Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dirty Basement Blues is 'Coming Clean'

Dirty Basement Blues: Mike Conley, Joe Stanley, Bryan Miller, Pate Zajicek,Frank Grimaldi.
Dirty Basement Blues is “Coming Clean.”
The band, which garnered a 2015 Detroit Music Awards nomination for best blues artist/group, doesn’t play straight blues.
The band’s album “Coming Clean,” which received a Detroit Music Awards nomination as best blues recording, incorporates rock, soul and other influences.
“The title speaks for us coming clean about all our musical influences and the things that inspired us to write music,” lead vocalist Frank Grimaldi said. “We’re all influenced by the blues cats, rock ’n’ roll, soul music, church music, anything with soul. We took our influences, put ‘em down, and made them our own.”
The album, which was recorded live with minimal overdubbing in March of 2014 at Josh Ford’s Sound Shop Studios in Macomb Township, has nine original songs and one cover, “Walk In My Shadow,” by Paul Rodgers.
It features the vocals of Grimaldi, who is only 24 but delivers with depth reminiscent of white blues/rock/soul singers from Southeast Michigan who made their mark in the 1960s and ’70s, such as Mitch Ryder, Mark Farner of Grand Funk, Scott Morgan of The Rationals, and the late Rob Tyner of the MC5.
“I’ve loved the MC5 since I was 12 years old,” Grimaldi said. “I love their live record ‘Kick Out the Jams.’ It is so sonically perfect. It feels like it’s going to fall apart at any moment and it doesn’t. That’s rock ’n’ roll.”
Grimaldi, whose first public performance was singing a Led Zeppelin song during an 8th grade talent show, used to hear vocal comparisons with Robert Plant. Recently, fans have been telling him he sounds like the late Steve Marriott from Humble Pie fame.
“That’s the highest compliment,” Grimaldi said. “He was one-of-a-kind.”
The group had its genesis as a power trio in early 2012 as two former Jam Samich band members — guitarist/vocalist Joe Stanley and drummer Mike Conley — joined forces with bassist Bryan “Bodi” Miller. 
A search for a lead singer brought in Grimaldi, who had been singing and playing guitar with the group Counter Culture.
The band added keyboardist/vocalist Pete Zajicek from the Square Boys for the 2012 Detroit Blues Challenge and advanced to the final round, but could not compete in the finals because Stanley was on his honeymoon. Zajicek blended so well with the other musicians that he eventually joined the group as a band member.
In 2013, Dirty Basement Blues returned to the competition and won the Blues Challenge, which is hosted by the Detroit Blues Society. Earlier, Jam Samich had advanced to the finals, but did not win. That made the victory a little sweeter for the group.
“It was just solidifying, a very victorious moment for us,” Grimaldi said. “… As a group, it was like a ‘yeah’ moment.”
From there, the band went to Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge.
“Memphis was incredible,” Grimaldi said. “We stayed at the Weston, across the street from the Gibson factory. We were only a block from Beale Street.
“There was great music everywhere. To be around that many musicians was great. Everybody was real cool and by the end of the week people were recognizing us and saying ‘Hey, Detroit!’ It was neat.”
The members of Dirty Basement Blues are currently working on their second studio album and will also soon release “Dirty Basement Blues Live at Callahan’s,” a live album recorded at Callahan’s Music Hall in Auburn Hills, which will host a CD release party on Aug. 21.
“We loved doing the studio album but we feel like live performances are our bread and butter,” Grimaldi said. “We get to jam more and people can see more aspects of all of us as performers.”
You can see the Oakland County-based Dirty Basement Blues band perform live from 5:30-6:15 p.m. on Thursday, June 25 at the Stars and Stripes Festival at Freedom Hill County Park in Sterling Heights; and 6-7:30 p.m. on Saturday, June 27 on the Summer Sun Stage at the first-ever Summer Magic Festival in Mount Clemens.

Several other blues bands will be performing at the Summer Magic Festival.
On the Summer Sun Stage (Clock Tower at New Street and Main Street), the Pet Zelenka Project performs classic rock and blues at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, June 25. On Friday, June 26, the schedule includes Rolling Blue (blues/rock) at 2:45 p.m. and Downriver Dan (blues/rock) at 5 p.m. On June 27, enjoy The Boa Constrictors at 2:15 p.m. On June 28, one man band Sweet Willie Tea performs a mix of Americana and blues at 1 p.m. and Laura Rain & the Caesars deliver powerful blues and soul music at 2:15 p.m.
On the Gemini Moon Stage (Roskopp Parking Lot, Macomb Place and southbound Gratiot Avenue), St. Cecelia (4 p.m.) and The Muggs (6:45 p.m.) perform blues rock on Friday. Saturday brings the Todd Wolfe Band (bluesadelic rock) at 7 p.m. and Jack Russell’s Great White (blues rock) at 10:30 p.m.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Tribute to Eddie Burns on Saturday

When Little Sonny moved to Detroit from Alabama in 1953, he met Eddie “Guitar” Burns.
Burns, who died in 2012 at age 84, will be honored at the concert “A Tribute to Eddie Burns” at 2 p.m. Saturday, May 9 at the Scarab Club in Detroit.
Burns was the first musician to give Little Sonny, who became an internationally known harmonica player and singer, encouragement in the budding stages of his musical career.
Eddie Burns in 2005 at Cobo Joe's in Detroit. (BluesPhotos by Don Mc Ghee)
Little Sonny recalls working as a photographer at various Detroit clubs, including the Plantation Club on Russell near Warren, where Burns was a mainstay.
“Eddie found out I played harmonica and he used to let me come up and sit in with him,” Little Sonny said. “(Eddie) was the first one that did that.”
Little Sonny was impressed with Burns’ talent as a singer, harmonica player and guitarist, and also regarding his musical knowledge.
“Eddie was blues, but he would mix with some jazz as well, like Louis Jordan. He also knew a lot of Leadbelly and the other old cat’s stuff. He was more educated about the old blues than any of the guys I knew. He could back to Charlie Patton and all the old blues artists. He could not only go back, but he could remember the songs and play them.
“He was a hell of a musician, from the old type of blues, before Muddy Waters. He knew all those old songs I had never even heard of.
“He was a good writer too and had hits himself. He would play stuff by Bobby Bland and Louis Jordan and a lot of the old-time musicians, and some up-to-date stuff as well.
“He wasn’t just an outright blues artist. He mixed his stuff. I learned to go into a different bag from him.”
Singer-guitarist Carlton Washington, 29, will lead a veteran band at the tribute Saturday. He will be joined by singer-guitarist Billy Davis, who first gained recognition with Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, as well as bassist Frank Bryant and drummer Clyde “Poppa” Lee, both veterans of Eddie Burns’ band.
Washington is from a different generation, but he is familiar with Eddie Burns and his music.
“I’ve always been into the history of Detroit blues," Washington said. "I came up watching Johnnie Bassett, and he provided inspiration to dig deeper.
“Eddie Burns was a great songwriter, and it’s an honor to be able to pay tribute to a very important part of Detroit blues.”
Although Burns later garnered the nickname “Guitar,” he started out as a harmonica player. Burns played the harp “backward,” with the higher register on the left side.
“Eddie is the only guy I know who could play ‘Juke,’ and sound like Little Walter,” Little Sonny said.
Burns, a Mississippi native whose brother Jimmy Burns is a Chicago soul-blues musician, played and recorded with John Lee Hooker, and toured internationally. Eddie Burns received the Michigan Heritage Award in 1994, and, in 1998, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Detroit Blues Society, which is hosting Saturday’s event.
Little Sonny was close friends with Burns for over 50 years and performed with him at his final live performance, at the Motor City Blues & Boogie Woogie Festival at the Music Hall Center for Performing Arts in Detroit in 2008.
“I never had a friend better than him,” Little Sonny said. “He would tell you and show you things a lot of other musicians wouldn’t show you. He would guide you in the music world.
“He would give me information on touring overseas before I went overseas. He let me know about the pitfalls so I would avoid them. That’s the kind of person he was. He would give you some advice to help you. He wasn’t selfish.”
Little Sonny described Burns as “humble.”   
“You couldn’t beat him. He was a beautiful person and he left behind a beautiful legacy with me and other musicians too.”

The Scarab Club is at 217 Farnsworth near the Detroit Institute of Arts, A $5 donation is requested. For information, click

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

Anti-Freeze Festival has recipe for hot blues

Here’s a recipe for some hot blues.
Start with a national headlining act that has roots that go way back in the blues music world. Add a sprinkle of top local talent. Mix, and let smoke.
Repeat for a double batch.
That’s a winning formula for this weekend’s Anti-Freeze Blues Festival at the Magic Bag in Ferndale.
On Friday, the headliner will be Louisiana swamp boogie legend Lazy Lester. Supporting acts include vocalist Tosha Owens; Detroit blues veterans Harmonica Shah and guitarist Jeff Grand, and John Rhoades, one of several younger players making a mark in the Motor City.
On Saturday, the Siegel-Schwall Band headlines; following the Howard Glazer Band, which recently released the fine CD “Looking in the Mirror;” young guns Jason Alter and Jason “J-Bone” Bone; and the Chris Canas Band.
The event is a fundraiser for the Detroit Blues Society.
“It’s the first and biggest fundraiser (of the year) for the Detroit Blues Society,” said Steve Soviak, president of the DBS. “It’s very exciting. It doesn’t get much better than Siegel-Schwall and Lazy Lester.
“Lazy Lester has been around, almost, since day one. He is 81 years old and was there with Muddy Waters and the whole second generation of Chicago blues guys, although he’s more of a swamp blues guy, with other guys like Slim Harpo.
“I remember seeing Siegel-Schwall at Masonic Temple in the 1970s, opening for Dave Mason. I believe (drummer) Sam Lay is still in the band. He played in Muddy Waters’ band at one time.”
Lay, 79, is also famous for his work with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band as well as lengthy stints backing up Little Walter, and performed with Bob Dylan when he introduced electric-rock at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965.
I saw Siegel-Schwall perform at the Magic Bag a few years ago, and it was one of the best shows I’ve seen at that venue. Harmonica player Corky Siegel and guitarist Jim Schwall cut their blues teeth as youngsters performing as the house band at Pepper's Lounge on the south side of Chicago back in the ‘60s.
Following the show, Lay told me, “I’m so hot, my toenails are sweating.” That’s how hard this band works.
Soviak is also pleased with the supporting acts at this year’s festival, the 21st in the series.
“They are the cream of the crop of Detroit blues,” he said. “Jeff Grand and Harmonica Shah are involved, and Howard Glazer too. Chris Canas has won the Detroit Blues Challenge four times and will be going to Memphis to represent Detroit at the (International Blues Challenge).”
General admission tickets are $25 each night. Stop by and say hello to Soviak at the merchandise table. The Detroit Blues Society is celebrating its 30th year and has several special events and a membership drive planned.

“It’s an exciting year for us, and we’re starting it off with the Anti-Freeze Blues Festival,” Soviak said.

To see a story about the Siegel-Schwall Band by music writer Gary Graff, click here.

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Friday, December 26, 2014

Little Sonny recalls Alberta Adams as 'a legend in Detroit'

Alberta Adams performing at the Southfield Public Library in 2011.
When harmonica player and singer Little Sonny moved to Detroit from Alabama in 1953, singer Alberta Adams was already a fixture on the Detroit blues music scene.
Adams, known as Detroit's Queen of the Blues, died on Christmas Day at the age of 97.
“I got to know her many, many years ago and I knew her very well,”  Little Sonny said. “She was always a nice, beautiful lady, and she always had nice things to say.”
Little Sonny, 82, remembers Adams as a popular performer at the Flame Show Bar and other Detroit blues clubs of that time.
“She was playing with all the big stars, Cab Calloway, T-Bone Walker and those guys,” Little Sonny recalled. “She did shows with all those big-timers. She had a long history in the blues and she is one of the last of our blues legends.
“She paid the dues. People like that helped set the path for people like me.”
Alberta Adams
Little Sonny’s sons -- musicians Aaron Willis Jr. and Anthony Willis -- performed with Adams on different shows, he said. According to Little Sonny, Adams excelled at performing old-time blues.
“She was doing blues back then that was not as modern as the blues I or John Lee Hooker were doing. In her day, she was doing blues like Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Sippie Wallace did. She was in that era and never came completely came out of that. She didn’t change with the trends and move into the modern era, but it worked for her.”
Adams began her career as a dancer in the 1940s, but soon switched to singing, touring with big name musicians such as Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson.
Her solo career enjoyed a resurgence starting in the 1990s with her association with manager/musician RJ Spangler. She recorded two CDs for the now defunct Cannonball Records label and then moved to Detroit-based Eastlawn Records. Adams also recorded for the Chess, Savoy and Thelma (Gordy) labels.
Little Sonny
Adams was honored at a tribute event titled “To Alberta With Love” on March 2 at the Detroit Pub in Clinton Township.
Little Sonny recalled Adams as a wonderful person.

“Every time I met her, she had that nice smile. She was a beautiful lady. I’ve never seen her with a bad attitude. That’s something to say. She was never cocky. She was always pleasant and had a nice conversation for you. That’s what I loved about her.
“She was a very outspoken person and I loved her for that too. She was a natural and she wasn’t a flaky type person who thought she was so much more than anyone else. Give and receive, that’s the way she was.
“She played a big part in Detroit blues. I’m glad the Lord extended her to be here for a long career and to be able to continuously go, until the last minute almost.
“She was a legend in Detroit.”

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Blues at the library

Jimmy Alter (photo by Mike Klewicki)
There are plenty of young, talented blues musicians in Detroit, and you can see several as Jimmy Alter & Friends perform at the Southfield Public Library’s Jazz & Blues series program at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The band includes four of Detroit’s top young blues guitarists – Jimmy Alter, Jason “J-Bone” Bone, Carlton Washington and Brendon Linsley, a guitar whiz only in his mid-teens.  All four are good friends – between them they play in many different bands and musical ventures, sometime together, sometimes separately. They’ll be backed by veterans Chris Rumel on bass and Dave Watson on drums.
General admission is $5, $3 for Friends of the Southfield Public Library members. There is no charge for children under 12.

The Southfield Public Library is in the Southfield Municipal Complex, 26300 Evergreen Road. For more information, call the Guest Services Desk at 248-796-4224.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Alberta Adams is still Detroit's' Queen of the Blues

Alberta Adams
Singer Alberta Adams, known as Detroit's Queen of the Blues, is featured in an interesting article by Metro Times music writer Brett Callwood, who recently sat down with Alberta and her manager, RJ Spangler, at her Detroit home.
Click here to read Callwood's article.
I have seen Alberta perform several times, most recently in 2011 at the Southfield Public Library. Although she was in her 90s and in a wheelchair, she put on a very entertaining show, exhibiting the vibrancy of a much younger person. My favorite moment from the evening was when she was performing an uptempo tune. She obviously thought people should be dancing, so she pointed to two people in the front of the audience and said "dance!". They most certainly did. Who could turn down a request from the queen?
Alberta Adams
Alberta was honored this spring at the Detroit Pub Music Room’s Sunday Steak & Blues Series. It was titled “To Alberta With Love.”
If you want to show her some love yourself, check out one of her fine albums recorded when she was in her 80s. She recorded two CDs for the now defunct Cannonball Records label and then moved to Detroit-based Eastlawn Records. Her third record with Eastlawn, "Detroit Is My Home" (2008), features collaborations with pianists Mark "Mr. B" Braun, Al Hill and the late Ann Rabson (Saffire). Thornetta Davis also appeared on the CD. Years earlier, Alberta also recorded for the Chess, Savoy and Thelma (Gordy) labels.   

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Monday, December 8, 2014

Laura Rain and the Caesars perform smokin' hot show at Boo's

Laura Rain and George Friend
A near capacity crowd thoroughly enjoyed what I describe as two “must sees” on Saturday night as Laura Rain and the Caesars performed a smokin’ hot show at the new Boo’s club inside Mr. B’s Pub in downtown Royal Oak.
Rain, singer and frontwoman for the group, is a dynamic performer best described as a force of nature. She boasts a powerful voice that is reminiscent of Aretha with a touch of Esther Phillips. And she delivers her vocals with a ferocity that reminded a companion of Janis Joplin. Rain, introduced as the “Cleopatra of the Blues,” was resplendent in a shimmery vintage gown. She has a great stage presence, oodles of sex appeal, boundless energy, and is a “must see” if you haven’t caught the group’s powerful mix of blues, R&B, funk and “modern, retro soul.”
Mark "Paz Man"  Pasman
Matching Rain in quality was guitarist George Friend, a talented and versatile axman who excels in both backup and solo roles. His playing can be subtle and tasteful, but he can rock out just as well.
Bassist Gwenyth Hayes and drummer Scott Veenstra provide a solid rhythm section.
Friend looked like he was having a blast on Saturday, not only when he was interacting with Rain, but also when Boo’s musical host, guitarist Mark “Paz Man” Pasman, joined the group for a half dozen selections.
Hearing these two fine guitarists trading licks was a treat indeed.
Boo’s, an intimate upscale blues club inside Mr. B’s in Royal Oak, is also a “must see.” The club has a cool vibe and lots of ambient energy, courtesy of the crowd inside Mr. B’s as well as the individuals who walk by on Main Street past the bank of windows behind the stage. The group’s dynamic sound produced lots of curious looks by those passing by.
Check out Laura Rain and the Caesars and their new CD, “Closer,” at Be sure to catch a live performance before they head out on tour again. Click here to see a photo gallery from Saturday's show.
Laura Rain and the Caesars
At Boo’s, you can order food from the menu that received an overhaul when former auto-executive-turned-chef Johnny Prep purchased Mr. B’s and renovated the business this summer.
Boo’s has an excellent sound system that is not overwhelming loud, despite the relatively small size of the club. Unlike many blues clubs, a reservation holds a table for you, so there’s no hassle finding a seat. The club does have a cover charge (usually $10) on the weekends, but it’s worth it to see top Detroit blues performers in such an intimate setting.
Boo’s has only been open since Nov. 15, but has already hosted many talented performers including Bobby Murray, longtime guitarist for Etta James; and singer Thornetta Davis, a Detroit favorite.
You can count on Boo’s always hosting the cream of the Detroit blues crop, since Pasman does the booking. He knows the Detroit scene as well as anyone, not only as a musician, but as the former host of the “Motor City Blues Project” radio show for over 25 years. It helps that the club owner is a fan of the music too.
This week, Robert Noll performs as part of the Thursday Front Porch series, Howard Glazer celebrates the release of his new recording “Looking in the Mirror” with a live show on Friday, and The Alligators come in Saturday.
Downtown Royal Oak has not had a venue for the blues since Memphis Smoke closed. Boo’s presents a new opportunity to enjoy the best of the Detroit blues scene in a safe, downtown environment.

Check it out as soon as you can.

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