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Issue 7-47, November 29, 2013

Scroll or Page Down! For news, photos, reviews, links & MUCH MORE in this issue!

Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine

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 In This Issue

Mark Thompson has our feature interview with harmonica ace Dennis Gruenling. Marilyn Stringer, Bob Kieser and Robert Hughes have part III of photos and commentary from the 2103 King Biscuit Blues Festival

We have five Blues music reviews for you. Steve Jones reviews a new album from Jim Pharis. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new release from Holland K. Smith. John Mitchell reviews a new album from Studebaker John’s Maxwell Street Kings. Marty Gunther reviews a new CD from The Black Tongued Bells. Rex Bartholomew reviews a new release from Jeff Strahan. We have the latest in Blues Society news from around the globe. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!

 From The Editor's Desk

Hey Blues Fans,

Happy Holidays! It is the beginning of the holiday season and everyone is headed out to shop looking for things to buy their loved ones. I have a suggestion for you!

Why not give the gift of Blues? Get your favorite Blues fan friends and family members music by some of the great artists advertising in this issue and elsewhere around the web this Christmas. In doing so, you will be helping to keep this great art form we all love healthy and vibrant going into the new year.

So go ahead and click on one of the ads below or on one of the links in the reviews below and buy some Blues music this holiday season.

WE ARE GROWING! We are looking for a couple new staff people to help us out with our new website coming in January. See our Blues Want Ads below!

Wishing you health, happiness and lots of Blues music!

Bob Kieser

Blues Blast Magazine is offering a fall advertising special. This special pricing will be our lowest pricing of the 2013-2014 season.

This 6-week combo rate of only $350 affordably adds significant impact to your Blues advertising and promotion campaign. It is a great way to kick up the visibility of your new album release, Blues event or music product around the globe!

Blues Blast Magazine is a great way to promote the Blues. More than 26,000 Blues fans read our magazine each week. They are located in all 50 states and in more than 90 countries. We get more than 2,000,000 (That's TWO MILLION) hits and more than 45,000 visitors a month on our website. 

Normal 2013 - 2014 ad rates are $90 per issue for Blues Blast magazine ads and $100 per month for website ads. BUT, for a limited time, you can advertise in six issues of Blues Blast Magazine and on our website for a month and a half for only $350. This is a $690 value! To get this special rate simply reserve and pay for your ad space by December 15, 2013. Ads can be booked to run anytime between now and September 30, 2014 for your 2014 Blues festival, album release or other music related product.

With this special rate, your ad can viewed more than 220,000 times by our readers who want to know about your Blues events and music! Reserve your space today! Space is limited and will be sold on a first come first served basis.

Ads must be reserved and paid for by December 15, 2013. To get more information email or call 309 267-4425 today! Other ad packages, single ads, short run ads or long term bulk rates available too. Call today for an ad plan that fits your needs.

 Blues Want Ads

Blues Blast Magazine Seeks Social Networking Coordinator

We're growing! We are looking for a part-time social media coordinator to help with the roll-out of our new Blues Blast Magazine website.

If you or someone you know is interested, please send us your resume and a paragraph about why you think you'd be a great social media coordinator. Be sure to describe your relevant experience and how you think you can help our social media presence while growing our numbers.

An ideal candidate will be able to work from home and report on a weekly basis. Experience in the following areas is preferred:

- Social media content creation
- Managing multiple Facebook pages and Insights analysis
- Event promotion
- Marketing and/or advertising

Share with anyone who you think might be a great fit.  If you are interested please reply to with your resume for consideration. Please include your phone number with the reply

Blues Blast Magazine Seeks Staff Writers

Blues Blast Magazine is looking for experienced writers to complete interviews and other writing assignments for the magazine. These are paid positions. Must have experience writing with a background or degree in journalism or publicity. Must also be familiar with Blues music. Successful applicant must be willing to complete one interview or writing assignment every week.

If interested please send a resume, a sample of your writing and a short bio of your Blues background to . Please include your phone number in the reply.

 Featured Blues Interview - Dennis Gruenling  

Many musical careers started with a gift that sat wrapped under the Christmas tree.

Most kids yearn for their first guitar, drum kit, or keyboard.

All Dennis Gruenling wanted was a harmonica.

“I didn’t really go after playing harmonica. I had an uncle who played one as well as guitar and banjo. One Christmas, he asked me if I was interested in learning how to play the harmonica. I said sure – didn’t really think much of it. I thought it was cool because I had heard some rock & roll guys play harmonica and thought it was something that you could easily carry around with you. I didn’t really go after it as I’m going to play harmonica. It just kind of happened.”

So, at the age of eighteen, Gruenling was about to get his first harp. He was already an avid record collector. “I’ve been into music as long as I have been breathing. I was into rock and other stuff and knew where to buy records that you couldn’t get a normal record store. So in exchange for the harmonica, my uncle asked me to get him this blues album that he wanted.”

So Gruenling ordered a copy of Harp Attack, the Alligator Records title that featured James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell, and Billy Branch. On Christmas morning, he found himself, harp in hand, staring at an album with four harmonica players. “I made my uncle play the record for me and I was blown away by what I heard. I hadn’t heard real blues players before – or real blues music in general. I was knocked out by the music and the harmonica playing.”

That revelation sent Dennis on a quest to find more records by Cotton and Wells, leading him to other legendary players like Little Walter and Big Walter Horton. He was buying records every week as the music took hold and refused to let him go. That led him to his next revelation.

“I had been practicing and really getting into it for the first six months. Then I realized that I was going to have to work a lot harder at it than I thought. Most people think that playing a little harmonica can’t be that difficult. I learned some simple things like playing single notes but couldn’t get anything like the sounds that I was hearing from all of these great blues players that I was now listening to.”

Having dropped out of school, Gruenling decided that he needed to devote at least a year to serious practice if he was going to master his instrument. Not long after that, his girlfriend at the time was offered an internship in New Orleans. The couple made the move and soon Dennis was practicing in their apartment for up to twelve hours every day.

“That was a big turning point in my musicianship. I made myself do it, learning to play my instrument every day. I took a few lessons during that time but no one that I tried to learn from really knew how to teach. So I was left on my own to really figure out stuff. I learned from listening to records. It was frustrating at first but as I started to put things together piece by piece, it got more exciting as I built my skill set on the instrument.”

Returning to New Jersey, Gruenling started playing local gigs in the New Brunswick area and began teaching others how to play. He had been playing for two years but was working hard and setting goals for new areas of learning that appealed to him. At various times, he was a member of bands like Bob White & the White Boys, the Weepers and the Fins. He later played with Filthy Rich & the Poor Boys, a band good enough to back touring blues artists like Homesick James and the legendary Pinetop Perkins.

In the late 90’s, our intrepid harp player decided it was time to start his own band.

“I had played mostly Chicago-style blues with these other bands. I had always had an interest in the jump, swing, and big band aspects of the blues. So I put together an unofficial band of my favorite players that focused on the jump blues style. We recorded my first record, Dennis Gruenling & Jump Time. I had a great sax player in the band, Joel Frahm, who is big into the New York jazz scene these days. There was a time when I had two bands – Jump Time to play the boogie-woogie and jump blues styles, and then a stripped-down band with a guitar player and rhythm section that focused on Chicago style stuff. If I had a gig that paid more, I’d use a six or seven piece version of Jump Time with a horn.”

Gruenling was influenced by a variety of players, starting with that first album. “Cotton and Wells in particular really got me going. They both had very unique styles and phrasing. Once I uncovered Little Walter, he has been a main influence ever since, along with George “Harmonica” Smith for his playing on the chromatic harmonica. Another master virtuoso of the instrument was Papa Lightfoot. He was very under-recorded but he had a raw sound and he had a unique swing, R&B horn sound in his playing. I loved that combination of those two elements.”

“And when I finally realize that there were blues shows on the radio, I heard Rod Piazza on the very first blues radio show I listened to. Not too long after that, I heard something by William Clarke, around the time his Blowin’ Like Hell record came out. I was knocked out by both of those guys and got to George Smith through them. Their west coast style is really 1940’s R&B and swing influenced into the traditional blues band.”

Whenever Piazza or Clarke were in the greater New Jersey area, Gruenling made it a point to be at their shows to continue his education process. He was easy to spot with his long hair and he showed up so frequently that Piazza began to worry that this “hippy kid” was stalking him. After a show, Gruenling proudly presented Piazza with a copy of his latest recording. Piazza took it home and left it in his garage.

Sometime later, he was working on his car, spotted the disc and decided to give it a listen. When it was done, Piazza went into the house and told his wife, Honey, that the “hippy kid” could really play! They have been friends ever since.

About 2005, gigs in the greater New Jersey - New York area became much harder to come by and the economics of keeping a band bigger than four pieces working became very difficult. “I fought it as long as I could because Jump Time was a big part of my musical vision. I began to work with other bands like Peter Karp and Dave Gross with Gina Sicilia. I took a break from working on my own stuff for a while.”

In 2007, Gruenling started work on a new project. “I had always wanted to do a string of tribute albums. Little Walter was the obvious first choice. He was the most influential harmonica player ever and a very influential artist for all blues musicians. There hadn’t been a tribute album for him since the year he died, so it seemed like a no-brainer as a project. It allowed me to work with some of my favorite harp players – Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin and Steve Guyger – plus Rusty Zinn on guitar.”

Even more important, when it came time to book tours to support the project, Gruenling decided to work with Detroit guitarist Doug Deming. “Doug and I were just starting to get to know each other. I felt a musical connection with him, so we went on the road together.” Their relationship grew from there, leading to a decision several years ago to form a partnership that allows them to release recordings under their own names while touring together with Deming’s band, the Jewel Tones – Andrew Gohman on bass, Devin Neel on drums – in support.

Deming is quick to sing the praises of his friend. “What makes Dennis unique is that he is so versatile. He can sound like a horn or even a horn section on one song, then do a lowdown dirty blues on the next number. And he really adds an element of swing to our sound, which is vital to a lot of the musical styles that I like to play.”

When they hear Gruenling play live, people regularly comment that he often sounds more like a horn than a harmonica. Part of that sound stems from his explorations into jazz music.

Gruenling’s solos always swing but also incorporate the best elements of jazz improvisation that make each excursion a memorable experience as he turns melodies inside and out. For that, he had a very good teacher.

“I work hard on being a good harmonica player. But I also have been driven to be a good musician. I’ve always been a fan of swinging, rocking tenor and baritone saxophones players like Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Red Prysock, and Gene Ammons. The jazz stuff with a strong blues sensibility really appealed to me. I learned to tailor my playing to the song instead of always doing the same style.”

“I got turned on to an album by a group called Soprano Summit. The co-leaders were Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber. They both played soprano sax, clarinet and several other horns. Kenny grew up playing blues in strip bars as a teenager in New York City. I was blown away by the feeling he expressed on the clarinet. Shortly after that, I kept seeing this same name listed almost weekly for a gig at a roadhouse not far from me. I thought it was kind of weird that a guy with the same name as the one on my record was playing in my area.”

Dennis finally gathered up some courage and headed out to the see if this was the same Kenny Davern.

“It was him. He was playing traditional jazz on clarinet and swinging his ass off. They didn’t want to let me in the bar as I was still underage. I introduced myself to Kenny as a fan and asked him about jazz musicians like clarinet player Pee Wee Russell. We talked for hours until they finally kicked us out. We became friends and I learned a lot from him about being a musician and music in general. The greatest lessons he taught me were to not be narrow-minded in my approach to music and to know you instrument so well that you can fit into any musical environment and sound like you belong, even when improvising. Do your homework and find your own voice.”

Dennis is very excited about the future with Doug Deming. “He is a rare breed of guitar player, not only because of how good a player he is, but he also understands how to back up a harmonica player. He plays the traditional and the swing blues as well as any guitar player I have ever played with. We can play the jump blues and do it justice without a sax or a boogie piano player because the whole band knows how to swing.”

“ It has been really exciting to be out there touring and I feel the band has been kicking butt playing the songs from our two recordings on the Vizztone label. We collaborated on each other’s project and each one has a slightly different vision. New material has been pouring out of me lately because of my excitement about the chemistry between us. I am writing with this particular band in mind, which hasn’t been the case since the Jump Time days.”

To fill his spare time, Gruenling has a collection of vintage harp microphones that is in a constant state of flux as he buys, sells and trades with other harmonica aficionados. He supplements his income by giving private lessons to students locally and on-line. And even though he quit listening to radio several decades ago, he has had his own program, The Blues and the Beat, for the last ten years every Thursday afternoon on WFDU 89.1FM from Farleigh Dickinson University (

Despite being recognized as one of the best blues harp players in the world, gigs are still hard to come by in the NJ/NY area when Gruenling is not teamed up on the road with Deming. He recently took up meditation, which has helped him deal with the stress of life but also seems to have freed up his creative inner being. “I think I have more than enough material ready for the next project. Now it’s just a matter of working the songs out with the band and figuring out when we are going to go into the studio. And I’m still exploring all the possibilities of sound that can be created by my techniques on the harp and how the microphone works with the amp as well as how you use your hands to change the sound, tonal nuances and textures. I have always loved sounds and I always go after the sounds I hear in my head!”

For more info on Dennis visit his website at

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine.

Interviewer Mark Thompson lives in Florida, where he is enjoying life without snow. He is a member of the Board of Directors for the Suncoast Blues Society and the past president of the Crossroads Blues Society of Northern Illinois. Music has been a huge part of his life for the past fifty years - just ask his wife!

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.

 Featured Blues Review 1 of 5

Jim Pharis - Having A Ball!

Self Released

9 tracks

As it states on Jim’s web site, “Jim Pharis is no Spring chicken, that's for sure. But the miles driven, the late nights gigs with a day job just hours away, and the experience that only comes from living life are evident in the acoustic blues that he plays.” I was searching for how to represent what I heard and it comes down to the fact that this music represents what Pharis likes to do- play music and have a good time.

He’s a finger-picking guitar player who lived in Texas but was born and raised in Central Louisiana. He played electric bass there but then went back to the guitar and moved to Madison, WI where he finger-picked across the Midwest. He recovered from a major illness, refocused his life and moved back to his birthplace where he continues to play and teach guitar. It’s simple. Straight up finger-picking folk blues.

The first song caught me off guard. “Bare Assed Boogie” seemed to me a novelty song, singing about boogying while naked. But it’s meant to be in good fun and it is. “Knot Headed Women” is about what it says; his girl is knot headed but he loves her just the same. For all his complaints he sings that he loves her just the same. “The Cure” is “an older song from 1996.” according to Jim. It is a simple yet lovely instrumental. By the fourth track I wanted to sip lemonade and to sit on a porch across from oak trees covered in Spanish moss. “Lazy Sunday Morning” is a folksy blues ditty again just about what the title says. In “Middle Aged Blues” Pharis seeks a cure for his middle aged white guy blues.

“Lottery Blues” is next (listed as the earlier track on the liner) and it’s a nice little finger pick about his dream of winning the lottery to fix his woes. Bo Carter’s “Ways Like a Crawfish” is next and it fits his light and somewhat tongue in cheek style. “Lefty’s Rag” is another fine little instrumental walk up and down the scales and is well down. He closes with a Mississippi John Hurt cut called “Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me.” Another light and whimsical topic, it fits in the format of what Pharis seems to be.

This is not a CD for those looking for heavy social commentary. Pharis flirts with mirth and merriment and enjoying the fun in life, both real and perceived. His vocals are somewhat simple in their approach, as if he’s doing songs for Sesame Street and making a point with kids, But he seems to love what he’s up to and finger picks fairly well. He’s having a good time and if you take the ride with him with that in mind it can be a fun one. It’s only nine tracks but it was a fast and enjoyable ride.

Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and work with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 2 of 5

Holland K. Smith - Cobalt

EllerSoul Records

CD: 14 songs; 56:27 Minutes

Styles: Blues Rock, Roots Rock, Soul-Influenced Blues, Jazz-Blues

Now’s the time for giving special thanks, especially for soul-and-roots-influenced rock that’s so blue it’s “Cobalt.” How good is Texas artist Holland K. Smith? On his website, even George Thorogood is quoted: “Holland is bad to the BONE!”

Purists, make no mistake: Smith’s style is eclectic, spicily combining elements from several musical genres on his newest album. With that said, “Cobalt’s” fourteen selections are fantastic! -- with only one being a cover (Lefty Williams’ “Little Bit of Faith”). They run the full gamut, from innovative instrumentals like the title track, to danceable ditties such as “The Itch,” to romantic renditions including “The Secret.” Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of “Cobalt” is how fresh and honest Smith’s vocals are, which are of above-average quality without a need for auto-tune airbrushing. With him are producer Anson Funderburgh, who also adds guitar on one song, keyboardist and engineer Gentleman John Street, drummer Wes Starr, bassists Eric Przygocki and Ronnie James Webber, Ron Jones on saxes, Chaz Marie on harmony vocals, and percussionist Durity Nasuhoglu. Their best efforts here are these three:

Track 03: “Just One Heartache” - A better title for this song might have been “Talk to the Hand,” because it’s certainly a more infectious catchphrase. Our frustrated narrator is fed up with his partner’s attempts to extract more cash: “Talk to the hand; I know where that (grocery) moolah went. You were down at the hair salon - now that money’s all spent!” Holland’s vocals are intentionally gravelly here – more than on this CD’s other tracks, but this underscores his point. Listeners should keep their ears open for the guitar and swinging sax solos.

Track 04: “The Itch” - Every lonely man (and woman) knows what it’s all about; they’ve just got to scratch it, or they’ll start to scream and shout: “I’ve got a one-way ticket on the Greyhound bus, and one thing on my mind. Gotta get me some loving, or the itch is gonna drive me blind!” This is a low-down, throw-down, 50’s-style number that wouldn’t have been out of place at a sock hop. One’s feet just might feel “the itch” to boogie, so wear comfortable shoes while listening and jiving along!

Track 06: “Cobalt” - One cannot find a truer shade of blue than the name of this CD’s most riveting instrumental. Some may deem it jazz rather than blues, and it’s true that “Cobalt” contains such infusions. However, they enhance rather than detract from its appeal. Especially notable are Gentleman John Street’s nonchalant organ keyboards and Wes Starr’s laid-back, ticking drumbeat.

This Thanksgiving, after filling up on hearty fare, it’s time to treat one’s ears to a feast by adding “Cobalt” to one’s holiday-season playlist! EllerSoul has been on a deft roll in 2013, and this CD is a great addition to their listings.

Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 33 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Live Blues Review - King Biscuit Festival Part 3

Saturday, the main stage started with Earnest Guitar Roy, who always has a fun set, and this morning was no exception, with special guests coming up to play. After Billy Branch did some dueling on the harmonica, Anson Funderburgh and Earnest got down on the guitars. And who can’t be happy to see Popcorn (Chuck Louden) on the drums! The band included: Horns - 1st Trumpet is Curtis Williams-trumpet, Charles Campbell -Tenor Sax, and Anthony Royal on 2nd Trumpet; Carla Roy – bass; Mark Kries – B3/keys; and Marcus Cartwright on vocals & guitar, who is being mentored by Earnest.

Next up was Don McMinn. Don is a well know Blues guitar player and has played many times at the King Biscuit Festival. He is the father of Reba Russell Band'sdrummer Doug McMinn pictured below. This was the first time we have seen Don on the main stage and he gave a great set that proved he belonged on the big stage.

For many years fans have been treated to some great music by the late Blues legend, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith at the King Biscuit festival playing with other alumni of the Muddy Waters band. Sadly, Willie passed in 2011 but the legacy of his performances lives on as his son Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith has taken up the mantle and continues that tradition.


For years we saw Kenny behind the drum set accompanying his father, who fronted the band on vocals and harmonica. Now Kenny has moved out front to continue this King Biscuit tradition, singing and playing harmonica and leading a great band including Muddy Waters members "Steady Rollin'" Bob Margolin on guitar and Bob Stroger on bass. Also sitting in were Matthew Skoller on harmonica and Barrelhouse Chuck on piano.

Next up was Larry McCray. Larry is always a welcome sight and sound with his pure blues guitar. And his bass player, Kerry Clark, is pretty entertaining, as well as talented. On the drums was Steve McCray.

Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band was up next and priovided some interesting music for the crowd.

Harmonica master James Cotton was up next. At 78 years old, he show no signs of stopping anytime soon. Superharp indeed!

Closing out a perfect three days was The Greg Allman Band. What a great set. Greg starts out on the B3, moves to guitar, and back to B3, backed by a great band. The band included: Jerry Jemmott – bass; Scott Sharrard – guitar, Floyd Miles – percussion; Jay Collins – sax & flute; Ben Stivers – keys; and Steve Potts – drums.

Lockwood-Stackhouse Stage - by Robert Hughes

The final day of the Lockwood stage started off with Andy Coats. Andy Coats who was born and raised in North Carolina, opened up on the second day of the Lockwood stage. In his teens Andy sang and played in a hard rock band and later a progressive rock band. From there he worked his way back to the genres in which the blues and other roots music is based. Later, the magic of the blues masters fully hit Andy who dove headlong into Robert Johnson's material.


Next up was a real-deal artist Ben Wiley Peyton, who was recently honored to represent his home state of Mississippi in Washington DC for the American Folklife Center's Homegrown Concert Series presented by the Library of Congress. The appearance included an additional concert at the prestigious Kennedy Center.


Next Charlote and company served up some Soulful, funky, original blues. They have been making the rounds playing on the Main Stage at the 2006, 2007, 2008 Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival. They have also opened for John Lee Hooker Jr., Michael Burks, Buckwheat Zydeco, Duwayne Burnside and More!


Dr. Feelgood Potts – Dr. Feelgood presented the sounds of traditional blues. All of the material is written by Dr. "Feelgood" Potts. His harmonica was the lead instrument on all of the songs. This bluesman delivered his material which was reminiscent of works of artist styles such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Junior Wells, Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, and other blues artists and harmonica players popular in the late 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s. It was Memphis-style blues which originated in the Mississippi Delta where Dr. "Feelgood" Potts was born and raised. Dr. Potts music sounds like sounds of the original Memphis Beale Street blues which saturated the sounds of the streets, juke joints, and clubs.


The Bill "Howl-N-Madd" Perry show is mostly clever and cool original songs with some of his favorite cover songs included. His most recent CD “The Clarksdale Sessions” was chosen from a global list of CD’s by The International Blues Challenge as one of the top five self-produced CD’s. Bill has had an interesting career which started in Chicago. In his early career he wrote for musicians such as Lil Johnny Taylor, Ted Taylor, and Cash McCall. He worked for Phil Chess as a studio musician. Later he joined up with Little Milton for a while and then started his own band. He has toured throughout the U.S and also spent a year touring in Indonesia.



David Kimbrough, Jr. Band (a.k.a. David Malone & David Kimbrough Jr.) were up next. David is a genuine bluesman. He carries on his family tradition by creating music steeped in his Black American and Choctaw heritage while pushing the boundaries of tradition and expectation. David’s presentation of original, Delta, North Mississippi Hill Country and Cotton Patch Blues is the continuing source from which music enthusiasts may reference. His performance is the living blues.


Blind Mississippi Morris too the stage next. More cool sounds emanated from the man who was born Morris Cummings. Morris lost his sight at the age of four, but that did not stop him from learning the blues. Morris has become a popular blues act on Beale Street. Morris and his band, the Pocket Rockets, are known as the "real deal from Beale". Morris is the very embodiment of the Delta bluesman. He has been called a new disciple of the Delta blues, he was rated one of the 10 best harmonica players in the world by Bluzharp magazine. He has performed with musicians such as B. B. King, Rufus Thomas, Muddy Waters, David Porter and many other Memphis artists.



Joe Louis Walker kept everything hot, cool, and moving. Joe Louis Walker, who has been delivering his biting brand of West Coast blues since the ’60s worked the crowd like the seasoned pro that he is. Walker’s fabulous, squeaky-tight seasoned band whips up a sassy, swinging; old-school jump blues feel. His stinging guitar licks cut through, and his voice was in spectacular form.


Bobby Rush was the final cat on the Lockwood stgae. What can I say? This wild, no-holds-barred Bluesman who was born Emmit Ellis, Jr. in Homer, Louisiana, was right on! People arrived 12 hours early to claim space for the Bobby Rush show. Bobby and company did not disappoint. His show is a not-to-be-missed event!


His father was a pastor whose guitar and harmonica playing provided early musical influences. As a young child he began experimenting with music using a sugar-cane syrup-bucket and a broom-wire diddley bow. Rush received even more recognition for his music after the release of his 22nd album Rush, when he Bobby Rush was awarded "Best Male Soul Blues Artist" at the Blues Music Awards for his 22nd album “Rush.” His album, Hoochie Mama was nominated for a Grammy award in the blues music section in 2000. Rush was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the 'Soul Blues Male Artist' category.

Photos and commentary by Marilyn Stringer, Bob Kieser and Robert Hughes as noted © 2013 Blues Blast Magazine

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE.

 Featured Blues Review 3 of 5

Studebaker John’s Maxwell Street Kings – Kingsville Jukin’

Delmark Records

16 tracks; 74 minutes

(Studebaker) John Grimaldi has been around for a long time but his recent career on Delmark has seen him produce three very well received CDs. John’s forte is down and dirty harp, slide guitar and growling vocals and this CD is full of all three elements. This is pure, raw blues which harks back to the age of Chicago’s Maxwell Street, from where the band gets its name. The ‘Maxwell Street Kings’ are Rick Dreher on second guitar, Bob Halaj on bass and Steve Cushing on drums. All the material was written by John and recorded over a three day session at Delmark’s Chicago studios.

The sound is defiantly primitive and Lo-Fi, especially on opener “Mississippi To Chicago” with its repetitive boogie rhythm. John uses a lot of echo on his vocals which fit perfectly with his own distorted guitar while Rick plays round John’s rhythm. Closing track “Bad Gasoline” takes the recipe to the ultimate by being recorded directly to 78, both vocal and guitar being further ‘muddied’ by the process. “I Am The Houserocker” is another boogie with slashing slide, dedicated to the late guitarist Brewer Phillips.

“When They Played The Real Blues” was a standout cut for me, John’s high pitched Jimmy Reed style harp leading the way into a song about the old days on Maxwell Street. The title track “Kingsville Jukin’” is dedicated to Big John Wrencher, a harmonica stalwart of Maxwell Street in the 60’s, and is therefore appropriately a harp instrumental feature over another boogie tune. Also dedicated (to Peter Green this time) is “Cold Black Night”, a slower blues and the longest track on the album. Rick Dreher finds some Green-like playing in the background but John’s brooding guitar is turned up a little loud in the mix so Rick’s contribution is somewhat lost.

At 74 minutes long, fans of Studebaker John will be delighted to get so much music for their investment.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He had a blast at this year’s Blues Blast Awards and is already planning his next trip stateside.

For other reviews and interviews on our website CLICK HERE

 Featured Blues Review 4 of 5

The Black Tongued Bells – Every Tongue Has A Tale To Tell

Rankoutsider Records – Outsider 44

14 songs – 72 minutes

Although The Black Tongued Bells are a seasoned group of professionals who’ve been working with the same lineup in Los Angeles for the past 12 years, this is the debut release for the group who meld Muscle Shoals and Memphis grooves with swamp blues and gospel overtones into a style they call “American swamp.”

The Bells took their unusual name from a line in a Dylan Thomas poem, and they’re far more than a simple blues band. In concert, they offer two vastly different personas: The first as an all-electric roots ensemble complete with gospel backing, the second as an acoustic “swamp opera” -- a musical theater presentation that includes a storyteller, seven performers in period costumes and a set designed around a sharecropper’s cabin.

This self-produced CD, available through CDBaby, captures the group in their first incarnation. Thirteen of the 14 tracks here are originals. They’re delivered fervently by D. Miner, who wrote all the material. His distinctive baritone sounds as if it’s been soaked in whisky for a century and then dragged down an endless gravel road, and he doubles on lead guitar. He’s joined by Anthony Cook (bass), Ray Herron (drums and fiddle), and Mary Stuart and Louis Clark (percussion). All contribute backing vocals. They’re assisted by an outstanding array of sidemen, including Phil Jones (percussion), Wyman Reese (keyboards), John Harrelson (horns and piano), Danny Ott (lead and bottleneck guitar), Bill Barrett (harmonica), Walter Clevenger (clave and vibes), “King” Roger Ehrnman (saxophone) and John McKnight (trombone).

The Black Tongued Bells settle into a steady rhythm from the jump and maintain it to the end, building tension as they go. The end product is a hypnotic, richly textured wall of sound that feels as if it was produced in a Mississippi juke joint even though recorded several hundred miles away in a recording studio. The proceedings kick off with “Comin’ Back For More,” a funky, guitar fueled tale about a trip to the doctor. The pace quickens slightly for the syncopated “Down In The Hood,” an image-filled complaint about everything that’s wrong in the inner city. It’s laid atop a great bass line. The band shifts into high gear for “Jukin’ Joint,” in which they encounter Elvis in the flesh, insist his grave’s empty and that he’s been hiding out instead of mouldering since his “death” in the ‘70s. The new Elvis, they claim, is rested, back and ready to retain his throne.

An interesting, dark guitar line drives “She Ain’t Got The Time,” about an L.A. girl who should be avoided at all costs, before the band launches into “Door To Door Business,” a wish for traveling salesmen to stop knocking. Cox relieves Miner to deliver equally smoky vocals on the next tune, “The Midnight Porter.” A funky song with a Memphis feel, it’s a thinly veiled claim about sexual prowess built on a railroad theme. “Rattle Some Bones” is a party song about having enough fun to raise the dead.

The Black Tongued Bells slow down the pace dramatically with “Long Way To Go,” about the road you’ll have to travel before you reach heaven’s door, leading into the uptempo shuffle, “Kingbee Jam,” which is complete with true swamp imagery and feel. “Willie Lost It All” continues the mood. It’s a 7:51 saga about a sinner and thief who had it all and enjoyed sitting in with the band. But no matter how much he had, he never had enough to satisfy his dreams before his untimely end. An interesting cover of the Merle Travis country classic, “Sixteen Tons,” follows before the band launches into “Gimme That Rise,” a gritty, simple, swamp-flavored complaint about not getting enough loving from a woman whose life’s filled with raising a family and tending to chores. The minor-keyed “Beautiful Bride” is a tongue-in-cheek classic about a man who considers himself unpleasant to look at because his mother drank while he was in the womb. The anthem sings of his desire to find a cross-eyed gal to wed. The disc concludes with “Hello Misery,” an original take on a bad love affair.

A rock-solid first offering on every front. It’s a shame it took 12 years for these guys to hit the studio.

Reviewer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. His first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.

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 Featured Blues Review 5 of 5

Jeff Strahan – Monkey Around

Self-release through Squaw Peaks Records

10 tracks / 42:58

I know a lot of folks that dream of becoming full-time musicians, but making the step from an established career to the stage is an almost insurmountable hurdle. Jeff Strahan did just that, giving up his day job as a trial lawyer and immersing himself in the wonderful world of Texas blues rock. And after listening to his ninth record, you will find that he is dead serious about his craft and that his love of music led him in the right direction.

Strahan is a journeyman singer and keyboard player and fabulous guitarist from the high plains of Texas, and he brings all of these talents to the studio, which in this case is somewhere outside of Austin. He is joined on this project by Jimmy Hartman on bass and backing vocals, and Chris Compton on drums and backing vocals. Jeff produced this disc and wrote nine of the ten tracks, with the other track being penned by his friend and fellow guitarist, the late Lil’ Dave Thompson.

“Don’t Get Too Low” kicks off with crunchy rock guitar chords layered with Hammond B-3 and piano. This is not hard music to enjoy as Jeff has a pleasant voice that does not need to be driven into screaming to get his point across. For a guitarist he does not mind digging into the keyboards, and he tears off a neat piano break before jumping into the first guitar solo of the album, which is quite a corker. This is Texas-style rock, so there are no taboos about cutting 6-minute tracks with plenty of guitar! If you like the sound of this one, “Can’t Change Me” and “Monkey Around” are also killer rock tracks that you should not miss.

Beside his musicianship, Strahan should also get kudos for his role as producer for Monkey Around as it is a nice piece of work. It is well recorded and mixed, and though the tracks are quite varied they are in a logical sequence and work well together. Many self-produced albums that I come across are not quite up to snuff in the sound department and do not flow well; those other guys could go to school on this disc.

Anyway, slow blues is another one of Strahan’s specialties, and “Curtains” is about as good as it gets. Jeff gets a wonderful tone out of his Strat on the intro over the tight backline of Compton and Hartman. The lyrics are full of regret and are cleverly crafted into the classic blues structure. He has more blues on tap -- “Dangerous Curves” is some fine Texas blues with a walking bass line (and a little organ on top), and “Two Shades” uses electric piano, heavy high hat and fat bass to create that funky 1970s vibe.

Jeff uses his good sense of humor as he addresses the traditional Rhythm and Blues theme of substances that people enjoy using and abusing. In “4:20” he uses a zydeco beat that segues into Texas rock as he sings about folks that need to chill out a bit, and it turns out that he has just the solution for them. It’s a shame that this song does not have a run time of 4:20, though! “Baptist Bootleggers” is the sad story of growing up in a dry town where a little liquid refreshment is needed. It turns out that there is always a solution if you look hard enough, and Strahan uses the lyrics to paint a vivid picture of the best place in town.

Rounding out the different styles of music on this album is “The One,” a piano-accompanied ballad that Jeff dedicated to his mother, Lillian, who passed on last year. The heartfelt lyrics and Jeff’s honest voice stand on their own, and this track is a well-placed break midway through the disc.

Monkey Around is certainly a good showcase of Jeff Strahan’s many talents, but it is also a really good album with not a bad track to be found. If you like blues/rock/folk music, do yourself a favor and give it a listen!

Reviewer Rex Bartholomew is a Los Angeles-based writer and musician; his blog can be found at

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The Houston Blues Society - Houston, TX

The Houston Blues Society will be hosting their Annual Holiday Bash in connection with their 20th anniversary celebration on Sunday, December 15, at House Of Blues (Crossroads Restaurant, Houston, TX) The event will also be a Jimmy "T-99" Nelson Youth Scholarship Fundraiser. The event will feature an all-star Houston line-up. For more info, please visit

The Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society - Newhall, CA

The Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society invites you to our Winter Fundraiser & Christmas Party on Saturday, December 14th from 3:00pm - 6:00pm. The location is Vincenzo's Pizza, 24504 1/2 Lyons Avenue, Newhall, CA 91321 For your entertainment, we are featuring our recent "Battle of the Blues Bands" Winners and and our "Best Self Produced CD" Winner:

3:00pm - Toni Dodd & Southbound Blues - 2nd Place Runner Up / "Battle of the Blues Bands"
4:00pm - Phil Gates - Winner "Best Self Produced CD" / "Live At The Hermosa Saloon"
5:00pm - Mikey Mo Band - Winner "Battle of the Blues Bands"

We'll have Raffles, CDs, Tshirts, Jewelry and Blues Art for sale. We'll also be taking up gifts for "Toys For Tots" so bring something to make a kid happy this Christmas. All Ages are welcome. $10 for Adults, Kids 12 & Under are Free, Doors open at 2:30pm so come early and get a good seat. Come hungry, Vincenzo's has really great Pizza, Salads, Deserts, etc. For more info visit

The DC Blues Society - Washington, DC

The DC Blues Society rings in the New Year on December 31, 2013 from 7pm-12:30am with the region’s Soul-Blues legends, The Hardway Connection (at American Legion, 11225 Fern Street, Wheaton MD 20902.) Tickets are $35 in advance (at or $40 at the door. The party includes dinner, champagne toast and exceptionally reasonable cash bar. The Hardway Connection evokes “old school” R&B – sometimes smooth, sometimes funky but always danceable! The powerhouse band has been together more than 15 years, gigging throughout the Southeast, and gathering a large following along the way. Known for their excellent vocals and tight rhythms, The Hardway Connection play the “oldies but goodies” with dynamism, power and fun. They have opened for major acts, including Johnny Taylor and Chuck Brown. The band placed first in the 11th Annual National Blues Talent Competition sponsored by The Blues Foundation. Said Eric Brace of the Washington Post, The Hardway Connection is a “superb soul/blues/R&B band. They sing and play and deliver the goods like few bands I've ever seen.” More info at

River City Blues Society - Peoria, IL

River City Blues Society presents live Blues featuring James Armstrong on Friday November 29th at Goodfellas, 1414 N. 8th St. Pekin, Illinois. Show starts at 7:30 pm. Admission is $6.00 for general public and only $4.00 for RCBS Members. For more info visit: Or call 309-648-8510

Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL

The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 27 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:00pm $3 cover. Dec. 2 – Motor City Josh, Dec. 9 – Scott Ellison, Dec. 16 – Hurricane Ruth, Dec. 23 –Brooke Thomas & the Blues Suns, Dec. 30 – James Armstrong More info available at

Crossroads Blues Society - Rockford, IL

On Friday December 13th, the Crossroads Blues Society presents afternoon BITS with Bobby Messano followed by our mini-Winter Blues Fest featuring Bobby Messano and Sena Erhardt at the Adriatic on Jefferson and Church Streets in Rockford, 8 PM. $15 advanced, $20 at the door.

For more information about these presentations please contact: Steve Jones - Crossroads Blues Society 779-537-4006 To find out about the event, go to

Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL

Now in their seventh season, The Friends of the Blues present 7 pm early shows: Tues, Dec 10, the return of the Ori Naftaly Band from Israel! - Moose Lodge in Bradley IL sponsored by Mr. Vacuum, Bradley IL More information visit us at or email  

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