Even at 80, British Blues Legend John Mayall Is "Always on Tour"

Photo by Jeff Fasano/Mark Pucci Media
John Mayall today
At 80 years old, the "Godfather of British Blues" has certainly earned the opportunity to relax. Or slow down. Or stop performing all over the world at all. But when asked as to what his plans are after his current tour, John Mayall seems perplexed, as if it signals the end of one thing and the conscious start of something different.

"Which tour? I tour year-round. I am always on tour," the singer/guitarist/harmonica player says matter-of-factly. "Always on tour. You've got to communicate and make the audience part of what you're doing. Then you know you've succeeded."

And Mayall is making no concessions to age in terms of how he approaches each show, be it a huge festival, small theater or intimate barn. His current jaunt finds him promoting his latest record, A Special Life (Sony/RED), 11 tracks of Mayall originals, a catalogue re-recording, a tune from his band, and covers of songs by Jimmy Rogers, Albert King, Sonny Landreth and Eddie Taylor.

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Latter-Day Bluesman Tommy Castro Introduces Us to The Devil You Know

Photo by Lewis MacDonald/Courtesy of Alligator Records
Tommy Castro lets 'er rip live onstage.
If you had to find a CD by Tommy Castro, chances are you'd find one (or all) of them in the "Blues" section. But with his most recent release, The Devil You Know (Alligator Records), the 59-year-old California native who has been making records for 20 years consciously wanted to do something different.

"It's still blues-based, but I wanted a leaner sound, more guitar-driven and rocking. Something along the lines of the acts I listened to growing up like the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Traffic," he says.

"I wanted to get the feeling I had like when I was a kid and playing guitar with my friends," he adds. "And I wanted it to sound contemporary."

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Don't Know Who Michael Bloomfield Was? You Totally Should.

Bob Calo/Columbia Records
Michael Bloomfield, Nov. 1968, at the studio of Norman Rockwell. The famous painter did the cover of a record that Bloomfield released with Al Kooper.
"He was the greatest guitar player I ever heard" -- Bob Dylan
"[He] is music on two legs" -- Eric Clapton
"You could put [him] with James Brown, and he'd be a motherfucker." -- Miles Davis

Wow. What other unknown axe-slinger could garner such praise from such music heavyweights? But this is only a sampling of comments of admiration and wonder for the guy once ranked No. 42 on Rolling Stone's list of Top 100 guitarists. It's the pride of Chicago, the guy who Muddy Waters considered a son, the Jew of the Blues...Michael Bloomfield!


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The Big Easy Salutes 20 Years of Bayou City Blues

Photos by Marco Torres
Tommy Dardar and his band
Houston blues lovers showed up in throngs Friday night as Upper Kirby blues dive The Big Easy celebrated its 20th anniversary under the direction of Tom McLendon. One more person and the Fire Marshal couldn't have squeezed in to shut the place down if he had to.

Over two decades McLendon has kept his formula simple, the main pillar being to have great bands on Friday and Saturday night but never charge more than a $5 cover. If it's not danceable, McLendon doesn't book it, and if your band can't make it on that cover, book yourself somewhere else.

This past Friday, with veteran blues-boogie man Tommy Dardar laying in the funky grooves, the dance floor got a real workout. Dardar left no doubt he came to boogie, rocking hard into Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" and then dropping the classic "Mardi Gras Mambo."

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Texas Guitar God Johnny Winter Is Forever True to the Blues

Michael Weintraub/Sony
The quintessential Texas bluesman: Johnny Winter
A December 1968 edition of Rolling Stone featured Texas musicians who were at the time making inroads into the magazine's home city of San Francisco. Featuring a cover photo of cowboy-hatted Doug Sahm (balancing toddler son Shawn on his knee), it mentioned players and singers both known (Janis Joplin, Steve Miller, Boz Scaggs) and others familiar only to hardcore fans.

But it was a mention of a shit-hot blues player, Johnny Winter, that seemed to generate the most buzz. Soon, the Beaumont native found himself in demand. The article described "A cross-eyed albino with long, fleecy hair, who plays some of the gutsiest, fluid blues you ever heard."

A guest appearance with Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper at the Fillmore East gave a major audience their first real look at this mythical figure. Columbia Records execs were in the audience, and it led to a then-unheard of advance for an unknown act -- a reported $600,000 -- resulting in Winter's 1969 self-titled debut.

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Don't Stand So Close to Her: Kristine Mills Does Sting

Categories: Blue Notes

Photos courtesy of Kristine Mills
On the list of post-punk and New Wave bands that borrowed from jazz, the Police are right at the very top. Their songs are full of unconventional time signatures, complex chord arrangements and plenty of improvisational moments. Instrumentally, Gordon Sumner (aka Sting), Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland all had chops for days. Most of all, the Police could conjure mysterious, shadowy moods that few of their more stylish, synth-loving peers could match.

But the Police were also a pop band, and eventually a hugely successful one. They became a high-school favorite of multiple Houston Press Music Award-winning jazz singer Kristine Mills, who says she was "obsessed with" the UK trio.

"I loved both 'Roxanne' and 'Don't Stand So Close To Me,'" she says. "We all tried to figure out the backstory."

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Shemekia Copeland's Blues Journey: "It Changed Who I Am"

Categories: Blue Notes

Sandrine Lee for Concord Music
Blues chanteuse Shemekia Copeland may have never actually lived in Houston, but as the daughter of legendary Bayou City bluesman Johnny "Clyde" Copeland (1937-1997), she heard a lot about it growing up.

"My daddy was from Houston, and Texans love being from Texas!" she laughs. "So it's a wonderful thing. He just loved being a Texan. And I am happy to represent him in that way."

And though she's only 34, Copeland has had plenty of experience stretching back to when her father would bring the teen out onstage as a little girl. Her debut record, Turn the Heat Up, appeared when she was only 19.

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Houston Music Hall of Famer Creole Joe Sample Is On a New Mission

Photo by Marco Torres
Joe Sample onstage at the Houston Press Music Awards in August, where he was inducted into the Houston Music Hall of Fame
Joe Sample is on a mission. While the illustrious keyboard genius behind the Crusaders continues to expand his career and is as in-demand at 75 as at any point in his life, these days he balances his commercial career with good works.

Inducted into the Houston Music Hall of Fame's inaugural class at last month's Houston Press Music Awards, Sample just released a new recording with his Creole Joe Band (see video below), a zydeco project that is dear to his heart. He test-drove the project earlier this year on some dates in Japan, then debuted the band in the U.S. a couple weeks back at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands before heading to New York City, where crowds at the Blue Note exceeded Sample's expectations.

Those who read the Houston Press' cover story on Sample's return to his alma mater, Texas Southern University, already know he spends a portion of his year teaching and developing upcoming talent. Sample's charity work is less visible, but is another important element in his division of labor.

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Kenny Wayne Shepherd Takes a Ride In New Blues-Rock Supergroup

Photo by Eleanor Stills
The Rides' three-headed honcho: Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg and Kenny Wayne Shepherd
How the new guitar-centric blues-rock supergroup The Rides came together involves a genesis that's more football than foot pedals. But the core trio of singer/guitarists Stephen Stills and Kenny Wayne Shepherd and keyboardist Barry Goldberg couldn't be happier about the venture, whether it's a one-off project or one with more legs.

"This was an interesting opportunity for me to do something out of the norm. I've always wanted to put together a side project," Shepherd says from a stop on the band's current tour in support of debut CD Can't Get Enough (429 Records). "I wanted to be part of a band and have a new experience."

That experience started when Stills, coming off a nearly two-year world tour with day-job band Crosby, Stills and Nash, wanted to explore something bluesier for his next project; that or maybe he was just tired of playing "Our House" every night.

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Head Nightcat Rick Estrin: "Sometimes I Just Want to Chill"

Categories: Blue Notes

Photo by Kent Lacin/Courtesy of Alligator Records.
Lorenzo Farrell, Rick Estrin, J. Hansen, and Chris "Kid" Andersen
As one of the most dapper dudes in blues music (or any other genre), vocalist/harp player Rick Estrin has certain panache when it comes to his trademark hirsute upper lip.

"I don't groom it daily, I just shave around it. But yeah, just try to keep it from getting too long," he says. "I used to see guys that really have the real small perfect ones like Muddy [Waters] and John Littlejohn, and what they would do is take a razor blade in hand and edge it with that.

And that takes a real steady hand and skill!" he adds. "I've had a few times where I [messed up] and had to think, 'Do I leave it, or shave the whole thing off and let it grow back?'"

Estrin and his group, the Nightcats -- Chris "Kid" Andersen (guitar), Lorenzo Farrell (organ, bass), and J. Hansen (drums) -- will undoubtedly be checking out their looks in plenty of hotel room mirrors soon as they hit the road to support their new record, One Wrong Turn (Alligator).

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