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143. LAURENCE JONES BAND (+THE HEATERS) at THE NEW CRAWDADDY BLUES CLUB, Billericay, Essex. Friday, 20th January, 2017.

LJ at the NCBC (Photo: Karen R)

LJ at the NCBC (Photo: Karen R)

My first visit to the New Crawdaddy Blues Club of 2017 was a good one to be sure: it was the superb Laurence Jones Band, with support from house band, The Heaters. I’ve seen LJ a few times before – as an impressive 21 year-old jamming with his mentor Walter Trout (May 2013. Just before I started my website); then supporting Coco Montoya (May 2014. See my review #14); and supporting – and jamming with – Otis Grand (November 2014. See my review #30), He had noticeably improved in ability and confidence each time. So having not seen him for over two years, my son James and I were wondering if we’d notice any changes this time. We were to see….

But first on stage was the club’s house band, The Heaters. I’ve seen them many times before, but they never fail to impress with songs from their vast repertoire of covers – some of which I hadn’t heard them play before. On this occasion they played such favourites as ‘Hideaway’; ‘I’m Tore Down’; ‘Pretty Woman’ and ‘All Your Love’. But the highlight of their set was a fine rendition of Greeny’s ‘Fool No More’ featuring lead guitarist Chris Campbell. Excellent.

And so to the headline act. As the LJB climbed on stage, the first noticeable change was that band were completely different yet again. They now consist of Laurence himself of course on guitar and vocals; Phil Wilson on drums; and making his first appearance with the band, bassist Greg Smith. The LJB also now have a keyboard player in the shape of Bennett Holland. No longer being a three-piece opens up a lot more scope musically. This was the band’s first gig of 2017; and it was certainly a good start to the year.

(Photo: Karen R)

(Photo: Karen R)

The band immediately launched into the title track of the new album Take Me High. It was clear from the off that this new line-up were tight and confident together. A variety of Blues/Blues-based numbers followed, all on the Rock edge of the Blues spectrum, and all in LJ’s inimitable style. These were mainly songs from the last two albums, plus a couple from Temptation including ‘Soul Swamp River’; and a fine electric cover of the old Lead Belly tune ‘Good Morning Blues’ – nice use of wah-wah on this one. A good cover of ‘Cocaine’ was played too, with of course plenty of audience participation.

Highlights of the show for me were: the radio friendly single from the new album, ‘I Will’ (which I thought had a bit of a ‘Watchtower’ vibe about it). Also the Rock’n’Roller ‘Stop Moving The House’; and the obligatory slow number ‘Thunder In The Sky’ (apparently the first song that LJ ever wrote) – to which a couple of lovely ladies in black performed a cheeky dance – and why not? (I should have filmed it!) There was also a tasty bit of duelling between LJ and keys man Bennett on ‘You Wind Me Up’ too. Encore was demanded and delivered in the form of ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’ and ‘My Eyes Get In Me Trouble’.

(Photo: Karen R)

(Photo: Karen R)

Laurence and the boys are a fine young band, and I think they have a great deal more to offer over the coming years. The Blues genre needs young bands like this; and I noticed there were some younger people in the audience too – that can only be a good thing. If you like guitar-based Blues on the Rock edge, then you’ll enjoy their live performance if you haven’t seen them already.

Thanks to impresario Paul Dean and all the hard working volunteers at the NCBC who week in, week out, make this regular Friday night Blues club something special. Big thanks to Karen for the great photos too. PTMQ

 Laurence Jones’ website

New Crawdaddy’s website

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66. RED BUTLER at the NEW CRAWDADDY BLUES CLUB, Billericay, Essex. Friday, 21st August, 2015. + An interview with the band; and a few words about the club and the venue.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Sound-check completed; the stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

Preamble  Not surprisingly there has been a lot of lively blah blah about the British Blues Awards (BBA) lately. In some categories I made up my mind very quickly; but in others its been a lot harder to decide. So at the time of writing I still haven’t voted. (31st August 2015 is the deadline BTW). Recently I interviewed Malaya Blue and Dudley Ross at a gig (see entry #64), but I thought that a little more BBA research wouldn’t hurt at all!

I was pleased, then, to find that another band nominated for two awards (Young Artist; and Emerging Artist), was to play near me at The New Crawdaddy Blues Club in Billericay, Essex. This was of course, the young Sussex-based Blues-Rock outfit Red Butler. I’d heard a lot about this band from friends and acquaintances over the last 18 months or so, but I’d never seen them live. I’d heard the impressive debut EP and their excellent album Freedom Bound; and I’d seen the vids; but it was high time I decided for myself. So after a couple of messages between yours truly and the band’s founder member Alex Butler; and a phone call to Paul Dean of the club, an interview with the band was soon arranged.

Come on Yer Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

Come on Yer Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

The New Crawdaddy Blues Club  is in Blunts Wall Road, Billericay; and uses the Function Room of ‘New Lodge’, Billericay Town FC’s ground. (A team appropriately nick-named ‘The Blues’). The New Crawdaddy has had a couple of previous homes in Essex over the last 15 years or so, but has been at this venue for 18 months or more, and seems settled there. Its a good sized Function Room, with a capacity of 200-odd, and is nicely done up. The large brick pillar to the left of the stage obscures the view a little if you are over that side; but its holding up the roof so we shouldn’t complain!

The club is run on a non-profit making basis by guv’nor Paul Dean; ably assisted by a crew of volunteers: Chris the Soundman; Chris the Stage Manager; Graham the Lights; Mike the DJ; and the two lovely ladies on the merch desk: Lesley and Karen. They were all very friendly and welcoming. In fact, the club has a motto that sums up their ethos: ‘Customer and band-friendly’ – and there is no doubting that!

Who put that pillar in the way? (Photo: PTMQ)

Who put that pillar in the way? (Photo: PTMQ)

Almost every Friday night you’ll find a well known Blues band headlining at the club. The original intention was to promote local bands; but the club soon attracted international names who made a point of including the club in their UK tour. In the past they’ve hosted the mighty Buddy Whittington Band; and Stan Webb’s Chicken Shack among many others. And recently, the four times BBA nominated Malaya Blue performed there. There is also normally a House Band, The Heaters, acting as a support; but this particular week they weren’t due to play, so the headliner would do a two-part set in stead. In fact Paul Dean (who plays keys in the Heaters), was off playing a gig in Kent as part of a duet – The M25s – with guitarist Jeff Chapman, so he wasn’t there this particular evening anyway.

The Red Butler Interview:  Although Paul had said we would be welcome at the club at anytime during the afternoon, my son James and I couldn’t get there till 7pm; just as the sound check was being completed. We had a chat with the Crawdaddy staff; and met some of the band individually at the bar. They went off for a bite to eat, leaving James and I to admire Alex’s axe-rack; and read the set list conveniently left on the stage.  When they were ready, Alex came and found us and led us outside to where the band were having a pre-show chill-out, sitting on the terraces of ‘The Blues’ East Stand; overlooking the football pitch in the Essex sunset!

Alex's guitars for the evening (Photo: PTMQ)

Alex’s guitars for the evening (Photo: PTMQ)

Red Butler currently consist of founder member Alex Butler (Guitars); Jane Pearce (Vocals); Charlie Simpson (Drums); and Mikey Topp (Bass). This line-up has been together now for a 18 months or so. I began by congratulating them on their BBA nominations: the whole band for ‘Emerging Artist’; and Alex himself for ‘Young Artist’. It is of course a great achievement just to be nominated, but the band are well aware that they’re up against some of the biggest names on the British Blues scene.

James asked ‘How did you first start the band?’

Alex: ‘I met this guy a long time ago called Will Johns. He basically said to me “You should start a band”. Me and Charlie played in bands since we were about eleven, but we decided we wanted to take it more seriously and have a bit more of a career out of it. So we started this [Red Butler] about three years ago’.

So how did Jane get involved with the boys, I wondered?

Jane: ‘I’m not the original singer. I saw an advert in the music press. I remember having a really Hellish journey to Eastbourne for the audition. There was something wrong with the trains and I almost didn’t get there’. ‘Did the lads give you a hard time?’ I asked.  ‘They probably did – nothing’s changed!’ she laughed.

Alex with Les Paul (Photo: PTMQ)

Alex ‘Moving On’ with his Les Paul (Photo: PTMQ)

Only Alex is an original member. Charlie: ‘It was only going about two months before Jane came in, and then I came in about a week after that’. Mikey isn’t the original bassist, and not on any of the band’s recordings as yet. Alex: ‘We have yet to unleash his full potential!’ ‘Mike came along when all the hard work had been done!’ added Jane laughing. But he is often mistaken for the band’s original Bassist because he joined just as the album was released.

James and I had noticed the great variety of Bluesy styles within the first album; so wondered in what direction they’d take their second? Were they in fact working on it currently?

Alex: ‘Oh yes. Its very much a similar kind of thing that we’ve done. Its going to be trying to stay within the fan-base that we have at the moment, but then trying to bring in young people as well; because if no one does that, in ten or fifteen years time there isn’t going to be a Blues scene!  Its quite a difficult one because one of the things we really want to do is get young people involved, because at gigs there aren’t ever any there. That’s a big problem. We’re trying to find a way of enhancing our sound; because all of our friends like our music, but its the brand “Blues” that kills it for them’.

Charlie: ‘If you were a young person and you didn’t know beforehand that we were classed as a Blues band, and you came along and saw us; there are a few numbers that you could say were definitely Blues, but a lot of it is quite a grey area’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Jane belting out some Blues! (Photo: PTMQ)

This is a problem that I’m well aware of. James and I had a similar conversation with Virgil And The Accelerators when we interviewed them last year (see entry #26). And I think Laurence Jones and Oli Brown are experiencing the same thing too. As James pointed out ‘There are a lot of young Blues artists out there’. So the next obvious question was: how did this young band get into Blues in the first place then?

Jane: ‘Just being brought up with it, I suppose: Ten Years After and Free. The music that you grew up listening to and love; and you have a passion for; you want to carry on the legacy of it. And its a goal of yours to not let it die and keep it going’.

Alex: ‘The Blues has become such a big thing again now. And its a funny thing because Charlie’s cousin is in a band, and they are at a fairly similar level to us….’  Charlie: ‘Yeah. They’re a kind of Indi-Rock band called Black Honey and they’re rising up at the moment. In terms of the work they’ve put in, and how long they’ve been going, and social [media] stuff; they’re pretty much level. But they’ll play to huge audiences. When we do a Blues festival, it’ll pull in a good few hundred people, but their equivalent is that they’ll play a small stage at Reading to 5,000 people. Its just a different scene’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

Fine reliable drumming from Charlie (Photo: PTMQ)

All this is very disappointing for the band. They want to play Blues, but its so frustrating for them (and all Blues fans) that they don’t get the more widespread recognition that they deserve. Yet they all obviously love the genre and are determined to stick to their guns, and continue playing their music. Hopefully if they win an award or two at the BBA this year, they’ll get a lot more attention. But even Blues Awards are not that high profile, unfortunately…

Alex: ‘Its funny how you get the Country Awards, that are massive. Its a big deal – almost like a red carpet do. Everyone knows who is nominated. Its funny because [Blues] is a niche market in the name, but style-wise its not at all! You can go and watch one guy with an acoustic; or you can be on tour with a six-piece band with a brass section like Billy Walton’.

Charlie: ‘Its very closed in to the circuit. Everyone on the circuit knows everyone. So you get the big artists in UK Blues – everyone knows them. But then if you took the biggest artist on the UK Blues scene and took that to a household, and said “Do you know this person?”; nine times out of ten they won’t’.

This is true enough. Recently I interviewed Larry Miller (see entry #61), a phenomenal guitarist with nine albums to his name; but is virtually unheard of outside the UK Blues scene. Mikey: ‘Well, when we played with Larry a few months ago in Durham; the crowd loved him. He’s got a big audience, but its very niche. It was a really good show and the crowd were loving it’. [Incidentally, whilst writing this article, I heard that Larry had just suffered a stroke. I’m sure all music fans would join me in hoping that it is not too severe; and wish him well].

(Photo: PTMQ)

Master of the Fender Jazz Bass, Mikey (Photo: PTMQ)

Speaking personally, I’m really glad to see these young Blues / Blues-Rock bands emerging again. And I too wish they’d get the kudos that they deserve. The popularity of Blues comes and goes of course, but at the moment its resurging again, I’m glad to say. Alex: Well here’s a question for you – What’s it like seeing it come back?’

PTMQ: ‘Brilliant! I’ve seen it come and go a few times. But its been around since before I can remember. Hendrix died when I was ten; and Cream split when I was eight – and it wasn’t new then! No doubt there’ll be blokes here tonight who can remember its first appearance over here in the early ’60s. I remember a great resurgence about 1990 with Gary Moore famously going back to the Blues; Walter Trout came over for the first time; and Jeff Healey emerged due to the film Roadhouse‘. It died down a bit, but now its getting popular again; and its great to see all these young bands’.

Alex: ‘I think people are getting into live music again, too. I heard on the radio that there was a poll done on why people are travelling around the country this summer. And quite a high percentage was to go to a festival. Whether its Glastonbury, Reading, or a little Blues festival, its the same thing – people going out to see music’.

A good point was brought up by Jane: ‘I think a lot of it is also due to really good marketing’… Alex: ‘Yeah. We have other people we work with who help us with tours and booking; and we’re trying to get better at social media. Jane does a lot of it. I think maybe the next thing we’ll look at is doing a social marketing course to gain an insight into how it all works. Especially if we want young people involved, because they don’t read flyers – they’re always on the phone.’

One of the things that I noticed about this band is that they are really committed to gaining success, and are full of ideas about how to achieve it. Apart from being very talented musically, they are really on the ball in terms of promoting themselves. Its great to see.

(Photo: PTMQ

(Photo: PTMQ

Axe Chat:  Earlier I’d noticed that Alex had three geetars in the rack: a Gibson Les Paul; a Hofner semi-acoustic; and one unknown to me. Alex: ‘Its a called a Feline. A custom thing made in East Croydon. They’re great guitars. I had that made when I had an inheritance from a member of my family that passed away; so I thought I’d rather spend it on something that’s going to last. Its a beautiful guitar – one of those guitars that’s almost too nice! I get it out, and I think “Oh, I don’t want to chip it or anything!” I’m lucky to have a choice of guitars. I used to play a Strat a lot but the Hofner’s taken over. The Hofner cost me £300 – new they’re only about £450. Not that expensive! Its by far the nicest guitar for me – one of the best that I’ve ever played. When you consider that the guitar I had made for me cost well into four figures; but I far prefer the Hofner’. Jane joked: ‘You’d better get a refund – and buy loads of Hofners!’ Alex: ‘I love that red guitar [the Feline], but I find the Hofner ideal for the particular thing that we’re doing – suits it down to a tee. Whereas if I was in a heavier Rock band, I’d use the Feline all the time’.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

Amp Talk:  Alex: I’ve actually got an endorsement with a company called Jack The Hat Amps; custom made in Alderney in the Channel Islands. Its made out of an old Marshall with 60s parts in it. I used to use Black Star. The thing that threw people for a long time was the head that I played with didn’t have a cab; so I was playing an unmarked head through a Black Star cab’.

Bass Blah Blah:  Mikey uses a Fender Jazz Bass. Mikey:  ‘I went to buy a Fender Precision because I was convinced I wanted it. I picked the one I wanted and was playing it in the shop, and I was just not feeling it. So my friend who was with me at the time said “Why don’t you try the Jazz?”  I said “I don’t want a Jazz, I want a Precision!” and he said “Well just try it!” Then I had like an epiphany! I think the main thing was the neck – a bit slimmer. I was moving about more comfortably. Its reliable; comfortable; not too heavy’.

We had a few more questions for the band; but at this point they were called in to go and get changed; so we had to terminate the interview. We did have time for a few photos though. James and I enjoyed talking to Red Butler. Like most musos they were friendly and keen to chat about their music etc. I found them all to be determined, knowledgeable, and optimistic. With young bands like these, the future of Blues is in safe hands indeed – as long as they can start pulling in a younger audience. All that was necessary then, was for us to see them in action – and we didn’t have to wait long…

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

The Red Butler Set (First Half): At about 8.45, Chris the Stage Manager announced the band. It was their eagerly awaited debut at this club (in fact they’ve rarely played Essex so far), and they climbed on stage to great applause. Alex armed himself with his Les Paul, and the band opened with Gary Moore’s ‘Movin’ On’. Immediately they impressed – nice slide work from Alex; and the whole band musically tight. Very animated they were too; entertaining to see. Pausing only while Alex changed to the Hofner, they then gave us ‘On The Road’. I thought Jane’s vocals particularly impressed on this number.

From their album, they then gave us the rockin’ Blues of ‘Young And Free’; with Jane demanding audience participation! A great solo from Alex too. This went down very well indeed. Also from the album they played their unique take on the classic ‘Shakin’ All Over’; with everyone singing along. The lively vibe continued with ‘The Blues Is My Business’ – and the Red Butler business was certainly sounding and looking good! Again Jane included the punters in the song.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

The pace was slowed then for ‘Last Page Of The Blues’. ‘This song is very special to us’ explained Jane. Its a moody number that’s a great vehicle for Alex’s axemanship, with the Feline. Its also a good demonstration of Charlie’s drumming and Mikey’s bass working smoothly together as a rhythm unit. ‘Have we got any Gary Moore fans in here?’ asked Alex. After affirmative shouts from the crowd he added ‘…that makes me nervous!’ Then the band launched into a cover of ‘Oh Pretty Woman’. This cover obviously owed more to GM’s famous version rather than the Albert King original; but it was a fine and interesting take on the old classic; and there was no need to worry Alex! ‘We’re gonna do what we call a “Scottish Blues” now’ said Alex ‘… that means a Sandi Thom song – let’s do “The Belly Of The Blues”. Again, an interesting cover. Its a brooding song in which Jane squeezed out every drop of emotion; and Alex played from the heart.

Next came the old Percy Mayfield song ‘Hit The Road Jack’, made famous by Ray Charles. It was another song that demanded audience participation; and went down well. Alex and Jane did a little guitar / scat-vocal duelling during this one. Then to finish the first half, they played the Eric Clapton / Robert Cray song ‘Old Love’. Again this was a chance for the whole band to shine: beautifully subtle chops from Alex; intensely emotional vocals from Jane; and very fine and reliable bass and drums from Mikey and Charlie. It was a good twelve minutes long; slowly but inexorably moving to its climactic end.

Half Time:  As soon as the first half was over, Alex came over to us and asked what we thought of it so far. I was of course very impressed and told him so; particularly congratulating him on his performance of ‘Belly Of The Blues’ and ‘Old Love’. Guitarist Russ Cottee of The Blues Spiders also introduced himself during half time, and we had a brief chat. I also spoke to Harp player Nick Garner of The Roots Collective who was knocking about too. (More on Nick in a minute).

(Photo: PTMQ)

Alex comes down into the auditorium during the final number of the 2nd set.  (Photo: PTMQ)

The Red Butler Set (Second Half):  This began with a cover of Nina Simone’s classic ‘Feeling Good’ – Red Butler style!  It was an inventive cover of a old staple. They gave us the opener from their album ‘Jaywalker’ next. Its got a bit of an SRV vibe to it. I like it a lot; and it was played well. The funky groove of ‘Give Me My Blues’ rang out next. Alex got a great sound from his Feline on the solo for this one. ‘Pension Blues’ off the album, followed. Its a great Blues song with stomping vibe and an amusing lyric. Great slide again from Alex on his Les Paul. Again from their album, they played ‘River Of Smoke’  – another good slow one, where Alex displayed his subtlety of style once again, that rendered his solo delicate; almost inaudible at times, but always tasteful.

Tempo was upped then, for ‘Bringing Out The Devil’ from their debut EP. This was the first song they ever wrote together. Its a lively rocker – full of raw energy. Next the band performed a medley of classic Blues-Rock served in a musical sandwich which consisted of a good helping of ‘Purple Haze’; and ‘Cocaine’ between two slices of ‘Goin’ Down’ – very palatable, I must say! ‘Danger Zone’ quickly followed. Its another good rocker from the album; and demonstrated once more, the song-writing skills of this great young band. The last offering in this second half was ‘Show Me The Money’; which was a good lively number to finish on; and during which Alex and Jane got down off the stage and danced around the auditorium.

Extra Time:   Chris returned to the mic to raise some more applause for an encore. The band returned to stage then, for one more number; and this time they were joined by the renown Essex Blues-Harp player, Nick Garner. The song chosen to finish with was the SRV classic ‘Pride And Joy’. And a rousing cover it was too. I don’t think I’ve heard it sung with a female vocal before; and Jane did a fantastic job with it, changing the lyric as necessary.

Nick Garner joins the band for encore! (Photo: PTMQ)

Nick Garner joins the band for encore! (Photo: PTMQ)

Show over, it was time to have a quick chat with a few people and congratulate the band on their performance and say our goodbyes. It had been a great gig and I’d gathered a lot of info for this article. Red Butler showed themselves to be a great live act; perfectly capable of handling several of the sub-genres of Blues / Blues-Rock with ease; and very satisfying to see and hear. I’m guessing that they’ll start to play more of their own material and drop some of the covers as time goes by. Finally, I’d just like to wish them the best of luck for the BBA.  PTMQ.

Links

Red Butlers website… http://www.redbutlermusic.co.uk/

British Blues Awards website… http://www.britishbluesawards.com/home/4581355856

New Crawdaddy Blues Club… http://www.heaters.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/default.htm

61. LARRY MILLER BAND at TOUCHLINE LIVE MUSIC, Hockley, Essex. Friday, 17th July, 2015. + a pre-gig interview with Larry; and a few words about the club’s new venue.

When I bumped into Dave and Brian of Touchline Live Music, in Peggy Sue’s Music Bar back in April (see my Blog entry #47), they told me that they had Larry Miller booked for July, and would I be interested in coming along? I was of course keen to do so, as I knew I should be available that night; and there  was the chance of an interview with the renown Blues-Rocker in the offing too. Also, I was keen to see the Touchline’s new home at Hockley Community Centre – or ‘The Commy’ as its known locally.

Sound-check completed, the stage awaits (Photo: PTMQ)

Sound-check completed, the Touchline stage awaits…(Photo: PTMQ)

The shennanigans that went on over the loss of the club’s last venue in Hullbridge, I’m not qualified to speculate on. The important thing is that the club has had a new home in Hockley, Essex, for the last six months. I have been unable to visit ‘The Commy’ since the Touchline moved in there, so I was keen to see what Dave, Brian and co  had achieved so far. My first impression was good – the car park alone is a vast improvement on the old place! And as I walked in, I was continually impressed by everything that I saw. The whole place is very smart; and the function room is excellent. (The stage is at one end, and was looking good – set up with Marshall and Warwick amps and speakers). To be honest, I liked the other place  – it was fine; but this venue is definitely superior.

I arrived early, and after being greeted by Trudie, Dave and Brian (and also having got myself a beer), I was introduced to the club’s guest star for the night, Larry Miller; who had kindly agreed to an interview with the Quill! I’d never met him before, but he is an instantly likable bloke with a genuinely warm handshake; and turned out to be quite a character – off-stage as well as on. Trudie suggested that we should chat outside on the patio; so that’s where we went.

We began by talking about Larry’s last opus: the excellent Soldier Of The Line, released late last year. Apart from the fact that this is arguably his best work so far, I was particularly interested in the story of Larry’s Grandad, a violin player who served in the Great War, which inspired the title track. This is because my Grandad also served in that hideous conflict, and played violin too. (I won’t go into that now, but there is more to say about it, so it may be the subject of a future Blog entry). At this point, my mate Rambo turned up and after introductions, joined us.

(Photo: Rambo)

Mr.Miller and myself engaged in a pre-gig conflab! (Photo: taken by Rambo)

I asked Larry if the superb title track (which I describe as a kind of Progressive-Folk lament), was to be part of a new direction for him: ie, experimenting with genres outside the Blues-Rock field of which he is a recognised master – bearing in mind that there is also an interesting and unexpected brassy, Jazzy ending to the opening track on the album, ‘One Fine Day’. Our man pointed out that we are all influenced by multiple genres – even those who claim to be purists in a particular field: ‘People always think that if you play one type of music, that’s what you’ve been listening to all your life….we all listened to the same things if you grew up in this country – The Beatles; The Stones; Abba; Mud; Sweet – what was playing in the charts. I can write most forms of music really’ he said ‘…but if you’re making a living (from music), you’ve got a fan-base; and you know what your fan-base want to hear. Some of them go to that (pointing to his new album that I’d put on the table) and think “Oh this isn’t Larry!” One bloke said he threw it away! Then he went back to one of my old records and thought “Oh I’ll give it another go”; and then of course he hasn’t stopped playing it since! Its a fine balancing act: you’ve got to move forward, but at the same time keep the guys who pay your bills happy!’ (Surely no one is unhappy with Larry’s last album, are they?)

‘Unless of course you are like Richie Blackmore’ I digressed, ‘…who never gave a toss about his fans anyway, and totally gave up Rock for Folk music without batting an eyelid – much to the chagrin of his fans!’ (Just for the record, I like some of RB’s Folky stuff). We then laughed about Blackmore’s infamous tantrums with Purple and Rainbow (I witnessed one of these for myself at Wembley back in ’79, – but that’s for another blog). Larry quipped that he was ‘…probably suffering from pre-minstrel tension!’

Back to the subject in hand, Rambo observed that: ‘Surely you’ve got to go where your heart takes you?’  Larry agreed: ‘Yeah, if you’ve got an ounce of creativity about you – you are an artist. I never did music so that I’d become rich – it would be nice though! Its like any artist, like Picasso. He never painted pictures to make a lot of money – that would be soulless’ . Its quite clear then that Larry wouldn’t do anything he didn’t want to do. And quite right too.

Larry with '57 Gold Top (Photo: PTMQ)

Larry with his main guitar: a Gibson Les Paul ’57 Gold Top Reissue (Photo: PTMQ)

So I asked what Larry had in the pipeline? ‘I’m working on a double album right now’ he replied, ‘…The Sinner And The Saint. I’ve got about sixteen tracks on it. I consider it my best ever.’ ‘So when is this Magnum Opus due out?’ I asked. Larry couldn’t say yet. Nor would he be drawn too much on it other than saying ‘Its got my normal Blues-Rock content’, and that there’s ‘a mandolin track’ on it. Then he told us ‘I’m a Christian; so its going to be a spiritual one as well’. Larry had anticipated my next question here, as I’d planned to ask about the religious subjects / references that I’d noticed in some of his earlier songs – ‘Bathsheba’ for example. ‘American bands sing quite happily about these subjects but English bands don’t’ he said. That’s probably true enough; apart from The Strawbs, I can’t think, off-hand, of a British band that have handled religion (not including Occult obsessed HM bands!) ‘Everything I write comes from within’ he explained. Anyway, that’s an album I personally can’t wait to hear!

The subject of the young Blues-Rock guitarists came up then – again Larry anticipated the question, as I was going to ask what he thought about young guns like Virgil McMahon; Laurence Jones; and Oli Brown. ‘I know ’em – all nice guys’ he said. ‘Its great that they’re playing it, but I wish their mates would get into it. Its weird … they’re playing to all these old guys!’ I agreed. There aren’t a lot of young Blues fans; and this came up when I interviewed Virgil last October (see my Blog #26). Funny enough, I’m glad to report that my son James and a couple of his mates do love Blues-Rock, and he would  have been there with me that night if he hadn’t been lured away to a cricket match in Chelmsford!

I asked Larry about his forthcoming gig at the Forum in London, supporting Walter Trout for his I’m Back Tour. He is very much looking forward to it as you would expect. Larry didn’t know if Walter had specifically head-hunted him for the gig, but apparently someone close to Walter did say that Larry reminds Walter of himself as a young player – not that Larry is that young of course! But its quite a complement coming from an international giant of the genre like WT.

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Mad Dogs! The Larry Miller Band at the Touchline (Photo: PTMQ)

Next I asked about his guitars. ‘Ahh!’ he exclaimed seeming to relish the chance of some axe-chat! ‘I take it you’ll be playing a Les Paul tonight?’ I enquired.   ‘Yeah. Well, I’d always been a Strat man’ he said. ‘Because of Gallagher?’ I asked (Larry being a well known fan). ‘I guess so …but they just looked so awesome! I’ve had loads of Strats, but you see lots of Strat players with a slightly thin toppy, grainy sound. I liked Stevie Ray Vaughan’s sound, but …then I saw Bon Jovi at Wembley Stadium. He had all these guitars; and this one guitar sounded really lovely, and it was a Gibson Les Paul ’59 – it was obviously the best sounding guitar there. So I bought a Les Paul in 2002, but I could play a Strat faster, so it took me a while (to get used to it). Then people started to say “Oh you’ve got a great guitar tone”; well they never say that if you’re playing a Strat. But with the Les Paul its a brilliant thick, creamy sound. And if you back off the volume, then it cleans up like a Strat anyway. So now I’m a bona fide Les Paul Player!’ Larry now has three Les Pauls – one of which, a Gold Top ’57 Reissue is his main gigging axe. ‘Its absolutely wonderful’ he enthused.

What about acoustics? He said he used a 1931 National for slide work on the forthcoming album; and he’d be playing ‘just a crummy old thing’ later that night for ‘Soldier Of The Line’ (it actually turned out to be a good-looking, and great sounding Yamaha acoustic tuned to DADGAD). I said I’d be watching closely so that I could try to learn the song. ‘Its bloomin’ hard!’ he warned; then added laughing ‘…well I think so!’ Well if he finds it hard, and its his song, I don’t know what chance I’ve got at playing it!

Finally I asked Larry to sign my CD copy of Soldier Of The Line. He stared at the cover for a while deep in thought; then smiled and wrote ‘To Phil The Music Quill, from Larry The Music Mill’! As well as everything else, Larry has a great sense of humour! He went back stage then and Rambo and I took our seats, reserved for us by Trudie, on Table 1 – right in front of Larry’s monitors. And there we waited….

Soldier of the line - Larry Miler (Photo: PTMQ)

Soldier of the line – Larry Miller with his Yamaha acoustic  (Photo: PTMQ)

At about 9pm Master Of Ceremonies Brian Sangwin climbed on stage  and introduced the band. Larry casually strapped on his Gold Top and plugged in, and after a little banter with the audience launched into the rabid rhythm riffs of ‘Mad Dog’. Like a Rottweiler suddenly released from a cage, he hit us with a full-on display of axemanship and growling vocals! It was a howling success; and that set the pace and tone for the entire gig really.

From the very beginning, you can’t take your eyes off Larry – he is like a presence on stage. Not just because of his consummate fret-board dexterity, which left me open-mouthed at times; or for his powerful vocal style; but also for his on-stage antics: throwing himself about like a man half his age – even running around in the audience at one point! And he kept it up throughout the whole show too! He still has the enthusiasm he had as a fifteen year old – and its infectious! We, the audience, were lapping up everything he did. Clearly he is a man who loves what he does. Quite how he keeps it up night after night, I don’t know.

‘Our Time Is Coming’ was up next – again a power-packed rendition with breath-taking solos – and to paraphrase the lyric, ‘there was nothing we could do about it’! Great applause ensued, and Larry said ‘Really cookin’ isn’t it?’ Then the intro of ‘The Power You Have’ had us clapping along, before the distinctive rhythm riff burst full scale upon us. Another winner.

At this point, Larry introduced the rest of the band. The other members tend to be somewhat overlooked in comparison to the presence and antics of the main man. But they were there alright – and a superb performance they both gave too. On Bass was Derek White; Larry’s long-term gigging bassist. And on Drums, Graham Walker; ex-Gary Moore Band. These two proved themselves to be more than capable as a rhythm section; tight and reliable, and always there to provide the back-bone to the songs, and enable Larry to venture into lengthy abstract solos at will.

(Photo: PTMQ)

(Photo: PTMQ)

Things slowed down a bit then for the beautifully arpeggiated intro to ‘Calling All The Angels’. The angst-ridden lyric he sang with genuine passion; and the lead solo came from deep down in his soul. It was dripping with emotion!  After some more banter he said he’d do his ‘Rory tune’ – a Gallagher-esque Blues-Rocker that would have had his late, great Irish hero nodding with approval.  And thus ended the first set. Only five songs long; but as he explained ‘I can’t help doing solos that are 400 hours long!’ Time for a beer methinks!

The second half began as promised with ‘Soldier Of The Line’. Larry donned his Yamaha acoustic (the ‘crummy old thing’ mentioned earlier), tuned to DADGAD, and after doodling a little, began the very distinctive and beautiful intro to the song. And I must say, it did look difficult to play! But what a faultless performance it was; musically perfect, and sung with genuine emotion.

With his beloved Gold Top back in hand, ‘One Fine Day’ followed. This is the opener from the Soldier…  album; and one of the tracks that make that collection his best yet in my opinion. This live version did not disappoint either. No brass was possible for the outro, of course, so Larry just improvised a nice lead to finish. Only another good rocker from the same album could follow this. ‘Mississippi Mama’ hit us like a hurricane running amok through the Bible Belt! It went down a storm.

He gave us the pure Blues of ‘Missy Mango’ next. Its a simple but effective number that is a perfect vehicle for Larry to improvise over. Another excellent Blues tune followed this; and again Larry showed off his remarkable skills. ‘I Fight Myself’ ended the second half to rapturous applause and a standing ovation. It was well deserved.

During this part of the show, he had been quite brutal with his Les Paul. Volume and tone pots were roughly handled; the pick-up switch was singled out for a fair amount of abuse; but the low-E string was particularly brutalised when he used it to hold the unfortunate guitar aloft and shake it roughly! This all produced the most amazing sounds, and he was remarkably adept at it! In fact, given Larry’s normal string-bending technique – that often rendered at least two semi-tones – he had to frequently retune the thing throughout the gig.

The whole place was on its feet. Encore! was demanded – and duly delivered. Returning to the stage, the boys delivered more of what we desired, in the form of the SRV-esque ‘Rebekah’. Finally, the unmistakable opening riff to ‘Parisienne Walkways’ sounded out from Larry’s Marshall speakers. Teasing us with that searing sustained note made famous by another of his heroes, Gary Moore, Larry gave us a final flourish of his sublime axemanship. Phew!

Thanks to Larry and the lads for a superb demonstration of Blues-Rock at its highest level. I think this is definitely a contender for my Best Blues-Rock gig of 2015. Its difficult to guess who could possibly top it!  Finally, a great big thank you to Dave Kitteridge for arranging the interview; plus Trudie; Brian, and Steve the sound man; and all at the club and the venue for helping to make it a very memorable night indeed.  PTMQ.

Here is a link to Larry’s website… http://www.larrymiller.co.uk/index.htm

Here is a link to Touchline Live Music’s page… http://touchlinelivemusic.co.uk/

30. AN EVENING FOR WALTER TROUT. Featuring OTIS GRAND; ALAN DARBY; SONJA KRISTINA; LAURENCE JONES; and THE VOODOO SHEIKS. The 1,000th gig at the BOOM BOOM CLUB. Friday, 28th November, 2014

PETE FEENSTRA: Promoter and Master of Ceremonies at the Boom Boom Club (Photo by CGM)

PETE FEENSTRA: Promoter and Master of Ceremonies at the Boom Boom Club (Photo by CGM)

 

This gig was originally billed as AN EVENING FOR WALTER TROUT – with  The Walter Trout Band (without Walter, of course as he is still recovering from illness), but featuring his son, JON TROUT; LAURENCE JONES; ANDREW ELT; and MITCH LADDIE. And many people (including myself) were very much looking forward to it. However, just a few days before the show, we heard that the plug had been pulled on the whole WTB tour – and to be honest, I don’t fully understand why. This was disappointing enough, but left PETE FEENSTRA of the BOOM BOOM CLUB with a double sticky wicket, as not only did he need a gig for the Friday night, but it was also to be a celebration of 1,000 gigs at the venue – a very special milestone in the history of the club indeed! Drastic action was required, sharpish!

Thankfully, ‘The future of British Blues’ Laurence Jones agreed to play anyway (a big plus as he is very well liked at the club); and Pete managed to get together some other very good musicians for the line-up at short notice. As well as LJ; he roped in OTIS GRAND; ALAN DARBY; SONJA KRISTINA (of CURVED AIR); and THE VOODOO SHEIKS. Backing musicians too (of whom, more later) had to be shackled together ASAP.

Now, I like the Boom Boom Club, although its a fair trot from where I live. But if something special at the venue is going down, I’ll drive over and stay with cousin Charlie who is a big music fan and lives locally. This means I can sink a few pints as well! Charlie is also a keen photographer, and often comes along to take photos for me; and this he agreed to do tonight, of course. My son James came too as he’s a great fan of some of the very talented young Blues and Rock guitarists (like Jones)  that seem to have emerged lately (I’m glad to say); and sometimes accompanies me to gigs.

We tres hombres arrived early at the venue to have a chat with a few people I wanted to speak to – not to mention  to take advantage of the free drink that had been offered to the first 100 punters! So, gratis pint of Bombardier in hand, I spoke to the guv’nor Pete Feenstra about a couple of things; and I was also keen to have a word or two with fellow music writer NIGEL FOSTER (who had got an excellent review of this gig on line within a few hours).

VOODOO SHEIKS: A white-knuckle Blues ride! (Photo by CGM)

VOODOO SHEIKS: A white-knuckle Blues ride! (Photo by CGM)

Before long, Pete (in his role as master Of Ceremonies) was on stage welcoming we punters and explaining that all the proceeds from the gig were to go towards Walter Trout’s on-going medical treatment. Then he announced the first act:  the Sussex-based Voodoo Sheiks. I’d heard the name and was keen to see them live. They are a four-piece R’n’B outfit consisting of ‘SLOW-BLOW DAVE’ MAGSON (Vocals & Harp); ADRIAN THOMAS (Guitar & Backing Vocals); ANDY PULLIN (Bass); and JOHN COOMBES (Drums).

There is no messing about with this band: right from the off – with a song called ‘The Thrill Ain’t Gone’ – you know that you’re in for a white-knuckle ride of Blues at the R’n’R end of the spectrum. Before we had time to take a breath, they followed up with ‘Automatic’ featuring ‘Slow-Blow Dave’ on Harmonica. Then they gave us a good new song called ‘Have A Heart’ (from their forthcoming album) – great use of the Wah-Wah from Adrian on this one. Next they covered JOHN LEE HOOKER’s classic ‘Boom Boom’ – and what more appropriate song could be played at this club for this gig?  Excellent.

The band slowed things down a lot then, playing ‘Exit Wound’ – a slow, mellow 12-Bar. I loved it. Nice solo from Adrian.  This was followed by the lively ‘Spirit’ –  an original composition from their Borrowed And New album. ‘Can’t Keep A Good Man Down’ kept us up and rockin’; and their final offering was another from their Borrowed… album, ‘I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog That Way’.

This was a good little set from a very good band indeed. The rhythm section were impressively tight and competent; ‘Sow-Blow’ was great on vocals and harp (and entertainingly animated as a front-man!) But I was most impressed by Adrian’s playing; and guitar sound.  I spoke to him briefly after their set. He played an  ERNIE BALL MUSICMAN SILHOUETTE SPECIAL through a BLACK STAR amp. I must say, this gave a very impressive sound throughout; for both rhythm and lead work.

LAURENCE JONES: Golden Boy of the Boom Boom Club! (Photo by CGM)

LAURENCE JONES: Golden Boy of the Boom Boom Club! (Photo by CGM)

Next on the Bill was the Golden Boy of the Boom Boom Club – the young and very talented Laurence Jones. He was accompanied by his usual Bassist, the incomparable ROGER INNIS; but his drummer MIRI MIETTINEN unfortunately couldn’t make it, and so had to be replaced by IAN PALMER for the night. (Who, incidentally, is the nephew of legendary Prog-Rock drummer, CARL PALMER).

Gold Top in hand, LJ’s set opened with ‘Can’t Keep Living Like This’ from his latest album Temptation.  It was a rousing start; LJ immediately impressing with guitar and vocals. After thanking the fans for their avid applause, he posed the question: ‘Are you ready to hear some Blues?’ Oh yes! And the lively ‘You Wind Me Up’ continued the Heavy Blues vibe. Changing to a Strat, he gave us his moody ‘Southern Breeze’ next; and followed it with his song inspired by his confrontation with a huge ‘dirty rat in my bed’ in Louisiana:  ‘Soul Swamp River’. Standing at the front of the stage he sang confidently without mic for part of the song.

One of LJ’s favourite songs is the iconic, ‘All Along The Watchtower’.  He has made this his own to some extent, and it has become a regular part of his set – and a firm favourite of his fans too. Again standing front of stage, he played a blinding solo right in front of our little party; and we were treated to a master-class in lead guitar at close range. ‘Foolin’ Me’ (the opener from Temptation), followed. Its a great rocker. There was only time for one more number: ‘Fall From The Sky’ finished the set. This a well-constructed melodic rock song; during which we were encouraged to sing along.  All in all, very enjoyable little set.

This was the third time I’d seen LJ live – all three times at the Boom Boom Club – and the third time I’ve been impressed with his performance. (see my blog entry #14). He has noticeably improved yet again in only the six months since I saw him last. He is more confidant; more relaxed; more skilful – and with stubble on his  face, he doesn’t look like a boy any more either! Roger was outstanding with his monstrous 6-string Bass as usual; and there is a good on-stage interaction between the two; both musically and personally. Stand-in drummer Ian Palmer did a very fine job too. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t hear ‘Move On’; but with so much to get through, set-time was obviously limited.

SONJA KRISTINA: Acid-Folk diva! (Photo by CGM)

SONJA KRISTINA: Respected Acid-Folk diva! (Photo by CGM)

It was time for a significant change of pace then, as SONJA KRISTINA (of Progressive Folk-Rock veterans CURVED AIR), took to the stage with only her keyboard player ROBERT NORTON – and a  very distinctive Washburn acoustic in hand. Unannounced, she began her set with the hauntingly beautiful ‘Citadel’ (from her Songs From The Acid Folk album). This was followed by ‘Colder Than A Rose In Snow’, which is from the same collection; and also on Curved Air’s new North Star album. It has the same vibe about it too. She gave us her ‘Melinda More Or Less’ (from Phantsmagoria) next – a classic originally penned in 1967.  She followed this with her cover of Lennon and McCartney’s song ‘Across The Universe’ – a nice version of an old classic. Sonja then said she’d do one more. ‘Back Street Luv’?  I asked from the audience. ‘Yeah’ she replied ‘….a kind of acidy-folky ‘Back Street Luv”. I love the original of this song, and I loved this ‘acidy-folky’ version too. It was nice for me to see it performed live after all this time as well.

I thought it was a good little set. There were a couple of  people around me  who voiced an opinion that perhaps this wasn’t a suitable set for the Bluesy vibe of the evening, but I couldn’t agree – I thought it made for an interesting change of pace in the proceedings; and introduced a little variety.  Having said that, I think I’d rather have listened to it in the laid-back comfort of a sleepy Folk club, but I enjoyed it very much nonetheless. Sonja was in good voice throughout, and Mr.Norton was impressive on the keys.

Could have ben in Chicago - Grand, Jones and Darby (Photo by CGM)

We could have ben in Chicago! Grand, Jones and Darby (Photo by CGM)

The headliners for the night were then introduced by Pete: veteran guitarists  OTIS GRAND and ALAN DARBY; backed by GLYNN EVANS (Bass); MUNCH MOORE (Keys); and Ian Palmer once again (Drums). This was a band hastily coupled together at short notice, and most of them had never played together before. So what we were about to witness was  testament to their professionalism, experience and skill.  As soon as we heard the first few licks, we felt that we’d been spiritually transported to a Blues club in Downtown Chicago! And that vibe stayed put right through the set; as what was to follow was a demonstration of pure Urban Electric Blues at its best.

Darby (tooled up  with beautiful looking Firebird); and Grand (armed with a red Strat sprayed gold – and wearing a remarkable Mexican Mariachi suit) immediately  launched into ‘A Man Like Me’ – the suit entirely appropriate for the Latin-Blues vibe of the number!  Sharing vocals and swapping solos, our two lead guitarists led us into a classy Blues wonderland.  It was an impressive start from a group of musos not at all used to playing together as a unit. And if anything,  the next offering was even better; as they then hit us with a sublime version of ‘There’s Gotta Be Changes Made’ – a laid-back Chicago Blues to close your eyes and drift away to. The two of them duelled solos for a good eleven minutes  – and I loved it!

Welcomed back on stage then was Laurence Jones. He’d already proved that he can hold his own with the old masters – I’d seen him jam impressively with Walter Trout on this very stage 18 months before. This time with a Telecaster, LJ immediately took to the mic for ‘Easy Baby’ – he and the other two, with faces contorted in ecstasy,  jammed in turns; improvising from the heart for another lengthy demonstration of their art. There then followed an up-tempo untitled instrumental shuffle; again show-casing their collective skills.

Feenstra retuned to the stage once again then; introducing the formidable rhythm section of Evans, Moore and Palmer, and emphasising that they’d only met this afternoon and had been ‘…working their socks off here tonight!’. There was time for one more he said. It was ‘Looking Good’ – in both title and performance. Grand and Darby traded licks superlatively; and when they finished, the applause was deafening. Fantastic!

After the gig Otis soon appeared at the bar, and I tackled him. I asked if he remembered the JOHNNY WINTER  gig back in ’92  where the Blues expert RAY TOPPING and myself met him backstage. (See my blog entry #17). He said that he did, so I told him Ray had since passed away; and we spoke of Ray’s famous vinyl collection (God knows what happened to that after he died). Then someone asked about the Mariachi suit. Otis said he bought it from a Mexican who happened to be the same size!  After a couple of photos, and a bit more chat, we left Otis to speak to some others.

At the merch desk we spoke to Laurence Jones, and congratulated him on a fine performance. We spoke of his nomination for the UK Blues Challenge (‘The Battle For Brussels’), which is to be held at the Boom Boom Club on 11th December (which sadly  I cannot now attend).   Unfortunately I didn’t see Alan Darby, or Sonja Kristina; I’d like to have had a word with them too. And I missed the opportunity to speak to the two bassists, Glynn Evans and Roger Inniss. But I did have a little chat with Pete and Nigel again.

Kudos to to Pete, Eric, and all the staff at the Boom Boom Club (including the hard-working ladies behind the bar) for their marvellous efforts in getting this milestone show up and running; and to all the very talented musicians who made this a most memorable experience. Thanks to Charlie for the excellent photos; and Phil Honley for the video.  Looking forward to the next 1,000 gigs at the club! PTMQ

Here’s a Phil Honley video of Grand and Darby playing ‘There’s Gotta Be Changes Made’ . Other videos from Phil from the same show are also on You Tube……

17. JOHNNY WINTER 1944 – 2014: A personal remembrance and tribute.

I was saddened to hear this morning that the albino blues guitar legend JOHNNY WINTER had passed away yesterday (16th July), at the age of 70. He had been dogged by health problems for years (the details of which I am not qualified to discuss; and are outside the scope of this article). I first became aware of him back in the ’70s when a mate of mine called Mark (wonder what ever happened to him?) lent me the ‘Johnny Winter And’ (1970) album. It was blues the likes of which I’d never heard before – it was wild, aggressive, progressive, and loud! At the time I wasn’t a massive blues fan, although I always acknowledged it as the progenitor of the heavy rock / prog rock genres – my sole musical interests in those narrow-minded days!

Years later I moved home, and found myself living next door to the well-known blues expert RAY TOPPING (now also sadly deceased) of ACE RECORDS. Ray was a personal friend of Johnny’s and had been to his home in Texas on numerous occasions. (Ray counted many famous people including BB KING; ZZ TOP; and JOHN MAYALL among his friends). He lent me Johnny’s first album ‘The Progressive Blues Experiment’ (1968), and I got really into it. At the time, blues and blues-orientated rock was experiencing a great resurgence with the likes of JEFF HEALEY and WALTER TROUT making headlines; and GARY MOORE famously going back to the blues. So I went out and bought Johnny’s latest album ‘Let Me In’ (1991), and I was hooked!

Then soon after that, Ray told me that Johnny had been in touch with him and had invited him to a gig he was due to play in London at the TOWN AND COUNTRY CLUB in August ’92; and did I want to tag along? (Mmmm, let me think about it for a while – OK then!). We arrived at the stage door of the T & C nice and early, but found our names missing from the guest list (even though Ray + one had been invited). Johnny’s manager was called down by the doorman, but he wasn’t the most helpful or accommodating of people, and he didn’t know Ray. Ray persuaded him that we had indeed been invited by Johnny, but the manager said we would only be allowed into the gig, gratis; but not back-stage. Ray (never the calmest of men) was incensed by this; but no power on Earth (including Ray’s shouting and swearing) could persuade the manager and doorman to let us in. Personally I was content just to get into the gig for nothing! So there we were in the mosh-pit with the rest of the punters, when Ray saw a bouncer come out through a door to the right of the stage. ‘Come on!’ he said as the door slowly closed. We went through and found ourselves back-stage, unchallenged!

Ray was determined to find Johnny and sort it out. But the first person we bumped into was the support act OTIS GRAND another friend of Ray’s! He invited us into the ‘Green Room’ where Ray was warmly received by all present due to his reputation as a blues expert. Otis told us that Johnny wasn’t feeling too good and wasn’t receiving visitors at that time. But soon Otis was due onstage, and he invited us to watch his band from behind the mixing desk, stage-right. Otis played a grand set. Seeing a larger sized gig from the side of the stage was an eye-opener for me – especially as the soundman let us play with the desk controls a little.

At the interval we spoke to various music industry bods, some of whom Ray knew. Then it was time for Johnny himself to go on. Still placed by the mixing desk, we saw the great man come down the stairs from his changing room clutching his headless ERLEWINE LAZER guitar that seemed to be no more than a fret-board with pick-ups! He certainly didn’t look well – frail, and not quite with it. Ray was shocked by his appearance. At the bottom of the stairs He took a wrong turn away from the stage and had to be ushered back on course; and this reminded us of the famous scene from SPINAL TAP where the dozy band can’t find their way to the stage!

Well Johnny may not have been feeling too well, but he was a professional; and as soon as they plugged him in, his demeanour changed completely – he became the blues axe-hero that was expected of him. He played a fantastic set of old favourites, covers, and material from his latest album ‘Hey, Where’s Your Brother?’ (1992). I seem to remember two well deserved encores. Then he was led back off stage. On the way he spied Ray and they greeted each other warmly. I was introduced, and we were both (+ some others) invited to join him in his room.

In spite of being ill, Johnny was a very warm and friendly; quietly spoken and knowledgeable; although obviously out of sorts. He was underweight and covered in tattoos (including a map of Texas on his right shoulder that he referred to often). We spoke for ages about guitars and the Texas blues scene. He let me play the Erlewine which he had tuned to Open-E for slide-work of which he was of course, a recognised maestro. But my attempts were embarrassingly pathetic – and no better now, I must say! He joked that he’d teach me if he had the time!

Well after a while, JW said he was very tired; so he and his entourage suddenly decamped for his hotel. Before we left, Ray and I went to the toilet; but when we came out the place was in darkness. Now it was our turn to be Spinal Tap looking for the exit! Just when we thought we’d never get out, we bumped into the same doorman who’d refused us entry earlier. ‘Well you two are persistent!’ he remarked, before showing us the door.

I never met Johnny again; but I’m very glad I did that once. I was even inspired enough for a while to borrow Ray’s Dobro guitar and practice some slide-work. (I often wonder what happened to that Dobro after Ray died). Unfortunately there were no photos taken that night of our meeting; but I got him to autograph a CD for me.

They say that Johnny Winter was the only white man who ever really understood the blues. That may be so, but he also took it to new places and heights. We lament the passing of one of the greatest bluesmen – there must be one humdinger of a blues jam going on up there right now! RIP Johnny.

Here’s a taste of Johnny’s ‘Medicine Man’ from the ‘Let Me In’ album (1991):-

Phil The Music Quill.

14. COCO MONTOYA (+ LAURENCE JONES) at THE BOOM BOOM CLUB, Sutton, Surrey. Friday, 23rd May 2014

'LAURENCE JONES - The future of British blues-rock' (Photo by PTMQ)

‘The future of British blues-rock’ Laurence Jones (Photo by PTMQ)

I hadn’t been to The Boom Boom Club for a few months. Although I like it there, I don’t live that close, so it has to be an exceptional artist that brings me along! So when I heard that promoter PETE FEENSTRA had booked the great bluesman COCO MONTOYA (who I’d never seen live before), I had no hesitation in getting a place booked (via cousin Charlie who lives nearby). To add icing to the cake LAURENCE JONES was to be the support act – had to be a winner of a gig!

Charlie and I arrived early and found ourselves a place at the front of the stage; eagerly awaiting the show. Support act Laurence Jones was soon climbing unpretentiously on stage, and launched into ‘Can’t Keep Living Like This’ from his new album “Temptation”. It was a whirlwind start to a breath-taking set of exceptionally good music from a young guitarist, who music writer NIGEL FOSTER describes as ‘the future of British blues-rock’, and I think that’s a fair comment. Its quite a compliment considering he’s up against the likes of: DAVY KNOWLES; OLI BROWN; and VIRGIL McMAHON.

Now I last saw Jones at this same venue almost exactly a year ago, supporting the veteran bluesman WALTER TROUT (who as I write is unfortunately seriously ill back in the USA – and no doubt all blues fans are praying for him). I remember being impressed at the time by this young lad; but what a difference that year has made! He is noticeably far more confident than he was last May; and his chops are greatly improved – his Strat’s fret-board was his, to be used as gently or as roughly as he saw fit – with equal precision. It was a nice touch when he dedicated the title track ‘Temptation’ to Trout, his hero, who guests on the new album; and I must say, he did the old master proud. Another highlight for me was his version of Hendrix’s ‘All Along The Watchtower’. This is often covered, of course, but Jones didn’t slavishly stick to the Hendrix format; rather making it his own, with a lengthy but interesting solo that show-cased his considerable skills. And a bloody good job he made of it too! I also liked ‘Fall From The Sky’ a lot; and ‘Soul Swamp River’ which he sang (partly) without a mic at the front of the stage.

Mention must be made of Jones’ excellent band too. I think these are a different bassist and drummer to those I remember from a year ago. Finnish drummer MIRI MIETTINEN was a reliable powerhouse at the back of the stage; and ROGER INNISS was exceptional with his monstrous 6-string bass, the size of a scaffold-board! But, Christ, could he play it!

I spoke briefly to LJ after the show, and found him to be a very nice bloke – modest and affable. Now that the tour with Montoya is finished, he tells me he’s off to the RORY GALLAGHER FESTIVAL in Ballyshannon, Ireland; along with another old veteran favourite of mine, BERNIE MARSDEN. With the company he keeps this boy is going far! I notice he’s back for a gig at THE NEW CRAWDADDY CLUB here in Essex in June – that’s one for the diary. (Just realised, its only a couple of weeks away!) Anyway, good luck to you, LJ!

Half-time was unusual: normally the intervals at gigs are filled with beer and music blah blah (and fair enough too!); but after Pete Feenstra had finished plugging the next two gigs over this Bank Holiday weekend, Nigel Foster got up on stage to present him with a special award for all the hard work he’d done in promoting all sorts of music acts over the years. It was well deserved, and Nigel summed it up excellently with some very well-chosen words. Charlie and I also got talking to the photographer JENNIFER NOBLE of BLUES MATTERS magazine and her husband. She is a big blues fan; very knowledgeable; and quite a character.

Coco Montoya -  now that's what I call the blues! (Photo by PTMQ)

Coco Montoya – ‘now THAT’S the blues!’ (Photo by PTMQ)

Now for the main event. I’d been waiting a long time to see Coco. In my mind I always lump Montoya, Trout and BUDDY WHITTINGTON together – all big American bluesmen from the prolific JOHN MAYALL’S BLUESBREAKERS stable. I’ve seen Trout and Whittington several times (and my son James and I have had the honour of meeting them both too. Unfortunately James couldn’t make it tonight), but I’ve been waiting for Montoya for years; having never seen him live. Tonight was to complete the trinity.

Coco Montoya and his band; consisting of Nate Brown on bass; Brant Leeper on keyboards; and Rene Beevers on drums; took to the stage to great applause. Brandishing a brilliant blue left-handed Strat, fitted with a right-handed neck; the big bluesman kicked off his set with ‘Wish I Could Be that Strong’. It was a great opener, and was quickly followed by ‘Hey Seniorita’, with its latin feel. Various favourites followed, including: ‘Too Much Water Under The Bridge’; the funky ‘Don’t Go Makin’ Plans’; and finishing with ‘Three Sides To Every Story’.

Coco’s repertoire is a blend of various well-known bluesy vibes – both traditional and modern in style; yet all of it with Coco’s personal stamp of genius at its core. The influence of his original mentor, the late great ALBERT COLLINS, is manifest; and the tutorship of JOHN MAYALL is apparent; but his feeling and understanding of the blues obviously comes from deep down inside. Jennifer Noble summed it up succinctly to me half-way through the set: ‘Now THAT’S the blues!’ she said.

I met Coco after the show and had a brief chat with him. We talked about his blue lefty Strat; and about flying back to the USA next day. He is like many great musicians: modest and approachable; and has a genuine love of, and gratitude towards his fans. He told me he’s not going to leave it so long this time before returning to the UK for another tour – let’s hope he means it as I think everyone there would be up for another Coco gig ASAP! Thanks Coco – it was a fantastic night!

A final word should also be said about the hard-working bar staff at the Boom Boom Club – you never have to wait long for a pint, and you are always served with a pretty smile – A BIG THANK YOU LADIES!

Here is a vid of Coco in action at this very gig…..

May the Blues be with you! Phil The Music Quill