CD Reviews: Blues Geography Time

Days Like This

Linda Valori hails from Italy, and yes the blues and R&B influenced music is as hot as a stalled train on the ‘El’ in the summer heat. Why the ‘El’ well, there’s a relation with Chicago and Ms.Valori. This release was recorded, mixed and mastered at JoyRide Recording studio in Chi-town and features a solid core of hard cut Chicago musicians on this release. It will be available March 24, 2013 distributed through City Hall Records and also available on

The title track is a somewhat obscure Van Morrison song, from his 1995 release. It is an interesting song because it turns around the old adage that when things are bad momma would say there’d be days like this into “When all the parts of the puzzle start to seem like they fit / Then I must remember there’ll be days like this.”. ‘Days Like This’ kicks out the stall with a solid R&B groove, with horns, piano roll intro and it just shakes & shimmies from there. Ms. Valori has an interesting voice, strong but with just enough of a raspy edge to give her the feel for the songs she selects to cover.

Funky as it wants to be is Ike Turner’s ‘I Idolize You’. Featuring Chicago blues man Mike Wheeler laying out a scorching lead track over a very serious rhythm of Keith Henderson (guitar) Billy Dickens (bass), Khari Parker on drums. There is a clamant pleading force to the vocals and it makes us believe the words sung. This is one of the two covers of Ike’s music, the other being ‘The Way You Love Me’ is a more traditional shuffle roll done with an understanding of what it takes to create the sound and beat.

Chicago singer/songwriter Deitra Farr’s tune ‘My Turn My Time’ is done with equal aplomb. With an ‘in-your-face’ approach to the rhythm and vocals we are left with no doubt that this is truly her turn and her time.

There are a couple of surprises contained withing the sleeve of the CD, one is a cover of Chrissie Hynde’s ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’ which is a reggae styled version that creates a fresh approach to a well known song. The other is a somewhat slowed down, sultry version of the Janis Joplin classic ‘Move Over’ – I got to admit it takes big cajones to go there, and with the treatment of stylized funk and R&B overtones it maintains it’s familiarity but is heard with new ears.

This is a release of twelve well chosen covers that feature Ms. Valori’s ample vocal abilities and the solid soul sound of the band and players around her. The choice of players is very important when crossing over genres, Ms. Valori has chosen some of the best around the world. Solid horn arrangements by Doug Cocoran bring the sizzle, and Luca Giordano, who hails from Italy but, spent many years in Chicago adds strong guitar flair on ‘So Doggone Good’.

It is great to know that the Blues is thriving around the world and there is a market for the music – now if we can only amp it up here in it’s birthplace we could be on to something.!/biografia/


Drink Drank Drunk

Drink Drank Drunk

Andy T – Nick Nixon Band: Drink Drank Drunk (Delta Groove Music)

Speaking of geography, what we have here is a quick lesson in how the music can create a spirit of cooperation and unity far and wide. The far here is Andy T, who cut his guitar playing teeth in SoCal with various bands, then hooked up with Houston’s Guitar Shorty for several years and is now living in Nashville and this is his ‘debut’ release.

Nashville is where Nick Nixon calls home, always has been. Nick is recipient of a Blues Foundation ‘Keeping The Blues Alive Award’ for his educational efforts. He is also in possession of one helluva voice, and this paring makes it all the more obvious as he shines throughout.

The wide here has to be the state of Texas. This release is produced, and features, Anson Funderberg, a Lone Start State son who brings it all together in a giant hand and hip shakin’ experience.

The title track ‘Drink Drank Drunk’ features a slow burning stroll thru the usual episodes of one’s affection with alcohol. But I have to say that if the results of over use is as good as the music here depicting it is – then next rounds on me. Featuring Mr. Funderberg picking apart the guitar to the rock-steady beat of Mr. Jim Klingler’s drums add a dash of saxophone to top it off by Mr. Ron Jones and it creates a tempting and quite satisfying concoction that would rival a superb Bloody Mary any time of day. Thanks to Tom Hambridge and Gary Nicholson for writing such a cool tune!

With the proximity to Louisiana to Tennessee (and Texas) we get a dose of that style of music in the musical question, ‘Have You Seen My Monkey’. With some rolling accordion by Chistian Dozzler (who also plays piano on several tracks) and very tasty and educated riffs on guitar by Andy T, showing that he is adaptable and proficient at whatever style is needed. But if ya listen closely there is an undeniable rock and roll back beat to his playing on this track which takes it to the next level.

Getting into the ‘blues’ feel we have ‘No End To The Blues’ is a straight ahead burner that features Andy laying it out on the fret-board making for certain that there is no end of these blues in sight. Mr. Nixon’s vocal is deep and resonant, his voice really does reach out and touch the listener. Horns, piano help fill out this track and some inspired background vocals by Nashville deliciously talented Markey creates and full force attack on the senses and they ride the wave of sound to the climax.

A very nice addition is the cover of the classic ‘High Heeled Sneakers’ by legendary artist Tommy Tucker. Up beat, with a steady rock ‘n’ roll swing to it, the band displays an understanding of the songs history and applies it accordingly with just enough ‘twang’ to make it new and fresh.

If you want to hear another super cover – check out their bayou flavored version of the Ray Charles classic ‘I Got A Woman’. Straight from the deck of a pirogue, we shake, rattle and roll our way through a brand spank new version of this classic track that displays the joy of having such a woman.

Originally slated to be Mr. T’s (hah hah hah, sorry Andy) solo debut, but when these two cats got together and started playing it became more than that. ‘Drink Drank Drunk’ reflects the abilities of these two artists individually and proves that the equation 1 plus 1 equals more than the sum of its parts.
Visit Andy at and say hi from me.


Hot Mess

Hot Mess

Pam Taylor Band: Hot Mess (Independant)

Final stop on our geographic blues tour is South Carolina, yep that hot bed of the blues. Well in this case it’s a Hot Mess of blues provided by a young guitar slinging lady Pam Taylor.

Starting out with a solo guitar riff (that recalls ‘Who Knows’ by Hendrix and some others) and then joined by horns aplenty we get ‘Smile Again’. Ms. Taylor’s young gun-slinging guitarist, Kyle Phillips, voraciously attacks the six strings and wrings out any note he pleases. With the support of Ms. Taylor’s dad, Mike, and rest of the band they work the track to its maximum return on investment.

Title track ‘Hot Mess’ is upbeat and funky with Dad, blowing smoke out of the business end of that sax as Pam growls her vocals about this lady who is a walking “Hot Mess” and not in the good way. Living life hard and fast, over perfumed and under satisfied there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel but it’s the train coming at her. What is the oft’ repeated definition of insanity – repeatedly doing the same thing the same way and expecting a different result – well this is the portrait of the lady in this song.

‘Not the Only One’ is a torch burner that has our heroine explaining the straight up truth to her man concerning exclusivity of relationship. Ms. Taylor’s vocals feature a latent sadness yet a undercurrent of prayer contained deep within them. There is an inevitability as to the outcome, but a glimmer of hope – really, why can’t we go on as three? Folks the Blues is all about misogyny, at least on it’s good days, and Mr. Phillips’ guitar torching at the end burns deep within the soul of the blues.

Yet on the other hand (is a fist) giving us ‘Next Time You Think of Cheating’. Guitar driven, crispy and gritty vocals portrays what it is like to be the odd girl out. But not in the Lesley Gore, it’s my party style of the past. More current and pointed she promises that he is gonna pay for his transgressions and pay in spades*. If the retribution that Ms. Taylor has in mind for her former man is anything as fierce as the  guitar work he better head where the sun don’t shine. I quote “I took the house, I took the car; without no money baby you ain’t going too far. I took the kids I even took your boat…” She ends up mimicking his emasculated pleas of “oh baby, I can’t believe you took the boat” and continues to rip him a new one in plain sight of all who would watch this event.

Overall this is a solid rookie release by an up and coming new talent in our house. She excels at the arranging aspect and her song writing shows promise. It is full of life and passion and after all ain’t that what the blues is all about. She is currently a Pick to Click in SiriusXM Bluesville so others have taken notice of her talents also.
Visit Ms. Taylor here

* In spades: in the extreme alludes to spades as being the highest ranking suit in various card games and transfers ‘highest’ to other extremes. A colloquial term from the 1920’s.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

© 2013
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Courtesy of artists

Early November Music: Transitioning the Seasons With Music

The Soul of John Black: Good Thang
(Yellow Dog Records)

John Bigham (aka Soul of John Black) has always been on the cutting edge of music whether with Fishbone back in the day, or as a solo artist with SOJB. Steadfastly refusing to be classified or fenced in by genres, critics or even fans in some cases – he has always provided an interesting mix of soul, blues, rock and more to the music he puts out there for us. ‘Good Thang’ opens so many doors for the blues scene that I do believe that they will soon need a velvet rope to keep people back from clamoring to cross-over the lines that he has erased.

Starting off with some attention getting bass lines ‘Digital Blues’ is a funky reminder of the isolation of the digital world we are living in. The trappings of easy and instant satisfaction/gratification and it’s dehumanizing effect is laid out with some of the funkiest rhythms to be burned of late. ‘Robot Sadie is all I want” goes the slightly phased chant halfway thru the cut, and it repeats and serves as a warning to us all, beware brothers beware – as Louis Jordan would say.

The title track ‘Good Thang’ SOJB throws down a sweet grove homage to his good thang. Stating that stark fact (quite in contrast to Digital Blues) that all the money in your pocket couldn’t buy this thang.
Just to go three deep ‘How Can I’ is a throw back, old school soul ballad that recalls the Stylistics and other great soul r&b bands from the seventies, but updated just a touch with synthesizers and a smoother bass line that makes it all the more contemporary.

With this release SOJB covers so much ground (as he always has) that it amazes me at the competence that he displays in any of his chosen soundscapes. Now for the ‘blues-purists’ out there they can sink their teeth into ‘My Brother’. Starting off as a voice and guitar front porch setting, it nicely progresses into a crescendo of a thousand layers featuring some of the funkiest clavichord sounding keys by Adam MacDougall that has me shaking my Afro to the combination of Stevie Wonder meets Billy Preston that is hard enough to get through to you but soft enough not to overpower.

Closing out the ten track release is ‘Turn Off The Phone’ where we revisit the digital twenty-four hour world where we are always on the hurry up and go life. Turn off the phone, take off your clothes, let down your hair and stay awhile are part of the enticing lyrics laid over a real dreamlike sound – if we all could only make this oft’ used plea sound this good we wouldn’t be competing with the hectic pace of the other reality.

I feel that this release is one that everyone should spend time with. It will challenge you on so many levels and make you take a hard look at your concept of what the blues are and what a glorious future they have in the creative hands of artists like John.


Maria Muldaur: Steady Love
(Stony Plain Records)

For musical icon Maria Muldaur this is the 30th solo release of her career, and 12th in the last 11 years. That’s longevity and high quality work folks, pick up anyone of them and you will hear a master song interpreter weave vocal paintings that any museum would proudly display on their walls if they could.
Each of her releases has been dedicated to a special sound or style – Steady Love is rooted in what Maria calls Bluesiana – soul, gospel grits and style over easy combined into a tasty gumbo of fine music.

First off let me state that there aren’t too many folks who can cover the Elvin Bishop/Bobby Cochrane ditty “I’ll Be Glad’ and nail it so damn well. Maria does just that with her sultry, spicy voice she turns this song into a gospel evocation that certainly raises the rafters and sets the stage for nothing but good times ahead.

Maria works her way through her chosen songbook that features such talented writers as Bobby Charles, Eric Bibb, two from the Greg Brown collection, old friend Rick Vito and also pays sterling tribute to Percy Mayfield in ‘Please Send Me Someone To Love’.

A wonderful sashaying shuffle treatment of ‘Blues Goes Walking” features some swampy lead guitar work by Clanston Clements which combined with Maria’s vocal treatment makes this a fine updated version of this classic song. On this this release Maria works with a superb cast of musicians each of them adding what is needed from background vocals to horn arrangements to the pocket and harmonies.

One simply magnificent appearance is by her daughter Jenni Muldaur sharing vocal harmonies on ‘Rain Down Tears’. Written by Henry Glover & Rudy Toombs this is a head bopping version that pays tribute to Hank Ballard’s 1959 release. But what is the topper is the sweet music that Maria and Jenni create as they skillfully blend their two unique voices together for a seamless almost inseparable voice that takes us to the depth of despair and makes the dire prognostication that they will need shelter from the raining down of tears. I know how proud Maria is of Jenni as she has become a ‘Ronnette’ and is currently working with the great Ronnie Specter.

Maria has always seemed to balance the sensual with the spiritual. She reminds us that we cannot live a full life as intended without paying tribute to each side of this eternal struggle. She portrays it quite well with this release wherein one breath she teases us with her rollicking girl on the town ‘Soulful Dress’ or the Arthur Adams song ‘Get You Next To Me’ and then turns the other cheek and proclaims ‘I’ve Done Made It Up My Mind’…to serve God till she dies – but know in your soul and heart that there really isn’t a contradiction here, it’s the way it is – ya need to have both to live a full life.

A very positive release both musically and spiritually. Contained here are reminders to believe in our heart of hearts, to follow our true paths to where we wish to be – and upon arrival remember how we got there and not to lose our souls upon arrival. As always, Maria has treated us to an outstanding collection of fabulous music made only more better by her interpretations of them. I am already looking forward to her next release which is said to be a tribute to Memphis Minnie featuring some great surprise guests.


Candye Kane featuring Laura Chavez: Sister Vagabond
(Delta Groove Music)

Right from the start Ms. Kane and her trusty partner set the stage for a rollicking, roller coaster ride thru various side roads where the Blues truly reside. Johnny Guitar Watson’s “I Love To Love You’ kicks off the disc with a guitar riff from Laura that harkens back to the giants of blues guitar and adds a sultry vocal statement by Candye that changes to swing to shuffle and back again – not to stop there LC cuts through it all with a scorching solo that expresses so much in a limited format. Ms. Chavez understands that the space between the notes are as valuable as the notes themselves and again and again demonstrates this fact for all to hear.

‘Love Insurance’ is an up-beat song telling the tale of our heroine pleading for the one insurance policy that the powers that be haven’t yet been able to milk us on. ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ is a down right greasy adaptation of the Brenda Lee pop song. Swampy and sensual yet somewhat innocent in the songs truer meaning, Ms. Kane easily works the vocals into a tight prayer of thankfulness while Ms. Chavez adds an almost Creedence Clearwater touch of guitar to it. Fun times with this one.

What might be the best track is a Kane/Chavez original (one of 9) ‘Walkin’ Talkin’ Haunted House’. A wonderfully composed lyrical poem wherein Ms. Kane sets herself as a ‘walkin’, talkin’ haunted house’ that is occupied with the ghosts of her past lovers. A fascinating thought, and delivered spot on by both Candye and Laura. No other cut to date has captured the bond between these two ladies as this one does. There are some added effects by Stephen Hodges such as chains and various forms of percussion that adds to the otherworldly feel of this track – bravo !

On almost every of Ms. Kane’s previous releases she has included a song from Jack Tempchin (of Eagles fame) and this albums track is ‘Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight’. Written with the assist of Glenn Frey, the bad boy of the Eagles, this songs rocks out with that familiar ‘Heartache Tonight’ feel and one can imagine this with a large crowd of dancers and fans on the Whiskey A Go-Go stage. Some fine, fine harmonica work by an underrated harpist James Harmon gives it just the right twist to make it qualify as a true blues tune.

I honestly can’t say that there is a weak cut on this release, this release seems to be what they have been searching for and now that it has been found we can sit back and look forward to more of the same explosive, creative and varied takes on the big tent of blues music that I feel is the future of the genre.


Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2011
photos: Courtesy of artists.

CD Reviews: Music The Healer

So I decided that after Labor Day this year I’d get that long aching left knee scoped. Result is that the existing arthritis and meniscus tear taken care of. The issue of how do I spend my R&R time, led me to South Carolina and sun, beach and beer-can chicken (always a good remedy for what ails ya). Add to that mix some good Blues music and I am almost ready to hit the high seas once again at the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise end of October.
Here is what has been playing in the workout room, on the iPod while biking and keeping me company in the air during my return to Rochester.

Samantha Fish: Runaway (Ruf Records)

Right away – Down in the Swamp – a well paced riff-driven blues with the bite of a ‘gator exposes Samantha’s fine understanding of the guitar and how to make it talk to us. Continuing the aural display we are treated to an upbeat boogie number ‘Runaway‘. The title track keeps the feet moving and allows her to showcase her adroit skills at plucking leads in a tasty manner that enhances the overall mood of the song.

This is her solo debut release containing nine originals and two covers. Produced by Mike Zito, who co-wrote ‘Push Comes To Shove’ where he performs a nice duet with her in a song that is somewhat reminiscent of the Sue Foley/Peter Karp ‘He Said, She Said’ of a while ago. On this release we also get to hear Ms. Cassie Taylor on bass, who is one third of ‘Girls With Guitars’ (along with Samantha and Dani Wilde) who have been burning down festivals across the country this summer.

My favorite cover is ‘Louisiana Rain’, the Tom Petty chestnut, which is presented with perfectly crafted vocals by Samantha, who then adds some thick, sweet slide guitar that refreshes this well known to a new level – and it’s perfect played loud while driving in the car !

I first met Samantha on the an LRBC cruise when she had to step in for an very ill Danielle Schnebelen of Trampled Under Foot, she was outstanding and I believe that opportunity solidified in her mind what her potential really was. She certainly showed it to the crowd who loved every moment of her performance with the band.

Terry Hanck: Here It Comes
(Delta Groove Music)

There aren’t a lot of things to make ya feel good – or better – than a sweet tenor sax and soul filled vocalist. Well Terry Hanck provides all this and more. This is Terry’s 6th release, his first for Delta Groove, and it provides us with an outstanding collection of covers and originals.

Terry covers Chick Willis’ ‘Keep A Drivin’ layered with the languid feel of ‘The Stroll’ and some rough gritty sax work complete with background vocals. A stepping West Coast Swing version of Tiny Bradshaw’s ‘Train Kept a Rollin’ is a rollicking jaunt on the rails of good old fashioned Rock & Roll, and it’s way better than Aerosmith’s version (trust me).

As a songwriter Terry has always been capable, creative and most importantly – enjoyable. In what has become my theme song and expression du jour Terry has given us ‘Appreciate What You Got’. A poignant but uplifting homage to the current state of distress we are all living in we are treated to a scorching guitar solo by co-producer Kid Andersen. Then Terry announces that he will appreciate his own self and gives us a rollicking, swaggering sax solo that recalls the sound of King Curtis and has the feel of some fine old Memphis greasy rock & soul music.

Terry is one of the very best saxophonists around today. He has a complete understanding of where the instrument stands in history but takes it off the mantle and keeps it alive and well. His singing is deep and soulful and his music does what music is supposed to do in it’s purest form – make ya move to it !

Ian Siegal and the Youngest Sons : The Skinny (Nugene Records)
release date October 25, 2011

Ian Siegal is one of the most gifted singers and smart song writers that I know of. That’s a helluva statement to make, and by doing so I hope I don’t alienate people, but damn this guy puts it out there. I have been a fan of his for quite some time, first discovering him with his ‘Meat and Potatoes’ release (2005). Methinks I am not alone as he just won the British Blues Award for Male Artist of The Year.

With ‘The Skinny’ we see Mr. Siegal cross the big pond and come to America to record with American Blues Artists. This is a time honored tradition, done by such British Blues bands as the Rolling Stones, Yardbirds, Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Mr. Siegal came to the North Mississippi studio of the late Jim Dickinson, to record with Cody Dickinson (son of Jim), Garry Burnside (son of R.L.), Robert Kimbrough (son of Junior) and Rodd Bland ()son of Bobby ‘Blue) – all of them the youngest sons of their legendary fathers – hence the name reference.

The title track ‘The Skinny’ is a pulsing, grinding down-to-the-bone low down on what is happenin’ right here and right now – the skinny = the truth delivered in a menacing straight up rhythm. ‘Stud Spider’ is a Tony Joe White tune presented as a dark metaphorical look at the world of male/female relations. Robert Kimbrough’s solo is an incredibly dizzying venture down into a web of sound, only to be pulled out at the end by a rattling, clanking scratching at the strings that had seemed to have given up the fight just seconds earlier. No black widow feast here.

There is not a soft spot here, as come to be expected from Mr. Siegal. ‘Master Plan’ is a open pledge to acquire the apple of his eye much in the same way that ‘Ruby Baby’ stated ‘Ruby bay, how I want you, like a ghost I’m gonna haunt you’ but with more conviction than that dark pop song had. ‘Devil’s In The Details’ is a treat for us to experience the sound of some really fine Hill Country Fife and Drum music featuring Andre Turner on fife with some call and response added to fullness.

If you are a fan of Ian Siegal then this is a must. If you have not yet had the pleasure than this will serve as a proper introduction. It is pure Ian but served up with a raw and edgy side of Mississippi Hill Country Fried Poke Salad.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2011

Lionel Young Band: Blues & Boogie Woogie

Lionel Young is the first double champion in the history of the IBC. Lionel Young won the 2008 IBC in the solo-duo category, and the 2011 International Blues Challenge (IBC) band competition as The Lionel Young.

I first met Lionel on the October 2009 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the infamous ‘cruise to nowhere’. That was the cruise that ran into hurricanes and we did donuts in the Pacific Ocean. It seemed that Lionel was everywhere on that cruise, whether it be playing as a band or jamming in with Debbie Davies, Fiona Boyes and the historic late night jams. He was impressive not only in his musical prowess but also for his openness and friendliness.
I wanted to speak to him because he has roots in Rochester, NY – adopted home of Son House (and me).


B411: You have won the International Blues Challenge twice now, one in 2008 for Solo/Duo, and now in 2011 as a Band, congrats !
What made you ‘go back to the drawing board’ and form/re-form as a group?

LY: When I did the IBC the first time in 2008, I originally wanted to bring a band. The seed was sown then to come back and do it that way. It’s just so much funner to play music with others than by your self. It was always in the back of my mind. That’s why there were 6 of us in Memphis.

B411: How has the dynamic changed within the band, and do you think this is the best vehicle for what you are playing?

LY: The dynamic is in the process of shifting from being focused on doing our very best at the IBC to conquering the world as we know it. I’m having a little fun with this question but that answer is partly accurate. We want to focus on touring well, playing with the same commitment,drive and integrity that we had in Memphis. I want us to set our sights higher in the recording department by aiming for a BMA or eventually a Grammy. I’m not sure if it’s the best vehicle for what I’m getting into or not. I’m sure it fun though. It’s kind of like driving a high powered car. It’s more of a luxury. I still like to play by myself too, but I prefer to play with others.

B411: Speaking of winning the IBC’s, did you learn anything about the process, and intimacies of the Challenge, the first time that helped you prepare for the second, and resoundingly successful second attempt?

LY: Yes I did. I hate to sound cliche, but the more time you put into preparation, the better you’ll do at anything you want to do. We spent a lot of time preparing. I wanted to do my best to put us in a position to win. First, I picked the best players I could find. There I started backwards. I started with the sound I wanted in my head first and picked musicians who best fit that image. Most, but not all were already my friends but friendship wasn’t a priority. Some I’d played with a lot, some not so much. The most important thing was that they were great players that took pride in themselves and the way they played and knew how to play in the texture of the band. Before we played a note to prepare for the local preliminary rounds of the IBC, we worked backwards starting with the judging criteria. We’d talk about everything we did and would choose music according to the judging criteria, trying to maximize the heavier criteria like blues content, showing instrumental and vocal talent. We picked music that showed a good variety of rhythms and feels. We tried to be as original as we could be choosing songs that we wrote. If we did any covers they wouldn’t be something you’d hear at a blues jam. They’d have to serve the purpose of scoring high in other criteria. We dressed up and had a blues dance instructor help us with stage presence & stage show issues. We went in the studio and recorded the “on the way to Memphis” CD which prepared us musically to have a CD’s worth of music really down and tight.

That was one of the hardest things we did. We timed everything, both the songs individually and sets as a whole so we wouldn’t go over. The recording helped us with that. We even took a chance and did an all acapella song that ended up being a our secret weapon. It was a chance to score high in vocal talent if we did it well. We covered Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”. Not an original tune but an original way of doing it. We tried to do what I knew other bands wouldn’t do to set us apart, like play a real slow blues or play real quiet or with good dynamics.

I knew that making decisions to do stuff that set us apart would be advantageous going into the first IBC in 2008. Almost everyone else in the situation tries to bang you over the head with their music. The IBC a high pressure situation. Because of that we knew that most acts would play louder and faster but not slower and quieter. That’s something I really learned from Josef Gingold, one of my violin teachers. He unlike most people, could play so quiet and beautiful, it would take your breath away. One thing I noticed about guys like BB and Buddy Guy and all the really good bands is that they can play really quiet. People listen harder and get sucked in. All this equipment and watts and amps doesn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play loud and proud like anyone else. That’s something that just feels good, but loud noises scare the little children and take away many people’s ability to hear. Also, I really tried to connect with the audience by simply looking up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do that and how important it is to do. Most people want to feel something, a connection to you of some kind. That’s just another thing to think about for any performer. It’s really why you’re there.

B411: Where there differences in the approach you took for these two different categories or was it about the same?

LY: The approach I took was the same, working backwards from the judging criteria. The difference between the two was that I had much longer to prepare for the band which was needed. Getting 6 people on the same page on anything is tough enough. Just getting 6 in demand musicians in the same room for a rehearsal can be challenging. Naturally, 6 people are harder to manage than just one. In 2008 with the solo/duo, I really didn’t get serious until the weekend before the contest. Like many who go to the IBC, there was a send off performance before we left. I felt I played terrible there so I got to work and prepared seriously, practicing for as many hours as I could. In a way it felt like I’d been preparing for it all my life, but if I didn’t really have what I wanted to do down, I would have felt that I wasted an opportunity . I learned an important lesson. Sometimes playing badly can be good for you. It can spur you on to play well later.

B411: You were taking violin lessons when you were six years old at The Eastman.  How did this happen?

LY: It happened this way. My mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a woman who was going to start teaching violin a revolutionary new way. Her name was Anastasia Jempelis. The way that she was teaching is called the Suzuki Method derived from a man from Japan, Shinichi Suzuki. It focused on a thing called the mother tongue method, which is a way of learning music on an instrument by ear or imitation.

B411: Who were your early influences, and who would you say are at your musical Roots?

LY: I would say my earliest strong musical influence was from my family, which was very musical. My mother played piano and organ very well. She played organ in the church we went to. Both of my parents had strong musical tastes. My dad grew up in New Orleans & had lots of records, mostly jazz. My sister was a good pianist in her own right and listened to a lot of soul, R&B and funk. I would often raid my dad and sisters record collections so their music got into my musical veins. My favorites were people to listen to out of their collections were Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic. This was along with the fact that my brother played the cello and I played violin early in our lives. I was 6 and he was 5 when we started. My brother now plays in the Boston Symphony. I consider us lucky to have lived in a city like Rochester and have an Eastman School of Music to go to. Our teachers and fellow students became strong influences. Every week we were exposed to high level musicians playing. Those were my strongest earlier influences. It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues. Also, I was a good researcher. I’d go find out about and listen to all of these old records for hours on hours. For a little while in high school, I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day. How square is that? I think at one point I skipped a couple weeks straight doing nothing but that until it was found out. I got into a little trouble with the school and my folks. It was my passion and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped yet.

B411: I saw you on the October 2009 Bluescruise, and was blown away with your playing and stage presence, it was warm and affable, yet you took no prisoners when you played. It seems to me there is a large difference between classical performances and blues performances, and crowds – do you like the engaging persona of blues audiences, and did you find this in classical performances ?

LY: Here’s what I’ve found about those audiences. I don’t think that there is that much difference. People are people. The music is either good or bad. When the music is good, classical or blues audience will react to it. I’ve seen and experienced classical audiences go nuts crazy over a good performance. It could have a deep effect on you like it did me sometimes. I remember seeing a Vladimir Horowitz recital, and an Ornette Coleman show not long after that had about the same lasting good effect on me. They both gave me so much energy that you almost feel like you could run through a brick wall.

B411: Can you tell us some more about your classical training, and some of the events you played at thru those connections?

LY: Some the more memorable events were traveling to Europe, specifically Austria and Switzerland as a teenager with the Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, getting a full scholarship to Indiana University and studying with Josef Gingold. Playing in LA for part of the summer at Universal Pictures Studio Orchestra, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York, going to the Olympics in “88 in Seoul Korea with the National Repertory Orchestra.

B411:Would you say these prepared you for the move to the blues scene?

LY: Most definitely these prepared me to move to the blues scene. Any time spent in front of an audience prepares you for any other time. Being in front of an audience isn’t natural but becomes more natural with practice. That’s why a lot of people get stage fright. I got it too. That doesn’t happen much any more. I get a little anxious sometimes, but not like when I was a kid when my legs would shake and my mouth would be dry and it was hard enough to stand there and almost impossible to make music. You have to relax and breathe. No matter what kind of music you’re playing, you can only communicate your state of being.

B411: The Blues, why? Did it just present itself to you one day, or was it always there waiting to be discovered by you?

LY: I think in a previous life, I played the blues guitar or bass. For a while, I tried to play with a slide on the violin. It almost worked but it wasn’t quite right. It was when I first took a slide to guitar that I really felt that I’d done it before. Everything just fit. I seemed to know where things were without any real practice. The real blues is always there waiting to be discovered by everybody. It seems like it was always there in my life. Why not blues? It’s great music and I love it. It’s changed me and I know it’s changed most of you. It shows up at transformation points, and turns negative situations into positive energy. It has everything I need in it. In it there’s a microcosm of everything else. It feels like it’s essence has always been here.

B411: There is a history of violin in the Blues, from the Jug Bands, to the Folksy Good Time Music of the 60’s, to Papa John Creach – did any of this inspire you, or encourage you to pursue the

LY: To tell you the truth, no it didn’t really encourage me to pursue playing the blues though I wish I could say it did. I was more into the general sound of the Blues. As we all know, it would appear in all kinds of music and in many ways like for me Aretha or Count Basie or Ray Charles. I was more shock influenced by the sound of Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf & John Lee Hooker. It was later when I heard Charlie Patton or early Muddy or the Mississippi Sheiks and Sugar Cane Harris that I realized that the violin had been there all along. By then in my life I was already deep into the blues music, so it did inspire and encourage me but I’d already tried to play the sounds I heard on the violin. Nothing inspired me more that hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin. I think that the violin was kind of fazed out of the blues and popular music. My guess as to why that happened is that it probably had to do with how it was perceived, like it was old fashioned or it was king in some bygone musical era. Also, I think that this happened partly because it wasn’t loud enough compared tohorns and later the electric Guitar. I got a chance to speak with Claude Fiddler Williams a few years ago (1999) in Kansas City. He played violin and guitar with Count Basie. He told me that as a condition to get signed, John Hammond senior told Count that he had to get rid of the strings, so he was out.

I believe that the time for the violin to be out of the blues and other popular music is forever moved to the past. I see it coming back. There’s just too many of us violin players and there are so many newer electric violins that volume isn’t an issue any more. I’m so glad you asked this question. In a way for me, when I saw it, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I sincerely believe that part of what my spirit in this body is here to do is tied in with the violin and is connected with winning the IBC in Memphis this year. The violin has enjoyed many years of being the alpha or dominant instrument in the orchestra. I’m in love with it. It can do so many different things musically. It’s said to be the musical instrument most like the human voice. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t have a more prominent place in blues or other popular music. I have to admit that in coming to this years IBC, I had something to prove.

After I won the solo/duo part of the IBC in 2008, I was a little bothered at how I was perceived. I’m not whining, I’m just saying. I’d hear whisperings about how the only reason I won was because I was playing a “novelty instrument”. That’s bullshit! I heard that some people were even upset that a non guitar player won and that my winning was just a fluke. That attitude (when I’d find it) really pissed me off. It discounted how hard I worked and the true love I had for the blues and all the great people that influenced me. It doesn’t matter what you play as much as how you play, who you are and what you have to say. I really believe that. If someone played fork or a paper plate really well and could sing and make you feel something, theoretically they should have be given the same consideration at the IBC as someone playing a guitar, piano or harmonica. I saw that if I really believed that, I had to prove it and win the IBC again against all odds. By that I mean playing a violin primarily and winning twice. Winning once is hard enough. That can be a charm or a curse. It can be an obstacle if you attempt to do it again because the IBC process is based on subjective opinions. It’s not who makes the most baskets or who crosses the finish line first. A judge could consciously or unconsciously score you less high just because you won it before giving someone else a chance. I saw that happen so I knew that whatever I did had to be strong enough to overcome that too.

B411: Looking at your ‘set lists’ on-line, we’ve got everything from W.C. Handy, Sinatra, and Sly Stone to Count Basie and Jimi Hendrix. It sounds like my CD collection.
How do you go about selecting music to cover, what do you look for?

LY: First I get a panel of experts together and poll them on what covers they like. Then I use a computerized rating system. Just kidding. I play what’ll fit the situation or what I’d like to hear in the moment.

B411: Not to be overlooked, your songwriting stands well on it’s own. Do you have any influences as to style of writing, someone who you have heard and say ‘yeh that’s it’?

LY: I’ve heard a lot of people and said,”yea that’s it”. One of my best influences is a guy by the name of Johnny Long. He wrote and played lots of great originals. I know he’s recorded for Delta Groove records. I played with him for a while and he introduced be to Homesick James at one point. He’s just great. Everybody should know him. I wouldn’t be who I am in the blues world without his influence and example. I love the way Sonny Boy Williamson wrote a song. Always interesting and makes you think. In a much different way, I love Otis Taylor because he breaks new ground and writes about heavy stuff. I like James Taylor as a song writer and have met and played with him. Most of what I right about comes from my experience in one way or another. Lately I’ve been writing about warnings and concerns around the topics of our environment and what I envision happening in the next year and 1/2. The way I see where we’re at now is that we feel like we’ve been given platform to sing and speak on the challenges we’re facing as people who are facing extinction. That’s the stuff I care about. How are we gonna survive this next couple of years. Not just me, but everyone. I know that we’re better and stronger if we help each other. That’s part of why I take music so seriously. It brings people together. We need good music now today more than ever.

B411: Where are you and the band going now? Is there anything you guys are up to in the studio, summer festival time is upon us, where can we look forward to seeing you?

LY: We’re setting our sights high. Why not go big? We have some stuff in the can that we can release when the time is right. Meanwhile, we’re looking at situations where we can get our music out and more available. There are some serious looks at some good companies and situations in the immediate future. Meanwhile, we’re going to be all over the US, Canada. We’re playing lots of festivals this summer. Most or all of where we’ll be will be posted on our website at We’re presented with lots of opportunities and we what to make the best of them. Going to Europe in November, doing the Blues Cruise again. I’m excited.

B411: See you at Bluestock, August 26-28, 2011 (  !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
© 2011

photos: Leslie K. Joseph


This conversation orginally appeared in Blues Blast Magazine, and it has been edited and re-published here with their kind permission.
To learn more about Blues Blast Magazine go to .