Vivascene Blues-Tinged Eclectic Playlist

Dave Alvin leads off this diverse, blues-tinged playlist, followed up by several remarkable blues artists, some famous and others lesser-known, but worthy all the same.



Dave Alvin’s original album King of California was released May 1, 1994, and recorded with producer Greg Leisz just after the Northridge earthquake that January in Los Angeles. It was Alvin’s fourth solo album away from the Blasters and took Mr. Alvin in a quieter, more acoustic-flavored direction. This new direction worked, with King of California scoring rave reviews, and it opened Alvin’s audience beyond the Blasters’ rock crowd. 

“In hindsight I was trying to really establish myself as a singer-songwriter rather than being the loud, mid-level guitar player who jumps around onstage like a goofball. I wanted people to think, ‘Here’s a guy that can write OK songs,’ so it was kind of like my first singer-songwriter record, I suppose. I think some people were surprised.

“One of the reasons I left the Blasters was when you’re in a band, the band decides what a song sounds like and that can sometimes be a plus and sometimes be a minus. I wanted to let the song decide what it was going to sound like and follow that. King of California was where I decided that the songs from now on will rule the decision-making.” ~ Dave Alvin

In 2019, King Of California received a reissue: the 25th anniversary edition from his album of the same name, along with a new video. The expanded edition of King of California was available on vinyl for the first time as a deluxe 2 vinyl gatefold set. 

It added three additional “bonus” tracks: The first bonus track was the previously unreleased instrumental “Riverbed Rag,” written by Dave Alvin and mixed by Paul du Gré.

Riverbed Rag

   Acoustic Guitar – Dave Alvin

   Dobro – Greg Leisz

   Acoustic Bass – Don Falzone

   Drums – Bobby Lloyd Hicks



Kyle Culkin is a talented multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and singer who has crafted a fresh new release, Shotgun Ridge, on Tonebucken Records. The ten songs are a pleasing blend of four originals, alongside six well-chosen covers. 

“I love blues, country, rock, jazz, funk, soul and everything in between. My music may lean one way or another for a given song, but it’s always an amalgamation of all those styles. If I had to use one word, I’d describe my sound as Americana.” ~ Kyle Culkin 

On this new release, Kyle Culkin displays marvelous vocal chops, in addition to playing guitar and bass throughout. Jamieson Trotter, who began taking piano lessons at just four years of age, superbly mans piano and Hammond B3 organ. Well-seasoned steel guitar master Marty Rifkin has an unbelievable career list of studio credits, and for good reason. Adam Gust on drums and percussion also provides a sturdy veteran presence. Jade MacRae skillfully handles the background vocals when the need arises.

Besides the strong base unit, Culkin has called on some very impressive guests to flesh out the performances. To me, easily the most impressive of these guests is the legendary English guitar master Albert Lee. I’ve been a fan of Lee’s since his days with the brilliantly underrated Head, Hands, and Feet.

“I got to produce and play with one of my guitar heroes, Mr. Albert Lee! He’s an absolute monster player, and a heck of a nice guy. I’ve been lucky to record with musical heroes of mine; and that has been an incredibly inspiring experience. There’s nothing like playing guitar with Albert Lee and Johnny Hiland, or writing songs with Ted Russell Kamp to light a fire under you!” ~ Kyle Culkin 

Lee guests on a sprightly rendition of “Whole ‘Nutha Thang,” plucked from the catalog of Bluesman Keb’ Mo’. The guitar pickin’ comes fast and furious, and the lyrics are always humorous, regardless of how many times you’ve heard them. You gotta agree…. women are a whole ‘nutha thang. And, if you’re gonna throw your money around…. nothin’ compares to a little TLC and a little T&A.



The venerable Delbert McClinton is a legend among Texas roots music aficionados, not only for his amazing longevity, but for his ability to combine the genres of country, blues, r&b, soul, rock & roll and popular as if there were no distinctions between any of them. Over the years, McClinton has assembled a startlingly consistent catalog of music that blurs the boundaries of these music genres. Rolling Stone has called Delbert McClinton “The Godfather of Americana Music.”

Born in Lubbock, Texas, and growing up in Fort Worth, he discovered the blues in his teenage years. McClinton quickly became an accomplished harmonica player and found plenty of work on the local blues/R&B club scene, recognized as a formidable harp player. There McClinton had the opportunity to play harp behind blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Bobby “Blue” Bland.  

Delbert’s 1992’s Never Been Rocked Enough was a roots rockin’ delight. It contained a bunch of star guest appearances sprinkled into the songs. The title track was a co-write by Delbert McClinton and Troy Seals from the prominent Seals family of musicians that includes, Jim Seals (of Seals and Crofts) and Dan Seals (of England Dan & John Ford Coley) and Brady Seals (Little Texas and Hot Apple Pie). 

It’s a true ensemble performance with a signature McClinton vocal and a taste of his harmonica wizardry that just fits the song snug. The dual piano is separated into Paul Shaffer on left channel and Mike Duke on the right. Plus, the horn arrangement by Jim Horn is perfect.

 Never Been Rocked Enough – personnel 

Vocals, Harmonica – Delbert McClinton

Lead Guitar – Dann Huff

Rhythm Guitar – Sid McGinnis

Piano – Paul Shaffer

Piano – Mike Duke

Bass – Will Lee

Drums – Anton Fig

Percussion – Tom Roady

Horns – Jim Horn, Uptown Horns

Backing Vocals – Donna McElroy, Vicki Hampton



“This version of “Albuquerque” is a tribute of sorts to my best friend and spiritual advisor, the late Chris Gaffney. For many years this old Link Davis Sr. song was a staple of Chris’s barroom gigs with his great band, The Cold Hard Facts. I dug this funky, little blues song so much that Chris and I talked through the years about recording it together but, sadly for whatever reason, we never got around to it. Oh well.  

“During a recent rehearsal with my band, The Guilty Men, we started reminiscing about Chris and before long we were jamming on “Albuquerque” just for fun. Fortunately, we were practicing at Craig Parker Adams’s Winslow Court Studio and Craig recorded the whole thing. Drummer Steve Mugalian and bassist Gregory Boaz are the rock solid rhythm section and Jack Rudy is blowing the tough harmonica. Guitarist Chris Miller is playing some soulful R+B licks while I’m doing my Freddie King imitation on the wah-wah guitar. Unfortunately, Joe Terry, the keyboardist for The Guilty Men, wasn’t able to be at the rehearsal. Also, sadly, Gaffney wasn’t there either. 

“Albuquerque” was written by Link Davis Sr. He was a veteran musician/singer who started out playing western swing but, throughout his long career from the late 40’s until the 60’s, he cut records in just about every roots music style from Cajun (his biggest hit was the Cajun classic, “Big Mamou”), blues, rockabilly, folk and country. My kind of guy. Most of the bars mentioned in the song are long gone except for the Caravan East on Central Avenue (the old Route 66) on the east side of Albuquerque. Maybe some night, I’ll run into you at the Caravan East and we can have a beer or two and raise a toast to Link Davis Sr. and Chris Gaffney.” ~ Dave Alvin

Albuquerque – personnel 

  Vocals, Electric Guitar – Dave Alvin

   Electric Guitar – Chris G. Miller

   Harmonica – Jack Rudy

   Bass – Gregory Boaz 

   Drums, Percussion – Steve Mugalian

   Harmony Vocals – Danny Ott



“The more guitar you play, the more you sing, the better you get.” ~ Carolyn Wonderland 

Carolyn Wonderland’s debut on the Alligator Record label as the first female guitar hero in the label’s storied 50-year history was titled Tempting Fate. Wonderland is a multi-instrumentalist with skills on acoustic and electric guitar, slide guitar, electric mandolin, trumpet and piano. Dave Alvin was the producer, and also played guitar on three songs.

“I got to record a dream list of songs and play with a dream list of people. And Dave really got me to kick the doors in. And, it’s hip to be on Alligator. If you could see my record collection, it’s full of Alligator albums.” ~ Carolyn Wonderland

“The very first time I ever played that song was the night Jerry Garcia died. I was playing in Sturgis. I’d seen them a few times. And I was standing there at a pay phone with a line of bikers behind me getting a friend to read me the lyrics, which I scribbled on a pizza box. That was the first time I did it. I kept it in the mix, and I’d play it if the time was right. But, I was always scared to record it. Live, I never did it the same way twice. Dave Alvin had done an acoustic version of the song, so he thought it was a great idea to try it. He didn’t bring his acoustic, so we had a full-on Dave go on the Stratocaster.” ~ Carolyn Wonderland

“Loser” was written by Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter and was first released by Jerry Garcia in 1972 on his first solo, ‘Garcia.’  

Vocals, Lead Guitar – Carolyn Wonderland

Lead Guitar – Dave Alvin 

Bass – Bobby Perkins

Backing Vocals – Shelley King 



“For many years, I couldn’t stand listening to my own voice. Not enough gravitas or experience to convey the depth of emotion I wanted to express.” ~ Bonnie Raitt 

A co-write from Bonnie Raitt, Paul Brady, and Dillon O’Brian, “One Belief Away” was released as the first single from Bonnie Raitt’s thirteenth studio album, Fundamental. The album was billed as a return to Raitt’s blues roots, but it only had a couple of songs that truly fit that description. The release failed to capture the public’s fancy, but “One Belief Away” had a beautiful reflective vocal, even if it was leaning towards an adult contemporary sound spiced with a Reggae-Calypso feel.

It was recorded at The Sound Factory Studios in Hollywood California, by Capitol Records and released on April 7, 1998 as the album’s final track. The song peaked at #24 in Canada, #15 on the Adult Contemporary Chart and #1 On the Adult Alternative Album Rock Tracks Chart.

One Belief Away

   Vocals, Acoustic Guitar – Bonnie Raitt

   Keyboards – Mitchell Froom 

   Bass – James “Hutch” Hutchinson

   Drums, Percussion – Pete Thomas

   Harmony Vocals – Jeff Young, Mark Shark

   Horns – The Texacali Horns

   Tenor Saxophone – Joe Sublett 

   Trumpet – Darrell Leonard



“I had this dream of playing guitar, and singing, and touring… that kind of stuff my whole life, basically. This is the most soulful and high-quality record I’ve made, and in an intimate studio [Fat Rabbit Studios] where artists like Bob Margolin, Seth Walker, Debbie Davies, Candye Kane, Bruce Katz, Victor Wainwright, Tony Holiday, and the late David Maxwell have recorded.” ~ Eric Heideman 

If you’re not familiar with the artists that Heideman mentions in the above quote, then you’re not a lover of blues music.  

Eric Heideman is a youthful artist with the uncommon musical home base of Salt Lake City, Utah. Nine of the ten songs on his ‘Third Degree Gravity,’ release are his solo compositions. One, “Money Man,” is a co-write with highly regarded Canadian blues guitarist JW-Jones. Jones shares production duties on the release with Victor Wainwright, who supplies his honky-tonk meets boogie-woogie keyboards on nine of the tunes 

Victor’s good friend, producer, singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Dave Gross engineered the project, and plays on five songs.

“Eric really did a great job in the studio, and the results really show how he has matured as an artist.” ~ Dave Gross

“Victor Wainwright and I really brought out the very best of Eric’s abilities. I have been working with him weekly for over eighteen months and he’s just getting better and more refined with every session. I can’t wait for music fans to hear this breakthrough release!” ~JW-Jones

“We’ve got Michael Bram on drums, who tours with Jason Mraz and The Weight Band. He’s played with Willie Nelson, Watermelon Slim, and many more. On bass, we have Matt Raymond who has worked with Levon Helm and Hubert Sumlin.” ~ Eric Heideman 

Eric Heideman hits the ground running on the opening track, an infectious high energy feel-good romp, “I Didn’t Do It.” Wainwright pounds the ivories and assists on vocals, adding a grit to Heideman’s cleaner singing. Heideman kicks out the jams on guitar at the mid-song instrumental break, followed by Wainwright’s spirited piano. The song has a retro feel, drawing inspiration from back when music was fun to play and hear.  

Perhaps JW-Jones sums it up best, ” Eric Heideman plays straight from the heart and soul.”



The Amazing Rhythm Aces were formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1974 when two members of Jesse Winchester and The Rhythm Aces band (bassist Jeff “Stick” Davis and drummer Butch McDade) decided to break away. They joined with singer/songwriter/guitarist Russell Smith, keyboardist Billy Earheart, Dobro player Barry Burton, and pianist James Hooker to form the new group. They developed a special sound that blended popular, Southern rock, country, blues, R&B, folk, and more. The group was one of the originators of what would be later termed “American music,” “roots music,” or “Americana.”

The debut release, Stacked Deck, in 1975 was extremely well received, thanks to the crossover hits “Third Rate Romance” and “Amazing Grace (Used to Be Her Favorite Song).” The second album, Too Stuffed To Jump, wasn’t as well received critically, but it was a great album with country rock and jazzy, boogie-based musicianship, topped with touches of blue-eyed soul. 

Russell Smith was the author of both “Third Rate Romance,” and “The End Is Not in Sight,” both of which were released first by Jesse Winchester. The inclusion of the latter western tinged song on Too Stuffed To Jump elevated that release to classic status in my eyes. The release had hard rockers, mandolin burners, and Russell Smith’s highly distinctive vocals and quality songwriting.

The End Is Not in Sight (The Cowboy Song) would receive the 1976 Grammy award in the category Country Vocal Performance by a Group.

Vocals, Guitar – Russell Smith 

Guitar, Mandolin, Autoharp, BV – Barry “Byrd” Burton

Organ – Billy Earheart 

Piano, BV– James Hooker

Bass, BV – Jeff Davis 

Drums, Percussion, BV– Butch McDade



Born in Boston, Susan Tedeschi grew up in nearby Norwell, absorbing her father’s Lightnin’ Hopkins and Mississippi John Hurt record collection. She graduated from the prestigious Berklee College of Music in 1991, and began her blues music career in earnest.

“I think that to become your own artist and have your sound, a big part of that is the influences of what came before. They all become part of you, and what touches you, you emulate through things. 

“I’m not going to be able to sing like Billie Holiday or Aretha Franklin: but, there are nuances that have been inspired from them, and that comes out of playing and singing. I’m not going to be Freddie King at guitar, or Magic Sam. But, you can hear their influences in the vibrato, and it becomes your own thing. And with the jambalaya of influences, you are creating your own sound through emulation.” ~ Susan Tedeschi

The title track from her 2002 Grammy Nominated Wait For Me album was written by Felix Reyes. The album was one of the last records produced by Tom Dowd, who passed in October of that year.

Susan Tedeschi provides a quite beautiful, soulful and emotionally moving vocal. The piano of Jason Crosby, together with the splendid brass arrangement, escorts Susan as she pours out her heart while appealing to her lover to “wait for me.”

Wait For Me – personnel 

   Vocals, Guitar – Susan Tedeschi

   Piano, Organ – Jason Crosby

   Bass – Ron Perry

   Drums – Jeff Sipe

   Tenor Saxophone – Paul Ahlstrand

   Tenor Saxophone – Tino Barker

   Baritone Saxophone – Gordon Beadle 

   Trumpet – Scott Aruda



The first of only two Phil Alvin solo releases came in 1986 with his Un-Sung Stories. It wasn’t released on CD, only on vinyl and cassette. It contained a truly eclectic mix of blues, R&B, big band swing and gospel, with repertoire dating from the 1920s through to the 1950s similar to releases by Ry Cooder.

The gospel song “Death In The Morning,” written by American gospel singer and guitarist Reverend Anderson Johnson, is a perfect fit for Phil’s robust vocal. He plays guitar on the track accompanied by David Carroll on drums and the backing vocals of The Jubilee Train Singers.

NELSON BLANCHARD ~ from his self-titled debut album

BIG I-10

“I find inspiration all around me. I try to make my music representative of myself and my generation. I love music of nearly all genres!” ~ Nelson Blanchard

Nelson Blanchard’s first solo recording after a lifetime in music was brilliantly produced by Dan Tyler and David Hyde. The diversity of genres on the album holds the listeners interest throughout. Blanchard is an excellent songwriter, and all eleven songs are winners, with his friends and musical guests providing excellent support.

“I’ve been playing music in bars and clubs since I was ten years old. My father owned a big club, and I was able to see artists like Fats Domino, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ernest Tubb, Conway Twitty, Porter Wagoner and Ray Price. So, that influenced me. I started studying music in the fourth grade.” ~ Nelson Blanchard

A top quality tune comes with the Dan Tyler penned Big I-10. It’s a hard driving movin’-on-down the highway song finely fueled with some Blanchard honky-tonk piano and Nashville Cat Brent Mason’s hot guitar smoking on top of the solid rhythm foundation constructed by David Hyde and Eddie Bayers. The horn arrangement supplies a potent punch to keep the song moving forward, without an ounce of brashness. Blanchard’s vocal is a rich, warm tenor with a trace of a Baton Rouge accent, that comes off fine as frog’s hair.

The song’s catchy chorus has a hook that “fills the boat.” “I’m gonna follow big I-10 through Louisiana / follow big I-10 ‘cross the Texas plains / follow big I-10 into California / maybe them, I’ll lose this load of pain.”

Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards – Nelson Blanchard

Guitar – Brent Mason

Bass Guitar – David Hyde 

Drums – Eddie Bayers 

Saxophone – Jason Parfait 

Saxophone – Ronald Eades 

Trumpet – Lacy Blackledge 

Trumpet, Trombone – Ian Smith 

Trombone – Chris Belleau 

MARC COHN  ~ from his self-titled debut album


“I want to make albums that mean something, that people will listen to and be moved by the way I was by my favorite records. I didn’t care if Van Morrison had a hit on the radio or not. I loved his albums. So for me, I’m still doing what I always wanted to do. Having a hit on the radio was phenomenal, but it’s not the only way to have a career.” ~ Marc Cohn 

Marc Cohn learned to play guitar and started writing songs when he was in junior high school. While attending Oberlin College, he taught himself to play the piano. He transferred to UCLA and began to perform in Los Angeles coffeehouses.  

In February of 1991, Marc Cohn released his eponymous debut album at the age of 31. The album was successful due largely to the hit single “Walking in Memphis,” which was nominated for Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal at the 34th Annual Grammy Awards. Cohn won the 1991 Grammy for Best New Artist award.

“I went to Memphis looking for inspiration. I was struggling with songwriting at the time. I read this interview with James Taylor where he said, ‘If you’re struggling with ideas, go someplace you’ve never been. It might awaken your sensibilities.’ ” ~ Marc Cohn

Marc Cohn wrote his hit song after traveling to Memphis, Tennessee to check out Graceland – Elvis Presley’s beautiful 14 acre estate with mansion and garden located close to the Mississippi border. Cohn made sure to see an Al Green sermon while he was there, but it was on his trip out of Memphis along Highway 61 where the inspiration occured.  

In the desolate Delta, he saw a sign that said “Hollywood.” It turned out to be the Hollywood Cafe, a small diner/music joint in Tunica County, Mississippi. It was the place where Cohn smelled the catfish and encountered a black woman in her 70s named Muriel who was at the piano. Cohn acted on an impulse to speak with her when she took a break.

“She was real curious, she seemed to have some kind of intuition about me, and I ended up telling her about my family, my parents, how I was a musician looking for a record deal, the whole thing. Then, it must have been about two in the morning, she asks me up to sing with her and we do about an hour, me and this lady I’d never met before, hardly a song I knew so she’s yelling the words at me. Then at the end, as the applause is rising up, she leans over and whispers in my ear, she’s whispering, You’ve got to let go of your mother, child, she didn’t mean to die, she’s where she’s got to be and you’re where you have to be, child, it’s time to move on.” ~ Marc Cohn

Cohn sprinkles Memphis Blues references through the lyrics adding to the song’s magnetic appeal (Beale, Handy, Blue Suede Shoes, Union Street). Countless blues lyrics throughout time have used metaphor and innuendo. Catfish is widely known as one such term, but perhaps I’m drawing at straws and reading too much into the lyrics.



For their new acoustic blues release, Ridin’ The Blinds, the duo of Brandon Hudspeth and Jaisson Taylor culled a fine collection of some of their favorite blues chestnuts from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties to craft an album as tasty as grandma’s home made biscuits.

“Most of the songs on this album are pre-war Delta Blues. We wanted to bring back some of those old melodies that people haven’t heard for years, maybe even decades.” ~ Brandon Hudspeth 

Guitarist, singer, teacher, and songwriter Brandon Hudspeth was born in Muskogee, Oklahoma. He began taking guitar lessons at an early age after his interest was piqued after hearing Johnny Cash on Sesame Street. His parents bought him a small classical guitar, and signed him up for lessons. Soon after he started playing guitar his parents took him to see a B.B. King performance that sparked his interest in blues music. 

Singer and percussionist Jaisson Taylor has a fine well-seasoned voice that suits these classic songs becomingly. His inviting down-home vocal delivery forms a synergy with Hudspeth’s acoustic guitar that is oh-so right. The home base for the duo is now the mid-western blues mecca of Kansas City.                                         

“There is so much joy to be able to do what I love for a living, and to hopefully be able to make people forget their problems for at least just a moment.” ~ Brandon Hudspeth

Hudspeth’s stated mission is accomplished on the new release; it’s an engaging listening experience. Most of the twelve songs will be recognizable to most blues hounds, but a couple more obscure songs provide a welcome treat. Fans of acoustic blues are sure to find Ridin’ The Blinds to be one of this year’s highlight albums.

“You Gotta Walk That Lonesome Valley” is an old American traditional gospel folk song, dating back to its first known recording in 1927. Through the years, this famous song was sung by many other hillbilly and country artists such as the Monroe Brothers and the Carter Family. My dad was a fan of Ernest Tubb, and sang the song amongst others from the Tubb repertoire. It became better known by the renditions from Woody Guthrie, Elvis Presley and Arlo Guthrie.