Looking Ahead to 2012

Well 2011 was far more than I ever thought it would be. Seriously crashing into, and breaking thru the ceiling of expectations here at Blues411, with over 4k unique visitors a month, averaging just over 7k visits for the month of December – all I can say is WOW ! The “Jimi” awards alone garned almost 1k in hits on the day it was posted and had a slip- stream effect pulling another 500+ the next day.

With your help and continued support we plan on building on these numbers and looking forward to starting 2012 off right !  Feel free to share Blues411.com with all your blues loving friends as many of you already have done, as it is this word of mouth that is the backbone of this little home for blues news.

Here are some of the things planned for the end of the world as the Mayan’s knew of it . . .

Returning to Western NY to see what snow looks like, and realize that it’s pretty until ya have to live with it for six-months and it’s dark and gray and icy to boot.

With that in mind we are taking steps to change our perspective.
Starting with the LRBC #18 Caribbean Adventure Bluescruise, January 22-29  (SOLD OUT) but the October 2012, Southeastern Caribbean cruise has still some more spots left as does the January 2013 which is taking reservastions.

With a one-day turn around I will be heading to Memphis for The Blues Foundations’ amazing International Blues Challenge January 31 thru February 4, 2012. Be sure to check them out at this link and maybe get yourselves down here for a great opportunity to see over 100 bands from around the world compete for prizes and acclaim as they take over downtown Memphis for these five days. http://www.blues.org/#ref=ibc_index

Blues 411 is also opening up the door to advertisers who wish to be part of the official Blues411 family. Long time supporter Heritage Shortbread has expanded their base and are doing really well. They feature a great selection of hand made original recipe shortbread unlike any you have ever had. Check them out here http://www.heritageshortbread.com/ .  If you are interested in advertising on my site, just hit me up with an email or grab me on facebook to discuss the down ‘n dirties.

Looking forward to hooking up with some super artists for interviews, quick chats and just plain talkin’, plus all the great music slated to come out this year sure makes ’12 look really super. Thanks to all of you – the artists, the fans, the labels. PR and related folks who work tirelessly keeping the blues alive for us and the future generations.
Oh yeh, a special shout out to Mr.’s  Bill Wax, Tony Colter and Pat St. John at B.B. King’s Bluesville Sirius/XM 70 for believing in this project from the get go. Check out the home page to see what’s happening down at Lo-Fi’s ! http://www.siriusxm.com/bluesville


So Happy New Year to everyone out there and together we can not only keep the Blues alive but help to make it a vital and widespread around the world.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
©Blues411.com 2011
photos: Courtesy of organizations.



At Home With The Blues-NYC Style

It is not often that one gets to ‘go home’, and it is even less likely that one gets to go back on their own terms. I was quite fortunate to be able to accomplish this bi-fecta (hah bet ya didn’t see that coming). On March 20, 2011 Big City Blues Magazine held a celebration of Spring at Kenny’s Castaways in Greenwich Village. It was a celebration of what might have been the birthplace of the folk revival, which in turn spawned talented musicians who have shaped our lives thru the decades and still do now.

Did I hear disbelief amongst you? John Hammond, Pete Seeger, John Sebastian, Maria Muldaur, Rory Block, more, The Holmes Brothers, The Lovin’ Spoonful, some guy named Bob Dylan. I’ll stop there, but you can do some research on it if you are still not believing, or wish to go deep on this. Check out the links at the end of story.

I grew up in NYC back in the 60’s, and goodness me, there was a revolution going on in the city long before it hit the media and press corps. The music was changing, it seemed like, overnight, Mr. John Sebastian recalled a night he was playing at Gerdies Folk City to a crowd of finger-tapping beatniks, when at the front of the house was but one, long haired girl, dancing what was soon to become the iconic dance of a generation. John, and Zal Yanovsky looked at each other on stage and mutually hoped she would return with her friends. She did. Within days the crowd had changed, gone were the beatniks whose understated coolness disappeared as quickly as it had appeared and they were replaced by ladies dancing to the music, becoming one with the groove and thus leading to the next great movement of American music.

All of this took place in and around Greenwich Village, a.k.a. ‘the Village’ which historically has been known to be the cultural center for Bohemian lifestyles. This has been the case since the earliest part of the 20th century when free (unaffiliated) small presses, art galleries and experimental theater thrived. By the late 1950’s it had become the spot for alternative theater. Known as ‘off-off Broadway’ it was in reaction to Broadway and Off  Broadway which seemed all the same and mundane at best. But quite possibly it’s influence on music then and now is it’s claim to fame.

Enough of the history but I felt I needed to put into perspective how vital and influential it was to be growing up in NYC at the on-set of the musical and cultural revolution that ran from the 50’s thru the 70’s, and may be alive again in the Village. I say this because on this past First day of Spring I was treated to an unprecedented display of some of the most powerful Blues performers in the five boroughs and at least three adjoining states could provide, all at legendary music club, Kenny’s Castaway’s.

‘With a ‘3PM till . . . ?’ notice rakishly taped on the front door, I wandered in about 2:30 to say hi and claim a spot in front from which Leslie and I could do our thing. We felt we needed to be up front because we really only knew one or two of the performers and wanted to be sure to get the full frontal experience from the bands. There were some folks hanging around both in the club and on stage, shuffling about and seemingly starting to feel the edge creep in, when suddenly the stage erupts into a fierce number by the Michael Packer Band that left everyone slack-jawed and wondering what just happened. With a sly grin on his face, Mr. Packer steps to the microphone and wryly states the obvious ‘Good Morning’. Ohh-ohh, I think it’s time to hit the adult beverage concession cos it’s gonna be a hell-raiser. As if in step with my thoughts, Eddie Jackson steps away from the percussion and gives us what might have been the anthem for the day/night ‘Back At That Bar Again‘.

Now that’s pretty scary – this was the FIRST band. Our music coordinator for the event was Dave Fields, and let me say now, that he did an amazing job of keeping the musical threads in line. There were 14 (give or take 2 or 3) bands that would play for this day and never was there a hitch in the fabric. Mr. Fields would have made a fine ‘shnayder’ which is Yiddish for tailor (or from the Germanic Schneider). Mr. Tailor, errh, Fields, took the stage and formed a patchwork coalition of a band with some of his regular players, and various friends and entertained the crowd with so much energy and excitement. He ripped into a bluesy version of Zeppelin’s Black Dog. A special visitor had arrived during Dave’s set, Mr. Pat St. John from Sirius/XM and WCBS-FM radio. Pat is a legend in NYC music, having been a D(isc)J (now a Digital J) from the beginning of alternative/free-form radio with such classic stations as WPLJ and WNEW FM. Pat was thrilled to see Dave do some good Jewish Blues, and was ‘verklempt’ over the ‘Rabbi Blues‘ which Dave wrote and performs regularly to foot stomping Hora processions thru-out the land. Part of his ‘entourage’ was vocalist and energizer bunny Ms. Nikki Armstrong who gave new meaning to the old Hambone Willie Newbern song ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin‘ ‘. Ms. Armstrong has co-authored several songs with Mr. Fields and they seem very comfortable on stage with each other. I must say that whenever Dave plays one never knows what he will pull out of his bag of tricks, a truly entertaining performer and quite exceptional musician, in my book.

An import from the Motor City was Luther ‘Badman’ Keith, whose guitar slinging and vocals were reminiscent of what the Motor City made famous. POWER. Sporting a street legal, modified guitar and a voice that reflected tones of Gas, Tires and Oil (the GTO in GTO) Mr. Keith to me would have been a better player than Eminem for that Detroit is coming back commercial from the super bowl. More real, more believable and way more plausible than a posturing wanna be could ever be.

The harp hit was Mikey Jr, and the Stone Cold Blues Band. Hard hitting, genuine, and fun are all words that you can apply here. Mikey can get some serious tone on his harps. whether they be diatonic or chromatic. His songs are witty, yet poignant and this guy knows how to command a stage, brothers and sisters. A solid band are the Stone Cold’s, but the guitar player, young Mr. Matt Daniels looks like a rising star, oh yeh cool shoes Matt !

At about 6:20 or so, we all were exposed to the Alexis P. Suter Band. Holy crap people ! A seven piece band featuring Ms. Alexis P. Suter as the lead vocalist, Ms.’s Vicki Bell & Linda Pino offering much more than background vocals, Bennie Harrison (keys) Peter Bennett (bass) Ray Grappone (drums) and sitting in Arthur Neilson (Shemeika Copeland) on guitar. Man were we ever un-prepared for this band’s performance. Stunning baritone notes ring from Ms. Suters’ diaphragm, as the ladies accompany her and fill in the cracks with soulful harmonies and stylistic shouts and moans. Each band member contributes to this effort, they seem almost as one giant quaking construct of the music itself. They are currently touring and will be releasing their new album in April.

The event’s honorees The Holmes Brothers received the ‘Happy To have The Blues’ Award from Jr., and Sugar. The running gag for the day was we were all ‘Holmes brothers’ and when they took the stage for a few unplanned numbers we certainly to a person ‘happy to have the blues’.

For fear of over staying my welcome inside your eyes and brains, dear readers, I will quickly touch on one or two more things that stood out for me. Believe me I could do just what I did above for every act from the show – they were all that good. That being said, Mr. Bill Sims working with a broken string early in his set, proceeds to remind us that the Blues is made for a guitar, bass and drums and that it draws influences from everywhere. To the point, his breaking out a bluesy version of Neil Young’s ‘Down By The River’.

Bobby Radcliff pouring his heart and soul into this set, backed by Brad Vickers on bass. Blue-eyed soul indeed.

Big Ed Sullivan attacking his nicely worn guitar with a half filled Budwsier beer bottle (I knew Bud had to be good for something) and using it as a slide and pick, then him and Dave Fields battling it out in ‘king of the hill’ fashion on guitars. Lest we forget the ever on the spot, right there when you need him Mr. David Keyes on the ….keys !

The aforementioned Arthur Neilson, just tearing the place apart with his hi-powered, talent laden guitar work. Did you know he was the lead guitarist for Blue Angel ? Yeah Cyndi Laupers’ original band…..just sayin’…..He tore through his original composition ‘Fenderbender’ and then moved right into Pipeline, hottdamn. Currently Arthur is with the Shemeika Copeland band.

Ok so here we are in the village listening to Blues and who should appear on the stage (another one of those who they heck are they) but Better Off Dead ???? It was like Nick Lowe, Dave Edmonds, Conway Twitty, Carl Perkins and Dashiell Hammett collided and this is what was formed. That’s a good thing ! Appearing as a four man band toweringly led by (great name) V.D. King (told ya) on vocals and guitar, assisted by Don Kenny on guitar (lead) and vocals, these guys just jumped the place and when they ended everyone was wondering what hit them. They are the undisputed demented dukes of musical mayhem from Jersey City, check them out.

For me the true telling of the tale came to light when Brad Vickers and The Vestapolitans came on stage. Featauring Margey Peters on bass, and vocals and a licorice stick/saxaphone artist who just thrills the crowd. Here we were celebrating the music that formed in the Village back in the day, and every band did their best, to honor that goal. But what was that music that was being played back then? In it’s most primal form, it was folksy, old-timey music that tapped into the rag time tradition. Brad and the Vestapolitans brought that to light with their set. With get happy, swinging music they provided the musical link to what was then, and is, now one of the most creative and avant-garde spots on this planet – or any other – the Village.

LINKS (in no particular order):
www.alexispsuter.com, www.bobbyradcliff.com, www.davefields.com,
www.mikeyjr.com, www.michaelpackerbluesband.com,
www.arthurneilson.com, www.nikkiarmstrong.com,
www.kennyscastaways.net, www.theholmesbrothers.com, www.bigedsullivan.comwww.davekeyes.comhttp://billsimsjr.com/ http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#!/Vestapolitans?sk=info

for more on Greenwich Village:





Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos courtesy of  Leslie K. Joseph
©Blues411.com 2011


Reclamation – The Smell Of Success Conversation

B411: Whats going on brother Vincent?

VH: We’re getting hit pretty hard with the Lake Effect snow, and the car is having issues. Gotta love the weather up here.

B411: Yeh this winter has been one of discontent for sure. Well all but for one small issue, you ‘The Vincent Hayes Project’ Reclamation release has been nominated for a Blues Music Award! Congrats.

VH: Yeh, so ya heard about it – and heard it ! We are so pleased to be recognized for our work.

B411: Yeh it’s doing really well. I am so impressed with it. To me it sounds like a timeless blues release. ‘Thank You Baby’ is the one that pulled me in hard.

VH: Well that song was maybe half written maybe ten years ago, and I finished it up within the last year before we started recording. There were a couple of verses I wasn’t happy with, and the riff itself mutated over time. When I listened to it on my little tape recorder, like ten years ago, it was a very different groove, and it mutated into that groove as we went along.
A lot of the songs on the disc were more spontaneous creations, they just poured out. Others have more of a lineage, little bits and pieces transformed over time, and that was one of them. So I was really happy when it started to get played a lot. I hear a lot of people say they like that song and they like the groove and I think I’ guess it’s good I waited ten years to do anything with it.

B411: When I hear the Reclamation release – to me – it’s really a personal statement from you. Most songs we hear get related back to ourselves in some form, but with your music it really comes thru as you and your scene. Am I getting weird on this ?

VH: There is an element of familiarity that most people look for in music, there is a small percentage of listeners who are honed in, looking for inspired music. They are looking for something that they can relate to, that has more of an identity factor. They have been listening to this band or that band and they go to a show and they want to hear some music that reminds me of a familiar situation – something I can relate to.

B411: Is it a background thing ? The way we were introduced to music?

VH: I was born in ’71 and my father had a big influence on me. He got me into Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Chuck Berry. So I had a well rounded musical influence back then. So for me, as a listener, it is a challenge when I go looking for new music I’m not gonna be impressed by flashy licks or a hot instrumentalist – or a great voice alone – I want a presence or a reason for that song to be there. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me a music snob because of that, but to me music is such a personal experience for me, that’s why I chose to be a musician, when I’m a listener I apply that same level of criteria or standards as I would to my music.

B411: OK I understand that, it makes sense. Since we are visiting the past, conceptually speaking, is there a difference between influences and roots ?

VH: Yeh, there is, your roots are where you begin. Its your initial impression of whatever area of art you gravitate to whether it be music or visual arts. You have those roots and they also are reflective of your early personal life and your perceptions of the world. The stimulus of what you take in and encounter along that journey you take it in and process it. Then you get to a point of understanding the overall direction of ‘yes I am an artist or a musician’ and establish that fact – you can continue and hopefully will be, influenced for the rest of your life. I think a big mistake some artists make is that they get to stuck into saying that I got to say what I have to say in this style or way and I’m not gonna allow for any other variables along the way to steer me in any other direction. There is a difference between keeping yourself open artistically and not. If you are open to those experiences along the way that you have to deal with it has an effect on your art. It is related to how you live your life.

B411: What about you and the Blues? When did it ‘hit’ ya’?

VH: When I decided that I was going to play the Blues, Blues is what gets me — I think there was a certain niavity that I had — I wanted my stuff to sound like this box of influences over here. Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Elmore James, those cats that moved me to the core. So if my stuff doesn’t sound like that I am breaking the code of the music or the purity. So when I reached a certain point I realized that it was OK not to sound like them, I’m not BB King or Elmore James. So I just let things come. I realized not to filter out the other things for a purity sake, the purity of I gotta sound a certain way – I gotta sound like Vincent Hayes 100%. So I am an open person so I am influenced by many other things. Your roots are where all that perception begins.

B411: The roots are always there, while influences can come and go. You can hear something and decide to add that bit of it to your work while maintaining your ‘roots’.

VH: Yeah, I don’t just listen to Blues. The first thing that comes to mind is Ray LaMontagne. I first heard of him a few years ago when I was going thru my divorce, somebody had one of his tracks on their MySpace page, and I thought he was some cat from the 60’s that I missed. So I check him out and in the next couple of days I buy one of his discs. I was just blown away by his passion the rawness, honesty of his voice – he was singing it just exactly how he f*ing meant it. In fact one of my first dates with my current girlfriend we went to see him in Ann Arbor, it was just one of the most intimate shows ever. It was just four single color spotlights on each member of the band and black elsewhere. It was the only show that while he was playing you could hear a pin drop and when he was done the audience erupts into a roar then they settle down again.
He’s got a lot of that Memphis soul in him, and Stephen Stills was a big influence on him, and Stills has that Blues edge in him. So I can see why I gravitate to him, he can be in that pentatonic zone and other times he’s just straight ahead singing his song to four simple chords. To me that’s the real art of songwriting – can you get your point across in a few chords and transmit that emotion to me so that I am riding that story with ya. If you can do that in four chords and simple poignant melodies then that’s really what grabs me. We have these great songwriters all over the globe, as good as the 60’s and 70’s, but the problem is that our musical taste is reflective of where we are in society. People don’t really want to go too deep into where they are, there is a faction who do want to get in touch with the inner core of who they are, but the majority factor is people who don’t want to go to deep.

B411: Ray certainly has had cross over success as a song writer for sure, Lucky Peterson just covered Trouble on his latest release. So tell me a little about the Vincent Hayes Project, the band.

VH: I had been playing coffee shops thru most of the 90’s, basically a solo act. That being said, Dave, Donnie and I would jam off and on for years. So every once and awhile I’d get a gig that needed a band and I would say yeh I got a band and I’d call them and I knew they could just drop and and get on the groove.

Eventually I decided to put together a three piece – and did the Blues challenge – went to Memphis to the IBC’s and did all that. I must say in those couple of years playing as a three piece we were really able to tighten the rapport between us. We were going to go in the studio right after the ’07 IBC’s, that’s when I called Glenn Brown. I then ran into Steve ‘Doc’ Yankee, we didn’t know each other nor had even heard the other play, but we were from Michigan, and I knew he was a brother, a cat. So we decided that we would play with each other at some point.
So I’m trucking with my three-piece band, going thru my divorce, and it’s three years past the mark, and we still gotta make a CD, come on guys we gotta do it ! Most of these tunes we had been playing live for like five years, so when we finally got around to doing the disc, I started hearing horns and thought about putting in a horn section, but at the time I was giving lessons at a store here in town and that’s where I met Christian – I’d throw some of my tunes at him while hanging out and he’d jump in and play along and killing it so I finally asked him if he wanted to record with us. Doc came in because we got in contact with each other and told him I was going to record and he asked why he wasn’t invited – busted – so by time the disc was done we had become a band.

B411: I love the sound, 2 keys, funky bass, killer guitar and solid vocals, it’s a great sound. How long did it take you to cut Reclamation?

VH: Studio sessions started September of 2009, all together we had about five or six where we did tracking, and then a final mix down session. Glenn mastered it in about a week. If I recall correctly, it was one session every six or seven weeks. What we would do is lay down five tracks originally, as a three piece, then the last couple of sessions we were recording live. Docs’ tracks were live, all three, no overdub.

B411: That’s interesting because it doesn’t sound like a heavily produced release. Yes, there are some layers of sound but it has a raw quality to it that is so nice and primal.

VH: I appreciate that, for me Blues is best when it’s not overproduced. Ya gotta allow for a little bump in the mix, a bad note that sometimes turns into the good note. Every session I was going in thinking it was a permanent performance, I was going to make it count. We took that fire into the studio from playing live, just plug in and lay it down. The depth and aura that you hear there, I gotta give Kudos to Glenn, I sought him out as a result of Root Doctor and Greg Nagy s’ last disc. Everybody I knew in Lansing was saying get Glenn Brown. He not only has an amazing ability to work the gear but he has an amazing ear. This guy was telling me how to tune my guitar ! I’ve been tuning guitars for thirty years – I know how to tune a guitar. But I’d be playing a chord and he would stop us and say ‘hey man, your B string is a little out’. I’d go no – he’d say check it out – so we’d plug it into the tuner and sure enough the B string would be out. His level of what he perceives sonically makes me feel like a kindergartener again.
He has the ability to put things in the right places, plus I think there is some magic in the board we used. We used the Muscle Shoals board that has this insane history of these Gold and Platinum records that have been recorded on it. So if you believe in the transference of energy then there must be some of that mojo hanging out there. I am really happy with this recording which is a surprise cause I am my own worst critic.

B411: That’s a good testament to the music and what went on in the studio.

VH: There is really a wide array of influences between the five of us. There’s the gospel factor, blues work, see, Dave and Donnie came as a unit to me. They have a history of playing together over like five or six years before I got them to join up. Dave (bass) played Reggae in Detroit and Reggae is the Blues of Jamaica. It’s so great to have these guys. Doc is so traditional – more traditional Blues bands, East/West coast New Orleans, Chicago – the more traditional sound that he brings to us. While Christian is more seventies rock, Pink Floyd, YES sound and some others we won’t mention. It’s so very cool for me to have such talent around me it just helps with the creativity of us all.

B411: Do you have a favorite track on Reclamation?

VH: Well let me talk a little bit about how some songs happened. Donnie was the one that said we need to write a song called ‘ Insecurities’ , and I said really, and Dave threw the title ‘doubletalk‘ at me, so it is a group effort. Funny with ‘Doubletalk‘ I came into the studio next time with lyrics for it and we put the groove together. Others I had written earlier and they added their part to it. It takes a lot of pressure off of me to always be the one to come up with the chord change lyrics. I’m always on a conscience look out for the guys in the band to get recognized, they don’t just back me up.
As for a favorite song….I do have a couple – on the level of how personal they are to me. Some I had almost left out, it was tough for me to let go some of the associations these songs had in the sense of the original inspiration of the song, and the ones that almost got left out really didn’t apply to me on that level anymore. But when I looked at those songs in the light of the songs being stories, and my job is to tell stories that people can relate to and absorb even if it’s in their own way. ‘Some Kind of Fool’ was one I almost left off, the other one was ‘Halfway Out the Door’ only because to me it was a strong emotional connection for me, and Christian had not played that song before, so he was forced to write his part right there in the studio. In the studio we were pretty much done, and started to unplug and I said “..no we have to record ‘Halfway Out The Door‘.” When Christian came in for his session  he had put all his parts down and he had to get home, and I tell him there’s one more track – he was surprised, and commented that he might not of ever heard it before. No kidding ! He was ready to call it a wrap but decided to go for it, so twice we almost bumped it off the record through the recording process and it turns out to be one of my favorites. I love the opening groove, it is so powerful and sets the motion and the ending too. The power of the rhythm section and the whole unit really comes together.

B411: The opening smokes on that track. Overall it is a really fine release, one I have not tired of, plus it’s getting good overall recognition. It made Sirius/XM Bluesville 74 Picks to Click for several weeks, and had great legs on the Roots and Blues charts. Hope more people pick it up or go to your website and give it a listen. Once they do that they can join the Blues Foundation and vote for your release and all the other categories available.

Thank you Vincent for your time and your music, see ya in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards May 5th.
Oh yeh, I forgot to mention that Vincent has given us a free MP3 track for all of us out there to listen to, the aforementioned ‘Halfway Out The Door’  this track won an on-line poll by the Vincent Hayes Project  as the favorite fan cut on Reclamation, so know you know the story behind it – get it and listen to it. You will dig it !

Ok in case you want to hear The Vincent Hayes Project live in the studio here is a link to them visiting WYCE radio, and playing two cuts, check it out, nice groove boys ! ! !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

photos courtesy of Vincent Hayes Project, Craig Watson.
©Blues411.com 2011

Karen Lovely – Still the Rain Falls Around A Lucky Girl


In just over a year, Karen Lovely has shot onto the blues scene like Stack O’ Lee’s pistol, capturing the 2nd Place Band Prize at the 2010 International Blues Challenge and picking up (2) Muddy Awards in 2009 for BEST NEW ACT & PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR. Backed by her stellar band, this singer delivers a blistering mix of contemporary & old school blues.    

I originally met Karen thru my work on FaceBook, and then in Memphis for the 2009 Blues Music Awards. She is a sweet. talented and honest woman. Just recently we spoke at legnth and I am thrilled to share it with all of you.    

– – – –     

To me it seems that the Pacific Northwest is becoming a breeding ground for some of the finest Blues music around. With you, Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin’ Daddies, Too Slim & Taildraggers and many more that fail to come to mind right now. Now that, the Pacific Northwest,  is different to me, from West Coast Blues scene, and East Coast scene – does that jibe with your thinking?

Well, I think the Pacific Northwest has a different vibe from the rest of the West Coast – hip & urban but sweet. In fact, I live in a mythical place called the State of Jefferson – an area of Northern California & Southern Oregon that has tried several times to secede from both states to become a 51st state. I grew up in Boston and lived in L.A for almost ten years, and the Pacific Northwest is just a unique place, maybe it’s a weather thing. There’s a really strong blues scene in the PNW, lot of great musicians, clubs and big events like Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival that people really support. I think the Cascade Blues Society has one of the biggest memberships in the country. But I think we’re all happy to be part of the Left Coast Blues family.    

Yes, I have friends that have re-located to Portland area, and are so loving it. Where/when did you first start singing ? Tell us a little bit about your background.

 KL: Well I sang really early on in the church choir – but it was funny how I got chosen to sing. I went to Catholic School, and there were 5 open spots for the choir. Two nuns walked up and down the aisles listening to everyone sing. If they liked you, they would tap you on the shoulder, and you were in. The first four got picked right away, then it was down to the last position and they kept stopping by me to listen, then they’d move on again…about 5 times. It was just torture. Finally, I heard a big sigh, a nun tapped me hard & said “Well it’s not that you are very good but you are loud and we could use some volume.” Hey, I had 8 younger brothers & sisters, if I could yell loud enough to call them to dinner, I didn’t have to go chase them down to do it. If you’ve seen a Prince Spaghetti commercial from the 60s, you’ll know what I mean.
That was basically it until I moved to London in 1987 and I would sing at parties while my boyfriend played guitar. One night a club owner heard me singing and asked if I could perform at one of his clubs the following week. My boyfriend said “Sure she can!” Then he told me that we had a gig the next week and that all we’d have to do is get another guitar player and learn 30 songs in 6 days. So we formed a trio with acoustic guitars and 3 part harmonies. We played a crazy mix of music – traditional folk tunes, classic blues, some Bobbie Gentry & The Beatles. That was my first real public performance. 6 months and 1 recording later, I broke up with my boyfriend, headed back to LA, and didn’t perform again professionally until September 29, 2007.    

What made you come back ?

I had just gone through probably the worst time of my life…kicked out the sociopath I was married to and was raising two kids with no child support. My daughter had severe asthma; my son was diagnosed with Still’s Disease and started having seizures. A family of raccoons moved in under my bathroom which was sweet until their fleas took up residence too. Then a storm knocked over the fence in my yard and the house became infested with mice which my kids & I thought were too cute to poison (hey, in Boston we had rats, so at first mice didn’t look so bad). Every day my son & I would catch & release about 8 mice. That lasted until the day I opened a jar of peanut butter & found a dead mouse inside. The nurse practitioner at my son’s rheumatologists said it was her professional opinion I needed to get out. She belonged to a choir, and invited me to join. I started out crying to half the songs, but I got a lot of strength from that group of women. I was offered the solo slot at the year-end concert. The night of the concert my knees were knocking, my palms were sweating; I was practically hyper-ventilating from fear. But I did it. And it was a great night. After that, I started doing singer showcases once a month. But what really got me back into music was that I started going to a blues jam once a week. The Blues became my home and my salvation. I fell in love with the music and decided to follow my heart.    

The rest is history ! And we are glad you did. How is your son doing these days?

KL: He’s doing fine, in Middle School getting played by all the girls in spite of all the training his sister and I gave him. Ha!    

Let’s fast forward to now . . .Still The Rain is a wonderful release, and has been very successful too. These don’t always go hand in hand, to what do you attribute the success?

KL: There are so many things that go into something like this. It’s always a team effort. I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing people: Dennis Walker & Alan Mirikitani, Jim Pugh, Richard Cousins, Lee Spath, Michael Vannice, and of course Lori Haynes, who has worked so hard to make this successful. “Still the Rain” has had great reviews in BluesWax, Blues Revue, Blues Matters and from Frank John Hadley at DownBeat. And of course, this record has had the support of a lot of DJs and fans – it’s done well in both national blues charts, and is now in its 20thconsecutive week on the national Roots Music Report Top 50 Blues chart. It has been a #1 Pick to Click on XM Radio Bluesville, a Top 10 Pick at Blues City Radio and featured on several podcasts. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Bill Wax, Tony Colter, Pat St. John at B.B. King’s Bluesville for playing this record & to all the Bluesville fans who have requested it – I’ve heard from XM fans all over the country. But I’m especially grateful to Bill Wax, who not only played my first record, Lucky Girl but told everybody he ran into on Beale Street at the 2010 IBC that they should come out & hear my band at the New Daisy. One of the things I am most proud of is having had two #1 Pick to Clicks on XM.    

One of the nicest things that happened recently was when we did our Vibrato gig in LA and Janiva Magness came to our show – I thought it was so cool that she took the time from one of her rare nights off to come out & see and support us. One of my heroes, Bill Withers was there also, along with Babyface, comedian Chris Tucker and a lot of other famous people I might know if I got out more. Best of all, Dennis Walker and Al Mirikitani were both there. Dennis was sitting front row center. It was the first time he’d seen me perform live. He has taught me so much – he’s an amazing producer and songwriter. He and Al did such a great job on “Still The Rain” – every time I hear it, I’m just blown away.    

That is something to be very proud of indeed, Karen. Could you give us the one thing that stands out from working with Dennis?    


KL:Maybe the one most important thing was to keep it simple, strip it down, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. That’s the way he writes, produces and approaches things. I am working on that with my own song writing now.  

Speaking of
your first release “Lucky Girl’, it seemed, in comparison, almost innocent while Still the Rain is more self assured, much more like you.   


KL: Lori Haynes and I produced the first record ourselves, as total newbies, but we were very unhappy with the way it was mixed and mastered. We went to Dennis to ‘fix’ it. Dennis and Al completely remixed everything, Al redid some of the musical arrangements, and he played guitar, bass & sax on different tracks. But for Still the Rain, Dennis had a particular vision for the way he wanted to present me as a vocalist. He & Al wrote songs specifically for me and we went back & forth for almost a year picking just the right tunes, although from the first time I ever heard them, I wanted to do Still the Rain and Never Felt No Blues. Dennis and Al wrote all the songs on “Still the Rain” except for Knock-Knock, (which I wrote). Dennis is probably best known for his work with Robert Cray, but he’s also worked with Betty LaVette, B.B. King, and so many other blues greats. So for me, knowing his abilities and all his talents and knowing that he believed in me was huge. Plus working with Jim Pugh, Richard Cousins and everyone else – wow, how can you not feel the music with players like that?    

They are a fabulous group of players, I just saw Robert and the band recently – amazing. Tony Braunagel came over and said hi (actually gave me his sticks) that was so sweet of him.   

KL: Tony is a sweetheart! We like it when our blues artists come down and spend time with us. As a performer, that is one of the things I like the most. I love meeting people after a show – I feel that I owe them that. They have given me their attention and respect, it’s important to me to come out and say ‘Hey, thank you for being here.’ That’s one of the coolest things for me – to hear what they have to say, and what they got out of my show. It tells me I’ve connected with the people.    

That might be the one of the thing that blew me away about the Blues Family/Community is the availability of artists to their fans. It seems y’all are fans as well as we are, as you stated earlier, Janiva comes to see your show, I have seen artists show up just to watch peers perform. You guys are always willing to talk, hug, take pictures with all of us fans. It’s incredible and I believe, unique to the Blues..   

KL: I totally love it! I am a fan, too, so it does go both ways. I live by a very simple philosophy: honor yourself, honor your gift, honor the music, honor the people you play with and honor the audience. Be present. Those things are really important to me. That is what success is to me. I feel that as a performer I want to know that I am reaching people. After the show I want to literally reach them and I want to know that they had a good time. When I go to a show I love it when performers come out and talk. Janiva comes out, Curtis Salgado, so many do, and that’s a huge thing. I like hearing from people, I love to know that when I sing – when I interpret a story – that it connects with the listener.    

Well that’s what the Blues is – it is oral history – it all started as story telling and got put to music. Or as Victoria Spivey said, “The Blues is life and life is the Blues. It covers from the first cry of a newborn to the last gasp of a dying man. It’s the very existence”.

The Blues came from people who had lives so hard we cannot even comprehend it. What amazes me is that they sang to transcend that life, to go to a place of joy – they took the pain and made it into music – made it into joy. Michael Vannice shared some field recordings/chants that are unbelievable, just voices and clapping, but it will blow your socks off, you can feel the power. You feel the heritage there, and especially for me as a woman, when I think of Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey – how these women were responsible for making the blues so popular and accessible. Bessie Smith helped save Columbia Records twice from bankruptcy.
The blues is so honest, so real, no apologies, no griping…it’s life. The Blues is our musical heritage, the Blues birthed everything. I’m very proud to be a blues artist.  

So Karen, with the past behind us, and a strong position now, what do you see for the near future? What do you want to do?

KL: We signed a distribution deal with Burnside Records this past August. We’re starting to tour outside the west coast. We’ll be playing at Canal Bank Shuffle in Ontario, Canada October 23, January 22nd we’ll be in Arizona and January 29thwe’re doing a show in Redding, CA with Earl Thomas. And this February we’ll be performing in Florida. We’re working on national & international booking. The response to my band and the music has been so gratifying, I’m looking forward to bringing it people outside the Pacific Northwest who have become fans. Festivals, workshops, cruises, get me out there with the fans so we can connect more. I would love to get all over the country and world, so come on folks call us up!  

Well, I am sure that will happen very soon,and i see a BMA nomination for you. You heard it here first.   

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

Photos courtesy of: Tony Gieske (International Review of Music), Julie Nelson, Leslie K. Joseph
©Blues411, 2010