The Blues Foundation Announces Judith Black as New President & CEO
American Blues Scene Staff
“I grew up in a household where the blues was celebrated and its history embraced. I look forward to drawing from my own family legacy, knowledge of this community and depth of business experience in advancing the mission of the organization.” – Judith Black
The Blues Foundation is pleased to announce the appointment of Judith Black as its new President and CEO effective January 1, 2022. Black is co-founder and previously served as President of the Tarik Black Foundation; a foundation focused on delivering youth life skills education. The foundation’s mission is to provide young people access to practical information and exposure through real world experiences. She was also responsible for all operations, grants, fundraising, and programs and spearheaded the brand launch of ‘Taking Back the Future.’
Black’s marketing and communications career spans over 30 years. Previously she served as Director of External Affairs at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art. Before working at the museum, she left an indelible mark in her fifteen-year stint as Director of Communications at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Black also worked at the National Civil Rights Museum, where she was Director of Marketing and Public Relations.
She was a member and former chair of the City of Memphis’ Minority Business Development Oversight Commission. In addition, she serves on numerous boards and is affiliated with various civic organizations. The Memphis resident is a 2001 graduate of Leadership Memphis, and a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Black is a graduate of Clark Atlanta University. She earned a BA in journalism and holds an MBA in Marketing from Strayer University.
I am honored and thrilled to serve as CEO for the Blues Foundation. I grew up in a household where the blues was celebrated and its history embraced. I look forward to drawing from my own family legacy, knowledge of this community and depth of business experience in advancing the mission of the organization.
Scott Fitzke, Chairman, Board of Directors, The Blues Foundation, added, “We are so excited to have Judith Black take the helm as our President and CEO. Ms. Black is a life-long blues lover who understands the history of the Blues and the relationship between the blues and civil rights. She is committed to working with artists and music industry professionals to make the Blues more inclusive and equitable.
“Black’s passion for education and community service and extensive marketing, management, and communications background make her uniquely qualified to lead the Blues Foundation and the Blues Hall of Fame.”
Patricia Wilson Aden
Black succeeds Patty Aden. Aden shepherded the board’s adoption of The Blues Foundation’s Statement Against Racism and its accompanying Action Plan. The implementation of the Action Plan included the conceptualization of a series of Blues and Race panels in an unprecedented collaboration with The Delta Blues Museum, the B.B. King Museum and the National Blues Museum. She also furthered The Blues Foundation’s Blues in the Schools program by establishing a partnership with the Memphis Music Initiative. Further, Aden focused the Blues Foundation on governance issues including the revision of the bylaws. She also supported the selection of five new board members who personify The Blues Foundation’s commitment to maintaining a diverse governing board with the expertise, background and shared love of the blues. Lastly, she introduced a Blues Museum Guide that will deepen visitors’ understanding of the history of the blues.
For the past 40 years, The Blues Foundation’s mission has been to preserve, celebrate, and expand awareness of the Blues genre. While raising worldwide awareness of the blues and celebrating blues recordings and performances, the Blues Foundation helps to ensure the future of the uniquely American art form.
Piano Phenom Neal Francis to Headline Thalia Hall Chicago
Neal Francis is on the move again!
The word is out, and Chicago loves his sound. For his next level hometown concert, singer-songwriter and pianist Neal Francis will headline Thalia Hall in Chicago.
Garnering airplay on WXRT with his new single “Can’t Stop The Rain” from last month’s CD release In Plain Sight.
His non-stop touring is winning him bigger crowds as he serves up his own special sauce of New Orleans-style throwdown funk and Hammond B3 rock-n-soul that gives one inspiration and a full body groove – also blending in a melodic power-pop and rock sensibility harkening Jools Holland and Nicky Hopkins. The rich recipe of styles he subtly blends together makes for an original sound eluding simple categories.
Iconic Jazz Bassist Ron Carter Celebrates 85th At Carnegie Hall
American Blues Scene Staff
Ron Carter and Friends Hosted By NBC’s Lester Holt with Appearances by Stanley Clarke, Buster Williams + More Guests to be Announced
On May 10, 2022, the life and music of Ron Carter — the iconic GRAMMY-winning double bassist who is among jazz music’s most prolific and celebrated band leaders and sidemen — will be fêted at a one-night-only 85th birthday celebration filled with music and memories at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium / Perelman Stage.
Presented by Tzedakah 4 All, the event will feature performances by Carter-led groups in three combinations – Trio, Quartet, and Nonet – exploring material from his illustrious six decade career.
NBC newscaster Lester Holt will serve as emcee, with appearances from fellow artists Stanley Clarke and Buster Williams already confirmed, and additional guests to be announced in the coming weeks.
Ron Carter is synonymous with jazz bass. Since 1959, the Detroit native has performed on over 2,200 recording sessions, making him far and away the most recorded bassist in jazz history. The list of artists he has collaborated with are a who’s who of music history: Miles Davis, Alice Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Herbie Hancock, Antônio Carlos Jobim, Bette Midler, Gil Scott-Heron, A Tribe Called Quest, Wayne Shorter, Paul Simon, McCoy Tyner, Aretha Franklin, Stan Getz, Roberta Flack, Bill Evans, Chet Baker, and dozens more.
As a band leader, he carved out an esteemed, adventurous career with a variety of groups and is the recipient of two GRAMMY Awards. He was inducted into the Downbeat Jazz Hall Of Fame in 2012.
With an inimitable sartorial presence and an innovative approach to rhythmic arrangement, Carter is the master of his craft. He is a distinguished professor emeritus at City College and a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music.
NPR calls Carter “one of the most influential and widely recorded bassists in jazz history,” and The New York Times adds “Playing with Mr. Carter can be a fearsome experience. Legendary for his professionalism and his rigorousness, he challenges musicians to stretch and improvise, not just piece together rehearsed ideas and phrases.” Fellow bassist Clarke adds: “Ron Carter to me is the most important bass player of the last fifty years. He defined the role.”
‘Forever On My Mind’ by Son House was recorded in the fall of 1964 (ahead of 1965 “rediscovery” album) and never released. Features first-time-on-record title track “Forever On My Mind,” plus never-heard recordings of “Death Letter” and “Preachin’ Blues”
On the evening of June 23, 1964, a red Volkswagen Beetle bearing three blues enthusiasts arrived in Rochester, N.Y. The young men were following a trail of clues in their search of a legend, and they found Son House sitting on the steps of an apartment building at 61 Greig Street.
Born Eddie James House, Jr. in Lyon, Mississippi in 1902, Son House at that time had not played music for more than two decades. But the re-release of his early work — commercial 78s issued by Paramount Records in 1930 and two field recordings by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941-42 — by Origin Jazz Library and Folkways Records had excited fresh interest in a growing community of blues aficionados.
Within months of his rediscovery by Dick Waterman (who became House’s manager and handler), Nick Perls and Phil Spiro, the once-obscure 62-year-old musician was thrust into the public eye by a story in Newsweek magazine and a series of performances at folk music festivals and college campuses around the country.
Forever On My Mind, the new album of previously unreleased Son House recordings from Easy Eye Sound, the independent label operated by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, is the premiere release from Waterman’s personal cache of ’60s recordings by some of the titans of Delta blues. His collection of quarter-inch tapes — which are being restored to remarkable clarity by Easy Eye Sound — have gone unreleased until now. The collection is due out March 18, 2022.
Waterman says, “I always knew that I wanted this body of tape that I had to come out together, as The Avalon Collection or The Waterman Tapes, as sort of my legacy. They were just here at my home, on a shelf. I had made a few entrees to record companies, but nothing had really come through. I thought that Dan Auerbach would treat the material with reverence and respect.”
Auerbach says, “Easy Eye Sound makes blues records, and not many people make blues records anymore. This record continues where we started off, with our artists Leo “Bud” Welch and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and Robert Finley. It also is part of my history — some of the first blues music I heard was Son House. I was raised on his Columbia LP, Father of Folk Blues. My dad had that album and would play it in the house when I was a kid, so I know all those songs by heart.”
Forever On My Mind is the earliest issued full-length House solo performance recorded after his rediscovery, at an appearance captured on November 23, 1964 at Wabash College, a small men’s school in Crawfordsville, Indiana. In terms of power and intensity, it rivals, and in some cases surpasses, the Columbia album, cut five months later in a New York City studio. It also reflects a sharp musical focus that diminished in House’s later concert appearances and recordings.
“As he toured in ’65 and ’66 and ’67,” Waterman notes, “he developed stories — they were self-deprecating stories, with humor and things like that. So, he became sort of an entertainer. But these first shows in ’64 were the plain, naked, raw Son House. This was just the man and his performance. He didn’t have any stories or anything to go with it.”
In the wake of his rediscovery in Rochester, House — who had labored as a foundry worker, railroad porter and cook, among other jobs, after moving from Mississippi to New York in 1943 — decided to make a return to music at the urging of his enthusiastic young fans. Waterman explains, “He had been living in a [retirement] home with his wife, and they weren’t doing anything but living on Social Security. So, it was the opportunity to make some money that put us out on tour.”
House was outfitted with a new steel-bodied National resonator guitar, the instrument he had played on his early recordings, and musicologist Alan Wilson, later famous as the guitarist and singer of the Los Angeles blues-rock band Canned Heat, gave the sexagenarian musician a refresher course in his own music.
“Son and Al would play knee to knee with the guitar,” Waterman says. “Al would say, ‘This is what you called “My Black Mama” in 1930,’ and would play it for him. And then he would say, ‘This is what you called “My Black Woman” for Lomax 12 years later,’ and he would play that, and Son would play along with him until the two of them were really rollicking along. And Son would say, ‘I got my recollection now, I got my recollection now.’”
House, who to date had only performed before Black audiences in Southern juke houses, would now be introduced to a young and entirely new group of listeners. Waterman says, “He hadn’t played in front of white people at all.”
After some initial appearances that summer at the Unicorn coffeehouse in Cambridge, Mass., then a center of the American folk music renaissance of the ’60s, and an August 1964 set at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, House and Waterman set off on a modest tour of Midwestern campuses in November in the manager’s new Ford Mustang.
The manager recalls, “I wrote letters to [university] student activities committees, one after the other after the other. So we went out, and the first date, I remember, was at Antioch in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and then Wabash was one of the first ones after that.”
The college engagements included Oberlin College in Ohio, Shimer College in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, and the University of Chicago, where local blues fan Norman Dayron recorded at least part of the November 21, 1964, show; a single track later surfaced on the 1980 Takoma Records LP Rare Blues. But the Wabash College appearance two days later was caught on tape in full.
“Wabash did the taping, and then they later gave me the reel-to-reel tape,” Waterman remembers. “The show was held in kind of an assembly hall. There were a few dozen [in the audience] — there may have been up to 50 people, something like that. They were quiet and polite during the performance … There were no barriers, there were no filters between him and the audience. He was just giving them the plain, unvarnished Delta material, as he knew it and as he sang it.”
Five of the eight songs heard on Forever On My Mind were later released in studio versions on House’s Columbia LP. Another two songs that he played at Wabash College, renditions of his Delta contemporary Charley Patton’s “Pony Blues” and the gospel blues standard “Motherless Children,” were recorded by the label but went unreleased until 1992.
The first number heard on the Easy Eye Sound release, the titular “Forever On My Mind,” was never attempted in a recording studio, but it would be essayed from time to time in House’s concert performances; there is film footage of him playing it at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival. On the present album, the song, which contains snatches of his friend Willie Brown’s classic “Future Blues” and his own “Louise McGhee,” serves as a living lesson in the improvisational Delta blues tradition.
“There are certain songs that he would play, go into an open G tuning,” Waterman says, “and just play things in a certain meter. And some of these songs borrowed verses from each other.”
House’s 1964-65 live appearances and his Columbia album placed him in the pantheon of such other great, recently rediscovered Delta blues musicians as Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, and Rev. Robert Wilkins. Forever On My Mind now re-introduces House at the height of his renewed powers in an essential, previously unheard document of unique force and sonic clarity.
Says Auerbach, “He sounds like he’s in a trance, and his singing is so nuanced here. He’s very playful with his phrasing, just right on the money with his singing and playing. It sounds so right to me — top form Son House.”
“The late-’64 stuff is as good as it’s going to get,” Waterman says. “I have great love and great respect for Mr. House, and I hope that this legacy stands up, for all that he meant to me and all that he meant to the music.”
The Delines Share New Single + Video ‘Past The Shadows’
American Blues Scene Staff
“We wanted the song to be a seduction itself, easy and catchy, warm and velvety but underneath is a world of scars and failure.” – Songwriter Willy Vlautin
The Portland, Oregon based country-soul group The Delines share the second single and video from their upcoming album, The Sea Drift, which will be released on February 11, 2022 via their new American label home Jealous Butcher Records. The new single, titled “Past The Shadows,” is a sultry and smoky ballad that wraps the heartbreak of its lyrical themes in a warm blanket of horn arrangements and tenderly played keys. The song is accompanied by a music video of the full band performing “Past The Shadows” in the studio, highlighting the rich backing instrumentation that serves as the bedrock for The Sea Drift as well as Amy Boone’s spellbinding vocal performance at the center of it all.
Speaking on his inspirations for “Past The Shadows”, songwriter Willy Vlautin said:
I was thinking about that self-destructive dream of never having to live like anyone else, of not having to be a part of regular society. That pull of living like a vampire, the romance of it, the freedom of it, but also the darkness of it. We wanted the song to be a seduction itself, easy and catchy, warm and velvety but underneath is a world of scars and failure.
The Delines are the result of the musical collaboration and friendship of Willy Vlautin and Amy Boone, an opportunity for Willy to continue writing his mini-narrative songs that he gained notoriety for as the frontman of the alt-country group Richmond Fontaine through a new voice and perspective offered by Amy. In addition to being a songwriter, Willy is an acclaimed novelist. Some of his novels like Lean On Pete and The Motel Life have been adapted into feature films, so it’s no wonder that his newest material has such a visually evocative and cinematic mood. Describing Willy’s songwriting style, Amy writes “I think the songs on ‘The Sea Drift’ have the kind of ‘realness’ that Tony Joe was after – romantic realism,” adds Amy. “When Willy would talk to me about his new batch of songs set on the Gulf Coast I remember thinking, ‘is he talking about The Delines’ next record or is he writing a screenplay?’”
The Sea Drift is the first new material recorded by The Delines since Boone was in a horrific car accident in 2016 that hospitalized her for multiple years and delayed the completion of their 2019 album The Imperial until Amy was able to stand on her own two feet again to finish recording the already mostly completed record. There was a period of time during Amy’s long recovery in which Willy was unsure Amy would want to continue on with the band after the immense physical and mental toll of her injuries, but Amy has a fighter’s spirit, and as soon as she could, she was ready to get back in the saddle and record another album with the band. Speaking of her contributions to the album, Willy said “‘The Sea Drift’ sessions were also the first time since Amy had been injured that she felt strong and confident in the studio, and you can really hear it on this record. There’s strength to her voice, the strength of someone who’s overcome a lot of trauma and pain.”
The cinematic feel showcased on The Sea Drift is bolstered by the rich, warm instrumentation throughout the album. Cory Gray’s keyboard, string, and horn arrangements serve as central musical motifs while being backed by soul bass supreme Freddy Trujillo and jazz drummer Sean Oldham. On The Sea Drift, The Delines once again partnered with producer John Morgan Askew who produced 2014’s Colfax and 2019’s The Imperial, which spent two weeks topping the UK Official Americana charts. The Sea Drift picks up where both previous albums left off, further refining the country soul swing that the band has become known for.
The music of The Delines is clearly rooted in the past, as Willy and Amy have bonded over their shared love of soul and country songwriters from the 60s like Tony Joe White and Bobbie Gentry, but what makes this album so special is how it manages to evoke these voices from eras gone by without ever sounding stayed or overly traditional. Speaking to the inspiration for this record, Willy said “The idea for the ‘The Sea Drift’ began with Amy and my mutual love of Tony Joe White. We used to have conversations about his records and she’d always joke, ‘Just write me ‘Rainy Night in Georgia.’ Jesus, what a tall order, but I guess in my own way I started trying.”
Curtis Stigers Revisits and Reinterprets Songs With New Album
American Blues Scene Staff
“Some of these tunes were hits, some weren’t so lucky, and some were just damn cool songs. This record gives me a chance to look back at my past while I continue to move forward, grow, and evolve as a musician, songwriter and artist.” – Curtis Stigers
Curtis Stigers has announced his new album This Life will be released on February 25, 2022. On This Life, Stigers is revisiting some of the landmark songs of his 30 year career, as well as the songs closest to his heart, and giving them a fresh interpretation.
I’ve had the idea for this album in my head for several years now: A collection of songs from my 12 previous studio albums that sound completely different and new the way I now play them live in concert. Some of these tunes were hits, some weren’t so lucky, and some were just damn cool songs. This record gives me a chance to look back at my past while I continue to move forward, grow, and evolve as a musician, songwriter and artist.
It’s been over three decades since Stigers released his eponymous debut album which took the charts by storm and generated the international hits “I Wonder Why,” “You’re All That Matters To Me,” and “Never Saw A Miracle.” For This Life, a seasoned Curtis Stigers has revisited these early successes (and a couple of later ones) and put a distinct jazz spin on them.
The repertoire includes a new version of Nick Lowe’s “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, And Understanding,” which Stigers had recorded in 1992 for the smash hit film The Bodyguard starring Whitney Houston and Kevin Costner. And there is, of course, also a fresh rendition of “This Life,” the marvelous Emmy-nominated theme song Curtis co-wrote and recorded in 2008 for the wildly popular TV show Sons Of Anarchy.
Stigers has also shared the first song from this album, a new version of “Keep Me From The Cold,” initially released on his 1995 sophomore release Time Was.
Backed by a fine-tuned band featuring John “Scrapper” Sneider on trumpet, Matthew Fries on piano and Wurlitzer electric piano, Cliff Schmitt on bass, Paul Wells and Keith Hall on drums plus special guest Larry Goldings on organ and keyboards, Stigers furthermore reinterprets memorable tracks from his past albums Time Was (1995), Brighter Days (1999), Secret Heart (2002), You Inspire Me (2003), and Real Emotional (2007).
To round this amazing song collection off, he added two gems he has not recorded previously, though he performs them occasionally at his shows: the Gershwin classic “Summertime” and Leonard Cohen’s “Tonight Will Be Fine.”
From Elizabeth Cotten to Blind Willie McTell, Jolie Holland Curates Folkways People’s Picks Playlist
“Music is our history.” – Jolie Holland
Singer-songwriter Jolie Holland, whose music runs the gamut from free-form jazz to ragtime blues, has curated Smithsonian Folkways’ final People’s Picks of the year.
Image courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways
Of her picks, Holland says:
What a joy to look through the Folkways catalogue! I picked a lot of music that’s really influenced me, music from my own regional and cultural backgrounds, and some songs from people who mentored my friends. The great Frantz Casseus was Marc Ribot’s first guitar teacher. Canray Fontenot was my friend Delilah Lee Lewis’s adopted stepfather and violin teacher. And Michael Hurley is a dear friend of mine.
I chose this Woody Guthrie song, a painful heavyweight of a song, because it’s emblematic of how music teaches us history. Music is our history. My grandpa in East Texas used to play a song similar to this one Elizabeth Cotten plays. This Blind Willie McTell song is one of my favorites from him. So dreamy and sparse. Willie Johnson’s “God Don’t Never Change” is a powerful voice from our past. He makes reference to the last horrible respiratory pandemic, the 1918 influenza. I chose some beautiful Afro-Caribbean sacred drum music, too. It’s always so delicious to remember these transporting polyrhythms.
In 2019, ABSspoke with Holland about the release of Escondida on vinyl for the first time in honor of its 15-year anniversary, as well as its fundraising campaign.
Nesmith was on a farewell tour earlier in the year with Micky Dolenz, now the sole surviving member of the Monkees
Michael Nesmith, singer/guitarist and co-founder of The Monkees, died Friday at the age of 78.
His family confirmed in a statement: “With Infinite Love we announce that Michael Nesmith has passed away this morning in his home, surrounded by family, peacefully and of natural causes.“ Continuing, “We ask that you respect our privacy at this time and we thank you for the love and light that all of you have shown him and us.”
Manager Andrew Sandoval took to social media:
“It is with deep sadness ￼that I mark the passing of Michael Nesmith. We shared many travels and projects together over the course of 30 years, which culminated in a Monkees farewell tour that wrapped up only a few weeks ago,” said Sandoval. “That tour was a true blessing for so many. And in the end I know that Michael was at peace with his legacy which included songwriting, producing, acting, direction and so many innovative ideas and concepts. I am positive the brilliance he captured will resonate and offer the love and light towards which he always moved.￼”
Continued Sandoval, “Nez expressed the highest part of his being through his voice. And you could get no closer to him then through knowing his work. May all those who loved him feel his comfort at this time – just listen and he will be there for you.￼” He added this Nesmith lyrical quote: “Thank you for the times you gave me, thank you for the tears you saved me, please take this song as my thanks to you.” ￼
As a member of the popular band, Nesmith’s songwriting credits include “Different Drum,” sung by Linda Ronstadt with the Stone Poneys.
Nesmith was on a farewell tour earlier in the year with Micky Dolenz, now the sole surviving member of the Monkees. The two were booked for a cruise in early 2022 that was meant to be their final gig together.
Gina Sicilia Returns to Vizztone, Releases Soul-Blues Ballad ‘Last Bad Habit’
American Blues Scene Staff
Listen to dynamic singer-songwriter/musician Gina Sicilia’s latest single!
The VizzTone label group is thrilled to welcome Gina Sicilia back to the family with this gorgeous single, soon to be followed by a new studio album in early 2022.
“Last Bad Habit” is a heartfelt soul ballad with strong blues inflections and many different layers of emotion.
Gina was one of Vizztone’s first artists in 2007, and her last Vizztone release was 2014. She relocated to Nashville a few years back, where Amy Speace and her neighbor Scott Williams (who also produced the track) wrote “Last Bad Habit.”
Gina in her own words:
It has the kind of rawness that allows me to really dig into each lyric and phrase. It’s a song about being on a journey of self-growth and coming to terms with everything that’s toxic for you, even if it pains you to face the truth.
To me the song is as much about liberation as it is about heartbreak. The writers did a beautiful job of expressing this bittersweet sentiment, and the way the music builds in intensity through the end of the song is an impassioned way of telling this story about letting go.
Look for the new Gina Sicilia album, recorded in the Nashville studio of multi award-winning renaissance man Colin Linden, who produced and played guitar on the sessions.
Rolling Stones Honor Charlie Watts with Secret Show at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club
Remembering Charlie Watts (June 2, 1941 – August 24, 2021)
In case you missed it, the family of Charlie Watts held a private celebration of the late Stones drummer’s life on the night of December 6. The event took place at the popular Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho, London.
Charlie Watts by ABS’s Phil Solomonson
Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Ronnie Wood were among the attendees and finished the touching event with a surprise performance of standards.
Also in attendance were the band’s touring and recording musicians Lisa Fischer, Bernard Fowler, Tim Ries, and of course former bassist Bill Wyman. Jools Holland led a band of Ben Waters, Axel Zwingenberger, and Dave Green — a childhood friend who played with Watts for many years in jazz bands.
The Stones played “Down The Road a Piece” and the Jimmy Reed classic “Shame, Shame, Shame,” a song that appeared in early Stones setlists and also on 1981’s Tattoo You.
*Feature image: The Rolling Stones live at Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, October 4th, 2021 (Credit: ABS’s Phil Solomonson / Philamonjaro)
“An inviolate inspiration is one that comes to you completely pure. It appears almost in its completeness, and there’s a recognition of it as being right for you – perfectly right for you. There’s no excuses in it. There’s no fantasy in it. There’s just a recognition of ‘yes.’ And then you capture that in a way that’s authentic to your unique creativity. Hopefully, that’s what I’ve done with this record.” – Steve Vai
Steve Vai and Favored Nations / Mascot Label Group have announced his new studio album titled Inviolate will be released digitally and on CD January 28, 2022. The LP will follow on March 18.
Vai is a virtuoso guitarist, composer and producer, considered by many as one of the greatest guitarists of all time. In over 40 years in the industry, he has sold over 15 million records, received three Grammy Awards, and recorded with music legends like Frank Zappa, David Lee Roth, Whitesnake and many more. Vai has also toured extensively and recorded live projects with G3 (collaborating with different touring lineups including Joe Satriani, John Petrucci, Eric Johnson, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Lukather) and Generation Axe, a supergroup Vai formed with Zakk Wylde, Yngwie Malmsteen, Nuno Bettencourt and Tosin Abasi. Blues lovers will remember Vai’s character, “Jack Butler” cutting heads in hell with “Lightning Boy Martone” in the movie Crossroads.
Over the course of that more than 40-year career, Vai has routinely transformed what would appear to be outrageously impossible into something very, very possible… and still also pretty outrageous. From his days as Frank Zappa’s “stunt guitar” player to his more recent expansive and exploratory solo work, Vai has continually challenged notions of traditional guitar playing and composition – and on more than one occasion even reimagined the very instrument itself.
Which, he’ll admit, is not necessarily his intention. “I don’t sit around and say, ‘Okay, what can I do now that pushes the boundaries?” Vai explains about his approach to the guitar. “What I do say to myself is, ‘Okay, Vai – what are you going to do now that’s going to interest you, that’s going to fascinate you, and that’s different than anything you’ve done before?” The answer to that question comes in the form of Vai’s newest and 10th solo album, Inviolate, a nine-song opus that (sorry Steve) does indeed push the boundaries of instrumental guitar music – this time out, Vai quite literally invented not just a new guitar, but also a new guitar-playing technique.
At the same time, Inviolate presents his most focused, streamlined and perhaps invigorating music in years. “It’s very ‘Vai,’ whatever that means,” he says, and then laughs. “Someone else might be better than me at explaining what that is. But it’s just very honest music. Because a lot of my records, they’re long and there’s a lot of concepts and playing around with stories. This one has none of that. This is nine pretty dense all-instrumental compositions that I wanted to capture and record so I could get out there and play them live for people.”
The album’s mesmeric opener, “Teeth of the Hydra,” a sinuous, Latin-fusion-tinged composition that Vai wrote and recorded with a one-of-a-kind custom guitar he coined the Hydra. But calling the Hydra a mere guitar is selling it way, way, way short. Built in conjunction with the designers at Hoshino and based on a “steampunk motif” idea of Vai’s, the Hydra is a beast of an instrument – a one-bodied, two-headstock-ed, three-neck-ed creature that encompasses, among other things: seven- and 12-string guitars; a four-string bass; sympathetic harp strings; half-fretless necks; single-coil, humbucking, piezo and sustainer pickups; floating and hardtail tremolo bridges; phase splitters; and much, much more. “It’s an incredibly-built machine,” Vai says. “I told the guys at Hoshino, ‘Anything that you think is conventional, don’t do that.’ This was an opportunity to exercise brutal creativity. And they went beyond.”
“Hydra” Photo: Michael Mesker
As did Vai in his performance. Throughout the track he employs the Hydra’s full range of tone and timbres to craft a guitar part that sounds, in its expansiveness and expressiveness, positively alive. “The interesting thing about the song and the guitar is that it all came at the same time,” Vai says. “It was one of those ‘inviolate’ inspirations – boom!”
That said, he continues, “I knew that I needed to create something with the Hydra that sounded like a real piece of music. It couldn’t be just a novelty. Because if you knew what my hands were doing, and how I’m using my left hand to create phrasings that work when I can’t pick a note because my right hand is off somewhere else…my god. But the finished piece had to stand on its own. It couldn’t sound like I was just trying to juggle stuff.”
Over the course of 2021, several of these compositions were shared publicly. Vai composed and recorded the song “Knappsack,” following his shoulder surgery, at a time when his right arm was in a sling (or, as his surgeon, Dr. Knapp, called it, a “knappsack”), and thus was able to use only his left hand when playing the piece.
Like “Knappsack,” Vai released “Candle Power,” an accompanying performance video earlier in 2021. But he added a little something extra to the version that appears on Inviolate, with a newly recorded drum track from fellow Zappa alumnus Terry Bozzio (to that end, additional crack players who lent a hand to the record include bassists Bryan Beller, Philip Bynoe and Henrik Linder, keyboardist David Rosenthal and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta).
On December 2, Vai and company presented the song “Little Pretty.” The recording is a dark-toned fusion-funk workout played almost exclusively on a Gretsch hollow body guitar. As for what led Vai to the unusual (at least for him) model, he says, “It’s on the wall with all the other guitars, and I’d always just look at it and go, ‘One day I’m going to play you…’” He continues, “In writing the chord changes for the solo section, and the solo itself, I dug deep into my academic music theory mind to create a set of chord changes where the harmonic atmosphere shifted on every change. The dense chord structures required a series of synthetic modes to navigate. This approach is along the lines of jazz and fusion players, but I knew I did not want it to sound anything like that and the solo had to be totally melodic. The results were pretty powerful in that the entire solo section evokes melodic atmospheric changes that shift dramatically but work together well.”
In essence, it all comes down to finding your own voice, and then having the courage and conviction to follow your musical and creative instincts wherever they may take you – something Vai has never been shy about in his playing. “One of the great things about the guitar is you don’t need to be a virtuoso to express your creative vision,” he says. “I mean, Bob Dylan plays the guitar perfectly well for his expression. So does John McLaughlin. You just need to decide how much technique you want or need to get there. For myself, I came out of the chute wanting and needing it all. When it comes to my music, I don’t feel like I have to prove anything or conform to anything. I just love to think up creative ideas, and then use whatever skill I have to manifest them.
“An inviolate inspiration is one that comes to you completely pure,” Vai explains. “It appears almost in its completeness, and there’s a recognition of it as being right for you – perfectly right for you. There’s no excuses in it. There’s no fantasy in it. There’s just a recognition of ‘yes.’ And then you capture that in a way that’s authentic to your unique creativity. Hopefully, that’s what I’ve done with this record.”
Vai will begin an extensive tour of the U.S., with 54 scheduled appearances on January 27, 2022 at the House of Blues in Las Vegas. He will be joined by his long-tenured ensemble members Dave Weiner (guitar / keys), Philip Bynoe (bass), and Jeremy Colson (drums). Steve shares, “A performer thrives on performing. It’s been my life for the past 49 years, with the exception of the last two years, so we are chomping at the bit to get out there and play for people. A music concert has the ability to dissolve the many challenges we face, and celebrate one of the good things in life, live music.”
Tim Carman Pays Homage to Legendary Drummer Bob Gullotti in ‘Blues for Bob’
American Blues Scene Staff
Tim Carman Pays Homage to His Teacher, Mentor & Legendary Drummer Bob Gullotti in “Blues for Bob”
Boston-based drummer Tim Carman pays tribute to his first drum teacher, mentor, and legendary drummer Bob Gullotti in “Blues for Bob.”
Carman devised the idea for his latest project, Tim Carman Trio, in 2020 while quarantining in a New Hampshire cabin and revisiting records Gullotti presented him during his formative years as an aspiring jazz drummer. As he went down the rabbit hole and took advantage of time off the road with his primary project GA-20, Carman formulated the idea for the project. Tim Carman Trio is no-frills, timeless, B3 organ jazz Inspired by 60s icons such as Jimmy Smith, Brother Jack McDuff and more. “Blues for Bob” is an original composition and the opening track off of the group’s forthcoming debut LP Key Lime coming out worldwide via Color Red in 2022. Eddie Roberts, founder of Color Red and guitarist/bandleader of The New Mastersounds, touts Carman’s songwriting and proclivity to the organ trio format as “soul jazz how it’s supposed to sound.”
Gullotti passed away suddenly in 2020 and was a staple in the Boston jazz scene for over five decades. In addition to being a longtime professor of percussion at the esteemed Berklee College of Music, he was best known for his co-founding the free-spirited jazz trio Fringe in 1972. He toured with the likes of J.J. Johnson, Joe Lovano, and John Patitucci and would make frequent sit-in appearances with Phish over the course of his career. He collaborated with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio on his free jazz side project Surrender to the Air. Carman enlisted Steve Fell on guitar and Ken Clark on organ to round out his trio and “Blues for Bob” was written in the studio and recorded in one take capturing the spirit of Guilotti.
Based in Boston, MA, Carman is an international touring musician, session drummer, educator, and published author with both Alfred Music and Hudson Music. “One of Boston’s most accomplished percussionists can be found in local Tim Carman,” Andrew Maroney of Vanyaland writes, “…If his name sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen him on the back-line of a number of tremendous Boston groups the past few years. From GA-20 to Julie Rhodes, Carman leaves his indelible imprint on some of Boston’s most illustrious jazz/blues acts.” Tim’s session work earned him a nomination for “Session Musician of the Year” by the Boston Music Awards in 2020, and he currently performs and tours with GA-20, an electric blues trio signed to Karma Chief/Colemine records. He also leads two of his own projects: Tim Carman & The Street 45s—a world-groove inspired funk band—and the Tim Carman Trio.
Key Lime harkens back to an age where blues, gospel, jazz, and soul music combined and vigorously simmered in smokey barrooms across the country.
Maggie Rose Shares Ethereal, Soulful Cover of Carole King’s ‘I Feel The Earth Move’
American Blues Scene Staff
Maggie Rose is on tour now through the end of the year!
Maggie Rose, Nashville-based roots-rock and soul powerhouse, has shared her brilliant cover of Carole King’s hit “I Feel the Earth Move.” The song premiered on SiriusXM during Maggie’s takeover on the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame station which was recorded on-site in Cleveland. The takeover featured all women inductees including Heart, Carole King, Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Nicks, Go-Go’s, Linda Ronstadt, and Joan Jett.
“Given my love for Carole King’s Tapestry and the fact that the album helped me deal with so much of the difficulty of last year—the same year that the album turned fifty—it felt therapeutic and appropriate to pay tribute to the Rock Hall inductee by reimagining this song with my band,” says Maggie.
“We cut our version in the middle of February and didn’t shy away from the darkness we were all feeling, but that made the process cathartic. It is simply an amazing song that brought us all back together during an extraordinary time and I’m excited to finally share it with you now.”
In line with the all-female theme, Maggie hosts a podcast called Salute The Songbird where she holds candid conversations with her female musical heroes about their lives in and out of music, and a lot more.
Guests have included Nancy Wilson (Heart), Brandi Carlile, Yola, Mickey Guyton, Martina McBride, Jade Bird, Valerie June, Amethyst Kiah, Leslie Fram (CMT), Jillette Johnson, Kelly McCartney (Apple Music), and many many more. Season three is due out early 2022.
MAGGIE ROSE ON TOUR:
12/8 @ Asbury Lanes | Asbury Park, NJ
12/9 @ Knitting Factory Brooklyn | Brooklyn, NY
12/10 @ Birchmere | Alexandria, VA
12/15 @ Knuckleheads Saloon | Kansas City, MO
12/16 @ Shank Hall | Milwaukee, WI
12/17 @ 7th Street Entry | Minneapolis, MN
12/18 @ SPACE | Evanston, IL
12/19 @ Brooklyn Bowl Nashville | Nashville, TN*
12/29 @ Lincoln Theatre | Raleigh, NC^
12/30 @ The Grey Eagle | Asheville, NC
12/31 @ Delmar Hall | Saint Louis, MO
*w/ Cory Wong, Taylor Hicks, Bill Evans, Jeff Coffin, Kevin Scott, Guthrie Trapp, Zoe Nutt
Americana Duo The Cactus Blossoms Share New Track ‘Hey Baby’
Check out the visualizer for “Hey Baby” from forthcoming ‘One Day,’ available February 11!
Today Minneapolis-based duo The Cactus Blossoms shared their new track “Hey Baby,” along with the announcement of the album One Day, out February 11th.
The brothers — guitarists and singers Page Burkum and Jack Torrey — built a faithful following in the years leading up to their first national release, 2016’s You’re Dreaming, produced by friend and tourmate JD McPherson. Following the release, they played dates with Kacey Musgraves, Lucius, and Jenny Lewis — who is featured on the Cactus Blossoms track “Everybody.” The harmonizing duo drew the attention of filmmaker David Lynch, who featured them in the 2017 season of Twin Peaks, where they performed their song “Mississippi” at the roadhouse.
One Day was recorded and mixed by long time collaborator Alex Hall using a mobile rig in Page’s Minneapolis basement. “Hey Baby” is a classic-sounding song for the open road and, as it happens, wouldn’t be out of place on an album like Tom Petty’s Highway Companion. Check out the visualizer below.
‘Leave the Light On,’ The Love Light Orchestra’s debut album on Nola Blue Records is slated for February 18, 2022 release.
Nola Blue Records announces the signing of The Love Light Orchestra, a ten-piece super group of seasoned Memphis musicians initially conceived by guitarist Joe Restivo, vocalist John Németh and arranger/trumpeter Marc Franklin. Though formed in 2016 with the desire to rekindle enthusiasm for the grand, orchestral sound of mid- 20th century blues, The Love Light Orchestra is as much a manifestation of the current moment as it is a throwback to a bygone era.
Leave the Light On, the group’s sophomore effort, refines and elevates the group’s presentation, employing clarity and quality complementary to the veteran musicianship within Love Light’s ranks. With this debut studio recording of original tunes and one choice cover, Love Light proves its staying power and reinforces a future outlook, while simultaneously honoring the context of its musical past.
“I am thrilled to add The Love Light Orchestra to the label,” says president Sallie Bengtson. “The individual and collective experience of producers Restivo, Németh and Franklin captures the musical spirit of a previous era with fresh arrangements of original material that will delight from the first listen.”
Initial industry enthusiasm comes from Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars) who says, “The sonic aesthetic and listening vibe can’t be beat.” Fellow Memphian and owner of Royal Studios, Grammy-winning producer Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell, enthuses “The Love Light Orchestra has done it again! Another timeless Memphis classic!”
“The Love Light Orchestra is thrilled to be teaming up with Nola Blue Records for our upcoming release, Leave The Light On,” says Marc Franklin. “We put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into this record, and we hope you enjoy it.”
The album will be available in digital, CD and vinyl formats. Arriving just in time for the holiday season, a vinyl pre-order campaign will offer special, limited perks and opportunities. General pre-orders will begin on January 21, 2022.
“I hope that people can feel a little bit of the joy and the wonder, year round, that 8-year-old José felt, not only about Christmas and all the obvious things—the ornaments, the tree, the holiday season—but also the music.”
The jazz voice of the hip hop generation José James (Rainbow Blonde Records) released his first ever Christmas album Merry Christmas from José James.
The contemporary album celebrates the holiday season while honoring classic jazz and pop records of the 1950s. Combining the classic jazz-crooner elegance of Frank Sinatra and Nat “King” Cole with the earthy sophistication of soul legends Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway, the ten track Merry Christmas from José James takes listeners on a world-class holiday experience from one of the greatest living voices in jazz.
Listeners can find two original tracks, “Christmas in New York” and “Christmas Day” along with popular ballads such as “The Christmas Song,” “White Christmas,” “Let it Snow” and “This Christmas,” a modern twist on the Donny Hathaway holiday favorite. In James’ version, he musically brings an aspect of R&B and hip-hop to the mostly Jazz collection.
Songwriting for the project was spearheaded by James and his partner, recently Grammy nominated Talia Billig. The album’s studio band features Grammy winning and nominated all stars Ben Williams (bass), Aaron Parks (piano), Jharis Yokley (drums) and Marcus Strickland (soprano saxophone). Produced by James and Brian Bender and recorded by Ariel Shafir at Dreamland Studios, the album was mastered by Frank Arkwright at Abbey Road Studios. The session was recorded completely live on 2” tape and mixed in LCR (left-center-right) by Brian Bender at Motherbrain West.
“It’s the perfect album to put on whenever there’s a certain spirit in the air,” James says. “I hope that people can feel a little bit of the joy and the wonder, year round, that 8-year-old José felt, not only about Christmas and all the obvious things—the ornaments, the tree, the holiday season—but also the music.”
James, a Minneapolis, MN native who spent most of his career in New York, was discovered by Gilles Peterson in London before his major label debut with Blue Note Records. He has produced and written 11 albums covering the best of jazz, pop, hip-hop and R&B. In 2017, José made his screen debut with a performing role in Fifty Shades Darker. He now lives in Amsterdam with Talia Billig, his partner and Grammy nominated songwriter.
A 13 date tour to support the album will launch at SF Jazz in San Francisco on November 27th and conclude at New York’s City Winery on December 14th. Stops also include Seattle, Portland, Santa Cruz, LA, Phoenix, Santa Fe, Minneapolis and Chicago.
3X Brit Blues Award Nominee Mississippi MacDonald Releases ‘Do Right, Say Right’
American Blues Scene Staff
“It’s modern; it’s not musical archaeology. It celebrates a fantastic tradition. It’s soul-blues, and you’ve got to put your best into it.” – Mississippi MacDonald
American music has long been defined as a highly energized, rhythmic music derived from the blurring of lines between popular and “serious” styles, which originated in the U.S.–from hip hop and rap to country, blues, soul, and rock ‘n’ roll. This concept has been historically best understood by musicians from other countries and most notably those from England, who brought us the British Invasion of the 1960s.
Three-time British Blues Award nominee Mississippi MacDonald is a leading force in the next generation of players, who demonstrate a high level of comprehension of organic American music styles and the fluency, commitment, and internalization needed to weave them together. His sixth album, Do Right, Say Right, is an energized and authentic set of eight originals and one cover of soul-infused blues that is another benchmark on a quest that began as a 12-year-old kid seeing Chuck Berry perform.
MacDonald is backed by a tight four-piece band made up of Phil Dearing on keyboards and guitar (who produced the album at L Sound in London) with Elliot Boughen on bass, Mark Johnson-Brown on drums, while Lucy Dearing adds backup vocals; a veteran crew of musicians who intuitively create the sound MacDonald is seeking.
“It’s modern; it’s not musical archaeology,” says the London-based soul-blues stylist of his music. “It celebrates a fantastic tradition. It’s soul-blues, and you’ve got to put your best into it.”
MacDonald knows that tradition. He’s been to Al Green’s church and heard him preach. He’s been to Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios in Memphis, where the great records on the Hi Label were recorded. He’s seen Jerry Lee Lewis kick over his piano stool. He’s met B.B. King and Pinetop Perkins, Otis Clay, and Sam Moore. Big Joe Turner told him to listen to Albert King. In 2008, he was a prime mover in finally getting a stone for the previously unmarked grave of soul legend O.V. Wright.
But it’s with his own music that MacDonald hits most directly. Sure, he’s been to America to find the sources of his inspirations. That even got him his name. At school, he was the only kid anyone knew who had been to America, so was dubbed Mississippi. He’s received three British Blues Award nominations. He’s hit the top spot in the UK Independent Blues Broadcasters Association’s charts. He’s had the support of Paul Jones on BBC Radio 2,and thumbs-up from Blues Magazine in The Netherlands and the Washington Blues Society.
The easy swinging “I Was Wrong” opens the set with MacDonald confessing his love punctuated by hot horn jabs. The Chicago shuffle,“I Heard It Twice,” recounts his break-up tirade with a woman, who rips apart his credibility as a “real blues man,” while he pours his angst into his guitar. The edgy, burning, funky “It Can’t Hurt Me” is the tale of a man done wrong determined to get vengeance highlighted by ice pick Albert Collins-styled guitar leads.
“Drinker’s Blues” is a loving tribute to B.B.King’s first hit “Three O’Clock Blues,” with MacDonald emoting the legends vocal and guitar style with devotion and respect.
The complex gospel infused blues of “Let Me Explore Your Mind” evokes another of his heroes, the southern soul singer O.V. Wright, for whom MacDonald teamed with others to purchase a gravestone. Texas Blues “That’s It I Quit” spells out the hard life of a working musician with tongue firmly embedded in cheek. The piano-driven slow blues,“If You Want A Good Cup Of Coffee,” is a glorious exploration of word play that fuses modernisms with folky colloquialisms and features a soaring guitar solo. He digs even deeper on “Keep Your Hand Out Of My Pocket,” a classic twelve bar about hard luck and trouble asking the question “how wrong can one man get?”
The finale is a piece of the soul blues lexicon that has been bandied about for years, as MacDonald takes on the Little Milton version of the Denise LaSalle number “Your Wife Is Cheating On Us,” a bump and grind blues concerning the infidelity among fellow adulterers.
Ultimately, it is not about the ingredients. It’s about the stew, how everything melds into one unique flavor -a flavor unique to Mississippi MacDonald. Do Right, Say Right is a strong album from a strong “real bluesman.”