Friday, January 27, 2017

Instrumentally Speaking (Part 3)

Well, it's time once again, dear readers, for another all-instrumental day at FBF.  I've been listening to music for a long time now, and dating back to the mid to late 80's, one of my favorite things to do was make a mix tape of my favorite instrumentals collected off of my album collection, using an actual tape to do so.  I would throw in rock, R&B, jazz, and blues instrumentals and plug them into my Walkman (Google "Walkman" or ask your parents), so this is always kind of fun to do.  Here are four more instrumental tracks that are guaranteed to put a hop in your step and a smile on your face.  Happy listening

For this edition of Instrumentally Speaking, we're going to go with a "Stomp" theme.  In the first edition of Instrumentally Speaking, we included Otis Spann's "Spann's Stomp," so we will revisit that theme this time around.

First up is the tune that was the inspiration for this week's topic, Robert "Wolfman" Belfour's "Hill Stomp."  Belfour was born in Red Banks, MS, a small community in north Mississippi between Holly Springs and Olive Branch, in 1940.  He learned to play guitar from his father and learned to play the blues from local musicians like Otha Turner, R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough.  He combined the north Mississippi sounds with others like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell, and his idol, Howlin' Wolf.  He relocated to Memphis in the 60's and started playing on Beale Street in the early 80's, encouraged by his wife.  He was recorded by musicologist David Evans for one of his anthology collections in the 1990's, which was released on a German label, Hot Fox.  From there, Belfour signed with Fat Possum Records and released two most excellent albums of his own, What's Wrong With You in 2000 and Pushin' My Luck in 2003.  "Hill Stomp" was the first track on his second disc and it was a perfect opening track to one of the best Mississippi blues albums of the decade......seriously, if you don't have this album, you should really make an effort to get it, and play it loud one hot summer night in Mississippi while driving down a dark, dirt road at midnight.  You'll get it then, for sure.  Belfour passed away in 2015, but these two albums are a great testament to his talent.

Let's take it down south for a couple of tunes.......down Louisiana way.  Check out the King of Zydeco, Mr. Clifton Chenier, who cut "Zodico Stomp," for Specialty Records in 1955 ("Zodico" being a variation of the actual word "Zydeco"), as part of the first tunes that really brought him to the public eye.  The 12 sides he cut for Specialty producer Bumps Blackwell were later compiled into an album called Bayou Blues.  Chenier enjoyed a long and productive career, bringing his great mix of blues, Cajun, and zydeco to an ever-growing fan base, recording into the early 80's and performing regularly up until a week before his death in December, 1987.  After his death, his son C.J. Chenier began leading his band, the Red Hot Louisiana Band, and continues to do so. 

Staying in the Pelican State, here's one of my favorite blues artists, Lazy Lester.  Lester enjoyed a successful tenure as a front man and side man for Excello Records, cutting a truckload of blues standards that are still played regularly by current blues, rock, and country bands ("Sugar Coated Love," "I'm A Lover Not A Fighter," "I Hear You Knockin'" for starters).  His numerous sides for Excello included a formidable set of  instrumentals, the most famous being the rousing "Ponderosa Stomp," which actually inspired the name of the current New Orleans music festival that brings together blues, zydeco, and roots artists together every few years.  Lazy Lester himself is still active after making a bit of a comeback in the 1980's.  He's recorded fairly regularly since then and is still a force to be reckoned with at 83.

What the heck.......let's just stay in Louisiana with another native, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.  The Vinton native bristled when he was called a blues man, preferring to say that he played "American Music."  That music encompassed blues, country, jazz, Cajun, rock n' roll, and rhythm & blues.  He played guitar, fiddle, mandolin, drums, and harmonica.  Inspired on guitar by T-Bone Walker, Brown first gained attention recording for Don Robey's Peacock Records, beginning in 1949.  Although he enjoyed several hits during his ten years with the label, but probably his biggest song during that time, his most influential anyway, was the instrumental "Okie Dokie Stomp," recorded in 1954.  Over his career, Brown moved to Nashville, recorded a few country singles, a great album with Roy Clark (even appearing on Clark's show, Hee Haw, a couple of times), recorded with Professor Longhair on his Rock N' Roll Gumbo album, toured the Soviet Union, and enjoyed a long recording career with a number of labels, recording just exactly what he wanted, paying no mind to musical genres or critics.  He passed away in 2005, shortly after Hurricane Katrina destroyed his home in Slidell, Louisiana, but he made quite a mark during his 81 years on the planet.

Friday Blues Fix hopes everyone enjoyed this "Stompin'" set of instrumentals!!!

Friday, January 20, 2017

New Blues For You - Winter, 2017 Edition (Part 1)

By now, maybe most of you have paid off those pesky Christmas bills and have a few extra bills in your pocket to spend on those new blues releases that your families failed to put under the tree for you.  Here at Friday Blues Fix, we feel your pain.  Sometimes, those subtle hints you leave around the house don't always get picked up on by your loved ones, but that's perfectly fine......they mean well and you usually still end up with some pretty nifty gifts in the long run.

This week at FBF, our crack staff has assembled a nice set of recent and upcoming blues album releases that may fit the bill for you after-Christmas shoppers.  Who knows......maybe you got a couple of Amazon or iTunes gift cards that are burning a hole in your pocket.  We are here for you, so sit back and check out these new releases.  You can check out expanded reviews of these disc in current or future issues of Blues Bytes, THE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.

Colin James - Blue Highways (True North Records):  Canadian guitarist/singer/songwriter James is renowned for his mad guitar skills, and deserves to be even better known than he is.  His latest release is a set of his own favorite blues songs, each of which inspired him in one way or the other.  He recorded this set less than a week after his previous tour with his working band and it took two days.  Obviously, this was a labor of love for all involved.

James covers tunes familiar tunes from Freddie King, Tommy Johnson, Amos Milburn, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Junior Wells, but he interprets them in fresh and inventive new ways.  He also tackles a few lesser-known tunes from Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green-era), Memphis Slim, Blind Willie McTell, Jimmy Reed, and Howlin' Wolf, plus a dandy take on William Bell's "Don't Miss Your Water."  There's a lot of love in this set and James does a fine job with these classics.....good enough that you'll be checking out his catalog as well as the artists he covers.

Jason Elmore & Hoodoo Witch - Champagne Velvet (Underworld Records):  I really dug this Texas trio's previous release, Tell You What, but this one is even better.  There's more of a soul and blues focus on their third release, where their previous two focused more on the rock side of the blues.  There's still plenty of rocking edge to their sound, but they really mix it up this time around.

The fourteen original songs go from rousing jump blues to Texas-styled shuffles to countrified soul to West Coast R&B to funk to Mississippi Delta acoustic to jazz.  If that sounds like too many directions, don't worry about it.  It all works fine.  There's never a dull moment on this disc.  Elmore is a masterful guitarist and a strong and versatile vocalist on these tunes.  The band really steps out on these tunes......they still rock, but there's a lot more to enjoy than on previous releases.  This album will be satisfying to longtime fans and newcomers alike.

Eric Clapton - I Still Do (Surfdog Records):  Okay, this one's been available for quite a while, but it showed up in my Christmas stocking this year, and that's perfectly fine with me.  Clapton has long been a favorite of mine, but his last few releases slipped past me for one reason or another.  When the story came out a few months ago about his recent struggles with a nerve disorder that sometimes affects his playing, I was glad to get a copy of this one.  In recent years, Clapton has eschewed the major label routine and has been recording for the independent label Surfdog Records, where he's pretty much been able to record just what he wants when he wants.

Enlisting the Hall of Fame producer Glyn Johns (producer of his 70's smash, Slowhand), Clapton gives us a few blues covers from Skip James, Leroy Carr, and Robert Johnson, a couple of J.J. Cale songs, a Dylan song, and a couple of pop standards, along with a pair of memorable originals that measure up very well.  Despite the story about his difficulties playing, he shows no ill effects on these tunes, ably assisted by longtime comrades Andy Fairweather Low, Simon Climie, Henry Spinneti, Chris Stainton, and L'Angelo Mysterioso, who plays guitar and duets with Clapton on one tune.  That name was a pseudonym for George Harrison many years ago, when he appeared on the Cream tune, "Badge," but Clapton remains mum on who this Mysterioso might be. Clapton's latest is a good one, not a world beater by any means, but a good, steady, dependable album that you'll play over and over again.

Mississippi Heat - Cab Driving Man (Delmark Records):  25 years in now, Mississippi Heat remains one of the mainstays of the Chicago Blues scene.  Despite multiple changes in the line-up over the years, they are not only a Windy City favorite, but also reach across the country and abroad as well.  Band leader/harmonica ace Pierre Lacocque (longtime FBF readers recall our Ten Questions with him) continues to be a force on the harp, with Inetta Visor (vocals) and Michael Dotson (guitar/vocals) also featured prominently.

The disc is also loaded with guest stars/former alum like guitarist Giles Corey, drummer Kenny Smith, keyboardist Sumito Ariyo, and guitarist Dave Specter.  Visor takes the lion's share of the vocals, moving easily from bluesy R&B to jazz, funk, Latin, and traditional blues.  Dotson takes the mic for three tunes, his own compositions, and his gruff and gritty style is a perfect complement to Visor's smooth, urban style.  If you want to hear blues played at its best, you can't go wrong with Mississippi Heat, who's been doing it well for a quarter century now.

Rev. Billy C. Wirtz (featuring The Nighthawks) - Full Circle (EllerSoul Records):  I had only heard a few random tracks of Wirtz's repertoire prior to receiving this disc for review.  For the uninitiated, Wirtz is evenly split between serious blues man and manic rock n' roller in the Jerry Lee Lewis tradition.  He's quite the songwriter, too.  A couple of his crowd favorites are "Mama Was A Deadhead" and "Mennonite Surf Party."

Those two tracks appear on Wirtz's new disc, which is split between live acoustic tracks and a few studio tracks.  He's joined by several special guests.....The Nighthawks, guitarist Bobby Driver, and harmonica player Li'l Ronnie Owens.  Wirtz introduces a few new tracks, most of which are pretty memorable, and he plays it straight on a few cover tunes from Bill Black, Charlie Rich, Floyd Cramer, among others.  This is a really entertaining set.....a great introduction for new listeners and a welcome return to the record racks for his fans.

Deb Ryder - Grit Grease & Tears (BEJEB Music):  If there's any justice in this mean old world, this disc will put Ms. Ryder front and center in the blues world.  Both of her previous releases were standouts and this one puts those two in its rear view mirror.  Ryder is a powerful singer.....this much we know from her previous efforts, but this set puts her near the top as far as blues vocalists go.  She tears through these songs with a vengeance.

Joined by an all-star cast of musicians, including drummer Tony Braunagel, guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and Kirk Fletcher, keyboardist Mike Finnigan, and guests Albert Lee, Sugaray Rayford, and Bob Corritore, Ryder does a wonderful job on these tunes, which spans southern rockers, gospel, soul, and traditional and urban blues.  This is just a superlative effort from start to finish and hopefully Ryder will see some much-deserved success from it.

Donald Ray Johnson - Bluesin' Around (self-released):  Johnson has been around music all his life, working as a drummer for years behind dozens of blues and R&B stars.  If you were a part of the disco era, you might remember one of Johnson's former bands, A Taste of Honey, who had several hits in the late 70's, including the monster hit, "Boogie Oogie Oogie."  Johnson relocated to Canada a few years back and began focusing on a career as a blues vocalist, where he's enjoyed some success, at least enough to release a Best Of collection a couple of years ago.

Recently, Johnson released his latest album, which consists of mostly blues and R&B cover tunes from the likes of B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Phillip Walker, Lucky Peterson, Nat Dove, and Joe Louis Walker's title track, which Johnson pretty much transforms into an autobiographical track.  He also covers one A Taste of Honey tune from their debut, which works well in this setting.  He's backed by the Gas Blues Band, a two-lead-guitar unit that do an excellent job in support of Johnson's strong vocals.  Anyone who likes urban blues and old school R&B will be glad to have this set in their collection.

The Joey Gilmore Band - Respect The Blues (Mosher St. Records):  Florida-based guitarist Gilmore has been active for a half century, playing with many blues legends (Little Milton, Etta James, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Little Johnny Taylor).  He's also enjoyed a long solo career, recording the occasional album.  This is only his eighth release, and features his version of eleven songs originally performed by his musical mentors and influences.

The set list consists of mostly familiar blues and R&B tunes from a wide variety of artists......New Orleans legend Johnny Adams, Little Milton, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Albert King, William Bell, Sunnyland Slim, Ray Charles, Don Covay, and Johnny Rawls.  Gilmore's guitar work and vocal style will bring to mind Little Milton at times, and he welcomes singers Edilene Hart and Domino Johnson on a few tracks.  His band is really solid on these tunes, too.  Joey Gilmore has been a well-kept secret for many years, but with any luck, this release should expand his audience well beyond the Sunshine State.

The Kentucky Headhunters - On Safari (Plowboy/Practice House Records):  Heading into their 28th year, dating back to their monster debut 1989 release, The Kentucky Headhunters are still a force to be reckoned with.  Though they first garnered attention on the Country charts, they have gradually made it over to the Roots and Blues columns over the years, including having released a couple of albums with the late piano master Johnnie Johnson on Alligator Records.

Their latest release is a bittersweet one because just prior to their beginning recording, brothers Richard and Fred Young lost their 93-year-old father.  Since most of the band members are related and basically grew up together, the loss hit hard and the band poured everything they had into these songs.  This is one of their strongest sets of tunes in a while and they also cover Alice Cooper and Charlie Daniels.  How's that for diversity?!!  Though you may have lost track of these guys over the years, they are still making some mighty music and anyone who digs blues, rock, or country will find something to love here.

Led Zeppelin - The Complete BBC Sessions (Atlantic Records):  I was a late arrival to Led Zeppelin.  I was a little young when they were in their heyday in the early/mid 70's, and by the time I started listening to music seriously, their recordings were a bit more sporadic, though I did enjoy what I was able to hear.  I never really took them that seriously until a couple of years ago, when I picked up a used copy of Mothership, a double-disc collection of some of their finest tunes, and was amazed at how many of their songs I knew and also at how much the blues played a role in their musical vision. I turned my daughters on to this music while I was listening, so they gave me this three-disc set for Christmas.

A few years ago, Atlantic released a two-disc set of the band's recordings for the BBC from the late 60's/early 70's......back in those days, the BBC recorded many of the era's greatest rock bands live in a studio or theatre setting. There have been numerous sessions released over the years, including sessions from Cream, Jimi Hendrix, and the Yardbirds to just name a few.  The song lists, from sessions recorded between 1969 and 1971, includes a large number of blues standards from associated with Muddy Waters, Sleepy John Estes, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Otis Rush, and a healthy dose of the band's own original tunes.  The third disc on this release includes songs that were accidentally erased, but were preserved on bootleg copies.  If you're familiar with the band, you'll want these recordings since there are only a few live Led Zeppelin albums available, but it's good listening for newcomers to the band, too, and will encourage them to pick up more of their work, and probably a few of the artists' work that the band covers as well.

More new blues coming up in the next couple of weeks, so stay tuned.

Friday, January 13, 2017

2016 Tributes

As most music fans are well aware, 2016 saw the deaths of numerous musicians in numerous genres.  Artists like David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Jefferson Airplane's Paul Kantner, Earth, Wind & Fire founder (and former Chess Records drummer) Maurice White, Keith Emerson and Greg Lake of Emerson, Lake, & Palmer, Prince, Merle Haggard, Ralph Stanley, Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Bobby Vee, Leonard Cohen, and George Michael all died in 2016, a stunning number of major and influential musicians.

2016 also saw a large number of blues artists breathe their last, some major stars among them, and some you may not have known.  This week Friday Blues Fix pays tribute to a few......

Long John Hunter (7/13/1931 - 1/4/2016) - Texas blues singer/guitarist

Otis Clay (2/11/1942 - 1/8/2016) - Soul/blues legend

Jerry Beach (12/11/1941 - 1/10/2016) - Shreveport guitarist and songwriter ("I'll Play the Blues For You")

L.C. Ulmer (8/28/1928 - 2/14/2016) - Central Mississippi singer/guitarist

Elmo Williams (2/6/1933 - 2/16/2016) - Natchez, MS-based singer/guitarist

Clarence Lewis, Jr. (8/20/1934 - 2/26/2016) - Alabama-based singer/songwriter (co-wrote "Ya Ya," "Fannie Mae," "The Sky Is Crying"), also known as C.L. Blast

Aron Burton (6/15/1938 - 2/29/2016) - Chicago bass player/bandleader

David Egan (3/20/1954 - 3/18/2016) - Louisiana-based singer/songwriter/keyboardist ("First You Cry," "Even Now," "Wake Up Call")

Boo Hanks (4/30/1928 - 4/15/2016) - North Carolina blues man

Lonnie Mack (7/18/1941 - 4/21/2016) - legendary guitarist/singer

Harrison Calloway (11/6/1940 - 4/30/2016) - founding member of Muscle Shoals Horns/arranger for Malaco Records

Charlie Fite (1930 - 5/3/2016) - Nashville-based R&B singer (Frank Howard & the Commanders)

Candye Kane (11/13/1961 - 5/6/2016) - Blues singer/entertainer

Chips Moman (6/14/1937 - 6/13/2016) - legendary Memphis producer/songwriter (co-wrote "Dark End of the Street," "Do Right Woman-Do Right Man")

Bill Ham (2/4/1937 - 6/20/2016) - Music impressario, manager/producer for ZZ Top

Wayne Jackson (11/24/1941 - 6/21/2016) - Memphis trumpet player (Memphis Horns, Mar-Keys, Robert Cray)

Sir Mack Rice (11/10/1933 - 6/27/2016) - singer/songwriter ("Cheaper To Keep Her," "Respect Yourself," "Mustang Sally")

Scotty Moore (12/27/1931 - 6/28/2016) - influential guitarist (Elvis Presley)

L.T. McGee (7/7/1945 - 6/29/2016) - Chicago singer (the Homewreckers)

Jesse Yawn (9/4/1937 - 7/5/2016) - blues/R&B singer

Leo Graham (12/5/1941 - 8/5/2016) - Chicago-based producer/songwriter ("Turning Point" and "So Good (To Be Home With You)" for Tyrone Davis, "Shining Star" for the Manhattans)

Ruby Wilson (2/29/1948 - 8/12/2016) - Memphis singer, "The Queen of Beale Street"

Preston Hubbard (3/15/1953 - 8/17/2016) - bass player (Roomful of Blues, Fabulous Thunderbirds)

Clifford Curry (11/3/1936 - 9/7/2016) - Nashville blues/R&B singer ("She Shot a Hole in My Soul")

Buckwheat Zydeco (11/14/1947 - 9/24/2016) - Zydeco legend

Leon Russell (4/2/1942 - 11/13/2016) - singer/songwriter/keyboardist/producer (Freddie King's Shelter Recordings)

Bob Walsh (1948 - 11/15/2016) - Quebec-based singer/guitarist/songwriter

Mose Allison (11/11/1927 - 11/15/2016) - blues/jazz singer/pianist/songwriter

Sharon Jones (5/4/1956 - 11/18/2016) - NY-based funk/soul singer (Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings)

Barrelhouse Chuck (7/10/1958 - 12/12/2016) - Chicago singer/keyboardist/songwriter

Sven Zetterberg (1952 - 12/18/2016) - One of Sweden's most celebrated blues artists

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ten Questions With......Dave Keller

Back in 2009, I reviewed Ronnie Earl's CD, Living in the Light, for Blues Bytes.  As most blues fans know, since Mr. Earl doesn't do vocals, he usually employs a skilled vocalist for a few tracks on each of his CDs.  On this CD, he enlisted Fabulous T-Bird Kim Wilson and New Englander Dave Keller.  Keller sang on two tracks, the funky opening track, "Love Love Love," and a mesmerizing version of Bob Dylan's "What Can I Do For You," where he was backed by members of Earl's church choir.  While Bob Dylan may have written that song, Earl and Keller make it their own.  Their version is one of my favorite songs of any genre.

A few months later, I was able to review Keller's own release, Play For Love, and I discovered that in addition to being a great singer, he was also a fine guitarist and songwriter who had released a couple of previous out of print, sadly. In 2011, he teamed with producer Bob Perry to release Where I'm Coming From...., a fantastic set of soul and blues covers which won the 2012 I.B.C. Best Self-Produced CD Award.

In 2013, Keller released Soul Changes, an excellent album of half originals and half covers which was recorded in Memphis with the original Hi Records rhythm section that graced 70's albums by Al Green, Otis Clay, Syl Johnson, Ann Peebles, and O.V. Wright.  That album was nominated for Best Soul/Blues Album at the 2014 Blues Music Awards.

A few months ago, Keller released Right Back Atcha, an album he recorded in Vermont with his working band (Ira Friedman - keyboards, Gary Lotspeich - bass, Brett Hoffman - drums), along with the Mo' Sax Horns (Jessica Friedman, former Wilson Pickett sideman Joe Moore, and Terry Youk), and mostly original songs written by Keller or co-written with Darryl Carter and Ira Friedman (plus a wonderful cover of Willie Clayton's "It's Time You Made Up Your Mind," which was written by Carter, Don Bryant, and Earl Randle back in the early 70's).  To these ears, this is the best Keller release that I've heard and it made it onto FBF's Top 20 Albums for 2017 last week.

Friday Blues Fix thanks Dave Keller for agreeing to sit down for Ten Questions.  This is one that I've been hoping to do for awhile, so without further ado, please sit back and enjoy.....

Ten Questions With……Dave Keller

Friday Blues Fix:  Growing up, did you dream of becoming a musician, or was it something that just happened along the way?

Dave Keller:  When I was about 10 or 11, I used to play air guitar in my room, and pretend I was in the spotlight. I don't think I ever imagined it would be a career for me, though. In college, I was an English major, and figured when I graduated I would get a job writing about environmental issues, and just play gigs on the weekends. Of course, the more I 'got into' playing music, and became a better singer and guitarist, the more money I was able to make, and the more I was able to shift into becoming a full-time working musician.

Did you listen to or perform soul and blues initially or did you gravitate to those styles?

I started learning guitar at age 16, but didn't join my first band and start playing out until age 20. That first band was a rock and punk cover band, with some originals, called “Cup O' Pizza”. Around that time I discovered blues, and started really focusing on learning it. A year later, I started a blues band called “Rhythm Method”. These were both college bands at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT. For about 10 years, all I played was blues, all I listened to was blues (radio, albums, live shows, etc.). Eventually I really fell in love with deep soul music.

You started out playing guitar, and later became a singer, which amazes me because you’re such a natural and soulful singer, I would have thought that came first…….what led you to start singing?

I grew up singing in Hebrew school and around the house. But I really never considered myself a singer. In my college bands, I sang a few songs out of necessity, but I was horrible. A couple years after graduating, I moved out west to Kettle Falls, WA. There wasn't much blues out there, and I realized that if I wanted to perform blues, I would have to learn to sing the songs myself, rather than rely on finding a singer. So every day on my lunch break, I had a little spot on a mountain road where I would park my car, and sit on the hood, and crank my tape deck up, and sing nice and loud where nobody could hear me (or criticize me). I imitated Son House, Ray Charles, the Dixie Hummingbirds, the Staple Singers. Over time – we're talking 20 years - I got better.

Who are some of your influences as a guitarist, and who are some of your vocal influences?

Ronnie Earl is my biggest influence as a guitarist. I used to see him all the time back in my 20s. I loved his intensity, and his wide dynamic range. Also it was cool to know that you could be Jewish and play the blues so soulfully. Robert Ward was another big influence on my guitar playing. I love the little 'Chinese' double-stops he played, and his quavering Magnatone sound. I think I have a lot of Robert Cray in my electric style as well. For my acoustic fingerpicking stuff, Paul Rishell showed my 80% of what I know. Lightnin' Wells showed me most of the other 20%.

My biggest influences as a singer are Mighty Sam McClain and O.V. Wright. Also Johnny Rawls, for his stage presence and ability to connect with an audience. I also love Solomon Burke, Wilson Pickett, Sam Cooke, Arthur Alexander, David Ruffin, Otis Clay, the Patterson Brothers, and so many other soul greats.

Mighty Sam McClain

Can you share with us any interesting stories about your career as a musician? Are there any musicians you have worked with or met that have helped shape your career in a particular way?

Getting to know the great soul singer, Mighty Sam McClain, as a friend, really helped me believe in myself as a singer and a bandleader. Before I met him, I remember that his 'comeback album', Give It Up to Love, was my favorite CD back in the mid 90s. I knew a booking agent who was putting together a blues fest in VT, and I begged him to get Mighty Sam on the bill. But I made him promise to put me on as an opening act. I didn't even care about getting paid. I just wanted to hear Sam live, and get to meet him. Well, I did get to meet him, and handed him my debut CD, Faith. A few days later I got a call on my answering machine from Sam, saying how much he loved the CD, and asking me to give him a call. Ever since that moment, up until he passed away in June 2015, we were friends. He was always there when I needed advice, and was a true friend. Intense, funny, spiritual, loving. A beautiful person, just like his music.

Dave Keller and Ronnie Earl

How did you get together with Ronnie Earl for his album Living In The Light? Your cover of Bob Dylan’s “What Can I Do For You” is awesome.

Thank you. I met Ronnie at a Stevie Wonder concert! I was walking in the front gate and Ronnie was sitting there waiting for his wife. He was wearing a Marvin Gaye t-shirt that said “War Is Not the Answer”. I have the same t-shirt. That's how I noticed him. I introduced myself, and told him he was a huge inspiration to me. We ended up chatting for 10 minutes or so, and exchanged addresses. I sent him my CD, Play for Love, and he loved it. Not long after, he asked me to sing on his record. I've since gotten to sing with him on many occasions, including at the Blues Music Awards ceremony, and it's always a thrill. He's been very gracious and generous, and like his music, he's full of love.

Several years ago, you released an album of soul and blues covers (Where I’m Coming From....). I’ve always been intrigued as to how artists choose cover songs for their albums. How did you choose some of these songs…….were they just favorites or did they speak to you in a personal way?

Some of the songs were songs that I'd loved for years. And some were ones my producer Bob Perry thought would fit me. All of them spoke to my situation, which was being in an unhappy marriage, that unbeknownst to me, was about to implode. So the tension was there, and the songs were ones that spoke to that tension I was feeling. (Strangely, the songs I'd selected ended up as the even-numbered ones on the CD, and the ones Bob suggested were the odd-numbered ones.)

Your album from a couple of years ago (Soul Changes) mixed originals and covers, and was also released while you were going through some difficult times in your life. However, your most recent album, RightBack Atcha, is nearly all original songs…..and from listening, it seems like you’re in a much better place. How hard or easy is it to channel your personal feelings into your songwriting? Is it more difficult for you to write songs when things are going well than when things are going bad?

It's definitely easier to write when I'm struggling with things. But it's also been fun to write happier, fun, sexy songs. Kinda new for me, honestly. I definitely write from my own experience. Writing songs from a made up perspective would seem weird. I certainly won't run out of experience to write from anytime soon!

What are your future plans? Do you have any special projects in the works? Is there anyone that you would like to work with that you haven’t worked with?

No exact future plans, other than to keep writing, keep recording, keep playing out. I'd love to tour beyond New England more regularly, but I'm committed to being a good father to my two girls. I'd love to record with my buddy Johnny Rawls. I'd love to get to work with Candi Staton, or William Bell, or Mavis Staples.

Suppose I’m putting together a Best of Dave Keller CD…….which ten or twelve songs would you want to include on it…..originals or covers?

1. "Play for Love" (from Play for Love)
2. "Here I Am" (from Play for Love)
3. "I Was No Angel" (from Play for Love)
4. "Superhero" (from Down at the Aloha)
5. "Everything I Know" (from Down at the Aloha)
6. "17 Years" (from Soul Changes) – co-written with Darryl Carter
7. "Old Man's Lullaby" (from Soul Changes)
8. "Back In Love Again" (from Soul Changes) – a cover
9. "Right Back Atcha" (from Right Back Atcha)
10. "Deeper Than the Eye Can See" (from Right Back Atcha) – co-written with Darryl Carter
11. "Circles" (from Right Back Atcha) – co-written with Ira Friedman

What kind of music do you listen to in your spare time? Who are some of your favorites?

Mighty Sam McClain, Ronnie Earl, Robert Ward, O.V. Wright, Robert Cray, Otis Clay, Arthur Alexander, Johnny Lang, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Al Green, Solomon Burke, the Patterson Brothers, Mavis Staples, Candi Staton, Tommy Tate, James Carr.

If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you would be doing?

I'd love to be a writer.  If that didn't work, maybe a tour guide.  I like people and traveling!

Selected Discography (all on Tastee Tone Records)

Down At The Aloha (2001)

Play For Love (2009)

Where I'm Coming From.... (2011)

Soul Changes (2013)

Right Back Atcha (2016)