One Step Ahead of the Blues
Icehouse Records

Mark Muleman Massey CD coverHere is another one of those discs that belongs in the category “why did it take so long to discover this one.” Mark “Muleman” Massey is a terrific songwriter, vocalist, and guitarist. And he has quite a story behind him to say the least.

Here is a man who never thought of performing music until he was imprisoned at the infamous Parchman Farm in Mississippi. While there he met bluesman David Kimbrough, the son of Junior Kimbrough, who convinced Massey to take up guitar and play in the prison band. That certainly changed his whole life and developed enough of a reputation that his name now appears on the Mississippi Blues Trail marker outside the prison alongside other musicians who served time there, including Sonny Boy Williamson and Bukka White. After serving his time, Massey met Big Jack Johnson, who helped take his career up to yet another level.

Now twenty years later, Muleman Massey released an outstanding disc titled One Step Ahead Of The Blues and to put it quite bluntly, this is one soulful, bluesy disc filled to perfection with amazing vocals and a bevy of renowned musicians. How can you possibly go wrong when you include people like Bobby Rush, Willie Clayton, Eric Gales, Garry Burnside, Billy Earheart, Reba Russell, and Barbara Blue? This recording’s lineup reads like a who’s who of the best of the South. Add to the mix the production of one of the true masters in the business, Don Nix, who also shared a number of his own compositions next to Massey’s.

One Step Ahead Of The Blues is going to convince you right out of the gate. Starting the disc with the title song featuring sharp guitar, powerful horns and Massey’s voice all blending in a driving sound ready to draw you in. That’s followed with the first of many great soulful numbers included, “She’s Not Mine Anymore,” coming across with a delivery that can easily rival any of the finest Southern soul singers of the past several decades. That is repeated over and again on the disc, with numbers like “Waiting On The Help To Arrive,” “Silly Crazy” and “Addicted To You.” And Massey reminds you of how tremendous a guitarist he is also on tracks like “Blue Shoes”  and “In The Hole” that has a church-like feel compounded by the use of Hammond. There is plenty of humor behind the tune “She’s Hongry” with Bobby Rush on harmonica and sharing vocals as they tell you about the girl who eats so much that her legs are getting weaker, but her jaws are getting strong — great imagery and lyrics. The album closes with the beautiful and touching ballad “Sun Goes Down In Memphis.”

Mark “Muleman” Massey’s One Step Ahead Of The Blues is a nice reminder that there is a lot of discs out there that may have slipped by, but when you do discover them will make you believe you’ve found your lucky day. This one is a keeper for certain. Great soulful blues by an artist I will be watching out for now on.

Total Time: 42:31

One Step Ahead Of The Blues / She’s Not Mine Anymore / Plastic Flowers / In The Hole / Waiting On The Help To Arrive / Silly Crazy / Blind, Crippled And Crazy / Double Trouble / I Want To Sing / She’s Hongry / Addicted To You / Blues Shoes / Sun Going Down In Memphis

Here’s a list of new music of note received at the CBA office or purchased personally this past month:

Ana & Milton Popovic – Blue Room (ArtisteXclusive Records)
Andy Poxon – Must Be Crazy! (EllerSoul)
Beth McKee – Sugarcane Revival (Swampgirl Music)
Billy The Kid & The Regulators – I Can’t Change (Self Produced)
Brad Vickers & His Vestapolotans – That’s What They Say (ManHat Tone)
Cedric Burnside Project – Descendants Of Hill Country (Self Produced)
Chris Beard – Eye Of The Witch (Destin Records)
Chris Yakopcic – The Next Place I Leave (Yako Records)
Crooked Eye Tommy – Butterflies & Snakes (Plano Road Publishing)
David Gogo – Vicksburg Call (Cordova Bay)
Ebony Jo-Ann – Please Save Your Love For Me (Self Produced)
Greg Nagy – Stranded (Big O Records)
Madison Slim – Close . . . But No Cigar (Self Produced)
Mark “Muleman” Massey – One Step Ahead Of The Blues (Icehouse Records)
Mighty Mike Schermer – Blues In Good Hands (VizzTone)
Mississippi Bigfoot – Population Unknown (Silver Tongue Records)
Nick Moss Band – Live And Luscious (Blue Bella)
Regina Bonelli – Open Up The Door (Self Produced)
Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys – Live At The Big Bull (Nevermore Records)
Rich Harper – Ellwood And Me (Kanawha Records)
Scottie Miller Band – Reciprocation (Vulfy Publishing)
Shari Puorto – MY Obsession (Little Lightning Productions)
Sista Jean & CB – Requiem For A Heavyweight: A Tribute To Odetta (Jean McClain Freckle Bandit Records)
Sonny Moorman – You Made All My Blues Come True (Atlas Records)
The Blues Cabaret – Where Love Begins (Fleschtone)
The Bob Lanza Blues Band – From Hero To Zero (Connor Ray Music)
The Knickerbocker All-Stars – Go Back Home To The Blues (JP Cadillac Records)
Trudy Lynn – Everything Comes With A Price (Connor Ray Music)
Walter Trout – Battle Scars (Provogue)
Wee Willie Walker – If Nothing Ever Changes (Little Village Foundation)
Zora Young & Little Mike And The Tornadoes – Friday Night (ELROB Records)

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

The past few years I have been asked by the Washington Blues Society to provide a list of the top ten recordings that I was most impressed with over the past year. And as I have done the past couple years I have shared that list with you here in my monthly column. So with that said, I will keep up the tradition.

First, I want to stress that my choices can be different from day to day. What I really like one day can switch around easily to other selections. My tastes are very eclectic. I am not a member of the so-called “blues police” who only believes that certain types of music qualify as blues. The selections I offer are also by no means in any particular order — see my first comment in this paragraph if you need any further explanation as to why there is no order. There are also a number of artists, both local and national, that could have appeared on this list given any other day. This holds especially true for people like Rae Gordon, Roseland Hunters, and various other local people missing here.

I do like the discs that are included and all find exceptional time in my car where I always have something spinning that I want to hear over and over and over. So, here we go.

My first choice just may very well be my favorite disc of the year and could easily be number one every time out. Doug MacLeod’s Exactly Like This. There is no better storyteller in the blues today. You usually see him perform solo and he carries everything across perfectly, but on this album he is joined again by Jimi Bott and  Denny Croy. Every release from Doug is over the top great, and this one may very well be the best yet. And it will go “exactly like this ….”

Anyone who really knows me can attest that I love Southern soul styled blues. And nobody in my mind does it better than Otis Clay. That’s probably why he has appeared on my list the past two years and is back again this time. Teaming with Billy Price, This Time For Real tugs at those heartstrings one more time and as I said in my review this is soul done right.

Another person who did it right was Wee Willie Walker with his debut disc for the Little Village Foundation, If Nothing Ever Changes. I can’t get enough of his vocals. Amazing, and as seen at the Waterfront Blues Festival this last July, teamed with Curtis Salgado on The Beatles’ “Help,” it sends a good tingling feeling throughout your entire body. And the song is included here.

Traditional blues on the national level was best identified by the Andy T – Nick Nixon Band. Three albums over the past three years and each of them is better than the previous one. What makes it even more sensational is that the quality does not diminish with them on stage and I have seen them many times over the past few years. Maybe the best, but obviously one of the best, traditional blues acts out there today.

Kevin Selfe’s latest Buy My Soul Back also delivers tremendous traditional values and his song writing grows stronger every time out. So glad to have him living in Portland and this recording may break him out big time nationally if he hasn’t already made that happen with his last disc. There is never a down moment when it comes to Kevin’s creativity.

Karen Lovely is another local artist who should be once again rising to the top with potential Blues Music Award nominations. Working with Tony Braunagel and collaborating with people like Alan Mirikitani, Dave Fleschner, and Curtis Salgado brought the whole package to the words behind the music and Karen is just the right person to deliver them. It was hard to ever think that she would rise above what was accomplished with Still The Rain, but I have to say that Ten Miles Of Bad Road has done just that. It was two years in the making and worth every minute.

Many people may not be familiar with Voo Davis, but this musician has a knack for very eclectic blues that can cover a wide spectrum of approaches and all of them are handled superbly. Midnight Mist can take you on a journey from the Delta to Chicago to the West Coast while throwing in some nice punches you’d expect from a jam band, all while maintaining something true and traditional. This may be one of the most surprising albums of the year and has seen substantial playtime in my car again and again.

Getting back towards traditional, no local musician offered more in my perception than James Clem. Not just with one album, but two that could both easily be included on this list. One featuring ukelele and the other traditional guitar. I love them both, but to be able to include other artists I selected Road’s Gettin’ Muddy for now. Very relaxing blues and perfect for driving, listening under the eaves on a rainy day, or anytime else for that matter.

But if you’re in the mood to party and you enjoy a bit of funk behind those tunes, Memphis-based Ghost Town Blues Band has the goods in Hard Road To Hoe. The slide guitar and cigar-box work by leader Matt Isbell is punctuated by horns, keys, and a grooving beat that has been described on their website as taking you from funky to funk-nasty. We need to see these guys make a visit to the Northwest for sure!

Closing out my top ten is an album that brought to me everything that I wanted to see from Ben Rice. Watching him progeress over the years to be one of the best musicians in our region has certainly been a pleasure and his talent seems to endlessly grow every year, too. This recording, Live @ The Purple Fox Loft, with his trio brings out his depth as a songwriter, musician and displays the ease he now has onstage talking to an audience and keeping their attention throughout with precise and extraordinary performances. I can hardly wait to see how much higher he will succeed as he’s well on his way already.

Coming up with lists like this is never easy, but I honestly have to say that each of these selections meant a lot to me over the last year. As I said, though, these are definitely by no means the only recordings that I could have chosen. And everybody may not be familiar with all of the artists. They’re all worth exploring though and I am always open to hearing other choices sent to me by you. I enjoy so many different musicians, blues and otherwise. The blues is by no means a dying genre, listening to any of these artists or others prove that every single day. Enjoy it all!

Where Love Begins
Fleschtone Records

The Blues Cabaret CD coverThe Blues Cabaret, the creation of Portland-based composer and pianist Dave Fleschner, is a broadway styled stage production that focuses on a main character who has found a new direction later in life than one would usually and focuses on the tribulations he encounters. Now a theater-like atmosphere may not seem like an angle that you would normally find the blues being set, but that’s exactly what happens here. Where Love Begins is a selection of songs that make up The Blues Cabaret production and it is filled with heartbreak, humor, and harmonizing vocals.

To bring the story to life, Fleschner has employed San Diego blues vocalist Earl Thomas, along with Billy Mixer and Jimmy Wilcox of The Portland Gay Men’s Chorus. The blend of their voices together or individually move the story along nicely. The music behind them is well-crafted with a number of recognizable names such as guitarists Alan Hager, Dan Gildea and Vyasa Dodson, bassist Bill Athens, drummers Carlton Jackson and Russ Kleiner, percussionist Chuk Barber, and a small army of horn and string players. Over it all, Dave Fleschner’s piano brightly shines, providing the emotion structure behind the songs’ stories.

There are plenty of captivating highlights. There’s the down-home comfort of “Chicken Pot Pie” where the singer tells us that Portland may have its gourmet food carts and Memphis its barbecue that cannot be beat, but nothing compares to the country cooking of his youth. The humorous situation in “Goin’ To A Party” unbeknownst that it is a swingers party and as his partner goes home with his friend, he ends up with the friend’s wife who is about 300 pounds, maybe 400. Going to stick around and have a few more drinks before he’s ready to leave. Or how can it be possible in “Was This Love Written In The Stars” that this love is real if it feels like it was written on a bathroom wall? Lots of vocal power going on throughout the disc, but perhaps the strongest may be Thomas’ lead on “I Want To Love You,” a touching number where the character wants to be in love with the person he’s attracted to, but his life will not permit it at this time.

It is a definite different approach with the theatrical setting, but The Blues Cabaret with its vocal harmonies still holds onto blues themes throughout the lyrics and the performances both vocally and musically are on right on target. A very commendable, enjoyable and well-crafted production from the pen of Dave Fleschner.

Total Time: 55:33

Don’t Dig Too Deep / I Knew I Had The Blues / I Want To Love You / Interlude / Was This Love Written In The Stars / Goin’ To A Party / Chicken Pot Pie / I Believe In You And Me / Bottle Of Tolerance / Desert At Night / Thrill Of The Chase / That Night On The Rooftop / Thinkin’ ‘Bout You / Love’s A Merry Go Round

This coming December, the Cascade Blues Association will reach its 30th anniversary. I began my role on the board of directors during the tenth anniversary celebration and have been holding the role of president for the past fourteen years. Over that time I have chaired and participated in numerous programs, with leadership behind events such as the Journey To Memphis since its inception and the Muddy Awards. I have also been the primary writer and staff photographer for the BluesNotes, spending endless hours each month in its preparation. I have also started to bring CBA merchandise to various venues and festivals this past year, something that had been done quite a bit in past years, but had fallen out of practice the past few.

Outside of the CBA I have been a strong piece of The Blues Foundation’s teams for the International Blues Challenge and the Blues Music Awards, both of which I work as part of the stage management team for these world-renowned events. During this past year I also released my first book that I co-authored with a friend from Baton Rouge titled Blues On Beale Street, Memoirs of the International Blues Challenge.

No matter what my role or where my travels may take me, I promote and talk about the blues talent in the Northwest. This has been my goal since I first became involved with the CBA board, to gain more recognition for our regional blues community and artists. It still remains my goal as does making our organization more secure and higher visibility within our local media and music audience.

Please consider me when selecting your next president of the Cascade Blues Association.

Thank you,
Greg Johnson


It’s time for the 2016 CBA Board Officer elections. I would like to continue serving as the Vice President of this great organization.  As many of you know, this is a role I have held for 4 years and have worked hard during that time to promote blues activity in the Portland area, as well as beyond.  Wherever I go I talk about our CBA activities and I promote our amazing blues community, venues, and artists.  Being your Vice President has been hard work but also very rewarding and I hope I have lived up to the membership expectations.  I continue to do the CBA Calendar monthly and solicit input monthly from talent so that our calendar can have the most up to date content. I post “what’s happening” on our Facebook page regularly, and in September of 2015 I implemented an email blast which highlights the coming month activities and links to our website.  My travels bring me to a variety of festivals around the country, as well as sailing on the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise — and I always make sure to promote CBA while I am attending these events.

Please consider me for the position of Vice President for the 2016 calendar year.

Wendy Schumer


I am excited to introduce myself as a candidate for the position of Secretary for the 2016 year. I have been involved with the Cascade Blues Association for more than three years. During my time with the association I have provided many hours of service.

I have experience working with volunteer organizations serving as President, Treasurer, and Secretary for PTA, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, and Educational organizations. I have much education and training in the area of law, organizational structure, and education that will support my ability to provide guidance and leadership.

I look forward to providing support to the association and helping to continue to build positive relationships within the community.

Please consider me for the position of Secretary for the 2016 calendar year.

Brenda Docken

Battle Scars

Walter Trout CD coverNothing provokes a storyteller more than his own life experiences, and when you face imminent death on your doorstep numerous times, there is a lot of thoughts to be spoken. Walter Trout has done just that. Facing certain death several times over the previous year, Trout stood face to face with the grim reaper and withstood everything he had to endure — and came out still breathing. On his latest release, Battle Scars, Trout relates the pangs and woes that he was dealt with. It’s not all pretty as you can imagine, but here he is to tell us about it in a very emotional manner.

He still delivers that stinging guitar sound that you’d expect. He certainly has not lost any of that tasteful bite. On “Cold, Cold Ground” he slings out some vicious licks while telling about how the angels came calling for him, but he was not ready to go, just as he’s not ready for the “Cold, Cold Ground.” The only thing he pleads for is to “Please Take Me Home,” where he can feel the security of his family and not have to face another long night laying in a hospital bed because “Tomorrow Seems So Far Away.” Throughout the album he tells about how he may have made wrong choices in life, but in the song “Gonna Live Again” he states that he now has a new chance and he’s going to make improvements and live his life again.

Battle Scars is a brutally honest and brave release from a man who has endured the harshest of experiences. The lyrics can be painful and heartbreaking at times, but the content of the music is all Trout at his very best. Welcome back to a musician who seemed so lost to us such a short time ago.

Total Time: 58:09

Almost Gone / Omaha Prelude / Omaha / Tomorrow Seems So Far Away / Please Take Me Home / Playin’ Hideaway / Haunted By The Night / Fly Away / Move On / My Ship Came In / Cold, Cold Ground / Gonna Live Again

The Melody Ballroom, 615 SE Alder St., Portland
Wednesday, December 2, 7:00 pm
Members always Free – Non-members $3.00
Opening Acoustic Set – Walker T. Ryan
Second Electric Set – Rose City Kings

Walker T Ryan - press photoDecember is one of the most important times of the year for the Cascade Blues Association. Members who attend our monthly meeting, besides hearing great blues music, will be able to vote for the people they want filling the officer positions for the CBA’s board of directors. All officer positions are open, President, Vice President, Secretary, Membership Secretary, and Treasurer. Please bring your current membership card to receive a ballot. We will have an up-to-date list of members if you cannot find your card.

Aside from the voting, though, we know that you attend the monthly meetings to hear those various artists from our region you may not always have the chance to catch play the blues. And this month we have two great sets for you to enjoy.

Walker T. Ryan is a blues icon from Eugene who can recreate the sounds of the original Delta and Piedmont style bluesmen, yet brings them to his unique and original creation. Ryan is both a master slide and fingerpicker, and a true storyteller. Everything that you’d expect from a first class solo musician Walker T. Ryan is all that and more. He represented the Rainy Day Blues Society in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge this past January and continues to tour in support of his most recent recording, Living Room.

Perhaps one of the best descriptions of Ryan and his playing was offered by T.R. Kelly: “Walker never preaches. He tells stories and lets us see the truth with our own eyes. It sticks deeper that way. Walker has the soul of an Irish storyteller with a bluesman’s musical vocabulary, never failing to acknowledge and honor the African roots of the blues in his shows, while explaining the contributions of immigrants and  po’ whites, crazies and characters off all colors. Hence the fitting title ‘Underdog-American Music.’  His familiar-feeling yet inventively original songs speak of huge truths in the language of the working people, with words that fit around real  and sometimes raw feelings, not cleverly constructs from a rhyming dictionary.”

The second set of the night will bring out the newly reformed band the Rose City Kings. The band took a hiatus for a little while, but it’s back and ready to get the crowds rockin’ once again. In their original incarnation the band won a Muddy Award for best new act, released three albums, toured with Chicago blues master Jody Williams, and represented the CBA in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge. Over time they saw some changes, but never lost the energetic, driving force they presented in live performances.Rose City Kings - Facebook photo

The band consists of founder and sensational songwriter Dan “Kolvane” Berkery on guitar and vocals, joined by Tim Shaughnessy on bass, Steve Kerin on keyboards, Katy Oberg on percussion, Gary Keeney on drums and David Lipkind on harmonica. This is an exciting collection of some of the top musicians in Portland, each capable of handling the spotlight on their own, but collectively bring a moving and passionate show that will leave you wanting more.

We’ll hold our popular free ticket drawing in between sets, announce all the up-coming fun blues happenings and will also have our winner take all $1.00 raffle ticket drawing for a multi-CD package put together just for the meeting.

Join us at The Melody Ballroom this month, vote for your board officers, hear two sets of fantastic music and hook up with all your blues loving friends. Sounds like the place to be, this month and every month.

Warren Haynes - press photoGrammy Award winning artist Warren Haynes is recognized as a cornerstone of the American music landscape and revered as one of the finest guitar players in the world. Throughout his prolific career Haynes has been part of three of the greatest live musical groups in rock history – Allman Brothers Band, Gov’t Mule, and the Dead. His virtuosic artistry has led to thousands of unforgettable performances. His latest project, Ashes & Dust, takes on a newer approach for Haynes, stemming away from the jam band format and moving toward Americana roots music. This is perhaps the most personal recording of his career.

Warren Haynes is touring in support of Ashes & Dust which will be coming to The Roseland Theater in Portland on Tuesday, December 1. Tickets are now on sale through, ranging from $28.50 to $40.00. Opening acts are Jonathan Tyler and ChessBoxer with show time starting at 7:30 pm. This is a 21 & over show only.