Monday, April 29, 2019

CVBS For CASA Makes Everyone A Winner!

One of the absolute best things about blues folk is that they are generous and will go out of
their way to help a good cause – especially if there is great music, great food, and a steady supply of adult beverages available! This past weekend, my wife and I, along with our dog Jeeves, had the extreme pleasure of emceeing a show that the Central Virginia Blues Society presented on behalf of Blue Ridge CASA, the organization that protects children who have been abused or neglected and found themselves in the foster care system.
This is a group that has a special place in my heart and that I don’t think that I’ll ever be able to do too much for, and it was my pleasure to volunteer to help out with the show. By “helping out,” I mean showing up, talking a little bit, and listening to three great bands, making friends in a beautiful town in the western part of the commonwealth, and scarfing down some very good barbecue.
It’s a rough life, I know, but somebody has to be willing…
Andre The Giant left this here one day...
First, a little bit about Staunton, Virginia. It’s the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson, the former president of the United States, and Country Music legends The Statler Brothers. It welcomes you with a giant watering can. It’s a lovely town nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains and inhabited by some wonderful people with sweet old houses, lots of locally run shops and restaurants, and a deep appreciation for the arts. A world-class Shakespearian theatre gives you the opportunity to experience productions the way theatre was performed in Shakespeare’s lifetime.
For live performance aficionados, the American Shakespeare Center is a must see venue, and the city is rightfully proud of the work the group has done in their Blackfriar’s Theatre.
The drive from Richmond to Staunton is dotted with beautiful foliage and you start seeing beautiful mountains when you are about halfway to your destination. My lineage is mostly mountain people, and visiting the western part of Virginia always seems like coming home for me. As novelist Lee Smith describes in her book Fair And Tender Ladies, “Every once in a while, I need a mountain to rest my eyes on.”
It’s fair to say we were taken by the journey AND the destination.
Second, a little bit about CASA. The name stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates and they work with children who need help navigating the tricky waters of the court system. The children are often neglected or abused and have been removed from their homes for their protection. It’s a troubling and confusing time for all concerned, and CASA is there as guardians for our most vulnerable and valuable resource, our children.
There are CASA Organizations in every state throughout the United States. There are organizations in all of the major cities staffed by specially trained volunteers performing a number of duties protecting children who need help and may not know how to find it.
The Blue Ridge CASA serves Augusta, Staunton, Waynesboro, Lexington, Buena Vista, Rockbridge, Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Covington and Alleghany. If you’re not familiar with Virginia geography, that’s a lot of ground to cover.
Third, the Central Virginia Blues Society, arranged for three bands who volunteered their time to perform for the fundraiser, and the community stepped forward to offer raffle prizes and silent auction items, as well as several local businesses stepping forward to sponsor the event so that every penny raised would go to CASA.
It’s humbling to be a part of all of that and I encourage every blues society to reach out and find ways like this to connect with their community. Everybody wins in this situation as you expose great music to a group that might not realize they are blues fans waiting to happen, and your people are exposed to groups that do good work taking care of people or animals.
Okay, enough sermonizing, let’s get to the music, shall we?
First up was a band that not only was new to me, but also to just about everyone else as they had only been working together for a short time. The Low B Blues Band is a good, solid group that played a number of covers well. I heard some Muddy Waters and Jimmy Reed but couldn’t take too many notes as I was busy gathering information for the next break.
The Low B’s are Dave Brown, Kimball Swanson, John Bittner, and Matt Humphrey. I’m interested to see how they progress and look forward to crossing paths with them somewhere down the road.
The next band was Ken Farmer and the Authenticators. Having worked in the Public Broadcasting sector for the last 25 years, I knew the name Ken Farmer from Antiques Roadshow and wondered if he was related. Turned out it was actually the man himself. Farmer is a damn good guitarist and singer and his band, which consists of Rob Martin, Frank Cain, Dave Connolly, and Preston Wallach backed him up well. I loved the fact that they mixed in some Johnny Cash to show that the blues and country are so close musically and the audience reacted enthusiastically.
Along the way, they also played songs like Crosscut Saw, Walkin’ The Dog, T-Bone Shuffle, and Shake Your Money Maker.
While talking with Farmer afterwards, I mentioned several clubs in the Richmond area that I thought they could play. I can’t wait to see them do a full 90-minute show sometime. And when these guys record, I’m waiting to grab the first album off the assembly line.
The headlining band was Charlottesville blues stalwarts, The Jon Spear Band. Regular readers of this blog already know that I’m a Jon Spear fan, and once again they showed why I’m not alone in that assessment. The band is comprised of Jon Spear, Dara James, John Stubblefield, and Andy Burdetsky. Burdetsky, aside from his bass playing duties was one of the people responsible for putting on this very cool shindig, and I for one, hope it becomes an annual event. If so, sign me up – and if I don’t emcee, then sell me a ticket, because I’m coming back!
It was a great time for one and all at Staunton’s Frontier Culture Museum. I only got a little chance to see a few things, but it’s worth the trip to see the rest. I would like to thank them, Burdetsky, for having me, and my new friends CJ, Amanda, and the legendary Juan Pablo (“Call me JP”) Berrizbeitia, for all of their kindness and extremely challenging work.
Bless you for reading this far. Be sure to check out CASA at their website. While you’re at it, be sure to check out the Central Virginia Blues Society and The Frontier Culture Museum to see what activities they offer.
These are the kinds of shows that remind us to open u our ears for the music and our hearts and wallets for the mission.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Bobby BlackHat Rocks, Rolls, And Delivers A Great Show At The Tin Pan

It’s always a special night when you catch a Bobby BlackHat show, and this night was very special because thunderstorms and wild weather produced a tornado watch that would normally keep most audience members away. I say “normally” because there is very little that could be considered normal at a Bobby BlackHat show.

Tornado Watch be damned, BlackHat’s fans filled the Tin Pan to near capacity and he and his band responded with what was surely one of the best shows to ever grace a Richmond stage.

Let that one sink in for a minute. No qualifications, no restrictions. In the intimate 200 seat theatre that is the Tin Pan, BlackHat and Company started out the show with an energetic instrumental that introduced Help Me that featured great breaks from guitarist Tom Euler and piano wizard Lucy Kilpatrick.

The rest of the band was made up of drummer Michael Behlmar and bassist Brian Eubanks. And while their names may not be known in every household, they form a tight rhythm section that provides a deep pocket for the lead instruments to open up and shine.

With the crowd already in their sway, the band shifted to a slow blues song, I Know What You Mean. Kilpatrick’s keys sounded like a Hammond B-3, and Euler made his guitar sound like a broken down car and arguing voices. My wife and I were with a couple of friends, Superfan Scott Nugent and his business partner, Colossal Joe Olassa, and as it was Joe’s first trip to a blues show, just before the song started, he said, “I thought the blues were slow songs…”

Colossal Joe got that and then some.

Without a pause when the song ended, Behlmar tore into a spirited drum solo that was shortly joined by Eubanks pounding his six-string bass. After a couple of minutes, the rest of the band joined in with a spirited rendition of Further On Up The Road that included a great guitar break by Euler and a Jazz inspired break by Kilpatrick.

Bobby BackHat rarely misses an opportunity to connect with his audience, prior to the show he was meeting and greeting old fans, new fans who had seen his appearance on the morning news show, and fellow musicians who had come to see him (and perhaps get a chance to appear with – you never know at a Bobby BlackHat show). So, he took some time after the song to tell the story of the next song, I Hear Mama’s Voice.

I freely admit that as a mama’s boy myself, I cannot listen to the song without tearing up. BlackHat’s voice is choked with emotion and this is a song that’s sung straight from the heart and soul of the man who wrote it. This song is why I go to live shows. No recording of the song, no matter how good, will ever fully capture the experience of seeing it live.

Going from one extreme to another, BlackHat then jumps into a fast-paced song, Nursery Rhyme Shuffle, that he wrote (with generous help from Mother Goose) to sing to screaming babies. I can confirm that it works on screaming adults because the audience jumped and sang along. This song had special meaning for BlackHat as he and his lovely wife Joy were expecting their latest grandchild at any second. 

After those two songs, he stepped off the stage and let Tom Euler take the spotlight on an amazing rendition of Whipping Post. Euler, who should be releasing his next album over the next couple of months, is a young man – maybe 24 – with a bright future and an old soul. He plays guitar like only a rare few can and when he performs, he is transported to a different plane. Watch his face as he plays and you will see expressions that are rarely exhibited on the bandstand.

Euler received a standing ovation after the performance and Bobby BlackHat was the one leading the applause. If you enjoyed Euler’s song, make reservations to catch him when he returns to the Tin Pan on June 20.

After such a raucous moment, BlackHat brought the crowd back into focus with a stirring instrumental version of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. It’s a song I love and a version that I absolutely love. He then started up with the title track from his latest album, Put On Your Red Shoes, but stopped after a few bars and told the audience that this was a “damn good dance song” and exhorted the audience to stand up and dance.

They did. Oh, how they did…

During the song, he brought up singers Lucius Bennett and Shelly Thiss. Bennett had reworked the song to include a rap, excuse me, a “melodic narrative” and made the song really spark. Bennett stuck around for the next song and was also joined by Virginia Beach singer Wanda Turner for what they call “The Underwear Song,” although everyone else calls it Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On.

Several audience members were willing to display theirs, but fortunately they were dissuaded before the joint got raided.

After everything settled down a little bit, Bobby BlackHat told another moving story about his previous drummer, Tony Lucero. Lucero was a good drummer and a great friend who passed away from stomach cancer. Bobby BlackHat Walters wrote a song to commemorate his friend and bandmate, Blues Story. It’s a beautiful way to memorialize their partner and keep his spirit alive.

Shelly Thiss, Dave Fron Next Door, BlackHat
To end the night, the band and guest stars whipped the crowd into a frenzy with an incredible version of Got My Mojo Working. There was one guest performer who had not been seen earlier, Dave From Next Door, who jumped up on stage with his trumpet, whom Bobby had never heard play before, and added a lot of sass and brass to the song. He had met the band shortly after load-in and BlackHat invited him to sit in during the show.
With perfect timing, he did just that. You never know what’s going to happen at a Bobby BlackHat show.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Tony Campanella ~~ Taking It To The Street

I love an album with attitude and when I received my first release from Mike Zito’s brand new label, Gulf Coast Records, I had high expectations. After all, I greatly enjoy Zito’s work as a songwriter, player, and producer. I’ve heard he’s attracting some great performers to the label and couldn’t wait to give the first release a listen.
Tony Campanella is a well-known performer in the St. Louis area, and I readily admit that he was not in my radar. Still, if Zito has faith in him, I’m going in with an open mind and trying to keep my expectations at a responsible level.
The album kicks off with the title track, Taking It To The Street, written by Zito and appropriately enough, comes in with some exciting lead guitar. The vocal seems a bit subdued, but man, that guitar is hot. Props to Matt Johnson’s drums that anchors the rhythm section and would be at home at any rock track. This one may not be for the blues purists, but if you like your blues with a dash of hard rock sauce, you’ve found the mother load.
Next up is one of Campanella’s compositions, Pack It Up. It’s a good shuffle number and he croons his way through the song with a pleasant voice, even if it loses some of the edge from the first song. His guitar still rips throughout and even mellow, he’s got energy for days.
Campanella really slows things down on the smoldering song, One Foot In The Blues. This is a beautiful late night number that I know will be getting airplay on Time For The Blues, and should be getting play on every other blues show around. It’s edgy, but solid strong blues that evokes great emotion. I can’t wait to share this with our audience!
Another Campanella song, You Don’t Know, follows. He picks up the tempo a bit and adds a cool shuffle to the mix. It’s fun and picks up the energy from the very emotional previous number. Not sure if it’s Campanella or Zito playing some of these leads, but they are inspired and I’m already making sure Campanella stays on my radar. Zito is also doing a tremendous job producing this album. If this is indicative of his work going forward, this label will have a strong presence.
Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic, Good Morning Little Schoolgirl, is next, the first of four covers. I always love hearing modern artists delivering their take on the classics, and this one is full of slashing guitar and growling vocals that emphasize the sense of danger this song carries. “Tell your mama and your papa…”       
The next cover is Albert King’s Finger On The Trigger. This one drops with the intensity of old school blues that was played in dark bars and you knew there was always a woman in a tight red dress and a knife fight was bound to break out. This is a great interpretation of a song that doesn’t get covered as often as I would like, and damn, they do a fine job with it.
They follow up with an Eddie Vinson number, Mr. Cleanhead. Vinson straddled the worlds of blues and jazz and here Campanella and Company do a fine job honoring both genres. The low keyed organ in the background anchors the sound for a soaring guitar and fills in nicely. Sweet version of this song, and appropriately covered by the non-hirsute Campanella.    
They bookend the covers with a Sonny Boy Williamson tune, Checking On My Baby. It’s a rocking, Chicago style blues song (how appropriate) that works either for listening or moving around on the dance floor. The guitar is great and the band is incredibly tight. I really want to see them live because they sound great.
Man, I wish this was a guitar...
Next up are two collaborations between Zito and Guy Hale, starting off with Texas Chainsaw and following up with My Motor’s Running. The first is moody and evocative and would make a great soundtrack for the movie I always think of when I hear the words “Texas” and “Chainsaw” together. Texas is its own world, and this kind of music brings to mind the vast spaces and the shadows that live in between. Great job on this one. I can guarantee you’ll hear this one a lot come Halloween… The second is a swinging shuffle that can’t help but make you happy. It’s a good follow up to the previous song as it brings back those who like their blues straight ahead. Love this one as well! More please…
The album ends on a Campanella number, Those Are The Times. It’s a melancholy song that fits that late night longing songs that go well with missing your lover. Campanella’s vocals soar with gospel intensity and croon with sweetness. It’s a good ending that definitely leaves you wanting more.

Tony Campanella is a solid singer-songwriter-guitarist who is now completely on my radar. He’s been big in the St. Louis area for years, and with Taking It To The Street, he just might find himself in more demand at major venues and festivals. Check out  his website for information about his whereabouts and if you see him before I do, shoot me a line and tell me about the show.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Bob Corritore & Friends ~~ Do The Hip-Shake Baby!

Cover art by Molly Moonstone
It’s usually kind of tricky when reviewing a new album from Bob Corritore. Not that I’m worried about the quality of the album, he usually delivers top shelf blues. Whenever I see that the album contains Corritore working with one artist, as he has with Tail Dragger and John Primer, I know it’s going to be good. Trouble is, when he works with a wide variety of artists on an album, well, some collaborations are better than others.
That’s why I’m glad to report that his latest collaboration album, Do The Hip-Shake Baby! is a great addition to any collection. Corritore has teamed up with the likes of Alabama Mike, Sugaray Rayford, Henry Gray, John Primer, Oscar Wilson, Jimi “Primetime” Smith, and a very cool band out of San Diego called The Fremonts. There are more, but I’ve got to save something to write about.
Do The Hip-Shake Baby! was recorded between 2016 – 2018 and mostly mixed by Kid Andersen at his Greaseland Studios. Greaseland has become a favorite recording destination and Andersen has really made great contributions to the blues.
The album starts off with the (almost) title track, Shake Your Hips, and introduces us to The Fremonts with Mighty Joe Milsap on vocals. Corritore and The Fremonts get funky right out of the shoot and it’s close to impossible to keep from moving around while playing this song. Go ahead, try to sit still, I dare you. It’s a fun song and a great introduction to a band I need to look up pdq.
Next up is Alabama Mike taking on the lead vocals for Gonna Tell Your Mother. He’s joined by Willie Buck on backing vocals, and the combination is absolutely great. It’s reminiscent of the call and response Little Richard used for The Girl Can’t Help It, and it really rocks. Definitely getting airplay on Time For The Blues and I’m sure many other shows.
Corritore joins forces with Oscar Wilson for the follow up, Bitter Seed. He slows the tempo down and Corritore’s harp break soars up into the higher registers; blending nicely with the piano and bass. Cool song, and anytime I can hear Wilson sing is a good time.
Another artist that always make me sit up and take notice is Henry Gray and he’s up next rocking hard on the Chubby Checker classic, The Twist. Gray and Corritore give the song a gravity it lacked in its original release. It’s still fun, it’s just not the sanitized whitebread version we all know. It’s got a solid boogie piano backing it up, and I love this interpretation.
Bill “Howl-N-Madd” Perry steps up behind the microphone, straps on a guitar and preaches the next song, You Better Slow Down. That’s advice I’m trying to take, but Perry delivers it in such a way that you can’t mistake this for anything other than a solid blues song. Another good collaboration.
Alabama Mike is back for the second of four collaborations, Worried Blues. Mike does a great interpretation of the song and he’s backed by a sweet band. It’s got a lively beat and Corritore lays back on the harp waiting for the perfect moment to launch his break. It’s worth the wait and the song rocks. It’s very old school and I, for one, enjoy that very much.
Regular Corritore collaborator John Primer is next with Love Deep As The Ocean. Corritore and Primer have released a couple of great albums recently and it’s always a pleasure to listen to one of their tracks. Listening to this track took me back in time to a Muddy Waters show with his kick ass band storming a smoky club. Very sweet. Yes, please, may we have another?
Sugaray Rayford makes the first of two appearances with Trying To Make A Living. This is a truly swinging number that starts out in high gear and doesn’t let up. It’s pure Chicago jump blues that should be getting some solid airplay. It’ll get it from us for sure!
Alabama Mike is back for song number three, Stand By Me. The song is a languid, almost lazy afternoon kind of blues. It’s a prayer of longing and love and Mike’s voice is perfect. I’m not sure what kind of effect Corritore uses on his harp – or maybe it’s just an out of the box harp with no modifications, but it makes a lovely sweet sound.
The Fremonts with Mighty Joe Milsap on vocals return for their second and last song, I’m Gonna Keep What I’ve Got. It rocks hard and Corritore’s harp work is on the top of his game. Milsap’s voice is one with age and heartbreak in nearly every syllable. Yes, I definitely need to see what else this band has recorded, because I’m definitely a fan.
Corritore enlists Jimi “Primetime” Smith for the next track, I Got The World In A Jug. It’s a strong shuffle and Smith’s vocals growl through a smile and you can just hear the fun the musicians are having putting this song together. This is one I would definitely love to see live, but getting everybody together for an appearance is probably not in the cards. Too bad…
The final two songs feature Alabama Mike on Few More Days and Sugaray Rayford on Keep The Lord On With You, respectively. Few More Days is a country flavored blues number with some gospel backing vocals for fun. It’s a fun, upbeat number that gets your toes tapping and your head nodding, but isn’t as strong as some of Mike’s other contributions.
Rayford’s delivery on Keep The Lord On With You is a shrieking sermon of a song that treads on some of the heaviest riffs on the album. Rayford’s voice is like a prizefighter’s punch, it jabs and then hits with all of his power. If it doesn’t scare you into being a true believer, nothing will. `    
Do The Hip-Shake Baby! is a consistently fun album that should definitely be receiving airplay. We’ve already played one song but plan to do a full set on a show in the near future. Bob Corritore may be best known as a sideman for some of the best players around, but every so often he likes to build the band around him and drop a strong album under his name.

This is one of those albums, and it comes highly recommended!