Editor’s Note: This article by Aarik Danielsen originally ran in the Columbia Daily Tribune.

As part of its effort to be an industry leader in gender equity, the Roots N Blues Festival announced two of its 2020 headliners Friday morning.

Brandi Carlile and Mavis Staples will be among the fest’s marquee names when it returns to Stephens Lake Park in Columbia, Missouri Oct. 2-4. The festival’s own name will undergo a slight change this year, as organizers have shortened the moniker from Roots N Blues N BBQ to just Roots N Blues.

Carlile, who the fest referred to as its most-requested artist, returns to Roots N Blues after performing in 2015. The 38-year-old Washington native won three Grammys earlier this year for her album By the Way, I Forgive You and co-founded the highly successful all-female Americana group The Highwomen, which includes 2019 Roots N Blues performers Maren Morris and Amanda Shires.

Staples, a legend in every sense of the term, is also a Roots N Blues veteran. A member of the iconic Staples family, she is both a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Blues Hall of Fame inductee and has shaped the landscape of gospel, rock and soul. She is on something of a hot streak, having released five superlative records this decade, with production by younger artists such as Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and Ben Harper.

As part of its lineup reveal, the fest announced an initiative to level the playing field for festival performers. Every slot at this year’s Roots N Blues will in some way feature a woman, the fest said. This could equate to a female solo artist like Carlile or Staples, a female-led band or a male-led band which prominently features a woman.

Male artists represented 70 percent of performers at major American music festivals in 2018, the fest noted in a press release. A Tribune analysis of the 2018 Roots N Blues lineup revealed a 67 percent male, 20 percent female and 13 percent mixed-gender distribution. Roots N Blues’ initiative is a step toward achieving equity while focusing on artistry.

“While we have set a 100 percent benchmark for 2020, we are not changing our format to become a women-only festival in subsequent years,” fest co-owner Shay Jasper said in a news release. “However, we have pledged a long-term commitment to more equitable gender representation in all future years of this festival.”

Fest co-owner Tracy Lane cited how personal “challenges” she has faced as a woman during her decades of experience in entertainment affected the decision.

“As a business owner, I now have an opportunity to make a significant impact, to change the culture of the industry,” she said in the news release.

In a smaller way, the fest’s name change is also a move toward appropriate representation. Co-owner Jamie Varvaro noted that the festival’s once-signature barbecue offerings will remain, but that organizers “want our name to represent all of our food offerings, just as all of the genres of music we present.”

Roots N Blues plans to announce its full lineup in March.

Roots N Blues Festival

“If Joni Mitchell and Richie Havens had a love child, with Rodney Dangerfield as the midwife, the results might have been something close to the great Vance Gilbert.” As the above quote from Richmond magazine suggests, Vance Gilbert defies stereotypes. It’s little wonder then that he also exceeds expectations. In this case, those two qualities go hand in hand.

They also come to full fruition on Gilbert’s upcoming album, the appropriately named Good, Good Man, out January 24, 2020. Recorded with an A-list support cast that includes bluesman and singer/songwriter Chris Smither, Al Green’s organist Stacey WadeTommy Malone of the Subdudes on guitarsMike Posner on backing vocals, and Celtic harpist and vocalist Aine Minough it sums up the strengths that Gilbert’s always had at his command. That is, a gift for compelling melodies, insightful lyrics, a witty and whimsical point of view, and the ability to maintain an inherent humanity that translates to his connection with his audiences.

As always, the music is as varied as it is vibrant, from the philosophic musings of “Pie and Whiskey” and the rollicking R&B-flavored title track, to the swinging sound of “Zombie Pattycake,” the tender trappings of “Hitman” and the bare-bones remake of the 1972 hit “Wildflower,” a seminal song given Gilbert’s intimate and essential additives.

In short, it’s Gilbert at his very best, a set of songs that deserves to bring Gilbert the wider recognition that’s eluded him for far too long.

Of “Another Great Day Above Ground,” Gilbert says, “A country-blues that was born from an older friend who said, when asked how he was, ‘if I put my elbows out and don’t feel wood, then I know it’s another great day above ground.’ I knew my friend Chris Smither would play this far better than I ever could, so I called him for his first-ever guitar and stomp-foot hiring in his long and wondrous career. He thinks it’ll look great on his resume. Yeah, whatever, like he needs *that*.”

The song also features Herb Gardner on trombone, with Vance singing and giggling.

Vance Gilbert

W.C. Handy has long been known as the “Father of the Blues.” Did he create the genre? No. Was he first to play them? No. Did he disseminate the blues to the masses? Undoubtedly.

The never before told story of his life, his music, and his legacy, told in his own voice, has now been released in the documentary film, Mr. Handy’s Blues.

The film is the brainchild of Emmy Award-winning producer/director Joanne Fish. Like many documentarians before her, Fish uses interview clips with artists who have been influenced by her subject, in this case, Mr. Handy himself. Taj Mahal, Bobby Rush, Adam Gussow, Mick Kolassa, and several others add their personal feelings. But that’s just the beginning.

Mr. Handy’s Blues also contains footage of Louis Armstrong and George Gershwin paying homage. Bessie Smith, recorded on film singing “St. Louis Blues,” is surely a highlight. However, what struck me most was hearing Handy’s voice telling his own story. From archival recordings by Alan Lomax, to more modern day conversations, Handy tells tales from his childhood through his career. It’s a brilliant concept and comes across more powerfully than anyone else’s stories possibly could.

The film was originally released in 2016 but now we can enjoy the Director’s Cut of the film on DVD. The good, the bad, and the sometimes brutal stories that make up the life of the man heralded as, well, the herald of the blues. As his grandson, Dr. Carlos Handy so eloquently states, “He took the music of his people and put it on a silver platter.” Audiences both black and white ate it up – and they begged for more.

With the holidays fast approaching, do yourself a favor and purchase a couple of these. You’ll want one for yourself, and any music lover among your friends and family would consider it the greatest gift they’ve received this year.

Purchase Mr. Handy’s Blues

Chloe Kay & The Crusade released their debut single “Locked Down (Live at the Mambo Kitchen)” on November 22nd.

Born and raised in the depths of Sydney’s murder capital, Chloe Kay grew up living the blues. And now, she sings them.

For as long as she can remember, Kay’s main objective has been to keep blues alive. Since the age of 17 she has been working as a music journalist, writing and interviewing for American Blues Scene, Rhythms Magazine, and Bluesfest TV among others. Now, she’s decided to take a step back and let her own talent shine, to get back onto the stage and in front of the mic; her church, her home, her calling.

In mid-2019 the 22 year old singer, songwriter, and self-assured frontwoman had a chance run in with Brazilian blues guitarist Lucas Diniz, and soon discovered they possess a musical bond that defies language. Inspired by their soul connection, they immediately began writing an amalgamation of spirited songs together. Soon they had enlisted the help of bassist Johnatan Mam, a fellow Brazilian whose playing is deeply rooted in blues and funk, and Garnet Meekings a veteran blues drummer, and thus Chloe Kay & The Crusade was born.

Pulling inspiration from soul singers, blues players, bossa nova legends, and folk rockers from times past and present, the worldly group have created a sound of their own design.

The music we’ve heard from Chloe Kay & The Crusade is simple and soulful. Kay’s vocals are powerful, but have a crying, velveteen sleeve that makes them all the more enjoyable. With Soul Blues making a huge comeback on blues stages and in recordings, Chloe Kay & The Crusade will surely be among the top contributors.

Chloe Kay & The Crusade

One of the contributing authors here at American Blues Scene is Brant Buckley. Buckley is a Berklee College of Music graduate with a Bachelors of Music in songwriting. Born outside of Chicago (Hinsdale), he lived in Costa Rica and spent most of his life in Philadelphia. East coast folk music and the coffeehouse scene inspired his early sound: James Taylor, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Kenn Kweder, and Nick Drake. In 2012, Buckley independently released his first album, My Life, which was featured in The Times of India (India’s CNN).

Brant Buckely “Nerve Damage Blues” Photo: Adam Buckley

In 2013, Brant met bluesman Jesse Graves. Graves was Philadelphia’s premier bluesman during the 1970s and played with Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Hound Dog Taylor, Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup, and Tom Waits. Jesse learned from Reverend Gary Davis and passed on the blues and Native American Spirituality to Brant. In 2014, inspired by Jesse, Brant moved to Chicago to learn more about the blues. Working as a tennis pro, Brant experienced the blues for himself after having a career ending tennis injury. The pain taught him what blues are all about.

Buckley’s Chicago blues sound is melodic, rhythmic, and haunting. He pulls heavily from his folk and spiritual background and there are hints of Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Son House. He is all about the power of song and is unlike the typical Chicago blues guitar gunslinger. Although he can mesmerize you with his electric guitar playing, he’s less about ego-driven playing and more about suiting his songs. In addition, Brant is a certified USPTA tennis professional and has been practicing meditation (Kriya Yoga) and energetic healing for over 10 years.

JD for American Blues Scene:

There are several blues artists who have influenced you and your music. Who are your favorites?

Brant Buckley:

Muddy Waters is by far my favorite Blues artist. He was the king of Chicago and I believe he still is. Long live the King! He invented electricity meaning he electrified the blues. It seems to me that everyone who came into contact with him benefited. He elevated the players and they played above and beyond their abilities. He had a command and power over the stage that no one will ever match and he did it with limited EGO. He also had hit songs thanks to Willie Dixon. It seems to me that Chicago era was magical. There are many great Chicago guitar players, but songwriting, in my opinion, has taken a back seat to guitar playing. Today the magic and mojo isn’t like it used to be. I wasn’t even around then, but I can see and feel the spirit that is missing.

Jesse Graves is another huge influence. I didn’t really get into blues music until my mid 20’s after meeting him. I met him while playing guitar in Philadelphia, and he gave me tapes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Son House. In the 70’s he was Philadelphia’s premier blues player and opened up for and knew many of the greats. He really changed my life during our two week encounter. Prior to meeting him, I could play blues but didn’t really understand. For two weeks he taught me 6 hours a day and I couldn’t get a word in. He passed on blues and Native American Spirituality. It was musical boot camp.

Can you tell us about your new song “Nerve Damage Blues”?

I relocated to Chicago. I was a USPTA certified teaching tennis professional and tennis had been a huge part of my life since I was a kid. I landed a Pro position, teaching tennis, but unfortunately suffered an on the job injury which abruptly ended my tennis days. Over a three-year period of pain, muscle weakness and dejection, I lost my money, my job, and was forced to sell my car. I was miserable. From this dark time I wrote the song, “Nerve Damage Blues.” The lyrics in the song talk about the whole experience. I had the blues so bad I couldn’t even play the blues and I didn’t want anything to do with anyone or anything. Looking back now, the injury was an extreme blessing and it happened for a reason. Going
through it taught me what the blues are all about. I must thank the injury for my new musical sound. Real blues are no joke and it’s like Son House said: “The blues ain’t nothing but a low down shaking chill. If you ain’t had em I hope you never will.”

How does spirituality and the mystical affect your music?

It’s the most important thing in my life and what I rely on. It’s very similar to food and water. Source will never let you down and always has your back. Every morning I meditate and do energy work on myself for an hour. Since I am a feeler and music is all about feeling, it really helps when it comes to writing music and channeling songs. If you are in tune with yourself and are aware everything becomes very clear.

I’ve visited a lot of blues musicians graves, in and around Chicago, to soak the aura up and learn. I’ve offered my respects to Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, Magic Sam, Junior Wells, Hound Dog Taylor, and Jimmy Reed. My calling card includes putting carnations on their graves.

What do you want to do with your music?

I want to use my music as a vehicle and platform to spiritually wake and shake people. The music is secondary, as the spiritual aspect is my primary motive. Music is a tool for connection and understanding. It’s also a mirror for people to see inside of themselves.

There have been lots of changes in the blues over the years. Where do you see blues music going?

It’s like Willie Dixon said: “Blues are the roots and everything else are the fruits.” Man, he was the greatest songwriter. It’s always going to be alive and in everything else. But real blues is like an endangered species. Pretty soon all of the second hand originators will be gone. People are dying left and right. Second hands are blues guys who learned from first hand people like Muddy Waters, Son House, and people like that. I think we are now in the 4th generation or something like that. Whatever time frame we are in, the blues deserves a real resurrection. I am talking about the way the British exposed blues to everyone. I think it’s damn time for an “American Invasion.” I am puzzled why this hasn’t happened yet. The Rolling Stones are great but it’s time for someone else to take the torch at that level. This is what I am shooting for. People may think I am nuts but someone has to do it and think like this. I see blues making a big comeback. Chicago needs to get back to the Chess Records days and tap into magic and soul. The scene needs a spiritual awakening plus Gris Gris and a mojo hand! It needs a song that creeps through the charts that is unlike anything else and takes over. Once the magic starts it will pour.

What else do you personally want to accomplish?

Musically, I want to be the artist that crosses the blues over in a big way to the younger generations and keeps its soul authenticity intact. Spiritually, I want to keep meditating, growing, and learning. I practice Kriya Yoga which is also known as the lightning path. I’ve heard after decades of practice the body requires zero to no sleep. I am looking forward to that. I eventually want to live and have a place in The Black Hills of South Dakota. That area is a spiritual mecca. If I grow spiritually, I will grow musically. In the future I would love to start incorporating Indian music into my sound. I want to go to India and spend half of my time correctly learning the music and the other half spent meditating in a cave in the Himalayas. As long as I can breathe, have shelter, and enough cash to eat a sandwich, I will remain content and thankful. It’s like the great Warren Zevon said “Enjoy every sandwich.” Accomplishments don’t really mean that much to me. You’ve accomplished something in this life time if you find yourself. That’s why we are here.

Brant Buckley

The career of Gary Moore was a jagged timeline, full of twists, turns and wild tangents. And yet, through it all, the Irishman never lost faith in the power of live music. Ten years ago today – just fourteen months before his tragic death at the age of 58 – the fabled guitarist played a special one-off club show at London’s Islington Academy. Now, 10 years later Provogue, a division of the Mascot Label Group, will be releasing this never before released recording, Live From London on 31st January 2020.

As adolescence hit, Moore fell headlong into the blues flavors that dominate Live From London’s track-listing, mostly drawing on US giants like Paul Butterfield and Brit Blues godfather John Mayall’s seminal 1966 Beano album with Eric Clapton and during that same formative period, at Belfast’s tough Club Rado, an early lesson in the emotional impact of live blues came from Peter Green.

Moore’s own first semi-professional steps had been with the Beat Boys and Dublin’s Skid Row, who offered an escape-route from Belfast, plus the camaraderie of the band’s chaotic frontman, Phil Lynott. Lynott was soon fired, but he remembered his old wingman when his new band, Thin Lizzy, needed a stand-in. It was a gig in which Moore played the guitar hero role to the hilt. But despite the adulation, Moore feared Lizzy was nurturing his self destructive streak, and left to explore the outer reaches in Jon Hiseman’s virtuoso jazz-fusion outfit, Colosseum II.

However, every time he picked up a guitar in the dressing room, he immediately went to the timeless licks of the Mississippi Delta. So began 1990’s Still Got The Blues, the multi-million-selling comeback album on which the Irishman’s rebirth as an authentic bluesman was given added credibility by collaborations with A-listers like Albert King, Albert Collins, and BB King himself.

The material from Still Got The Blues became the cornerstone of Moore’s shows – and it never left the setlist. Fast-forward to December 2nd, 2009, and as a sea of punters streamed into the Islington Academy for the show that would become Live From London. The pace was set by Albert King’s “Oh Pretty Woman,” and the home straight taking in the raucous “Walking By Myself” and the weeping melody of the title track. And of course, there was room for “Parisienne Walkways,” the guitarist’s UK #8 hit sounding younger than yesterday on this new release. “I can hardly get away without doing it,” noted the guitarist of that fan-favourite encore. “It’s quite a long version, because I like to draw things out. Us guitar players, if we can squeeze a bit more out of it, we’re gonna do it, aren’t we?”

Between the opener and encore, Moore gave us everything he had in Islington, revisiting some of the key crossroads of his career. From his 2008 swansong album, Bad For You Baby, there’s the energetic title track, plus the high-velocity country-blues of “Down the Line,” and the emotive leads of Donny Hathaway’s “I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know.” Reaching further back, there’s the heartfelt guitar hook of Otis Rush’s “All Your Love” and an emotive reading of John Mayall’s “Have You Heard,” both songs that Moore would have first heard on Beano as a teenage guitarist.

All the more poignant, then, that just over a year later, Moore would be gone, his screaming-hot Les Paul falling forever silent. In the blues community, it left a chasm, and while the scene has welcomed a roll-call of master guitar players since, the Irishman’s absence still stings. Live From London is one last shard of genius, catching a generation-best performer firing on all cylinders, and reminding us one last time why he was put on this planet.

Track Listing
1. Oh, Pretty Woman
2. Bad For You Baby
3. Down The Line
4. Since I Met You Baby
5. Have You Heard
6. All Your Love
7. Mojo Boogie
8. I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know
9. Too Tired / Gary’s Blues 1
10. Still Got The Blues
11. Walking By Myself
12. The Blues Alright
13. Parisienne Walkways

Gary Moore