James Byfield (BKA Blind Lemon Pledge) is San Francisco’s “top dog” acoustic blues dude. Well, not just blues but jazz, pop, soul, and all the other fruits that come from the blues roots. His upcoming release, Goin’ Home on the Ofeh label goes back to those roots. Way back.

Pledge has released 7 albums since 2008, but Goin’ Home returns to the spark that started him on his musical journey. It’s a whittled-down collection of 2 original songs and 10 covers all done with just guitar, stand-up bass (provided by Peter Grenell) and vocals. Now when I said he goes way back, I mean it.

The very first track is what gave the album its name. “I Feel Like Going Home,” was originally recorded by Alan Lomax when Muddy Waters was still a sharecropper on the Stovall Plantation. It’s as Delta as it gets, with Pledge’s sorrowful slide and imploring vocals.

“Fever” is done the dark, simple way Little Willie John did it, not the polished way Peggy Lee and myriad other artists recorded it. Just 2 chords is all it is, and all it needs. He pays tribute to Walter Davis with the slow-burning “Come Back Baby,” and JJ Cale with the country blues slide and quiet harmonies of “Crazy Mama.”

Pledge goes even further back in the American Blues Songbook with Tommy Johnson’s “Big Road Blues,” although he did up the tempo a bit. Robert Johnson’s “Love in Vain,” is given great treatment, combining finger-picking and slide. Johnson’s mourning voice can’t be replicated and Pledge doesn’t try, rather making it his own with some powerful vocals that get the point across quite nicely.

There is also a nice nod to the San Francisco scene with “I Know You Rider,” a traditional blues tune that was a favorite cover by artists including Joan Baez, the Kingston Trio, Janis Joplin, the Grateful Dead and Hot Tuna. Pledge does justice to the 60s era versions.

Of the 2 originals, “Sweet Celine,” is a nice country flavored romantic tune, while “Sugar Rush” is a bawdy tune filled with ragtime finger-picking and double entendre. Both fit nicely nestled among the classic covers of Goin’ Home.

Make sure you listen for the album’s closer, “Little Black Train.” A Gospel hymn dating back to the 19th Century, Pledge and company perform it with simple vocal harmonies and a tambourine that made us feel good all over.

If you’re suffering from a lack of acoustic, down-home blues, Goin’ Home is your prescription.

Blind Lemon Pledge

*Feature image Facebook

Album release management, PR, and graphics & merchandise developer New Outlaw is offering a weekly Virtual Gig Guide for performances in the UK.

This week’s offerings include:

Saturday 28th March – Clare Free 9:30 PM (BST) ‘Live From the Living Room

Clare Free Photo: Paul Telford-Dinsmore

Saturday and Sunday 28th and 29th March- The Isolation Music Festival 1-6 PM (GMT)

Saturday, 28 March – Lockdown Music Festival Episode 2 3:00 PM – 11.30 PM (BST)

Saturday 28 March – Iain ‘The DJ’ Ridgley‘s First Ever Facebook Showcase 12:30 – 23:00 (GMT)

Sunday 29 March – Dan Burnett live stream 6:30 PM (BST)

New Outlaw

*Feature image courtesy of the Isolation Music Festival

The song “Don’t Let the World Get You Down” by Mike Zito is available today (March 27) via SoundCloud for streaming and free download. The video for “Don’t Let the World Get Down” was created by Zach Zito.

“I had been playing with these 3 chords and this title for a month leading up to this life changing event,” Zito says. “I knew I liked the simple melody and the meaning behind the saying. Little did I know the world would literally change in the next 30 days. When I got home and began my quarantine, this is the first song I wrote and it wrote itself in minutes. I am so proud my son Zach stepped in and created a music video that shares the emotion of this song. I truly hope people will hear the song and follow the advice I have been giving myself. Don’t let the world get you down……”

But wait, there’s more!

On Monday, March 30, Zito’s album, Quarantine Blues will be available in its entirety, absolutely free via SoundCloud.

Of the album Zito says, “While flying home from Europe after all of our tours being cancelled, I decided the band and myself would record a free album for our fans. Individually we have been quarantined for 14 days and this idea of writing, producing and releasing an album in the 14 day period seemed like quite an effort and a distraction for us. In return fans from around the world contributed to our Godfundme and it has been an amazingingly rewarding experience.

I hope our fans enjoy the album and the music we have written.

I followed no rules, I wrote what I was feeling regardless of style or genre and used my feelings of fear, hope, love and rebelliousness to fuel my creativity.

I have collaborations with LA Guns and Guns n Roses founding member, Tracii Guns on the song ‘Don’t Touch Me’ and several songwriting efforts with my label partner Guy Hale.

I left the ‘rules’ on the floor and followed my heart.

I think these are some of the best songs I have written in years.”

“Don’t Let the World Get You Down”

Mike Zito

*Feature image Scott Lukes

British Blues Award winner Dani Wilde reaches for new heights with the release of a brand new single, “Howling at the Moon.”

This track shows the impressive range of her hauntingly beautiful vocals as well as her bluesy guitar playing. Composed and produced by Wilde, the track takes influence from both her British and American influences: “I was listening to British artists Paul Weller and 80’s pop-soul singer Sam Brown who inspired my arrangements and vocals, as well as taking guitar influence from my American blues heroes Albert Collins and Sean Costello.”  

The track is about a darker time in Wilde’s life where she was, “struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel having had my heart broken and stamped on – I was so lost back then but now I can look back and see that I’m a stronger and happier person today because I lived through that.”

Wilde burst onto the International blues scene in 2007, opening for Jools Holland at London’s Royal Albert Hall and signing to prestigious blues record label Ruf Records.

Since then she has toured extensively (playing up to 250 concerts a year) across the UK, Europe, America, Canada and Africa charting in the blues and country charts in Europe. USA concerts have included headline shows under her own name, and performances with girl group “Girls With Guitars” alongside Samantha Fish and Cassie Taylor. The group’s 2012 record, produced by Mike Zito in Berlin, was a hit in Europe; the single “Bitch” reaching the Number 1 spot in the iTunes blues charts in Italy.

In 2017, Wilde signed with VizzTone Label Group to release a live in the studio album entitled Live at Brighton Road. Her relationship with VizzTone continues as she reaches for new heights with the release of this brand new single.

Get the single here.

Dani Wilde

*Feature image Philip James

In the rolling foothills of Southeast Ohio lies the Fur Peace Ranch. Jefferson Airplane alumnus and Hot Tuna member Jorma Kaukonen and his wife Vanessa don’t raise crops, or livestock; they “grow guitar players.”

 

Conceived in 1989, the couple set out to create a camp where musicians could gather and completely surround themselves with music. The ranch originally started with the kitchen, workshop building, library, 17 cabins and a bathhouse. Over the years, it has expanded to the Fur Peace Station Theater, the Company Store, the Psylodelic Gallery and their new restaurant, Pho Peace Restaurant. The Station Concert Hall, with seating for 200 music lovers, plays host to some of the worlds finest musician in a very intimate setting every Saturday night during camp weekends and throughout the year. The fact that world-famous musicians perform here speaks to the reputation of Fur Peace.

Every new session at the ranch offers new instructors. Teachers have ranged from Jorma himself to GE Smith, Arlo Guthrie, Jack Casady, Oteil Burbridge, Steve Kimock, Chris Smither, Warren Haynes, Jill Sobule, Patty Larkin, Happy Traum, Jonathan Edwards, Woody Mann, Tom Feldmann, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Bill Kirchen, Bobby Vega, Roy Book Binder, Michael Falzarano, Guy Clarke and the list goes on. Each instructor has their own way of teaching their classes. For Jorma, his anecdotal teaching is a very important aspect of what he does at the ranch.

We got to speak to Vanessa and Jorma about the ranch, what all they offer, and how they’re coping with the current Covid-19 outbreak.

Jorma and Vanessa Kaukonen Photo: Facebook

With the classes, the cabins, the restaurant, theater, gallery, and more now on their 129 acres,  we wondered if the Kaukonens had a plan like this all along.

“Speaking for myself, and of course Vanessa always speaks for herself,” Jorma began.

“I speak for you too,” Vanessa interjected.

(I could already tell this was going to be a fun interview.)

“There’s no way we could have predicted living in a rural county with less than 20,000 people that all this would have happened,” Jorma continued.

“It’s really a Field of Dreams kind of place,” Vanessa added. “We offered something that people didn’t know they needed. We’re a luxury business. You don’t need us, you want us. But if you talk to the thousands of students we have, (Fur Peace Ranch has a 97% return rate) they’ll tell you, ‘no, we need this’. It’s not a fantasy camp. What we do is honest to God instruction plus a wonderful chef and amazing kitchen staff. We really are a destination spot.”

“In a perfect world, we’re open from March until November,” Jorma told us. “With classes more or less every other weekend, we’re open the bulk of the year. The office is always open though.”

“In the very beginning nobody was doing what we’re doing,” Vanessa told us. “We’ve been doing this now for 23 years and only a few times have we had to cancel classes because we couldn’t sell them. One, for example is I couldn’t for the life of me sell a banjo class with Tony Trischka.”

“That being said, in the world of bluegrass musicians — and I’m not an authority on it because I’m not a bluegrass musician — it’s almost that they’re loath to take recognized instruction,” Jorma said. “They almost don’t want to pay anyone to teach them. The other thing is Tony Trischka is like the father of the modern banjo, but students wanted Earl Scruggs or Ralph Stanley. It’s just a weird world.”

“It really didn’t have anything to do with the instructor,” Vanessa interjected. “In the very beginning it was Jorma’s name that was selling the classes and students wanted classes with only him. To be completely honest I didn’t reach out to the right demographic for banjo classes. Tony, God bless him, and many of his contemporaries were already doing a lot of classes. The students stuck with what they knew, and Tony had his niche elsewhere.”

“We haven’t cancelled anything this year actually,” Vanessa told us. “But we did have to postpone our opening and our two April classes. We’ve been able to move our opener (with Jorma and Jack Casady as instructors) to the end of May.”

The two April classes were postponed until the Fall. One of them features Jorma and Larry Campbell, and the other is Jorma and GE Smith. The move to that late in the year was to not only find free weekends, but also to accommodate the instructor’s schedules as all are full-time touring musicians.

We wondered if classes could be pared down to fit in with health department orders against gatherings of ten or more people. “We’re categorized as a food service,” Vanessa said. “Even though we’re a school and we have a theater and museum, part of our categorization is as food service. So, even if we could do five students as opposed to twenty or thirty, everything has to be take-out and they can’t eat it on the premises. We just can’t operate that way.”

Vanessa’s sister, a pilates instructor in Maine, has had great success using the Zoom video conferencing platform. The Kaukonens are prepared to use that service as well for instruction if mandated social distancing lasts beyond the beginning of May. The Ranch also has in place their own online guitar workshops via BreakDownWay.com, a tutorial platform that offers extensive detailed lessons from Jorma and over a dozen other instructors.

“What you don’t get with BreakDownWay is you don’t get our fantastic food, the camaraderie with other students, walks on our nature trails, or have lunch with Jorma,” Vanessa points out. “We’re not going anywhere so you’ll still have access to those things, but in the interim, you’ll have access to classes in several genres of guitar.”

“We adapt,” Vanessa continued. “We’re also going to do some Facebook Live concerts as needed until the end of April, beginning of May. We have a small 200 seat showcase theater, and everyone has been very accommodating as far as our season ticket holders and everyone who wants to be on board.”

Then there is also the Fur Peace Ranch YouTube Channel which features some amazing performances recorded live at the Fur Peace Station Concert Hall.

“You know, I not only work at the ranch,” Vanessa adds. “I’ve managed Hot Tuna since the late 80s. Not all family can work together. Jorma and I work very well together.”

Jorma was quick to adjoin, “Yeah, what she said.”

“Now is a good time to practice guitar,” Jorma added. That being said, he has found a guitar maker whose work he wished to share with us.

“I met this guy up in Greene, Iowa named David Flammang,” Jorma shared. “I met him through one of our students. He’s a guitar maker in an unincorporated town out in the middle of Iowa. I’ve bought two of his guitars and he’s built some of the greatest instruments I’ve seen since the old days of Gibson.”

“These little gems are part of the interaction between students and Jorma,” Vanessa said. “Jorma has a signature Martin guitar, his electric guitars through Epiphone and Gibson…”

“And now he’s playing guitars from Greene, Iowa,” Jorma voiced up. “You know there’s always something that makes you feel young again? No bullshit, when I played this guitar, it felt like when I got my first 1958 Gibson J-50, which I still have. It felt that good. Now my Martin guitars are great guitars and I’m not going to get rid of them, but it’s like apples and oranges. These Flammang guitars really hearken back to another age. I got two of them. I just had to throw that in there, I’m still so excited about it.”

The Fur Peace Ranch has just a few opening left for this season, current circumstances providing. A level 2/3 bass workshop with Jack Casady (May 29 – June 1); level 3 finger style guitar workshop with Jorma (September 4-7); level 3/4 acoustic fingerstyle guitar with Pat Donohue (August 21-24); level 3 electric guitar with Jimmy Vivino and Bob Margolin (October 9-12) and a level 4 master bass class with Jack Casady (November 13-16) all have limited availability. More info on those classes here.

Fur Peace Ranch

The Company Store

The Psylodelic Gallery

Flammang Guitars

The new album by Albert Castiglia, Wild and Free, was recorded live at The Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton, Florida. The perfect spot for the Miami-based artist to really show off his talents. And boy does he ever!

If you’ve never had the chance to see Castiglia live, now’s your chance to at least hear what absolutely everyone has been raving about (at least until regular tours start back up). Albert rocks the blues that were born in the Delta and reared in Chicago. He was an apprentice under Chicago legend Junior Wells, following that with stint with Sandra Hall. Since striking out on his own, Castiglia has released nine critically acclaimed albums, playing hard-core, electrified blues-rock to audiences world-wide.

Wild and Free kicks off with “Big Dog,” the title track from his 2016 Ruf Records release. You can tell he picked up a thing or two from Hall, his powerful, growling vocals to be specific. Next up is “Hoodoo On Me,” from 2017’s Up All Night. With fingers flying up and down the neck of his Les Paul with the speed of a seasoned Morse Code operator, Castiglia leaves no doubt that this is a party. If you ain’t here to do that, you might as well just go home.

“I Been Up All Night” is nearly six minutes of pedal-heavy, wah-wah, crying, rockin’ blues at its finest. Albert plays the pedal like a second instrument, much the same way Hendrix did it and the way Joe Walsh (and later Peter Frampton) so masterfully used the Talk Box. It doesn’t take away, but rather supplements the song, almost adding an additional player to his wizardry.

There are lots of party rock anthems included on Wild and Free. “Get Your Ass in the Van,” the funky “Searching the Desert for the Blues,” “Keep on Swinging,” the vocal to guitar, call-and-response “Loving Cup,” and the overdriven “I Tried to Tell Ya,” surely kept the dancefloor at the Funky Biscuit jumping. But that’s not all there is in Castiglia’s trick bag.

The almost 10-minute “Heavy” is an electric slow-drag of epic proportions. Playing like the love child of Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter, Castiglia enchants the crowd with a song that builds to near orgasmic heights, then drops to post-coital exhaustion half way through only to build again into a pleading conflagration. “Too Much Seconal” lights a fire under the standard Chicago blues sound. John Ginty’s keyboards add just the right touch of magic. Both songs are from his 2019 Gulf Coast Records Masterpiece album that garnered him with two BMA nominations.

Special guests Mike Zito and keyboardists Ginty and Lewis Stephens are welcome additions to this one-of-a-kind show. Castigilia has played with all of them before and they meld like butter on hot pancakes.

Just when you think there can’t be more, out comes “Boogie Funk.” This eight-and-a-half minute instrumental opus is designed to leave the crowd spent and simultaneously begging for more. It succeeds on both counts.

Wild and Free from Albert Castiglia is the party blues-rock album of the year, if not the decade. Castiglia’s song-writing skills, combined with his searing guitar and raw power make this a must have album. If you’re not already a fan, you will be, and if this one doesn’t get him nominated for the BB King Entertainer of the Year Award, then there’s something very wrong with the system.

Artist: Albert Castiglia

Title: Wild and Free

Label: Gulf Coast Records

Release Date: April 3, 2020

Running Time: 1:12:05

Albert Castiglia

*Feature image Norma Hinojosa

Country Music Hall of Famer Kenny Rogers has died. The announcement came via SKH Music co-founder Keith Hagan.

Photo provided by SKH Music

“The Rogers family is sad to announce that Kenny Rogers passed away last night at 10:25PM at the age of 81.  Rogers passed away peacefully at home from natural causes under the care of hospice and surrounded by his family.

“In a career that spanned more than six decades, Kenny Rogers left an indelible mark on the history of American music. His songs have endeared music lovers and touched the lives of millions around the world. Chart-topping hits like “The Gambler,” “Lady,” “Islands In The Stream,” “Lucille,” “She Believes In Me,” and “Through the Years” are just a handful of Kenny Rogers’ songs that have inspired generations of artists and fans alike. Rogers, with twenty-four number-one hits, was a Country Music Hall of Fame member, six-time CMA Awards winner, three-time GRAMMY® Award winner, recipient of the CMA Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013, CMT Artist of a Lifetime Award honoree in 2015 and has been voted the Favorite Singer of All Time in a joint poll by readers of both USA Today and People.”

Born Kenneth Ray Rogers on August 21, 1938 in Houston, Texas, Kenny had a minor solo hit in 1957 called “That Crazy Feeling.” From there he was part of the jazz group, Bobby Doyle Three, the folk group New Christy Minstrels and in 1967 helped form The First Edition. He launched his solo career after that group disbanded in 1976. Rogers also worked as a producer, writer, and session musician (he played guitar, bass, harmonica, and fiddle) for such artists as Mickey Gilley and Eddie Arnold.

Rogers developed a middle-of-the-road sound that appealed to both country and pop audiences. His first major hit, “Lucille,” went to #1 on the pop charts in twelve countries and sold over 5,000,000 copies. Other major hits followed including “Islands in the Stream,” a duet with Dolly Parton written by the brothers Gibb of Bee Gees fame. Islands topped the Billboard Charts in the Hot Country Songs, Adult Contemporary, and Hot 100 categories.

In all, Kenny Rogers release 39 studio albums and 80 singles. He was also an actor, appearing in 17 films and on television shows including Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Touched by an Angel, and How I Met Your Mother. As an entrepreneur he founded the restaurant chain Kenny Rogers Roasters and put his name to sprint car manufacturer Gambler Chassis Company.

In 2018, doctors advised Rogers to cancel the remaining stops on his The Gambler’s Last Deal tour. Rogers’ final Nashville concert performance took place at the Bridgestone Arena on October 25, 2017 where he was joined by a bevy of musical guests including Linda Davis, Elle King, Little Big Town, songwriting partner Lionel Richie, Billy Currington, Lee Greenwood, Flaming Lips, Oak Ridge Boys, Justin Moore, Travis Tritt, The Judds, Kris Kristofferson, Alison Krauss, Chris Stapleton, Lady Antebellum, Idina Menzel, Crystal Gayle, Reba McEntire, Jamey Johnson, and long-time friend Dolly Parton.

The family is planning a small private service at this time out of concern for the national COVID-19 emergency.  They look forward to celebrating Kenny’s life publicly with his friends and fans at a later date.

Kenny Rogers

* Feature image Kenny Rogers Instagram

Anyone can release an album; it’s easy to get it on streaming sites and say its ‘out’ but, in this competitive world, will people find it and hear it? With around 40,000 new tracks being uploaded each day, will it get the attention it deserves? UK blues rocker Clare Free is here to help with her company, New Outlaw.

Free is a multi-award nominated artist in The British Blues Awards, The People’s Music Awards and winner of the WRC ‘Best Acoustic Performance’ She is a passionate songwriter as well as an exceptional performer.

New Outlaw specialises in album release management, PR, graphics and merchandise development for music artists. We work closely with the artists we represent, and understand how important their music is.  New Outlaw offers an affordable, personalised, service to help musicians take their music, and profile, to a new level. We’ve been in the music business for 25 years, working as musicians ourselves for 15 years, then, 10 years ago we established the nationally, and internationally, respected Outlaw PR. New Outlaw has grown from this.

“Through my work, it has become obvious to me that once they are out of the studio, some musicians would really benefit from having someone to manage the album release for them,” Free told us. “I have found that although artists can get their music up on streaming sites, and hire someone (like me) to do their PR they are not really making enough of their album to get the best out of it especially when it comes to social media management, social media presence, merchandise, image, presentation, press packs, website and so on.

“I cover over 200 things in the strategy and release process which takes a great deal of pressure off the band, ups their game, and frees them up to focus on their music and bookings (which I don’t do). I also do graphic design and merchandise development for bands including album covers, posters, fliers, T-shirts/badges/other merchandise and so on.”

New Outlaw is also a member of the Music Mangers Forum, the largest representative body of music management in the world.

On the musical side of things, Free’s new album, Where Are You Now?, is blowing up world-wide. So she knows a thing or two about the business.

If you’re in a new band, or an established group looking to up your game, check out New Outlaw.

New Outlaw

Clare Free

*Feature image Paul Telford-Dinsmore

Memphis based Tony Holiday came to international attention with his 2019 VizzTone release, the star-studded Porch Sessions, in which he established himself as a top-notch harmonica player and producer of modern field recordings. With Soul Service, Holiday also proves to be a powerful, soulful singer, and a songwriter of smart, moving roots music songs that expand his palette beyond blues to show his diverse influences.

Produced by Grammy nominee Ori Naftaly (Southern Avenue, Stax Records) at Zebra Ranch, the Dickinson family studio in Independence, Mississippi, the album features Holiday on lead vocals and harmonica, Landon Stone on guitar, Max Kaplan on bass and background vocals, Danny Banks (John Nemeth band) on drums, and special guests producer Naftaly on guitar and Grammy nominee Victor Wainwright on keys.

Holiday’s “It’s Gonna Take Some Time” is a deliciously slow original R&B ballad featuring Holiday’s tasty, soulful harmonica, producer Naftaly’s tremolo guitar leads and Wainwright’s Fender Rhodes piano. The verses are followed by vocal harmonies on a hooky, memorable chorus and a sweet harmonica solo.

The original album street date April 24 is being bumped up to July 10.

Tony Holiday

Pre-Order Soul Service

*Feature image from the artist’s Facebook

Another major festival has been affected by concerns over COVID-19, also known as the coronavirus. The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, scheduled for April 3-5 has been rescheduled. The official statement from the organizers, released yesterday, reads:

After consultations with the Mayor’s office for the City of St Petersburg, we have learned that our festival scheduled for April 3, 4, 5, 2020 must be rescheduled for a later date. We did everything within our power to save the event, but the corona virus and health concerns in Florida have mandated this result.

All ticket and VIP buyers will be honored on our rescheduled date. We do believe the festival will return on April 9, 10, 11, 2021. For those desiring a refund, arrangements will be made to return monies paid to us through Etix or otherwise. Details will be provided here, as soon as we have more information.

We are very saddened by this development, but these circumstances are beyond our control. Our City manages the use of Vinoy Park, and has removed the venue as an option for us.

We are so very grateful for our tremendously loyal fans and sponsors who support us every year. Your well-being is paramount in our thinking and we hope you’ll join us again at the next Tampa Bay Blues Festival. Please stay safe and know that we truly care about each of you. Best wishes!

This year’s event was to feature headliners, JJ Grey & MOFRO, Aaron Neville, and Larkin Poe. No information has yet been released as to who will be performing on the festivals rescheduled dates.

Tampa Bay Blues Festival

*Feature image © MJ Stringer