Blues Bytes

March 2005

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What's New

The BoogiemenThe Boogiemen, a five-piece ensemble from San Diego, California collected its members from across America. Together, their home states include Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, and (of course) the Golden State. The band’s rhythm section includes Larry Teves bass, and Nico Gutierrez drums. On their third disc, A Little Trim (Modal King Records), additional guests add sax and keyboards.The ten tracks that comprise this small 41-minute album are all originals written by various band members. “Blues On My Radio” has a Latino feel, and a sense of swing, along with expressive tone from John Flynn’s guitar. The tune’s main rhythm is a kicking rocker. Richie Blue’s savvy harp stands out with its shrill blasts and coiled chords. Many listeners will relate to the lyrics which reflect why most of us no longer listen to the airwaves. The guitar contains the most bounce on the very danceable “Put Down That Gun”. Here, West Coast is written all over the strings. The vocals contain a lazy drawl and are a bit annoying. The ’50s rockabilly guitar and beaming harp combine to give “Last Train Smoking” a feel of a locomotive chugging and boogieing down the track. Overall, it’s a fun party tune with improved vocals. I love imitated “whew whew whew” sounds of the engine. “Nosy Neighbors” is a busy body that’s full of Mark Cavanaugh’s congas and percussion. The tough tune is kind of punkish with average vocals that sound more like spoken conversation. “Project Car” reflects the great American pastime of restoring old cars. The infectious rhythm of the guitar on “My Love Is Solid” is augmented by powerful horns. The best track is “The Devils Been Knocking”. Here, the harp does a wicked demon dance while Lucifer wails a sinful Dr. Evil laugh. The singer comically asks, “I wonder what that nasty ole Devils here for?” Yet, it’s a stark reminder of the temptations that lurk around every corner. Like the debut of The L Word, “The Other Team” involves someone’s, once straight, girlfriend having a change of heart. Here, Blue’s harp reflects a Stevie Wonder influence.  The Boogiemen grow on you like shower mildew and soap scum. Their greatest strength is their ability to meld numerous sounds into their own. If their records make you shake and groove as much as this one does, they must be very oily in concert. These guys have a blast performing West Coast boogie. This is one of the best independent CDs I’ve heard in a long time. The songwriting is fulfilling and the guitar and harmonica is a pleasure to listen to. Your ears will experience a similar swelling sensation as the little boy’s eyes on the cover. However, if they want to get to the next level, better vocalists will be required. Available from

Luther Badman Keith performs various styles of blues. By far, he is more contemporary than traditional. Keith became a musician later in life. He didn’t play guitar until he was past 30 years of age. In fact, if it wasn’t for purchasing Luther Allison’s Love Me Mama, this Detroit News editor may never have picked up the guitar. For his second release, Thunder In My Blues (BMB Records), he has surrounded himself with 11 reputable musicians. Many of them are from his regular band. Together they mix blues, rock, soul, and funk on 13 original songs. The danceable title track contains a deep funk groove with heavy, pulsating horns. Keith’s humor is depicted on “Six Figure Salary.” However, cliché-filled lyrics, like “I’m so broke I can’t even pay attention / my last cheque didn’t bounce it did a dance,” beg for originality. “Fevers And Chills” is a masterful modern meld of soul and blues. Here, the solo, performed on his customized guitar, is an outpour of emotion, while the words are sung manically, like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Throughout the album, Keith intonates and inflects his tenor voice, and achieves a dramatic effect. A touch of Latino exists on “Blues Gonna Fall.” “The Last Bluesman” contains a repetitive medley that gets lodged in your mind. The tune’s lyrics are thought provoking. It will encourage you to ponder who will be the last bluesman or rather, who has been the final one? The song’s words could be a biography about any one of America’s real deal blues players. “Nose Wide Open” contains big band jump. The trumpet and sax deliver exhilarating solos while Keith mimics B.B. King on guitar. “Gonna Give Up Drinkin’” is a slow blues, arranged like the Allman’s version of “Stormy Monday.” Keith shares the vocals with drummer Milton Heavyfoot Austin on “What’s The Use.” Clearly, Austin has the superior voice. Keith’s guitar playing is good, but it is not award-winning. He freely admits to that fact. “I’m a decent guitar player, but my thing is writing songs and performing.” The ordinary production needs to either be rawer or more polished, and the sappy rhythms like “Rocks On Mars” need to be omitted. What works well, on this hour long disc, are the funky arrangements, attractive rhythms, social commentaries, and ensemble of the sensational band. As he states on the title cut, “I’m a force of nature”, and no one will dispute the fact that thunder is present in his blues. In fact, Keith’s powerful music may contain an entire thunderstorm, but it isn’t out-of-control like a hurricane. This is contemporary music with impact rather than devastation. It can’t be considered strictly blues. For example, check out the screeching rock and roll guitar solo on the Caribbean-flavored “Sleeping With The Devil”. On Thunder In My Blues, Keith fronts one of Detroit’s better blues bands and I’ve just about heard them all. Available from

Richard JohnstonOn Official Bootleg #1 (OTG Records), Richard Johnston mixes North Mississippi blues with Appalachian bluegrass to create a music that is a sign of the times. The Houston, TX native spent time in Japan before returning to the U.S. in ’98. He settled in the Memphis area, where he heard Junior Kimbrough’s music, and went nuts. He became enthralled with Kimbrough and was determined to learn his style of music. Although a one-man act, Johnston gets the sound of a three piece band. Those new to the Richard Johnston experience may not believe he is a one-man act. Nothing beats the fevered experience of seeing and hearing Richard Johnston performing live on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. However, this 36-minute live disc falls short of that. Johnston, a former International Blues Challenge winner, hasn’t stolen the blues from African-Americans. On the contrary, Mississippi legends like Jessie Mae Hemphill mentored him. Now, he is greatly respected by the greater blues community. I have personally witnessed this on Beale while Johnston was performing. On his first release, he had guest appearances by Hemphill, Cedric Burnside, Mark Simpson, and Robert Tooms. This time around its just Johnston. The majority of songs were recorded live on November 7, 2003 at Humphrey’s Bar and Grill in Huntsville, Alabama. All songs are covers, but Johnson contributes foot-stomping, primitive hillbilly country blues arrangements and additional lyrics. “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” and “Do The Romp” are the highlights as they display Johnston’s mastery of inciting the crowd. These sweaty tunes have captured Johnston in a way that is the next best thing to being there in person. The former was recorded May 22, 2003 at the Orpheum Theater in Memphis at the 24th annual W.C. Handy Awards. The song was featured on PRI’s The Blues The Radio Series in conjunction with 2003’s Year Of The Blues. Out of the disc’s seven numbers, it is the only one that features musicians in addition to Johnston. On it, Ben Prestage and Paul Buchignani add electric guitar and drums. At the end of the track, Johnston publicly thanks Jessie Mae Hemphill who was a great influence and was supposed to perform with Johnston at the Handys. “Miss Maebelle” sounds from the hills and is so back to the roots honest, it strikes a chord in American heritage. However, it fails to capture Johnston’s intensity. Although he can drone with the best of the Mississippi hill artists, as a 30-something, it is hard for Johnston to give “Done Got Old” justice. However, it pays homage to Junior Kimbrough whose house band Johnston took over when Kimbrough died. It is far easier to make out the intriguing lyrics of “Meet Me In The City”, as sung by Johnston, as opposed to Kimbrough’s original version. Richard Johnston has decided his main focus, for 2005, will be performing on Beale. This is where he first made a name for himself and where he excels. Quite frankly, it’s worth the trip to Memphis to catch one of his performances. After all, it is the closest you’ll get to experience the Beale that now only exists in the legendary photos of Ernest Withers. Available at the gig or on the web at

--- Tim Holek
Freelance Journalist/Photographer

Carey and Lurrie BellAlligator Records have a reputation for only releasing good blues, but they have done themselves proud with this release by father and son Carey & Lurrie Bell. Second Nature is good traditional blues, played to perfection by a fatherand son that each understand perfectly what the other is doing. 12 tracks of great blues here that have you glued to the speakers (or, even better, the headphones). The opening track, “Stop Runnin’ Round,” shows exactly why Carey Bell has such a reputation for his harmonica playing, and son Lurrie accompanies him perfectly on acoustic guitar. On track 4, “Wrapped Up In Love,” Carey Bell’s harp playing sounds so much like Sonny Boy Williamson, it’s uncanny – this track has a real late '50s feel to it, and I played it over and over again. Listening to this CD for about the fourth time made me realize what it reminds me of. In 1981, Buddy Guy & Junior Wells recorded an acoustic set in Paris, France, which Alligator released in 1991 as Alone & Acoustic – this CD has the same feel to it, and that will guarantee that I’ll be playing it a lot! Track 5 is an absolutely superb version of “Rock Me,” slowed right down and taken to the absolute basics. This is a great track played by almost anybody, but here it becomes something very special, and I can only imagine that this is how Muddy Waters intended it to be played. Much the same comments apply to track 7, Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years,” possibly my joint favourite track on the CD (with track 8 “Got To Leave Chi-Town”). There’s also a great rendition of “Key To The Highway” that makes it really difficult for me to pick the other two tracks as favourites! The album winds up with a couple of tracks that are new to me, “Do You Hear” and “Here I Go Again” – the latter is the only weak track on the whole album. All in all this is a blues CD that deserves a place in any collection.

Here’s a band that never fail to produce some good blues. The Point Blank Blues Band, from Serbia in the former Yugoslavia, really show that they have a good feel for a music that is about as far removed from their country as it could be. Their 2003 album, Eight Blue Balls, was a real showpiece for the band, and this latest album, 7th, shows that they still know where they’re going, although it doesn’t quite reach the heights of “Eight Ball Blues.” Unfortunately, they’ve wasted the opportunity for including another good track by placing a “prologue” at the start of the CD – for me it’s a waste. However, click straight onto track 2 and the blues gets good – “21st Century Blues” is a good medium-tempo number with a lovely guitar solo in the middle by the talented “Dr”. The album moves onto a slow ballad type track, “Dream Blues” – well written and well executed by the band – although I have to admit that I prefer their medium and up-tempo numbers. That’s purely my taste in music, I guess.
They’re onto some up-tempo stuff with track 4, “Flipping Out Blues,” and this is another track where the excellent guitar work shines through, and the music is a real “foot tapper.” The next track is slower, but compulsive listening, and it picks up speed just after the mid section. By the time you get to “Seven Blues” you find that the album is really cooking. There really is a good mixture of blues here by a talented band who know their stuff. Track 9, “Cripple Blues,” is almost my favourite track from the CD – it’s a mixture of tempos and styles and there’s just something about it that registers with me. But it’s “Flame Burning Blues,” a good driving boogie blues that should, possibly, have been the opening number for the album, and it’s my absolute favourite on the album. With this track as number one on the album, the band would capture people’s attention straight away. The album winds up with a tribute to Johnny Cash, “Dedicated”. It’s not a bad track, but I’m not sure that this track belongs on a blues album. However, there’s plenty of good blues in between the prologue and this track. Well worth a listen.

Live At The Blues Of The Month Club is a superb live album from Steve Arvey, backed by the British band Blues Move. Blues Move is a very tight band, obviously well versed in the blues, and their bass player Roger Inniss is an extraordinary talent – one listen to him could be enough to make other bass players take up the harmonica!! An indication of their prowess is the fact that they not only back Steve Arvey on his UK tours, but Sherman Robertson too. Steve Arvey seems to be making the UK a regular destination on his busy touring schedule – this particular album was recorded during his 2004 tour, and he’s already back there again! The Blues Of The Month Club is in Cleethorpes, England – but don’t let that put you off. The performance recorded here is top notch, and full of atmosphere. Also included with the band is Arvey’s co-songwriter Mark Hoekstra from the band West Side Heat, adding some additional flavour. The opening track is a Steve Arvey original, “Hip Hop,” which sets the mood for the rest of the CD, most of which are Arvey written songs. It’s followed by “Stranded” and then “How Do You Spell Love,” a track which is rapidly becoming Steve Arvey’s best known track. By track 3 the listener is hooked, and it just gets better – this man is a real entertainer, and he gets the audience involved right from the start. The band is right on the button too, giving Steve some strong support and showing just what a good unit they are. Track 8 is a nice instrumental tribute to Cleethorpes, entitled “Cleethorpes Sunset,” and it takes Arvey’s guitar playing to some diverse places – Cleethorpes should adopt this as the town’s official music! Track 9 is a showcase for the bass playing of Roger Inniss and features two tunes – “Sex Machine” & “Chicken Heads”  - real foot-tapping funky blues at it’s very best. The final track brings the tempo down as Steve Arvey plays a nice version of the title track of his 2002 album “Soul Of A Man.” If you haven’t heard that album, this track is a haunting ballad, written by Steve Arvey, and it’s a fitting way to end this live performance at Cleethorpes. If you like your blues live and full of atmosphere, go and see Steve Arvey live – if you can’t make it, then buy this album and find out what he’s all about.

--- Terry Clear

David Jacobs-StrainThe question in the blues community in recent years has been who will pick up the reins for the genre, with a great deal of the older artists either getting on in years or passing on. One of the answers is a brightly gifted young guitarist and songwriter hailing from Oregon by the name of David Jacobs-Strain, with his current album, Ocean Or A Teardrop (Northern Blues). It’s hard to believe that this guy is still a college student that manages to work in 100+ or so gigs a year around his school schedule, because he has the poise and approach of a seasoned veteran that has been around the block a few times. It really comes as no surprise, as his last release, Stuck On The Way Back (Blues Bytes July 2002), which was recorded when he was still in his late teens, displayed the same qualities. This time around Strain has a full band backing him up for 10 numbers, of which seven are original compositions that bring to the forefront the poignant depths of his songwriting skills. Strain opens this eyebrow raiser of a record with Fred McDowell’s “Kokomo Blues,” done as a high energy romp with some gorgeous country harp licks courtesy of Joe Filisko and few resophonic guitar runs of his own. David’s songwriting moves to the forefront on the title tune, which takes a hard look at the human cost of armed conflict with the beautifully powerful backing vocals of Anne Weiss shimmering through alongside Strain’s pleading vocals and the superb fiddle solo of Joe Craven, who seems to be popping up on everyone’s record as of late. Some very wicked slide can be had on a cover of Sleepy John Estes’ “The Girl I Love.” Strain’s clean fret busting chops on this number are decades older than the baby face on the cover of the album is and explains why Guitar One Magazine recently picked him as one of “10 Guitarists On The Brink Of Greatness.” David melds his guitar prowess alongside Peter Joseph Burtt’s skillful mastering of the african kora (similar to a mandolin but deeper in tone) and Joe Craven’s slick mandolin riffs on ”Take My Chances,” a highly crafted tune that has tremendous commercial potential but will probably not see it as it’s subject matter is marijuana cultivation in California's redwood country. Regardless of its subject, this is a stunning original with it’s catchy rhythms and punching delivery. “Sleepless Dream” is the tune that will undoubtedly get the nod from radio stations with its lush pickings and sing along choruses. Blind Willie Johnson’s “Soul Of A Man” will knock you out of your socks with the combination of David’s searing slide work and snarling vocals and Joe Filisko’s greasy harp. The lone instrumental tune, “Yelapa Breakdown,” is a purely delightful mix of country styled blues with jazzy overtones served up as a duet between Strain’s guitar and Joe Craven’s fiddle expertise. “Shoot The Devil” might rub a few people the wrong way as it challenges the concept of the war on terror. Whether you agree or disagree with the number’s content does not diminish the high impact performance that are to be found here. Following up are some thoughts of possible impending social revolution in the form of a driving number entitled ”Earthquake.” It’s some heavyweight food for thought, to say the least, and a personal favorite of mine on this album. Things wrap up with “Illinois,” a rather haunting number that I think is best left open-ended as far as individual interpretation goes. A big nod goes to returning producer and bass/B3/piano player Kenny Passarelli for the high polish and seamless flow this album contains. You may recognize his name from his work as both producer and musician for names such as Elton John, Joe Walsh, Otis Taylor, Freddie King, Stephen Stills and Hall and Oates, to name just a few. Strain scores a ten with Ocean Or A Teardrop. It’s a very thought-provoking record that contains quite a bit of politics, alongside some brilliant musicianship and intensely fresh songwriting that makes this young man one to watch. It’s safe to say that the future of the blues is in good hands, at least as far as this artist is concerned. His next album won’t be released soon enough for me.

Dr. JohnIt is said that every great recording artist, no matter what genre, has “that one” particular recording in their soul that they were born to record for history to remember them by. Examples include Miles Davis' Kind Of Blue, The Beatles' Sgt Peppers, Bruce Springsteen's Born To Run, Muddy Waters ... well pretty much anything he ever recorded. Add to that list Dr. John’s N’Awlinz, Dis Dat Or D’udda (Blue Note), as it leaves no doubt that future generations of music historians will cite this record as his “one.” This entire project is a loving tribute to the heritage that is so deeply ingrained in the good Dr., namely the humongous musical gumbo pot that is the city of New Orleans. Along for the ride are some new and old friends lending their talents on a handful of recognizable, traditional numbers and a few originals that the Dr. has prescribed for your musical health. Things kick off on an instrumental note with ”Quatre Parishe,” a lushly orchestrated piece that allows the Doc to stretch his fingers a bit in an almost classical vein on this two minute opus. Following up are two numbers that make the price of this fantastic record worth it alone. The first is a hauntingly beautiful gospel rendition of ”When The Saints Go Marching In,” on which the spiritually beautiful pipes of Mavis Staples join in with both the Dr. and The Davell Crawford Singers for a presentation of this standard the way I suspect it was intended to be heard. While you are still reeling from that, things get punched up a notch or two, with the same singers, along with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, for a gloriously uplifting take on ”Lay My Burden Down" (aka "Glory, Glory Hallelujah") that is sure to get you moving with its funkified downbeat. Cyril Neville and Walter “Wolfman” Washington add their vocal and guitar talents, respectively, on the spooky and mystical tale of “Marie Laveau,” a voodoo queen on whose good side it’s wise to stay. A tip of the hat to Louis Armstrong is up next with “Dear Old Southland,” a lush instrumental duet between Nicholas Payton on trumpet and Dr. John on piano that can only be described as peacefully serene. Ramping things up is the album’s original title track that is a free-or-all funkfest with the Dr. being joined by the pretty pipes of The Creolettes on background vocals and the steamy brass of The Wardell Quezergue Horns. Keep an ear open for both of these artists, as their contributions throughout this gem will cause you to cock an ear a time or two. Another Mac Rebennack (Dr. John) original follows in the bouncy fun of "Chickee Le Pas” that will undoubtedly have your foot tappin’ and your mind wandering to Mardi Gras. “The Monkey” is a tune that will make you stop and think and raise a question about who exactly are the wild beasts in this world on this philosophical number written by Dave Bartholomew, who contributes his squealing trumpet expertise along with Eddie Bo’s narrative. Randy Newman brings his sunshiny delivery to a duet with the Dr. on Dave Williams’ “I Ate Up The Apple Tree,” a fun little number that gives a new spin to the Adam & Eve scenario as only these two guys could. A trio of tunes written by Pleasant Joseph (Cousin Joe) follows, with the first featuring Willie Nelson sitting in with Snooks Eaglin for the classic cheating woman scenario ”You Ain’t Such A Much”; it's a total delight with all three principals swapping vocals. “Life Is A One Way Ticket” follows, with its humorous examination of whether or not to try and take your worldly wealth with you. Rounding out the trio is ”Hen Laying Rooster,” with B.B. King trading vocals with the Dr; and Gatemouth Brown contributing a viola solo on this somewhat cocky number. An epic original character saga of death involving a pimp and a card hustler. entitled “Stakalee,” is given a lighthearted treatment despite its rather dark subject matter. But hey, this a Dr. John album, ya know. A ton of artists have covered ”St. James Infirmary,” but this one may very well become the definitive take on this classic. The Dr. is at his absolute finest, both vocally and instrumentally, bringing a soul-soaked depth to this number that has never quite been heard like this. B.B. King, Willie Nelson, Snooks Eaglin, Walter Washington and, of course, the good Dr. collaborate for the fun-filled geriatric rap “Time Marches On,” one that is sure to elicit a giggle or two but make you think a bit as well. The album wraps up as it began, with a two-minute orchestrated opus entitled, “I’m Going Home,” that features the weeping vocals of Cyril Neville. Few recordings are completely flawless; this CD is one of those few. The production, arrangement and performances are second to none, as Dr. John is at his absolute personal best and brings that out in all the other artists and musicians that contributed to this masterwork. For whatever your ailment might be, Dr. John’s N’awlinz, Dis Dat Or D’udda is the perfect prescription that should be overdosed on as much as possible.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

The recent death of Jimmy Smith has returned attention to one of the most underrated instruments in blues today, the Hammond B-3 organ. With Smith’s death and Jimmy McGriff ailing, there are only a few practitioners of the instrument still circulating that still dabble in Blues and R&B (Dr. Lonnie Smith, John Medeski, Art Neville, among others). New Yorker Jeremy Baum has added his name to the list with the superb Lost River Jams (Flying Yak Records). Like most modern B-3 players, Baum is influenced by Smith (proven by the opening track, “Take A Walk” and “JB Shuffle”), but there are also traces of Booker T. and the Meters in his sound as well (as heard on “Oasis Jam” and “Stoopid”).  In addition to playing with a wide range of artists (including Debbie Davies, Joe Louis Walker, Shemekia Copeland, Sue Foley, and Richie Havens), Baum played for a couple of years in Bill Perry’s band and Perry returns the favor by appearing on three tracks, the funky “Bill Showed Up,” “Stoopid” (which sounds like an outtake from a Meters session), and the Blues chestnut, “Rock Me Baby,” on which he contributes guitar and vocals.  There are also a few nods to jazz territory with the Latin-accented “Liberty Street,” “Taphouse Groove” and the jazz standard “Autumn Leaves.”  Baum closes out the album with a moving version of “Amazing Grace.”  Nine of the ten tracks are instrumental and all feature the core trio of Baum on organ, Chris Vitarello on guitar, and Ernie Colón on drums, who sound great together.  Fans of the B-3 will want to get their hands on this one.  It’s available at and

Sean CostelloSean Costello’s self-titled debut release for Tone-Cool/Artemis Records finds the 25-year-old guitar wizard looking at the blues from a decidedly soulful point of view.  His fourth release overall features smoking versions of songs previously done by Al Green, Bob Dylan, Robert Ward, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Johnnie Taylor and Tommy Johnson, but there are also seven songs that Costello wrote or co-wrote that make you take notice.  The bouncy radio-ready “No Half Steppin’” opens the disc on a cheerful note, while “She Changed My Mind” is a rock & soul blast, with its punchy horns. ”Take It Easy” is more of the same, while “All I Can Do” and “Don’t Pass Me By” slow things down to a slow burn. “I’ve Got To Ride” veers more toward Blues territory, as does his rousing cover of Johnson’s “Big Road Blues.”  As far as the other covers go, Costello does a solid job on Green’s “I’m A Ram” and Taylor’s “Hold On This Time,” but his best effort comes on Dylan’s “Simple Twist of Fate.”  It ends up sounding like a Stax-era single, complete with dynamite background vocals from the group Ollabelle. Personally, I thought it was cool to have a Robert Ward cover on the disc, especially “Peace Of Mind,” and Costello’s version definitely does it justice.  The cover of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “I Get A Feeling” is also exceptional, with harmony vocal by Amy Helm of Ollabelle. Costello does a great job on vocals, which have just the right amount of soul and don’t sound contrived or forced at all.  Though he’s regarded as quite the guitar-slinger (he played lead guitar on Susan Tedeschi’s breakthrough album, Just Won’t Burn), he reminds you more of Jimmy Vaughan or Steve Cropper on this disc, saying much more with a few well-placed riffs than with extended solos, which is a refreshing change from most young guns these days geared to see how much and how long they can play on one solo. This approach draws more focus to Costello’s vocals and songwriting, both of which are top-notch.  Providing support for Costello are the Band’s Levon Helm (Amy’s dad) and Steve Jordan on drums, Willie Weeks on bass, and the Conan O’Brien Show horn section, as well as Costello’s own band.  Sean Costello is rapidly emerging as one of the bright new stars of the blues genre.

Wiley and the Checkmates may seem like a new band, but their singer/frontman Herbert Wiley and the Checkmates go back over 40 years.  Wiley has been playing since the late ’50s, when he played at various clubs and fraternity parties around Oxford, MS. The Checkmates were officially formed in 1960 and played over most of the Southeastern U.S., backing soul & blues stars like Sam Mosely & Bobby Johnson, Cozy Cole, Percy Sledge, Gatemouth Brown, Syl Johnson, and Otis Clay. The band split up in the mid ’70s as most of them decided to focus on their families.  Wiley married, had a family, and operated his father’s shoe store. Wiley got the music bug again a couple of years ago after a band rented the building next door to his. Shortly afterward, the Checkmates were reborn and are now one of Oxford’s favorite bands with their high-energy shows featuring classic soul from the ’60s and ’70s.Now the band has released Introducing Wiley and the Checkmates (Pickmark Records), a thrilling set of ten original songs that sound as innovative as if they were released 30 years ago. The Checkmates’ sound ranges from deep soul (“Sweet Breeze,” “Another Man’s Home”) to James Brown-style funk (“Dog Tired”) to “Ball of Confusion”-era Temptations (“Messed Up World”). There is a nod to Atlantic/Stax Records with the peppy “You Can’t Pull The Wool Over My Eyes,” and “Streak-A-Leon” sounds like something Bobby Rush might have done in the ’70s. Closing things out is “Gonna Find A Way,” which is the single Sam Cooke never got to sing. Produced by the Checkmates and Fat Possum Records producer/engineer Bruce Watson, Introducing Wiley and the Checkmates has a distinctly retro feel, but just enough modern touches to keep things fresh. Fans of deep soul music will find much to enjoy with Wiley and the Checkmates. Go to their website,, for more information.

--- Graham Clarke

Bobby WayneBobby Wayne's Hit That Thing (Bonedog Records) is one of those CDs that hits you from the start and never lets up. From the opening track, "Dig Yourself," you know this CD is going to be special. After track number 13 fades into your memory, you smile and hit the repeat button and start all over again. An album of mostly originals and a few covers, real musicians including horns and female supported backing vocals, and Bobby's oh so gritty and soulful vocals give you an hour of near perfection. Some of the other highlights are the gospel-tinged "Ain't No Need Of Crying," a tune originally recorded by the Rance Allen Group on Stax with its incredible female backing. "Chained To a Rock" reminds us of Sam Cooke and shows that Cooke's influence on singers is timeless. There is the great "Homestead Greys," a tribute to one of the Negro League baseball teams that should be included in Baseball's Greatest Music Hits. It was penned by band member Mike Sweeney and just adds to the diversity of this release. The funky organ beginning of "Can't Stop Looking For My Baby" is an upbeat classic originally recorded by The Fantastic Four. Another fine cover track, "This House is Haunted," was originally recorded by The Masqueraders as "This Heart is Haunted" and is notable for its gritty sax and those great backing singers. My own favorite is "On The Drift," an organ and harmonica burner that was also penned by Mike Sweeney, and the track that had everyone asking WHO is that singing? By the time the CD got to the last track "Whisper Away," a 7:17 burner with it's wailing blues guitar, everyone was sitting listening to this very special release. No one wanted to miss a note. You can find this CD at at a very special price. Five deep bows to Bobby Wayne and his great band. You're gonna love this one.

We've all been waiting for this new release by Arizona's own Frank Ace, and it was well worth the wait. Anyone who has seen Frank perform, know that he is a great guitarist and singer. He is a veteran of years on the road as Vernon Garrett's bandleader and has appeared with many other world class musicians such as Frankie Lee. Cry U Out Of My Heart (Chueffa Records) pretty much typifies Frank's live show, as this CD is filled with Frank's wailing guitar and insightful lyrics and vocals. The first track, "Don't Tell Me," is a shuffle that puts you in a party mood right from the start. It is the title track, "Cry U Out of My Heart," with it's classic spoken intro, "Girl, I can't do it anymore, so I got me a carton of cigarettes and a fifth of Hennessy and I'm gonna cry you out of my heart tonight," that will probably be the track that gets the most attention. "I'm The One" is a memorable song with a great hook and, in my opinion, perhaps the best track here. It gives Frank a chance to show off his guitar prowess. Other notable tracks are "Big Limo," a tale of an eventful trip to Tucson, the tribute to our home state with "Arizona" and one that I'm sure we all can relate to ("Gas Pump Blues"). This is an enjoyable release by one of Arizona's finest bluesmen. Visit Frank's site at where you can learn more about him.

--- Alan Shutro

The EforFilms Jazz Memories DVD series is exclusively distributed by Music Video Distributors ( Three new titles in the series are bio-pics on prominent black pioneers in popular music. Each trailblazer ran into the same racist obstacles, but handled them differently. Nat "King" Cole sought to rise above the fray by always being a gentleman and, while this made him a star on the charts, it failed to win commercial endorsement of his TV variety show, the first hosted by an African-American. Lena Horne sought to avoid the issue, but as she was forced to show her hand by McCarthy-ist blacklisting and more she became more focused and successful in attacking racism in America. Billie Holiday put "Strange Fruit" out there and remains a testament against the most brutal forms of prejudice. Of course, there is also much music and other career highlights on these three enlightening DVDs: Lena Horne: The Incomparable Lena Horne, Billie Holiday: Genius of Lady Day, and Nat "King" Cole: The Legendary Nat "King" Cole.

Jazz Legends: The Golden Age of Jazz, Part 1 (Quantum Leap/Music Video Distributors) is a lively overview of big bands and swinging ensembles, including Cab Calloway ("Smokey Joe"), Buddy Rich & Artie Shaw ("Take Your Pick"), Louis Prima ("China Town"), and more. Standout selections of these short jazz films include Ian Rae Hutton's all-female big band ("Truckin'"), Sammy Davis Jr. pre-glass eye doing ocular gymnastics ("Boogie Woogie Piggie"), a cappella trio The Mills Brothers in a follow-the-bouncing-ball sing-along ("I Ain't Got Nobody") and Duke Ellington with dancers Florence Hill and Bessie Dudley ("Stormy Weather"). The Duke Ellington sequence is from Bundle of Blues, produced at The Cotton Club in 1933. There are three Fred Waller featurettes here. All told, there are 22 tracks from different artists on this classic collection. Extras include artist biographies and discographies.

--- Tom Schulte

Lisa PhenixLisa Phenix’s debut CD, Homegrown, sounds anything but in production value, but it may describe her music in a way. She clarifies it as “homegrown mating music.” This is not a blues disc but Ms. Lisa (aka Silly Little Mama) sent Blues Bytes this release for review from her hometown Sacramento, and it’s so extraordinary that it warrants attention. I’m not an expert in the “Americana” category of music, but that’s what another reviewer called it. I have to trust in Lisa’s own bio notes that it’s a mixture of folk, rhythm and blues, jazz and Grateful Dead. Personally I’d omit the “rhythm and blues” description and replace it with “country/western,” as in Hank Williams. She might be called a singer/songwriter/guitarist, and it would be in the acoustic lyrical sense. She wrote everything on the disc. The first exceptional attribute of the CD from note one is the recorded sound quality. Producers Lisa Phenix, Scott Reams and Michael Roe know their stuff. The next high mark is in her band musicianship. Twin guitars, occasional keys, rhythm section with mandolin and percussion round the sound. Electricity is mixed in and After the production and musicians I’d say Lisa’s voice jumps out next. It’s clear and pure, mid-high in range, and I can’t think of who she sounds like. She names Bonnie Raitt, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha as influences but in no way is she them. Maybe ‘70s Joni Mitchell would be closer and I’m still way off the mark. Allison Kraus? Gwen Stefani without the grit? I give up. Photo graphics are artistic but not the central character of the album. “Lazy Daisy May” starts off subtly introducing the sound and the voice, while “Chocolate Love” has good chord structure. “Losin’ Your Good Woman Blues” is blues in name only, and here is where things get so simply interesting. The electric guitar solo is played partially backwards, as in the tape reel recording in reverse. Reminds me of an old Beatles trick. How do they do that digitally these days? “Good Man” is satisfying rockin’ in medium tempo, electric guitar solo outstanding. By “Good Lovin’ Baby” you’ve got super country crossover potential, even though that’s not what “Americana” is about. “Bad Blues” is not actually blues; the group Southern Culture On The Skids comes to mind. “Silly Little Mama” might be Hank Sr. trans-sexed doing rockabilly. “Peace of Mind” conjures up plaintive Emmylou Harris, and “Irie’s Song” is plain old album rock at its finest, Lisa’s gem-cut, honey-dripping voice like an eagle in flight. “Patience” is an oft-told prose of words featuring Sacramento group Mumbo Gumbo’s accordionist Steve Stizzo sitting in. “Cockadoodle Do” wraps the project, a two-beat blues with tremelo guitar. The only advice I’d have for Silly Little Mama, if she wants more attention drawn to her top-caliber voice, is to record the next album with crappy audio and use lesser-talented musicians.

Movin’ On is a four-song “EP” from Sistah Blue, an all-woman super blues band, available at February 2004 was memorable for the Sistah's, as they played Arizona’s annual big festival, “Blues Blast,” with two then-new members: lead vocalist Dejah and powerhouse drummer Janet Daniel. Rain and clouds had threatened the day, but as Sistah Blue concluded the festival, sunny skies had re-emerged as had energy and presence. This they demonstrated with tight arrangements of mostly originals, vocal harmonies a standout. The package was complete, show-woman-ship plus snappy dress recharged the dedicated crowd. So has a new recording. It was important for leader Rochelle Raya (harmonica/vocals) to have an album of all-original tunes since the group has mixed in covers over past years. This disc is the result. It coincided with the band’s winning trip to Memphis in early 2005 to compete at the International Blues Competition since they won first place in Arizona. At that time I wrote: “A pre-release four-song sampler of a new CD was circulated as the group headed for Memphis. It promises an extraordinary album called Movin’ On for 2005, containing a variety of vocals and rhythms over original tunes, documenting the continued impressive progress of Sistah Blue.” Then the Sistahs played the big “Blast” again. I inquired about the new album and found a cover with photo and graphics, but the same four songs inside. So I don’t know if they’ll be included in a future album or stand on their own, let us just review what we have right here right now. “Break Out” opens the program with Kati Ingino, bassist, singing her own co-written tune. It’s funky, the kind of bass playing Kati enjoys. It’s rappy and snappy and her vocals have really developed over the years. There’s a hook with ensemble vocals. “My Man” is written by lead vocalist Dejah and is a medium/slow blues with an attractive bridge, and a good statement in the words. The singer has a good blues voice, nice timbre and slightly varying pitch. It’s interesting that the front-woman of the band shares vocals with the other members. “Ms. Betty’s Boogie” is written by Nancy Dalessandro, guitarist for the group since day one, but it’s sung by the group’s founder, Rochelle Raya. It’s anchored by a “shuffle/flat tire” drum rhythm from Janet Daniel. The disc is sequenced with class because Raya’s excellent harmonica isn’t really heard ’til now. Other show-offs might blow us out of the water from the very start. Nancy has a lean guitar solo. “85 years old and a heart of gold” they sing about Ms. Betty. I swear I’ve seen her as “she does the boogie” at Sistah Blue gigs. “Movin’ On” is also Nancy’s. It sounds like a minor key and is sung by Dejah. The structure is catchy, sounding appropriate for an album closer, and does remind one of movin’ on, as in down the road. Lead vocal is passionate and backing harmonies pure. Harmonica and guitar solos make it an enjoyable ride. I just wish we had about 12 more tunes for this disc.

Blues Fuse, by the Jim Glass Band ( is a self-produced 2005 Blues Blast (Arizona Festival) souvenir CD with only song titles and no personnel listing. Jim Glass (guitar/vocal) and Luann Lindemann (uncredited keyboards/vocals) verbally spoke of recording all the tracks themselves at home. Because of this there are some uneven levels and production values, but the originality of the music very well represents their style. There’s only one cover I’m aware of, “Bring Out The Boogie,” and others I seem to have heard somewhere before, and yet others that deal with personal experiences like Jim’s recent leukemia diagnosis. Neither singer is dead-on pitch-wise, but that isn’t necessary with this kind of self-expression. Luann seems to come out of a churchy vocal style, a little too “trebley” in her vibrato when singing solo for my personal taste, but works well in unison or harmony. Jim’s voice is gritty, quite expressive and a good foil for his clean and tasty rhythm guitar, ad soaring lead solos. In describing the music on this CD, Jim brought up the “Doors.” That sound is evident in the closing number “Doctor, Oh Doctor.”

---Tom Coulson
(Read my column)

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