your songs on the new CD, BetterFor You, seem to be inspired from personal experience.  Is there a particular method that you use to do your songwriting or do they just come naturally?

On Better For You, yes, some of the songs are very personal.  I think it comes down to having had certain experiences and being willing to talk about them in song.  I didn’t have the confidence to do that a few years ago.  Some of the songs, however, are “blues-fiction,” or short stories not based on my life (e.g. "Broken Man," "SoTired," "Long Way To Go").  I also co-write a lot.  Some of the co-writing on this album took place between Ben Fisher and I, a great songwriter friend of mine in England.  Together, we wrote "Turn toShine," "Come From a Good Place," "Broken Man," "Better For You," and "So Tired."  We sent a lot of partly-finished demos back and forth, trying to finish each other’s songs over email and these songs resulted.  I would have half of a song completed and he might be in the same situation.  We would trade back and forth.  We actually never met until after I started recording.  Our co-writes were all over email, some phone discussions.   I am pretty honest with myself when I hit a wall and can’t seem to finish a song.  Co-writing, at least for me, helps to ensure that interesting ideas aren’t left to whither on the vine.  They can find a home.

8.  You take a lot more of the vocals on the new CD.  Who are the vocalists who inspire and/or influence you, in any genre?

It’s interesting in that I don’t really have many influences like I do for guitar.  Your question has just pointed that out to me!  I did take some lessons in 2012 to prepare for recording, so I should give a plug for my vocal coach based in Toronto, a guy named Orville Heyn.  Blues artist Suzie Vinnick also told me once to just come from the heart (thanks Suzie). However, I do admire Clapton because he is so sincere – he means everything he says, just like his guitar playing.  He is a very intimate singer and I like that approach. 

I think that on the songs where I sound a bit more weathered (e.g. "Long Way to Go"), I would cite Muddy Waters as an influence.  On more intimate numbers (e.g. "Tell Me What You Need"), perhaps John Mayer and Clapton.

9.  What are some of the blues albums that are mainstays of your collection?

The Very Best of Buddy Guy, Allmans' Live at Fillmore East, Tedeschi-Trucks Band's Revelator, Muddy Waters' The Chess 50th Anniversary Collection, Derek and the Dominos' Layla, Albert King's The Ultimate Collection, the Duane Allman Anthology - can I go on?  J

10.  How has becoming a parent changed your life and the way you approach your music and career?

Being a parent keeps things in perspective.  Family is more important than music.   That much is clear. 

In terms of songwriting, I think I have more to write about. 

In terms of touring, believe it or not, I don’t tour that much in terms of consecutive days on the road.  I am still at a stage where people are learning about me so it’s not like I have every opportunity out there.  What I do is usually book a festival somewhere and then add a few dates around it, and then come home.  It works for me.  If more opportunities present themselves, I will go with the flow I guess.

I think being so busy and juggling all these things at once makes you better at all of them.   I really do.  The challenge is keeping your energy up.

Bonus Questions:  What’s your next project?  Are there some things you would like to try in the future?

At this point, I really want to support this album as much as I can, and play live in as many new markets as I can.  My European agent and I are trying to set up something in Europe down the road and I will keep pushing my way into the US - know any festival bookers, Graham? J 

From a creative perspective, after finishing a new album, I am pretty burnt out in terms of ideas.  The creative mind will come back in the cyclical, natural way that it does, but for now it’s time to focus on the live work.   However, I do have some “sketches” for songs for the third album already.   I always have ideas floating around.  They’ll hopefully find a home one day!


Chris Antonik (2010)

Better For You (2013)

Friday, March 15, 2013

My Favorite Things - Blues Guitar Blasters

A few weeks ago, I mentioned picking up a couple of discs from Amazon with a gift card.  We've already talked about the first one, an import collection of Robert Nighthawk's classic Chess sides that was quite the bargain.  The second disc I picked up was also a bargain, and one that I had been trying to find for years.....I mean years, like since the late 80's, not long after I started listening to the blues.

Blues Guitar Blasters was an import, too, from the great U.K. label, Ace Records.  For a new blues fan, Ace Records was an indispensable source.  The label's catalog included numerous B. B. King collections, plus compilations of Bobby "Blue" Bland, Elmore James, and also some fantastic anthology sets that covered recordings from the 50's and 60's.  They usually mixed tracks by familiar artists to lure you in, then blew you away with tracks by artists you'd never heard of.  I have never understood why the import labels have the best blues anthology collections, but it seems like they always do. They pack a single CD with TONS of great sides, just as much as they can fit, something rarely seen with domestic collections.

Jimmy Nolan
Back in the day, I collected cassettes, so by the late 80's/early 90's, it was getting harder to find what I wanted to listen to in that format because cassettes were being slowly phased out, especially with the overseas labels.  Therefore, I missed out on Blues Guitar Blasters the first time around.  By the time, I finally switched to CD format, it was out of print in the CD format, too, so I figured I was out of luck for good.  Then, while looking for CD bargains right after Christmas, I happened to find a pre-owned disc from one of Amazon's sellers and fitting neatly in my price range, so I snatched it up.

B. B. King
For a newcomer to the blues who wants to check out some of the original sources that influenced lots of current blues guitarists, Blues Guitar Blasters is a wonderful place to get started.  There are tracks by artists familiar to even newer fans (two tracks by B. B. King, two by Albert King, three from Elmore James, a track apiece from John Lee Hooker and T-Bone Walker).  While the artists are familiar, the songs may not be, including a cover of "Killing Floor" from Albert King, a really cool instrumental ("Talkin' The Blues") from B. B. King, the raucous "Elmo's Shuffle," from James, and the swinging "Hey Hey Baby" from Walker, circa 1964.  These songs, while fairly obscure to most blues fans, are very representative of the artists' styles during the 50's and 60's, and are worth a listen.

Guitar Slim
Some of the artists, like Johnny "Guitar" Watson, Guitar Slim, and Lowell Fulson may be familiar to blues fans, and their selected tracks are equally effective.  Watson's two tracks include his standard, "Three Hours Past Midnight," and "Oh Babe," while Slim's two tracks includes the catchy "Certainly All," and "The Things That I Used To Do," recognizable to most knowledgeable music lovers, having been covered countless times by blues and rock artists.

Lowell Fulson
Lowell Fulson's contributions to the blues have long been underrated...sounds like a future FBF post in the making...and he enjoyed success in every decade from the 40's to the 90's and really didn't ever lose a step at all.  "Talkin' Woman" is one of his two standout tracks offered here.  The great West Coast guitarist Pee Wee Crayton had several instrumental hits in the late 40's, including "Blues After Hours," and he has two tracks from the 60's on this disc, both showing the influence of T-Bone Walker.

Ike Turner
There are also tracks by Ike Turner and Jimmy Nolan, who would later serve as James Brown's guitarist for many years.  Though he's remember now mostly as Mr. Tina Turner, Ike Turner was one of the driving forces, mostly behind the scenes, of the blues scene in the 50's.  He served as A&R man for several labels, leading record labels to future stars like Bobby Bland and Howlin' Wolf, and played piano or guitar on many classic tunes of the era as well by artists like B. B. King, Otis Rush, and Little Milton.  He was also responsible for "Rocket 88," considered by many to be the first ever rock & roll song.  Turner's track, the previously unreleased "Twistin' the Strings," shows his creativity.

Lafayette Thomas
The wild cards on Blues Guitar Blasters are Nolan, whose smooth and jazzy "After Hours" opens the disc, and another West Coast guitarist, Lafayette Thomas.  Thomas spent many years playing guitar in Jimmy McCracklin's band, rarely recording as a front man.  "Jumpin' In The Heart of Town," features McCracklin's band in support and Thomas' solo is a textbook example of West Coast blues guitar.

The amazing thing about this disc is that we've barely scratched the surface.  There are so many good songs on Blues Guitar Blasters that you almost have to hear it to really appreciate it.  It's currently out of print, but can be found at a number of used CD sites, like Amazon.

If I were charged with showing a new blues fan the ropes, this disc would be one of the first ones that I would plug in for them.  It will provide hours of essential listening for any blues fan.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Ten Questions with Ron Levy

If you've listened to any blues recording released since the mid 1980's, there's a good chance that Ron Levy either played on it or produced it (or both).  Levy has been a very active part of the blues scene since the late 1960's, playing keyboards with Albert King for several years, enjoying a lengthy tenure with B.B. King in the 70's that included appearances on a dozen of King's albums, and working with Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson and Roomful of Blues in the 80's.

It was during the 80's that Levy became arranger, associate producer, and keyboardist for Black Top Records, even recording his own albums as Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom.  He was a fast study, moving into the 90's Levy co-founded Rounder Records' Bullseye Blues label and served as producer/A&R man.  Bulleye Blues garnered several Grammy nominations, Handy Awards, and Living Blues Awards, and Levy was chosen as Producer of the Year by Living Blues magazine in 1994.  Among the artists Levy produced for Bullseye Blues were Charles Brown, Otis Clay, Ann Peebles, Champion Jack Dupree, Little Jimmy King, Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson, Larry Davis, Smokin' Joe Kubek, and Jimmy McCracklin.

Levy also co-founded the Cannonball Blues and Jazz label in the late 90's, producing recordings by artists like Melvin Sparks, Johnnie Bassett, Alberta Adams, and the acclaimed Blues Across America series.  Since 2000, Levy has focused on touring and performing, having released several CDs on his Levtron label, including the recent Funky Fiesta! 

Levy's most ambitious project to date is his ground-breaking new web-book, Tales of a Road Dog.  In it, Levy regales his readers with great behind-the-scenes stories about his days of breaking into the blues business, performing with his idols, his development and adventures as a musician, producer, and A&R man.  The anecdotes are endless and entertaining, and include numerous pictures and videos.

Mr. Levy was gracious enough to subject himself to FBF's Ten Questions with.....and got a bit more than he bargained for.  Friday Blues Fix appreciates his time, patience, and participation.

1. What inspired you to write Tales of a Road Dog?

Mostly because of all the wonderful and fascinating people I've met in my life.  Two friends, Fred Wesley and Frank Chimi especially, inspired me to write these tales down while I was telling them some, before I forgot them.  I've told many of these stories through the years and always got laughs and great responses.  I've been blessed with many interesting and sometimes crazy experiences, too.  I wanted to share them with the public on a broader scale.

2. The book is really unique and interesting because you link to dozens of videos and pictures…..What made you decide to publish it in electronic format?

I greatly respect various old traditions from around the world.  However, those traditions were new when they first began, using only what they had available.  The technology of today afforded me a vehicle to educate and explain various traditions and "ways of life" in a three-dimensional format in a way that's never been done before, using what we have available today.

Also, once a old fashioned book is printed, that's pretty much it.... it's done.  This pioneering format allows me to add on to it anytime I want!  I'll be adding more songs (200), a few more of my albums, and more photos in the future.  There are about 2,000 photos in the gallery already.  I don't know of any other book that includes that many photos, you?  There's also a direct email line for the reader's questions and comments at the end of each chapter.  It's much more than just a sit-down to be read quietly from cover to cover, then you're done book.  It's like a living encyclopedia of cool stuff, where the reader can always go back to it.  Hell, I read and re-read it at least 400 times while writing and putting it together.  Tales... is and will be accessible on any device that connects to the internet, known now or in the future.

For the "less adventurous" there's an e-Book with all the text, 50+ photos and a download of my newest album, Funky Fiesta!, included.  The real heart and soul of the book are the compelling, inspiring, and humorous stories.  If folks want to later "upgrade" to the Deluxe Edition, they'll be able to.  Both versions, along with my extensive music store are on my website:

3. In the book, you retrace the steps of your career and the musicians, management, family, and friends that you encountered along the way. One thing I like about your writing is that pretty much call things as you saw them and your honesty about some things and some people (including yourself) is refreshing, though sometimes there’s a chance that it might hurt their feelings. Have you encountered any of the people you’ve written about since the book was published and how did some of them react to what was written about them?

No one has complained yet.  I've shared 99% of the chapters with all the available people that were involved and there at the time, for fact checking purposes while writing it.  They all loved it and were amazed at how much detail I could recall.  These are all stories we've all laughed about together in the past, so I'm not worried.  This is also a "tell some, not a tell all" book for the very (legal) reason you stated.  Another reason is the fact that there were so many good stories to tell, I didn't want waste my time reliving and telling about things that may have brought me or others any bitterness.  I want people to laugh, learn and enjoy my stories and, hopefully, be inspired by them.


4. As a youngster, you worked with Albert King and B.B. King for an extended period…..what lessons did you learn from them or any other musicians you worked with during that period that you were able to use effectively in your own career as a front man?

Wish I'd learned a lot more better but, I still learned so many things from so many people, it'd be difficult to boil it down as asked here.  This web-book is an intricately detailed mosaic of all those numerous learning experiences I want to pass on to people to enrich their lives as well, and answers your question much better.

5. When did you start listening to the blues?

This may sound crazy, but the very first "blues" I heard and felt was in my grandfather's synagogue, while listening to him and the other older men praying.  Those ancient minor infused melodies deeply hit my soul as a young child.  I still pray using those very same melodies today.  In Chapter One, I talk about two fine people who worked for my family and partly raised me and my younger brother.  They always tuned to Boston's "Soul Station - WILD" on the radio.  I always enjoyed R&B, Jazz, and Gospel music too.  Both Cora and Willie would seem so happy listening to "their" music.  They'd exclaim unbridled joy whenever the singer would hit one of those "notes" that made your spine tingle and your neck hairs stand.  I wanted to make people feel that way too!

6. Who were your influences on the keyboards?

Too many to list here or anywhere, although I did try to, in writing Tales....  After I first saw Ray Charles in concert at fourteen, I took our radio from the kitchen and perched it on our parlor piano, tuned in to WILD and began pecking away one finger at a time the very next day.  Otis Spann was the first real professional that took me aside and showed me how and what to play.  He'd have me place my hands on his while he made his moves, then have me do it without him.  He was a sweet and wonderful soul. I often think of him and miss him.  Horace Silver, Jimmy Smith and Ramsey Lewis were also very inspiring.  I had all their records.  There were and still are so many that inspire me.  I learn from everyone, even my beginner students.  Mostly, I study music theory, harmony and rhythm from my library of music books.  I seldom tried to copy anybody note for note, but rather tried to learn what they were doing in an effort to forge it into my own personal trademark style.  They played their life and told their stories, I seek to play and tell mine.

7. Did any other musicians inspire you?

Again, many.  They're all in the book!

8. How would you describe your own playing style?

Brilliant, dark, elegant, funky, rhythmic, melodic, harmonic, teardrops and laughter, pretty, funky, stinky, sweet & sour, smooth, rough, humorous, serious, fast, slow, colorful, black, white, gray, full, spacial, upbeat, downbeat, syncopated beats, happy, sad, hot, cool, warm, melancholy, emotional, carefree, angelic, devilish, complicated and simple........and that's just the anticipation for my first note!

I guess, it all winds up, coming out as Funky Blues and Soul Jazz with a dash of Latin and Yiddish.

9. You’ve worked as a producer for many years….do you remember a particular session where you really sensed that you had caught lightning in a bottle….where everyone was firing on all cylinders and you knew that you had captured something special?

So many, many times, I had the honor and privilege to work with Hall of Fame legends, in Blues, Soul and Jazz. It'd be impossible to single any one out over another.  They were all special at the time.  That's another reason why I wrote Tales....  Unlike any other music book, when I discuss every one of those magical times, there are photos and videos right there, in context, for the reader to fully appreciate them.  There are over 300 of these videos included!

10. Can you tell us a bit about how you work as a producer?

For money, I don't work on the cheap!  That's why I make the mid-line bucks. LOL

How involved are you in the process? Are you really “hands-on,” do you just sit back and let things happen, or are you somewhere in between?

100% from soup to nuts, as they say in the restaurant trade.  I always saw my role likened to a movie producer and director, as well as script writer, grip, and camera man.  I also found myself acting as rabbi, psychiatrist, pimp, loan shark, and janitor on many occasions.  That said; one needs to know when to be "hands on" as well as "hands off".  That's a learned and acquired skill in itself.

I was once told that I'm not a "cookie cutter" Producer. I took that as the highest compliment. I always respected each artist as an individual and worked with them accordingly, showcasing their strengths and camouflaging any possible weaknesses or mistakes.

11. If you had to put together a “Dream Team” session band, who would you use?

Hey, you said Ten!

I've pretty much tried to do that every session I've ever done.  I can't honestly recall anytime I've ever said after a session, "Damn, I wish I got somebody else to do that session with us instead of so and so."  I still feel that way, even after many years later.  That's why I wanted to include so many of my projects in the web-book.

The concept of a "dream team" is way overrated in my opinion.  I appreciate that fans want to see their favorites playing all together at once, like an All-Star game.  However, the so-called "stars" don't always work well in supportive roles together.  Why?  Because they're "stars" and are inclined to stand out by themselves by their very nature.  Just like a painting, you have the center focus, the background, a complimentary frame, and even a nice wall with the proper lighting to showcase it on.  Making a record is a team effort.  Each musician has a specific role to play.  "Papa" Willie Mitchell taught me that.  A star's role is to shine bright.  With too many all at once, it can be like looking into the sun for too long.

Whenever I see these "dream team" concerts on TV, especially Blues or Rock (interestingly enough, Jazz and country seem to work much better), I change the channel.  You know, the ones with five or six outstanding guitarists (soloists), six singers or more, etc, etc.  It always sounds like a mish mosh of cluttered sound to me.  It's like ordering five or six different, delicious gourmet dinners of Italian, Chinese, Greek, Southern, and BBQ (and my mother-in-law's home cooking) together, then dumping them all onto just one huge platter, mixing them all up and saying, "Bon appetite!"  One, two or three samples are fine over the course of a night.  But, without a backup band knowing their roles and supporting them, we get back into mish mosh territory.  Just like too many cooks.  Could you please pass the Pepto?

12. Can you tell us about your new CD, Funky Fiesta!?

Recording Funky Fiesta! was really fun.  It reunited me with many of my favorite hometown musicians I've recorded and toured with over the years.  Lil' Joe from Chicago, my ol' pal from our B.B. King days, came to play on it too.  Fiesta is the next logical step of my progression as a composer, player and producer from my previous efforts.  Like before, I just wrote and played from my heart and soul and what came out was having fun, making music with very talented good friends.  It's a finely tuned gumbo of many delicious ingredients, a full palette of sounds and emotions.  The title says it all!

13. What kind(s) of music do you listen to in your spare time?

Spare time?  Surely you jest!  Although I have a collection of easily over 30,000 LPs, CDs, 45s, tapes, 78s even wax cylinders; the only time I get to really "listen" without any distraction is when I'm driving by myself, negotiating our fabled, hectic, and crazy Boston traffic.  If you'd like a partial list however, you'll have to read and hear them in my web-book!

14. If you had a chance to do anything differently over the span of your career, what would you do?

I tried to tackle this question throughout the book (at times) and capsulized it in my Epilogue.  My dear wife, has more than once, described this endeavor as "cathartic" for me.  Number one in the regret department, would have to be all the money and time I wasted fooling around with alcohol and drugs, trying to be cool.  Thank God I was spared from any permanent damage, but I came very close having that abuse ill-affect me quite permanently.  I'm a very blessed and lucky guy. Many of my dear friends were not as fortunate.

Here's a short list of "I wishes" for  you.
I wish:
- I appreciated all the wonderful people, times and blessings I was granted to experience as much as I do now and communicated that better at the time. (Another reason why I wrote the book.)
- Spent even more quality time with my family, loved ones, friends and teachers, especially the ones that are gone now.
- Asked more questions, took more pictures, loved more and took less.
- I had been more honest with myself and demanded better of myself.
- I never said or did any of the hurtful things to others and myself, either intentionally or not.
- Played the trumpet instead of my cumbersome choices of: Hammond organs, pianos and etc. with heavy amplifiers and Leslie speakers.  Why?  You get all the best high notes; it's easy to tune; you can place your horn easily under your arm while having a gorgeous gal hanging on the other; when you finish a gig, it takes only five minutes to pack up, get paid and split; you can drive a sports car instead of a van hauling a trailer; play half the time and get paid in full; don't have to kiss as much unless I really want to (just kidding Mrs. Levy); plus it's really nice and shiny!

Thanks again for this opportunity to share some of my thoughts and feelings with your readers.  I hope they all come visit me on my website:, take a test drive and come check out the scenery.  Best to all.