Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The Doctor Is IN! Anita Schlank delivers BLUES THERAPY

Regular readers of this blog of blues will immediately recognize the name of Anita Schlank. Aside from being a huge fan of blues music, her photographs have enhanced many of the reviews you’ve read here; but you may not realize that she is an actual-certified-no-doubt-about-it doctor. She won’t prescribe meds, she’s a psychologist, not a psychiatrist, but she helps people with mental issues every day.
If you’re anticipating a joke here from your smartass humble narrator, sorry to disappoint you, but recently I’ve been writing about my own mental issues, and I have nothing but respect for those who are suffering through battles with depression, bipolar issues, OCD, ADHD, addiction, and any other speedbumps that might derail their daily lives.
All of that is my way to introduce you to her book, BLUES THERAPY, that she wrote with contributions from blues musician Tab Benoit and a forward from Mike Zito. Schlank has done interviews with some great performers including Mike Welch, Annika Chambers, Eric Gales, Amanda Fish, Janiva Magness, Anders Osborne, Nick Moss, and Beth Hart among many others. All the participants have been forthcoming and honest about the struggles each faces on a daily basis, and how the music helps them cope.
While many of the issues appear to be consistent, with depression, bipolar, and addiction leading the way, each person has their own system of support in order to keep the demons at bay. For the person in recovery, whether alcohol or drugs, how does that person stay clean when their very job often means entertaining people in a bar every night. Well-meaning fans, eager to connect with a favorite performer, will often offer a drink or a joint to thank them.
This can be the start of a relapse. Anders Osborne faced that dilemma and created a program called, “Send Me A Friend.” Once you are part of the organization, you might find yourself called on to sit with a band member, a crew member, or the performer themselves and help them not succumb to that offered drink or smoke. Just having a friend with them can mean the difference of staying straight, or spiraling back into older self-destructive habits.
Schlank opens the book with definitions of terms used to describe various mental illnesses. It is by no means exhaustive, nor is it too clinical. It gives the casual reader an opportunity to become familiar with many of the issues she discusses throughout the rest of the book.
The interviews themselves are illuminating. I found it not only a comfort to read about a number of people who have similar problems as myself (major depressive disorder if you’re interested), but also enlightening as to how many artists work with these issues in order to create their art. I’ve always been fascinated by the layers of creativity that artists go through in order to create their art – any kind of art. Music, painting, dance, sculpture, theatre – are all expressions of the emotions we all face. I want to see how someone goes from that spark of an idea to the wildfire of the finished product.
Kudos to Schlank, Benoit, and all the participants for shining a light on a problem many of us have kept in a dark corner of our soul. Only by lifting the shame from these issues will make it so that people can get the help they need without being further stigmatized by the situation. I hope that this is just the beginning of an ongoing series dealing with mental conditions and creativity.
In the meantime, this book will occupy a place of honor on my bookshelf and I will also purchase a copy for my psychiatrist’s library. If you would like to get your own copy (and I suggest you do, post haste), you can order a copy from their website
If you feel that you yourself need help, and I say this with all the love in my heart, REACH OUT AND GET HELP. I struggled with issues for years before ever admitting something was wrong, and it has made all the difference in the world to ask for and receive that help. The blues world is a small community, and when we lose one person to the demons, we become less. The music helps us – maybe more so than any other form of music, but there are other things that can be done.
Reach out. Please. If you feel that there is no one who has your back and would be willing to help, please know that we’re here for you. I’m not a doctor, but I’m a pretty good listener. You have friends here.
BLUES THERAPY is a great place to start your own journey towards healing. I’m not sure there’s any higher praise I can offer.
Thank you, Dr. Anita Schlank for your efforts, your work, your perseverance, and those damn fine photographs you graciously let me use.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Time For The Blues ~~ March 23, 2019

Henry and I hope you will join us this Saturday night, March 23, at 10, as we unleash, unveil, and unravel the latest very special episode of Time For The Blues. Better let me warn you, I’m taking a week off from picking the music, and every single song was hand picked by Mr. Henry “The Nickname” Cook, so you know, anything could happen!

When we first started on this journey, Henry plotted out the vast majority of our shows. He had a dream as to what he thought the show should sound. Unfortunately, we never quite got that right, but we keep trying. One day we’ll get there, but in the meantime, our jokes will still be bad…

Over the years, we traded shows – and eventually it got to the point where I was plotting most of the music, while Henry took care of all our production. It’s been a good system so far as we each have our own individual styles. I try to play a lot of the newer blues while Henry does some amazing things with retro sounds; artists that are great, but might not get as much airplay today.

Here at Time For The Blues we don’t just play the newest hits. Nor do we play the same classics over and over. We try to walk that musical tightrope that lets us play whatever we find that sounds great and we think you will enjoy. We try to find ways to mix things up, a way to integrate the old and the new in a way that will entertain you each and every week.

I think you’ll get that with Henry’s show this week. He’s brought back the great Jon Lord, whom you may remember as the keyboardist for Deep Purple, teaming up with Australian blues band The Hoochie Coochie Men. Lord is a real keyboard wizard and while he’s best known for his rock/metal playing, take it from us, he plays the blues like the devil himself is standing on his shoulder.

You’ll be glad we revisited this group, and I doubt you will hear them on many other blues shows anywhere.

Also terribly underrepresented on other blues shows is the British band Killing Floor. Leave it to Henry, the man with a photographic memory about bands and single artists, to remind me of great players that we need to play to keep their music alive. We’ve got tracks from their self-titled album, and if you have never heard these guys, please be sure to give them a listen this week.  

I can’t believe I’m writing the next sentence. We’ve also got a couple of classics from Led Zeppelin and Foghat. Yup, that Led Zeppelin and Foghat. I think we’ve played one song from one of the groups, maybe one from each. But it’s Henry’s show, and you know anything can happen.

But we’re not forgetting about new material either. We’ve got tracks from Tommy Castro & The Painkillers (who came through Richmond within the past year) and from the trio of, and Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz Giles Robson (two of which have played Richmond in the past 18 months or so).          

Looking forward to seeing you in Richmond!
Speaking of great shows coming to town, I would like to recommend that you check out Lazer Lloyd at Buz & Ned’s Real Barbecue on March 27. You can get advance tickets for $15 and day of the show for $20. Make it a night out, get dinner, drinks, and watch a great entertainer all at once. I’ll see you there!

If you’re a regular listener, we know you’re going to do whatever you need to do to join us at 10:00. If you’re new to Time For The Blues, drop by and find out what everybody is talking about.

We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser here,  or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 WCVE-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!              

Friday, March 15, 2019

Time For The Blues ~~ March 16, 2019

Henry and I hope you will join us Saturday Night, March 16th at 10:00 because we’ve got what we’ve determined is the Rockingest, Swingingest, and Jumpingest episode of Time For The Blues that we’ve ever assembled. I know those words are making my computer crazy throwing out red squiggly lines like Henry during spring cleaning, but trust me, they are the truest words I’ve ever said about the show.

Let’s talk about our main sets first. We’ve got Nick Schnebelen’s latest album, Crazy All By Myself, out on VizzTone, and if you’re not familiar with Nick’s work, let me remind you of the great group, Trampled Under Foot. That’s Nick’s family and that’s where he cut his teeth and developed his chops. Now he’s releasing work on his own and we’ve got some great songs ready for you.

Speaking of VizzTone, they just released a hot, hot, hot, muy caliente album from Rockin’ Johnny Burgin and Quique Gomez called Dos Hombres Wanted. While we haven’t yet met face to face, Rockin’ Johnny and I have been trading emails and I think the guy is aptly named – he rocks! And believe me, Quique is no slouch either. The two make a dynamic duo and we’re going to sample three songs from their album as well.

We’re also still catching up on some great records that have been piling up on my not-so-organized desk. How about a side from the great Paul Oscher from his new blues and jazz album, Cool Cat? Or a new cut from Chris O’Leary off his album, 7 Minutes Late and an incredible swinging instrumental from Tomislav Goluban from Chicago Rambler? With a name like Tomislav Goluban, you know he was born to be a bluesman…

Just like those old commercials that show up from time to time in our conversation, “Wait! There’s more…’

We’ve got a group with a strange name, Bloodest Saxophone, and they are going to take on Rufus Thomas’ classic, Walking The Dog, from their new album, Texas Queens 5. Our pal, Big Joe Maher has a smoking new album out on Severn, Rockhouse Party, and we’ve got him with The Dynaflows tearing up a Roosevelt Sykes classic. We’ve also found a new group called Vegas Strip Kings who have a new album called Jackpot. These guys really know how to rock! We think you’ll like them a lot.

If you’re a regular listener, we know you’re going to do whatever you need to do to join us at 10:00. If you’re new to Time For The Blues, drop by and find out what everybody is talking about.

We’ve got everything all laid out and ready to go, all we need is you and a few hundred of your closest friends. You know how to find us, point your browser to http://ideastations.org/radio or join us on one of the Idea Stations: 89.1 WCVN, Northern Neck; 90.1 WMVE, Chase City; and the flagships, 93.1 and 107.3 WCVE-Music, Richmond, where it’s always Time For The Blues!                                                                                                      

Monday, March 11, 2019

Nick Moss And Dennis Gruenling Rock The Tin Pan

The Sunday when Daylight Saving Time starts, is generally a tricky day to get anything done. Your sleep is thrown off and no amount of coffee can keep a body functioning properly. I think that was the case for the smallish audience that found its way to The Tin Pan to catch one of the hottest shows of the year.
Despite the size of the audience, The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling tore through a 90-plus minute set that included a great mix of songs from recent albums, and even previewed a couple that won’t be out until later this year. Moss and Gruenling are veteran road warriors having played just about everywhere and they were backed by a talented and exciting backing band.
Moss handled the majority of vocals and all of the guitars while Gruenling sang his share of songs and blew a smoking hot harmonica that really made the audience come alive. The two of them make an unbeatable team with each player bringing out the best in each other.
The trio backing them was Taylor Streiff on keys – keep your eyes on this performer, his work is excellent; Patrick Seals on drums and Mike “Marshall” Law on stand up bass. Seals used a minimal set up, just a snare, kick drum, high hat and two cymbals and still managed to create a rich backdrop, and Law, who is not Moss’ regular bassist, added a great deal of showmanship to go along with his prodigious playing ability.
The evening started off with a hot instrumental that immediately got the audience clapping enthusiastically. Some were clapping on the one and three, others on the two and four, but what the hell, they were into the show in a big way.
From there, Moss announced he was going to do a song “for the fellas. Ladies you’ll get yours next,” to which a female audience member answered, “Ain’t that always the way.” The song was She Got A Tight Grip On Your Leash which rocked and got the show off in the right direction.
Moss took a big risk at that moment and slowed things down by describing the emotions he was experiencing after the sudden loss of his long time friends Mike Ledbetter and Eddie Taylor Jr. Ledbetter had been in his band for a few years and they were extremely close and his sudden passing has been a real blow to him and the loss of both men within a short span of time is a great blow to the blues in general.
They played Eddie Taylor’s Sittin’ Here Thinkin’ as a tribute to both men and it was a beautiful interpretation and many of us in the audience got a little misty thinking about our friends.
Moss then moved into some slow blues with Ramblin’ On My Mind, and then a song with a great deal of emotion, You Can Read My Letter. (That may not be the title, but it’s what I jotted down, and then later forgot to ask about it.) I should mention that Moss, Gruenling and Company were not playing scaled down radio edits of these songs, they were giving us the full high-energy explosion of sound and some extended leads. On that last song, Streiff dropped in some amazing piano, and I have to agree with Moss’ assessment that Streiff is one of the best Chicago Blues piano players working today.
During an extended vamp, Moss introduced the band while Gruenling stepped off the stage and made his way to the back of the room. After the intros were finished and Moss couldn’t “find” Gruenling anywhere, the harp master began playing in the back of the room – without amplification – and made his way through the audience a la Sonny Boy Williamson II and got the crowd on this side for him to take over the vocals for a little rock and roll.
Gruenling, who by the way, is easily in the top five of cool dressers male division, ripped through Count On Me and Hip Shakin’ Daddy and amped up the crowd even more. Moss stepped back up to the microphone as they jammed their way through Honey Don’t.
Both Moss and Gruenling then stepped off the stage to allow Streiff, Law, and Seals (I know, it does sound like a law firm) to have their unfettered moment in the spotlight. The delivered a smoking boogie number with each man taking a solo before Moss and Gruenling reappeared for the final number, one from their soon to be released album. It’s so new that its band name is “New Song In G,” but will probably be named Wait And See.
Everyone left except Moss who strapped on a guitar and sat behind the drum kit and told a few more stories about Mike Ledbetter. The audience was quiet, allowing Moss to reach into his memories and pull out several that illustrated just how he met Ledbetter, their relationship, and how much they meant to each other. He then ended the evening with a song he wrote after Ledbetter’s passing and recorded with Mike Welch, Ledbetter’s most recent musical partner.
The song, Here Comes A Comet, is a beautiful and loving tribute to a great man who will be missed. It was a sweet way to end the evening and I can guarantee that every person who was there that night will be back the next time Nick Moss and Dennis Gruenling come to town. If you missed, don’t make that mistake again. These men put on one of the best shows I’ve seen – and lately, I’ve been seeing a lot.

 (All photos for this post were taken by Anita Schlank and are used with permission. Check out Dr. Schlank's amazing book, Blues Therapy, at www.bluestherapybook.com)

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Jason Robert ~~ The Death Of Stone Stanley

Lately I’ve been on kind of a front porch blues kick, listening to more acoustic acts and even seeing some live performances. I went back to see what I have received lately that might fill that need and found an album that was released in early February by musician-singer-songwriter Jason Robert that I knew would do the trick.
The album is titled The Death Of Stone Stanley, and it is one of the most emotionally raw works that I’ve heard in a long time. There are no lighthearted songs that break the mood that Robert creates, this is a first song to last exploration of a person’s pain and resignation through trials and tribulations and finally acceptance of the inevitable end.
This is not an album for those who want 18-minute shredding guitar solos. This is for those who want to listen to stripped down thoughtful music that contains lyrics that make you appreciate the art of songwriting. Interested? Read on…
The album starts off with the somber Someday. Immediately there is a mixture of pain and possibilities. The story is set and sorrow is acknowledged, but the author still retains hope to get past the troubles. Love the great guitar work and the percussion adds a dirge-like feel to it. I’m already appreciating the emotion used to create the world of Stone Stanley.
Blind Willie Johnson's Soul Of A Man follows and Robert delivers a faithful telling of the song. If you look at the cover of this album, it’s a solitary man standing next to a church, and that’s the feeling I get from the song. This is the journey of a solitary man holding on to the power of faith in an ever troubling world. Very good interpretation of a classic tune with personal touches.
Next up is All I Need, a bouncy song that offers up what Stone Stanley is looking for in life. While it adds an uplifting arrangement to the proceedings, it still maintains the mood of the album. This is part of the healing power of the blues and it gives us a further glimpse into the good times.  
I confess to not being aware of the historical person Mr. Lester F. Bell, who ran a horrible conditioned labor camp in California. Robert has extrapolated from that situation, a more universal fable about evil and controversial men in our world with his song, Mr. Bell. The slow approach to the number adds to its power and Robert’s deep resonant voice is mesmerizing.
Some beautiful harmonica opens the traditional Irish folk tune Moonshiner. In Robert’s hands the song becomes as blues as possible. It’s another song of pure emotion and misplaced love. It’s a personal story of an addiction of alcohol that takes the singer past other pleasures to get to the one thing that drives him, and just may be his downfall. Lovely tune with some very plaintive guitar and pained vocals.
The next song, You Gotta Move, is most often associated with Mississippi Fred McDowell but has actually been around since the late 1800s. Robert uses McDowell’s version as a jumping off place and puts his own stamp on it. Very nice version of a classic number.  
He follows up with an original song, Good Vibes, that linguistically may be the most diverse song. It echoes All I Need in mood but moves the lyrics into a slightly different direction. Here he uses “vibrations” when others might use “soul” or “spirit” and he adds some small chimes which give the song a more ethereal feel. Listen to the lyrics however and you’ll find that they stay consistent with the album.  
Next up is an original, Sat Around, that reminds me in the best way of the late Ted Hawkins. A beautiful arrangement to accommodate a solo voice and guitar. I think this one is going to go on to my personal playlist and anytime I feel melancholy I’m going to hit “play” and feel better.
Never Gonna Die is a very intriguing proposition if we are all souls that move from one state to another, will we ever truly die? Bodies might, but will our consciousness (or whatever form the spirit takes) also die? Many religious and philosophical traditions suggest that we won’t, but I’ll leave that for Theologians and Philosophers to debate. All I can say is I don’t know, but I can say unequivocally that this is a good song that could and should spark debate, even if it’s in the listener's own mind. It’s obvious that the blues are never going to die, and as long as there are blues, there are chances to hear great music – which is kind of a paradise…
Perhaps the most gospel blues song of all time is Blind Willie Johnson's John The Revelator. Robert delivers a great version, stripping the song down to its barest essentials, even removing the call-and-response from the chorus in favor of just his vocals, some sweet guitar, and percussion. This is a beautiful version and you better believe I’ll be playing this song a lot. I don’t usually do this, but I want you to experience this song right now. Here’s a link to his video for it on YouTube, and I encourage you to take five minutes and watch his performance. 
Caution, it will definitely move you…
Another original, Hereafter, follows and it’s a sweet slow number that feels uplifting for the world to come. When you’ve faced all the obstacles, will there be some kind of reward for enduring everything and remaining good to the end? I love the joy and optimism that Robert delivers and hope that it’s true for all of us.
The album concludes with a wonderful song, Woke Up This Morning, in which Stone Stanley has crossed over from this life to the next and is reborn. The troubles and cares of his previous life are gone and he has found focus and peace. Is it a literal death, or just the death of the shackles that held him down? That’s a question everyone will have to answer for him or herself. I can tell you that it’s a powerful song that will stay with me for some time to come.
Jason Robert is now firmly on my radar and I will be looking for his music going forward. This is for those blues fans who appreciate a variety of traditional blues and who might not shy away from having their music cause them to think. The Death Of Stone Stanley won’t put you out on the dance floor, but it just might heal your soul. It certainly helped me during a dark time.
If you want to experience this journey for yourself, be sure to check out Robert’s website here
Since I did it earlier with John The Revelator, if you want to see more, here’s a video Robert did for Mr. Bell. Check it out…  

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Jontavious Willis Brings Old School Blues to The Tin Pan

Another Tuesday night in Richmond, spring may be around the corner, but right now it’s chilly but clear and there’s a warm restaurant waiting with a blues performer I’ve been wanting to see for some time. Jontavious Willis, 22 and a senior in college, walks up to a simple stage: two chairs, two microphones, two guitars, and two monitors. The crowd is small but enthusiastic as there are several local musicians scattered around the room.
Willis walks onto the stage and takes a seat and begins to charm the audience with his casual presence. Finger picking his guitar, he settles back with a solo version of Goin’ To New Orleans And Get Me A Mojo Hand.  Just a few bars in and he’s unquestionably going to do things his way, the way blues artists have done for years: no pyrotechnics, no stress, no pedal overdubs. Just one musician and his instrument playing from the heart and soul.
The audience is already with him and begins to hang on every note. He plays in a mix of Piedmont and Delta style acoustic blues (yes, the guitars are amplified, but he’s not relying on heavy duty electric guitars). Plucking the bottom strings with his fingers, he plays most of his base lines with the thumb of his right hand and uses the thumb of his chording hand to find the single notes for the line.
Laughing, he moves on to She Might Be Your Woman, as he reminds the audience that the operative word is “might.” Next up is his first heavy emotion number, The Tears Come Rollin’ Down. He follows up with a rollicking version of Catfish Blues that had the audience laughing along with his lyrics and his animated face that he used to bring characters to life. He moves on to You Gonna Quit Me Baby before setting down the first guitar and picking up a beautiful Resonator as he announces, “It’s time to go down to the Mississippi Delta.”
Pulling a slide out of his pocket he delivers a love letter to the highway that leads into Clarksdale, Highway 49. Remember, that’s one of the roads that formed the crossroads where Robert Johnson allegedly met up with the devil to become a great bluesman. Personally, I love the sound of a Resonator, but kind of hope he uses it sparingly as otherwise the sound won’t be as special as it can be.
Fortunately, for me anyway, Willis returns the Resonator to its holder and goes back to his first guitar for the follow up song, Movin’ To The Outskirts Of Town. Along the way, he used his guitar to simulate conversations between the two people in the song, again while using his expressive face to represent them both. It was a hysterical moment and Willis milked it for all he was worth.
Talking to the audience after the number, he told us that old time blues performers had to be ready to play just about anything. From popular music to country, to polka, they had to be able to play it all. He asked for our indulgence as he tried to do the same thing and performed a medley of Prince’s Kiss and James Brown’s Get Up. During the number he invited the audience to participate in singing the lyrics, and I gotta tell you, there were some very good voices near the stage that added a lot to the performance. He closed out this first set with a stirring rendition of Make Me Down A Pallet On Your Floor.
Taking an intermission, Willis met with audience members, sold CDs, and generally spread good cheer around the room. After ten minutes or so he came back on stage and was joined by his friend, harmonica master Andrew Alli. Alli, who fronts the local band Andrew Alli and The Mainline, and Willis have been friends for a while and this was a great opportunity to see a couple of solid performers jamming and playing with the crowd.
Alli started off on vocals with I Just Keep Loving Her, and the mix of guitar and vocals brought comparisons to performers like Cephas and Wiggins and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.
Willis took over the lead vocals for the rest of the night and delivered great versions of Long Distance Call and Chesterfield. Alli’s versatile harp playing added a new dimension to Willis’ performance as the two friends seemed to pull out the best from each other.
Willis picked up the Resonator again for Sugar Mama and a great version of Bumblebee Slim’s Fattening Frogs For Snakes. After that the duo jammed on what I’m calling Front Porch Blues, the kind of blues that really had no beginning and no end. The two put down their microphones and moved out into the audience to continue singing. When they finished, they received an appreciative standing ovation from the audience.
Even though the audience knew that the end of the show was coming soon, they had time for a couple of songs, Monkey Man and a great train song. Alli and Willis imitated trains and just played off each other and the audience’s cheers. After playing around for a while, the two launched into Mean Old Frisco.
They took bows from the charged up audience and they responded by sitting on the edge of the stage, no microphones, and a great version of Crawling King Snake that even included some sweet slide guitar with Willis using a salt shaker for a slide.

For those that were there, count yourself lucky. If you missed it, don’t do it again! Even though Jontavious Willis has been making a big name for himself the last few years, he is still a college student (Sociology, if you’re interested) who will be graduating in May and should be able to concentrate on music afterwards. Willis is a friendly man and a helluva performer and a great old soul for the entire blues community.
Special thanks to Anita Schlank for the great photos from last nights show. She graciously allows me to use these photos that make my blog sing. Speaking of Dr. Schlank (yes, she really is a Doctor of Psychology and real smart), she has a great new book that has just been published. It's called Blues Therapy and she co-wrote it with Tab Benoit. She interviews a number of great blues artists about their struggles with a variety of mental illnesses. I highly recommend the book and will be posting a review of it this week. You can find out everything about the book here