Monday, December 1, 2008

Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang Show Saturday, December 20th at Big Cities

Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang's show at Big Cities has been moved to Saturday, December 20th (one day later than previously announced).

Eddie Shaw on tenor and alto saxes (and harmonica) is a very talented singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and band leader. He was Howlin'Wolf's personal manager for five years. Eddie is one of the most respected blues musicians alive today. Originally from Benoit, MS, Eddie now lives on Chicago's South Side.

Band Members include Eddie Vaan Shaw Jr., Eddie's son, who is one of the best guitar players in the blues business. Vaan has music of his own , CD's, MORNING RAIN and THE TRAIL OF TEARS. Lafayette" Shorty" Gilbert, has been Eddie's bassplayer for over 20 yrs. Strong vocalist , his version of " Rainy night in Georgia" brings tears to your eyes. Tim Taylor on drums, is son of the late Eddie Taylor .

2008 Crossroads Blues Society Christmas Party

Well it's time to get off your Yule logs and get ready for the season in style! That's right, it's the annual Crossroads Blues Society Christmas bash at Big Cities Lounge. This is a long-standing and time-honored tradition that goes a long way back (all the way to 2005, which is amazing that some of us can remember it!). Friday, December 12th is the big night of fun!

This year we will celebrate the holidays with a local blues fan favorite- the Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys! In addition to the music, we will have food (bring a dish to pass if you can) and a short meeting at 8 PM. The meeting should not take too long, but we have to start thinking about a BITS benefit after the New Year rolls in.

Members can check out CDs from our library at the meeting- everything we review (and more) is in the library and can be checked out on loan for free to our members. Membership is only $15 a year for individuals and $25 for families, with 6 newsletters a year jam packed with music reviews and articles and unlimited CD borrowing (up to 5 at a time) throughout the year! And if you need a gift for a blues fan, why not make them a member of Crossroads? Gift memberships are a great way to remember your blues fan friends!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Ernie “Sugar Lips” Brown Benefit Raises Almost $1,500!

The benefit show for Ernie "Sugar Lips" Brown was held at Big Cities Lounge on Sunday, November 16, 2008. It was a great day of music, food and fun! The event raised $1,495 thanks to the generosity of all who attended. Over 70 people turned out to honor and support the 5-time RAMI Award winning musician.

The Port Bluez Band played first. The band reformed and got back together to honor the man who mentored them, a man whom they love like a brother. They were exciting to listen to and watch. They played and sang their hearts out and put on a great show. Between the music and conversation amongst the band members, the crowd was treated to some excellent music and entertainment. Keyboardist and singer Bob Lowther also made up 50 copies of CDs of a 1996 show with Ernie and the band to sell; the proceeds will go to Ernie. Dozens of copies were sold at the show.

Next up was The Po Boys! The band played and their leader Ernie joined them on stage and sang with them. It was a pretty touching set of music with Ernie leading the band again. Bob Levis and Larry Pendleton were on guitar, Victor Wattes was on bass, Link Leary was behind the drums and Teddy Lawrence provided some great harp as Ernie was unable to play the Mississippi saxophone. The guys put on a great show and the crowd was excited and fired up.
Brother Dave Kaye and Bob Lowther put together a set of musicians that did a third set. The crowd really enjoyed their rockin' blues!

The money from the door, donations received by Crossroads, a 50-50 raffle and silent auction raised $1,495 dollars for Ernie Brown. There were also some private donations and CD sale money that will raise that sum over $1,500! Ernie was humbled by the generosity and turn out of support by his friends and fans.

A big note of thanks goes to Nino for opening Big Cities early for this event and for hosting the benefit. The bands who played also deserve a big thank you for coming out and playing. Thanks also need to go out to Alligator Records who sent us 20 CDs to use a prizes and auction items. Lastly, thank you to all the attendees who came out, donated auction items, prepared food, and gave of their time and money! It was great day with three super sets of music, delicious food, fun to support and man who has been so instrumental in keeping the blues alive in the Rockford, Northern Illinois and Chicago areas!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Upcoming Blues Events November-December 2008

A big month is coming up in November for Crossroads Blues Society Members and blues fans in the Rockford area! The main event is the Ernie Brown Benefit that will be on Sunday, November 16th at Big Cities. It will run from 3 PM to 9 PM and features Port Bluez, The Po’ Boys and The Barstool Bob Band. Food will be provided. Cover is $10 and donations will be accepted. Fundraising events will be held during the day to support this Rockford-area Bluesman in need!

Friday November 7th is Westside Andy and Mel Ford at Big Cities for a big night of blues and for Nino’s birthday. It should be a good night with these bluesmen from Madison!

The annual Crossroads Christmas Party will be Friday, December 12 at Big Cities. Reverend Raven will be playing up a storm! Bring a dish to pass if you can, but for sure come out for a great night of blues!

Eddie Shaw and the Wolfpack return for big show at Big Cities on December 19th, too! Check our calendar inside on page 12.

Our next Blues in the Schools Benefit will be after the Holidays, so watch out for news of that in the next newsletter.

We are also working on a big show but can’t mention anything yet. If things work out, stay tuned for a big announcement!

November and December are shaping up to be two big months of great music and fun. We hope to see you out and about keeping the blues alive!

Mississippi Valley Blues Society

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society (MVBS) provides our members a home away from home. I say that because I see more of our members in Davenport at the MVBF every Fourth of July weekend than any other time of the year. But what if that home away from home goes away? It could, without your help.

Last Spring, Iowa encountered flooding of near epic proportions. The 2008 MVBF was moved from LeClaire Park to downtown Davenport. Attendance was way down. Fundraising efforts have helped but they remain $96,000 behind the level of funding they need to make the 25th Anniversary Festival a reality in 2009. They need your help to raise money and close that gap to keep the show going and keep the blues alive.

Membership in MVBS is one way to help. Membership is available at a variety of levels; see table below. Business/Organization supporting memberships are available for $250.00 per year. You can send us a check along with an explanation of what membership you want to:

Mississippi Valley Blues Society102 South Harrison Street,
Suite 300Davenport, IA 52801-1811

1 Year 2 Years 3 Years Lifetime
Single $15.00 $25.00 $35.00 $400.00
Family $25.00 $45.00 $65.00 $500.00

Fundraisers are also being held. The next one is with Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater will play a fundraiser for the Mississippi Valley Blues Society on Friday, Nov. 7, at the Redstone Room in Davenport. The night will also include a silent auction of blues memorabilia including framed photos. Doors open at 6 p.m., with Ellis Kell and “Detroit” Larry Davison playing from 6:30-7:30. The first of Eddy Clearwater’s two sets begins at 8:00 p.m. Admission is $20.00, which includes hors d’oevres as long as they last.

Stay in tune with MVBS news, events and fundraising at!

Ernie “Sugar Lips” Brown Benefit

Ernie “Sugar Lips” Brown Benefit
Sunday, November 16th
Big Cities Lounge 3 to 8 PM

$10 Cover
Food will be provided
Music by:
Port Bluez
The Po Boys
Barstool Bob Band

Blues in the Schools with Fruteland Jackson

Fruteland Jackson returned to the Rockford area for two days of Blues in the Schools (BITS) on October 21st and 22nd. We were proud to bring Fruteland to schools to help keep the Blues alive.

Tuesday’s programs were at Winnebago Middle School where 150 6th graders were treated to the program in the morning and McNair Elementary School in Winnebago where the entire student body (250) of 3rd and 4th graders attended the program.

On Wednesday Jackson was in Rockford. He began in the morning at Lewis Lemon with 250 students from the 3rd and 4th Grades. The afternoon program was at Thompson Elementary where the entire student body (400) of K through 4 attended. In all, over 1,050 students were at the four programs.

There was also an evening show on Tuesday at the Just Goods Listening Room on 7th Street in Rockford. Acoustic bluesman Todd Lorenz opened the evening with a set of his original acoustic blues and folk music. His set was well received by the attendees. Todd also introduced his first two CDs of songs from his Twenty Aught Eight song-a-week project. He released the first 26 songs or new music on two CDs (reviewed inside). Fruteland Jackson was accompanied by Paul Kaye, a Wisconsin artist who recently accompanied Honeyboy Edwards at Grafton. Kaye played harp and mandolin with Fruteland and added a nice touch to the roots music. Jackson gave the crowd a great set of songs from his repertoire to enjoy. He also made his three CDs available for sale.

This program is partially supported by a grant from the Rockford Area Arts Council which receives support from the City of Rockford, the Illinois Arts Council, and its members.

Our Fall BITS effort thus far was hugely successful. We have brought BITS programs to area schools for over 7 years now and over 16,000 students have learned about and heard the blues because of it. Thanks to all the club members who helped make the program a success!

BITS Notes
· We have maintained our costs to be able to deliver BITS programs at the cost of about $1 per student attendee
· So far, we have provided eight programs to schools in Northern Illinois in 2008
· Funding for the programs comes from membership dues, benefit shows and grant money from the Rockford Area Arts Council.
· BITS programs are provide with zero cost to supported schools

Monday, September 15, 2008

Interview with Bruce Iglauer: Alligator Records Owner Discusses the State of the Blues with Steve Jones

SJ: Thank you for agreeing to this interview. How are you doing?
BI: I'm in Wisconsin where my wife lives. Yesterday I went to FitzGerald's for Janiva Magness, the Holmes Brothers and Marcia Ball. Really nice event, as always

SJ: Everyone associated with blues music uses the catch phrase "keeping the blues alive." How do you evaluate the state of blues music industry right now?
BI: I think that we're at a very crucial moment in the history of the blues, and those of us who love this music have to work hard to assure its future.

Let's look at some reality. The phrase 'the blues industry' is kind of funny, like 'jumbo shrimp' and 'military intelligence'. Blues CD sales represent about 1% of the music sold in the USA , and less in the rest of the world (down from about 1.5% six or seven years ago). The best paid blues artists in the world, like B.B. and Buddy, make about as much as second and third level rock bands. So I'd say those of us who love the blues are a very particular and perceptive minority group! Right now, what the blues desperately needs is both some new, younger champions who have the ability to reach outside the hardcore blues community and also some more support from the media. Losing Stevie Ray was a huge blow; he was the last true popular crossover artist who was bringing new fans to the blues from the rock world. It would also be great if there were some younger artists who could reach black-oriented radio and a younger black demographic. As you know, blues is really considered 'old people's music' in the black community. Blues is the creation of black Americans, and I'd like to see it more attached to the community that created it in the future. In other words, we need some exciting young black blues men and women who will give their contemporaries some sense that the blues is relevant to them, not just to white people.

For either of these things to happen, we need visionary artists--artists who can do more than restate what's already been done. We need contemporary stories, contemporary rhythms, and charismatic artists who can really communicate. I can imagine a young, multi-racial blues band incorporating traditional blues instruments along with hip hop rhythms, some rap sections, and maybe a turntablist. And great songs that have the elements of tension and release and emotional soothing that are key to blues. But I hear this band only in my imagination.

So right now, I'd say that we're at a critical time for the blues. If we bring in some new fans, blues has a possibility of becoming a petrified form of music, like New Orleans Jazz. That's what we have to prevent from happening.

SJ: You started Alligator at 23 years of age. What advice could you give people today who want to be young interpreneurs?
BI: I assume you mean someone who wanted to start a record label?

SJ: Yes, that’s what I was referring to.
BI: First, don't do what I did! It's much, much harder now than when I started. So, I'd tell anyone who wanted to do this to start by finding a job or an internship with an existing label to try to learn the business. It's also helpful to work at a record store (if you can find one, which is much of the problem; real record stores virtually don't exist). You must, must understand how distribution works. Being very aware of new technologies is important too. Digital distribution is probably the future, as much as I wish it weren't.

Understand publishing and copyright law in its basic form. Know what you can and can't do with a song that you don't control. This can be a major can of worms, and you don't want
to be infringing on copyright!

Work only with artists that you 100% believe in. Ultimately a label is only as good as its artists. Artists must have live charisma, fresh songs and musical ideas, the ability to run a band (very different skill set from the ability to play music), some facility to be on the road (a van, for example) and most of all, the artist needs to have his or her head on straight and understand that this is a job, not a hobby or something to do for fun. Being a touring musician is really hard. Selling enough CDs to make sense without touring is really impossible.

Finally, don't go into the record business thinking you're going to make much money. In the beginning, I ran my business out of a one-room apartment, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. Then I moved up to a two room apartment, then a falling-down old house. It was seven years before I had a full time employee and it was 14 years from when I started Alligator until when I wasn't living in the same place as my label. And times were easier then, and I was also very lucky. And I say that the business is much, much harder now than back then.

SJ: The recording industry seems less focused on CDs and is offering more alternatives like DVDs, downloads and perhaps other new formats. Are you seeing a demand for other formats? If so, how are you gearing up for this apparent change in consumer demands?
BI: I have always tried to be responsive to new formats and new marketing techniques. We began as an LPs company, we made 8-tracks on a few titles, tried some 45s for juke boxes (a big failure), made cassettes on every title, and we were the first blues label to commit to CDs (which was a very good move and helped us dominate the early years of blues CD sales). We began marketing from our web site in the mid-1990s. We began working with the legitimate downloaders as soon as these services were available, and our music is available on all the major services except E Music (because they don't pay at the same level as the other services). We have looked at DVDs, but can't make quality (surround sound, multi-camera) DVDs make sense financially. So far the DVD market for blues and other niche music is very small. With what's going on with retailers carrying less and less titles, I really don't see that we're going to enter the DVD market soon. It appears that physical formats (CDs) are ultimately doomed, and digital files will replace them. I'm not happy about that, but no one is asking me. I wish that digital files sounded better; MP3s are truly awful sounding if you compare them to the source CDs or vinyl albums. There are some services (Music Giants, HD Tracks) that are offering better quality downloads at slightly higher prices. It's worth it.

By the way, I totally believe that illegal downloading has been the most terrible thing that's happened to all kinds of musical creativity. Although Alligator has mostly adult consumers (I wish we had more younger fans), the downloads have run the legitimate stores out of business, and the stores that are gone are no longer stocking our music. The death of the good record store has been especially murderous for niche music--blues, jazz, classical, folk, world, etc. etc. At this point, for most people who don't live in a big city, the only way to buy most of this music on CD is through Amazon or of course at

SJ: Alligator's catalogue seems to be venturing further and further into areas far from the traditional "Chicago Blues" that has always been Alligator's mainstay. While the big electric guitar sound of CDs like the recent issues from Eddy Clearwater and Michael Burks continue to be produced, we are seeing some interesting sounds and styles from artists like Eric Lindell, JJ Grey and Mofro, Janiva Magness and even Marcia Ball. Is this something you are pushing or is it just a natural progression in the blues music industry?
BI: As I said above, I think blues must evolve or become petrified. So I like to see my artists continue to grow, and I look for artists who have one foot deep in the blues but aren't just trying to recreate what's been done. So Eric and JJ definitely fell in that 'one foot in the blues' category. In the case of Marcia, she's been evolving musically for years, and continues to do so. She's a very smart and incisive thinker, so she likes to push the boundaries. I was especially taken with "Miracle In Knoxville" on her new "Peace, Love & BBQ" album. Really an exciting approach, bluesy but fresh. Janiva is a new artist with us, but I've been watching here grow musically for a few years. I'm very pleased with the new album and I'm curious to see where she's going next.

Notice which artists I do and don't produce myself. I'm a blues guy--I love working with artists like Michael Burks and Lil' Ed and Koko Taylor and Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King. But if the music gets too sophisticated or too far from blues, I'm not the right guy. For my own taste, I would be happy to produce artists like Ed and Michael and Eddy Clearwater for the rest of my life. But those are old school artists, and there just aren't a lot of old school artists coming up that move me as much as the ones I've already signed and recorded. I'd love to find someone 20 years old who played (and convincingly SANG) straight-up blues with the attitude and talent of the veterans, but I haven't heard that person.

What new artists associated with your label excite you the most? You can't ask me which of my artists I like best! I only sign artists whose music I truly love and care about. In many cases, we establish close personal relationships, so they become almost like family. So ALL my artists, new and old, excite me.

SJ: Alligator has been and remains the leader in blues recordings for many years. There seems to be a lot of growth in labels like Delta Grove, Blind Pig, and some of the smaller studios. While the growth of the blues industry is great for artists and fans, is this apparent growth of the competition good or bad for Alligator?
BI: We've seen a lot of labels come and go over the years. Blind Pig is well established (and Jerry del Guidice, the co-owner, and I are close friends). Delta Groove has emerged as a real competitor, as has Northern Blues. At the same time, Rounder's Bullseye Blues label seems to be gone, Telarc is releasing less blues, Fat Possum seems to have pretty much abandoned blues, and HighTone has been sold. BlackTop has been gone for a long time now and we miss them. Meanwhile, there are a lot of blues artists who deserve recording (though not a lot of new ones coming up, as I've said) so we can't own the blues, and don't want to. There's plenty of room for other labels. On the other hand, there are not nearly enough clubs dedicated to blues and roots music, and certainly not enough fans coming out to support the live artists, or to buy the CDs. The blues is in a real recession, and of course, as I said already, the fact that the economy is in a recession is hurting the situation too.

SJ: The economy is in recession and oil prices continue to rise.
BI: Yup

SJ: How is the blues recording industry being impacted by the general economy?
BI: As I said above, these are hard times for the country and hard times for the blues. For most blues artists, the center of their income is touring. Record sales aren't good enough for them to live from royalties (even for the stars). But the money for touring artists, especially in the clubs, hasn't grown much at all over the years. In 1975, for a sideman to
make $75 and a hotel room on the road was good pay. Now, over 30 years later, to make $150 and a hotel room is often good pay. On bad nights, band leaders make no more than the sidemen. When the price of gas goes up, the price of motels goes up, the price of food goes up, the musicians' fees don't go up (and gig attendance goes down). Try to find a touring bluesman with health insurance, unless it comes through a spouse. Good luck. It's a very, very difficult way to make a living, and getting harder.

Despite the economy, I am amazed at the growth of the festival industry. Every year there seems to be more and more new blues festivals. Do you think this is because of a growing interest in the blues as a genre? Is there more interest in the blues now than, say, 10 or 15 years ago? I'm heartened to some extent by the growth of festivals and other special events (like "Taste of _____ (name your suburb)") that hire blues artists. Also, there have been some interesting arts center tours with packages like Charlie Musselwhite, The N. Miss All Stars and Mavis Staples, and also Dr. John and Shemekia Copeland. These draw adult audiences that often won't come to bar gigs (partly because they no longer enjoy bars, and partly because bar gigs traditionally start late and adults traditionally start their days early. But at the same time, the number of younger fans who come out for blues at all is smaller and smaller, and I mostly see lots of gray hair (like mine) at blues gigs, wherever they are. Based on CD sales and the number of clubs that have closed or changed music format, and decreasing radio play combined with no new champion for the blues, I'd say that the audience is shrinking at the moment.

I know my children (who are getting beyond the term "child") are interested at least in some level by blues music. Maybe I've forced it on them a bit, but I see a lot of younger fans at festivals and blues music shows. Honestly, I don't. In a couple of weeks I'm going to the Deep Blues Festival in Minnesota, which is made up of what I'd describe as a lot of Fat Possum-influenced young white bands, plus T-Model Ford. I'm very curious to see what the audience is there. What are you impressions on the next generation of music fans and how do they relate to the blues? This is tough; I'm not one of them. I think if I were younger, I'd want music that I could embrace as 'mine,' like my generation did with the 60s rock bands, including the blues-influenced British ones. I see some hope with the Black Keys in being a band like this. I thought the N. Miss All Stars would be the big crossover blues-rock band, but it didn't turn out that way. So my feeling is that if younger music fans are going to relate to blues, it will be because the music seems raw, direct, a little scary and maybe a little alien to them. This is the way I felt when I discovered blues (thank you, Fred McDowell). Like it was the most honest, unvarnished music in the world. I think that's what younger fans want--something that seems real and honest in this pre-packaged world.

SJ: Chicago has always been a hotbed for the blues. Since the 1960's the West Coast has had a large and viable blues scene. Where do you see other major interest in the blues in the US ? Where does it surprise you that the blues has never caught on in a big way?
BI: Obviously Chicago became a blues hotbed because of the huge number of black people who emigrated from the blues heartland of the Delta from the early 1900s until about 1970. So they brought their music with them, and long before there was a North Side scene with white fans, there were small clubs on the West and South sides filled with black patrons who were enjoying the music that had come with them from the South. Of course the same thing happened when Texas blues moved with black people to the West Coast, also influenced by Kansas City swing. The current West Coast scene is mostly from those roots, along with the strong influence of George "Harmonica" Smith, who went to California and taught Rod Piazza, William Clarke and others.

I hear blues artists from all over the country and all over the world. I'm surprised that there is a strong club scene in Florida . Of course there are still excellent bluesmen and women around Austin , though surprisingly few clubs that features blues. There seem to be a lot of good Houston musicians too. One of the best times of my year is going to the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge in Memphis , where aspiring blues artists from almost everywhere come to compete. The variety of talent (and quality) is amazing.

Where does it surprise me that blues has never caught on in a big way?--Well, to be frank, my feeling is that blues is always going to be be a minority music. When it's done right, it's full of tough adult emotions and not the kind of simple sentimental pap that is the center of much of pop music. So, although the structures of the blues are heard everywhere (including in tons of commercials), the inside of the blues is really hard to do right.

SJ: In what new directions do you see yourself and Alligator going in the next 10 years? BI: I'm really so artist-centered that I don't think in terms of directions. I think in terms of finding artists who are saying something fresh that's in the blues tradition. The label will follow the artists. I won't take a right turn into a whole new field of music. I must have artists whose music I relate to personally on a very gut level. If I can find those artists, I will be happy to keep making records until the day I die.

SJ: What is the best advice you can give to a new blues band trying to establish itself in today's scene?
BI: Boy, a lot of things. First, learn as much of the blues tradition as you can. Stevie Ray not only was inspired by Albert King, Albert Collins and Lonnie Mack, but was also deeply into solo Delta blues artists. Muddy Waters idolized Son House. Howlin' Wolf based some of his music on Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson. And House, Patton and Johnson were all inspired by bluesmen and women from before records were being made. The blues is a very deep well. If you just say "I want to be a hot blues-rock guitar player", you're missing 90% of the water. Second, all the great blues men and women found something of their own to say. They were singing of their own lives and of the world around them. If you can write at all, start writing honest original songs from your own experience. Third, get in front of an audience. Blues is not music you make by yourself. It's music that is designed to meet the emotional needs of the listener. Imagine a preacher preaching without a congregation. That's what a blues artist performing without an audience is like. Fourth, don't perform the blues thinking that you are going to get rich. Perform it because you love it. Like John Lee Hooker, because "it's in him, and it's got to come out." Fifth, remember that blues is a music of both singing and playing. It's ultimately about telling a story, with both words and music. Blues isn't just a long solo with 12-bar chord changes. It's a proud tradition of music designed to reach the deepest part of the human soul.

SJ: Bruce, I know that our readers and blues fans in general are appreciative of everything you have done to progress the blues as an art form and to give them and the world great music to enjoy. Thank you for taking the time to talk with us and give us the pulse of the blues world!
BI: I'm always glad to be in touch with fellow blues fans. I hope to meet your readers at club gigs and festivals, when they come out to support the men and women who make the music we love so much.
SJ: And I am sure they would enjoy meeting you, too! We'd love to have you come out to some of the event in the Rockford area. Thank you once again for the interview and all the great music!

Bruce Iglauer and Alligator records Facts
· Born July 10, 1947
· Attended Lawrence College, Appleton, WI
· Radio DJ and frequent visitor to the Chicago Blues scene while n college
· Was $30 a week shipping clerk at Delmark records in 1970
· Founded Aligator in 1971 when Bob Koester refused to record Hound Dog Taylor
· Used $900 of an inheritance to produce the Hound Dog Taylor album, and the rest of it to press 100 copies to market
· Built Alligator records over the last 37 years to become the #1 blues label in the world
· Named “Allgator Records” after Bruce’s habit to click his teeth in time with the nusic
· Find out more about Bruce and Alligator at www.alligatorrecords. com

September-October 2008 Newsletter

You will note that this is a rather hefty issue. We have so much music coming in that we have reviewed that the issue is just overflowing with good stuff. And adding to that we also got a great interview with Bruce Iglauer from Alligator Records that is featured on the first three pages.

With this newsletter being created and delivered a little late, we still have a lot of shows to announce. Berghoff and Blues in Monroe WI on September 19 and 20 has an ad and info inside. The even years at the Fairgrounds are Cheesefest Years in Monroe, but the lineup at Minhas Craft Brewery is a good one. Competing for your attention that weekend is the Third Annual Grafton Blues festival also in WI. A great lineup is offered there at the home of Paramount Records. See inside for their ad. Lastly, Beausoleil is playing at Beloit College that Friday night. Difficult choices, but you cannot go wrong at any of them!

We will be holding a meeting to elect officers and a board of directors. Please submit any nominations to Mark Thompson.

Planning is also underway for our fall BITS. We have some interesting directions that we can go with BITS and will discuss this at our next meeting. Some possibilities exist to bring back some old, favorite BITS artists or to possibly use more local artists.

Another planning item is a benefit show that we will be planning. We need to raise some funds for our Spring BITS programs and ideas for this are welcome.

The actual meeting time and date has not been scheduled due to some schedule conflicts, but it will be announced via our news group on email.

We had a great summer of blues, and the fall is shaping up to be just as much fun. We hope to see you all at shows and our meetings!

Monday, June 23, 2008

The 2008 Summer of Blues

Festivals abound over the summer. Every weekend seems to have something going!

One new event in late June that was added to Big Cities calendar is Bernard Allison on Saturday June 27th. This will be a rocking time! More late June events: Stars and Guitars and The Rockin’ Rib Fest have joined forces June 26th to June 29th. Blue’s fans will especially enjoy Saturday’s events with Devon Allman’s Honeytribe and Dicky Betts and Great Southern.

MVBF is featured in the cover story. The following weekend is Bamfest; it is a Friday and Saturday event, July 11&12, at Belleville Community Park in Belleville, Wisconsin. The festival features Larry McCray, Wayne Baker Brooks, Eric Sardinas & Big Motor, Sonny Landreth, Robben Ford, and Jeremy Spencerthe Original Fleetwood Mac. Check it out at Also on the 11th is Blues on Chicago, an annual Freeport IL event . This year it is featuring the Reverend Raven and the Cash Box Kings. 6 to 11 PM. Admission is only $3.

Nothing But the Blues Festival In Bloomington, IL is July 18&19 in Tri


Lakes. Check it out at Larry McCray, Janiva Magness, The Holmes Brothers and Thornetta Davis are featured there.

The next weekend is Prairie du Chein’s turn. Friday

-Saturday, July 25-26, 2008 is the Prairie Dog Blues Festival in Wisconsin. Check them out at www.prairiedog- Jason Ricci, Walter Trout, Nick Moss, Kilborn Alley, and Bernard Allison are but a few of their acts!

Charlottes’ Web has the Blues with Chubby Carrier July 13th at Klehm Arboretum and the Rockford Versus Beloit Guitar Shootout in Sinnissippi Park on July 25th.

The second annual Waukesha WI BluesFest, will be held August 8 and 9, 2008 at Naga

-Waukee Park in Delafield, Wisconsin. Doyle Bramhall headlines on Friday and Popa Chubby on Saturday. Check

The Fargo Blues Fest is the next weekend., Friday and Saturday August 5 and 16. For complete, up to date information on this and all festivals, check out It is a great on line resource.

Closing out the month of August is the 25th anniversary of On the Waterfront in Rockford. The festival begins with a Styx concert on the Great Lawn on Thursday the 28th, and goes into full swing Friday through Sunday. The Left Bank Stage features blues, and fans will love the headlining artists there this year. Tab Benoit will close out Friday evening the 29th with his brand of cajun blues. Saturday the 30th features the ever

-youthful and soulful Bettye LaVette. Bettye was honored with the Best Contemporary Female Artist ard at this years’ Blues Music Awards while Tommy Castro received honors as both the BB King Entertainer of the Year and for Best Contemporary Blues Alum. Tommy is featured on Sunday the 31st as part of the Legendary Rythym and Blues Revue, along with Deanna Bogart, Magic Dick and Ronnie Baker Brooks. It will be a wild finale to a great weekend of music! Barstool Bob Levis and his Band, New Orleans’ Trombone Shorty, Madison’s Westside Andy and a host of other acts will be playing over the weekend, too. Check it out at www.onthewaterfront. om.. It’s going to be a great summer of blues music!!!

Mississippi Valley Blues Festival July 3-5 Will Go On- Come Hell or High Water!

The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival is always a big a event for Crossroads Blues Society members. The relaxed atmosphere, the great music and great setting get our members out in numbers that are equal to (if not better than) some of our meetings! This year’s festival is over the 4th of July; it begins on Thursday evening the 3rd and runs through Saturday night the 5th of July this year.

The location of the festival is still being determined. With the flooding of LeClair Park in Davenport twice this year, the park may not be ready to support this year’s festival. Despite the flood waters rising, the festival organizers assure us that the fest will go on! Check out the Mississippi Valley Blues Society (MVBS) website for the announcement of the location:

This year’s lineup is another great one for blues fans. The organizers from MVBS have done a great job getting a lot of great talent to perform. We appreciate their efforts to stay afloat and make this great event happen despite the regional flooding in Iowa and Illinois. Many members are going, so car pooling and room sharing opportunities abound! Come on out and have a great time and help keep the blues alive!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Mississippi Valley Blues Festival July 3-5

For twenty-four years, volunteers of the Mississippi Valley Blues Society have been organizing and presenting the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. The three-day festival is held each year over the 4th of July weekend in picturesque LeClaire Park on the banks of the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa. Through the care and attention paid in selecting performers to represent a variety of blues styles and the down-home non-commercial atmosphere of the fest, over the years the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival has become recognized as one of the finest blues fests in the country. This year’s edition will be held from Thursday, July 3 through Saturday, July 5. We hope you’ll join us for a great weekend of blues music!This site has information pertaining to the festival, from the line up to ticket and hotel information.

Advance tickets for the 2008 IH Mississippi Valley Blues Festival are now available at all IH Mississippi Valley Credit Untion locations, the River Center/Adler Theatre box office and through Ticketmaster®. A three-day pass for the Fest is available in advance for $40. The admission price at the gate will be $18 per day, so the three-day pass offers a significant savings. Mississippi Valley Blues Society and IH Mississippi Valley Credit Union members will also be able to purchase individual fest tickets in advance at a discounted rate of $15 each at all IHMVCU locations.
Ticket purchases through the RiverCenter/Adler can be mailed to you if you include a self-addressed stamped envelope with your check or money order. There is a handling fee for mail orders. The box office can also deliver your tickets to the Will Call table at the Ripley Street Festival Entrance.

Ticket purchases through Ticketmaster are subject to a per ticket service charge.
RiverCenter/Adler Theater Box Office
136 East Third Street
Davenport, IA 52801
(563) 326-8555
Ticketmaster® retail outlets do not accept phone orders.
Advance ticket holders will receive one half-hour early gate admission.

Barstool Bob CD Release Party at Leombruni's in Byron June 21st

More history to be made! Byron's first CD release party ever!

Barstool Bob Levis and his band will be in Byron on Saturday, June 21st at Leombruni's Italian Village. The show will be from 9:30 PM to 1 AM. Bob and the band are celebrating the release of their new CD, Barstool Blues and will be featuring selections from the CD and a host of great rocking Chicago-style blues tunes!

The evening will feature Bob and 5 band members playing in the restaurant area, so there is plenty of room for the show. Come out and enjoy a great musical experience and come early to have an authentic Italian meal before the show! Cover charge is only $5.

The new disc features dynamic guitar work from Mr. Levis, who has toured and recorded with blues greats like Lonnie Brooks and Otis Rush in addition to performing for seventeen years as a member of the house band at the Kingston Mines club in Chicago.

Levis is the consummate musician, admired by guitar players all over the world for his stellar rhythm guitar work. This recording is the first that focuses on Bob’s equally impressive skills as a lead player.

The disc was recorded at Fuse Productions in Rockford with many of the best blues musicians in the area including Steve Ditzell on guitar & vocals , Brother Dave Kaye on bass, Big Jim Johnson on vocals & harmonica, Link Leary on drums, Ted Lawrence on harmonica, Larry Pendleton on vocal & guitar and Dave Wood on guitar. Special guests include Westside Andy Linderman on harmonica, Jimmy Voegeli on keyboards and Marty Binder on drums. Lonnie Brooks is the featured vocalist on a stirring version of “I Can’t Hold Much Longer.”

"... the instrumentation—especially Levis’s playing—and choice of material is outstanding ..." - Karen McFarland for

Featuring thirteen tracks and over 73 minutes of hard-hitting Chicago style blues, this recording documents the outstanding talent in the Rockford musical community. Tracks like the brooding “Double Trouble” or the rousing instrumental “Barstool Breakdown” are sure to please blues fans all over the world.

"...thirteen tracks of very authentic, string-bending, blues-harp blowing, gut-shouting boogie and blues..."
- Bert Saraco for

The disc was produced and released by Big Paw Records, a new and upcoming blues record label. Copies of the disc are also available for purchase on-line at CD
Bob lives in the Rockford area and he has played before in Byron and in cities all over the world. For advanced tickets or more information, call Steve Jones from the Crossroads Blues Society at 815-234-3118. You can get more info about Bob at Copies of the CD and information about the blues will be available at the show. This is a unique event and a show you do not want to miss!

Smokin’ Joe Kubec and Bnois King

Live and Smokin’

June 13th, 9 PM Big Cities Lounge

$15 cover

A Rosemary Production
For more info contact Joe Geraghty at for info

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Barstool Bob CD Release Party March 1 at Big Cities

History will be made at Big Cities on March 1st. Barstool Bob Levis will release his first ever CD with him leading a band! This is an event not to be missed. This will be the first opportunity to purchase the CD, and you can be among the first to buy this monumental musical achievement and to listen to the artists live!

This is the first release for Big Paw Records whose logo is featured below. For those of you who have see our illustrious Society President Mark Thompson in a tank top, you will understand why this logo exists. Otherwise, you will have to ask him yourself. Mark and Bob produced the CD and it features a host of talent helping out on the recording.

Check out the official CD review inside this issue. CDs are $15 each and will be available at the party. Come on out for this show– you will not want to miss it! This is another Rockford first in the blues music world and you can be a part of the action. Special guest– Lonnie Brooks!

Bob Levis Interview by Dave Stine

I sat down with Bob Levis at Big Cities during the belated Crossroads Blues Society Christmas Party/meeting and Reverend Raven gig to talk with him about his upcoming CD, Barstool Blues.

At first Bob was a little hesitant to talk to me, since I’d recently become somewhat of the Simon Cowell of blues reviewing for newsletter. He said I was pretty “brutal” to Grady Champion, Charles Burton, and even Howlin’ Wolf. I told him, I just call ‘em as I see ‘em, but that he didn’t need to pre-worry. (NOTE: Wolf did call me from beyond the grave to ask “how many more years” was I gonna wreck his life!)

Anyway, about the CD. First, for those of you who don’t know--and I can’t imagine who you’d be--Bob was guitarist for both Lonnie Brooks and Otis Rush back in the day. You’ll see his name pop up on Cold Day in Hell, Live at Kingston Mines, and other albums that may be floating around library. He moved to Rockford a few years ago, and he hosts a Wednesday night blues jam at Big Cities as well as adding guitar to Ernie and The Po’Boys.

I asked Bob how the CD came about and he said some things happen; some things you make happen; and some things just seem to happen on their own. He is very thankful that all the various things DID come together at one time: a financial backer (Mark Thompson), some great players (see below), a studio (see below), and the opportunity to combine all these things. Locals should recognize all the players on the CD. Bob had been in Chicago when Steve Ditzell was with Koko Taylor and Junior Wells. They knew of each other but had never played together. Steve also transplanted to Rockford over 10 years ago. Hanging out at Big Cities allowed Bob to hook up with Steve and Dave Kaye and some of the other players on the CD. Bob doesn’t sing so put out the call to people like Steve, who he knew could help him with the project. His old friend Lonnie Brooks contributes a song, as does Larry Pendleton from Ernie and the Po’Boys. Big Jim Johnson, another local icon, sings and plays harp on the disc as well. The rhythm section is Dave Kaye and Marty Binder (mostly). I can’t even begin to mention with whom both of these men have played--the list is too long. Other players on the CD include Westside Andy and Jimmy Voegeli from the Westside Andy/Mel Ford Band, Teddy Lawrence from Johnny and the Boomers and Cross Eyed Cat, and Dave Wood from????

Bob warned me that the CD breaks no new ground: it’s just a blues album. He wanted a CD of blues played “the way it should be played” and nothing more. He picked people to play whose style he knew would fit with what he and Mark wanted to do. There were no band rehearsals, just various players in the studio, live, who he told to “play what you know.”

Bob and Mark used Miles Nieslen’s The Fuse studio and appreciated to care that Miles, and Chris French took with the project. (NOTE to Tricksters--dad Rick dropped by during the Lonnie Brooks recording.)

Mark Thompson acted as executive producer and Bob as producer. I don’t know what these titles mean, but I think that means Mark had the final say. Arrangements were simply talked out. Most songs were complete in 1 or 2 takes.

The gear head in me wanted to know what guitar(s) Bob used, but I already knew the answer. Although this isn’t an Otis Rush tribute, Bob relies heavily on his mentor’s tone, so he used his red Epiphone Riviera.

I told Bob that I am a HUGE Otis Rush fan, that I was familiar with most of the players, and really look forward to hearing the CD (I got a pre-release copy that night).

So, with no further adieu . . . see the review on

Crossroads Blues Society News and Notes by Steve Jones

In addition to the Bob Levis CD release party on March 1, we have a lot of other stuff to report on. We are a busy club and things are happening every month.

We are working on the remainder of the Spring semester BITS programs. At press time we had no specifics, but look for the Spring to be all local acts supporting our programs. We have a lot of strong BITS acts in both Northern Illinois and Wisconsin, and we intend to use them! Stay tuned for more info.

Wednesday March 26th at Big Cities is a big night. We are sponsoring a show entitles “A Tribute to Little Walter.” Harp players Dennis Gruenling and Steve Guyger with guitar player Doug Deming will be featured that night starting early at 8 PM. Dennis is releasing a CD entitled “Just Keep Lovin” Him: A tribute to Little Walter” and this will be one of the stops on the CD release tour. It will be a great show so get there early to get a good seat!

We got some good press in the Rockford Register Star and Rock River Times for Pistol Pete’s BITS shows, but then a larger scale article in the RR Star came out on February 2nd as part of the Black History Month Celebration which was entitled “Blues Survival: Has modern music forgotten its roots?” by Edith Webster of the Register Star. Mark Thompson and Crossroads get quoted and mentioned in the well-done piece.

And lastly, the RAMI Awards! Don't forget to vote in the RAMI Awards - Crossroads is nominated in the Musical Outreach Organization category. It is free to vote and you can help our club get recognition that may elp us to get more funding and grants so we can do more to keep the blues alive. Check it out and vote at:

March and April will be busy months. Come on out and support the blues and

Presidents Corner by Mark Thompson

In January, The Crossroads Blues Society received confirmation that the Rockford Area Arts Council had awarded us a $1,000 grant to help fund our 2008 Blues in the Schools programs. The Arts Council has been supporting our efforts since we started BITS. We thank them once again for their confidence and support of our programs. Please consider signing up for an individual membership to the Arts Council. A one year membership starts at $25. They certainly deserve our support !!
We also want to thank several people who made recent donations of CDs to the Crossroads CD Library.
- member David Stine donated about ten discs from his personal collection, including several Duke Robillard discs
- Member Kevin Becker contributed 45 promo discs from Borders Books in Rockford. Most of these titles were not currently in the library. Kevin manages the store that has a Blues cd section that is #1 in sales in the company !!!
- Karen Howard of Charlotte's Web contributed several new releases from the Blind Pig label - Poppa Chubby, Webb Wilder live and Nappy Brown.

Thanks to their generosity, the library is chock full of great stuff for your listening pleasure !!

Remember that any current member can check out up to five CDs from the library at one time. The library is available at each Crossroads general membership meeting.

BITS Programs with Pistol Pete are Another Huge Success for Crossroads Blues Society!

On January 16th our Crossroads Blues Society presented Blues in the Schools (BITS) with Pistol Pete. We presented the program to about 620 students. Approximately 400 students at Nashold Elementary school attended and about 400 of them shook Pete’s hand or hugged him after the show. We also had about 120 music students at Lincoln Middle School attend the BITS program. The middle school students were into music and asked numerous questions, including, “What is your favorite color?”. For the record, purple is Pete's color of choice.

Pete did a fine job of performing and explaining the history of Blues and the value of getting an education. He also had to put up with Harmonica Joe on stage. It took little to no coaxing to get Joe up there; for those of you who know Joe this will not come as a surprise. Actually, Pete would probably had to forcibly restrain Joe from playing as it is believed that Joe arranged this as part of Pete’s agreement to work with us.

In all seriousness, Joe did a great job arranging the programs and escorting Pete around. It was also good to have other Society members attend the shows. Pat Reilly , Mark Thompson and Rick Hein attended at least one of the BITS programs. We would like to give a special thanks to Rick Hein for all his help with BITS.

Both the Rockford Register Star and Rock River Times showed up at Nashold School to cover Blues in the Schools programs. The Register Star article featured a picture of Pistol Pete, another of the students and a nice article about the program. The Rock River Times also featured the programs in a fine article with pictures.

At Lincoln MS, Joes’ granddaughter Aubrey got to be on stage with Pete and was also thanked by the Band Director for getting her Grandpa to bring BITS to Lincoln. A good time was had by all.

BITS trivia: Pete really likes the new Kentucky Fried Chicken hot wings.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Christmas in January and BITS with Pistol Pete

Christmas in January? More BITS? You heard it right! We’re back and kicking right after the first of the year. The December snow storms and weather put a damper on a lot of things, so we are starting the New Year with a bang!

Pistol Pete will be performing in two area schools on Wednesday, January 16th. Pete has wanted to work in our BITS program, and we have the funds and opportunity to put on another day of programs. He will be at Nashold Elementary School at 10 AM and Kenedy Middle School at 1 PM. This should be exciting for the kids to see a local guy who is an enormous talent! Both Pete and Crossroads look forward to this opportunity. One of our goals was to use more local talent for our BITS programs, and Pete helps us achieve that goal once again!

Our Christmas Party at Big Cities got cancelled as did Reverend Raven’s gig at Big Cities, so we are back on for Friday, January 25th at 8 PM. The party starts first with food and fun, and then the Rev and his Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys will tear the place up with their Chicago-style blues from North of the Border. With the new Illinois smoking laws, I guess the Altar Boys will have to bechain smoking’ outside!!!! We know that their sounds will still be smoking’ in doors!

So we are kicking the year off with a bang. We as a club had a fantastic year in 2007 and we hope that all our members and friends did, too! We wish all the best to everyone and hope that the blues you have in 2008 all feel and sound good! Here’s to a great’08!

Gina Sicilia and Dave Gross BITS Programs are Another Huge Success for Crossroads!

Our Crossroads Blues Society Blues in the Schools efforts continued and wrapped up for 2007 in style. Gina Sicilia and the Dave Gross Band. performed at Guilford HS at 9:30 AM on the 14th of November and at 12:45 PM at Spring Hill Elementary School. Over 125 music-oriented High School students and the entire 650 student body at the elementary school were given lessons by two of the blues worlds’ newest and brightest stars. They also performed an evening g show at Big Cities Lounge at 7:30 PM on the evening of November 14th.

Gina has quickly become one of my favorite new vocalists and is now nominated for a Blues Music (formerly WC Handy) Award as Best New Artist. There is so much vocal talent and sound that comes out of this petite young woman’s vocal chords. She is going to become a big time blues star. The kids all identified with her and had a grand time clapping and dancing as she sang for them. You can find out more about Gina at

Dave Gross is equally talented; his guitar work and vocals are super and one has to wonder how far this guy will go in the blues world and I think great things are in his future. The students were quite impressed by Dave.

The band supporting Dave and Gina were equally good. Scott Hornick on upright bass is a hugely talented artist. His bass picking and slapping were superb and the joy emanating from his presence throughout the performances was just fascinating to watch. He is certainly into his music and craft! Check out his web site at

Matt Hill was added as a second guitarist for the band. Matt hails from North Carolina, His raw and uninhibited style is rrefreshing to watch and listen to. His Little Richard impersonations really got the kids going. His is a great guitar player, vocalist and performer who compliments
Dave Gross quite well. Check him out at I think you will hear more from this artist!

Dave’s drummer is also new to the mix from Dave gross’ last visit to Rockford. Steve Pozzelanti is a great addition to Dave’s band! He is a very talented guy.

We were the first publication to review Gina’s CD (Mar-Apr 07 Issue) and every review since ours has been equally glowing n the praise for this great new young artist. She is only 22 yet sings with the conviction and soul of a much more worldly aged woman. She is a huge talent and this is an artist that you should not miss. Dave Gross is another exceptional young talent. He was nominated for the best new artist Blues Music Awards held earlier this year because of the fire in his guitar play and vocals. He and his band are from the New Jersey area and are touring with Gina; they will be part of all the BITS events. His CD was reviewed in our Jan-Feb 07 Issue. Gina is now nominated for the same award Dave had been nominated for last year.

This is a talented group of musicians and we were glad to have them here. Next up for BITS is Wednesday, January 16th with Pistol Pete. We had a good year in 2007 and look forward to an even better one in 2008.

Barstool Bob Levis CD Release Party March 1st at Big Cities!

It’s been a long time coming, but the music world finally has a recording of our own blues legend Bob Levis leading a band! Bob has played, toured and recorded with legends like Otis Rush and Lonnie Brooks but never produced an album of his own. This CD features Bob with a great back up band that even includes his former mentor Lonnie Brooks on one track! The CD will be released at a party at Big Cities Lounge on Saturday, March 1st, so be there to be one of the first to own and savor this CD and to be part of the experience!

Mark Thompson and Bob produced this CD, and it is a marvelous piece of musical work. The backup musicians are Brother Dave Kaye on bass, Marty Binder and Link Leary on drums, Steve Ditzell, Dave Wood, Larry Pendeleton and Lonnie Brooks on guitar, Westside Andy Linderman, Ted Lawrence and Big Jim Johnson on harp, Jimmy Voegeli on keyboards and vocals by Brooks, Ditzell, Pendleton, Voegeli and Johnson.

The CD includes 13 tracks. It opens with Otis Rush’s “It Takes Time” and includes 9 other covers and three original tunes. Bob’s “Barstool Breakdown” will be recognized by all Wednesday night Big Cities fans as the full expanded version of the instrumental song Bob goes into breaks with. Jim Johnson’s “Getting Out of Town” is also a local favorite. Teddy Lawrences “Shufflisko” is a great harp piece. The great songs covered by Bob include “Blues Before Sunrise,” “Why Are People Like That?,” “Mystery Train” and a bunch of other great songs.

This is going to be a big night for Rockford blues. We’d love to see all our members and a lot of area blues fans turn out for this CD launch. It is an historic moment for both Bob and for Rockford. Look for more info in our next newsletter and via email about the CD release party! It’s going to be a great event and you won’t want to miss it!!!!!