Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chicago Bluesman Keith Scott Performing Around the Pacific NW in February

Remarkably versatile, lower Michigan-based blues/rock guitarist Keith Scott has been working his way methodically up through the blues' ranks since his parents bought him his first guitar at age 14 and his young ears heard Muddy Waters in 1978. Scott is heavily influenced by Chicago blues legends Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed and other legendary Chicago bluesmen. Coming to the Chicago area in 1982, Scott soon found the opportunity to play with many of the post-war blues greats of the Chicago pantheon.

Scott has an ambitious touring schedule in 2012 and will be in the Pacific NW the first two weeks of February. If he's coming to your area, I highly recommend catching his act. You can see Scott at the following locations this month:

Here is a recent review of
Keith Scott's latest CD release titled Universal Blues:

Keith Scott has been playing the bluesman's trade since landing in Chicago from Florida in the early 1980s, and since then, he's released five CDs of original blues, rock and acoustic music. Along the way, he's played the Chicago Blues Festival, several Midwestern universities, breweries, and noted blues rooms in Illinois, Wisconsin and Michigan. In 2011, he released two CDs that bookend acoustic and electric blues. I particularly enjoyed his unplugged Tennessee Blues, but the follow-up to this toned-down acoustic blues CD, Universal Blues, shows me that Keith can bend blue notes quite effectively with an electric band, too.

Keith's music has landed on MTV's "Real World," "Road Rules," and "Making the Video," and was featured in a short film, "Fault," which screened at the prestigious MIPCOM international entertainment conference in 2002. He's toured extensively with "West Side Guitar Hero" Jimmy Dawkins, and has worked with the late Johnny Littlejohn, Hubert Sumlin, Hip Linkchain, and Eddie Taylor.

Universal Blues offers up some strong songwriting backed up by some pretty tasty electric blues, particularly on "Second Hand Man," "No Mercy," and "Mean Mistreater." While the majority of Universal Blues is forceful and electric, the acoustic blues of "Leaving Blues" and "Georgia Blues," and the slide work on "Living in My Own World" attest to Keith's diverse approach to the blues.

If you're fortunate enough to live near Chicagoland, check out Keith Scott live. He's often working at clubs like Reggie's on South State Street, the House of Blues downtown, or playing clubs all the way from Saugatuck, Michigan down to Warsaw, Indiana, and up to Baraboo, Wisconsin, and all points in-between. I enjoyed Tennessee Blues, but his second 2011 release, Universal Blues, is even better as it offers up a mixture of original electric and acoustic blues that more clearly showcases the breadth of this bluesman's talent. - Review By Eric Steiner


Sunday, January 29, 2012

2012 IBC Delegation From Washington State Headed To Memphis

Once again, Washington State will be well represented at the 28th annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. Next week, between Jan. 31st through Feb. 4th, several well deserved and talented acts will be going to Memphis to perform in the world's largest gathering of Blues musicians. Blues musicians from around the world competing for cash, prizes, and industry recognition.

The IBC is an international search by The Blues Foundation and its Affiliated Organizations for the Blues Band and Solo/Duo Blues acts ready to take their act to the international stage. In 2011, 110 bands and 83 solo/duo acts entered, filling the clubs up and down Beale Street for the quarter-finals on Wednesday and Thursday, the semi-finals on Friday and the finals at the Orpheum Theater on Saturday. They will have at least that many in 2012.

The Washington Blues Society (WBS) will be sending The WIRED! Band and Randy Norris & Jeff Nicely, along with the South Sound Blues Association who will be sending Red Hot Blues Sisters and Jumpin’ Josh and Felicia Agrelius.

I thought you might like to read a little about these blues artists, so this post is dedicated to the 2012 Washington delegation heading to Memphis. Good luck!!!

The WIRED! Band -

Seattle trio "The WIRED! Band" return to the IBC this year having just won the Washington Blues Society Best Blues Act Award, with front man Kevin Sutton taking home Best Songwriter and Best Performer awards. Perennial Pacific Northwest rhythm kings Rick (the stick) Jacobson is on drums, with his uncle and Seattle legend Kieth Bakke on bass.

Kevin Sutton has roamed the back roads of America for years. From the smoky bars of Soulard in St. Louis, through Texas and across the west coast, he wound up in the rain-soaked Pacific Northwest. It was there he met up with fellow blues man and drummer Rick Jacobson. After several years of cover bands, Kevin and Rick hooked up with veteran bassist Keith Bakke and formed the band called Wired! The desire was to bring rockabilly energy to the already robust Seattle blues scene. What they created was greater than the sum of its parts. Swinging, up-tempo blues and attitude; they’re Wired!

Randy Norris & Jeff Nicely -

Randy Norris & Jeff Nicely, an eclectic blues duo, at times acoustic, always electric. Randy has spent much of his life guitar slingin' on the road, blending soul, rock, New Orleans rhythm and delta blues with dynamic vocals, living by the credo: "If there's no feeling, you're just wasting your breath". Randy also spent 10 years in LA doing sessions and sideman work. Taking his vast repertoire north, he joined Jeff in fronting a popular Seattle area blues band at the turn of the century. Jeff is well traveled with his harmonicas, playing everything from loose pickin’ parties to tight funk ‘n soul shows, forever capturing the true rhythm and soul of the blues.

The Red Hot Blues Sisters - 

The West Coast's Red Hot Blues Sisters have successfully toured US, Europe, and Canada for 8 years. Founded by Teri Anne Wilson–guitar and Suze Sims-vocal, they have taken the Blues industry by surprise with the depth of their performance, songwriting & superb musicianship. This 7-piece band represents the Northwest Blues cream of the crop, resulting in numerous awards! 2011/’08 Best Band - SS Blues Association, 2011/'09 Best Vocalist, '09 Best Band WA Blues Society. Their one two punch of burning vocal genius & blazing sweet blues guitar captivates audiences who love the innovative original songwriting & fresh unique soulful style of blues they bring to live performances and recordings.

Jumpin’ Josh and Felicia - 

Jumpin’ Josh and Felicia Agrelius This Dynamic Duo will be representing the South Sound Blues Association at the 2012 IBC. Felicia (15) has been playing drums since the age of 8. Despite being prominent in the school’s band, and an unwarranted infatuation with Pink Floyd, Felicia always knew that her real love in drumming was of Blues and Jazz. She and Josh have been playing music together for several years know. Jumpin’ Josh Violette (14) has been playing guitar since the age of 8. Josh is a true blues entertainer at heart and has been performing all around the Northwest at festivals and shows from the age of 9. This dynamic Duo has the talent, and maturity of playing, that rivals that of any seasoned entertainers!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Recent Sugar Blue Performance in Seattle

By Robert Horn 
Sugar Blue at Jazz Alley Photo By Robert Horn
Like millions of people, I first heard Sugar Blue back in the 1970's when I turned on a radio and heard the Rolling Stones perform a song called "Miss You." I thought I was hearing an orchestra on the opening riff. What I thought was a hundred trumpets and violins in astounding harmony was actually the harmonica playing of an 18 year old at that time. Sugar Blue brought down the house when he performed that song at Jazz Alley the night of January 24th, but other songs blew people away even more. He did many songs and showed why he is a Grammy Award winner. You can find a few of those songs on YouTube and it is worth spending some time going there to watch as well as hear what he does.

Photo By Robert Horn
His harmonica playing is amazing as well as the singing. The whole band is strong.  My cohort Chrisda Hamilton, who is also a percussionist, pointed out to me it shows something great about him that he loves a strong band and rhythm section on stage with him. The whole band is extremely talented. On bass is Ilaria Lantieri, and it was announced that she has agreed to become Mrs. Blue. On drums was James Knowles, who Chrisda Hamilton says is capable of upstaging a front man. In addition to one of the world's best rhythm sections there was Rico McFarland on guitar, and Damiano Della Torre played the keys.

Chrisda Hamilton, Ilaria Lantieri, Sugar Blue, and Robert Horn
A fairly long interview took place after the show. Sugar answered all the questions that Chrisda and I came up with ahead of time. Two interviewers is an outside the box method that seemed to make sense and it worked. The full interview was taped and will be used to write an article for The Washington Blues Society Bluesletter. The article will be strengthened by Chrisda's strong contribution to it. The questions included everything from what inspired him to play music, why the harmonica, advice to novice harmonica players, what song can make him cry and why, who he'd like to do a duet with, the most joyous moment in his career, the most challenging moment in his career, what he'd do if he wasn't a musician, and questions about his next two CD's. I'm looking forward to writing about it more.

Sugar Blue will perform at the great festival at the Winthrop Rhythm and Blues Festival this summer in Washington, and if you were not already planning to be there, this is a good enough reason to plan on it.

So, don't forget to read the upcoming article about Sugar Blue in a future Washington Blues Society's Bluesletter!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Saying Goodbye To David Honeyboy Edwards - A Personal Journey

By Suzanne Swanson  
Photo By Suzanne Swanson
A hushed reverence and a welcome rush of cool air met us as we entered the McCullough Funeral Home, on E. 75th Street, in South Side Chicago. The temperatures were unseasonably hot. For days, it seemed, the city had been gripped by heat and humidity of the upper 90’s that first day of September 2011. A few family members were already seated at the front of the large, oblong room that comprised the area that would be our center point for celebration and grief for the next two days.

There was our beloved David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards lying in an open, deep wine/brown coffin, presiding over all of us. Six large floral sprays stood guard. On the coffin, a beautiful wide bouquet of six dozen deep red roses served as a token of love from his immediate family. A smaller garland of similar red roses sat near Honeyboy’s head with a gold banner proclaiming it was from his grandchildren. There, dressed in a beautiful dark purple suit, bright red tie and matching pocket puff, was the “Last of the Great Mississippi Delta Bluesmen” , Mr. David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards.

Photo By Suzanne Swanson
Honeyboy was ninety-six years young when he lay back on his bed for the last time in the early hours of Monday, August 29th, 2011. His birthday had been June 28th, putting him in his ninety-seventh year.

Drawing close, I saw a jaunty fedora angled over his head, color coordinating perfectly to his suit. As I gazed upon the frail form, my eyes filled with tears. Here was a friend who had touched my heart in a profound way!

I had flown seventeen hundred and eighty odd miles to honour this great musician because he had shared a small part of his life with me. He had spoken words of wisdom to me. He had taken an interest in me when his business manager and musical partner, Michael Frank, CEO of Earwig Music Co. Inc., had commissioned me to take photographs for a product release on the Earwig record label.

Mr. David Honeyboy Edwards & Suzanne Swanson, on the road, Nov. 2010
The  connections went back to 1980 actually when the Blues Professor, Eddie Lusk, the Hammond B-3 bandleader, and guitarist, Phil Guy, (younger brother of Buddy Guy), became life-long friends of mine. They are both gone now but I treasure the unconditional friendships that we shared. Because the blues music community across North America is a tight, interwoven group, particularity in Chicago, where these musicians lived, I was given the gift of becoming part of their ‘extended family’. My years as a musician and professional concert photographer placed me in the flow of being able to promote and assist these remarkable artists whenever we were in the same town or on tour.

However, life’s circumstances had prevented me from attending the funerals of The Professor and Phil. This time, I was able to honour and show my deep respect. It would become a three-fold tribute, an important closure to members of my ‘family of choice’.

As I stood silently weeping, my thoughts rushed back to the short tours I had been on with Honeyboy, Michael Frank, Les Copeland, Jerry Zybach, Curtis Salgado, The Tommy Castro Band, John Primer, Bob Stroger, Bob Corritore, Chris James, Patrick Rynn, Johnny Drummer, Grady Champion Band, and others.

What a joy it had been to listen to Honeyboy share his distinctive Mississippi Delta music, his recollections of life going back to age five (he told me), and his sage advice on living a fulfilled and satisfying life. In all my years in the music industry, I have never witnessed any other performer go to the extremes to be so gracious or accommodating to his audiences and fans. Others have learned from this example, two bands immediately come to mind being the members of Foghat and Ten Years After. No matter what the venue, Honeyboy would take the time after a gig to sit, pose for photographs, sign the CD products or DVD’s that would be sold, the posters, memorabilia brought forward, personal guitars, and chat in a private manner, touching his adoring fans throughout the world.

This senior statesman of the Delta Blues was generous to a fault of his time spent reaching the minds and hearts of countless millions of individuals over the course of his life. He championed educating children in the Chicago school system about the blues music that he dearly loved. I have listened to many musicians who played with him share stories of how he patiently encouraged them or would test their proficiency by changing up a tune or two to see if they were listening and attentive.

He gave us all so much.

There will never be a musician who will quite fill his shoes.

Photo By Suzanne Swanson
The visitation at the funeral home began at 2 PM, on the first day of September. A steady stream of devoted family and friends came to say their farewells, and show their respect for this great man. The pews were filled to capacity and overflowed into the foyer and out the front door.

At seven o’clock, Michael Frank, took the podium to welcome everyone. Before encouraging those that wished to share their memories of Honeyboy he gave an honouring recollection of his over thirty-five years association as a friend, business manager, music colleague, record label producer, and “Mutt and Jeff” relationship. Choking back tears at moments of melancholy memories in preparing breakfasts for Honeyboy when they were on the road… to how ‘Honeyboy’ got his name… to humorous chuckles of stories of how the former residents of Shaw, Mississippi, took care of each other in Chicago if trouble broke out in a bar room situation… to how Honeyboy would tease Michael’s extend belly by calling it a ‘Possum Pocket’; Michael expressed his love for his deceased friend. Memories of 252 N. Princess and 43rd. (Honeyboy’s early Chicago home) were remembered. Accounts of how folks came to listen to Honeyboy practice his guitar were peppered with tales of Mississippi connections that were always welcomed warmly when they were received into his home.

Honeyboy and Michael travelled the world together. He would accommodate Michael on giving interviews. He disliked being asked about Robert Johnson and would tell Michael, “Quit asking me!”, when a request was presented to him. To discourage Michael from asking, Honeyboy would put his foot down and say, “What is in it for me?”

Michael wistfully turned and addressed the body of Honeyboy, “No more interviews,” his voice sobbed. “I’ll do them now, Honeyboy. You don’t have to give another interview.”

Then family and friends took their solemn turns at the microphone so they could share their admiration and memories. Daughter, T-Baby, spoke about many visits with her father to Buddy Guy’s Legends, and the way he teased her about eating the chicken dinner. Fruitland Jackson, remembered times playing acoustic sets at Rosa’s, and how he learned so much over the years. Niece, Sharleen, tearfully recounted Honeyboy buying her a stove and two chairs. Each, in succession shared a poignant story, Victor Wallace, Jacqueline Edwards, Dauphine, along with Lynn from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. Lynn Orman Weiss, disclosed that Honeyboy loved beautiful women and was happy to be photographed with two daughters of country music legend, Loretta Lynn. Daughter Joanne came forward, Jimmy Jenkins – who voiced of being a ‘roady’ for the night that Honeyboy played the Lincoln Centre. Delores Scott, Cookie Taylor, as well as stories of the late Willie Dixon’s “Blues Heaven” organization were touched upon with deference. Doug MacLeod spoke of playing at the Palmer House, where Honey boy taught him that your personality comes out in your right hand when you play, and that you have to reach out to the people. Doug also recounted a tale about Honeyboy instructing Doug’s wife, Patty, on the finer points of loaded dice, to much chuckling and nodding heads. Remarks were shared from Johnny Drummer, Rick ‘Cookin’ Sherry saying that Honeyboy was truly an “Ambassador of the World”, and Jeff Dale repeating the advice he was always given, “Know the timing. You have to have a sense of time when you play”. Amanda Gresham, as well as Lynn Orman Weiss spoke softly and lovingly while sharing anecdotes. I was able to remind the assembly what a gift Honeyboy was to all of us who came in contact with him. “He inspired us to be better as human beings”. Steve Azzato, a photojournalist, as well as Michael Dyson, of the Blue Shoe Project, imparted their personal tributes in most touching ways.

We all sat spellbound in our sorrow as family members closed the program and Michael Frank once again turned to Honeyboy’s coffin addressing him with a catch in his throat, “You’re always looking for that note on the neck”.

Yes, we all are looking for that special “note”! That special individual who shines the second they walk into a room. David “Honeyboy” Edwards was that person. He was a gift to the world who taught us much about life, music, how to treat and respect your fellow man, but most of all he taught us how to be better at what we do, no matter what it is. Thank you, my friend, for your music, words, and writing which will continue to be with us. Thank you, for teaching us how to be true to our path. You will live long after in our hearts and minds and that is the most precious gift of all.

©Copyright Suzanne Swanson 2012

Suzanne is a fabulous music journalist and photographer who has a passion for the Blues. She continues to interview and photograph Blues Artists on tour from her home near Vancouver, British Columbia. Suzanne is an active member of The Blues Foundation, the White Rock Blues Society, the Washington Blues Society, and the Vancouver Musicians' Association Local 145. Ms. Swanson worked for MCA Records in its halcyon days of the '70s as one of its staff photographers, where she captured blues musicians in their element in North American, the Continent, and beyond. 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

RIP Johnny Otis - December 28, 1921 to January 17, 2012

By Bob Corritore
Ioannis Alexandres Veliotes, who is best known as Johnny Otis, was one of the true bedrock figures of blues, rhythm & blues & early rock & roll. He died at age 90 at his home in the Los Angeles suburb of Altadena after years of decreasing health. Johnny Otis did it all: singer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, producer, bandleader, talent scout, radio show host, television show host, label owner, nightclub owner, sculptor and painter, author, and he even had his own brand of apple juice! He had a vibrant personality, a sharp look, and the ability to get things done. He was an essential part of many of the greatest moments in rhythm & blues!

As as white man of Greek decent, Otis truly embraced black culture, and very decidedly and successfully led his own black music movement. The huge list of his musical contributions show super-human qualities, and his amazing story is well told from Lee Hildrebrand words from Johnny's own website: "Johnny Otis was born December 28, 1921 in Vallejo, California. He grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood in Berkeley, California, where his father owned and operated a neighborhood grocery store. He began his musical career in 1939 as a drummer with Count Otis Matthew's West Oakland House Rockers. In 1943, at the recommendation of Nat "King" Cole and Jimmy Witherspoon, he moved to Los Angeles to join Harlan Leonard's Kansas City Rockets at the Club Alabam. By 1945 he was leading his own band, and had his first big hit that year with "Harlem Nocturne".

In 1948 he joined with Bardu and Tila Ali, and Johnny Miller to open The Barrelhouse in Los Angeles, which was the first nightclub to feature Rhythm & Blues exclusively. In 1950 he had ten songs that made the Top 10 on Billboard Magazine's Best Selling Retail Rhythm & Blues Records list. With this success, he went on the road with his California Rhythm & Blues Caravan, and became the hottest musical attraction in black America. In the early 1950's, remaining active as a writer, performer, and producer, Johnny began a radio career and became one of the most popular disc jockeys in southern California. His career in radio has now spanned almost 50 years. His early radio broadcast success led to a weekly variety show on television. "The Johnny Otis Show" was on TV in Los Angeles for eight years.

Johnny Otis discovered many legendary Rhythm and Blues singers such as Esther Phillips, Willie Mae "Big Momma" Thornton, Etta James, and the Robins (who evolved into the Coasters), all of whom were at one time featured vocalists in his band. He also discovered Sugar Pie DeSanto, Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, Jackie Wilson, and Little Willie John. He produced, and with his band played on the original recording of "Hound Dog" with "Big Momma" Thornton. He produced and played on Johnny Ace's "Pledging My Love", and produced some of Little Richard's earliest recordings. On his own Blues Spectrum label, Johnny has recorded and played with Rhythm & Blues pioneers such as Big Joe Turner, Gatemouth Moore, Amos Milburn, Richard Berry, Joe Liggins, Roy Milton, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Charles Brown, and Louis Jordan. Johnny played the drums on Charles Brown's first major hit "Driftin' Blues" in 1946. He also recorded with Illinois Jacquet, and Lester Young. One of the many highlights of his long career was when he performed as a drummer with the great Count Basie Orchestra.

In the 1960's Johnny served as Deputy Chief of Staff to Mervin Dymally, whose career he followed from the State Assembly, State Senate, Lieutenant Governorship of California, to the U.S. Congress. His first book "Listen To The Lambs", which addressed the 1965 race riots was published in 1968. His next book, "Upside Your Head! Rhythm & Blues on Central Avenue" was published in 1993. Many of his paintings, sculptures, and wood carvings are displayed in "Colors and Chords - The Art of Johnny Otis" which was published in 1995. His most recent book, "Johnny Otis - Red Beans & Rice and Other Rock 'n' Roll Recipes" was published in 1997.

Johnny Otis's song writing credits include "Every Beat of My Heart", (a song he wrote originally for Jackie Wilson, but was made a hit by Gladys Knight and the Pips), "Roll With Me Henry", (also known as "The Wallflower"), "So Fine", "Willie And The Hand Jive" (which sold over 1.5 million copies), and many, many others.

Johnny has been inducted into the Rhythm & Blues Hall of Fame, into the Blues Hall of Fame and into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. The Archives of African American Music and Culture at the University of Indiana has cataloged hundreds of hours of his past radio shows for his interviews, comments, insights, and historical significance.

He has remained active in his recording studio and has put out 6 CD's on his label since the mid-nineties."

One must also mention Johnny Otis' son, Shuggie Otis who is a brilliant guitarist. Another observation is Johnny Otis' appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in the movie thriller Play Misty For Me starring Clint Eastwood. Another fun fact was Johnny's disguised "adult party" album credited to Snatch and the Poontangs. We thank God for Johnny Otis and remember his brilliant and definitive contributions which will live on forever. His mark on the world leaves it a better place.

Some great clips:
Johnny Otis singing "Willie And The Hand Jive" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOrQTh_Cq7U
Johnny with Little Esther Phillips performing "Misery" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0WNkoABY63w
Johnny with Roy Buchannan performing "Bye Bye Baby" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icwUx_xGPXg Johnny Otis "Harlem Nocturne" http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3bYPnfXXUp4

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Review "Long Live Live Music" - Ravinwolf (Survive Records)

By George Boswell  
If you’ve never seen this phenomenal duo, you owe it to yourself to make a special effort to get-out and attend Ravinwolf's next appearance! Jamey and Heather are the real deal. True Blues aficionados. 

This release pays tribute to great blues artists like Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Bessie Smith, and Skip James. What more do you want? Their sound is refined, dynamic, and very enjoyable to experience. Not to mention the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. Their technical skill is truly above average, their stage presence is professional, and the end result makes for one remarkable occasion. I recently attended a performance in Everett, Washington and didn’t want the evening to end. As far as songwriters go, they are tops. One could say these folks are definitely original. 

If you’re expecting a full-tilt thundering sound, it’s not here. What you can expect is an easy listening, dedicated, sincere, and full of life renditions blues classics and unique originals that blend together better than most Highland scotches I’ve tasted. Did I mention the warmth and vitality of their sound? Oh yes, it’s nicely reproduced here and you won’t regret adding this CD to your blues collection. Long Live Live Music will stick with you like a Memphis BBQ and bourbon meal. Don’t forget to pick this one up.

Check out samples of the songs below. You can purchase a copy of Long Live Live Music from Ravinwolf's website by CLICKING HERE.


Monday, January 16, 2012

Review "Pages Of Paperwork" - Levee Town

By Rick J Bowen 
Pages of Paperwork from Kansas City quartet Levee Town sounds more like it came from the UK rather than the heartland. The fourteen song set is a fresh mix of British invasion, surf rock, classic blues sensibility and rockabilly bravado.

Photo By Andy Collier
A band with three lead vocalists is a rare thing and Levee Town uses them with great effect sporting tight harmonies and fresh melodies, often doubling the vocal lines with the fine harmonica from Jim Meade or Brandon Hudspeth‘s fiery lead guitar.

Photo By Andy Collier
Bassist Jacque Garoutte gives gutsy vocals while drummer Jan Faircloth holds them all together with his snappy grooves. Each track has ear catching hooks and clever lyrics, drawing in the listener with ease. Standouts tracks, "Lowdown," "Hurt but Strong," and "The Ring" are radio ready.

Infectious new music from a hard working Midwestern band who deserve attention.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Memphis Grooves With Brandon O. Bailey

By Guest Blogger Suzanne Swanson 

While I had been aware of Brandon O. Bailey before I actually met him it was not until Memphis while I was walking through a breeze-way at my hotel that the familiar riffs of Jason Ricci’s “Snowflakes and Horses” caught my attention. In a park across from the hotel a young man sat playing a most compelling harmonica solo. Nothing doing but I had to check this out more closely. Before crossing the street to the park the familiar J. Geils “Whammer Jammer”, began followed by the Sonny Boy Williamson/Willie Dixon tune “Bye Bye Bird”. I was totally captivated as this tall, angular, handsome teenager as he shifted his effects and swung into “Billie Jean”, a Michael Jackson classic. Needless to say, that I hung around for the total performance so that I could learn more.

Photo By Suzanne Swanson
The following explains why Brandon has caught the attention of master harmonica players. In 2008 he rose through the ranks of several hundred contestants to make the finals of the Orpheum Star Search competition in Memphis winning it handily. The Blues Foundation has awarded scholarships to Brandon two summers in a row to assist in his further advancement and studies of the harmonica. Brandon adapted the post-modern harp-boxing style made famous by Son of Dave: blues riffs intertwined with beat-box rhythms. This brings the art form to a new level of awareness for a much younger generation of music fans. Although still in his teens, he's already played with some of the best harmonica players and bands in the country including Adam Gussow of Satan and Adam, Jason Ricci and New Blood, Billy Gibson, Charlie Wood, and Blind Mississippi Morris. He has performed at B. B. Kings Blues Club in Memphis, The Rum Boogie Cafe, The Orpheum Theater in Memphis, TN the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival in Helena, The Mid South Fair, and the Jefferson Awards in Washington D.C.

How did you choose the harmonica, or did it choose you?

Photo By Suzanne Swanson
I began playing the harmonica after my grandmother told me that my great grandfather (her father) used to play harmonica train songs around the house to entertain the family. This prompted me to ask my mom to purchase a harmonica, and I started from there.

• What prompted you to learn the looping technique? When did you first find out about that?

I was searching through some music videos on YouTube one day around two years ago, and somehow stumbled upon the work of a former member of "the crash test dummies" named Benjamin Darvill who now goes by the stage name Son of Dave. He was using a looping pedal to layer beat boxed grooves and bass hummed harmonies, and was playing harmonica and singing over the top. This style completely fascinated me, and I imagined that if I had a looping pedal, I would probably be able to play similar music. So fortunately some months later, I received a looping pedal from my aunt Lasonia Harris (who is also the executive producer of my album) and began studying EVERY Son of Dave video on the internet.

• Jason Ricci admires what you play and I have heard you play his material. Has his Levy method had an influence on you in any way?

Although I am a HUGE fan of Howard Levy, he has never been one of my particular sound influences. The closest influential link that I have to Howard's playing is from my friend and mentor, the late Chris Michalek. Chris was a friend of Levy's and was one of the few master jazz harmonica players who could keep up with Levy's technique.

• When did you come under the tutelage of Adam Gussow?

I actually learned how to play from watching his series of instructional videos on youtube.com. We first met after I had progressed to the semi-final round of a mid-south talent competition held yearly called the Orpheum Star Search. Mr. Gussow attended that semi-final round and was became interested in my ability after seeing me play the J.Geil's bands instrumental harmonica piece "Whammer Jammer". When I progressed to the finale round of the competition, Mr. Gussow offered to come to Memphis to give me some stage coaching for the finals. Fortunately, the stage training worked, and I won the competition. We have been friends and he has been helping ever since.

• Harp musicians are very devoted to their particular brand, and model of harmonica. Charlie Musselwhite praises Harrison harmonicas for giving him the quality he demands on the road. How did you happen to pick this manufacturer? What models do you prefer?

Photo By Suzanne Swanson
I was originally introduced to Harrison Harmonica's through my friend and fellow harmonica player Jay Gaunt, who had purchased some of their customs, and is friends with the company owner, Brad Harrison. After playing his custom harmonicas for a while, Mr. Harrison informed me that he would be manufacturing his own brand of harmonicas in Chicago, and that he wanted me to be one of his endorsees. Currently, the Harrison Harmonica's B-Radical is my favorite harmonica due to its easy of playability and workmanship. There is no other harmonica being manufactured in the United States and with such amazing quality to allow me to do what I do.

• Having met both your mother and grandmother how has their role in your life with music developed.

My mother and grandmother have been the biggest supports since the very beginning. They have been through a lot because of the music I am involved in, and have invested a great deal not only financially, but of their own time, energy and patience. I am extremely thankful to them for that.

• There are three of your self-penned tunes on “Memphis Grooves” as well as the covers you do. What might we expect to hear on your next album?

The next album will featured more prominent vocal arrangements, and will feature some of Memphis's incredible live musicians as my backing. The looping will still be there, but in more of a live band context, with less emphasis on solo arrangements.

• Where do you see yourself with the harmonica in four years?

It is difficult to say where I will be with the harmonica in four years, considering how much of a whirlwind journey these last 3 years have been. I never really know what is going to happen next, which keeps things very exciting for me. I do hope that my overall mastery of the harmonica will have improved, as well as knowledge of the inner workings of music and theory. It would also be a wonderful thing to have a major record deal by that time. However, in four years I am planning to be in medical school, so we will have to see how things are going with the harmonica.

• You are in a select group of young men in this country right now who are perfecting their craft on the harp. You told me about being friends with Jay Gaunt. Are there other young harp musicians close to your calibre that you jam with from time to time?

As young harmonica artists, we are a very close-knit group of people. Therefore, I try to stay in contact with all of the other young players that I can find in the world. Some players of particular note in my generation include my friends Nic Clark, of Colorado, Zack Pomerleau, of Main, RJ Harman, of Florida, Zhin Wong, of Malaysia, Alex Paclin, of Russia, and LD Miller, of Indiana.

• I heard that you wanted to study medicine and become a doctor. If this is true, where do you see your skills with the harmonica going? Will you continue to play and study or have it as a hobby/outlet?

My primary career goal is to become a paediatric neurologist, and I am currently a pre-med student at the University of Memphis. However, pursing music is important to as great a degree as possible without interfering with my medical training. Having heavily invested in music at this point to have it a state of being a hobby is not an option. However, during medical school I will definitely have to slow down a bit with that career.

Now you can see why I was so impressed with this young artist. We look forward to his next ‘adventure’ in music and wish him much success in life. With wonderful goals like these he is to be encouraged and congratulated. The music of tomorrow is in good hands for the next generation with forward thinking such as Brandon O. Bailey.

Update: Brandon has now been chosen two years in succession by The Blues Foundation to take part in music camps to further his skills in music.

© copyright 2012 Suzanne Swanson.

Suzanne is a fabulous music journalist and photographer who has a passion for the Blues. She continues to interview and photograph Blues Artists on tour from her home near Vancouver, British Columbia. Suzanne is an active member of The Blues Foundation, the White Rock Blues Society, the Washington Blues Society, and the Vancouver Musicians' Association Local 145. Ms. Swanson worked for MCA Records in its halcyon days of the '70s as one of its staff photographers, where she captured blues musicians in their element in North American, the Continent, and beyond.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slide Monsters! Highway 99 Celebrates Blues Slide Guitar in February

“Slide Monsters!” The Highway 99 Blues club celebrates blues slide guitar, bringing together three Pacific NW monsters of the slide guitar style:  Brian Lee, Mark Riley, and Rod Cook, with the Orbiters!  These Northwest greats each have a unique and distinctive slide guitar voice, and together they’re a perfect compliment. They are also all superb singers, and songwriters.
Mark Riley has been honored with fourteen Best of the Blues Awards from the Washington Blues Society , including Best Slide Guitar in 2011. He played for 7+ years with Lil’ Bill & the Blue Notes. Following the Blue Notes,  he has been front man for his Mark Riley Trio, as well as the recent Snake Oil project with Rod Cook. Most recently, Mark has joined Blues Redemption.

Mark has opened for slide great Sonny Landreth, as well as BB King, Taj Mahal.  Mark and his band also backed 2011 British Blues Awards Male Artist of  The Year Ian Siegal.  As owner and builder of RnB guitars, he’s also built guitars for both Sonny Landreth and Ian Seigal.

Rod Cook is known for his stylistic versatility and soulful, melodic playing. As part of his versatile repertoire, he is an amazing slide man.  From the early 1980's to the early '90's he played with The Royals, a mainstay in the Seattle blues and rock scene. He then teamed up with singer/songwriter/bassist Laura Love, recording seven albums, two of which were released on Mercury Records, and touring the United States, Canada and Europe. In 1993 he also teamed up with former Steve Miller Band guitarist James "Curley" Cooke and formed the acoustic guitar duo "Double Cookin'." In 1996 he launched his own band, Rod Cook and Toast, a band performing original and cover material based in blues, rock, country, Americana, surf and American roots music, releasing two albums. Since 2004, he has performed with Vicci Martinez recording three albums. Rod can be seen performing periodically with Northwest icon Little Bill Englehart, and Snake Oil with Mark Riley.

Rod has backed  Taj Mahal, and opened for Todd Rundgren, Sonny Landreth, and Charlie Musslewhite. He has been nominated numerous times for the Washington Blues Society's "Best Of The Blues" Awards, winning three times.

Brian Lee leads Brian Lee & the Orbiters, and the Brian Lee Trio. They've opened for Little Charlie & the Nightcats and Tommy Castro. Brian and the Orbiters have been honored with seven "Best of the Blues" nominations by the Washington Blues Society, including nomination for "Best Slide Guitar" in 2011. Backing the Slide Monsters for the night are the stellar, soulful, Orbiters, featuring Hank Yanda, Russ Kammerer, and Steve Yonck.