Ramblings on My Mind by Greg Johnson - CBA PresidentI’d be lying to you if I said that I didn’t enjoy my recent trip to Memphis to assist with The Blues Foundation once again at the Blues Music Awards. I arrived Wednesday morning around 9:00 am and Deputy Director (and one of my closest friends) Joe Whitmer had me working as soon as I stepped foot through the office door. And it didn’t end until the awards show ended late Thursday night (or should I say Friday morning). But I loved every minute.

My main role at the Blues Music Awards the past three years has been working as a stage manager with Paul Averwater. Paul is one of the best in the MidSouth and always in demand. We spent all day Thursday doing line-checks with the performers and then returned less than an hour-and-a-half later to run the stage for the show for the next six-to-seven hours. It is my job to make sure that all the artists are ready to go on stage well in advance and have them in place so when one act ends, the other starts immediately. Kind of like the way the Waterfront Blues Festival runs the two main stages in the bowl, alternating back and forth. But this is one large stage divided into two parts, and I am running back and forth to opposite sides, changing acts every ten minutes. Always great sets delivered by the showcased acts. If I had to pick and choose my favorites this year I would have to top it off with Victor Wainwright’s extraordinary solo piano that brought the entire audience to a hush to listen closely. The Heritage Blues Orchestra was sensational, even more so when they had Eric Bibb sit in for a number. Joe Louis Walker has always been a favorite and having him trade guitar licks with Murali Coryell was superb. As was Mud Morganfield backed by one of the tightest Chicago all stars bands running. Curtis Salgado burned the house down with his soulful set. As did John Nemeth. And Royal Southern Brotherhood was the perfect act to close the night leaving the audience wanting more after a terrific cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” had them on their feet.

 Aside from the Blues Music Awards, I was fortunate to catch many fantastic artists that I do not get a chance to see too often like Greg Nagy, Gina Sicilia, Diunna Greenleaf, JW-Jones, EG Kight, Lisa Biales, Paula Harris, Dennis Gruenling, John Primer and more. Of course there are long-time friends I always try to catch up with like Jeff Jensen, Brandon Santini and Eric Hughes.

 But the best times are always those spent with close friends, not necessarily at a show. Being able to hang out with Henry Gavaldon . . . these are the people who make memories special. Big thanks to Joe, Sara, Jay Sielman, Priscilla Hernandez and Cindi James for making me feel as part of The Blues Foundation family. Cannot wait to head back again.

 But back to home, and the first matter of business is the Journey To Memphis competition. We have another strong line-up this year, so we hope to see you come out to the Trails End the first full weekend of June to help us select our next International Blues Challenge representatives and to raise some funds to help them get back to Tennessee. This is always one of the most fun events that the CBA holds, so hope to see many of you there. The summer just does not start right until the Journey To Memphis begins.

 Alas, as I did last month with the passing of my good friend, drummer Pete Muir, it is my unfortunate position to let you know that we lost another friend and musician right at the BluesNotes deadline arrived. Most people may remember Henry Gavaldon as the longtime bassist with Boogie Bone and those who knew him will forever remark what a kind, wonderful person he truly was. Henry passed following complications from surgery. Godspeed Henry. It surely is only the best who seem to be taken away from us way too soon. Sending my deepest condolences and best thoughts to Henry’s family and friends.


This Time Another Year
self produced

This is Brandon Santini’s sophomore solo disc and he has thrown together a stellar band to work with, most notably the addition of guitarist Jeff Jensen. The pairing of Santini and Jensen has proven to be somewhat magical as Santini’s easy-going manner onstage is offset by the frenetic pace of Jensen’s guitar playing. They’re the perfect foils for one another.

Santini has an exceptional knack for writing tasteful songs with memorable instrumental catches and lyrics. The title song, a reworking of Charlie Musselwhite’s “This Time Another Year,” maintains a steady walk as Santini’s harp rolls back and forth, crisp but never overplayed, making the song totally his own. Again with Jensen the two trade off leads on the number enhancing with the right amount of fills to compliment the other. Early in his career Santini had a tendency to play like John Popper, but over the years he has matured following the path of Chicago masters like Sonny Boy Williamson or Little Walter instead. He has mastered that direction knowing that when you blow a note you make it have meaning, it does not need to be overworked. And with that sense Santini has built his own unique sound that is as easily identifiable as those aforementioned greats.

Speaking of Sonny Boy, there are two covers of his on this disc, “Bye Bye Bird” and “Raise Your Window.” They are done with glowing tribute to the master, yet also delivered with an original sound of their own at the same time. Most of the tracks are originals by the band and are quite pleasant and bluesy. I love the step-up of “Got Good Lovin’,” the slow blues of “Late In The Evening” and the frivolity of “Fish Is Bitin’” co-written by Jensen and bassist Bill Ruffino. Jeff Jensen rises to the forefront with his sensational playing on “Dig Me A Grave”.

The band, besides Jeff Jensen, includes the aforementioned Bill Ruffino, who like Jensen departed from the West Coast to Memphis where he teamed up with his former bandmate. On drums is longtime Memphis musician James Cunningham who has worked with Robert Nighthawk Tooms and Mike Forrest in various band formats, including the Wampus Cats and the Eric Hughes Band. Making a guest appearance on three numbers is Victor Wainwright including “What You’re Doing To Me” which he co-wrote with Santini and Jensen. The band also covers one of Wainwright’s pieces, “Coin Operated Woman.”

I first met Brandon Santini many years ago, introduced by mutual friend Billy Gibson. At the time Gibson was working seemingly constantly on Beale Street, earning the moniker “The Prince of Beale Street.” Gibson is not as common a sight on Beale anymore, but Santini has surely taken on the role himself. You can find the band working the clubs several times a week. Perhaps it is time to pass the title from Gibson to Santini. A more worthy successor would be hard to find. Brandon fits it nicely. And This Time Another Year supports the claim.

Total Time: 53:33

Got Good Lovin’ / This Time Another Year / What You Doing To Me / Late In The Evening / Dig Me A Grave / Bye Bye Bird / Things You Putting Down / Been So Blue / Coin Operated Woman / Help Me With The Blues / Raise Your Window / Fish Is Bitin’