Sunday, October 26, 2014

2014 Blues Blast Music Awards Round-up


It was hard to know what to expect when I heard that the 2014 Blues Blast Music Awards would be held in Champaign, Illinois. This is a college town that is quite a hike from downtown Chicago and it seemed like a gamble to get artists and fans to head 2 ½ hours south on a Thursday night to attend an awards show. Well, it looks like Bob Kieser had a solid vision of the event as it turned out very well in all respects!

At first glance, the Fluid Event Center seems like an odd building for a big blues show, as it is an old lumberyard barn that has been converted to a multi-use facility. It worked very well with a huge main hall that is cavernous when compared to the club that had been used in the past. The size of the room allowed two full-sized stages to be set up, so that there was little downtime for band changes, which helped keep the event on schedule. The stages were also more generously sized and positioned higher so that everybody could see better.

There were two large video screens set up so the crowd could see the details, and the stages were well-lit and the sound was very good. Kudos go out to the videographers and the light and sound technicians for delivering the goods to the audience and artists.

And there were plenty of folks that made the trip to Champaign for the 5:00 start times. There were a few dozen bands on the bill, and all of the seats would have been taken if everybody were in the hall at the same time. This did not happen often, as there was good catering and drinks that were reasonably priced. The prices were light-years away from downtown Chicago prices, with $3 domestic beers and meals that were under 10 bucks. Not to mention that parking was FREE and plentiful.

It would be hard to go wrong after a set-up like this, and when you figure in the fabulous entertainment and the opportunity to meet some of your favorite blues artists the $45 ticket cost was the bargain of the year.

It would be hard to describe all of the performances, but here are a few highlights:

For blues-rock lovers, Albert Castiglia tore the house down, and Too Slim and the Tail-Draggers brought their own brand of countrified blues with no holds barred. RB Stone was also in this category, and fortunately they stuck it out to the end of the show so their fans could have a change to hear them.

Acoustic blues was represented by the amazing Steve Dawson, as well as Bernie Pearl and special guest Barbara Morrison. Lisa Biales also came up with a lengthy set of material. Also, the soul blues performers, including the incomparable Tweed Funk, knew how to show the crowd a good time.

But for overall entertainment value, I have to give the nod to Josh Hoyer, who played with the house band as the rest of his band (the Shadowboxers) were not in attendance. His voice is huge, and he is definitely the future of the blues. The Andy T Nick Nixon band was the house band, and they did a stand-up job of supporting the artists that were not able to bring their bands with them to the show.

It was great to see Bobby Rush get his lifetime achievement award, as well as finally getting to see Trudy Lynn and Lisa Mann perform in person. And it was also fun to connect with artists whose music I had reviewed, and none of them seemed too upset with me!

All-in-all, it was a worthwhile evening and I am sure that nobody regretted making the trek to Champaign for the show. I would certainly not mind heading out there for the 2015 Blues Blast Music Awards, if that is where Bob decides to have it.


Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce: May 14, 1943 to October 25, 2014

The world lost one of its most influential bassists today. Godspeed, Jack.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

2014 Blues Blast Music Awards Tonight!


It is hard to believe that another year has gone by, but tonight is the 2014 Blue Blast Music Awards. They mave moved downstate this year and the event will be held at the Fluid Events Center in Champaign, Illinois.

Besides providing recognition for hard-working and talented blues artists, there will also be performances by: miss Bobby Rush And Blinddog Smokin', Shaun Murphy Band, Albert Castiglia, Trudy Lynn, Too Slim and The Tail Draggers, Bernie Pearl with Barbara Morrison, Dave Riley and Bob Corritore, Tweed Funk, Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters, Back Pack Jones, Annie Mack Band, RB Stone, Norman Taylor, Lisa Biales, Mark T Small, Lisa Mann, Brent Johnson and the Call Up, Steve Dawson, Rachelle Coba, Sean Chambers, and Josh Hoyer.

The doors open at 5:00 with a set by the house band, the Andy T Nick Nixon Band, and the show starts at 6:00. Fluid Event Center is located at 601 North Country Fair Drive in Champaign, Illinois. Tickets are $35 and will be available at the door! I hope to see some of you there!


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Tommy Malone Natural Born Days

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the August 15, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Tommy Malone – Natural Born Days

M.C. Records

12 tracks / 49:25

I have always heard that good things come to those who wait, and more often than not this adage is correct. Fortunately is also true for the folks that have been waiting a dozen years for Tommy Malone to release a follow-up to his debut solo album. His fans (and his soon to be new fans) will not be disappointed that it took so long.

Tommy Malone is one of the unsung heroes of the music industry, and he has been writing, playing and singing roots and blues music for more than three decades. You may know him from his association with various Louisiana-based bands, most famously the Subdudes. You may not know that his songwriting is highly regarded, and his tunes have been recorded by artists such as the Radiators (his brother’s band) and Joe Cocker. He grew up in Louisiana, and recently returned to New Orleans after spending five years in Nashville.

His latest effort, Natural Born Days, was recorded in New Orleans and is a wonderful product of a lot of great people. It has a dozen tracks, all of them originals, and Malone collaborated with his old buddy, Jim Scheurich, on half of them. His Subdudes bandmates, Johnny Allen and Tim Cook helped out on the writing chores as well. It was produced and mixed by John Porter, a 10-time Grammy award winner who has worked B.B. King, Buddy Guy, the Smiths, Bryan Ferry, Carlos Santana, and many others. He also contributed some of the guitar, bass, mandolin and percussion parts. The rest of the musicians are from New Orleans, including Susan Cowsill with the background vocals, Jon Cleary on keys, Doug Belote on drums, bassman David Hyde, Joe Gelini on percussion and Shane Theriot on guitar and omnichord.

“Home” is the first track up, and it is a short swamp blues rocker that tells the wonderful story of Tommy’s return to his hometown five years after Hurricane Katrina drove him away. His voice is well-weathered but his joy shines through as he details the vibe of the Crescent City. There is a lot going on in this song, from pretty vocal harmonies to Hyde’s fat bass line and Cleary’s hammering honky-tonk piano. It all fits together very well, which is not a fluke as the rest of the album is equally well put together.

The theme to “God Knows” could be a real downer, as it deals with the mysteries of why things work out so badly sometimes, but Tommy balances it out by looking at the unexplained goodness in our world too. I can only think that this is a result of his personal experiences with the aftermath of Katrina. This slow-paced rhythm and blues number features Nigel Hall on the Hammond and the Wurlitzer electric piano, and he does a masterful job of not going over the top, which would surely be a temptation on a song like this.

Malone included a little something for his diehard fans too, recording “Didn’t Want to Hear It,” a ballad he has been playing at his live shows for years. He does some fine acoustic guitar work here, and it is surprising that he does not show this off more on Natural Born Days, as he is a fabulous musician. As it is, his maturity and restraint are to be commended, as he lets the songs be more about the lyrics instead of what he can do with his fingers.

The title track of Natural Born Days is a touching tribute to Malone’s mother; it brought a tear to my eye the first time I listened closely to the lyrics as he paints such a realistic and loving picture with his words. It is in a country/funk style, with subdued slide guitar and a hint of Hammond B3, both of which have a symbiotic result when used together.

The final cut is “Word on the Street,” a soulful ballad with an arrangement that is a bit more sparse than the rest of the tracks. The listener is able to focus on the lyrics because of this, and wonder what became of this unfinished love story. This is a great final chapter, and left me more than a little curious about what Malone will come up with next.

I listen to a lot of new music and Natural Born Days is perhaps the best new album I have heard in the past year. It is obvious that Tommy Malone put his heart and soul out there for the world to see, and he should be commended for his talent and honesty. I hope you take the time to give it a listen; it will be worth it.


Sunday, October 19, 2014

Golden Age Pre-wired Harness for Gibson Les Paul Guitars -- Review

Greetings! I have plenty to complain about with the newer generations of Gibson Les Paul guitars. The company has lost it way and despite spending tons of cash on high-zoot machinery, they have a great deal of difficulty with making a guitar with a straight neck and level frets. They also have trouble in the electronics design area and they load up their instruments with features that nobody wants (robot tuning) or by screwing up a good thing by installing printed circuit boards and push-pull pots in their revered Les Paul models.

Well, it is easy to fix a bad neck or salvage a bad fret job, but at least you can easily re-wire your Les Paul like god intended with a pre-wired harness kit. There are a lot of companies out there selling these, and one of the better ones is the Golden Age kit from Stewart-MacDonald.

These wiring kits are made right here in Athens, Ohio by first world workers that earn a living wage, not by shoeless little kids overseas that will never see the inside of a school or eat a hot lunch. And these harnesses are assembled using quality parts that you would pick off the shelf if you had a choice, not the crap that Gibson gets from their lowest bidders.

The Golden Age 1934 Les Paul long shaft pot kit includes:

- FourCTS 300k potentiometers

- Two Orange Drop 223K (022uF) capacitors

- A Switchcraft three-way toggle switch

- A Switchcraft ¼-inch mono output jack

- Push-back cloth wiring

- A neat wooden template that you can use in case you decide to build your own harness next time

This is all good stuff, and it is neatly wired and ready to be popped right into your guitar. If you can figure out how to attach it to your pickups, it is as easy as pie. It was for me, and I had it soldered to my Burstbuckers in no time flat.

There have been no problems with my kit. Everything fit well, and there was no added static or popping and everything worked exactly like it was supposed to. I like it a lot, and would not hesitate buying another.

By the way, they sell these for many different guitar and bass models, so if you have a project instrument that you need to rewire, these guys might must have the solution!

What is finally comes down to is the cost of the Golden Age pre-wired kit. The street price is $80 with standard length pots (pre-1978) and $91 for long shaft pots. If you do the math, you are going to be out of pocket for over $60 if you buy all of these parts separately to do the job yourself. To me it is worth an extra $20 to have a job like this done professionally, because it will look just right when it is installed.

See for yourself, and let me know what you think.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

2002 Martin D-17 Acoustic Guitar Review


I am a big fan of Martin guitars, and given a choice I will pick one of their instruments over similar models from other makers. Today we are looking at something a little different from them, the all-mahogany D-17.

The first thing too note is that this is not the same guitar as the currently produced D-17M, nor the D-15M, which is similar in appearance. They discontinued this model many years back, but this particular instrument has a little bit of history behind it.

This guitar has a serial number that dates it to 2002 because it was started back then discovered last year somewhere in their huge factory, long after the model had been discontinued. Martin went ahead and finished it up and shipped it out to a guitar shop in Ohio, where it was finally retailed.

This D-17 features a glossy finish over its solid mahogany top, sides and back. This is different than the current D-17M, which uses a Sitka spruce top that is tinted to look like mahogany (and the cheaper-looking satin finish on the sides and back). This instrument has a classy faux tortoise shell binding black and white purfling around the top, and the rosette is the 17 type.

The neck on this guitar is hand-carved mahogany with a low oval profile, and it is topped with a black micarta fretboard that kind of looks like ebony. The front of the headstock has a nice piece of East Indian rosewood laminated onto it, and the Martin logo is presented in gold foil, which matches the gold-plated sealed tuners.

This was a fairly expensive guitar (list price around $2000), and the craftsmanship is worthy of the price. The fretwork is very good, all of the joints are solid and even, and the finish is clear and even (but not too thick). If you ever have the chance to go to the Martin Factory tour in Eastern Pennsylvania, make sure that you go. The pride that their employees have in what they are doing is impressive, and the facility is unbelievable.

It plays very easily, and the sound is unique when compared to other Martin dreadnaughts. There is more bass than my D-18 or HD-28, but the tone is still even and it has a very sweet sound. It has a relatively narrow 1 11/16-inch nut, and it is well-suited to either strumming of flat picking. I would prefer a bit wider nut for fingerpicking, though. It is a good bluegrass or blues guitar, but it also has a versatile enough tone that it could be used for jazz too, if that is your thing.

It is a winner.

This D-17 came with the original factory hardshell case, which is about as nice as they come. Things like this really round out the package and reinforce the quality of the instrument, in my opinion.

Unfortunately, I was not be able to hold onto this fine instrument as I have two killer Martins (D-18 Golden Era and HD-28V Custom) that are just not getting enough play time. So I moved it along to a better home – too many guitars, and not enough time!


Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Ernie Ball 2921 M-Steel Regular Slinky Electric Guitar Strings Review


Ernie Ball has to be one of the biggest guitar and bass string manufacturers in the world (and they still make their strings in California), but despite their hefty market share they do not rest on their laurels. They keep coming out with new products, and I am a big fan of their Cobalt and coated strings, as well as their adoption of sealed string packaging to keep them as fresh as possible.

When the company introduced their new M-Steel guitar strings earlier this year, It seemed to me that all of the huge leaps in string technology have already been done, so what different could this new construction make? But, as I looked into them a bit more and actually tried out a few sets I must say that I came away impressed.

The big difference in this set is that the wound strings are based on a hex core that is made from Maraging steel, an alloy that is used in high-stress aerospace and military applications. The plain wire strings are made from tempered steel for additional resistance to fatigue. This means that these strings are supposed to last longer and be more resistant to breakage.

Most recently I tied out the M-Steel Regular Slinky set, which consists of 0.010, 0.013, 0.017, 0.026, 0.036, and 0.046 gauge strings. I installed them on my ’62-reissue Fender Stratocaster and cranked it up through my Fender Twin Reverb. I was able to A/B them with a new set of regular Slinkies on a similar Strat, so I could get a better idea of what they are really doing.

And I did not really need the comparison guitar, as right away it was obvious that the M-Steel strings were much louder and brighter (even for new strings), and they had a bit more sustain. More impressively, they were also able to produce more bass and low-mids.

This performance kept up for the two weeks I tried them , with very little degradation in tone and volume, despite pretty heavy usage. By the time I would ordinarily be installing a new set of strings these things still sounded very good. This is a good thing, because they do cost a bit more than regular Slinkies, with a list price of $21.50 and a street price that is right around 12 bucks.

From this experience, I would recommend giving a set of the Ernie Ball M-Steel strings a try, as they will last a bit longer than their normal line of strings, and they certainly do sound good!