Monday, August 21, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Alex Lopez – Is it a Lie


This CD review was originally published in the October 24, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Alex Lopez – Is it a Lie | Album Review

Self Release

10 tracks / 30:37

Alex Lopez figured out early on what his priorities were, and he stuck to his plan. Born in Cleveland, he took to music early on and was inspired by bands from the original British invasion. After moving to Florida, he continued to record and play out, but eventually Alex made the decision to put family first and took time off from the gigging world. During his time away he got back in touch with the blues, courtesy of guitar greats that included Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, and he wrote and recorded a lot of original material. Well, now his family is raised, and he has jumped back into the deep end of the pool with his new album, Is It a Lie.

This disc is almost an EP, coming in at around 30 minutes, but Alex managed to fit ten of his original songs on it. If you do the math, you can figure out pretty quick that there is no room for fluff; there are no endless guitar solos or choruses repeated over and over again. It must have been hard for him to resist, as Lopez is a capable behind the microphone or on the guitar. He provided all of the guitar and vocal work on this release (and was the producer, too), with John Baccoli on bass and Craig Robison behind the drum kit. Everything was put on wax over at Atomic Audio Recording in Tampa, Florida.

Alex’s voice is not what we usually hear in blues music, with his tenor range and a curious blend of smooth 50s, warbly 70s, and howling 80s blues and rock sounds. This is a good match for his guitar-driven songs, and the overall package provides a unique vibe.

Most of the album is made up of blues-rock songs, though each sounds a bit different than the others. The opener, “Can’t Hide Your Love,” has a driving beat that is reminiscent of Golden Earring’s “Radar Love.” This is followed up by “Morning Blues” which has a smooth feel and a few neat transitions when the rhythm guitar alternates between choppy and smooth phrases. The best of these is probably “Company Man” which is has equal parts of British blues-rock and funk.

There are a couple of accessible tunes that have enough pop in them that they could be radio friendly, though each of them clock in at just a touch over two minutes. “Smile at Me” is one of these, with a 50s love song feel and a touch of backing vocals. And “I Need to Know” is an upbeat song that is easy to get stuck in your head.

One of the standout songs on the album is the title track, which is labeled as a reprise even though it only appears once. “Is it a Lie” has a funky bass and drum foundation with solid rhythm guitar and killer leads, including an impressive solo. It would have been nice to get a few more minutes of this song!

Lopez interspersed a couple of acoustic songs that they serve to highlight his guitar skills. The first is “Cheatin’ Blues,” a fast-tempo tune with a fairly conventional blues construction that includes plenty of resonator guitar work. The other is the closer, “The Night is Closing In,” which is a slow and sober ballad that includes a short but tasty guitar break. This was a good choice to end the album on, sort of like a train pulling into the station at the end of a journey. It was a short journey, but Alex went to a lot of places on it!

Alex Lopez’s Is it a Lie provides fresh songwriting and musicianship in the blues-rock format. Take a listen and see if it is what you are looking for, and if you are around northern Florida head over to Alex Lopez’s website to see where he is playing next with his band, the Alex Lopez Xpress!

Review: Crate GX-30M Guitar Amplifier Review


It seems that I have been on quite a roll lately with finds at the local flea markets, and today we are looking at another one of my finds – a 1990s Crate GX-30M guitar amplifier. I was not super interested, but the seller was highly motivated, and it is always great to have a loaner amp around for friends who think they might want to take up the guitar.

The Crate GX-30M is an entry level combo amplifier that puts out 30 watts through a 4 Ohm 12-inch Crate speaker. It is the usual practice amp size, measuring approximately 19 by 20 by 12 inches, and weighing in at 29 pounds according to my scale. It was made in the USA and it feels sturdy, with the usual black Tolex and hefty plastic corner protectors.

For a 2-+ year old budget amp, there are a surprising number of features available. There is a clean channel with a 3-band EQ, an overdrive channel with gain, shape, and level, a reverb effect, and a chorus feature with depth and rate. A single input is provided, and there are also jacks for a footswitch, headphones and a speaker out. If anything is plugged into the headphone jack or speaker out the internal speaker is bypassed.

I gave the GX-30M a bit of a workout with a Tele, Strat, and Les Paul, and it did ok. There is a light hum all of the time, but it does not get much worse at higher volume levels. The clean channel sound is probably the best feature of this amp, but there is an unpleasantly muddy distortion if reverb is elected at higher volume. The distortion channel has an ok tone but no bottom end and it also does not like higher volumes, so it is nothing special when all is said and done, The chorus is pretty good, though it does take some fiddling to get a good combination of rate and depth.

This is middling praise, at best, but this Crate does have enough volume for practicing out in the garage, and would probably be ok for busking or doing lower volume gigs. Like I said, I will keep the GX-30M around as a loaner, as even if it does not sound super-awesome, it is durable and should get the job done as long as there is not too much expected of it.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You

Good day!

This CD review was originally published in the December 17, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

The Reverend Shawn Amos – The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You | Album Review

Put Together Records

12 tracks / 38:59

The Reverend Shawn Amos is a talented vocalist, songwriter and harpist, so maybe it is not necessary to mention that he is the son of Wally ”Famous” Amos – the cookie guy. But it is a part of what makes him the man that he is, just as much as the fact that his mom was the nightclub singer Shirl-ee May Ellis. Or that he was born in New York City and grew up on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip, which certainly helps to fill a in a lot of the blanks.

Besides these biographical facts, Shawn Amos also understands the music industry, as he has worked as an A&R executive at Rhino Entertainment and was vice president of A&R at the Shout! Factory. This experience has helped him put together five of his own albums, the latest of which is The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You. This release was produced by two-time Grammy winner (and amazing sax player) Mindi Abair, and it features Amos on vocals and harp. They were joined in the studio by Chris “Doctor” Roberts on guitar, Brady Blade on drums, Chris Thomas on the bass, and Anthony Marinelli and Hassell Teekell on the keys.

There are also a few guests artists on this record, including the Blind Boys of Alabama, who sit in on the first track, “Days of Depression.” This bare bones blues track with its catchy electric guitar hook and minimal instrumentation is the perfect setting to add the amazing harmonies that these bona fide giants of the gospel world can contribute. This song is backed up by the hard-hitting rhythm and blues of “Brand New Man,” showing that Shawn is not afraid to mix things up a little bit. These first few songs are only a touch over two minutes each, and they certainly leave the listener wanting more!

Missy Anderson also makes a guest appearance, and “Boogie” is one of the standout tracks on the album. This song already drips with sex thanks to Amos’ soulful voice and harmonica over the heavy bass and tinkling electric piano. But when you throw Missy into the mix along with a tight horn section, the temperature skyrockets!

“Hollywood Blues” is a slick ode to Shawn Amos’ west coast home, and it works well because of the fabulous job that Nick Lane did of arranging the very prominent horns, which include Mindi Abair on sax and Lewis Smith on the trumpet. Like the other originals on this release, it is well written, and in this case the lyrics will strike a chord with anybody that has tried to work in the Southland’s music scene.

There is also a pair of cool cover tunes that made their way onto The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You. Minnie Lawler’s “Joliet Bound” gives Roberts the chance to step out on the guitar for a minute until the drums and bass set up their driving beat. This is a beautiful piece of roots and blues, and the feeling in Shawn’s voice is spot on for the expected law and order theme of this tune. The other re-do is a laid-back take on Jimmy Reed’s “Bright Lights, Big City” that has plenty of appropriately played barroom piano, lovely backing vocals from Forever Jones, and some well-placed sax work from Ms. Abair.

The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You is a very good modern blues album that does not lose touch with where the genre came from, and there is not a bad song on it. Pick up a copy if you get a chance and if you are ever near the City of Angels, Mr. Amos has plenty of shows on his schedule, including a regular gig at the luxurious Mr. C. hotel in Beverly Hills.

Memory Lane: 1965-1969 Teisco Del Rey E-110 Guitar Review


Today we are looking at a little bit of Japanese guitar history: a Teisco Del Rey E-110 6-string electric guitar that I picked up at the Rose Bowl Flea Market last month.

Teisco was a Japanese company that built guitars from 1948 to 1969, and Teisco is an acronym for Tokyo Electric Instrument and Sound Company. They built amplifiers and keyboards and distributed drum sets (made by others), but I am most interested in guitars and basses, so this is what you get. They sold instruments domestically and also distributed gobs of them to the United States and Great Britain. The company was sold to Kawai in 1967, and they discontinued selling guitars under the Teisco brand name in 1969 (for export) and 1977 (for Japan).

The company was the brainchild of a guitarist, Atswo Kaneko, and it went through various company names before Teisco was chosen in 1964. So most of the Teisco badged guitars you see were built between 1964 and 1969, or 1964 and 1977 for Japanese market instruments. These guitars were often sold at department stores (such as Sears), and were also imported under other names including: Arbiter, Audition, Beltone, Duke, Heit Deluxe, Jedson, Kay, Kent, Kimberly, Kingston, Lyle, Norma, Silvertone, Sonatone, Top Twenty, Tulio and World Teisco. But everybody and their brother want s a Teisco Del Rey. By the way Teisco Del Rey was the name found on guitars imported to the US by Chicago’s Jack Westheimer from 1965 to 1969.

This one is an E-110, though it took a little searching on the internet to find it as the sicker on the back of the body with the serial number and model number is missing (as is the ubiquitous “Steel Reinforced Neck” sticker). It has a tulip-shaped body that is sprayed in a cool shade of red. I have no idea what it is made of, but it is very thin, maybe 2/3 the thickness of a Telecaster, so it weighs in at a feather-light 5 pounds, 9 ounces. Maybe it is some sort of plywood…

The body is loaded up with one single coil pickup that is wired through volume and tone knobs that are original and still have the little pointers. Strings are loaded through a unique stamped steel tailpiece, and there should be some sort of pot metal bridge, but it has been replaced by a chunk of wood. The original pickguard is to die for, with a cool vines and flowers engraving on it.

The 25.5-inch scale neck is multi-ply maple with a rosewood fretboard and some sort of darker wood overlay on the Strat-style feedstock. 22 frets are sunk into the board, plus a bonus zero fret, which I do not see terribly often. The trussrod extends beyond the heel of the neck (like a MusicMan or Sadowsky), so adjustments are a breeze. The tuners are some sort of cheap open-back units, and the extra cool Tesco del Rey badge is present and accounted for.

Condition of this guitar is good, but not great. The jury-rigged bridge is dying for a Tune-O-Matic replacement, and one of the string acorn nuts has been replaced with an incorrect part. There is a chip at the fretboard near the zero fret, and there is an ugly finish crack in the neck pocket that seems stable enough. And, of course, there are a few scratches and dings, but nothing unusual for a 40-year-old import guitar that was pretty cheap to start with. Fortunately it has been spared the indignities of ill-advised modifications.

None of these things are deal breakers for me, as this thing weighs nothing and it plays and sounds pretty darned good. The neck is very comfy, and the pickup has a very clean tone and a surprising amount of output. I think I will track down a better bridge, do a set-up and enjoy this thing for a while before I flip it. This Tesco will probably not make it for the long term, though, as I already have too many guitars, and all of them are a bit nicer than this one.


Friday, August 11, 2017

Melvyn "Deacon" Jones: December 12, 1943 to July 6, 2017

I am just now hearing about this – rest in peace, my friend.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Al Grigg – Blues and Other Things


This CD review was originally published in the October 22, 2015 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at

Al Grigg – Blues and Other Things | Album Review

Self Release

7 tracks / 29:52

Al Grigg has enjoyed a pretty cool music career since his 1975 debut album with one of the pioneer indie bands, The Flying Dogs of Jupiter. Since then he has done a little bit of everything, from playing with a 50s/60s tribute band, to traveling to three continents while living overseas for a decade. Al returned to the United States in 2010 and formed The Fine Line, who he still plays with in the New York / New Jersey area. He gets out on his own too, with an upcoming tour abroad and a new solo CD to entertain his fans.

Blues and Other Things is the latest self-produced album from Grigg, and he did all of the heavy lifting on this one. Al wrote all seven of the songs (some of them from Flying Dogs of Jupiter albums), took the lead on all of the vocals, and played all of the guitar and drum parts. Guest artists Greta Tristram (harmonica) and Frank Kaiser (rhythm guitar) joined him on this project.

Looking at the sleeve for this disc, it appears that Al Grigg is a bit of tone junkie, as he made notes of the different guitars and amplifiers that he used to get the desired sounds in the studio. It certainly worked out well, as you will hear in the opener, “All the Way Home.” This is a country rocker with hard and crunchy overdriven guitars, and Al’s voice goes all the way from smooth to jagged -- he can really howl out the lyrics! This is followed up by a more straight-up blues tune, “Your Meal Ticket (I Ain’t Gonna Be),” which uses two or three layers of guitars to achieve a fun and bouncy beat under Griggs smorgasbord of double entendres.

Keeping thing moving, the next tune is “It Just Don’t Have to Be That Way,” which provides a healthy dose of smooth rhythm and blues to accompany the heavy lyrics. Grigg lays down a very tasteful guitar solo on this one, and he has a wonderful feel for the instrument. Then the mood turns to country blues with “Dead End Boogie” which has some well-placed harp from Tristam and plenty of catchy guitar licks.

There are also three rock (or maybe even pop) tracks. “I’m Gonna Jump Right Into the Fire” and “In Cecelia’s Garden” are well constructed, as their lush instrumentation and vocal harmonies go well with the lyrics which are thoughtful with good imagery. Finally, the set finishes up with seven minutes of “American Dream,” a hard-hitting Flying Dogs of Jupiter rocking jam where Grigg and Tristam get to finally cut loose with everything they’ve got.

So, after listening to the whole thing it turns out that the album title is true: this CD really is full of blues and other things!

As this release comes in at a bit under 30 minutes it would have been nice to squeeze in a few more tracks. This being said, all seven of the songs are solid; Al Grigg did a fine job with Blues and Other Things, and it is an entertaining listen for fans of blues and blues-related music. Check out his website for winter tour information as there are shows listed for the UK and Ireland, with more dates to be announced soon.

Memory Lane: Barcus Berry Hot Dot Box Review


I find products to review all over the place, but today we have a first – a box I picked out of the trash at work – the Barcus Berry Hot-Dot Box. Well, not really the trash, but an electronics recycling bin…

Barcus Berry has been around since 1963, and they introduced innovations such as the electric violin and piezo pickups for lots of different applications. The Hot Dot Box fits well into what they were doing in the early 1970s, as this active DI/preamp/boost box would really help out an acoustic player that needed assistance with getting their signal heard.

There is really not much to the Hot-Dot Box, it is a bent sheet aluminum box with a single ¼-inch input and a single 1/4-inch output, and that is it – no knobs or lights, and no switches to stomp on with your foot. It measures 4.25 x 2.25 x 1.5 inches, and it weighs around a quarter pound.

Sliding the case apart (no screws required), the insides are pretty basic too: a couple of Switchcraft jacks, a 9-volt battery clip, two transistors, a trimmer pot, and a handful of capacitors and resistors. The printed circuit board is dated 1972, which seems about right for this.

Bringing this thing into the context of today, I have tried the Hot-Dot out with my acoustic and electric guitars and it pretty much did exactly what I thought it would – it made everything louder. There was no added hum or anything offensive, just a healthy clean boost that seemed a little bit warmer than the source signal. Where it shined the most was with the humbuckers on my Les Paul, and it provided that little bit of extra front-end oomph for distorting out my tube amp.

The Barcus Barry Hot-Dot Box is cool, and I would like to experiment with putting it in different parts of my signal chain to see how it affects overall tone. I’ll let you all know if something extra-neat comes out of this – not too bad for something that was going to get thrown away!


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Glen Campbell: April 22, 1936 to August 8, 2017

Rest in peace, brother.

Blues Blast Magazine Album Review: Don Scott – Slidin Sideways


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

Don Scott – Slidin’ Sideways | Album Review

Self Release

10 tracks / 40:31

Minnesotan Don Scott has been playing the blues for five decades, and his current blend of roots and blues is unique as it brings the music down to its most basic levels. He has toured the world, both as a solo artist and with numerous bands that include the Dust Bowl Blues Band (a founding member!), Lazy Bill Lucas, Mighty Joe Young, and the magnificent Janiva Magness.

Over the years, Don has cut six CDs, the latest of which is Slidin' Sideways. This is a cool release with six originals, four covers and the bare minimum of instrumentation. Scott takes on the vocals and guitars, with pianist Raul Altamirano joining in on a few tracks. So, there are no drums, bass, keyboards, or harmonica to be found and because of this, these arrangements wind up with a raw roots mood and sound.

This ten-song set is bookended by live tracks that Scott and Altamirano recorded at Loot in Zihuatanejo, Mexico. This beach town is the perfect setting for Don's kind of blues, and he kicks off the album with the title track, an original instrumental. He cranks out five minutes of righteous slide work on his National guitar as Raul adds a bit of his best honkytonk. And the set finishes up with Willie Dixon's "Wang Dang Doodle" which gives Raul a bit more room to stretch his legs as Scott belts out the vocals.

The standout cut on Slidin' Sideways is "Some Other Day," a song about the plight of the modern soldier. Scott plays a heavy Spanish guitar under heart-wrenching lyrics of how much more we should be doing for those that have given so much of themselves to our country. This song is followed up by the jaunty "Blue Blake Rag," which is a jolting transition. Don does some amazing guitar work on this one over the steady beat provided by Raul's hammering left hand.

The roundup of covers is pretty cool, and they include cool stuff like Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson's "Kidney Stew," and Roosevelt Sykes' "Persimmon Pie" (how risqué!). But the coolest of these is Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys' "My Shoes Keep Walkin' Back to You," which has also been done very well by Ray Price, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Costello. This is heady company and Don Scott holds his own with just his hard-hitting guitar to back up his plaintive wails of loneliness.

You will find that all of the songs are neat, but there are a few production issues with noise and volume levels that mean this might not be the slickest CD that you have heard recently. Despite these nit-pickings, Slidin' Sideways is a fun album, and Don Scott has talent galore that translates into a wonderful live show. It would be a great idea to head over to his website to check his gig schedule, as he gets all over the country. There are gigs in six states from Arizona to New York on his schedule right now, and you can be sure that more will be added soon.

Press Release: Roland TR-08 Rhythm Composer Introduction


It is about time! Roland has re-issued the venerable TR-808 (sort of) with the TR-08 Rhythm Composer, the newest product in their Boutique line-up. Their marketing folks were pretty clever, sending out the press release on August 8th (08/08). Check out their press release below, and you will find that it is a lot smaller and a bit more versatile. There is no mention of price here, but you can pre-order one from the big online sellers for $350. I can't wait to try it for myself! “Hamamatsu, Japan, August 8, 2017 — Roland announces the TR-08 Rhythm Composer, the latest addition to the popular Roland Boutique instrument lineup. The TR-08 is a compact recreation of Roland’s classic TR-808, one of the most influential drum machines ever made. Built with meticulous attention to detail, the TR-08 combines the sound, look, and feel of the TR-808 with enhanced features and modern reliability. And with its affordable price, the TR-08 puts the legendary “808” vibe within reach of anyone who’s ever dreamed of owning the iconic original.

Produced by Roland in the early 1980s, the TR-808 Rhythm Composer is one of the most revered and sought-after electronic musical instruments of all time. While only modestly successful when first released, adventurous musicians and producers of the era slowly began to embrace the instrument’s distinctive all-analog voice and creative hands-on interface, fueling the emergence of multiple music styles. The TR-808’s sounds helped shape and define the hip-hop, electronic, and dance genres, and the instrument’s vast influence on popular music continues to this day.

The TR-08 accurately recreates all the ingredients that make the TR-808 so special. Roland’s Analog Circuit Behavior (ACB) technology fully realizes all the sonic details and quirks of the original hardware, modeling each analog circuit right down to the component level. And the interface, though scaled-down in size, is 100-percent authentic, with all the buttons, knobs, and switches found on the TR-808.

The TR-08 also adds some modern enhancements to the classic TR-808 formula. The sequencer has 16 sub-steps per step, enabling users to create detailed snare fills and intricate, rolling hi-hats. There’s also a track-selectable trigger out for working with external instruments and modular gear. An LED display enables finer control of tempo and shuffle, and it’s now possible to step program or tap in parts in real time without stopping to change modes. In addition, the TR-08 sends and receives MIDI control messages, and supports audio and MIDI over USB.

Like all Roland Boutique modules, the TR-08 is extremely portable, and runs on USB bus power or batteries. It also includes a built-in speaker for monitoring the sound in mobile situations, and comes with a DK-01 Boutique Dock that allows users to adjust the panel’s viewing angle.

To learn more about the TR-08 Rhythm Composer, visit”