Walking in Memphis...

Within the first 10 minutes of stepping into a club on the corner of Beale Street, I heard TWO Otis Redding tracks back to back over the sound system. I knew this week would be great, since this was the first time I ever heard this happen outside of my apartment. It was exhilarating to be so close to the places where so many of my favorite albums were recorded. Other than the overwhelming amount of great music, one of the things I’ll remember most is dragging my guitar through crowds of people to go play for the night. Occasionally, I would look down to see my feet slipping on the brass notes stitched into the stone commemorating so many songwriters and performers that I have been influenced by (from Frank Stokes to Sam and Dave). I was happy to see Mississippi Fred McDowell get his name added to the sidewalk on Thursday, who wrote one of the songs I performed at the blues challenge in Pittsburgh last April. In closing, I would like to thank everyone in the BSWPA for giving me this opportunity; hopefully this won’t be my last time competing in the IBC. 

~ Chris Yakopcic

Pittsburgh's Own Bubs McKeg

Bubs McKeg is an award winning blues singer, guitarist, songwriter, and performing artist. He is known for his soulful voice and finger-picking blues guitar. Bubs has been a fixture in the Pittsburgh music scene since the 1960's entertaining rock and blues fans for over fifty years.

Born Bob McKeag, Bubs started playing professionally as a teen in the 1960’s with the “Igniters". The Igniters were Pittsburgh’s first 1960’s era R&B band to release a single on a national label. In the summer of 1963 two 14 year-old guitar players "Bubs" McKeag and "Little Joe" Arena started jamming together in Penn Hills. McKeag and Little Joe recruited drummer Bill Flowers and bass player Joe Santivica to join them. The Igniters became a popular live band. Performing to packed houses at their regular teen gig at Oakmont’s Varsity House, they played R&B and blues. Later in 1963, calling themselves “Inflammable Dan and the Igniters" they released the single "High Flyin' Wine" that was written by radio DJ Charlie Apple. With Apple's help it received local radio airplay. Little Joe Arena left the band in 1965 and was replaced by Bubs’ grade school friend singer Frankie Czuri. Upon their graduation from Penn Hills High in 1966, the Igniters signed with promoter Pat DiCesare who booked gigs for them throughout the region. Constantly on the road performing, they earned a decent living.
In 1968 Atlantic records signed the Igniters to a contract, making them the second white band on the label after the Rascals. Insisting that the Igniters change their name to Jimmy Mack and the Music Factory Atlantic released their first single, a pop soul tune, “Baby I Love You" in 1968. It received airplay on some stations across the country. It made it to number #41 on WAVZ in New Haven, Conn. Changing their name again to “The Friends” they recorded two original songs on Atlantic that went unreleased. They continue to perform live around the Pittsburgh area and at a regular gig at a club called Psychedilly. They called it quits in 1970. Frank Cruzi joined the Jaggerz. Bubs and Joe Santivica joined the Navy.
Fresh from his Navy gig in 1974, Bubs was ready to rock again. Hooking up with Frank Cruzi again, Bubs joined with Norman Nardini and Robbie Johns to form the rock band, Diamond Reo. Working with producer Tom Cossie, Diamond Reo recorded a demo tape at East Liberty's Red Fox Studio and sent it off to Atlantic Records. The Atlantic subsidiary, Big Tree Records released Diamond Reo’s first album “Diamond Reo” in 1975. Scoring a top 40 hit with Bubs singing the lead on a version of the Marvin Gaye song, "Ain't That Peculiar" the band launched a national tour. They appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand" and performed with Kiss, Aerosmith, Ted Nugent, Frank Zappa, Kansas, Ian Hunter, Blue Oyster Cult, and Canned Heat. After Diamond Reo left the Atlantic label, Bubs left Diamond Reo. The band went on to record two more albums before their breakup in 1978.
After leaving Diamond Reo, Bubs recorded as a solo artist under the name “McKeg” on Buddah Records and Phantom Records. He released the single ‘Gimme Some’ / ‘Our Love’ on Buddah Records in 1977 that reached the top forty. Joining with James Lawson, Bubs formed the "McKeg Lawson" band. They became a well-known act in the Pittsburgh blues scene. In 1994 James Lawson lost his battle with cancer. Bubs kept the "McKeg Lawson" band going for five more years. Since that time he has been performing under his own name and writing and recording blues.
Twice, Bubs has won the he Blues Society of Western Pennsylvania’s International Blues Challenge for solo/duo artist. He won the award as a solo artist in 2009, and as a duo with Doc Blue (Dr. Jeff Coben) as a duo in 2008. Bubs performed at the 30th Annual Helsinki Blues Heritage Festival in Finland. In 2007 he placed fourth in the blues category in Finland's international songwriting competition. 

~ Jack Thompson 


*On a personal note, Bubs is a dear friend who goes out of his way to help others. He and his wife, Judy, are generous, kind and giving of their time and talents to many worthy causes. Bubs is also fun to be around, loves to laugh, and it is truly an honor to call him a friend. He is still one of the consummate blues guitar and slide guitar players and vocalists in the Pittsburgh and surrounding regions. He helps run a fantastic blues jam every Saturday from 4 to 8pm at the Inn Termission on E. Carson Street on Pittsburgh’s historic South Side. It is well worth the time to go and see Bubs perform live at the jam, and with the Igniters, who are once again becoming a popular draw in the blues music scene. 

~ Marcy Brown

BSWPA International Blues Challenge 2012

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On Top of the World at B.B. Kings in Memphis, TN

“I am disappointed, but not dissatisfied.”  Those were Jill’s words as our band had dinner at Pig’s on Beale Street on the final evening of the International Blues Challenge.  Those words perfectly summarized exactly how we felt about our fourth trip to Memphis for the competition.  Our last trip  (the second sponsored by BSWPA) had been so dissatisfying, with sudden band personnel changes and technical issues during the gig, that it felt necessary to make the trip once more in order to give ourselves some redemption. We did that, and it felt great!  We consider ourselves very lucky to have won the regional competition in 2011 so that we could have this chance. 

This year, Jill flew down on her own after having one day at home following the Legendary Blues Cruise.  The rest of us decided to drive together for the first time.  Our first stop was Nashville, where we spent the evening watching some incredible blues.  On a Monday night in a small bar downtown we got to see both Mike Zito and Bart Walker (Bart was the second place winner this year – with Reese Wynans on keys… They were phenomenal.).  The bar was friendly and we got to sit in for a few songs as well.  

We went on to Memphis the next day, via an obligatory stop at a Waffle House.  That night we spent time all over Beale Street, soaking up the scene, meeting other bands, and generally having a very good time.  I think a few of the other bands were not feeling too well the next day due to our efforts.

Our first show in Memphis was early, we were the second band.  Thanks to our instrumental requirements, we were lucky enough to be put in BB King’s club for the first round.  What a great room and stage.  We also had the best and nicest sound man that we saw in any of the venues.  The show went well that night.  We played only three songs – two of which had never been played in Memphis before, and received great complements from many of the people there.  Since we were done early, we had the chance to go check out some of the other bands in town.  We saw Bart Walker again, a kid from Topeka named Nick Hern (who we also had met in Nashville) and threw our support behind our local friends, Ron Yarosz and Chris Yakopcic.

The next day, after a stop at the never-ageing Graceland, we were given the next to last spot in the competition, around 11 PM.  One or two of us still had to show up at 7 o’clock and stay there.  Have you ever tried to sit in a bar in Memphis, watch eight blues bands, and not have a beer?  Somehow, we managed.  After sitting around for hours, it was our turn.  The night almost took an ugly turn as Steve, while climbing the stage with his piano in his arms, nearly fell backwards off it!  Luckily, members of the Spanish band the Travellin' Brothers were there to catch him.  Nice guys and great musicians.  Although we didn’t feel like we played very well that night, the crowd was complimentary and by the end of the night, we had made the semifinals.

The competition the next day was interesting.  We played first out of only four bands.  This is where we made our week.  We played very well, so well that we don’t believe we could have done better.  At that point, it’s up to what the judges in the venue prefer.  Well, they picked a talented band from Tampa led by Selwyn Birchwood.  They were great and had an interesting sound, performing in an entirely different style from us.  In the end we were disappointed, but not dissatisfied.  

Unbeknownst to us, we were chosen to compete in the consolation competition on Saturday night.  We received an e-mail stating this fact on Saturday morning at 10 AM, but by that time we were already out shopping and eating on Beale Street  and on our way to visit Sun Studio.  It is unfortunate that we were ignorant, but the free time was not wasted.  After our dinner together at the Pig, we made a trip to the casinos in Tunica, saw some great music by an old-style country band from Nashville (we were a bit blues-ed out by then), and were lucky enough to meet the self-proclaimed Arkansas Moonshine Man.  For more details you will have to ask a member of the band…

We would like to thank BSWPA for the chance to go down to Memphis again, and wish the next winner the best of luck.  We all feel that we completed this trip on a high note, both musically and personally, and are looking forward to spending the next year performing as often as possible.  It’s what we do, and we can’t seem to stop.

 ~ Nick Crano

Jill West and Blues Attack ...

 ... would like to thank the Western Pennsylvania Blues Society for their help and dedication in Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. Special thanks to our friends and family along with Jonnye Weber, Ron Moondog Esser, Sean McDowell from WDVE and Ron Yarosz and the Vehicle.
Look for the new live CD from Blues Attack coming soon!

Blues Year's Eve 2011

This was our second year at the Clarion for The New Years Eve blast. After seeing Studebaker John play until 2:30 AM at our Christmas party the year before , I figured he would be perfect for a New Years' party. He was ! He let local musicians sit in, in spite of their inebriation in some cases. John again played until 2:30. It's not just the time, it's also the quality and the style that I love about John. He's a truly Chicago Blues musician and he plays guitar and harp equally well. People have a hard time believing the sound he gets from only a trio. Miss Freddye and Blue Faze opened up the show and Miss Freddye was her usual energetic self. She got the crowd in the mood for a party with her powerful voice, excellent band and her stories. John Erskine, drummer for Miss Freddye, showed his talents with a plethora of percussion instruments. Drums, tambourine and cowbell and more!

It was nice to see so many familiar faces. Some from the inception of the BSWPA, some newer.  Also , I met members who introduced themselves and complimented us on our writing and for all the work we do. We met some new faces who came as a last minute choice and ended up joining the BSWPA.  We take that as quite a compliment.

One of the highlights of our New Years' Party is the drawing for the autographed guitar.  The name was drawn and handed to me. It was the first time I recognized the name. Also a first, we didn't have to go far to get it to him . I had seen him there, so I let everyone know first, the winner is in this room! Grover Taylor!  Grover attends many blues events with his family.  The Taylor family have been great supporters of the BSWPA and blues music in general. It was nice to see it go to someone who knew the true value of what he had. I spent some time helping him identify the signatures . He was truly happy and that made us all happy.  Congrats , Grover !
Thanks to all who made it to the party . I had a great time and so did every person I spoke to. That includes Studebaker John , who told me at breakfast what a good time everyone had including himself. This year I only saw one person kissing a support  beam and only had to pick one person up off the floor, so perhaps people aren't indulging as heartily.  So, if you didn't make it this year or last, you owe it to yourself to come see the "Nighthawks" with Jill West and Blues Attack" opening for them for 2013! See you then. 

~  Don Vecchio

"Ruby Sings the Blues"...Blues in the Schools

An Avonworth Middle School teacher was working with a reading unit this past semester. The topic...slavery. The teacher incorporated spirituals into the lesson plan and led discussions encompassing  their meaning and purpose for the African-American community. Eugene Morgan was invited to speak and sing about spirituals. He was also asked to discuss how field hollers and spirituals played a role in the development of American popular music. Thank you, Eugene!
Eugene also travelled to Dilworth Elementary, a performing arts school, in February to talk about the blues and its rich history during a Black History Month presentation. The students were exuberant with what Eugene shared with them. Many jumped on stage afterwards to "jam" with the ever patient, ever smiling Mr. Eugene.
Note: A book entitled "Ruby Sings the Blues" was placed in the student's library in memory of late BSWPA president, Jim Weber, who first brought the Blues to Dilworth Elementary. It was their way to  express their appreciation for the music lessons and the programs that the BSWPA has brought to them. There was a sea of hands that went up from the many students who have benefited from the donated instruments that have resulted from the PITCH program. (Putting Instruments in the Children's Hands) The BSWPA has given many guitars, amps, a drum kit, a sax, harmonicas and an upright piano to their school. They thanked Jim for making that and their young dreams possible. Long live the blues!

 Putting Instruments in the Children's Hands

The Blues went to School once more. Thanks to Deb Moore and her uncle we gave a young student at Dilworth a guitar to play. Way to go! Eugene talked at length about the guitar. It was from the late 60's, early 70's. It was  similar to a Gibson but made affordable for the "everyday" players. Eugene said he had one just like it. He still plays it because it has a "real sweet sound." Thanks for helping us to help the kids.

Preserving the blues....one story at a time

A Blues collaboration by Maureen Elizabeth and Jonnye Weber 
(Representatives of American Blues News (www.ameriblues.com)

The blues...an American made product... was years in the making. It took decades to cultivate the many sounds that we know today. The blues players and singers of that era were a hearty breed who endured much to play their music and have it accepted as a genuine craft. They lived, breathed, and nurtured the music... drawing on their life experiences to enrich and enhance the stories that they put into music form. Their numbers have dwindled at a fast clip over the last few years. Their music and their real life stories from the past are heartfelt and colorful.

It is alarming that the last of an era, Honey Boy Edwards, has also left us. It is also frightening to think that a generation of players has been lost to the ravages of time. Will their memory and their music endure the test of time? Will their stories and the music of those who have lived and breathed life into the blues be preserved?  Will their rich legacy be cherished and passed to the next generation...or risk being forgotten. Many of those stories are quickly drifting away and are being lost in the layers of time. When someone shares the story of a player from "back in the day," it is "our privilege; our duty" as blues fans to rescue those bits of cultural, historical and musical memories. It is a "right" that we should share, relish and bestow that wealth of knowledge onto others for its continuance in the years to come. If children are the ones to hear those anecdotes...all the better.

The Blues in the Schools Program is a fast growing project throughout the world. It is an undertaking that takes the music to the children, increasing its chance of survival.  Three years ago, I was  honored to meet with Ken Lockette, (principal of Avonsworth Schools in the Pittsburgh area), while listening to the blues presentations in the Children's Music tent at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival. We later worked together on several projects (Blues in the Schools) where Eugene Morgan was asked to take the blues to the Avonsworth School. Eugene Morgan, a blues man from Georgia who has made his home in Pittsburgh, was also an integral part of a cultural presentation for the student body and their families. Ken, a true blues fan, had once lived in Chicago. We began talking about the Chicago Blues scene. I shared my story of my  meeting with Honey Boy Edwards and his long time music partner and manager, Michael Frank, on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues cruise. Pittsburgh native  Michael was quick to share many of the chapters of his and Honey Boy's life together as blues men. Hearing that, an excited Ken Lockette told how  he had crossed paths with Honey Boy Edwards and Michael Frank.  Ken then shared his story of how he introduced a class of young people to the blues via...Honey Boy Edwards.

The following is Ken Lockette's (BSWPA blues member) story...I was at the end of my first year as a teacher. I worked in a middle school in Springfield, Illinois, teaching 7th grade language arts. It was the Spring of 1993, and I was planning a unit on American folklore. Previous to moving to Springfield to teach, I lived and went to graduate school in Chicago. I spent whatever change I had going to see and listen to music, mainly at the north side blues clubs, and I would comb the used record stores for folk and blues CDs. I had run across a documentary on Robert Johnson and the "crossroads' myth," which prominently featured Honey Boy. I also had recently bought a Honey Boy Edwards CD produced by Michael Frank at Earwig Records. When I noticed the address, I realized that the Earwig location was on Pratt Avenue, the same street where I used to live in Chicago. On a whim, I looked up Michael Frank's phone number and gave him a call. I was astonished that I got a hold of him. I told him that I was a young teacher and what I was doing. Springfield was a couple hours away, but I inquired if Honey Boy Edwards could be a guest in my classroom. Michael Frank called me back a day or so later, and said that Honey Boy would come down for $250 and a bus ticket. I had not involved anyone else in the planning. I was going to foot the money but knew that I would need to tell my principal. When I told him what I was going to do, my principal did not chide me, but told me that the school would pay for the visit, and that they would invite the whole school to hear Honey Boy play!

When the day arrived, Michael Frank called me and said that Honey Boy would not be taking the bus but that he would drive him himself. I took Honey Boy up to my classroom for a Q & A session. The students had seen Honey Boy on the documentary, so he had instant credibility. He cut a venerable presence with an old dark sport coat and a baseball cap with a blue "Pearl Jam" emblem emblazoned on the front. After Honey Boy spoke about Robert Johnson, a student asked him, motioning to Honey Boy's hat, "Hey, Honey Boy, I see you have a Pearl Jam hat; do you like Pearl Jam." Honey Boy paused for a second, realizing the student was commenting on his hat, and replied, "I saw this hat when I was in Portland, and saw that it had 'jam' on it, and I like to jam, so I bought it." He did not have any clue who Pearl Jam was, and it was his genuine nature that further endeared him to the kids. He went on and played a 40-minute set in the school gym for the whole student body, plugging in and ripping through several blues classics. I had the pleasure to take him and Michael Frank out to dinner, and Honey Boy was still full of stories and was going on about "hobo-ing" from train to train with Kansas City Red. I wished that I had a tape recorder and am sorry that I only have a spotted memory of that conversation nearly 20 years ago. I am now a school administrator and have a signed photo of Honey Boy on the window sill in my office.  

American Blues News (Maureen Elizabeth) spoke with Michael Frank, CEO of Earwig Music Company, Inc. and originally from Pittsburgh) about the stories Honeyboy left behind and the things that he will miss the most...There’s always room on the neck, there’s room on the neck to learn more.” That’s what Honeyboy would say. Morgan Freeman has dubbed t Honeyboy Edward's  offerings as “quintessential American music.”

Maureen: How did you come to know Honeyboy?
Michael Frank: We had a unique relationship. I met Honeyboy as a result of being a record collector in High School and college...buying several thousand LP’s and reading liner notes and Blues magazines. I was interested in the black music. The culture of black music, soul, jazz and especially the blues- on an emotional level -it somehow spoke to me. I always was interested in language, and the lyricism of the Blues got my attention too. As I read more and more, I realized what a commitment it took from a Blues musician or a Jazz musician to stay working at that, their entire life, with the choices they had to make. I wanted to meet these folks and just hang around and hear their music in the local communities they were making it in. I got to Chicago in the first week of June in 1972 and met Honeyboy in November of 1972. I had some compilation albums that he had a few tracks on – he had no full length albums at the time. He was playing at a club with another guy named Jim Brewer, a.k.a. “Blind” Jim Brewer, from Brookhaven, Mississippi- so I just started talking to them. They were down to earth and very approachable. I just started going to visit them at their houses, taking them to the few jobs they had, getting them a few jobs and then I started playing harmonica with Honeyboy at his house -and that’s how it started.

M: At the time you met him, you obviously knew who he was- but did you feel that the general population, at the time, were aware?
F: No. Honeyboy was a minor figure in the history of the Blues at that time, in terms
of being known, because he had never had a full album out and only a few of his tracks were available. He had made a few recordings for different labels in the 50’s and early ’64 but none of those had been released until 1970. So nobody knew who he was, much, except a few Blues fans. The older guys in the black community knew who he was. He was playing in all the taverns in the 50’s and 60’s. He played with Carey Bell, Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, Floyd Jones – those are all the people I had met.

M: So you not only watched the evolution of his popularity but you also helped him...
F: I decided I wanted to hear him more often and the only way that was likely going to happen was if I got him to work! So that’s what I did. He got a few things on his own and he got calls to play at things like the University of Chicago Folk Festival and he went to Austria. In ’72 to ’76 I did some local booking for him. After that, I was much more involved in managing his career- he went to Canada and Europe in 1979-I booked both those tours. When I wasn’t working a full time job I would go with him, but he was young enough at the time to go on his own.

M: What is it that you miss most about him?
F: One thing I just noticed. The night before last, there was a show on prohibition on Public Television, and he and I had talked, in his book and in various stories, about bootleggers and illegal whisky and such – there was so much I wanted to talk about with him after watching that show and I realized that I couldn’t. You know, I can’t go to his neighborhood and stop by anymore. We had a good time playing shows. In the last 15 years he wanted a rhythm guitar player with him too, so we had a half a dozen rhythm guitar players scattered around the U.S. and Europe that we booked and those times were a lot of fun- playing and hearing stories and making stories of our time together.

M: Was writing the book his idea or did you encourage him?
F: It was both of our ideas. Around 1988, I don’t know where we were, he was probably telling me some stories, and we both said we should document these stories, get them down and do a book! He, at that point, liked that idea and we made a commitment together to work on the book by recording his stories. At that time we did it with a little cassette recorder and sometimes a lapel mic, sometimes not. Once we made that commitment, then he allowed me to record for years. I booked Honeyboy, Kansas City Red, Floyd Jones and Sunnyland Slim on the King Biscuit Blues Festival –I believe it was in 1988- that was the first time they played in Helena probably since the 40’s. They allowed me and Paul Schen, a filmmaker, to drive Honeyboy and Kansas City Red and Floyd Jones down there. Sunnyland decided to drive on his own. We recorded them with a beta-cam camera and a boom mic at the festival and while telling stories all the way down. Honeyboy and Red agreed to stay down there another week with us and so we went around to places that later ended up in the Honeyboy documentary and the book. That was the first time that we really started recording Honeyboy’s stories. I have 17 hours of beta-cam taped of that week in Mississippi with Honeyboy and Kansas City Red. After that I would go to his house and record on my little cassette recorder and when we’d go on tours, he would allow me to stick the mic on in the car. I'd turn it on as I’d be driving and he would tell me stories.

M: The title, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothin’- how did that come about?
F: That was one of Honeyboy’s favorite sayings. He said it a lot- not just to me."The world don’t owe me nothin’" was how he felt about how his life had played out, the experiences he had, and done, in his life and how he felt satisfied with all of that. He felt that he did everything and had everything that he really, essentially, wanted.

M: No regrets... F: Yeah.
M: That’s a good way to live one’s life.
F: That’s how he saw his life at the time we were doing the book and that’s how he saw his life at the end of his life- which is pretty powerful.
M: Yes it is – that says volumes about his philosophy on life and his perspective.

Musicians' Corner ... Did You Know?

Ruby Red & the Dirty Devils is a new six piece electric blues band based in Washington, PA.  The band consists of lead singer Kim Lucchini, guitarists Dave Roth and Mark Heselbarth, Paul Kuzupas on bass, Jeff Kessel on keyboards and Murray Perry on drums.  The band performs most of its material as a full band, occasionally joined by guest back-up singers.  They also perform as a Quartet featuring slow blues and jazz.

Ruby Red & the Dirty Devils perform songs in a variety of blues styles as well as R & B and original material.  Their songs range from some of the earliest blues recordings of the original blues women to re-worked versions of contemporary blues and R & B standards.  The band takes pride in highlighting obscure little gems sung by such early blues Diva’s as Bessie Smith, Sippie Wallace and Memphis Minnie, as well as songs written by local and nationally known blues mentors of Miss Ruby.

Q:  How did you first get interested in the blues?
A:  Kim:  I first fell for the blues in the early 90’s while living in Chicago.  That’s where I discovered KoKo
     Taylor, Buddy Guy, Magic Slim & Son Seals.  Blows my mind to think that most of the time they were so
     close I could reach out & touch them…        

Q:  How did the band come together?
A:  Kim:   It’s been like a magic carpet ride…  A little over a year ago, I came back from a week of Blues Boot
     Camp at Augusta, Davis & Elkins College, where I met my Blues Diva, Gaye Adegbalola,
     and found my voice.  I knew Jeff was great on keys so we decided to start as a Duo.  One by one, the rest
     of the band just sort of happened by word of mouth until we had a 6 pc. band.  I never dreamed such
     accomplished musicians, singers & writers would want to play with me!  Somebody pinch me!    

Q:  What's been the biggest challenge in getting a new band started?
A:  Kim:  Balancing time.  As a new singer, it’s hard to balance my time between co-management of the
      band & building a repertoire from zero.  Then of course there’s the roller coaster of life…    
      Jeff:  Most of my playing experience was in high school & college.  Trying to coordinate practice &
      performance schedules is a lot more difficult when you’re older playing with people that have full time

Q:  What makes your band different from other blues bands?
A:  Kim:  We have 4 singers and the ability to do some amazing harmonies. 
      Jeff:  We emphasize the history of the blues more than most bands.  We see part of our mission as
      educating our audiences about the blues while also entertaining them, particularly with respect to
      women pioneers like Bessie Smith, Memphis Minnie and Sippie Wallace, to name a few.    
      Paul:  The diversity of instruments we can play.  It’s always good to know we can switch it up.

Q:  At what age was your first live paid performance?
A:  Kim:  48 (Alberta Hunter set the bar when she reinvented her singing career in her eighties…)  
     Jeff:  15
      Dave:  18
      Mark:  18
      Paul: 15 (I lied and said I was 16 to get the gig)
      Murray: 15

Q:  What other instruments do you play?
A:  Dave:  Pedal steel guitar; claw hammer & bluegrass banjo; drums 
      Paul: Anything with strings; percussion; anything you can bang on…

 Q:  Who are your biggest musical influences?
A:  Kim:  Sippie Wallace; Ella; Gaye Adegbalola; Patsy Cline; Bonnie Raitt; Annie Lennox; Candy
      Jeff:  The Rolling Stones; Hank Williams Sr.; The Velvet Underground
      Dave:  Tony Janflone Sr.; WILCO; Dylan; The Dead
      Mark:  Wes Montgomery; Django Reinhart
      Paul:  Ray Davies of the Kinks (his constant state of melancholy contrasted against his wicked little grin).
      Murray:  Ginger Baker; Billy Cobham; Gene Kruppa

 Q:  What’s the best advice you’d pass along to new musicians?
A:  Kim:  As Gaye always says, “sing your heart” & keep learning your craft (Augusta is a great start…)
    Jeff:  Just like there’s always someone with more money than you, there’s always someone who plays better  than you.  Don’t be intimidated – just go out & play.
      Dave:  Get a good teacher.
      Mark:  Practice, practice, practice!  And when you’re done, practice more!
      Paul:  Quit so there’s more gigs for us!
      Murray:  There’s no “I” in band.

Q:  What's your most memorable experience playing in a band?
A:  Kim:  Playing our first big gig at Moon Dogs to a packed house.  That was wickedly cool! 
      Jeff:  I sat in with a blues band in Chicago.  The drummer played with Muddy Waters & the bass player
      with James Cotton.
      Dave:  Closing my eyes & tapping into the music of the spheres… & then floating away.
      Paul:  Playing in a parade in the back of a flat bed truck that was moving when a guy fell off the roof,
      broke his leg and destroyed my amp.  Double ouch! 

Q:  Murray, you’ve been around the world 3 times drumming for a wide variety of well known artists, who
      impressed you the most and why?
A:  Murray: Tony Bennett.  A class act – both professionally and personally.

Q:  What’s next for Ruby Red & the Dirty Devils?
A:  Kim:  Short term:  Continue to improve our repertoire & overall performance.
                Long term: Compete in the 2013 BSWPA Blues Challenge.   (Woo!  Hoo!)
     Jeff:  Get more gigs in Pittsburgh now that we have a good demo CD & write more originals with Paul.




DVD REVIEW: Cadillac Records

We’ve all heard the old cliché that blues music created rock ‘n’ roll and became the foundation of modern American music.  But how much do you really know about the personal lives of the early legends who transformed the blues into what we know today? Cadillac Records (2008) is a groundbreaking film that takes you on a dramatic behind-the-scenes perspective of blues musicians in 1950s Chicago, who broke down the racial barriers of segregation and helped bring blues music to the masses.

The feel of the movie is gritty, authentic, and sensual – not a bland documentary, but a thrilling drama that breathes life into the culture and times of the early blues musicians who innovated the music industry.  Cadillac Records is based on a true story and chronicles the early life and career of Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, and Willie Dixon during the heyday of Chicago blues. It follows the life of Leonard Chess, a white producer from the Chicago ghetto who was instrumental in helping “race music” cross over to broader audiences with Chess Records.  The film also vividly depicts the sudden rise and popularity of Chuck Berry and Etta James and their crossover into segregated white radio through blues-based Rock ‘n’ Roll and R&B.

The characters are vibrant and genuine, played by a talented cast of Adrien Brody, Cedric the Entertainer, Mos Def, Jeffrey Wright, Columbus Short, and Beyonce Knowles.  Cadillac Records is an entertaining and provocative glimpse into the history, glamour, hedonism, and sometimes dangerous world of the early blues legends.

~ Stanley J. Mikolajek

CD REVIEW: Conversations in Blue

David Maxwell and Otis Spann 

If you are a true fan of straight, raw, solo blues piano, or just are attracted to the steady rhythmic nuances of this style of piano playing, this album is a treat.  This is the equivalent of acoustic blues from guitar players only you have straight acoustic pianos being used. Otis Spann was considered to be one of the top blues pianists in Chicago in the 50’s and early 60’s playing with the Muddy Waters band from 1952 to 1968 along with many other blues artists and passed away in 1970.  David Maxwell is a current artist that has taken the art of this style of playing to another level playing with the likes of Buddy Guy, Albert King, Big Mama Thorton, and The Fabulous Thunderbirds just to name few.  Technology has enabled both of these great players to play actual duet tracks together on this album along with solo tracks for each. What a treat to experience the feelings and soul of these great artists together, transcending time resurrecting and sharing the same groove.  Truly a great example of the power of music.

 ~ John Decola

CD REVIEW - Live at the Grey Eagle - Mac Arnold's Blues Revival (with his plate full o' blues))

 - Vizztone

After listening to a few CDs the last couple months and not knowing which to recommend to you folks, I found this long-titled CD (see above). Knowing Mac  Arnold's  style and seeing the list of players on the CD, I gave it a listen. Then many more listens. This is blues at its best.  It's a mix of original and cover tunes with a Chicago blues flavor.  

Mac has an interesting history. His first band had James Brown as the pianist. Yes "Sex Machine" James Brown. Later and most importantly,  he was bass player for Muddy Waters. He also played bass for Buddy Guy and Tyrone Davis. This CD (all live by the way) has half the tracks by his band "Plate Full o' Blues". The last half is with "The Muddy Waters Reunion Band" featuring Mac Arnold, Bob Margolin, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds). All former  band mates  of Muddy except Kim who was a former student and friend. The first half are mainly his originals and some good ones. The only cover they do is " Drivin' Wheel", a great old tune I love. These guys do a hot kickin' version, which features banter between band members. All the other songs the band does are  good tunes. Some great blues titles, too. "Gitty Up", "Backbone and Gristle" and " Ghetto Blue".
The Muddy reunion band played all covers. Some by Muddy of course. There are some authentic tunes by authentic artists. This CD is great for newbies and seasoned blues fans alike. "Sloppy Drunk" ( Sonny Boy Williamson), " Got My Mojo Workin' and " Screamin' and Cryin'", ( both Muddy Waters tunes) and "Big Boss Man" ( originally done by Jimmy Reed) along with a hot version of "Love Attack" featuring Kim Wilson are all on the second half. What makes it interesting is the way they combined old blues with modern times.  On the Muddy tune "Screamin' and Cryin" , Bob Margolin forgot the words, so improvised "I didn't have seven wives like Mac, but I have 5,000 Facebook friends".  
Bob Margolin also write the liner notes. He also referenced linking up old-time blues with current times stating "We were entertainers on a bandstand in 2010, not a museum exhibit".

  ~  Don Vecchio
Note: I didn't want to say anything negative in the article and there is nothing but good things in this CD. However, I do have a comment to make. Once again, "Got My Mojo Working" has found its way on another CD. While I think the song is a lot of fun and has a hot beat, it has become the "Stairway to Heaven " of blues tunes. I think I've heard it just twelve times too many. There, I said it. Sorry to you "Mojo" fans, but it had to be said.   ~ Thank You , Don Vecchio    
*Mac Arnold has been nominated for the 2012 Best Male Traditional Blues Artist at the Blues Music Awards.

An Interview with Pittsburgh Blues Guitarist, Jimmy Adler - Listening to blues is a spiritual experience

"Blues music expresses the emotions of the human condition and makes one feel good."
Jimmy Adler: Absolutely Blues!
Jimmy Adler is a live-wire entertainer who packs passion and energy into every performance! His music is a blend of Chicago Blues and West Coast Jazzy Jump. His passionate, powerful vocals compliment his spirited playing.

M:When was your first desire to become involved in the blues, who were your first idols & what does Blues offered?
J:Hearing B.B. King’s live recording of “How Blue Can You Get?” was explosive. I played that record over and over again.

M:What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
J: Listening to blues is a spiritual experience. Blues music expresses the emotions of the human condition and makes one feel good. When I play blues I am always reaching for that special feel good place.

M:How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
J: I try to play well enough for the audience to be able to get some of those good feelings through the music. I am a bit of an animated player but it’s only because I am physically reaching for that special place through the playing of my guitar.

M: What compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?
J: I am first and foremost a guitar player so I am most appreciative when someone comments on how well they like my singing voice.

M: Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
J: ...the here and now.

M: What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN?
J:The more one listens to the art form the more one is able to attempt to emulate the sound and capture the essence or spirit of the muse.

M: Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?
J: B.B. King is truly the king of the blues. When you consider all he has done for the blues, it is just immeasurable and will have ripple effects for all of eternity.

M: Where did you pick up your guitar style & what were the first songs you learned? What were your favorite guitars?
J:Like many of my generation, I learned by Rolling Stones records. The Keith Richard’s guitar solo on “Sympathy for the Devil” on the “Ya Yas” record is the first solo I learned by putting the needle on the record over and over again. Yet some of my earliest memories were playing along to the records of Jimmy Reed and Elmore James. I enjoyed Jimmy Reed because it was slow enough for me to follow and Elmore because it was that open tuned slide guitar sound. Yet B.B. King was always the most explosive sound.

M:What characterizes the sound of Jimmy Adler?
J: I eventually got serious about the west coast sound that is derived from T-Bone Walker and I was blown away by the prowess of Little Charlie Baty who took that playing to a whole other level. The Jimmy Adler sound is a combination of all that I have absorbed over the years. Plus, I usually play without a pick and that gives a very distinctive tone to the guitar.

M: From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
J: I’m not so sure that I’ve learned any secrets. Having your guitar in a particular open tuning will make it easier to emulate certain slide styles. Studying with jazz great Jimmy Ponder was priceless.

M: What are some of the most memorable tales with Magic Dick? How do you describe him.
J: Magic Dick: a regular guy with a powerful and influential song. I met him at a festival in Wheeling and had the opportunity to play with him at a late night jam. Later that year, he was part of Tommy Castro’s Blues Review and I was selected by our local blues society  (BSWPA) to play a 30 minute set with the band where he remembered me from hanging out at Wheeling.

M: What's been their experience with Willie Big Eyes Smith?
J: I was performing at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival on the same stage and went back stage to hang with Hubert Sumlin. Later that evening, we invited the band to come to Moondog’s for a late night jam. I had the opportunity to play several songs with both Hubert and Willie who was blowing harp and singing. I met him other times when he came to town and he just always seemed like a genuinely nice, down to earth person.

M: Are there any memories from Tommy Castro & Ronnie Baker Brooks, which you’d like to share with us?
J: When I had the opportunity to play the 30 minute set with the band, Ronnie was cool enough to have a little call and response segment between his guitar and mine. It was a real highlight. He could have slayed me with his chops instead he allowed me to shine as we went toe to toe on our guitars. He was also a very cool down to earth guy to talk to. Castro has often handed me his guitar during the last song of his shows at Moondog’s. I was honored to be able to open the show for him back in late 2011.

M:How did you first meet Hubert Sumlin, what kind of a guy was Hubert Sumlin?
J: I met Hubert at a festival and then I played a festival before his band and got to hang with him backstage. We played at a club that night and I met him several times there after. I drove him to the airport one morning after he played Moondog’s with the Nighthawks. I believe that he was genuinely nice to everyone he met. He was kind, enthusiastic, funny, and just a great person to talk to.

M: What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
J: Memorable gigs were the times when I had the opportunity to play alongside people like Hubert, Willie Big Eyes, Eric Lindell, Tommy Castro, and many other great artists.
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.

M: Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES.
J: The blues is the truth. It is pure and honest. I wish that it will last forevermore.

M: Is there any similarity between the blues today and the old days?
J: The blues has always had many flavors. I especially like guitars that are plugged straight into a Tube Amplifier without any effects. One should be able to play the blues on an acoustic guitar and still capture the essence and purity of the spirit.

M: What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
J: Practice every day and keep listening to the sounds that inspire you. Listening is as important as playing. It is also important to see a live show and see as many performers as you can.

M: How you would spend a day with the Four Kings: B.B., Freddy, Albert & Earl King?
J: I would thank B.B. for paving the way and teaching everyone how to act in a dignified manner both on and off the stage; I would love to pick Freddie’s brain about all of those great original instrumental compositions where he created timeless melodies and beautiful tension; I’d like to watch Albert bend the string down to just the right tone; I’d like to listen to Earl King’s stories about New Orleans and the “Big Chief.”

~Michalis Limnios BLUES blog @ GR

Three Good Blues Singers

We were leaving Pier 39 on San Francisco’s Fisherman’s Wharf when we heard the faint sounds of a guitar and harp playing Little Walter. We had visited the wharf to see the sea lions, who resemble either my family after Thanksgiving dinner or the bar at Moondogs around 1 AM after a show. The music was a surprise, since we found that blues music was not big in SF. There were few bars or clubs booking even the national acts, and, like Pittsburgh, the local acts apparently have a difficult time getting stage time. In fact we were heading for Lou’s Restaurant and Blues Club.com to see what was on that evening when we encountered Dave Earl, a well known SF bluesman and very talented multi-instrumentalist playing on the sidewalk. Dave was using a rack mounted harp, a National guitar and some electronic backing tracks to entertain, collect tips, and sell his CDs and generally showoff his songwriting and playing skills.

I talked with Mr. Earl for a while and bought 2 CDs: Blues Instrumentals and Sidewalk Boogie. His CDs are available from www.davearl.com. Although I did buy 2 CDs and am recommending him to the BSWPA members, our usual disclaimer applies: No money or gifts changed hands in connection with this review.

Blues Instrumentals: 17 songs, with an array of sidemen: Pinetop Perkins, Mark Hummel, Steve Freund among others on lead guitar, 3 sax players and Francis Clay on drums. Earl plays guitar, harp and bass guitar. The songs are high quality blues instrumentals that will remind you of a range of sounds you’ve heard: any of the Kings playing guitar, Walter Horton, Little Walter Jacobs on harp with a solid bass section keeping the beat. I strongly recommend that BSWPA members visit Earl’s website and listen to the samples from his 8 CDs, go to the YouTube videos to see him playing on the wharf (you have to see the National O guitar—beautiful!) and do some business with this throwback musician who makes his entire living this way.

Sidewalk Boogie was produced at backtrack Record studios in California. Dave earl’s co-players include some of the musicians mentioned above. Two thirds of the songs are Earl composed; covers of Jimmy Reed (Big Boss Man) and Louis Jordan (Let the Good Times Roll) with Earl on harp and guitar. Very enjoyable mix of songs, with a truly distinctive version of Amazing Grace, in fact, the only version of this clichéd song I’d even consider for my own funeral.

  Funerals is a rough transition to the second blues player I want to call to your attention. Jo Ann Kelly died aged 46 in October 1990 of malignant brain cancer. I recommend if you have never heard of her or heard her play that you do a Google search on “Jo Ann Kelly.”You will given sites such as http://www.wirz.de/music/kellyfrm.htm where you can read about her career. Amazon has some of her CDs available. It was said of Kelly that it was amazing that there would be any British women noted as great blues artists (name another). She was recommended by Frank Scott in his Roots and Rhythm newsletter and turned out to be the revitalized spirit of Memphis Minnie, one of my favorite classic blues guitarists. Kelly sounds like Minnie or Dinah Washington, with a deepness and range that makes her version of Minnie’s Black Rat Swing really fun. Her guitar playing is exceptional, as is Minnie's.

In her “Key to the Highway” CD Kelly is accompanied by a wonderful piano player named Bob Hall, who played for Savoy Brown for a long time. Hall has CDs of his own. "Don’t Play Boogie and At the Window" are in my collection. He is the perfect accompanist for Kelly, with Otis Spann-like fills and even some retro sounds that Walter Roland might have used. There are 23 songs in “Key’—very listenable.

Finally, I want to call your attention to a musicologist who sings old style country blues. Dr. David Evans is an ethnomusicologist at the University of Memphis. The University pays him money to explore American roots music, write books and articles, do presentations and teach it to others. In addition to this grueling work Dr. Evans plays guitar and sings and makes CDs. A flattering resume is available on The Country Blues website, which lists and provides biographies for dozens of country blues artists. My blues library includes his Big Road Blues and the NPR Guide to the Blues. Evan’s CDs are available from Amazon. His songs range from traditional hymns, hokum songs, country blues and even modern jug band sounds. One of my favorite CDs is Evans and friends playing as The Last Chance Jug Band with their “Shake That Thing” CD. In the song “Last Chance Blues” Evans sings: “Baby-This is your last chance, you used to wear dresses, now you want to wear my pants!” The politically correct 21st century doesn’t sing those lines anymore, except in rap, and especially accompanied by a jug. Although Evans does not have a classic blues voice, he carries the songs well and provides a living bridge to a time and music not played much anymore.

~ V. Robert Agostino

Blues to Fight Blindness

Blues to Fight Blindness
June 10, 2012 - 2 pm
Hop House

Nancy Mckeen Bluz Machine with special guest Chris Nacy
Jimmy Adler Band
Ruby Red and the Red Devils
Bubs McKeg and Chris Nacy

… and special guest:
Shari Richards
....more to be announced

21 and older only. Blues members with active membership card will get 10% off food.