Posted in Books, Uncategorized

Book review: Ray Benson: Comin’ Right at Ya, or How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country

Comin Right At Ya, Or How a Jewish Yankee Hippie Went Country

Ray Benson

by Rhetta Akamatsu

As he explains in Comin’ Right At Ya, Ray Benson was indeed born a  Yankee, growing up in Philadelphia, He is also Jewish and was a hippie when he formed Asleep at the Wheel 50 years ago. Yet he fell in love with Bob Wills and Western Swing in the days when young people his age were mainly listening to psychedelic rock and on the verge of disco. Despite all odds, Western Swing, memoir, biography he began his Wills-influenced band and has kept it going through many changes for over 50 years now. The band has lasted through broken dreams and broken relationships,  a slew of record companies and more. They have charted 21 times in  50 years and won 9 Grammy Awards.

How did Asleep at the Wheel survive all these years? Mainly through Benson’s immense charm and willpower. The willingness to nearly starve at times helped too. In the early years, the band moved south and lived in a cabin without heat, electricity or indoor plumbing, playing anywhere they could. They moved constantly and we’re always on the road.

Along the way, Benson and the band made some good friends with other musicians who didn’t care much re much for fitting in. People like Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, and Dolly Parton among others. He recalls them all fondly here, with the flair of a natural-born storyteller.

These days, Benson is still on the road with Asleep at the Wheel. This book is almost as much fun to read as they are to hear and see. Lucky us! We have the opportunity to do both!

Posted in Celebrity musicians, Uncategorized

Van Morrison Three Chords and the Truth

Van Morrison

Three Chords and the Truth

Van Morrison is a wonder. Three Chords and the Truth is his 41st album and he is 74 years old, and he sounds marvelous!

The album is all straightforward music with no fancy effects. The backing band, including Astral Weeks guitarist Jay Berliner is part of the reason why, and Morrison himself is everywhere, playing guitar, electric piano, and sax.the marvelous backing band and Morrison is everywhere, playing guitar, piano, and saxophone. He wrote all the songs except for “If We Wait For Mountains,” which he co-wrote with lyricist Dan Black.

Morrison sings about his usual topics. Mysticism and the desire for deeper understanding fuel “Dark Night of the Soul.”N ostalgia is the inspiration for “In Search of Grace,” “Early Days,” and “Days Gone By,” a great song for New Year’s. He blasts politics in “Nobody in Charge” and the dark side of stardom with a wonderful assist from Righteous Brother Bill Medley on “Fame Will Eat the Soul.”

The style of the music is a mixture of R ‘n B, gospel, folk, and easy rock. It all flows together, tied by that well-known, effortlessly expressive voice. The man can sing anything and it will just sound like Van Morrison.

This is a fantastic album by a timeless singer-songwriter. It is highly recommended!

Posted in blues, Uncategorized

Eddie 9V Left My Soul In Memphis

Eddie9vEddie 9V, pronounced 9 Volt, is a phenomenon on his own. He is only 23 years old but under a different name he has been playing Atlanta clubs since he was 15 years old. In 2014, he and his brother competed, with their band, in the IBCs. So when you learn that he is only 23 years old, don’t think he is a beginner in the blues! This January, he is headed back to the IBCs to showcase Left My Soul In Memphis as Atlanta’s Best Self-Produced Album.

Not only did Eddie produce the album himself, working hard to produce a lo-fi sound, he also played all the instruments except the keyboards as well as doing all the vocals. The keyboards were provided by Rhett Huffman. Eddie did drums, that searing guitar, bass, and horns, working on mixing and layering in a genuine Georgia shack he turned into a studio. He wanted a vintage sound and he got it, while still filling the album with funk, soul and absolutely authentic blues.

Eddie’s hero is Freddie King and he shows that influence everywhere, including the incredible version of “Yonder’s Wall” that opens the album. Next, we get the strongly STAX influenced “Left My Soul In Memphis,” which also shows the amazing songwriting talents of this young man. Then comes the intense “Bottle and the Blues,” an original with a very traditional subject and some mighty sweet guitar. If you don’t know his story, it is probably hard to comprehend how he could get that good so young, but we train them that way here in Georgia!

“New Orleans” lets the guitar do a lot of talking, while Eddie sounds more world-weary than he ought to be. “Bending With the Kings” is an incredible instrumental tribute to Freddie, Albert, and BB King, and 9V holds his own with all of them.

“Woke Up Sweatin’” is driven by a catchy riff that draws you into the song’s narrative about love and the need for it, and includes some hot piano by Huffman. In “36th &Main” Eddie considers a musician’s common  solution to that problem: He’s going to 36th and Main to find himself a “midnight woman – one who “don’t talk or complain!” Yeah, he plays those horns, in this jazzy, upbeat number.

“Ghosts” has the most country-blues feel, with strong traces of Dylan and Hendrix in the lyrics and pure blues in the guitar. This is a highlight for the great songwriting and evocative singing. “Lo-Fi Love” is the most contemporary and vocally a definite highlight, showing off 9V’s range.

It’s time for some funk with “Don’t Test Me, Baby” and then Eddie wraps it up with some fine picking and strumming and a trip back to “1945 (Cocaine & Rum.)” Remember that he is the only one playing anything on this track!

Eddie 9V is a genius and “Left My Heart in Memphis” should explode him onto the national scene. As long

 

Posted in Classic Rock, Music, Uncategorized

Mike Zito: Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry

Mike Zito has done something very special for his 16th album. to be released on Ruf Records November 1. He invited 21 guest ll guitarists, to join him on Rock N Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry 111One of the guests is Charles Berry III, Chuck Berry’s grandson. Other guests include Joe Bonamassa, Eric Gales, Walter Trout, Robben Ford, Sonny Landreth, Luther Dickinson, Albert Castiglia, Anders Osborne, Tinsley Ellis, Ally Venable, and other talented folks. Even Alex Skolnick f from Testament and Richard Fortus of Guns ‘n Roses play parts!

The album includes 20 tracks of Berry’s biggest hits and a few less well-known songs, such as “Downbound Train” and Havana Moon.” But for the most part, any Chuck Berry fan will recognize and love every song.

The album was produced by Zito himself at his own Marz Studio. The basic tracks were recorded and then sent to the guest artists, who gleefully added their own parts and sent them back. The whole process took a year, but the results were certainly worth it!  It sounds like one big party.

It all starts out with Charles Berry III playing and singing with Zito on “St. Louis Blues,”, sounding just like his granddad. Then come two major favorites,” Rock and Roll Music “featuring Joanna Connor and a blazing “Jonny B. Goode” with Walter Trout, before Joe Bonamassa absolutely tears up his part on the lesser-known “Wee, Wee Hours.” making it a real album highlight.

Then it’s back to the well-loved “Memphis,” with Anders Osborne and Zito sounding great together before Ryan Perry helps rock out “I Want to Be Your Driver.” “Robbin Ford adds power to the delightful “You Never Can Tell and”Eric Gales helps out on a great version of “Back in the USA”.

“No Particular Place to Go” is such a great song, perfectly suite to Zito and Jeremiah Johnson. Luther Dickenson joins Zito to make “Too Much Monkey Business” sound very Dylan-y while SonnyLandreth adds to the tropical feel of Havana Moon” with its fabulous steel guitar. Next, just hearing that iconic Berry beginning to “Promised Land” is going to make a lot of people smile, and Zito and Tinsley Ellis sound wonderful together and seem to be having such a great time that this one is another feel-good highlight!

“Downbound Train” is lesser-known and unexpected, with its dark tone, so it’s appropriate that it has an unexpected guest, Alex Selnick of thrash metal band Testament provides the perfect accompaniment. Then, Richard Fortus of Guns and Roses proves he can rock out Berry-style on the classic “Maybelline!”

Ally Venable has just the right young blues voice and hot guitar playing for “School Days.” Then, not one but two guests teach a little history with Zito on “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.'” Reelin’ and Rockin;” is a blast with Tommy Castro joining the party with Zito. Next, get ready to “Let it Rock” as Jimmy Vivino, leader of Conan’s house band, guests.

Choosing Albert Castiglia to guest on “thirty Days” was a stroke of genius. The pure joy that shines through as Zito, Castro and a chorus of others perform this song makes it a pleasure , making sure you’re smiling and prepared for the irrepressible “My Ding-a-Ling,” on which Kid Anderson, Zito and the chorus of grown men all sound like extremely talented and gleeful little boys! I defy you not to laugh.

With this album, Mike Zito and his friends do exactly what Chuck Berry did: Deliver an album that wows listeners not by technology but by skill, a lot of laughs, plenty of chances to boogie, and boundless enthusiasm. Chuck would be so proud!

 

Posted in blues, Folk, Jazz, Music, Uncategorized

Snave and The Third Stream – Tin Can Fish House

by Rhetta Akamatsu

In 1957, Gunther Schuller described the Third Stream as a place where jazz and classical music meet halfway. For Snave and the Third Stream, that definition expands. It is where jazz, pop, country, blues, Cajun, folk and rock come together.

And they do merge beautifully on Tin Can Fish House. The name comes from the restaurant in Sandy Springs where it was recorded. The musicians are long-time Atlanta vocalist, guitarist, and flute master David “Snave” Evans and well-known and respected bassist Jon Schwenke, saxophonist Tim Crump and percussionist Will Groth. Lucky for us, all of the songs give the musicians ample room to display their prodigious talents.

Things kick off with the classic “Summertime,” which allows everyone to shine in the long instrumental breaks, while Snave handles the vocals ably. Then, we slide into a Zydeco groove with “Goin’ To New Orleans” which leads into the very jazzy “Little Birdie,” written by Vince Guaraldi for a Peanuts special, which has an especially tasty saxophone and distorted guitar, excellent percussion, and rock steady bass. There is nothing at all wrong with the vocals on this recording; it is just that the music is so spectacular!

Then we take a trip into the blues with the Mose Allison song “Mind on Vacation,” and here the vocals and the sax do shine even while that “wah-wah” guitar takes a fun turn as well. But we can’t leave ballads out of the stream, so next is a beautiful rendition of Little Country Giant’s “Just A Little Bit,” with gentle guitar, tender sax. and some nice harmony on the refrain. The song is perfectly suited to Snave’s plaintive vocal.

Just in case you think things are getting too mellow, they are about to get seriously heavy. Wait till you hear what the band has done to Donovan’s “Season of the Witch!” I am seeing this one finding its way onto many Halloween playlists! It is followed by a blazing version of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower.”

This is an excellent collection of songs and styles, beautifully performed. No matter what your taste, you will find a lot to love here. Well done!

 

Posted in blues, Uncategorized

Beverly “Guitar” Watkins is latest in a year of losses to Atlanta blues

She beat cancer twice. She recovered from a heart attack and a stroke. She kept on returning to her music. But in late July, she suffered a second stroke and could not recover. Now, Beverly “Guitar ” Watkins is dead.  She was a ray of joy, a bright light to everyone who saw her perform and a truly talented musician and friend to many. At 80, her spirit has finally gone home.

In April, we lost another of our mentors and friends, Eddie Tigner. Eddie was 92 when he passed. I still think I see him every time we go to Blind Willie’s, where I saw him most often. He was another bright spirit and a talented pianist and singer, with a smile for everyone.

Earlier this month we lost drummer Yonrico Scott at age 63. Yonrico had drummed for a long time with the Derek Trucks Band and then with Royal Southern Brotherhood. He was a prominent member of the blues community in Atlanta and his death was a great loss to us as well.

The sadness we have felt at the loss of Beverly, Eddie, and Yonrico is only a measure of the joy they gave us in their lives. So thank you, Universe, for allowing us their presence in our lives.

If there are other losses I have forgotten, please understand. I am still reeling from the news of Beverly.

rhetta beverly

Me with Beverly, 2014

 

 

 

 

Posted in blues, Music, Uncategorized

WRFG BBQ Sept 2, 2019

My husband and I had such a great time at the WRFG Labor Day BBQ, with delicious BBQ from Williamson Bros., wonderful music and the company of many of our friends! We were entertained by Bill Sheffield and Sandra Senn, Eddie  9V, The Larry Griffith Band, this year’s honoree Lil Joe Burton with Albert White and The Atlanta Horns, and Selwyn Birchwood.  They all did an amazing job.! Wish I had time to write a full report, but I don’t/ I just want to acknowledge what a great job all the organizers did as well as all the participants and share the photos with you. And listen to WRFG, either on the radio or on the Internet! Here are photos of the performers and the amazing Park Tavern venue!

Photos by Takesi Ken Akamatsu

Posted in blues, Music, Uncategorized

Billie Williams – Hell To Pay

by Rhetta Akamatsu

Billie Williams’ second album, Hell To Pay, shows that she is is a fantastic soul and blues singer, and like many of the best, she is tuned in to the world around her. So whether it’s political issues in “Hell To Pay” and “Ten Million Sisters” or a bad, bad breakup in “Damn,” she speaks her mind. But she and the fantastic bunch of musicians she has assembled can handle other emotions in marvelous musical style as well, never letting one emotion rule for too long.

Things start out with “Damn.” letting her ex know what she thinks with no messing around and no modest language. The next song continues the theme, in the slightly more restrained but no less emotional, piano-driven “Cold November.” Next is the much more conciliatory “Start All Over,” a soulful and rueful account of bad moves.

Next is the bouncy “You,” about a much brighter and better relationship. Then, Williams is back to angry, but this time on a more socio-political scale with “Hell To Pay,” which starts out quiet and builds to a righteous rant, In my opinion, this is the highlight of the album.

“Hour By Hour” then slows the tempo down again and returns to heartbreak in the pure blues of “Hour by Hour.” “Drink From My Cup” offers something else different with a roguish lilt and a honky-tonk piano and some flirty, sexy words. The rollicking organ will alert you to the 60’s sound of “Lost In The Wilderness,” which is a love song despite the Gospel sounding title. It is followed by another one, “My Everything,” but this one has a Stax feel to it.

The wistful “Take These Dreams” returns us to the sad breakup for a ballad this time. Then it’s back to social justice for the anthem, “Ten Million Sisters,” inspired by Williams’ experience of The Women’s March in Washington in 2017. It is, for me, another of the highlight tracks.

Overall, the album is about half dark and half light but whichever half you prefer, the 11 original tunes show that Billie Williams is an artist full of skill and passion. She is one to be aware of.

Posted in Uncategorized

Tennessee Redemption – “Tennessee Redemption” is Roots and blues Perfection

 

TennesseeRedemption-COVER300x300

Before Tennessee Redemption, the album and the band, Jeff Jensen once played in Santini’s band.  Then, Jensen broke off to start his own solo career and then to form the Jeff Jensen Band with bassist Bill Ruffino and drummer David Green. Both Santini and Jensen built successful careers, while their friendship and respect continued to flourish.

Then the time came when Santini and Jensen decided to join forces again. They kept Bill Ruffino and David Green, of course, as it is hard to think of another bassist and drummer so perfect for their kind of music, and with the addition of versatile guitarist Timo Arthur from Santini’s band,  they had a dream team, as you will discover on this new album.

One of the best things about both Jensen and Santini is their ability to make a real connection with listeners, and that is one of the joys of this first self-titled album. The songs are honest and sound authentic, whether you are listening to one of the 8 original songs or the wonderful covers of Little Walter’s “Watch Yourself” and Tom Waits’ “Come On Up To the House.” Add to that the incredible guitar playing of Jensen, who also did a masterful job of producing the album. Then add the harmonica wizardry of Santini, and the solid backing of Arthur, Ruffino, and Green, and you have, in my opinion, the best album of the year.

Green with a slightly bluesier tint. Then the boys take a Southern rock turn on “Back to Tennessee.”

Jensen adds a touch of mysticism and some dark humor to the mix with “Leave My Body.” This bit of darkness is balanced when we go down to the riverside for the uplifting gospel-blues sound of “Souls In The Water.” “See About Me” and “You Don’t Love Me” continue the high standard of songwriting and performance.

The beautiful cover of “Come on Up To My House” fits perfectly into the originals, while “Watch Yourself” is not only creatively covered but allows Santini to show off that gorgeous harmonica in a song that was meant to let a harmonica player really shine.

The album ends with Jensen’s deeply touching acoustic “Going To Mexico,” one of the songs I am most in love with in a body of work I am in love with altogether.

I will admit that until now I thought the Jeff Jensen Band was the perfect blues-rock band. Now I know that all they were missing was a great harmonica and another skillful guitar! Since Santini and Jensen are both excellent vocalists as well and I am convinced the rest of the group can do anything they could ever be asked to do, I am convinced. On this first album, Tennessee Redemption is roots and blues perfection.

This song is not from the album, but is a fantastic look at the whole band!