November 30, 2022
Featured Interview – Johnny Sansone – Blues Blast Magazine


Cover photo © 2022 Marilyn Stringer


 In This Issue 

Anita Schlank has our feature interview with Johnny Sansone. We have four Blues reviews for you this week including new music from Bob Corritore & Friends, Brad “Guitar” Wilson, Gary Cain and Todd Sharpville. Scroll down and check it out!


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 Featured Interview – Johnny Sansone 

imageJohnny Sansone was born and raised in New Jersey, the son of a saxophone playing schoolteacher who was in Dave Brubeck’s Wolf Pack band during World War II.  But he has now lived more than half of his life in the rich musical city of New Orleans.  In his early years, Sansone toured as the featured vocalist and harp player in Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters, and he later worked with legendary bluesmen John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Rogers, and Robert Lockwood Jr.  Sansone has impressed many with his talent as a multi-instrumentalist, playing harmonica, accordion, and guitar. However, what often stands out even more prominently is the beautiful tone of his incredibly powerful singing voice.  Blues Blast Magazine had the opportunity to catch up with Sansone when he was performing at the Big Blues Bender in Las Vegas.

Sansone has been a full-time musician since the early 1980’s, and cherishes the opportunity he had to witness performances by some of the blues legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Clifton Chenier, Big Joe Turner, James Cotton and Junior Wells.

“I consider myself fortunate to have been on this career path in the 1970’s and 80’s. I was able to see so many legendary blues musicians. They were my heroes. I had their records. Then I found out that they were just regular people, and they were interested in the fact that I was interested in their music, and eventually friendships were forged. In the early years of Chicago blues, the great musicians weren’t as guarded as you might think. They were easy to approach. Both James Cotton and Jr. Wells shared firsthand information with me, and we ended up as friends for many years. The legendary guys seemed more organic to me.”

“Blues, the first American roots-music, can be traced back to regions, like all cultures, food, art, and just basic survival. A favorite example was my good friend and guidance counselor the late Lazy Lester. Known as a Louisiana Swamp-Blues man, Lester’s music was a product of his musical region between the New Orleans and East Texas border. Blues, R&B, gospel, country, Cajun, and zydeco can all be heard in his music. Later, the Fabulous Thunderbirds would hot rod his songs to a whole new generation of fans. Absorbing the simplicity of the music is not easy. It’s kind of like cooking. You could only use salt and garlic and make something tasty. But mixing in certain proportions with other spices changes all directions.”

image“Like a fine wine or whisky, you must start with the finest ingredients, distill it down, ferment it, and then present it after years of experimenting. But it’s up to the consumer to decide. A four-piece band belting it out at a local blues jam can be just as satisfying as the latest hot-shot on the main stage.”

Sansone has been referred to as a Zen-like philosopher whose observations about life have led him to be recognized as an award-winning songwriter. He noted that, for him, songwriting is an activity that occurs constantly, and being a good songwriter is one of the traits he admires most in others.

“It’s rare to find a musician who not only writes, sings, and solos, but also sells the songs live on stage.  Songwriting is a long process for me. I make notes every day.  I’ll look at a situation or listen to someone talking, hear what they’re going through and try to relate to their pain or joy. Then I’ll take all the notes when I’m ready to write. I’ll surround myself with all those little note papers and my instruments and lock the doors. Sometimes I get in such a deep trance that my mind can drift off into a visual place, kind of like inside of a movie. I might start at 9 am and suddenly realize its dark outside and I haven’t left the table. I’ll bang around on a song until it makes sense and then I’ll record a demo. I’ll listen to it over and over, picking it apart.  Then the editing starts and that is extremely time consuming.”

Because of that process, Sansone does not find it easy to try to co-write with others, although one exception did result in a Grammy nomination this year for Tab Benoit’s Production of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux’s release, Bloodstains and Teardrops.  For that album, Sansone co-wrote several songs with Boudreaux and played guitar, accordion, and harp on the session. He has also collaborated on a few occasions with another excellent songwriter, Anders Osborne, to produce his albums.

“My third record and break-away release was Crescent City Moon, which I produced myself. I started thinking about all the music that I cared about, then started writing songs that represented my entire record collection. For example, the title track is a hybrid of Clifton Chenier and Otis Rush. I stayed away from straight-ahead blues and took those influences and mashed them up. The title track won song of the year at the Offbeat Music awards and got me signed to Rounder Records with a follow-up record called Watermelon Patch. Some years later I found myself in a band called Voice of the Wetlands All-stars along with Tab Benoit, Cyril Neville, George Porter Jr., Dr John, Johnny Vidakovich, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Waylon Thibodeaux and Anders Osborne. We did a record together and went on the road. I realized that Anders and I were saying a lot of the same things on stage during solos and fills, and it opened my ideas even more.”

image“I asked Anders for his help producing my next record, Poorman’s Paradise. He said he would, but he needed a demo of the songs first. I recorded the demo solo playing just guitar and piano and put it in Anders mailbox. I didn’t hear anything from him, so I figured he didn’t like the songs and it wasn’t going to happen. I finally did get a hold of him, and he told me the songs where great and that I should release it as is. But I wanted to record the songs with a band. A good producer visualizes who would be the best person to play the parts of the songs you are doing, and possibly shape them into something you didn’t think of yourself. I respected his judgment and we set a recording date. This was soon after hurricane Katrina, and some of the musician had lost everything they owned, so the title track really hit home for those guys. It was nominated for Song of the Year at the BMAs.”

Sansone again collaborated with Osborne for what is perhaps his best-known album, The Lord is Waiting and the Devil is Too.

 “Anders had the idea to have it sound like a Hound-Dog Taylor thing with Harp. He wanted to strip the songs down, and make it all about me, only singing and playing harmonica. He brought in Stanton Moore to play drums and percussion, and we decided not to have a bass player, meaning the whole bass frequency could be filled with kick-drum, bottom guitar strings, and harp. We spent a whole lot of time getting harmonica sounds to work at Dockside Studios. It’s a couple hundred years old, and all cypress. I took one of the mics and put it in the rafters up at the top of the stairs, so we ended up using the building as a speaker. It fattened the sound, picking up the whole building space. Anders’ lowest string became the frequency where the bass pulled the bottoms together with the huge kick drum, so we could take it and make it bigger. Then we ran everything through a 2” analog tape loop.”

Many have wondered about the story behind the powerful title track, a song so moving that Sansone’s performance of it led to a standing ovation every night during his tour with Tab Benoit’s Swamp Jam Tour.

“People ask me all the time to ‘play that Devil song’. Some don’t even know the name of it. The concept is that you have three decisions on how to conduct yourself. You can say ‘Fuck it, I’ll do whatever I want, and I’ll take whatever I want,’ or you can be in the middle, and not do anything wrong, but not do anything right, either. Or you can strive to do good for others and try to be helpful. It’s about the concept of the Lord, regardless of what God means to you.  It’s the ideal, and that every day you have the choice of which path you’ll go down.”

image“The song was triggered by an incident many years ago when I was on my way back from a gig at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans. I had to pull over because I noticed the trailer door had sprung open. I went around to the back to see what may have fallen out, and suddenly I felt a gun in my back. I began to run but stopped and turned around. I realized I had a lot of cash, (mostly smaller denomination bills since it was the door money,) but it made an impressive roll. I told the guy if he wanted the roll, he had to stay cool. He took the money and ran off. He had a bandana over his face, and I’ll never forget the look I could see his eyes. I could tell he was an insanely desperate and crazed young man.  He made a decision that night that truly affected me. The song, ‘The Lord is Waiting and The Devil is Too’, won song of the year at BMAs.”

A few more all original album releases with Anders came after that.  Once It Gets Started had Anders on guitars and, among other guest musicians, included a 91-year-old veteran from the Howlin’ Wolf Band, Mr. Henry Gray, on Piano. That record featured another BMA song of the year nomination for ‘The Night the Pie Factory Burned Down’.

Next was the release of Lady on the Levee with a group of guest musicians that included Anders and John Fohl on guitars and Ivan Neville on organ and piano. The last Osborne-produced release was Hopeland, with Anders and North Mississippi Allstars brothers, Luther and Cody Dickinson, trading off on different instruments, along with John Cleary on piano.

Sansone’s latest release represents a turn to a more traditional blues sound. Producing it himself this time, his album, Into Your Blues, has already received significant critical acclaim, and introduces eleven new original songs. It also features  some impressive guest artists, including Little Freddie King, and harmonica master, Jason Ricci.

“This album gets back to the subject of contemporary and traditional blues. I had a lot of people who asked me over the years why I hadn’t made a ‘real’ blues record. I’ve spent all these years trying to find my place, which was not dead center of the blues, only based on it. I went back to my record collection idea, focusing on my favorite singers, guitar players and harmonica players, and wrote my own versions. I brought in Mike Morgan from Dallas, and Johnny Burgin from Chicago to fill the guitar chairs. I could say, ‘This is like a Jimmy Reed song,’ and that’s all it took. They just knew what to do.  I know these guys and trust their knowledge and skills. I didn’t use a demo this time. I just picked up a guitar and played my ideas. I would only have to play it once, and then start recording. Most of the songs came together on the first take. With all of the wonderful contributing musicians, I got what has been banging around inside my head for a long time waiting to come out! I’m extremely happy with the positive reviews and feedback so far.”

imageJason Ricci was also impressed with the latest album and noted this about Sansone:  “I’ve always loved his harmonica playing but as I’ve gotten older, seen him live more and hung out with hm, the thing that makes me REALLY love Johnny is his sincerity in everything he does, whether it is incredible singing, amazing songwriting or fiery harmonica playing  The dude is the same on and off the stage and I really like that the older I get.  I’m kinda over the ‘show’ at this stage in my life.  I want to see life SHOWN on stage.  I feel Sansone every time I hear him and it’s been a privilege getting to know him living here in New Orleans.  I feel blessed.  He’s been very kind and welcoming to me since day one and for that I’m grateful.”

As someone who rarely rests after releasing an album, Sansone was asked about his plans for the immediate future.

“When Covid hit I had some nice tours planned, but that all went away. Those are doors that shut, and I don’t know if they’ll open again. I particularly looked forward to a tour I was going to do in Italy. They care about music there, and there are a lot of really great musicians there, as well as in France and Spain. I realize that I only have so many years left so I don’t want to waste time waiting for things to happen.”

Sansone has been considered fiercely independent all these years because of his choice to release his records since 2000 on this own label, Short Stack Records. When asked how that’s worked for him, Sansone grinned and shrugged his shoulders.

“In order to reach a larger audience, I might need to reconsider that choice. I’m not quite as fierce as I used to be in that department.”

Hopefully we will have many more opportunities to appreciate Sansone’s clever and unique approach to roots-based music. You can learn more about Johnny Sansone’s music, including tour dates and how to purchase his albums at: www.johnnysansone.com   For booking email contactshortstackrecords@gmail.com.

Writer Anita Schlank lives in Virginia, and is on the Board of Directors for the River City Blues Society. She has been a fan of the blues since the 1980s. She and Tab Benoit co-authored the book “Blues Therapy,” with all proceeds from sales going to the HART Fund.


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 Featured Blues Review – 1 of 4 

imageBob Corritore & Friends – You Shocked Me

VizzTone Label Group/SWMAF Records VT-SWMAF-21

www.bobcorritore.com

16 songs – 66 minutes

Fans of old-school blues have had more reasons than heaping love on Bob Corritore than for his skill as a harp player. The Rhythm Room in Phoenix, Ariz., he’s sharing its stage with top talent for close to 30 years while recording the performances and trips to the studio with them, too. And he’s been serving up a treat for the ears in the past four years, releasing compilations of those efforts.

Featuring vocals from John Primer, Alabama Mike, Diunna Greenleaf, Johnny Rawls, Jimi “Primetime” Smith, Sugaray Rayford, Oscar Wilson, Bob Stroger, Francine Reed, Willie Buck and Bill “Howl-n-Madd” Perry, this disc – the fifth in the series – might very well be the best yet.

The Chicago native dipped deep into his archives for the four previous efforts – Don’t Let the Devil Ride, Do the Hip-Shake Baby!, Spider in My Stew and Down Home Blues Revue. But this one is decidedly different. All of the material was captured between 2018 and 2022 at Tempest Studios in neighboring Tempe with Corritore weaving the folks from diverse disciplines together through his masterful work on the reeds and an in-your-face attitude in the control room.

The list of backing musicians is just as impressive as the star-studded roster of vocalists. The roster includes Bob Margolin, Kid Ramos, Johnny Main, L.A. Jones, Patrick Skog and Johnny Rapp (guitars), Doug James (sax), Fred Kaplan, Ben Levin, Anthony Geraci and Shea Marshall (keys) with Tony Tomlinson, Yahni Riley, Troy Sandow, Adrianna Marie, Mike Hightower, Blake Watson and Shy Perry on bass and Wes Starr, Allen West, Marty Dotson, Brian Fahey and Andrew Guterman on drums and Celia King and Eboni McDonald providing backing vocals.

Primer opens the action with a sprightly, loping cover of his “Hiding Place.” His voice has never sounded better, and his extended six-string solo rocks. Bay Area fixture Alabama Mike contributes four tunes to this set, beginning with a take on Eddie Burns’ “Squeeze Me Baby,” which serves up plenty of old-school appeal thanks to his strong tenor and Corritore’s lilting accompaniment before yielding to Greenleaf for a cover of “You Shocked Me,” a 1958 hit for R&B/blues shouter Tiny Topsy, on which Margolin and Jones deliver a catchy mid-tune solo.

Rawls takes command for a smooth take on his gospel-fueled complaint, “The World’s in a Bad Situation,” before giving way to Alabama Mike for an extended take on Sammy Lewis’ 1977 burner, “Somebody Stole My Love from Me.” The beat quickens but the theme remains dark for Primetime’s “Blinded” Primetime and Sugaray’s Latin-flavored “Josephine,” both of which deal with problem ladies and the latter features high-end runs from Corritore with vocal accents from Rayford to match.

The mood quiets as Oscar delivers the sweetest take on Jimmy Reed’s “Blue Blue Water” you’ll ever hear then gives way to nonagenarian Stroger who shines on the self-penned “Train Fare.” Corritore comes to the fore on harp and Ramos on six-string as Reed belts out his original, “Don’t Need Your Permission,” then gives way to Buck, who dips into his own catalog for the deep blue ballad, “That Ain’t Enough,” and Primetime powers through “Soul Food,” a pleaser first served up by Rex Garvin & the Mighty Cravers in 1963, aided by James.

Perry’s Delta-flavored “Back to the Crossroads” follows before two Alabama Mike numbers – Paul Perryman’s Work to Be Done” and Otis Spann’s “Blues for Hippies” – bookend Diunna’s original, “Happy Day Friends,” to close.

Strongly recommended. Don’t be surprised when this one gets strong consideration when the next awards season comes around!

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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 Featured Blues Review – 2 of 4 

imageBrad “Guitar” Wilson

Cali Bee Music Inc.

www.bradwilsonlive.com

12 songs time – 50:35

Fear not, blues-rock is alive and well in the hands of Los Angeles based Brad “Guitar” Wilson. Now that more authentic blues is getting to be a rarer commodity, blues-rock of high quality will have to suffice I suppose. Brad apply handles the vocals in a gutsy delivery along with his undisputed guitar skills. He is backed by a capable rotating rhythm section and occasional keyboards. His guitar straddles the fence between blues-rock and more straight-ahead blues. Whatever the case, he surely knows his way around his instrument. The program is evenly divided between originals and covers. Brad also is the producer of this well-crafted guitar extravaganza.

“Ballad Of John Lee” is a tribute to the boogie master John Lee Hooker. It features the requisite boogie beat. His aggressive take on Muddy Waters’ “Walkin’ Thru The Park” Is refreshing and features Frankie Vriens on organ. His phrasing on Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “House Is Rockin’” is different from the original, but no problem. On the live version of Otis Rush’s “I Can’t Quit You Baby” his alternate phrasing throws the song off. He also changed some of the lyrics. However none of that takes away from his more-or-less straight ahead high-powered blues guitar showcase.

The original “You’re The One For Me” is a radio ready rocker. String bending is the name of the game on “All Kinds Of A Fool”. Freddie King’s guitar style and tone are captured on “Someday After Awhile”. “Hang With A Bang” veers off into disco territory save for the guitar pyrotechnics. The lone instrumental “Avatar” visits the Jeff Beck zone of joyfully controlled noise. Wow it is truly a keeper!!! Once again the vocal delivery mars their version of Cream’s “Tales Of Brave Ulysses”. The charging guitar saves the day. The band skidders away via the road song “Drivin’”.

A gift from the guitar Gods to the guitar lovers. Another modern-day blues-rock classic. A driving assortment of drum-bass combinations push the guitar antics of Brad “Guitar” Wilson. In this instance the moniker is more than deserved. High end production values are the cherry on top of this guitar fest. We have a winner!

Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.


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 Featured Blues Review – 3 of 4 

imageGary Cain – Next Stop

Self Release

www.garycainband.com

10 songs – 39 minutes

Gary Cain is a Canadian singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and his latest release, Next Stop, is a stunning tour de force of musicianship. In addition to writing all the music and lyrics, Cain also provides all the vocals and handles all the guitar parts, the bass, percussion and drum programming. Indeed, the only other musician on the album is John Lee who provides B3 organ on the closing track, “A Short, Furious Goodbye”.

The opening track, “Billionaires In Space”, sets out Cain’s stall impressively and also sets the tone for the entire album. The lyrics display an acute political awareness, highlighting the ever-growing wealth gap in society. Cain sings: “Seas are rising, and you got no home. They don’t pay no taxes and we’re on our own. Billionaires in space” and “One small step for mankind to a living wage. Instead we’re living through a second gilded age. Time has come now, won’t you join me as we raise our collective middle finger to the billionaires in space.”

Cain is a mighty impressive guitarist, with a fleet-fingered, heavy-rock edge. “Confusion” is based around a single note riff that recalls Hendrix at his rockiest and a wild outro solo that accurately reflects the anguish of the lyrics. “Gatekeeper” has a funky rock edge and again raises societal issues in the lyrics.

This is blues-rock, but very much at the rock end of the spectrum. It is in-your-face, muscular and aggressive. The songs are often based around single note, heavy guitar riffs and the solos can make Johnny Winter sound like he’s under-playing. But it is also exceptionally well done. Cain is keenly aware of the importance of dynamics, for example in the breakdown before the guitar solo in “Keep On Comin’”.

The one outlier on the album is the aptly named instrumental, “Kitchen Sink” on which Cain demonstrates his mastery of country licks, albeit played at the same breakneck speed and with the same wild abandon as the other tracks on the album. Even here, however, Cain throws in a middle section that somehow recalls the overblown classicism of Ritchie Blackmore. Indeed, there are various hints of Blackmore’s influence throughout the album, particularly in the virtuosity of the guitar solos and the heavy single note riffs that frame many of the songs.

There are no ballads or slower songs on Next Stop. Even the gentler, jazz-rock tinged verses of “Gone” lead inextricably to a heavy, guitar-driven chorus and the slow, melodic guitar part that opens the instrumental “A Short, Furious Goodbye” quickly leads to the short, furious farewell envisaged by the title of the song.

Written and recorded in Austin, Texas, mixed by Brian Moncarz and mastered by Noah Mintz at Lacquer Channel Mastering in North York, Ontario, Next Stop is a ferocious release. Its heavy rock influence may not appeal to all blues fans but there is no denying the serious talent on display here.

Reviewer Rhys “Lightnin’” Williams plays guitar in a blues band based in Cambridge, England. He also has a day gig as a lawyer.


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 Featured Blues Review – 4 of 4 

imageTodd Sharpville – Medication Time

DixieFrog Records

http://www.facebook.com/toddsharpvilleofficial

12 songs – 64 minutes

Guitarist Todd Sharpville has never been shy about sharing his personal torment on record, teaming with producer Duke Robillard in for Porchlight, an emotion-packed, two-CD pleaser that was written after the deaths of both his father and marriage. The rollercoaster thrill ride continues in this long-awaited follow-up, which details the agony he experienced because of the ensuing separation from his beloved daughters, an event that literally landed him in a mental hospital for two months.

Despite the grim prospects exemplified by the title of this disc and its poignant cover photo, however, there’s plenty to cheer about in grooves guaranteed to lift your spirits when all’s said and done. Not only does Todd reunite with Duke, but he joins forces with harp player Sugar Ray Norcia and guitarist Larry McCray, too, while infusing a lot of good humor in his lyrics as he describes his eventual triumph over his past sorrows.

A London native and the first royal ever to choose a career in the blues, Todd’s the younger son of the 3rd Viscount St. Davids and a family peerage that traces back to the 13th Century. But he’s as down-to-earth and hard-working as any commoner thanks to a grandfather who squandered away the family fortune. He fell in love with the blues first through Freddie King and then a host of others before being mentored as a teen by Joe Louis Walker.

He’s been a fixture on the European blues scene since 1992, when his debut album, Touch of Your Love, took home album of the year and top guitarist honors in the British Blues Awards. He subsequently began put together bands to back American artists touring the Continent – a list that includes Ike Turner, Hubert Sumlin and Byther Smith, and he’s worked steadily with all of the giants of the international blues and rock scenes ever since.

Engineered by Jack Gauthier and Duke directing the action behind the scenes at Lakewest Studios in West Greenwich, R.I., Todd’s backed by Bruce Bears on piano, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira on drums – Robillard’s all-star touring band — in a lineup augmented by Doug James (baritone sax), Mark Earley (tenor sax), Carl Querfurth (trombone) and Jeff Chanonhouse (trumpet). A friend for 30 years, McCray called Todd daily at the height of his troubles, shares duet and six-string on one track and sings backup on another before Norcia shares the mic and provides on harp on a tune, too.

An unhurried take on Bob Dylan’s “Walk Out in the Rain” sets the tone as Sharpville’s rich, mid-range pipes suggests to his lady that she should simply stop crying and lying and leave if things don’t feel right. It explodes in intensity as the full band joins in about 45 seconds after the subdued open. A parallel horn flourish and guitar run open the rocker “Get Outta My Way” and kick things in high gear as Todd chooses to split instead. His stellar single-note extended solo soars before the horns take over mid-tune.

The singer’s torment truly surfaces in the ballad “Tangled Up in Thought,” which finds him so troubled, he’s unable to sleep and deep regret about who he might have been. “House Rules,” a seemingly upbeat shuffle, finds him at the end of the relationship and falsely believing he can set things right by putting his foot down and demanding change before the horns kick in and McCray joins the action for the funky complaint, “Brothers from Another Mother,” which simply rocks.

Sharpville hits bottom in the minor-key ballad, “Medication Time,” in which he acquiesces to treatment for his condition and begins to find his center in the blazing rocker, “God Loves a Loser,” in which he admits that “when hope is a stranger, anguish is my best friend before he teams with Norcia on a blues-drenched cover of Mark Knopfler’s familiar “Money for Nothing,” which singles a return to reality.

Todd’s ghosts from the past start to fade in the languishing ballad “Silhouettes” before he finds he feet again in “Stand Your Ground,” a second-line send-up that urges others not to retreat when he throws love their way. A take on Bruce Springsteen’s “Red Headed Woman” sings praises with gals with fiery locks before another – sweet – ballad, “I Don’t Need to Know Your Name,” stresses to a new lady that time and love will heal both the future and the past no matter what’s transpired before.

A winner on all counts, run – don’t walk – to buy this one.

Blues Blast Magazine Senior writer Marty Gunther has lived a blessed life. Now based out of Charlotte, N.C., his first experience with live music came at the feet of the first generation of blues legends at the Newport Folk Festivals in the 1960s. A former member of the Chicago blues community, he’s a professional journalist and blues harmonica player who co-founded the Nucklebusters, one of the hardest working bands in South Florida.


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