Vivascene Blues and More Playlist #2

A great selection of blues artistry from a wonderful range of talented bluesmen and blueswomen dedicated to the call of music that stirs the soul like no other.



The song “High Price To Pay” was written by Detroit Motor City guitarist Paul Warren and released on The Paul Warren Project’s Round Trip in 2011. Shaun Murphy and her ace band increase the tempo a shade while infusing the song with a bluesier and much clearer sound. The dual guitarists shine brightly as Murphy’s marvelous vocal is defiant in declaring that she has had enough of her man’s cheating ways, and now he’s gonna have to pay the ultimate high price for his infidelity…. losing her and her love.

The production and the overall mix on this song is excellent. The rhythm section provides a firm foundation without overpowering the other instruments. The guitars effectively duel a bit at the opening, at the instrumental break, and then again at the song’s coda with the organ providing forceful accompaniment. Yet, the pièce de résistance of the song is Shaun Murphy’s soulfully radiant blues belter articulation.

“The boys in my band are amazing, as always; Tom DelRossi, John Marcus, Kenne Cramer, Tommy Stillwell, and Kevin McKendree. Love you guys, and thank you for always continuing to be there!” ~ Shaun Murphy 

Vocals — Shaun Murphy 

Guitar — Kenne Cramer

Guitar — Tommy Stillwell 

Keyboards — Kevin McKendree 

Bass — John Marcus

Drums —Tom DelRossi

SCOTT ELLISON  ~ from the album ZERO-2-SIXTY


Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Scott Ellison is a multi-decade musician.  He once again hits major paydirt with his newest release titled Zero-2-Sixty on Liberation Hall Records.  Co-produced by Ellison and acclaimed veteran songwriter and producer Steve Barri, the release offers twelve quality tracks, all superbly sung by Ellison with extreme conviction.  Ellison’s top-notch guitar work is also in evidence throughout, as the disc covers the rich province of sundry Midwestern Rock and Blues ground with aplomb.  Eleven of the twelve were either written, or co-written, by the talented Scott Ellison.

Personally, I’m a fan of cover renditions, especially when they are presented with reverence and a few twists.  Such a version of a song made famous by Bobby “Blue” Bland, released in 1974 on his Dreamer album, comes with “I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me).”  This song was written by the team of Steve Barri, Dan Walsh, Michael Alan Price, and Michael Omartian.

It’s quite a departure from the horn driven Bobby Bland record.  Ellison’s guitar is the main instrument here, with admirable assists coming from Hammond B-3 organ and piano.  The drums are prominent in the mix, giving the song a rockier edge that I truly enjoy.  Ellison’s vocal is gritty gravel compared to Bland’s satiny smooth, which again grants the song a great blues rock feel.  

     I Wouldn’t Treat A Dog – personnel 

Scott Ellison — Vocals, Guitar 

Danny Timms— Hammond B-3

Hank Charles — Piano

Jon Paris — Bass

Robbie Armstrong — Drums

Matt Teagarden — Shakers & Tambourine 



Pianist, Hammond organist and composer Anthony Geraci’s interest in playing piano began at age four when he told his parents “I want a piano!” Later in life, seeing Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and Willie Dixon was part of his blues education that could only be learned by seeing these great artists first hand. Mr. Geraci would become an original member of both Sugar Ray & the Bluetones and Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters.

“Anthony has been contributing to this music for many years, and his album illuminates the many colors, shades, and styles of the blues. Anthony is very inspiring, and I love his dedication to the old masters like Otis Spann, Sunnyland Slim, and Big Maceo Merriweather.” ~ Ronnie Earl

“I model my songs after artists such as Lightning Hopkins and other blues greats. You have to tell a story in a short amount of time. I like writing songs, that if you close your eyes while listening, you can get a visual within your mind. Even my instrumentals I feel tell a story: they’re not endless jams, but music that has something to say as well. 

“My latest recording, Blues Called My Name on Blue Heart Records, has a song I wrote titled “Into The Night” that features the great Walter Trout on guitar. The melody tells a story, and Walter’s guitar playing is so lyrical that you can feel a story emulating from the notes on his guitar.” ~ Anthony Geraci 

DEB CALLAHAN ~ from the album BACKBONE


I’ve been a fan of Philadelphia-based Deb Callahan’s vocals and songwriting skills for over a decade; ever since first hearing her 2008 release Grit and Grace. The lady combines the attributes of skilled songwriting, a deep appreciation of American roots music, along with her powerfully affecting vocals. At times, her original compositions tell stories and hold profound meaning that prove highly relatable.

For her new, highly anticipated release, Backbone, on Blue Pearl Records, Callahan has written a strong group of new songs, some with a key assist from her sympathetic producer Chris Arms. The release is aptly named, with much of the album adhering to the definition of the word

Callahan had spent the time since her previous release accumulating ideas to help in composing her new songs. Also, she has been continually cultivating the chemistry between herself and her long term bandmates, sharpening their musical skills on the road. Allen James on guitar, Garry Lee on bass and Tom Walling on drums all have developed their chops alongside Callahan, and all provide sturdy support.

A bit of a change of pace comes with a slow hill country blues song titled “Cleaning House.” Callahan’s vocal is clean and clear, accompanied by Arms’s slide guitar as she sings about reconciling her memories of a love that didn’t work out. As she tackles the chore of moving forward, her vocal is charming, yet chilling.

The variety of musical material on Backbone snakes stealthily from soul to funk to blues rock with one constant: the exceptional vocals of Deb Callahan.



Oscar Wilson was born in Chicago and lived on 43rd Street. Wilson grew up in the company of many famous blues artists. Blues legends Junior Wells, Elmore James, Big Smokey Smothers and close family friend David “Honeyboy” Edwards were all regulars at weekly Friday night fish fries/jam sessions at the Wilson home. 

Oscar Wilson joined the Cash Box Kings in 2007, bringing with him an instantly commanding stage presence and an authoritative vocal style that gives fire-breathing power to the music of that dynamite group.

In 2017, Wilson did a solo project, co-produced by tenor sax man Sam Burckhardt along with the guitar virtuoso, Joel Paterson. Paterson, Beau Sample, and Alex Hall were all familiar with Oscar Wilson from Cash Box Kings releases. And, Pete Benson reigns as one of Chicago’s premiere Hammond B3 jazz organists.

Mr. Paterson relates a bit of the project’s specifics:

“Sometimes great recordings happen for simple reasons. When Sam Burckhardt asked me to help him put a band together to play the 2017 Basel Blues festival, I thought it was an opportunity to form a dream lineup of Chicago musicians who, because of the realities of making a living playing the local clubs, can’t always afford to play together in one band. 

“It became a unique chance to put together — in one room — musicians who could play many different styles of traditional blues and R&B with great technique and real soul. Saxophonist Sam Burckhardt, drummer and recording engineer Alex Hall, pianist and organist Pete Benson, and upright bassist Beau Sample, each bring a love and respect for blues, jazz, and American roots music that lets them authentically play these styles without just imitating them for the sake of a recording session. 

“We had a short turnaround time and a small window of only two days to record, but the energy in the sessions was infectious, and with the great Oscar Wilson bringing out the best in the band, we put together a recording that I’m truly proud to be a part of.” ~ Joel Paterson, March 2017  

One of the thirteen songs recorded was the blues classic “Farther Up The Road.” It was written by Joe Veasey and Don Robey, and made famous by Bobby “Blue” Bland, one of the finest singers of all time. Wilson proves that he too is a great blues singer, and the entire band are sublime in stout support. Listen, and I’m sure that you will agree.

Vocals – Oscar Wilson 

Guitar – Joel Paterson 

Organ, Piano – Pete Benson

Bass – Beau Sample

Drums – Alex Hall

Tenor Saxophone – Sam Burckhardt 



“The album’s title is a mantra to the concept of love as a physical, psychic and spiritual force that has the strength to conquer darkness, sorrow, and personal demons. I hope it means as much to you as it does to me!” ~ Janiva Magness 

Janiva Magness is an artist who possesses a powerfully intense voice that grabs a hold and then never again releases you. Over the course of her recording career she has garnered a great deal of critical acclaim, including numerous awards, in addition to substantial public support which spreads with each new endeavor she undertakes. Her wonderful new release is album number twelve of her brilliant career and is entitled Love Wins Again on Blue Élan Records.

A gospel feel encompasses “When You Hold Me,” another Dave Darling/Colin Devlin song, thanks in part to the church choir supporting vocals. These backing vocals add a lot to the album at transitory intervals, and run the entire genre gamut. “When You Hold Me” is a love song that showcases Janiva’s alluring vocals masterfully. She has a singing voice that is more than sweet enough for ballads while still possessing a salty quality sufficient to magnificently sing the blues. A bit of horns, organ, and understated guitars help to shine the spotlight squarely on Magness.

Like her near-contemporaries, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi, and Rory Block, Magness ranks as an important modern blueswoman who has brought tremendous cross-over appeal to the genre. Janiva Magness’s vocal delivery is warmly conversational, often sounding as if she’s singing directly to the listener. This special intimate quality is prevalent throughout Love Wins Again making her a truly unique vocalist with very few peers. Love Wins Again stands rock-solid to repeated plays — it is earnest music from her heart and soul, and if anything only gets better and better over time.

B.B. KING ~ from the album TAKE IT HOME 


“As a little kid, blues meant hope, excitement, pure emotion. Blues were about feelings. They seem to bring out the feelings of the artist and they brought out my feelings as a kid. They made me wanna move, or sing, or pick up Reverend’s guitar and figure out how to make those wonderful sounds.” ~ B.B. King, Blues All Around Me: The Autobiography of B.B. King

“The beauty of B.B. is that the guitar playing is an extension of his voice. He’s the embodiment of breaking through and keeping your spirit. There’s no bitterness. When he sings, it lifts the spirit of the place.” ~ Derek Trucks

Riley B. King’s 1979 release Take It Home found the blues great uniting again with members of the legendary jazz group The Crusaders, as he had on Midnight Believer. The track “I’ve Always Been Lonely” was written by the soulful and versatile Joe Sample, who provides some very fine piano to the song. The lyrics penned by Will Jennings speak to the loneliness experienced by a musician living his life constantly on the road.

A heartfelt vocal by B.B. is as good as gold, and the full brass arrangement works like a charm. Assuredly, one of B.B. essential songs, in my opinion.

Vocals, Guitar – B.B.King

Guitar – Paul M. Jackson Jr.

Guitar – Dean Parks

Keyboards – Joe Sample

Double Bass – Wilton Felder

Drums, Percussion – James Gadson 

Trumpet – Gary Grant 

Trumpet – Steve Madaio 

Saxophone – Larry Williams 

Saxophone – Dennis Quitman

Baritone Saxophone – Kim Hutchcroft 

Trombone – Charles Fendley 

Trombone – Jack Redmond 

DEB CALLAHAN ~ from the album SWEET SOUL


“… on the grace/grit scale, she weighs in heavily alongside the finest female blues belters ever. In fact, the potent force of her vocals should secure her presence on the national blues scene for years.” ~ RP / JazzReview

Deb Callahan is an exceptional blues singer who displays a deep appreciation of American roots music. On her release, Sweet Soul on Blue Pearl Records, Callahan delivers a knock-out Blues punch securing her place among the genre’s finest vocalists and songwriters. Sweet Soul was recorded and mixed in California by Johnny Lee Schell with an assist from Chris Arms and consists of eight original compositions (all written or co-written by Callahan) in addition to five well-chosen cover versions.  

All the tunes are masterfully rendered by top-shelf musicians involved in the project. Legendary drummer/producer Tony Braunagel has enjoyed a performing and recording history that is much too extensive to include in this review. He expertly balances the commanding Deb Callahan vocals while showing the talented instrumentalists to achieve a tasty blues stew. His presence behind the drum kit gives the project a bona fide validity. 

Veteran session men Mike Finnigan on piano/organ and Reggie McBride on electric bass guitar are two of the most in-demand players on the vibrant Los Angeles music scene. Allen James on guitar has been a part of the Deb Callahan Band for many moons, and his versatile guitar playing shines throughout ‘Sweet Soul.’

“I Keep things Running” simmers as Deb extols the virtues of being a woman in charge. The Hammond B-3 organ of Mike Finnigan wails as Allen James contributes quick biting guitar jabs before unleashing another ringing lead that is not lengthy, but is quite expressive. Callahan exhibits the credence of the consummate authentic blues mama; ultra-confident and self assured. I assume lyrics such as “up in the morning, got a list to go through, makin’ something from nothin’, that’s what women do” resonate with many women.

The team of people that Deb Callahan has surrounded herself with on Sweet Soul is exceptional. This convergence creates something very special that shouldn’t be missed by anyone who desires to keep their “Blues Lovers Union” card.

BONNIE RAITT ~ from the album NICK OF TIME


Bonnie Raitt’s Nick of Time was her tenth album, and first on Capital Records.  Released on March 21, 1989, iI met the label’s modest sales goal in a week and then, to everyone’s surprise, continued to sell steadily.  Produced by Don Was, it was a career boost to both Raitt and Was. 

The 1990 Grammys, helped lift sales when the recently sober Raitt won all four awards she’d been nominated for, including Album of The Year.

The song, Cry On My Shoulder,” was written by highly acclaimed producer and songwriter Michael Ruff.  It, like much of the album, was more commercial than most of her previous more blues based recordings.  Bonnie provides a very nice wistful, but confident, vocal, and David Crosby and Graham Nash sing backup.  But, Don Was thought it best to bury the duo’s singing deep in the mix. 

“I can handle the things about myself that I didn’t like before.  I don’t feel that anything is leading me around anymore: love, or the road, or my career.  I feel like I’m in control of my life.  I have a real spirit of purpose.” ~ Bonnie Raitt 

Nick of Time would  exceed everyone’s expectations, selling over 5 million copies.  Her following release, 1991’s Luck of the Draw, succeeded in surpassing Nick Of Time in sales and cemented her as a one of the top females in music.

   Cry On My Shoulder – personnel 

Vocals, Slide National Guitar – Bonnie Raitt

Keyboards – Michael Ruff 

Acoustic Bass – Chuck Domanico

Drums – Tony Braunagel 

Percussion – Paulinho Da Costa

Backing Vocals – David Crosby, Graham Nash



Stax Records released Walking the Back Streets in 1981, long after his stint with the label had ended (1971 – 1975). Combining singles and tracks that hadn’t been on his Stax albums, it was a pleasant mixed bag for listeners. The song “Walking the Back Streets and Crying” was written by Sandy Jones, a k.a. Alma M. Sanders and released as a single by Little Milton in 1972. The song was later covered by many others, including Otis Rush, Albert King, Koko Taylor and Magic Slim.

Stax Producers Al Jackson, Bobby Manuel, and Raymond Jackson oversaw the sessions with the stellar Stax session musicians including the Memphis Horns. The smoldering blues song is a fine example of both Little Milton’s grit-filled vocal and his guitar power.

In 1988, Little Milton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

Vocals, Guitar – Little Milton

Guitar – Bobby Manuel

Guitar – Michael Toles

Keyboards – Lester Snell

Bass – David Weatherspoon

Drums – Willie Hall

TAJ MAHAL ~ from the album PHANTOM BLUES


Taj Mahal’s 1996 album, Phantom Blues, followed his 1993 Dancing the Blues with producer John Porter and many of the same great musicians joining him in the studio. It contained many songs that contained a New Orleans flavor. Barrelhouse pianist Jon Cleary contributed a couple of originals to go with such classics as Jesse Hill’s “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” and Fats Domino’s “Let the Four Winds Blow.” 

“I love New Orleans and I’ve always loved New Orleans music. There is nowhere — certainly in America — where there is more music going on 24 hours a day than New Orleans. There’s so many great players. I have good friends here, and I thought it would just be a good place to get involved in the local music scene. The record industry is completely different from the way it was 10 years ago, so there was no reason that we had to remain in LA.” ~ John Porter

Taj Mahal had previously moved through the worlds of folk, rock, and pop music, in his recordings. On his Phantom Blues, he takes several pop and R&B oldies that came from blues roots and returned them to those roots. 

The original “Let the Four Winds Blow,” penned by Dave Bartholomew and Antoine”Fats” Domino, was first released by Dave Bartholomew in April of 1955. Fats Domino would release his hit recording of the song in June of 1961.

Let the Four Winds Blow – personnel 

  Lead Vocals – Taj Mahal

  Guitar – Johnny Lee Schell 

  Twelve-String Guitar – Mike Campbell

  Piano – Jon Cleary 

  Accordion – David Hidalgo 

  Bass – Larry Fulcher 

  Drums – Tony Braunagel

  Rub Board – “Freeze” Guillory

  Tenor Saxophone – Joe Sublett 

  Trumpet – Darrell Leonard 



The fusion of Leslie West’s nimble-fingered guitar fireworks with his full-throated raucous vocals serve to ignite a blues-rock powder keg throughout his Still Climbing release. The song “Hatfield Or McCoy” contains some rudimentary lyrics, but is fully saved by Leslie’s earthy guitar and the conviction of his vocal. The song is also set apart from the remainder of Still Climbing by the inclusion of the female backing vocals of Elaine Caswell. The lyrics do not chronicle the Hatfield and McCoy feud; instead they ask “are you man or are you boy” and address how one handles it when life knocks you down.  

Leslie West himself suffered a major life trauma in 2011 when he lost the lower portion of his leg to complications from Type II Diabetes. He bounced back exultantly delivering perhaps the best album of his career with Still Climbing.

“Listen, everybody gets knocked down in life, but how you choose to get up is totally up to you. I see soldiers, man, double amputees; they’ve got it a lot worse than me. It’s just a good thing it wasn’t my hand, you know? But it’s not a pity party for me here, believe me. I’ve gone through some life-changing things, but I just wanted to make an album that continued on sound-wise, production-wise, song-wise, from the last one. I’m really happy with the way it came out. The songs seem better, and I’m really proud of it.” ~ Leslie West