Monday, May 31, 2010

Michael Gray's Journey Leads To Fascinating Blind Willie McTell Biography

Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes: In Search of Blind Willie McTell

by Michael Gray

Chicago Review Press (448 pp)

Blind Willie McTell, like Robert Johnson and other legendary figures, never had a hit record. When he died in 1959, after decades of playing on the streets and clubs of Atlanta, Georgia, he was largely forgotten – but today is celebrated. Several of his songs, most notably “Statesboro Blues,” have become staples of blues and blues-rock. Mystery author David Fulmer made McTell a central character in “The Dying Crapshooter’s Blues,” inspired by one of McTell’s songs; and Bob Dylan wrote that “Nobody can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell.” Among blues enthusiasts and scholars, the body of McTell’s music is second to none. With Michael Gray’s new book on McTell, “Hand Me My Travelin’ Shoes,” we get part social history, part biography and part travelogue as Gray takes the reader on his journey in uncovering the facts of McTell’s life.

This is not simply a dry recitation of the life and music of Blind Willie McTell. He takes us back several generations to McTell’s ancestors, which include a slave owner who fought for the Confederacy and was even a prisoner of war. Using census materials, he comes across the many different spellings as well as the small rural Georgian communities, tracks what ancestors on both sides of McTell’s family did, and lived, and takes us through his birth, childhood and career as a musician who made a number of celebrated recordings during his life, yet was relatively forgotten when he passed. Using census records, old newspapers, and oral history he evokes the world McTell lived in, one of white supremacy, segregation and lynchings, yet one where McTell seemed to avoid the harshest aspects of the racist repression.

Gray tracks his life from upbringing, the school for the blind, and his homes in various communities including Statesboro and Atlanta. McTell, despite his handicap, was quite independent and able to negotiate the streets and buses of Atlanta quite well. We are taken to the places he lived, the women in his lives and how his reputation was sufficient to earn him a recording career. Gray does not over-romanticize McTell or his music. He recognizes its greatness and yet realizes that he was not a major recording star in terms of record sales. He also is sober in discussing about McTell’s music as represented on recordings. He gives us the stories underlying how the sessions came about and discusses succinctly the recordings, where they took place and gives reasoned and thoughtful analysis.

This extends beyond simply the commercial recording sessions for Victor-Bluebird, Okeh, Decca and others. There is some consideration of the Library of Congress recordings made under the auspices of John A. Lomax and Gray does spend some space noting that the original reissue of this material had some omissions, because if a few bits of speech were left off, they could get everything else on one tape and thus was issued first on record and then CD, even listed as The Complete Library of Congress Recording is not complete and omits some of McTell’s comments on songs or that he used to sing “I Got to Cross That river Jordan” which he used to sing and play with Blind Willie Johnson. And his wife Ruby was at the session and added her comments. So that the image that one has of the patronizing Lomax and other aspects Gray argues is misleading because of what was omitted.

Despite Gray including his own journey of visiting where McTell lived, walking the dusty country roads McTell walked, and visiting the buildings where McTell recorded and played, the book is still about McTell. Michael Gray has enriched us with Blind Willie McTell’s story and the legacy, and it’s a story well worth reading.

For purposes of FTC regulations, this review was originally published in the Jazz& Blues Report 2009 Gift Guide ( The publisher or a publicity firm sent me the review copy.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Early June Promises Great Jazz & Blues In And Around the Nation's Capital

Living around Washington DC, I felt it appropriate to note some really great events around Washington, the beginning of June.

July 3 to 6, the Western Maryland Blues Festival returns to Hagerstown (July 3-6) with a Hamilton Loomis and Bernard Allison on Friday June 4; Kenny Neal, Eric Liddell, Trombone Shorty, Michael Burks and Tommy Castro on Saturday June 5; and a family Picnic with Eden Brent and Corey Harris & Phil Wiggins on Sunday June 6. The shows take place downtown Hagerstown, Maryland except the Sunday picnic at City Hall Park. For more information, check out

The DC Jazz Festival (formerly the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival) returns to the Nation’s capital with events taking place between June 1 and June 13. The Festival will have concerts through the city as well as partner with clubs and museums for various events. There will be stellar line-up of talent from around the globe including such celebrated artists as Paquito D’Rivera; Dianne Reeves; the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band; the Roy Hargrove Big Band; James Moody; Claudio Roditi; Edmar Castaneda; Michael Philip Mossman; Akua Dixon and Quartette Indigo; the Berklee World Jazz Nonet; Roberta Gambarini; the Marshall Keys Quartet; the Marian Petrescu Quartet featuring Andreas Öberg; Tony Madruga, Uri Gurvich; and many others.

Among signature performances will be Janine Gill at the Phillips Collection on June 3 for a special Phillips Collection After 5. June 4, as part of the Jazz in the Hoods will feature Trumpeter Thad Wilson at the Madison Hotel; the Felicia Carter Quartet at the Mandarin Oriental; and Stanley Clarke with Hiromi at Blues Alley. June 6 and 7 will be Jazz’n’Families Fun Day at the Phillips Collection with featured performers including the Berklee World Jazz Nonet, Brad Lind, George V. Johnson, Janelle Gill, Reginald Cyntje, the DC Jazz Collaborative, Susan Priester, and Victor Provost, as one can listen to jazz and view Renoir, Pablo Picasso, Georgia O’Keefe, Marc Rothko, and many others. Tuesday, June 8, the Festival presents A Tribute to Oscar Peterson at the 6th and I Historic Synagogue by Marian Petrescu Quartet w/ Special Guest Andreas Oberg. Thursday, June 10th will be one of the signature events at the Lincoln Theater, NEA Jazz Masters Live Concert with All-Star tribute to James Moody featuring the Dizzy Gillespie All-Stars, and special guests Regina Carter, Roy Hargrove, Roberta Gambarini & NEA Jazz Masters Kenny Barron and Paquito D’Rivera. Friday, June 11 will feature Jazz Under the Stars at the Carter Barron Amphitheatre with some great latin jazz including the world - renowned Poncho Sanchez Latin Jazz Band and Colombian Jazz harpist Edmar Castaneda, with special guest Paquito D’ Rivera. Saturday June 12, they highlight will be two shows at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium: a free afternoon show with Claudio Roditi Quartet (Brazil) & the Eddie Palmieri Latin Jazz Band and and an ticketed evening show with Dianne Reeves and the Roy Hargrove Big Band, with special guest Roberta Gambarini. On Sunday, the signature Festival event will be two performances at the Kennedy Center, Paquito D’Rivera Presents The Jelly Roll Morton Latin Tinge Project with Paquito D’Rivera, Michael Philip Mossman, Akua Dixon & Quartette Indigo and Pernell Santurino. Pat Martino is at Blues Alley and the Dizzy Gillespie All Stars with Cryus Chestnutt, are at Bohemian Gardens this weekend part of the many shows under the Jazz in the Hoods umbrella For more information, contact the Festival’s website,

That same weekend, the Washington area hosts the Tinner Hill Blues Festival in Falls Church, Virginia. Thursday night, June 10, at the State Theatre in Falls Church the Festival opens with Chuck Brown Sings The Blues, where the King of Go Go will join the stage with DC’s Blues Legend Bobby Parker. Nadine Rae will open. Other vents include a panel on Saturday Morning, June 12, at City Hall Park, near the Cherry Hill Farmhouse, Red, Black and Blues: Native Americans, African Americans and their shared blues musical traditions with Dr. Ron Welburn, Elaine Bomberry, Pura Fe. Lee Gates, Murray Porter and Corey Harris. Starting at 1:00PM will be a free festival in the Park with Patty Reese; M.S.G. The Acoustic Trio; Murray Porter; Corey Harris & Phil Wiggins; Big Daddy Stallings, Pura Fe and Clarence ‘Bluesman‘ Turner. There will be showings of the film “John Jackson: A Blues Treasure” and a cd release party for the Smithsonian-Folkways release of John Jackson’s Rappahannock Blues, culled from hundreds of performances. Sunday, June 13 will be a Blues Brunch and Jam at Bangkok Blues. For more information visit,

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shakura S'Aida Dazzling Vocals Shines on "Brown Sugar

Born in Brooklyn, raised in Switzerland and long resident in Toronto, Ontario, Shakura S'Aida, is an international artist whose involvement in the Canadian music scene has been ongoing for the past 30 years, enriching the jazz, blues and classic R&B communities with her soulful voice, enthusiastic personality and commitment to music as an art form. Recently signed to Ruf Records, she has a new disc, “Brown Sugar,” that certainly will establish her as a significant vocalist.

Her strengths as a singer are immediately evident on “Mr Right,” as she sings about her man “Can’t be my Mr. Right, cause you doing me wrong.” Her voice and phrasing is spot on, soulful with a somewhat dry delivery and little vibrato. More can be heard on the next track, “Walk Out That Door,” where her jazzy background is evident in her seemingly off-the cuff approach which serves to highlight when she belts out a line. And she is backed on this by a terrific band of guitarist Donna Grantis (what a first-rate player she is), Lance Anderson on organ, Rick Steff on keyboards, Steve Potts on drums, and Dave Smith on bass. Grantis, like S’Aida, is a revelation, who has a wonderful tone and whose playing works off S’Aida’s vocals, like on the brooding ”Gonna Tell My Baby.”

Most of this CD are originals from the pens of S’Aida and Grantis and maybe its because the performances are so good, but when she tears into the soulful ballad “Break Your Heart,” one knows things are special. With so many musical peaks here, the highpoint may be “Angels on High,” as she sings about needs to find faith and find a new start as she she asks them to help her stop and cry and know when it is all right again.” She is donating proceeds of downloads of this track to benefit Haitian earthquake relief.

This is among the best recordings this writer has heard so far in 2010. I have already mentioned the superb musicians here and the fine material. Kudos also need to be extended to Jim Gaines for his overseeing this terrific recording that display what a fabulous singer Shakura S’Aida is and a voice that fans of the blues and related musical genres will becoming familiar with soon.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received this from the publicity firm for the recording company.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A tip to some of the best July Blues Festivals

Time for a dry, descriptive post of a few selected blues festivals. Festival season is upon us, and in early June, the Western Maryland Blues Festival Takes place in Hagerstown, Maryland and the Chicago Blues Festival the following weekend. July has several major festivals. I will be at the Pocono Blues Festival at the end of July. Unfortunately I am unable to attend any of the other events because of other travel plans (I will be at Montreal for the annual Jazz Festival the end of June) and work. These festivals may vary in scale, but a look at their line-up shows just how great a showcase for blues music each one is.

The 26th Mississippi Valley Blues Festival takes place July 2 to 4 at the Davenport, Iowa riverfront. One of the oldest continuous blues festivals it is put on by the Mississippi Valley Blues Society. This year’s festival will feature 28 acts over three days. Performers scheduled include Li’l Ed and the Blues Imperials, Ana Popovic, Zac Harmon, Vasti Jackson, Rosie Ledet, Ruthie Foster, Billy Branch and the Sons of the Blues, Shawn Kellerman, Lucky Peterson, The Legendary Blues Cruise Revue featuring Tommy Castro and Debbie Davies, Dave Riley and Bob Corritore, and The Nighthawks with Hubert Sumlin. It opens Friday July 2, will be a tribute to descendants of blues legends, featuring Mud Morganfield, Bernard Allison, Little Pink Anderson, Caroline Shines, Lurrie Bell, and Shirley King. For more information check out and the festival site,

Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival takes place July 2 through July 5 in Portland, Oregon. The Festival is the Oregon Food Bank’s major fundraiser and over the course of the Four Days will feature a wide range of performers including Taj mahal, John Mayall, Booker T, Bobby Rush, Galactic with Cyril Neville, JJ Grey & Mofro, Chris Thomas King, Commander Cody, Curtis Salgado, trombone Shorty, Michael Burks Band with Lucky Peterson, Walter Trout, Cedric Burnside & Lightnin’ Malcolm, Moreland & Arbuckle, Super Chikan, Janiva Magness, Paul Cebar, Curely Taylor & Zydeco Trouble, Corey Ledet, Andre Thierry and much much more. There are also Delta Music Experience Cruises associated with the Festival and much more. For more information, see

17th Festival International du Blues de Tremblant (Tremblant International Blues Festival) takes place July 9 to 18, in Mont Tremblant, Quebec, about an hour and half drive north of Montreal. Performers for the featured shows include Anthony Gomes, Bernard Adamus, Bobby Bazini, Janiva Magness, Mark Hummell & Mike Morgan, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Roy Rogers & the Delta Rhythm Kings, Tommy Castro and Zachary Richard. This multi-stage event has yet to announce the full line-up. For more information check

The 19th Pocono Blues Festival takes place at Big Boulder Resort in Lake Harmony PA, July 23-25. One of the premier blues events it presents 20 real deal blues acts including World Class Headliners, acts that rarely come to the Middle Atlantic and Northeast and other lesser known acts on two mountain stages and a tent stage. Friday evening July 23 will present Jimmy ‘Duck’ Holmes, Johnny Rawls and Lady Bianca. Saturday July 24 will present Wanda Johnson, Marquise Knox, Veronika Jackson, Roy Roberts Barbara Carr & AJ Diggs, Chick Willis, Johnny Bassett, Theodis Ealey, CJ Chenier, and the Chicago Blues Legends (Pinetop Perkins, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, Bob Stroger, Hubert Sumlin and Bob Margolin). On Sunday, July 25 one will see The Campbell Brothers, Diana Braitwaite with Chris Whitley Band, Alabama Mike, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Joe Krown Trio (Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington and Russell Batiste), Homemade Jamz, and Mavis Staples. WIth the ski slopes serving as the backdrop, this is my favorvite blues festival with its mix of blues and a wonderful setting. For more information check

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lil' Band O' Gold Leads Us to "The Promised Land"

“I won’t leave Louisiana, Louisiana my home sweet home,” echoes a line in David Egan’s “Spoonbread,” the opening song on “The Promised Land” (Dust Devil Music), the new album by Lil’ Band ‘O Gold. Lil’ Band ‘O Gold is a group formed by some very notable Louisiana musicians including guitarist and roots rocker CC Adcock; Cajun accordionist Steve Riley; swamp-pop legend and drummer Warren Storm; and pianist and songwriter David Egan. Add steel guitar, and saxophones (with occasional fiddle) and one has a group that can touch on the blue-eyed soul that is at Swamp Pop’s heart mixed with some Fats Domino piano triplets and some swamp country seasoning. The album accompanies the film of the same title about the distinctive Louisiana musical genre, swamp pop which I haven’t seen, but it also provides fans of Lil’ Band ‘O Gold with a new recording that showcases their versatile repertoire and compelling sources. With a band that includes steel guitar and saxophones, the performances provide a definite musical stew of influences that make for a wonderful musical blend.

I would not be surprised that in a blindfold test, an average listener might identify the opening “Spoonful,” as a number by the Band, but its such a terrific performance with vocals being traded and great backing that it stands on its own. Next up is a great number by the late Bobby Charles “I Don’t Want to Know,” with Warren Storm’s vocal almost matching the Late Johnny Adams as Riley adds a terrific accordion solo with Richard Comeaux contributing some piercing steel guitar. C.C. Adcock revives a Gene Terry & the Boogie Ramblers rockabilly-tinged “Teardrops,” while Riley, accordion at the fore handles the vocal on a rocker with Adcock adding some hot guitar riffs with the saxophones wailing in support.

“Dreamer” is another Egan original with the steel guitar, the rhythm and the saxophones injecting some Tex-Mex flavor to Egan’s reflective vocals. Warren Storm’s vocal shines on the country flavored “Sunshine,” that was penned by the great Mickey Newbury. Adcock penned the hard rock and rolling “Runaway’s Life,” that evokes classic 50s music with an insistent driving beat followed by Warren’s wonderful haunting rendition of David Kitt’s ballad “Faster and Faster.” “Hold on Tight” “to your dreams,” Steve Riley sings (including the verse in French) as his accordion and Kenny Bill Stinson’s organ suggest the Sir Douglas Quintet in this imaginative reworking of an Electric Light Orchestra single. “Hard Enough,” another Egan original is a superb old-fashioned piece of country soul with Storm’s vocal complemented by Comeaux’s weeping steel guitar. Swamp pop legend Tommy McClain guests on the tear-in-the-throat vocal on the low-key “Memories,” while Riley revives Lawrence Walker’s cajun rock and roll, “Evangeline Rock. More country-folk flavor from Adcock on “The Last Hayride,” before the closing “So Long,” a nice rendering of an Allen Toussaint composition, with Storm leading the way on the vocal with the braying saxophones and the backing chorus adding to the mood. It is a terrific closer to a superb recording.

It has been a decade since Lil’ Band ‘O Gold’s debut recording, which has been frankly ten years too long. They are truly one of the great rock and roll bands today and “The Promised Land,” is a superb disk that continues their loving embrace of the musical legacy of their home, Louisiana which never gets mired in nostalgia but keeps pushing the music forward.

This is available in the United States from the Louisiana Music Factory in New Orleans (website is I am not certain about availability outside the US, but it may be on itunes in Australia.

I purchased this.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Roy Carrier at Twist & Shout Feb 20 1998

Originally uploaded by NoVARon

Has it been over 12 years since I saw Roy carrier for one of numerous times at Marc Gretschel's clubs, this time, Twist & Shout in Bethesda, maryland. Roy who passed away this week, was just a joy to see. He played his zydeco music with so much joy and soul. He will be missed for his music, but even more importantly, his warmth as a person.

Monday, May 03, 2010

2010-0502 Dave Torkanowsky, Germaine Bazzle and more

2010-0502 Dave Torkanowsky & more-143
Originally uploaded by NoVARon

After the end of JazzFest, Dave Torkanowsky was leading his group at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse at the Royal Sonesta HOtel on Bourbon Street. Torkanowsky's Sunday gig includes the great drummer, June Gardner and tonight he had Chris Thomas on bass (Thomas had been part of Brian Blade's group at JazzFest), clarinetist-saxophonist Evan Christopher, and special guest, Jason Marsalis on vibraphones. Of course, the Sunday evening shows spotlight the great New Orleans vocalist Germaine Bazzle. It was a special performance with the highpoint being Duke Ellington's "Mood Indigo," on which Bazzle scatted the growling trumpet part (conjuring up Bubber Miley and Cootie Williams) to Christopher's evocation of Barney Bigard on clarinet. It was an incredible performance. Germaine Bazzle is a New Orleans treasure and Torkanowsky is a superb pianist and organist (as he showed at JazzFest).