ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson, CBA President

Though most of the happenings that have gone on in Memphis at the International Blues Challenge have already passed before this month, I thought it would be nice to recognize a couple things going on at the event involving the Cascade Blues Association.

First, we are sending a youth act for the first time this year with Justus Reece. The Youth Showcase at the IBC is truly an important event as it proves that this genre is not a dying art form. The young musicians who participate in this are very serious, otherwise they would not make the trip with the expense involved. It gives them a nice insight to how other people their own age are taking on the blues, letting them know that despite what a lot of their peers may think the blues really are cool. These artists will have the chance to participate in jams alongside not only other youth acts, but with the elder contestants and several of the well-established musicians who will be in town. Plus, how many blues artists wouldn’t like the opportunity to play on historic Beale Street?

For the second year in a row, several of the Northwest blues societies will be putting on a showcase featuring all of the performers competing in the IBC. This year those societies, aside from the CBA, include the Washington Blues Society, South Sound Blues Association and the White Rock Blues Society in British Columbia. Being held in Club 152 is a prime location, too. Everybody looking to pick up their passes at will call have to go through the room to get upstairs to where The Blues Foundation people are set up. That means that all going through that Wednesday are exposed to our northwest artists. Plus, it’s not just the competitors on hand performing, as established northwest musicians like Sammy Eubanks, Ben Rice and Dave Melyan all are taking part in this showcase, too.

For me personally, I will be working once again at multiple positions including venue coordinator and stage management at the finals in The Orpheum, with my girlfriend Cherie Robbins helping out this year.

And I must note, I am extremely honored and humbled that The Blues Foundation selected me this year as a recipient of the Keeping The Blues Alive Award, the highest honor giving recognition to non-performers in the blues world. To be one of fifteen recipients (nine individuals, two festivals, a radio station, a blues society, a venue and a record label) world-wide means a lot and it doesn’t escape me the importance of how those who made the nomination and decision feel about the work I have accomplished. My commitment to the CBA and other events that I have been involved with over the years has never been about recognition. It is about my love for the music and the musicians and has always been and always will be about my giving back as much as I can for the enjoyment that I have been provided for so many years by them. It is my aim to continue in doing so, whether as your CBA president or any other capacity that I take on. Thank you all for your belief in me over the years.

By Laurie Morrisey

larhonda“Music is life!” That is the simple statement that headlines Portland’s musical diva LaRhonda Steele’s website. When I read that it resonated through me and made me pause. Watching LaRhonda perform only makes this hit home even more.

“I knew I wanted to be a singer ever since I was in high school. I found that my peers accepted me when they heard me sing and when I sang in church I felt so connected to God. I really wanted to share that good feeling,” LaRhonda said. And that’s exactly what she does every time you hear her sing—she shares that good feeling with all in attendance.

Although she graduated college with a Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration and worked in accounting and bookkeeping, the pull of music moved her to a full time singing career.

She began her professional singing career shortly after moving to Portland 20 years ago. LaRhonda was encouraged to audition for the annual MLK celebration organized by Ken Berry. She auditioned over the phone. Her first paying gig was with his band, Time Sound, and soon after that she joined the Norman Sylvester Band.

Her early musical influences came from listening to her mother, Juanita Johnson, who sang with her aunts. “She had this incredibly beautiful smooth tenor voice that we grew up listening to. My grandfather was a preacher, so my mom and her two sisters sang before he preached.” LaRhonda had some training in high school but is mostly self-taught. “I was born into a family of singers.”

“Of course, I love Oleta Adams, Aretha Franklin, Shirley Ceaser, and Angela Windbush. I love old soul music with a funky back beat and a rock edge. I play a mean tambourine,” she said.

She has three CD’s, Artistic Differences, My Soul’s Song and Rock me Baby. “I have another in the works, to be released in 2016, with nine original songs.”

When talking about artists she has worked with she said, “I have had the pleasure of working with my husband Mark Steele, Curtis Salgado, Norman Sylvester, Lloyd Jones, Ken DeRouchie, Obo Addy, Janice Marie Scroggins, Linda Hornbuckle, and most currently, Louis Pain.”

“I work mainly as a solo artist. I have an incredible pool of musicians to call on when the LaRhonda Steele Band gets hired: Mark Steele on keyboards; Brian Foxworth or Tyrone Hendrix on drums; Carl Falls or Ben Jones on bass; and Mike Dolin and Eric Hailstone know my book as well.”

“I currently enjoy the role of choir director for the Portland Interfaith Gospel Choir, a community choir that sings gospel music. I am also music director for Unity in West Linn.”

Anyone who is looking to “feel” the music and is ready to understand “Music is Life,” it’s time to head out and listen to the LaRhonda Steele Band. To find out where you can find her next, visit her website at larhondasteele.com.

Melody Ballroom, 615 SE Alder St., Portland
Wednesday, February 3, 7:00 pm
Members always Free – Non-members $3.00
Opening Acoustic Set – Diggin’ In The Well Trio
Second Electric Set – Blues Battalion

February is here, and the Cascade Blues Association has yet another outstanding showcase lined up for our members for this month’s General Membership Meeting. This is always a great way to begin your blues month and judging from the responses and the size of the crowds we have been seeing, it looks like many of you are in agreement.

For February, we have a very special opening set with a unique group of musicians you’re not going to see just every day. Three of not only the city’s finest artists, but amongst the best you’ll find anywhere on this big old planet. Calling themselves the Diggin’ In The Well Trio and they’re planning on going deep for this meeting! The group is led by one of Portland’s most beloved musicians, Lloyd Jones, on acoustic guitar and vocals. A member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame as well as the Cascade Blues Association’s Hall of Fame and a CBA Lifetime Achievement recipient, Jones is the ultimate representation of the blues artists in our area. Always engaging and entertaining, with a smile on his face and delivering the best of shows whenever he is on stage, you know that you’re always in for a treat when Jones is on the marquee.

Deep In The Well - photo courtesy of Lloyd Jones The band’s designated hitter is regarded by many as maybe the very best blues drummer to be found, Jimi Bott. That title has definitely been earned with his many years playing with top acts like Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, The Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Mannish Boys and our own local heroes Kevin Selfe & The Tornadoes. Throw into the mix his recent recognition as the drummer of the year in The Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards and it pretty much sums that title up effectively.

Completing the trio is a recent transplant to Portland, but certainly another musician with credentials that cannot be ignored. Mark “Shark” Schatzkamer. A master of open tunings on guitar, mandolin, resonator guitar and “slide” mandolin, he has a rich history having played with Jackson Browne, Jessie Ed Davis, Taj Mahal, John Trudell, Terry Evans, Teresa James, and even Bob Dylan. Without doubt, another welcome newcomer to our ever-growing tremendous music community.

This opening set may be one for the memories, but it certainly is not going to be the only great music happening at the meeting. The second set of the night will feature Blues Battalion. A blues, classic rock and some jazz band that has been playing throughout the Portland Metro area for quite a while.

Blues Battalion is fronted by guitarist and vocalist Fred Riedel, an award winning Blues Battalion - press photosongwriter, who was recently been given the “Best Blues Song of the Month” award twice by Akademia Music Awards out of Los Angeles. Joining Riedel is drummer Tony Leitch, harmonica man Mike Amen, bassist Tyler McDowell and keyboardist David Lee Bassett. The band also features a pair of outstanding vocalists in Leanne Cruz and Fred’s daughter Kristi Riedel. The band has been working throughout the region including gigs at The Gemini Lounge, Spinella’s Off The Wall, The Hoppy Brewery, The Gateway Elks, the Troutdale Summer Fair and were the house band for Billy Bob’s in Gresham for a while. Each of the musicians in the band have extensive backgrounds performing and together will have the Melody Ballroom jumping to some exciting music for certain!

As always, we’ll bring you up to date with the goings-on around town for the upcoming month of blues. And we’ll have our free ticket drawings and winner-take-all raffle happening, too. If you attend these meetings monthly, you already know how much fun we have with great music and good friends. If you have not been before, what’s holding you up? Come on out and join in on the good times, and you’ll soon find yourself showing up every month. See you all there!

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

Barry Levenson – The Visit (Rip Cat Records)
Billy Hector – Old School Thang (Ghetto Surf Music)
Bob Malone – Mojo Deluxe (Delta Moon Records)
Brother Sun Sister Moon – Brother Sun Sister Moon (Self Produced)
Celso Salim Band – To The End Of Time (GRV)
Chris James & Patrick Rynn – Trouble Don’t Last (VizzTone)
Chris O’Leary – Gonna Die Tryin’ (American Showplace Music)
Dexter Allen – Triology Of My Bluez (Deep Rush Records)
Fiona Boyes – Box & Dice (Blue Empress Records)
Heather Crosse – Groovin’ At The Crosse Roads (Ruf Records)
Jackie Payne – I Saw The Blues (Blue Dot Records)
JJ Appleton & Jason Ricci – Dirty Memory (Old Boy Network)
Joel Zoss – Florida Blues (Bluzpik)
Lazyeye – Single Malt Blues (Only Blues Music)
Nacomi & The Blues Temple – Nacomi Sings Little Walter (Swampie Records)
Racky Thomas – Goin’ Home (Self Produced)
Sam Burckhardt – Fly Over (Airway Records)
Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen – Love & Life (Self Produced)
Tony Fazio – Another Way (Self Produced)
Tony Lynn Washington – I Wanna Dance (Regina Royale Records)

John Mayall

Live in ’67
Forty Below Records   

John Mayall Bluesbreakers 967 Live CDDuring the spring of 1967, a 16-year-old Dutch lad, Tom Huissen, followed John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers around London with his single-channel, reel-to-reel tape deck in tow, and managed to capture several of the band’s incendiary gigs in various local London clubs. This rather short-lived edition of The Bluesbreakers — John Mayall on keyboard, vocals, and harp, John McVie on bass, Peter Green on guitar and vocals, and Mick Fleetwood on drums — apparently never recorded in the studio, and according to Pete Frame’s musical genealogy of Fleetwood and McVie, only performed together during April and May of 1967. Fortunately though, Huissen’s remarkable tapes resurfaced and found their way to John Mayall, who’s now released them — and we owe him a huge debt for it.

While obviously far from high fidelity, this disk oozes authenticity. It’s a collection of gut-busting, wall-shattering performances combined with roughly hewed, seat-of-the-pants recordings that reveal a glimpse into the nascent blues scene percolating around the UK during this era. It’s no secret that many British artists from this era cut their musical teeth listening to American blues artists, and in doing so partially enabled the blues resurgence in America. As artifacts of that period, these performances are priceless.

Highlights include a searing rendition of Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Looking Back,” (available also on Mayall’s 1969 release Looking Back), and Peter Green’s edgy version of Freddie King’s “The Stumble.” But to call these “highlights” is a bit of a misnomer; all the cuts on this album are worthy of that recognition — they’re simply that good.

Frankly, though, the odd bit about this album is Mick Fleetwood and John McVie. For those of us of a certain vintage, these guys were the ultimate purveyors of laid-back, LA-infused, high-school date music. To hear them here, tearing up these joints like British Dervishes overdosing on Red Bull, causes some dissonance — I guess it’s just the incongruity of thinking about what they’d be up to in ten short years.

But never mind. Fleetwood and McVie’s time with Mayall and this collection of live performances solidifies their place in Cooperstown, and we all ought to be thankful for Mr. Huissen and his magic reel-to-reel tape deck.


All Your Love / Brand New Start / Double Trouble / Streamline / Have You Ever Loved a Woman / Looking Back / So Many Roads / Hi Heel Sneakers / I Can’t Quit You Baby / The Stumble / Someday After Awhile / San-Ho-Zay / Stormy Monday /

John Clifton CD cover

Let Yourself Go
Rip Cat Records

John Clifton CD coverDoes this sound familiar: really cool harmonica player/vocalist from the West Coast who channels those fun times of jumping, swinging romps, and deep Chicago blues? Well, that might almost seem like a dime-a-dozen nowadays, but seldom does it warrant the attention that a musician like Fresno’s John Clifton does. He has been around; he is not a new performer dropped on us out of the blue. Since the 1980s he has been a strong member of the California blues community in the band he co-founded with his brother Bill, MoFo Party Band. They have toured across the country and into Europe numerous times. But Let Yourself Go is John Clifton’s first attempt at a solo disc. Something he put a heavy amount of personal attention to, and it is in one word — dynamic!

It may not hurt to have a strong collection of amazing musicians on hand to help. People like Rusty Zinn, Kid Ramos, Marty Dotson, Mike Turturro, Bob Welsh, and Scott Abeyta to name a handful. But they’re all just a little bit extra to the mix when you give the vocals and harmonica delivery brought by Clifton.

Clifton’s songwriting takes a backseat to nobody. Intense at times and happy-go-lucky at others, John Clifton is a brilliant craftsman at putting together a song. Look at a number like “Garbage Day”: “It’s garbage day baby, woman I’ve just got to put you out / Put you out like a dog in the morning, put you out like the trash at night.” Ouch! Now that’s downright stating it bluntly that this relationship is over.

His delivery comes from all directions. “Every Time You Come Around” is reminiscent of classic 1960’s R&B, while the instrumental “Beer Joint” takes on a standard Chicago blues approach, or “Big Man In A Little Town” could easily be taken for a composition from The Blasters’ songbook.  “Would You Understand” is a social commentary aimed to make you think whether or not you’d help somebody in more need than yourself. And “Dig Yourself” is a high-paced piano-harmonica interaction that from back in the day might’ve brought about images of Jerry Lee Lewis or perhaps Ray Charles doing “What’d I Say.” That number cooks! And Bartek Szopinski is highlighted again on “Tell Me Baby” as Rusty Zinn and Bob Welsh sling mighty guitar licks back and forth and Clifton asks, “Tell me baby, where did you go last night, you smell like wine and you’re a dreadful sight.”

John Clifton may not be a name that instantly leaps to mind like many of the West Coast blues scene harmonica players, but maybe it’s time it should be as he is right there with the best. And Let Yourself Go is filled with all the heavy blowing and swinging playing that makes for the finest blues originating from this part of the country.

Total Time: 51:54

Let Yourself Go / The Gamble / Beer Joint / Would You Understand / Big John From Mississippi / Anytime Is Cool / Dig Yourself / Have Your Way Baby / Buddy Buddy Friends / Garbage Day / Tell Me Baby / Every Time You Come Around / Big Man In A Little

James Harman CD cover


James Harman CD coverHey, just in case nobody has informed you yet, James Harman is a flat out cool dude. Not only that, he’s a hell of a great songwriter and performer, too. Yeah, I can hear all of those who know James or have seen him before, “Tell us something we don’t know Captain Obvious.” Well, for those less initiated with the works of James Harman, let me say that this newest release of his, Bonetime, ranks right alongside his very best and would be a good place for you to start getting to know this terrific artist. And if you look at his picture inside the sleeve, you may think this guy is odd — dressed up like some kind of wizard or headhunter king on a throne. But Harman is like that old Honey Badger, he just doesn’t give a  ****  what you think. It still doesn’t take away that his music and presentation is the epitome of blues cool today.

But let all of that slip by and just sit back and give this man’s record a listen. It’s laid-back with that ease he has been providing fans on the West Coast and around the world for a few decades now. The tracks here have all been thought out over some time, too. He states in the liner notes that these original numbers were selected from over 150 unfinished songs. 150! Now that is quite prolific. And they’re all about the human condition he explains, because when it comes to blues, you should be writing about what you know, and believe me, Harman knows a lot.

There is often a lot of humor in his music. Here he sings about his “Big Boned Gal,” somebody with “Bad Feet/Bad Hair,” a “Blue Stretchmark Tattoo,” and all about how he just may be “The World’s Badluckest Man.” Yet he can take it all down home, too. Listen to the mood laid out on “Coldfront Woman” with rolling piano and guitar speaking the right phrases as Harman delivers his tale of woes brought on by that woman who did him wrong.

Oh yeah, James has a good many friends that dropped by over time to help him put these tracks together, too. Guitar players like Nathan James, Kirk Fletcher, Junior Watson and Kid Ramos, keyboardists Gene Taylor and Sonny Leyland, even Candye Kane steps in to add her voice to a couple numbers.

You know if you’re in a vehicle riding alongside him at a high rate of speed and he just kicked back taking his hands off the steering wheel, there’s nothing to worry about. He’s got this. You’re in good hands. And that’s how you need to approach anything that James Harman puts on disc. You know it’s going to be cool even before you hit play. Just take my word for it.

So don’t you just think it’s about Bonetime? You should! I have already said it, James Harman is cool and so is Bonetime. Check it out yourself.

Total Time: 51:41

Bonetime / (I Am) The World’s Badluckest Man / Ain’t It Crazy / Coldfront Woman / Big Boned Gal / Bad Feet/Bad Hair / Just A Game Goin’ On / Blue Stretchmark Tattoo / Yo’ Family (Don’t Like Me) / Leavin’ Fire / Skirt / The Clock Is Tickin’

DL Duncan CD cover

D.L. Duncan
15 South Records

DL Duncan CD coverNashville’s Dave Duncan, simply known as DL Duncan on this self-titled, self-produced recording, has been a songwriter of well-respected merit for a number of years. With a sound that fits nicely within that musical niche surrounded roots, America, and the blues, he has written highly acclaimed songs for country artists like Lorrie Morgan and Buddy Jewell and has worked with the Goose Creek Symphony, Jimmy Nalls, and Stan Street. He has also had a lengthy song-writing collaboration with Curtis Salgado and has reaped two Blues Music Award nominations for song of the year with “20 Years of BB King” and “She Didn’t Cut Me Loose.”

The strength of Duncan’s songwriting clearly shines through on this recording, with eight of the tracks written or co-penned by him. He reunites with Salgado on one, “I Know A Good Thing” and Mark Robinson co-wrote the fiery guitar number “Dickerson Road.” There is plenty of humor to be found in the opening tune, “I Ain’t The Sharpest Marble.” The clever title alone should tell you that fact, but it’s full of funny insights such as “If you want a man with ambition, you might as well count me out.” And he can fill you with his down-felt sorrow with mournful slide guitar on “St. Valentine’s Day Blues,” relating how alone he gets to feeling each February.

Throughout the album the instrumentation is high caliber. It doesn’t hurt when your supporting cast includes heavy hitters like Delbert McClinton on harmonica, Sonny Landreth on slide guitar, Muscle Shoals’ house bassist David Hood, keyboard dynamo Kevin McKendree and Nashville’s premier vocalists The McCrary Sisters. And amongst all that, Duncan superbly plays a variety of both electric and acoustic guitars.

The album closes with a beautiful take on Craig Wiseman’s “All I Have To Offer You Is Love,” one of only two covers on the disc. His vocals are soft and touching with exceptional accompaniment by David Pinkston on pedal steel guitar. It is the perfect nightcap to an album filled with fantastic, memorable songs and perfect presentation. Start to end, this is one fine collection of music.

Total Time: 41:05

I Ain’t The Sharpest Marble / Dickerson Road / You Just Don’t Never Know / Your Own Best Friend / I Know A Good Thing / Sending Me Angels / Orange Beach Blues / St. Valentine’s Day Blues / Sweet Magnolia Love / All I Have To Offer You Is Love

Colin Lake CD cover

One Thing That’s For Sure
Louisiana Red Hot Records

Colin Lake CD coverColin Lake may have planted his musical style in Portland, but he has certainly had the fruit of his craft ripen since moving to New Orleans. He has started taking that city’s blues and roots scene to another level with his tastefully crafted lyrics and melodic guitar playing. His latest release, One Thing That’s For Sure, has recently been nominated by Offbeat magazine for blues album of the year, while Lake has also been placed on the ballot for vocalist and guitarist, and the song “The World Alive” has a nod for music video.

One Thing That’s For Sure continues with Lake’s knack for creating astounding wordplay. The music moves between rocking tracks (“Pay The Price”), psychedelic (“I’m Trying To Tell You”), easy-going pop (“The World Alive”) or bluesy instrumental (“La Madrugada”), and every number is an original composition. And the lyrics are complex storylines that often detail relationships whether exalting pure joy or getting through the lows as in “If It Ain’t For You” (“I’m sorry for every little thing I do.”).

Guest artists on this disc include North Mississippi All Star guitarist Luther Dickinson, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, percussionist Eric Heigle who also handled production duties, and backing vocals from Sasha Masakowski, singer/actress Topsy Chapman and Maggie Koerner from Galactic.

Colin Lake’s musical progression is steadily improving with each and every release. One Thing That’s For Sure is an infective collection of downright musical fun. It’ll make you want to stand up and dance to its ever-pleasing grooves.

Total Time: 52:52

One Thing That’s For Sure / She’s Mine / The World Alive / I’m Trying To Tell You / A Quiet Mind / La Madrugada / Pay The Price / Ninety-Nine Miles / Just Begun / If It Ain’t For You / Lonesome For The West

Charlie Musselwhite CD cover

I Ain’t Lyin’
Henrietta Records

Charlie Musselwhite CD cover

Charlie Musselwhite CD cover

Charlie Musselwhite has released another live recording following in the footsteps of his 2012 album Juke Joint Chapel, which brought him a Grammy nomination. Recorded at two festivals, Valley of the Moon Vintage Festival in Sonoma, California and the Clarksdale Soundstage in Mississippi, I Ain’t Lyin’ is another strong outing that finds Musselwhite and his band in prime performance shape.

The band here is almost the same as on his 2012 release, with June Core helming the skins and Matthew Stubbs on guitar. The newest part of this band is bass player Steve Froberg. This is a splendid mix where none of the parts overshadow anybody else. Musselwhite remains forefront with his harmonica and voice, but each of the players are key cogs to this unit and it shows.

Musselwhite wrote all but two of the selections and many are prime numbers that have been favorites of his followers for many years. The cover tracks are Elmore James’ “Done Somebody Wrong” and Duke Pearson’s “Cristo Redentor.” The latter is just about a standard for Musselwhite and has appeared on several of his releases over the years going all the way back to his break-out release Stand Back! It’d be hard to imagine a Charlie Musselwhite appearance without this song being played. And once again he proves its worth.

Of the originals, you will definitely find many of his best and most loved titles from his fifty-plus-year career. They include greats like “If I Should Have Bad Luck,” “Long Lean Lanky Mama” and “Blues, Why Do You Bother Me?”

Charlie Musselwhite has proven over time that he is one of the all-time premier voices behind a blues harmonica. No need to compare him with the Sonny Boys or Walters (Big and Little) as he has carved his own niche with his blues hall of fame and his influence on future players will just as long lasting. One thing he’ll bring to the table in live presentations is everything that is good in the blues today and as he’d tell you himself from the stage, “I Ain’t Lyin’!”

Total Time: 57:43

Good Blues Tonight / Done Somebody Wrong / Long Lean Lanky Mama / Always Been Your Friend / If I Should Have Bad Luck / My Kinda Gal / Blues, Why Do You Worry Me? / 300 Miles To Go / Long Leg Woman / Cristo Redentor / Good Blues Tonight (unedited)