Review: Dennis Herrera
Captivating Blues Mastery: Dennis Herrera Blues Band
By Tom Pallen
The Dennis Herrera Blues Band is a soul-stirring ensemble that delivers a mesmerizing blend of blues with their unique musical chops. Led by the charismatic frontman Dennis Herrera, whose versatile skills as a vocalist and guitarist take center stage, the band also features John Warmouth on drums, Carl Dahlgren on keys, and Frank Marbut on bass. Together, they create a captivating blues experience that leaves the audience begging for more.
One of the standout features of the Dennis Herrera Blues Band is their ability to seamlessly fuse traditional blues elements with contemporary influences, resulting in a sound that is both timeless and refreshing. Their performances exude raw passion and authenticity, paying homage to the blues masters of the past while injecting their own modern twists.
Dennis Herrera's talent as a vocalist is off the chart. His voice carries the weight and raw emotion required to convey the depth of blues music. From gritty, soulful ballads, (think Whisky and Women), to high-energy, foot-stomping anthems (Sittin’ Here Waitin’), Herrera's vocal range and expressive delivery grab the listener, drawing them into the heart of each song.
The band's rhythm section, with John Warmouth on drums and Frank (Bama) Marbut on bass, lays down a rock-solid foundation that moves the music forward with infectious energy. Warmouth's drumming skills are dynamic and precise, providing the backbone for the band's grooves, while Bama’s driving bass lines add depth and richness to the overall sound. In the pocket every time.
Carl Dahlgren's contributions on keys add a layer of soulful texture to the band's sound. His skillful playing effortlessly weaves in and out of the music, adding expressive solos and heartful embellishments that enhance the emotional impact of each song.
One of the highlights of the Dennis Herrera Blues Band's live performances is their ability to create an immersive atmosphere. Their stage presence is magnetic, and they have a natural ability to connect with the audience, ensuring that everyone in the room becomes part of the musical experience. It's evident that they love what they do, and their passion for the blues is contagious.
And then the stray cat rolled in, with his exotic harmonica case that signaled his talent, his haunting fills, and his raw expression of the Blues. Garry Segal, epic harp player.
In conclusion, the Dennis Herrera Blues Band is an immensely talented group of musicians who have mastered the art of blues performance. With Dennis Herrera's soulful vocals, the tight-knit rhythm section of John Warmouth and Frank Marbut, and the textured contributions of Carl Dahlgren on keys, they create an unforgettable blues experience that leaves audiences craving for more. Their ability to balance tradition with innovation sets them apart, and their live shows are nothing short of captivating. If you have the chance to witness the Dennis Herrera Blues Band in action, be prepared to be taken on an exhilarating musical journey that will leave you wanting to dive deeper and deeper into our world: BLUES
Review: Chicago Bob
By Tom Pallen
Chicago Bob and the Blues Squad delivered a spellbinding performance at Lucy’s, Chino Valley, showcasing their deep roots in the Chicago-style blues tradition. Led by Bob's soulful harmonica playing and emotive vocals, the band's sound is raw, passionate, and steeped in the blues.
The band's rhythm section - consisting of Gordon on bass and Conrad on drums - provides a solid foundation for the music to build upon. Gordon's rock-solid basslines and Conrad's dynamic drumming create a steady pulse that keeps the music moving forward, allowing the rest of the band to shine.
Pete's guitar playing is dynamic and intricate, providing a perfect complement to Bob's harmonica playing and vocals. His guitar adds an element of interplay and depth to the music, creating a sound that is both complex and deeply rooted in the Chicago blues tradition.
Sitting in tonight found Freddie Freeman, and his virtuosic keyboard playing was a standout feature of the band's sound. His use of call-and-response playing with Bob’s harmonica creates a dynamic interplay that is essential to the Chicago blues sound. His playing is both technically impressive and emotionally resonant, adding a layer of depth and complexity to the music.
Little Miss Chris’ vocals add a soulful and sultry layer to the band's sound, providing a perfect complement to Bob's vocals and harmonica playing. Her voice is powerful and emotive, adding a sense of passion and intensity to the music.
Together, Chicago Bob and the Blues Squad deliver a performance that is both timeless and contemporary, drawing on the rich history of the Chicago blues tradition while infusing their music with their own unique style and energy. With a lineup consisting of Bob on harmonica and vocals, Gordon on bass, Conrad on drums, Pete on guitar, Freeman on keys, and Little Miss Chris on vocals, the band is a force to be reckoned with in the world of blues music.
If you're a fan of the Chicago-style blues tradition or just great music in general, Chicago Bob and the Blues Squad are a band that you won't want to miss. With their raw and passionate sound, virtuosic playing, and soulful vocals, they are a true gem in the world of blues music.
NOLA - Blues and More
by Michael Dotson
When you look on a bottle of Tabasco pepper sauce, it says “So much more than hot.” This tag line implies that, with Tabasco, you get flavor that takes you beyond the experience of simply feeling heat on your palette. You get more than what you anticipate. The same can be said of a visit to New Orleans.
My wife, Diane, and I recently enjoyed a week in “NOLA” and I had been asked to share my experiences from the perspective of a Prescott Blues player. I happily agreed.
New Orleans is not just a destination to visit – it is a historic, musical, and culinary experience. The city is separated into 14 Districts, with the French Quarter, Marigny, Warehouse/Arts and Garden districts being the most popular for tourists.
This is a city of immense historical significance, from its founding in 1718, until today. The influence of the French is everywhere. We took a tour of Oak Alley, a slavery-era sugarcane Plantation and learned much about the challenges of life in the mid-1800s. For more recent history, we spent the better part of a day at the WWII Museum – a “must see” for anyone traveling to this great city! It has been ranked the number 1 attraction in New Orleans, makes us appreciate our US history even more, and is well worth the time spent. We also took an Airboat Swamp Tour, zipping around Louisiana swamps south of the city, and YES, gators are an integral part of the NOLA culture -- we saw plenty of them! A fan of history and/or architecture could have a field day taking in the many sights.
Food and Music
New Orleans is known worldwide for its cuisine and music, and the two are closely intertwined. If you’re a jazz aficionado, the Court Two Sisters features a weekend Brunch with live jazz and traditional Creole fare, and both are great. For Dixieland Jazz, it’s hard to beat a concert at historical Preservation Hall (just off Bourbon Street) followed by dinner at any one of the Cajun restaurants in that area. Speaking of Cajun, you can’t do better than experience Mulate’s, New Orleans’ original Cajun restaurant, in the Warehouse/Arts district. Here you’ll find traditional Cajun selections to go with spirited Zydeco music coming from the stage. For a terrific breakfast, there’s Mother’s at the edge of the French Quarter. It has been serving its line of customers since 1938 (expect a 20-minute wait, but certainly worth it). Another musical treat is at Café du Monde, where you can enjoy live jazz along with your café au lait and beignets (Cajun/French doughnuts). If fine dining is what you crave you must add a terrific restaurant called briquette, also located in the Warehouse/Arts district, to your plans. They feature exquisite food, great service, and wonderful desserts such as the “floating island” – their variation of a New Zealand “Pavlova” (a meringue with whipped cream and mixed berries). Your musical and food cravings will be met in New Orleans, but don’t go expecting to lose weight!
The Blues (on Frenchmen Street)
Many associate music in New Orleans with Bourbon Street, and there is a wealth of music there – mostly lively Dixieland Jazz. Just outside of the French Quarter in the Marigny District is Frenchman Street, where crowds go after dark to hear a variety of blues-based music. It is here where we caught up with my friend, harpist Johnny Mastro and his outstanding blues band “Mama’s Boys” featuring the very talented “Smokehouse” Brown on guitar. I had the opportunity to spend time and play with Johnny when we were here five years ago, and his band has only gotten better! When they are not touring Europe, they can frequently be found at Bamboula’s on Frenchmen Street.
Just off Frenchmen Street at the Balcony Music Club (BMC) we had the pleasure of listening to a fantastic harp and sax player named Smoky Greenwell and his blues band. Smoky had replaced Lee Oskar in the band “War”, and now fronts a terrific band playing their own style of traditional and boogie blues. As we wandered up Frenchmen Street, we stopped for dinner at the Three Muses and heard “Jug Band” blues (washboard, tuba, and guitars) – very fun and entertaining!
We are happy to be back home in Prescott, and thoroughly enjoyed our NOLA excursion. Our trip to the “Crescent City” (yet another name for New Orleans) was a packed week, filled with everything we had hoped for – and so much more!
By John Johnson
It was a little over 6 years ago when Tony Mansour's life was altered dramatically. The 58-year-old Prescott Valley resident is now back to doing one of the things he loves most – playing the guitar – with some adjusted mechanics that accommodate his present situation.
Mansour had the exhaust manifold on his car changed out in March 2017, but he said the re-wiring wasn't done properly by the mechanic. One night shortly thereafter he was traveling down Highway 69 between Humboldt and Mayer about midnight when his engine caught fire.
He pulled off into the desert and the blaze immediately spread to brush that the vehicle came into contact with. He ran to the highway to try to flag down a passing motorist for assistance, but that vehicle struck him while traveling approximately 70 mph.
He suffered 22 broken bones and spent the next couple of months hospitalized, plus another in a nursing home. He eventually underwent six surgical procedures.
He incurred severe nerve damage in his right arm, which required tendon transfers to regain minimal use of the figners. His right wrist had to be fused into a straight position. The tricep and the muscle in his forearm no longer work, forcing him to rely on the deltoid and bicep to strum the guitar. That's the reason he now plays primarily with an upstroke.
He progressively relearned to play despite the reduced function and has been back in action for about a year, sitting in with several bands and performing at local jams.
"It's something that's made me change directions musically," he said recently. "Now I rely on softer music and singing myself. And for some reason, everybody wants me to play the blues.
"Most of the bands I've played with (prior to the accident) did classic rock and cover stuff. The blues is fun because I know music theory and the 1-4-5 (chord progression) and I get to create my own leads and pretty much improvise on the solos. I know some riffs I can throw in there."
Mansour has two adult daughters, both living in Cottonwood, along with three grandchildren. He does some cleaning work for local businesses and also receives disability payments.
He's played guitar since he was 13 and had a band for several years prior to the accident. Since returning to the stage, he's played with Hit Squad 17, Lucy Hill, the Billy Reno Band and Lisa Mitts. He's recently become a regular performer for the Last Call Blues Band, an opportunity that stemmed from playing in jams at the Attic.
He's also focused on some solo stuff and plans to record a CD.
He said his first post-accident gig with Lisa Mitts in 2022 was a signficant milestone for him.
"It was pretty emotional," he said. "I thanked everybody and shed a couple of tears.
"It has been a long time."
By Michael Dotson
Like so many who have moved to Prescott from other cities, the decision for my wife and I to choose this area as our “final” destination had been the result of many factors. Once we (and our 10 U-Haul UBoxes) arrived last July, the laborious process of unboxing and settling in began.
While preparing for this “transplantation,” I gave considerable thought about how I might transition musically. My day job running an overseas Drone company had provided me sufficient time to devote to my love of the blues. As an active member of the Orange County Blues Society, I had the opportunity to play in numerous bands and participate in the many jams available throughout Orange and Los Angeles counties. It was there that I made many friends, some of whom now reside in Prescott. Those transplanted friends quickly found their own bands to be a part of, and reported back that there was a considerable amount of musical work to be had. For some reason though, discussions regarding blues jams within the area never came up!
During the time immediately after the move, I began focusing on acoustic guitar, thinking I would probably end up going solo at smaller venues. It was seven months before I even considered returning to electric guitar and the blues I love. I had heard from one of my local friends that there was a vibrant Blues “scene” in Prescott which surpassed what we had in Orange County or LA. I had to know more!
After deciding to get “back to work” and jump into the Prescott blues jams at the Attic and Windsock, I’m happy to report that the blues in the area is alive and well. As a player, the level of talented musicians at these establishments is simply thrilling!
Where else can 10 people get on stage at the same time (many having never met each other), entertain the audience without stepping on each other’s musical feet, and make great music? There are terrific players throughout, be it guitar, bass, harp, keys, drums, sax, trumpet, trombone, and (yes) flute! While it is exciting to have the chance to play, it is even more so to listen to these fine musicians interact with each other for the entertainment of the audience. I look forward to these jams because there is always something new to hear!
As venues for these jams, both the Attic and Windsock deserve more than a mention. I have had the pleasure of meeting both owners and believe they would agree that providing blues music to the people of this area is more than a worthwhile business strategy. The crowds are enthusiastic fans of the blues, love to dance, and are thirsty! The host bands at each location also know how to structure a successful jam – which is not as easy as it may seem! Coordinating how to pair musicians is a thankless task, but they accomplish this in a friendly and professional way. The same could not always be said of some of the California jams where egos and personalities could get in the way of presenting quality music to an audience.
We have found our new life here and have discovered that the “spirit of the Blues” in this part of Arizona is well-represented by the friendly, talented, enthusiastic, and deserving people who give so much of themselves to entertain others. When you attend one (or more) of these local jams, you can be sure of leaving with a smile, knowing that the players you listen to are giving you everything they’ve got in a highly creative environment. The essence of a successful “jam” is to be able to take many different parts and make them sound whole. There is not a better way to spend an afternoon or evening listening to quality music than enjoying the improvisation (jam) of fine musicians entertaining you for free. For us, now living in Prescott, our transition (and transplantation) has been very successful. God Bless the Blues!
Backyard Beauty, Blues and Brews
by Mike Todhunter
Just when you thought that the blues scene couldn't get any better on the Prescott/ No. Arizona beat, it gets even better. We now have two competing 2pm Sunday blues jams at the Windsock and the Attic, a Thursday jam at the Attic and regular Friday and Saturday blues gigs at various venues in the Prescott area. All calculations taken; it means that the true blues addict can now swoon Thursday through Sunday digging the great local talent.
But it doesn't stop there. From June 9-10 the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival will be held at the Continental Driving Range at said city (5000 E. Old Walnut Road), as good a two-day blues lineup as any in the country- with lawn chair in tow and with views that would please even Mother Nature, all at a reasonable cost. Only the lineup exceeds the views of No. Arizona- a short 1 ½ hours from Dewey and voila! You're there.
On Friday, June 9, the show begins at 2:30 pm with the Aaron McCall Band (The opening show band for many of Bob Corritore's Rhythm Room special guests), followed by Buffalo Nicols, a slide guitarist recording under the Fat Possums Record label.
At 5:30pm, Albert Cummings takes the stage with an impressive resume that includes an upcoming booking on the Legendary Blues Cruise #40. He records for the Pig Records label. Cummings has worked with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble. His "No Regrets" album debuted in 2012 and was #1 in the US/Canada and France iTunes blues charts.
That evening's headliner is none other than one of the top blues performers who will thrill blues lovers with her vibrant stage show- the exciting and dynamic Samantha Fish. Think Marilyn Monroe slinging either a cigar box electric guitar, a Blacktop Telecaster, a Fender Jaguar or a Gibson Firebird.
At a time when blues journalists categorize any song with a guitar riff the blues, Samantha, whether writing, singing or slinging, her varied albums cross multiple genres while excelling in each. Innovative and original, her shows may include rock, country, funk, bluegrass, and Americana ballads. This KC artist admittedly was influenced by Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Tom Petty and by the Stone's "Sticky Fingers" album. Currently, one of the Blood Brothers Band, Mike Zito mentored her in 2012 and the resulting product awarded her the Best New Artist title. A year later, her second album, "Back Wind Howlin'" hosted Zito's Royal Southern Brotherhood in the session's collaboration. Later albums, "Wild Heart" and "Belle of the West", were produced by Luther Dickinson, lead in the Northern Mississippi All-Star Band. (Luther and brother, Cody's father was Jim Dickinson, a member of the Memphis Music Hall of Fame, who with the likes of RL Burnside, Kenny Brown, Othar Turner and the Kimbrough family, created the Hill Country Blues sound).
Samantha's albums take you on a pleasing musical journey. "Wild Heart" features American ballads like beautiful "Going Home" and "Blame It on the Moon"- closing with the upbeat rocking blues feature tune "Wild Heart". "Belle of the West" brought an all-star band together co-opting Southern Avenue's drummer, Tikyra Jackson, and solo artists Lighting Malcolm on the guitar and Jimbo Mathus on the harp. Tunes "Need You More", "Belle of the West" and Samantha's re-do of RL Burnside's "Poor Black Mattie" will leave you understanding why promoters compete for her bookings. Her most recent albums- "Kill or Be Kind" and "Faster" are equally enjoyable.
While listening to Samantha's music is pleasing in and of itself, nothing can compare to her live performances. Ginny and I first heard the 34-year-old at the Plaza in LV at the Blues Bender and a second time on a Legendary Blues Cruise in the Southern Caribbean. It was such a powerful life-force moment in time that we can recall it as if it was yesterday. Disembarking in the Dutch Caribbean port of Willemstad, Curacao and knowing that Samantha Fish would be performing that evening in UNESCO's Fort Oranje Nassau ( constructed in 1796, the city built in the Dutch European style of architecture), we crossed the moving pontoon bridge enroute to this Old World setting. A large crowd of locals and cruisers swarmed the fort while a soft Caribbean trade wind cooled the square. The fort acoustics made a near perfect evening- the smiling, swaying enthusiastic crowd connecting with Samantha's magic unlike any evening of music that I had ever experienced.
Afterwards, still overwhelmed in music euphoria, Ginny and I stopped by a local ice cream parlor to feed the need. From that moment on it was all downhill for me. Feasting on my strawberry ice cream on the walk back to the port, within a short span, I became sicker than an infirmed dog, only to end up in ship's quarantine for the last three days. Eventually, I got off the boat, but truly was the final person to be allowed to disembark at the cruise's conclusion. Ginny was fine with her chocolate, but never have I gone from the penthouse to the outhouse so quickly. Yes, life is stranger than fiction.
Fortunately, for blues fans attending the second day of the Flagstaff Blues and Brews Festival on June 10, they will not be serving Curacao ice cream, but a lineup that includes several blues heavyweights- JC and the Juke Rockers ( 1130 am), Levi Platero (1220 pm), King Solomon Hicks at 115 pm ( booked for the Legendary Blues Cruise #40 ), Southern Avenue ( 245 pm ), Kenny Neal ( 430 pm) and headliner, Larkin- Poe concludes at 630 pm until close.
The card understudies to Larkin- Poe are not to be dismissed as in any way inferior. King Solomon Hicks, Southern Avenue, and the Kenny Neal Band could headline most blues festivals on their own. They have national and international followings themselves.
King Solomon Hicks is a young and up-and-comer (jazz, blues, R&B, and funk ) from Harlem who at the age of 14 was performing in the Cotton Club All-Star Band and has cruised on the Joe Bonamassa 2017 promotion, toured with Beth Hart, opened for Ringo Starr and for Jeff Beck at the Holland International Blues Fest in 2018. In 2021, he was voted the Best Emerging Artist Award. I had a long and friendly talk with him at the Hilton Marina in Ft. Lauderdale at a pre-cruise party and can say without bias that he is an authentically personable bluesman. He could have easily blown this no-name off, but genuinely reached out as so many congenial bluesmen do.
Memphis' Southern Avenue follows Hicks on Saturday. Their stage show will leave you breathless. Front woman and vocalist, Tierinii Jackson, will remind you of a female version of a young Mick Jaggar or Bobby Rush. You'll need an odometer to keep up with her never-ending gyrations and stage craft. Sister, Tikjra, beats the skins like Cedric Burnside while Israeli guitarist Ori Naftaly is considered one of the best. You haven't seen anything until you've witnessed keyboardist Jeremy Powell pirouette during full performance, reminiscent of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Not to be outdone, Kenny Neal is another true gentleman of NOLA family fame. Son of New Orleans harpist Raful Neal, his resume is long and storied. In 1989 Kenny was awarded the Big Bill Broonzy Award and in 2003, the Slim Harpo Award, both in Paris (Europeans love the blues and American artists regularly tour to feed the kitty). In 2005, Neal was the WC Handy Blues Award winner and in 2011 was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. His 2016 album "Bloodline" was nominated as the Best Contemporary Blues Album- produced by Buddy Guy's producer, Tom Hambridge. No need to travel to NOLA to fight the Kenny Neal crowds when you can see him in Flagstaff.
Lastly, Georgian sisters, Rebecca and Megan Lowell, makeup Larkin-Poe with Rebecca on the piano and Megan on the Dobro. A roots band with strong southern harmonies, their electric guitar riffs and slides are as easy to listen to as they are to look at (Mothers, be sure to lockup your sons). Success came in 2018 when the Blues Foundation declared them the Best Emerging Artists. Their album, "Venom and Faith" reached #1 in 2018 and was nominated for a Grammy Award. In 2020, they were up for the Best Contemporary Blues Album.
We are indeed fortunate in No. Arizona to be near the Flagstaff Fest and to have as headliners two of the most heralded female blues performers in a largely dominated genre. These ladies will light it up, guaranteed. Other popular female artists worthy of mention: Danielle Nicole (coming to the Rhythm Room later this year), Shemika Copeland, Ana Popovic, Vanessa Collier, Carolyn Wonderland and my personal favorite, Detroit's Thornetta Davis (Think Aretha Franklin, Gladys Knight and Patti LaBelle ).
Life is good. What more could you ask for than great Prescott neighbors, tasty festival food, blues concession stands, breathe-taking views and two days of the blues? As they say, be there or be square. Bring your friends and do it right. Long live the blues.
Rhythm Room Review
By Bob (Chicago Bob) Frascone
Recently I went to the Rhythm Room with some friends to see a band comprising of blues greats John Primer, Bob Corritore, Bob Stroger, Anthony Geraci, Jimi "Prime Time" Smith, and Wes Starr. Talk about a group of headliners getting together! It was a high energy "old school" blues show from start to finish.
John Primer needs little introduction. A hall of famer when it comes to the blues. Check every category for blues greatness... he's it... the real deal. Guitar licks, vocals, where he grew up, where and who he played with. (He was the lead guitarist for his idol, Muddy Waters, before Muddy's untimely death.) Check all those boxes, plus, he knows all the tricks. He's a real entertainer. And, yes, "legend" would be the proper term for this man who learned his trade playing with the many of the legendary Chicago style blues players, Willie Dixon, Junior Wells, Magic Slim (for 14 years), etc., in just about every Chicago blues joint... including the Maxwell Street open market made famous in the Blues Brothers movie. His stay with Muddy and Magic Slim earned him his recognition. He has played around the world... a front man extraordinaire. After all, he learned from the best.
I consider Bob Corritore... John Primer's blues harp player... the same way I think of Jerry Portnoy as Muddy's harp player during all those great years they traveled to Europe every year with their great band in the 70's. Their playing is so complimentary. When Bob does a fill or a lead for John Primer, it is always the perfect set of licks for that situation. Guys who are into the blues harp know when it's Bob Corritore playing. There's no doubt it's him playing... natural and totally intuitive... big tone, great licks and the proper accentuations.
Bob Stroger on bass guitar at 92 years old. He was introduced by Bib Corritore as the oldest teenager in the blues. How true. He's as good as he's ever been. He should be... he's had enough experience. I had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Stroger during a break. He is a real gentlemen. I blurted out, "Mr. Stroger... 1990's... Harlem Avenue Lounge... you were playing with the Pierre Lacocque... Mississippi Heat Band... Deitra Farr was the singer. It was a great band that inspired me so much that I became serious about learning to play blues, and now I have my own Chicago style blues band." Mr. Stroger looked at me and said, "Thank you for telling me that. You just made my day." That was worth the trip.
Anthony Geraci came in from Boston to play keyboards. I spoke with him for a little while, too. Coming from Boston to Phoenix to play that night and also record later on. You've got to be good to be brought in from across the whole country. He's played for years with Sugar Ray Norcia (another great harp player) and The Bluetones back on the East coast. Like the rest, he plays effortlessly and knows his position in this ensemble of great musicians.
Jimmy "Prime Time" Smith is a headliner in his own right. That day he was there to back John Primer and warm the crowd up with his own songs. He did it flawlessly. You've got to respect that. He knows the spotlight was on John Primer that night and, along with all the other "back-up" musicians, did it in an unselfish and totally professional manner.
Finally, Wes Starr, on drums. The foundations of a great blues band is the rhythm section. You go nowhere without it. This band went places that some in the audience could not believe. Obviously, they had never heard some of the "old timers" play. The crowd was dancing and having a good old time from start to finish. Mr. Starr was introduced by Bob Corritore as one of the best blues drummers in the business today. I now can see why. It's not only playing, it's the way he plays. He kind of reminded me a bit of Gene Krupa with the "body English" he would put into, it seemed, every stroke. He's so natural in doing so, a powerhouse drummer!
It was a night to remember. Plus I got to talk to some blues greats. These gentlemen have all paid their dues... many times over. And there is one thing you can't help but to notice. They always give their best.
Lone Star Blues
By Mike Todhunter
It was like any other day in my ritualistic visit to the fitness center fighting the good fight at the battle of the bulge- but always with an ear to the ground for the latest scuttlebutt and grapevine gossip. With rabbit ears in full mode, I overheard a conversation about the Sunday blues jams at the Attic and the Windsock. Attentively, I introduced myself and to my pleasure met a fellow bluesman, Michael Dotson, guitarist and frequent jammer at both venues. A seasoned bluesman, Michael was a member of Willie and the Road Tramps Band, a juke/jive band that played at the Coach House in LA, a premier venue. I soon discovered that he was a wealth of blues knowledge and he informed me famed Beatles drummer, Ringo Starr, had put together an all-star band that would perform at the Findlay Center in Prescott Valley on May 30. One of the all-stars was Edgar Winter-guitarist, saxophone, keyboards and amazing vocalist- of whom I knew little about other than that he was the brother of Blues Foundation Hall of Famer, Johnny Winter and like his brother was albino. Edgar's band was easy to remember- The Edgar Winter Band.
All of this caused reflection on the various influences of the British Invasion in the 60's that popularized R&B in the USA and the resulting introduction of the blues to a larger, younger white generation of future baby boomers. Although not known for the blues, we all loved the Beatles while the girls adored the serene, long-haired Ringo- a genuine 60's chick magnet. I wasn't the only jealous teen.
But for me, it wasn't the Beatles that transformed a surf/rocker into a bluesman- it was the music of Steve Marriott's Humble Pie, Canned Heat, Lonesome Dave's Foghat, Janis Joplin, and a bit later, ZZ Top. The two major influences were, of course, The Rolling Stones and Edgar's brother, Johnny Winter. The Stones went without saying, but anyone who followed the Woodstock Festival in 1969 was blown away by Johnny's fusion of the Delta Blues with a touch of psychedelic rock and roll. His high-energy slide and trademark thumb picking engendered a generation of fans who believed that only Jimi Hendrix had upstaged Johnny at Woodstock. This was quite a testimonial given that the lineup included a Who's Who of legendary contemporaries- Santana, Creedance Clearwater, Paul Butterfield, The Who, Albert Lee's Ten Years After, and so many more icons.
During my conversation with Mike Dotson, I was informed that Edger had finally sanctioned a tribute CD to his deceased brother- "Edgar Winter/ Brother Johnny". I had to buy this ultimate musical collaboration that brought together a collection of blues heavyweights- Joe Bonamassa, Keb' Mo, Billy Gibbons, Derek Trucks, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Walsh, Michael McDonald, Doyle Bramhill II, Robben Ford and brother Edgar, a musical savant in his own right. Selectively choosing a combination of tunes, some written by Edgar and some by Johnny, the CD highlights their work together recalling their journey and the demons that chased Johnny with his heroin addiction. Inferring and reading between the lines, the titles tell the tale: "Mean Town Blues", "Self-Destructive Blues", "Lone Star Blues", "I'm Yours, and I'm Hers", "Stranger", "Drown in My Own Tears", " Highway 61, Revisited" ( a Dylan song ) and a dancer's favorite, "Got My Mojo Working".
Other Johnny Winter's songs popularized but not a part of the tribute CD cannot be overlooked. Some of my favorites are: " I'm Blues Man", "Lowdown Blues", " I Smell Smoke", "Jumping Jack Flash", " Mojo Boogie", "Rock Me, Baby" and you absolutely have to view Edgar and Johnny together performing Edgar's "Tobacco Road" on U-tube.
No one was better able to pay tribute to Johnny than brother Edgar. As Edgar recalled, " As kids we were inseparable, much closer than the average brothers. Not only did we learn music together but because we were both albino, we shared a unique personal perspective on life different than anyone else's".
Reluctantly, Edgar eventually acquiesced to market pressures to produce a legacy tribute to Johnny because Johnny held a negative view toward the untrustworthy elements of the music business and his perceived victimization in a sometimes surreal industry. Johnny went so far as to suspect that his business handlers deliberately encouraged his addiction to better manipulate him. Despite this, Edgar relented to the market's demand and acknowledged that, "There's a whole world of music out there that has been forgotten. Let's bring it back"- hence, "Edgar Winter/ Brother Johnny".
Slinging his favorite Gibson Firebird V, Johnny's big break came in 1968 when he met Mike Bloomfield in Chicago and later at the Fillmore East in NYC. Invited on stage, he played and sang BB King's "It's My Own Fault". Unaware of Columbia Record's presence, and as a result of their relationship with Bloomfield, after hearing Johnny, they signed him to a $600,000 advance- the largest advance up to that time. After chasing fortune and fame from the age of 15, this Beaumont, Texas, native, christened by Billy Gibbons as Johnny "Cool Daddy" Winter had finally "got over". With his stylized pompadour, shades and now with plenty of girls, great expectations finally faced reality.
Edgar, writing on Johnny's success, postulated: " When he finally achieved success- the money, the fame and fortune, the adoring fans, the recognition so hard won, the dream come true, everything he had ever wanted in life- he hated it".
As often happens with those in emotional and physical pain, they self-medicate and turn to drugs and alcohol (chain smoking KOOL's didn't help). The list of music legends taken by drug overdose is long and sad. Wasting away to a mere 90 pounds, the toll taken on Johnny was confirmed by simply looking at the man- a shadow of himself. Johnny would later acknowledge the source of his depression when he stated, " I never thought it would be like this, I feel so alone and cut off from everybody and everything. I don't know who I can trust, or even talk to, certainly not the business people who are suppose to be my side; they're just trying to sell me, and whatever I've got. They don't know who I am, or what I've been through. To them, it might as well be dog food...... I can't stand it. I wanted to die. It was scary. I'd never do heroin again, but it made me feel good".
For a small town Texas boy, private by nature, this was the Lone Star Blues. The pressure of being worshiped, of not feeling good, and the untimely overdose death of his beloved friends, Jimi Hendrix and "The Rose", Janis Joplin, ( they were an item together at one time) convinced Johnny to seek drug rehab for nine months. At the time, the common rehab treatment was the substitution of Methadone, considered less toxic to the body.
It was during this time that Johnny fired his self-serving handlers and hired his fellow guitarist Paul Nelson. Together, with the help of Johnny's wife Susan, they took over Johnny's career. In an act of benign subterfuge, without Johnny's knowledge and over time, they cut his pills in half and weaned him off his methadone dependence. He was no longer a heroin addict, but for a year they kept him in the dark over his hard drug condition. Johnny still drank and smoked, but he had beat the demon. ( Ginny and I saw the documentary where, in real time, Paul and Susan told Johnny what they had done. In a true tear-jerking moment for the viewer, Johnny broke down in tears in disbelief. Tears flowed for all at this moment of truth- poignantly called blues love).
But for historians, Johnny's greatest contribution to the blues entailed his involvement in the resurrection of Muddy Waters career. In 1974 at "The Blues Summit in Chicago", they came together to embellish a friendship. By 1977 Water's record label, Chess Records, went out of business. In response, Winter brought Waters to a Columbia Records subsidiary to record albums- "Hard Again" and "Step Back". Later came "I'm Ready" and "King Bee"- plus the best selling live album, "Muddy Mississippi Waters Live". Before it ended, their work had produced three Grammys for Waters and one for Johnny's "Nothing But the Blues". All the world can now appreciate their work for the years to come.
Passing in 2014 of emphysema and pneumonia, Edgar reflected that Johnny played his music and lived the life. He came in, and went out the same way- true to the blues.
Courtesy of Edgar Winter, we can now pay tribute to Johnny Winter. But the tribute also offered an opportunity to appreciate Ringo's addition of Edgar to his all-star band. Edgar's musical legacy produced two gold albums- "Free Ride" and "They Came Out at Night" ( includes his hit single "Frankenstein"). His music has been used in countless TV projects: "My Cousin Vinny" and the Tina Turner movie "What's Love Got to Do With It" as two examples. Looking down, parents, John Winter II and Edith, can be proud of both their boys.
In hindsight, the lives of Edgar and Johnny are reminders of the limitless potential that life offers us to innovate and create. Whether from a small Texas town or having an affliction, there are no bounds. We can aspire and chase dreams, but where there is a ying, there is also a yang. Johnny's life warned us to be careful what you wish for in your aspirations. Where there is light, there is also darkness. Lessons learned. Still, thank, you, Edgar and Johnny. Long live the blues.
Don't miss Ringo's show at the Findlay Center, music fans.
BIG DADDY D
CHICAGO BOB AND THE BLUES SQUAD
CROS CHARLES MAC
DIRTY RED AND THE SOUL SHAKERS
MOTHER ROAD TRIO
ROAD ONE SOUTH
POPPY HARPMAN AND THE STORM
SCOTT O'NEAL BAND
S E WILLIS
10/12 CLUB, CLARKDALE
AD ASTRA BREWING COMPANY
BACK ALLEY WINE BAR
BLUES BREWS AND BBQ, FLAGSTAFF
CHARLY'S PUB, FLAGSTAFF
CREEKSIDE LODGE AND CABINS
FOUNDING FATHERS COLLECTIVE
GRANITE CREEK WINERY
OAKMONT GRILL, SEDONA
ROUTE 66 PLAZA, WINSLOW
SOUND BITES GRILL, SEDONA
THUMB BUTTE DISTILLERY
Northern Arizona Blues Alliance https://nazba.com/home-page
The Blues Foundation http://blues.org
The HART Foundation https://blues.org/hart-fund/
Daryl Weisser Photography http://darylweisserphotos.com
PV Music http://prescottvalleymusic.com
Mercy Guitar and the Fiddle Doctor http://www.thefiddledoctor.com
World's Best Cosmo Recipe https://youtu.be/7OmkFqy0-9I
Grey Dog Guitars https://www.graydogguitars.com/
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