Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 - A Musical Year In Review

These years are flying by, and I can't say that I like that! But it was a great year, and I am very grateful for all the wonderful musical opportunities.

2014 started off with a bang with the release of "Midnight Blue" on January 14th. The album is the second release on my own Heartfixer Music label. It's very time consuming to run a record label, but I thankfully have mentors like Michael Rothschild and Bruce Iglauer who have both helped me very much. They have over 80 years combined in the record biz, so they've pretty much seen it all. Thanks guys for being there for me.

A high point of early 2014 touring was playing at the annual 30A Songwriters Festival in Santa Rosa Beach FL with guitarists Glenn Phillips and Robert Randolph. Outdoor festivals in January are risky at best, but we got a break and the weather was supurb. Such a great event. Check it out.

After southeast shows in January, in Feb and March we jumped right up into some really cold weather with shows up north in PA, OH, MI, MA, ME, and NY. Relief from cold weather came in May when we flew to Hawaii to do 3 shows there with Duke Robillard, Little Charlie Baty and Elvin Bishop. It was fun to watch their amazing performances and also take part in the all-star jam at the end of the long concert. These guys are all heroes of mine and good friends as well.

We continued the jamming thing throughout the busy summer festival season. Outstanding festival sit-ins included the new Blues sensation Jarekus Singleton, keyboardist Jimmy Voegeli of The Jimmys, live-wire guitarist Albert Castiglia, the legendary Coco Montoya,  the wonderful AJ Ghent, legend Les Dudek, my distant cousin Debbie Davies, and my old band mate and friend Kenny Kilgore. So much fun was had by all. I apologize if I've left anyone out. Many licks were stolen by all!

In the fall, we did a series of state-wide concerts that we called "Back To Georgia Tour". We played beautiful theatres and festivals across Georgia, and we invited friends like Glenn Phillips, AJ Ghent, Diane Durrett and Tommy Talton to share the stage with us. More jamming with friends and more fun! Georgia has been very, very good to me.

The last tour of 2014 was with my good friend Mike Zito. This tour had long been in the making. We co-fronted the band and got a chance to learn and perform each other's songs. We also dusted off some old Blues standards that I hadn't played in a very long time. At the final show of the year in NYC at the Iridium, I was inducted into the New York Blues Hall Of Fame. The year truly ended on a high note with this fun tour. Mike's a great artist. Check out his music online if you haven't already.

Special thanks go out to my drummer Erik Kaszynski and my bassist Jonathan Holland with whom I played every single show of 2014. I truly appreciate your stellar musicianship, your loyalty and your friendship. Friendly reminder: bring a coat when we play in Saskatoon and Calgary next Feb. It could get a wee bit nippy.

So that's 2014 in a nutshell. As for 2015, the new album "Tough Love" will be available for online sales at midnight on 1/1/15 by going to and then available at retail and online outlets on 2/3/15. I think you will like this album very much. I make them especially for you. We will do shows everywhere in 2015 to promote the album. If you see us standing around at shows, please come say "hi". We are very approachable despite our dark attire and strange facial hair.

Happy New Year!


Friday, November 7, 2014

The Making of "Storm Warning" - 20 years later

The year was 1994, and James Ferguson (The Evil One) and I had been burning up the road for 5 years together. The band had just half-broken up after a particularly brutal (and low paying!) 5 week European tour. We then hired a young, gifted guitarist named Oliver Wood and veteran drummer Stu Grimes to round out the band and keep right on going. The Blues scene was much healthier back then, and there was more touring gigs than we knew what to do with.

It was also time to make a new album for Alligator, and my dear friend (and manager then) Michael Rothschild and I chose Eddy Offord to produce. Eddy had produced two Heartfixers album, and we loved his sound. We chose Triclops Studio because they had a big cutting room, great gear, and we had enjoyed working with the engineer there - Mark Richardson. Bruce Iglauer at Alligator Records gave a double thumbs up, and we were ready to start recording.

It was time to start, and we showed up at the studio on a cold winter day along with trusted roadie Dan "Stumbles" Stanford. Everyone was surprised when I announced that we would set up just like at a show, with no separation between amps and drums. But, Eddy Offord understood and said "Ahhh, Let it bleed!", meaning that the loud volume produced by guitar amps would be picked up by the ultra sensitive drum mics and give the whole thing a big, live sound. In fact, that's what Storm Warning is. It is basically a live album with some other heavy cats added on for good measure. Those heavy cats were percussionist Count M'butu, famed keyboardist Chuck Leavell, and a 14 year old guitarist who had never seen the inside of a big studio before. His name was Derek Trucks, and he was making his recording debut.

It was Oliver Wood that suggested we use Derek Trucks to play the slide guitar parts on Storm Warning. Oliver knew that Derek had "it", and he unselfishly gave up his own slide parts for the sake of the album. We met Derek in Fernandina Beach, Florida when he was 12. His dad Chris is a good friend of the band and brought young Derek out to hear us play. We made him wait till he was 13 to sit in, and he absolutely blew our minds. To this day, I've never seen a more seasoned player at that age. Oliver and Derek's great guitar playing really inspired me on stage and in the studio.

Another thing that Oliver brought to the album was in choosing songs for the album. In late 1993 he gave me a cassette tape of a song that he had demoed with drummer Donnie McCormick and bassist/vocalist Chris Long. Chris had written the song, and it was called "To The Devil For A Dime". I knew immediately that I wanted to record it, and that it would be the lead off cut on the album. Oliver also talked me into doing a couple of old Blues standards on the album. One was Jimmy Reed's "The Sun Is Shining" which featured my old running buddy from The Alley Cats Albey Scholl on harmonica. He nailed the Jimmy Reed style. The other song was the Junior Wells classic "Early In The Morning". That song almost didn't make it onto the album. It was the end of the session, and we had enough songs to call it an album. Oliver said "lets do that song we sometimes play at the end of the third set when it's a slow night". I started the song and despite the fact that the tape was running, no one in the control room paid much attention. When we went into our nightclub routine with it, going back and forth between loud and quiet playing, I could see Eddy Offord frantically working the Neve console. We knew we had something with it then. I'm so glad we recorded that song!

So that's pretty much the Storm Warning story. All the planets were in alignment for Storm Warning. The whole album was recorded and mixed in just 5 days, and remains my biggest selling and most critically acclaimed album. Sometimes I go to a bar and I hear a local Blues band doing "To The Devil For A Dime", "A Quitter Never Wins" (thanks again Jonny!!), or "Cut You Loose". It makes me both proud and nostalgic.

A great big Thank You to all involved in making of the record! Let's all do it again sometime!


Thursday, October 9, 2014

The First Time I Met The Blues

Since this is my first attempt at blogging, I thought I'd start by letting you know how I got into the Blues music that has been my passion since I was a teenager.
One of my earliest recollections as a child was seeing The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show. This would have been in 1964, and I was seven at the time (you do the math!). I was immediately struck by the energy and especially by the twangy guitar sound. I begged my parents to get me a guitar, and they rented me one under the condition that I take some lessons. I think I took maybe 8 lessons before "releasing myself under my own recognizance". So basically I don't know what the hell I'm doing and play by ear.
The music on AM radio in the mid-sixties was incredible. We had The Beatles, The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Zombies, and later even some American bands like Creedence Clearwater Revival. The common denominator for me was the guitar playing. The first songs I taught myself on guitar were Secret Agent Man by Johnny Rivers, Little Black Egg by The Nightcrawlers and Dirty Water by the Standells. I can honestly tell you that my taste in guitar styles has not really evolved much since then!
The Rolling Stones were in a class by themselves as far as I was concerned. That was the band that led me to Blues music. I remember a friend of mine's brother played me Mike Bloomfield, and that was another turning point for me. And then another friend gave me an album by Cream. So you see where I'm goin' with this. All roads lead to the Blues.
I can't remember when I first heard his name, but it was definitely uttered in a hushed, reverent tone - B. B. King! And, it was said that if I liked Bloomfield and Clapton that I better check him out. Turns out that B. B. was playing at a North Miami Beach hotel named The Marco Polo for an entire week. This would have been in 1971 or so. And, on the Saturday afternoon there was to be a "teen show" where they closed down the bar and served soft drinks. Some friends of mine and I went to the show, got the front table, and were completely blown away. There was only maybe 30-40 people there. He had a great band too. Sonny Freeman was on drums. He swung his ass completely off. The sticks literally floated in his hands. I also could not help but notice that one of the guys in the band kinda looked like us. Ron Levy was on piano, and he played like an absolute master. Seeing a hippie up there gave me hope as an aspiring Blues musician. Ron and I have gotten to be good friends over the years, and he even remembers that concert! Check out his book. It's really great.
At one point in the show, B.B. broke a string and then changed it while he sang. I was most impressed with that. And I even pulled it off myself on stage once in Louisville (impressing the young guitar player in my band - Oliver Wood!). It has been reported many times that Mr. King handed me his broken string. I'm not sure if it actually happened that way. But, somehow I wound up with it, and I have it still. It is the physical evidence of my Blues Baptism! It's taped to a picture postcard he gave out that night. I also remember that Mr. King hung out in the lobby with us for a long time after the show. He's just a genuine, nice person and a role model for all of us who eke out a living on the road by doin' the deal.
After the concert, I went out and bought his "Live In Cook County Jail" album and his guitar instructional book. I play a Gibson ES-345 because he played one that night. I talk to fans after the show because he does that. I listen to the musicians he mentions in interviews. I adore him.
After that life-changing event, I have seen B.B. in concert many times and even toured as his opening act. Once I saw Howlin' Wolf open for him. That was the only time I ever saw someone even come close to stealing the show from him.

So that's my first blog and my Blues Embarkation story.