Home Free Blues

If, like us, you weren’t able to make it to Chicago earlier this month for its annual free blues festival, then let us help bring some of the Windy City to you with this latest episode of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring a full block of tracks from artists on Chicago-based Delmark Records, including Mississippi Heat, Sharon Lewis, Billy Flynn, and Linsey Alexander. Plus, Toronzo Cannon schools us on The Chicago Way, acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb offers a double shot of Migration Blues, and more from John Lee Hooker, David M’ore, and UK pianist Tom Bell.


With a Dolla’ in My Pocket – Eric Bibb (Migration Blues)
Migration Blues – Eric Bibb (Migration Blues)
Walk It Off – Toronzo Cannon (The Chicago Way)
Big Legs, Tight Skirt – John Lee Hooker (Whiskey & Wimmen: John Lee Hooker’s Finest)
The Devil’s Land – David M’ore (Passion, Soul & Fire)
Lonesome Highway – Billy Flynn (Lonesome Highway)
Home Free Blues – Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire (Grown Ass Woman)
Where Did You Take Your Clothes Off Last Night – Linsey Alexander (Two Cats)
Lonely Eyes – Mississippi Heat (Cab Driving Man)
Friday’s Groove – Tom Bell (Face to Face)

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SwingBack Sunday – Father’s Day edition: Fathers and Sons (and daughters too)

With Father’s Day upon us, it seemed like a good day to revisit one of the very first posts on our blog, looking at the many second-generation bluesmen and women.

Here’s wishing a happy Father’s Day to the musicians — and fans — who are helping to make sure the blues live on by sharing it with their children!

Fathers and Sons (and daughters too)

Posted on January 4, 2010 by Mike

Last week’s post regarding Elmore James, Jr., got me to thinking about some of the other children of blues greats who are helping to keep the genre alive through their own music. A few (in no particular order) who jump to mind:

Shemekia Copeland – daughter of Johnny “Clyde” Copeland
Bernard Allison – son of Luther Allison
Sam Carr – son of Robert Nighthawk
Lurrie Bell – son of Carey Bell
Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith – son of Willie “Big Eyes” Smith
Big Bill Morganfield and Mud Morganfield – sons of McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters)
Kenny Neal – son of Raful Neal
John Lee Hooker, Jr., and Zakiya Hooker – son and daughter of John Lee Hooker

And that’s not even mentioning some of the other relatives to blues greats, the likes of Phil Guy (the late brother of Buddy), Alex Dixon (grandson of Willie Dixon), and Nick Holt (brother of Morris Holt, a.k.a. Magic Slim), to name a few. Or artists whose music and/or relative’s music often encompasses the blues, including Derek Trucks (nephew to Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks) and Doyle Bramhall II (son of Doyle Bramhall), both of whom have joined none other than Eric Clapton on tour in recent years.

Even a quick list such as this is enough to suggest that there is much truth to the phrase “blues in the blood”

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Chicago bluesman Linsey Alexander sweetens the kitty with latest album Two Cats

If you’re seeking out some good modern Chicago blues, you still need look no further than two of Chicago’s oldest and most distinguished record labels. With all of the changes in the world, it’s great to see that the same labels that started with albums from blues names like Speckled Red, Big Joe Williams, and Hound Dog Taylor are still going strong today with solid releases from such legends-in-the-making as Linsey Alexander and The Cash Box Kings.

Here’s a two-part look at the latest albums from each of those artists, either (or both) of which will suffice nicely for handing to the next person who suggests that Chicago blues may be dead…

Linsey Alexander – Two Cats (Delmark Records)

Though guitarist/singer Linsey Alexander‘s name may not be one you recognize, his sounds are ones you surely will, combining the southern soul to Midwest stylings of the likes of Otis Clay, Johnny Rawls, and O.V. Wright with the straight-up Chicago blues of Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and Tail Dragger. You get to hear rather distinct examples of each on the first two tracks of Alexander’s latest album Two Cats — his third release for Delmark Records — in the swaying, horns-laced and smooth-vocaled opener “I’m Not Your Problem” and smoky “Where Did You Take Your Clothes Off Last Night” that follows, featuring a dragging, “Damn Right I’ve Got the Blues”-ish bass line and some gritty harmonica from Paul Hanover.

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Rising bluesman Selwyn Birchwood invites you to Pick Your Poison with latest release

It’s been some time now since we introduced you to Florida bluesman Selwyn Birchwood as both the band and Albert King Guitarist winner at the 2013 International Blues Challenge (IBC). Birchwood has of course been keeping quite busy in the meanwhile, having toured the world and put out his 2014 debut album Don’t Call No Ambulance on Chicago’s Alligator Records, which ended up winning a Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Album.

Now, Birchwood and his band are back with the follow-up to that successful debut in Pick Your Poison, an intense, often gritty all-original offering that goes a long way in continuing Birchwood’s trajectory as one of the genre’s fastest rising artists. From the thick Hill Country sounds of the opening, fife and drum-driven “Trial By Fire” and T-Model Ford-ish modern day social commentary “Police State” (“Sayin’ you got the right to remain silent/ Seems they got the right, Lord, to remain violent/ Gotta shake these shackles before it’s too late/ Or we’ll be trapped in a police state”) to the New Orleans gospel of “Even the Saved” with its heavy Robert Randolph-like lap steel (an instrument Birchwood learned from Florida neighbor, Texas bluesman Sonny Rhodes) that has all the oomph of a number from a Blues Brothers movie and a funky, swaying “Are Ya Ready?” that demonstrates Jimi Hendrix’s influence on Birchwood to the smoky jazz ballad “Lost in You”, it doesn’t matter which poison you pick, it’s all pretty potent stuff that, when put together, goes down extremely well and is highly infectious.

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Book of musician photos brings showtime from the stage to the page

With as many good CDs as we receive for review, it can be a real challenge to find the time to write about anything other than the music itself, which is why it’s taken us a bit longer than it should have to tell you about this book of musician portraits shot over the past decade by European photographer Beate Sandor.

showtime: Kings & Queens from A to Z contains images of more than 120 mostly blues artists captured during performances that took place from Vancouver, British Columbia, to Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis, to Tampa, to Switzerland, France, and Sandor’s hometown of Vienna, Austria. Having been taken between 2004 and 2014, the book of course includes photos of many musicians who are no longer with us, including, for example, B.B. King, David Honeyboy Edwards, Koko Taylor, Etta James, Allen Toussaint, Percy Sledge, Michael Burks, James Brown, Willie Kent, Chuck Brown, Solomon Burke, Sharon Jones, and Marva Wright, which alone makes this a worthwhile volume for any true blues fan’s coffee table.

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Mistreated Blues

“If you’ve ever been mistreated, you know just what I’m talkin’ about” with this latest edition of our BluesPowR Radio Hour, featuring double shots of both Taj Mahal and horn player Nancy Wright, as well as tracks from John Mayall, Ben Poole, Johnny Nicholas, and 2016 International Blues Challenge finalists Sonny Moorman and Trey Johnson & Jason Willmon. And by that, we mean we let the music itself do the talkin’, with another talk-free episode. Hope you enjoy!

Blues for the Westside – Nancy Wright w/ Joe Louis Walker (Playdate!)
I Got What It Takes – Nancy Wright w/ Tommy Castro (Playdate!)
Stop That Grinning – Sammy Eubanks (Sugar Me)
Fishin’ Blues – Taj Mahal (Labor of Love)
Mistreated Blues – Taj Mahal w/ John Dee Holeman (Labor of Love)
It’s Hard Going Up – John Mayall (Talk About That)
You Make All My Blues Come True – Sonny Moorman (International Blues Challenge #32)
When the Money Runs Out – Trey Johnson & Jason Willmon (International Blues Challenge #32)
Wise Man – Ally Venable Band (No Glass Shoes)
Stay At Mine – Ben Poole (Time Has Come)
Kid Man Blues – Johnny Nicholas (Fresh Air)

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Tedeschi Trucks Band, Curtis Salgado big winners at last night’s Blues Music Awards

The annual Blues Music Awards took place in Memphis last night, with the Tedeschi Trucks Band and soul man Curtis Salgado walking away as the night’s biggest winners with three awards each. Tedeschi Trucks won for both band and rock blues album (Let Me Get By) while lead singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi took home the prize for contemporary blues female artist; Salgado earned nods for soul blues male artist, soul blues album (The Beautiful Lowdown) and song (“Walk a Mile in My Blues”).

Bobby Rush won awards for two different albums, with his Porcupine Meat taking the album of the year honors and Chicken Heads: A 50-Year History of Bobby Rush being named historical album. Joe Bonamassa and Kenny Neal both also received multiple awards on the night, Bonamassa winning in the guitarist and B.B. King Entertainer of the year categories and Neal capturing the contemporary album (Blood Line) and contemporary male artist honors.

In other album categories, Lurrie Bell‘s Can’t Shake This Feeling was named best traditional blues album, and Jonn Del Toro Richardson‘s Tengo Blues received the award for best emerging artist album.

Mavis Staples won in the soul blues female artist category, Diunna Greenleaf for traditional blues female (Koko Taylor Award), Bob Margolin for traditional blues male artist, and Kim Wilson for harmonica.

The complete list of winners can be viewed on the Blues Foundation’s website.

Congratulations to the winners, as well as to all who were nominated!

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John Primer, Bob Corritore celebrate latest album with Rhythm Room release party

Even those of us seemingly afflicted by “Born Under a Bad Sign” syndrome (you know, where “if it wasn’t bad luck, [we] wouldn’t have no luck at all”) can experience a small stroke of good fortune every once in a while, such as our needing to be in Phoenix a few weekends back for a work meeting and discovering that guitarist John Primer and harmonica player Bob Corritore — who we would later learn first met one another back in the 1970s when Corritore went to see a Primer-supported Junior Wells play — happened to be performing at Corritore’s local blues club The Rhythm Room in conjunction with the pair’s sophomore album Ain’t Nothing You Can Do!, about which we told you recently.

Having previously seen these two play together (along with a stageful of other greats including Bob Margolin, Bob Stroger, and the late pianist David Maxwell) during a Muddy Waters tribute show at 2014’s Project Blues fundraiser, and enthusiastically now reviewed both of their joint albums, we knew this was a show for which it would be well worth flagging a ride to the club. And we weren’t the only ones, with The Rhythm Room as lively and packed as we’ve seen it in our multiple visits. While the crowd on the dance floor didn’t allow us to get as many pictures of the band as we might have liked, we were able to snap a few decent shots throughout the evening, and the music, of course, was delightful, with Primer and Corritore hitting on not only a few numbers (“Elevate Me Mama”, “Hold Me in Your Arms”, “Gambling Blues”, and “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do”) from the latest album, but a slew of other blues standards from such masters as Primer’s one-time bandleaders Muddy Waters and Magic Slim, as well as Sonny Boy Williamson, Freddie King, B.B. King, and others, including tracks like “Young Fashioned Ways”, “You Don’t Have to Go”, a “Close to You” on which Primer stepped from the stage to get close to the audience, “Every Day I Have the Blues”, “Help Me, Baby (I Can’t Do It All By Myself)”, “I Wonder Why (My Baby Don’t Treat Me Right)”, a slow, R&Bish “Help Me Through the Day”, “Love Strikes Like Lightning”, and “Bad Luck (Falling Down Like Rain)”.

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Taj Mahal, Keb’ Mo’ take blues “All Around the World” with TajMo

We’ve been fortunate to be able to tell you about several pretty terrific blues collaborations in recent weeks: first, a project reuniting guitarist John Primer and harmonica player Bob Corritore, and then a soulful recording from new friends Monster Mike Welch and Mike Ledbetter. But perhaps the most highly anticipated pairing of the spring has been that of accomplished singers and multi-instrumentalists Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ which, similar to Ledbetter and Welch, may have been helped along by an on-stage performance, in this case, a short set at the 2013 Crossroads Blues Festival at New York’s Madison Square Garden, during which the duo presented covers of the blues classics “Walking Blues”, “Diving Duck Blues” and “That’s Alright”.

While the resulting recording does see the multi-generational pair (who’ve since adopted the nickname of TajMo for their collaborative work) revisiting one of those songs — a slow, acoustic “Diving Duck Blues” (Sleepy John Estes) that’s so stripped down with just the duo’s guitars and vocals that you can sometimes hear Mahal breathing — as well as a few other bluesy tracks in the pleading opening original “Don’t Leave Me Here” and the bouncy country blues of “She Knows How to Rock Me” (Piano Red) that follows, TajMo (Concord Records) also offers up a number of very pleasant surprises. That includes terrific covers of both The Who’s “Squeeze Box” and John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”, along with the catchy, memorable originals “All Around the World” and “Soul”.

Here’s a closer look at those half-dozen songs as well as the handful of others that make up this superb 11-track collection, which was self-produced by these two bluesmen who have long admired and influenced each other’s music.

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Michael Ledbetter, Monster Mike Welch in the right place with Right Place, Right Time

Last week, we told you about the latest collaboration between blues guitarist John Primer and harmonica player Bob Corritore, a splendid little project from Delta Groove Music called Ain’t Nothing You Can Do! While those two blues veterans have the advantage of having worked and played together on several occasions, including a previous release in 2013’s Knockin’ Around These Blues, the friendship between this next pair of collaborators is a much more recent one, starting with a shared number during last summer’s Chicago Blues Festival tribute to legendary blues guitarist Otis Rush.

It was here that guitarist Monster Mike Welch (Sugar Ray and the Bluetones) and vocalist and Lead Belly descendant Mike Ledbetter (Nick Moss Band) delivered their first soulful performance together in the form of Rush’s “Right Place, Wrong Time”, and for those in attendance or who have since seen the video of that song (which can you watch below), it was clear that there was a rare bit of chemistry here. Although that particular number curiously wasn’t revisited on this resulting collaboration between Welch and Ledbetter, the soundtrack to their initial encounter obviously hasn’t been forgotten, serving as the inspiration for the title of what we hope is just the first of many studio projects between the two, in Right Place, Right Time, another gem from the good folks at Delta Groove Music.

The album does, however, include a cover of another Rush tune, in the tough, slow blues of “I Can’t Stop Baby” — essentially a Willie Dixon reworking of his “I Can’t Quit You Baby” with a different set of lyrics — that shows the full range of Ledbetter’s voice, lacing the deep grinding delivery of lyrics like “I’d rather eat deadly poison, baby/ I’d rather jump from the Empire State/ than to think about some other man/ snorin’ in my baby’s face” with passionate falsetto croons, as well as a somewhat Rush-sounding Ledbetter original in “Can’t Sit Down”.

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