Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chester Bennington: March 20, 1976 – July 20, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Jim Singleton – 8 O Clock in the Afternoon


This CD review was originally published in the October 15, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Jim Singleton – 8 O’ Clock in the Afternoon | Album Review

Self Release

10 tracks / 42:47

Jim Singleton grew up as an army brat, so he has lived all over the world and he ended up with a hankering for American blues from the epic festivals he attended abroad. He brought this hunger for music back to the states with him, as well an understanding of how badly European players needed to get quality guitars into their hands. An export business grew from this, and now he is a respectable vintage guitar dealer and an acknowledged expert that contributes regularly to industry publications. But he is also an accomplished guitarist and singer, and he is not afraid to head into the studio to lay down some ambitious tracks!

8 O'Clock in the Afternoon is a self-produced effort by Jim Singleton, and he provided guitars and vocals for the project. He called on some amazing talent to join him in the studio, including legendary bassist Joe Osborne, Grammy-winner Charlie Musselwhite on harmonica, and guitar maven Bernie Marsden. It is a testament to his talent and extensive industry connections that he was able to make this happen. This disc has ten tracks, with three original and seven covers that include a few crazy surprises.

Jim starts the set with Fleetwood Mac's 1969 hit "Rattlesnake Shake" which is arguably one of the best songs that Peter Green ever wrote. It provides a good dose of gnarly blues-rock and Singleton plays a mean guitar and his hearty voice really shines through the mix. This is followed up by Jerry Lynn Williams' “Nothing to Do With Love," which was cut from the same cloth. This song, most famously recorded by Kenny Wayne Shepherd, is a hard rocker with killer organ from Michael "the Professor" Hensley and a driving drums from John Martin.

The work of Irish blues man Rory Gallagher is also represented on this CD and Singleton's crew captured the raw energy of this legendary performer. "What's Going On" is all raucous guitars and emotional vocals, and "A Million Miles Away" gives Jim the chance to show a little more versatility on the axe. The latter is a killer British blues jam with plenty of layered tracks that gives plenty of room for Jim to do his thing on the vocals. This song is one of the stronger ones in the set, and it was a wise choice to finish off the record.

A few of the covers really come out of left field. Whitesnake's "Here I Go Again" has been re-imagined into a slow paced country ballad with some beautiful lap steel work, and it turns out very well. Though it is also very well done, the same cannot be said for Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" which follows a bit too closely to the source material. With its fairly faithful arrangement it is just too hard to disconnect it from the original, and Singleton's voice is just too different from Isaak's to pull it off.

In the midst of all of these cool covers, there is a sprinkling of well-written originals, too. Bernie Marsden contributed "Place in My Heart," a slow and moody blues tune that includes some marvelous interplay between the guitars and Musselwhite's harp. And guitarist Gary Vincent contributes a touch of country with "Don't Take" (including some neat squeezebox from Mark Yacavone) and the blues-rock of "Place in My Heart." Vincent delivers the goods here with strong songs from two different genres, and it is fortunate that he was included on this project.

8 O'clock in the Afternoon is a solid effort from Jim Singleton, and it is a great album for fans of blues and British blues-rock. The songs are all very good, and they were completed with fine musicianship and good production values. Hopefully Jim and his friends will be heading back to the studio again soon, as they provide cool music that can be listened to more than once!


Yamaha VA-10 Guitar Amplifier Review


While cruising the Long Beach Antique Flea Market recently, we ran across a cool little Yamaha VA-10 guitar amplifier, and since it was dirt cheap it came home with us. I had not seen one of these before, and after doing a little research online, I learned that these were made in the late 1990s and they cost 11,000 Yen (around 90 bucks back then).

The VA-10 is a very portable amplifier, measuring around 13 by 9 by 7 inches, and weighing in at a little under 7 pounds (without the 6 D-cell batteries). It is loaded up with a 6-watt amplifier and a pair of 4-inch drivers, and it is loaded into a durable plastic case. There is a leather handle screwed to the top of it, which I assumed was something a previous owner did, but this is not the case. Looking at old catalogs, they show the leather handle too, so I guess it is original equipment.

There are quite a few things on the front-mounted control panel and they include:

- Two ¼-inch input jacks (high and low)

- VOLUME knob (and no GAIN knob)

- 1/8-inch AUX IN jack

- Headphone jack

- Power switch




There is not much going on at the back of the case -- just the power jack (for the optional PA-3 AC adapter) and the battery compartment. Supposedly this thing will run for around 10 hours on batteries.

This Yamaha has no untoward buzzing or hum. I tried out a bunch of settings, and got the best results with the volume at 12 o'clock, bass and mid at 2 o'clock, and treble at 12 o'clock. Plugged into the high input, I put the distortion at 8 o'clock with its level at 11 o'clock, and the chorus at minimum speed and full depth. With the delay was set to 9 o'clock there was good sustain and a usable warm overdriven sound (I was using a Strat, by the way). Anything higher on the distortion produced a very harsh and grating tone.

Overall volume is not great, but this thing is what it is. It is pretty much a practice amp or something you can use on a street corner to busk with, as long as there is not too much traffic noise.

On the used market, these Yamaha VA-10 amplifier are pretty scarce, and I do not think many were sold in the US. When they do come up, they usually sell in the $40 to $50 range. It is a cool little unit that sounds good and has the flexibility of battery power, so if you are looking for something to jam with for solo practice, it would be a really good choice if you can find one.


Saturday, July 15, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen: Love and Life


This CD review was originally published in the October 8, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen – Love & Life | Album Review

Self Release through Dolly Sez Woof Records

11 tracks / 51:02

Ted Drozdowski, leader of the Scissormen, is one hell of a writer. He has written for glossy publications such as Rolling Stone and Travel + Leisure, but more importantly to blues fans he also does a first-rate job of penning excellent songs. The new Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen album, Love & Life, is a testament to this fact.

This is the Scissormen’s sixth album, and it has eleven tracks with ten Drozdowski originals. Matt Snow joined him on this project behind the drum kit, with Marshall Dunn on bass and a few of their friends as guest artists. Ted was the producer and took care of the vocals, guitars, and diddley bow in the recording studio, which was actually a mountaintop tent in Pasquo, Tennessee. But this was not just any tent: this was Omega Lab Studios, home of the Mando Blues Show on Radio Free Nashville. The record was a crowd-funded project, and their faithful fans (including Reeves Gabrels) put up the cash to make sure this record became a reality.

This is not a cookie cutter 12-bar blues album, but is most certainly the blues and there are strong Delta elements to prove it. Ted is a creative soul with a vision that he was able to fulfill by making this a rich tribute to blues legends that laid the groundwork before him. This took the form of righteous overdubs and a heavy sound that venture at times into the land of the psychedelic. And do not let the tent recording studio thing fool you into thinking this is a rough cut -- Love and Life is a well-made album that should be listened to with a good set of headphones.

The set kicks off with a song that is more musically complicated than what Scissormen fans have come to expect. “Beggin’ Jesus” features the Hammond B3 of Grammy-nominated Paul Brown, many layers of distorted guitars, and hard-hitting bass and drums. The story here is as old as Adam and Eve, as Ted ponders sin, salvation, and the duality of mankind.

Ted is not afraid to get personal and “Black Lung Fever” was written in memory of Drozdowski’s grandfathers, both of whom died after spending their lives in the coalmines. This song has a fairly normal Delta blues feel to it, but it is spiced up with a modern bass tone, scorching riffs and a hearty helping of Brown’s Hammond. There is a palpable sense of a hardscrabble existence throughout: “My mama had no shoes / till the day she went to school / and her clothes were hand-me-downs / that’s how miner’s families do.”

A favorite moment from Love and Life is a special appearance from the storied soul singer Mighty Sam McClain on “Let’s Go to Memphis.” This track is a marked contrast from the rest of the album, as it eschews modern styles and takes a straight-up 1960s rhythm and blues path. This is the kind of song that is right in McClain’s wheelhouse and his pleasantly aged voice on this romantic tune (about a great blues city) provides a nice break in the middle of the action. Sam passed on in June, and he will be sorely missed in the music community.

There is a sole cover in the set, the Scissormen’s take on the Muddy Waters’ hit, “I Can’t be Satisfied.” But this is pretty far from the source material with only a howling diddley bow and percussion as accompaniment to Drozdowski’s eerie vocals. This totally works on every level and is nearly as revolutionary in this format as the original was when it was released in 1948.

There are a handful of songs that were created in honor of some true musical heroes. “Watermelon Kid” uses a cool drumbeat and searing guitars as the backgrounds as it relates the genius of Watermelon Slim. Marshall Dunn lays down an awesome bass line with killer tone while Ted experiments with stereo effects for “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return).” And finally, the album draws to a close with “Unwanted Man,” which was written for another of Drozdowski’s inspirations, Weepin’ Willie Robinson.

It may take more than one listen to fully grasp most of what is going on in Love and Life. It is worth the effort, as this is the best effort so far from Ted Drozdowski’s Scissormen. Their energy and innovation carry over to the stage too and fortunately this trio tours both domestically and internationally on a regular basis. So, head over to their web site to check out their gig schedule, and try to get out of the house to see their live show if you get the chance!


Billy Corgan Gear Sale at Reverb: Mark Your Calendar


Love him or hate him, Billy Corgan is an influential musician and his work with the Smashing Pumpkins is certainly important. It also turns out that Billy is quite the gear houn,d and he certainly has collected an amazing collection of equipment over the years. He has arranged a sale of over 150 pieces of really awesome gear through Reverb, and everything is up for grabs on August 16, 2017.

There is a mouth-watering assortment of collectible vintage guitars (pre-CBS Strats and whatnot) for sale, and a lot of gear that was used on stage and in the studio. Here are some favorites that Reverb listed:

- Corgan’s #2 Stratocaster. A modified, star–covered 1988 Fender AVRI Strat that recorded most of Siamese Dream and Mellon Collie, including "Today," the solo of "Cherub Rock," and many more.

- A pair of Marshall JMP-1s that were the main preamps for Mellon Collie album and the tour.

- Two Alesis drum machines, one used for the loops on "1979" and another that was used to record many early Pumpkins' demos before Jimmy Chamberlin joined the band.

- The modified 1990s Les Paul Special used to record much of the Machinaalbum and played regularly on that tour, and the two backup LP Specials from the tours.

- The rackmount ADA MP-1 preamps used to record Gish.

- A Fender Subsonic Stratocaster in Sonic Blue from the Zeitgeist era signed “This is what true freedom looks like. Billy Corgan.” One of the few items in the shop signed by the guitarist, it was originally set to go to auction in 2008 before Corgan decided against it.

- The Fernandes sustainer guitar used in the studio and on tour for most of Adore.

- A 1969 Gibson EB–3 Bass in Walnut dubbed the Mountain Bass used as a “secret weapon” on everything from Mellon Collie to Machina.

- The small Crate combo amps used to get the distortion sounds on Machina.

- The arsenal of Diezel and Bogner amps used to record and tour for Zeitgeist.

- Dozens of collector–grade vintage guitars, including two '58 Strats, a '63 Candy Apple Red Strat, a 1953 Gibson Super 400, and a '66 Rickenbacker 360.

- A vintage 1950s accordion and an autoharp used on the Mellon Collie tune “We Only Come Out at Night.”

If this sale is anything like the Jimmy Chamberlin (also from Smashing Pumpkins) sale that Reverb held earlier this year, the items will sell quickly, even though nothing was very cheap. So, if you are interested in any of this stuff, be ready to pull the trigger when the sale starts.

For more information, go to:


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion – I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Live)


This CD review was originally published in the October 1, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Zoë Schwarz Blue Commotion – I’ll Be Yours Tonight (Live) | Album Review

33 Records

12 tracks / 60:52

Sometimes bands release live albums when they have not recorded anything new in a while and they need to get something new on the market quickly. This is not the case with Zoë Schwarz Blues Commotion’s new live disc, I’ll Be Yours Tonight, which is has been released hot on the heels of their Exposed disc. They had no plans to make a live album at the time, but the opportunity arose and it turned out wonderfully!

I’ll Be Your Tonight is Blue Commotion’s fourth album in three years, and their first live release. It was recorded last November during a show at Richard Dunning’s “Tuesday Night Music Club” in south London and there are twelve songs in this set, all of them Koral and Schwarz originals, with the exception of a single cover from Billie Holiday.

This United Kingdom-based band is led by Zoë Schwarz on vocals and Rob Koral on guitar; their fellow members are Pete Whittaker on the Hammond and Paul Robinson on drums. On this evening they were joined by Si Genero on the harp and backing vocals, Ian Ellis on sax, and Andy Urquhart on trumpet. This line-up results in a very rich sound as they throw down an hour of the blues with a healthy injection of jazz, soul, and rock.

Blue Commotion’s set kicks off with “Your Sun Shines Rain,” a blues rocker with crunchy guitar, pointed harp accents, and a touch of cowbell in the intro. From this song forward you will hear why they decided to burn this show to a disc: the mix is well balanced and the band is obviously having a good evening – they are tight as a drum. Zoë also has a stellar evening as her vocals are strong, and her voice is one of a kind. It is tempting to compare her sound to other famous lead singers, but on further reflection her unique tone, diction, and inflection truly make her voice unique (in a good way).

For the second track on I’ll Be yours Tonight the crew dispenses the sole cover, Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow,” and they gave this jazz standard a thorough rearrangement. They cut the tempo way back, added some blues, and gave Schwarz room to breathe her uncommon interpretation of the tune. The extra time and space adds a new dimension of drama to what is already a really heavy tune. The band can change moods in a heartbeat, as shown by their quick segue into “Let me Sing the Blues,” a countrified blues rocker. Pete Whittaker shines on his Hammond (with an awesome solo!) and Si Genero turns in a tasteful performance on the harp and joins in on the vocals for the chorus.

This group has a lot of depth and can carry off most any genre, and they include a lot of them in this show. One example of this is the plaintive jazzy blues of “We’ll Find a Way.” This slow song of loss and love is howled with true emotion, with an unexpected crescendo into a dramatic power ballad midway through. Then on the next track, “Say it Isn’t So,” they band unleashes a full force soul review with horns galore. These kinds of drastic changes from song-to-song could kill the momentum of an album, but this playlist was carefully sequenced, and the final result fits together very well.

After the heartfelt and soulful (though unconventionally rocking) gospel tune, “Beatitudes,” the band closes out this set with “Take Me Back.” Blue Commotion burns the club down on this one with Robinson’s jackhammer drums, Koral’s killer guitar work, and a little call and response from Si Genero. This was a cool way to finish things up, and it certainly leaves the listener wanting more.

If you want to see Zoë Schwarz Blues Commotion play live, you had better make your way to England, as all of the gigs on their schedule are at clubs there, but hopefully someday they can be lured to the States with some sort of festival or blues competition. In the meantime, you might want to think about picking up a copy of I’ll Be Yours Tonight, as it is the next best thing to being there.

Public Service Announcement: Shure Wireless System Rebate for Auctioned Frequencies


I was shocked to hear recently that the FCC auctioned off radio frequencies in the 600 MHz range. What this means for the general public is that many of the frequencies in this range will be used in the future for television broadcasting. What this mean to musicians is that if you have wireless system in this range (like I do), it will no longer be legal to use, and if you do use it there is a good chance that there will be interference to your signal. Remember the air force base show in the movie Spinal Tap?

Our good friends at Shure are offering rebates for owners of their equipment that are affected by this change in ownership of the air waves. If you own one of their products in this range, if you return it to Shure along with proof of purchase that you bought one of their new systems, you can get some cash back. These rebates range from $50 to $500, so you should see Shure’s website for details:

I am not sure if the rebates are worth it, so you should research and see if it makes sense for you. This is a regrettable situation, but I am not sure of any good way around it.