Sunday, July 5, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Claudettes – Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched!


This CD review was originally published in the March 13, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The Claudettes – Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched! | Album Review

Yellow Dog Records

13 tracks / 39:32

House bands are almost an extinct species, but there are still a few club owners that are willing to shell out dough every week to make sure that their customers have consistently good entertainment while in their establishments. Johnny Iguana and Michael Caskey are fortunate enough to have a regular house gig, but there is no house anymore. In 2010 Miss Claudette hired them to play at her bar and grill in Illinois, but after it closed down in 2011 she kept them on the payroll to keep the entertainment going.

She keeps this piano and drums duo, known as The Claudettes, busy by booking them in clubs and off-beat locations such as video rental outlets and office supply stores. Often she will set-up her own bar within the club and sling bizarre drink specials that the guys advertise from the stage, sometimes with lighted signs around their necks. It would be hard to make this stuff up!

Despite this bizarre back story, do not write this project off as shtick as both men are accomplished musicians. Iguana (born as Brian Berkowitz) and Caskey have played and recorded alongside artists that include Buddy Guy, Otis Rush, Chuck Mangione, and Koko Taylor. After getting to know each other through countless performances, The Claudettes have finally hunkered down in the studio and cranked out their debut album, Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched!

And what you get with this disc is 13 high-octane tracks, 12 of which are originals that were penned by Iguana (Berkowitz), with nothing but piano and drums instrumentals. That is all: no vocals, horns, guitar, or guest artists – not even a Howlin’ Wolf cover. They describe their music as a blend of jazz, blues, punk, soul and space echo, or what they define as “Cosmic Cartoon Music.”

Johnny Iguana hits his piano hard from the first track, “Stumblin’ Home Satisfied,” a song with a 12-bar blues base and a heavy back-beat from Caskey’s drum kit. The recording is clean, with bright piano and organic-sounding drums. It sometimes sounds like Iguana has three hands, notably in the faster sections of tunes like “Motörhome” and “Land of Precisely Three Dances.” Those years spent touring with the Junior Wells Band and Otis Rush certainly honed his skills, even on non-blues songs such as these.

The sole cover on Infernal Piano Plot…Hatched! Is a respectful take on Little Brother Montgomery’s “Tremblin Blues.” It is a little faster than other versions I have heard before, but Johnny has the phrasing and feel down pat. The drum line is unconventional with its intermittent spouts of energy, but adds a sense of drama that is not found in the original.

Things draw to a close with “Do You See it Too?” which is a combination of jazz with some classical elements. The innovative drumming with a heavy kick drum and off-beat snare that accompanies this song is yet another reminder that these two are in perfect sync throughout the album, and it unquestionable that they are kindred souls that are on the same mission. This is the standout track, and was a wise choice for their finale.

The Claudettes took a chance by going their own way with Infernal Piano Plot..Hatched!, and their ambition and hard work have been rewarded with a fabulous album. This is not easy-listening by any stretch of the imagination, but it is fabulous music that is unquestionably danceable and refreshingly unique. This is 40 minutes of high-energy fun, and if Johnny Iguana and Michael Caskey can maintain their momentum, Miss Claudette will have to start booking them into larger clubs, and maybe even shopping malls!


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Inventory Update: 3rd Quarter of 2015

Hi there!

Another three months have gone by, and here is the quarterly list of what is stacked up in the studio. The pile has shrank a bit since last time, but things are always coming and going. If you see anything here that you cannot live without, drop me a line. It is all good stuff…

First off, the basses:

∙ MIJ Fender 1962 re-issue Jazz Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1970 re-issue Precision Bass

∙ MIJ Fender 1987 Jazz Bass Special

∙ MIJ Fender 2005 Precision Bass (All Black Model) – on loan to a friend

∙ ESP Phoenix-B (2 of them – one black, one burst)


∙ ESP Vintage 4

∙ ESP Original Series Amaze AS – straight out of Japan!

Electric Guitars:

∙ MIJ Fender ‘62 re-issue Stratocaster

∙ MIJ ’52 re-issue Telecaster

∙ MIJ Fender 1987 Keith Richards ’67 re-issue Telecaster

∙ 1990 Gibson Les Paul Standard

∙ 2010 Gibson Explorer with custom pimp paint job

Acoustic Guitars:

∙ Martin D-18 Golden Era (the King)

∙ Martin Backpacker steel string

∙ Martin S1 soprano ukulele

∙ Kala solid mahogany soprano ukulele (on loan to a friend)


∙ 1967 Acoustic 260 Guitar Head

∙ Genz Benz Shuttle 9.2 with Aguilar GS112 and GS112NT Cabinets

∙ Fender Acoustasonic 30 DSP

∙ Fender Champion 300

Check in again on October 1st to see what is still around. As always, you know it will be different!


Monday, June 29, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Chris James & Patrick Rynn – Barrelhouse Stomp


This CD review was originally published in the April 10, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Barrelhouse Stomp | Album Review

Earwig Music

12 tracks / 53:25

It is refreshing to see talented artists that are willing to leave their egos at home and give the limelight to others, which is the case with Chris James and Patrick Rynn’s latest album, Barrelhouse Stomp. This disc is a celebration of that uniquely American hard-driving genre, and it features three fabulous blues pianists that each get a shot at taking the lead role.

This San Diego-based pair have worked together for 24 years, but they have not adapted to their laid-back Southern California surroundings and they continue to crank out righteous Chicago electric blues. James is the vocalist and lead guitarist and Rynn handles the bass chores, just as they have with the Blue Four and all the other bands and artists they have worked with.

Barrelhouse Stomp is the Blues Blast Magazine Award-winning duo’s third effort for Chicago’s Earwig Music label and you will not find a bad track amongst the 12 tunes on this CD. Actually, that is an understatement -- these are all very good songs! They took their time making this album, as it was cut between 2009 and 2011 in Chicago and Arizona, and it includes the work of 11 extra-fine musicians, some of who are unfortunately no longer with us. The featured pianists are Henry Gray, David Maxwell, and the late Aaron Moore; you may remember that Gray and Maxwell also appeared on their previous album, Gonna Boogie Anyway. They also brought in a trio of heavy-hitting tenor sax players: Norbert W. Johnson, Eddie Shaw and Johnny Viau.

This disc kicks off with “Goodbye, Later for You” which was penned by James and Rynn along with their long-time buddy and harmonica player, Rob Stone. This trio also wrote six other originals for this release. This song is straightforward post-war Chicago blues that highlights Stone’s harmonica and David Maxwell’s piano. Stone and James each take a solo break in between the throaty verses, and though he does not get a solo Maxwell’s keys do not get lost in the mix as he fill the spaces in between.

“Just Another Kick in the Teeth” is full of tasty bass work, including a rare solo from Rynn. All three horn players participate in this one giving it an extra-funky vibe and a 1970s feel. James vocals are strong (as they are on the rest of the album), and his phrasing and feel are spot on. He has soul to spare and his years of experience are readily apparent, making him the perfect front man!

The first of two instrumentals, “Messin’ with the White Lightnin’,” is one of the standout tracks on Barrelhouse Stomp. This frenzied piece needed an extra guitarist so they brought in the venerable Jody Williams to help out. The guitar work of both men here is spectacular, as is Patrick Rynn’s hand-crampingly unrelenting bass line. David Maxwell keeps his right hand just as busy on the piano all the way through, not to mention his killer solo break that end up being the best 90 seconds of the album. By the way, Chicagoan Willie Hayes fills in behind the skins and does a first-rate job of keeping the beat going.

“Take it Easy” is a sweet tribute to the late Pinetop Perkins, and David Maxwell is tasked with honoring this legendary pianist. They clear the stage for this driving boogie and put the piano up front, giving Maxwell the chance to prove himself and, (as always) he does not disappoint. The backline is tight and James plays an aggressive rhythm guitar that he uses to set the playful mood.

The cover tunes were well-chosen, and include gems such as Big Bill Broonzy’s 1941 tune, “I Feel So Good,” boogie-woogie legend Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vicksburg Blues” and Elmore James’ classic favorite, “Bobby’s Rock.” Of these, ”I Feel So Good” is the big winner as all the pieces come together splendidly, including Aaron Moore on piano, plenty of gloriously raunchy sax from Johnny Viau, and the late blues virtuoso Willie “Big Eyes” Smith behind the drum kit.

Appropriately, the album comes to a close with one last original tune, “Last Call Woogie” that features Henry Gray on piano plus Viau and Johnson on sax. Eddie Kobek’s tom-heavy drums and creative use of silence lend this song an Afro-Cuban/Latin feel and James’ vocals are out front and edgy as hell. The lyrics are perfectly suited for the last song of the set, plus it is cool to end the album on an upbeat note.

If you are not a fan of Chris James and Patrick Rynn, you will be after just one listen of Barrelhouse Stomp. Their refreshing take on an old genre, their tight groove and high production standards (not to mention their cadre of talented friends) will guarantee that their music will stick in your mind make you want to give it another turn. Check it out if you get a chance!

Sunday, June 28, 2015

2007 ESP Vintage Four Bass Review


Today we are looking at a cool ESP Vintage Four bass guitar. The Vintage series was introduced in 2007, and it was not a very hot seller for the company. This was probably because they were just too expensive, plus they were saddled with an overdone phony relic look. But in today’s used market they are pretty cheap, and the appearance is the only major gripe I have, as it is a great bass.

For starters, this one is a real live ESP bass, that was made by craftsmen in Japan, not an LTD model put together by little kids in some third world country. And every ESP bass (or guitar) I’ve had has been a great player with no cosmetic or functional flaws.

This Vintage 4 is no exception; it is a super smooth-playing bass, and the build quality is first rate. The neck is spot on with perfect fretwork and a great action, even eight years later.

The body is alder, and it has the traditional Precision Bass shape. As I said, it has a relic look, which some genius in the design department decided to cover in clear lacquer. It looks very contrived.

The hardware is very good, with a Gotoh high-mass bridge and vintage-look tuners. ESP carried over the trussrod adjustment at the base of the neck and no cutout in the pickguard to access it. Again, pure genius. The maple neck also gets the relic treatment, but it is still very cozy. I like the ESP inlay at the 12th fret, which hearkens back to the ESP 400 models that inspired this bass.

The electronics are first-rate, as ESP sourced Seymour Duncan P and J pickups. The wiring and joints are very neat, and the cavity is nicely coated. The controls are two volume pots and a master tone control. The Vintage 4’s electronics work well, too, but then again I have always been a sucker for P/J-equipped basses. I find it easy to get any tone from Motown thump to gnarly loud fingerstyle, and everything in between. This bass can do most anything you need from a 4-string bass, if you can get past the way it looks.

This one was well cared for and the relicing has softened a bit with age, so it does not look quite as bad. These basses originally shipped in a black ESP deluxe tolex hardshell case, which was to be expected in this price range, and this one still has it (though it is a bit worse for wear). That initially high price was probably the real deal-killer for these basses when they came out.

Though the dollar is strong now it was very weak in 1989, and ESP needed a lot more dollars to make the same amount of Yen. The list price for the ESP Vintage 4 bass was a nut-shrinking $2499, and I did not see new ones for any less than $1499 online. That was Sadowsky Metro series money at the time, so you can see why ESP had some trouble moving these. There were a lot better values for your money at the price point if you wanted to buy something new then. But now they are the same price as a used Fender Japan P-bass, which makes them a true bargain. If you ever see one, give it a try – trust me!


Chris Squire -- March 4, 1948 to June 28, 2015

Rest in peace, brother.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Blue Lunch – Above the Fold |Album Review

Blue Lunch – Above the Fold |Album Review

Rip Cat Records

15 tracks / 60:42

I am always happy to see a new album from Rip Cat Records, the purveyors of fine blues, swing, and rockabilly who are based in my hometown of Long Beach, California. They only represent solid artists and put out great music, and it is no surprise that their latest release from Blue Lunch, Above the Fold, is no exception!

Now, these guys are not from the Southland but come straight out of Cleveland, a truly rocking city. This band has been kicking around in various forms since I was in college (30 years ago) and Above the Fold is their eighth release. The gang includes Peter London on vocals and harmonica (the only original member), Bob Frank on vocals and guitars, Mike Sands on piano, Ray Deforest on bass, and Scott Flowers on drums. Completing the octet is also a killer horn section of Chris Burge on sax, Mike Rubin on trumpet, and Bob Michael on trombone.

This album is chock full of originals written by Burge, Frank, and London, along with a couple of other tunes that may be familiar to you, making for an hour-long set. Though they are often referred to as a jump blues band, these fifteen songs draw from many genres so the show never gets into a rut. And it really is a show, as most of the material was laid down live in the studio (with the usual vocal overdubs), which results in a vibrant sound throughout.

Above the Fold kicks off with “Ain’t Trying to Kill Nobody,” and it is apparent that this will be a fun album! The clever lyrics, slick guitars, and smoking sax ensure that the listener is drawn in right away. From there they continue their tour through different styles, with a bit of jazz in “One Fine Day,” a righteous boogie with “The Long Game,” and some Rip Cat swing on “Everybody’s on the Phone.” They also touch on blues, Afro-Cuban rhythms, pop, gospel, rhythm and blues, big band, and jump blues. There is a little something for everybody here, and they even threw in a few instrumentals!

The standout track of this effort is “Where Do You Think It’s Going,” which checks all of the boxes. It has a glorious gospel/soul/rock feel with strong lyrics, perfectly arranged horns, a smoking harp solo, a roaring bass line, and killer guest vocals from Evelyn Wright and Hammond organ from Tim Longfellow. This song comes in under three minutes, and I wish it were a bit longer!

There are also a couple of lost hits of the 1950s included on the album: Andre Williams’ “Tossin’ & Turnin’ & Burnin’ All Up Inside” and Dave Bartholomew’s “Love No More,” both of which play to the strengths of the horn section. And finally, the set draws to a close with a traditional a capella gospel tune, "Good News," which was the perfect way to finish this project.

One last thing: the liner notes are really neat. The band had their friend (and distant relative), Harlan Ellison, write a few words and it is great to see two artists that I enjoy get together when I least expected it. By the way, his quote of a quote is spot on in so many ways: “To define is to kill. Too suggest is to create.”

Above the Fold is a really cool album full of songs that are all a little different, and the guys from Blue Lunch really delivered the goods. Don’t try to put them in a box, just buy the CD and enjoy their music, or better yet check out one of the 120 shows they perform every year. Trust me!

Friday, June 26, 2015

Blues Blast Magazine: Pete Cornelius – Groundswell | Album Review

This CD review was originally published in the March 20, 2014 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Pete Cornelius – Groundswell | Album Review

Self Release

11 tracks / 54:37

Pete Cornelius has squeezed a lot of musical experience into the past 20 years, since he took up the guitar at the age of nine. This Tasmanian bluesman released his first album when he was 13, and by the time he was 15 he had his own band, Peter Cornelius and the DeVilles. Working with this band, his other band (King Cake), and countless side projects, he must spend all of his time in the studio and on stage!

For his latest album, Groundswell, Pete put together a new team of musicians and recorded most of the tracks live at his friend’s vacation house in Elephant Pass. Besides providing the guitars and vocals, Cornelius produced, recorded and mixed this CD. He is joined by the backline of Simon Holmes on bass and Henry Nichols behind the drum kit; other contributors include Randal Muir on the Hammond organ, Kelly Otaway on piano, and Susannah Coleman-Brown on backing vocals. Paul Williamson, Jeremy Williamson, Donald Bate and Lila Meleisa added their horns to the basic mix, giving this project a huge sound where it needed it the most.

Groundswell starts strongly with an original track, “Drinking the Blues” which is not the expected paean to overindulgence of adult beverages. Though Cornelius is a guitar slinger of the highest order, he does not show off, and instead submits tasteful backing guitar and well-placed clean leads. The horns are well-arranged, and with the piano added in this spooky-sounding R&B number achieves a hearty blues revue mood. This and the other five originals were all written by Pete – he is a busy guy.

The five covers that Pete selected for this disc are diverse, and when there are combined with his original songs no two tracks sound the same. This project is a refreshing blend of blues, country, funk and rock that confirms his separation from the current crop of uber-talented Stevie Ray Vaughn disciples. For example, Reverend Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” showcases Cornelius’ well-practiced vocals. His voice is strong and he sings with no trace of an accent (in case you were wondering). He doubles the organ with a few of his guitar licks, and cuts loose with a solo the likes of which you will only hear at the finest of blues jams. He follows this up with Otis Rush’s “Right Place, Wrong Time” which proves that his vocals are up to the task of taking on the most soulful of tasks.

It was surprising to hear Tom Waits’ “Cold Water” on this playlist, but it fits in well with the amalgam of genres that are to be found here. There is a hard-rocking gospel feel that plays well off of Waits’ brilliant imagery of a man of the road who has a hard life but still gets by. This is the roughest-sounding track on the album, but this jaggedness lends a gloriously live feel and it turns out perfectly.

The most impressive re-do on Groundswell is Cornelius’ searing, eight-minute take on Ray LaMontagne’s “Repo Man.” A hefty dose of funk is injected into this song by Holmes’ bass and Muir’s Hammond while Cornelius finally lets his guitar take center stage as he plays a killer solo that is equal parts Hendrix, Clapton and Stevie Ray, with a few of his own twists mixed in.

As good as these covers are, Pete displays great maturity in his own songwriting. These songs run the gamut from a sweet ballad for his young daughter (“Goodnight my Love”) to the Creole horns of “Talkin’ Bout New Orleans.” The standout track amongst his original work is “Strong Suit,” a roots tune with genuine lyrics, beautifully fingerpicked guitar, and heartfelt vocal harmonies. He chose to end the album with this song, which was a wise decision.

Pete Cornelius has done more in the past two decades than most musicians accomplish in their lifetime, and Groundswell reflects his dedication to the blues and its related music forms. It is a top-notch album with both quality original material and a unique sound, and it is worth your time to give it a listen. We can only hope that he adds a tour of the states to his busy schedule, because it would be great to see these song performed in person!