Suncoast Blues Society Elections
SBS Board of Directors Vote is CLOSED
THANK YOU SBS MEMBERS!
WE WILL PUBLISH THE RESULTS SOON!
THANK YOU SBS MEMBERS!
WE WILL PUBLISH THE RESULTS SOON!
10th Anniversary Camping With the Blues
October 20-22, 2023
The venue is now the Florida Sand Music Ranch managed by the Will McLean Foundation. It was previously the Sertoma Youth Ranch, and its emphasis on music is now even stronger.
Day 1 Friday –
Day 2 Saturday –
Day 3 Sunday –
Book Review: Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson
Every popular music genre has its stories, legends, and famous characters. For the Blues, no legend is bigger than the story of Robert Johnson. As the tale goes, on a clear Mississippi night, Robert went down to the crossroads of Highway 61 and Highway 49 and struck a deal with the Devil, selling his soul for the ability to play guitar better than any man alive.
The story of Robert Johnson and the Devil has been around for almost 90 years. While it lurked in Mississippi for its first few decades, when the Blues gained popularity through Rock and Roll in the 1960s, Robert’s legend grew. Although there are many other stories of musicians dealing with the Devil, Robert Johnson’s is perhaps the most popular.
But is it true?
If you go to Clarksdale, Mississippi, home of the famous Crossroads sign, locals will be quick to tell you that Highway 61 isn’t where it used to be, and that the real crossroads is up the road, north of Clarksdale. There isn’t much at the old intersection of Highway 61 and Highway 49. There isn’t much to prove Robert Johnson was or wasn’t there.
Proof has been difficult to come by for Blues researchers. Fortunately for those of us who value the truth and who are curious what the real story is, writers Bruce Conforth and Gayle Dean Wardlow published Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson in 2019. As a fellow writer who used the crossroads, Robert Johnson, and the Devil in my own novel Curveball at the Crossroads, I found Up Jumped the Devil incredible.
Up Jumped the Devil is the product of 50 years of research. Conforth and Wardlow conducted interviews with people throughout Mississippi for decades. They combed county and state census records, filings, and licenses. They dug through the archives and annals to find whatever they could about Robert Johnson.
It is hard to believe given today’s omnipotent media and communications that 100 years ago someone could disappear and reappear at whim, especially in the rural areas of the United States. At the time, most of Mississippi was rural and especially in the Black community, records were often sparse or done haphazardly. This makes retracing the steps of a wandering musician very difficult. And most Bluesmen were itinerant wanderers. They would travel from town to town, play different juke joints, rest with family or friends or new found lover, and take the train, hitch a ride, or walk to the next town for the next night’s gig. Although it is romanticized now, there was nothing glorious about the life of a Bluesman in the early 20th century.
There was one big way a wandering Bluesman in the 1930s could increase his value on the road and put money in his pocket – recording an album. Conforth and Wardlow go into detail about Johnson’s two recording sessions. They discuss the songs, the order in which they were recorded, and the technology used. They also detail the environment around Johnson and what Johnson might have been doing during his time in Dallas and San Antonio. Although electric Blues was starting to make inroads, and acoustic Blues was already losing favor in popular audiences when Johnson recorded, the record companies thought they had something in Johnson’s talent and unique style. Generations of musicians have Vocalion Records to thank.
Although I gave Up Jumped the Devil a 5-star rating on Goodreads.com, I have two critiques with the book. The first is that the legend of the deal at the crossroads is glossed over. I would like to have read a chapter on how the legend grew and how it has been displayed in media. Conforth and Wardlow’s premise is that they debunk the myth, but they give little background on how it has grown to its current stature. I guess for that I will have to read Adam Gussow’s Beyond the Crossroads: The Devil and the Blues Tradition (2017).
My second critique is the need to separate the art from the artist. Not of Robert Johnson, who while a guitar genius was also a heavy drinker and womanizer, but of writer Bruce Conforth. A highly recognized name in music history and former curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Conforth’s reputation took a huge blow when he was accused of sexually harassing and stalking students while working as a professor at University of Michigan. He was recommended to resign after over ten years of accusations. Take knowledge from the book without praising the author.
Did Robert Johnson go to the crossroads and make a deal with the Devil? Some of his lyrics say he might have. If he didn’t, how did he learn a technique that has influenced the Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll for decades? To find out, you will have to read Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson.
Bio: Michael Lortz is a music and sports writer from Tampa. He has been a Blues fan for decades and has twice visited the Crossroads tourist marker in Clarksdale. He is the author of the Blues-baseball novel Curveball at the Crossroads.
2023 Beach Bash…
It’s that time of year again so dig out your swimsuit, sunglasses, and sun hat because your Suncoast Blues Society will be celebrating YOU, our loyal members, with our Annual Beach Bash on Sunday, August 27th from 1- 6:00 pm at the St Petersburg Lions Club Beach House.
Al Razz and the Rocking Blues Review will kick things off at 2pm, followed by our annual jam session.
Bring your favorite dish to share. We will have some beverages available or BYOB if you prefer. We are looking for donations of beer and wine – if you have a connection, please reach out to them or send us the info and we will gladly contact them.
You can renew your membership and receive 3 free CD’s – may as well bring a friend to join also. We will be drawing the name of one lucky Blues fan that day for a guitar signed by many of your favorite Blues artists.
Looking forward to seeing everyone and definitely bring your dancin’ shoes!
P.S. This is an Adults only event.
Sometimes, it all comes together, and such as the case at Cottonmouth southern Soul Kitchen when Davy Knowles and his band came to town. And gave those in attendance a night to remember. This was one of the best shows I’ve seen!
Touring with Tod Bowles on bass, and Mark Hansen on drums, the band hit the stage at 8PM and performed a non-stop 2-hour set that left the audience standing and asking for more.
But before we get to the review of Davy’s show, Steve Arvey opened for Davy, and in typical Steve fashion, had the audience entertained with his wit, songs, and guitar playing. First starting with a cigar box guitar instrumental, Steve switched to his signature acoustic guitar for most of the one-hour set. Deftly using a stomp-box, Steve performed classic blues, and brought Deacon Gibson to the stage for harmonica playing. Steve entertained the audience, and solicited many laughs, with tales from his storied blues career. Make no mistake about it, while Steve is an entertainer, he is a serious musician with significant skills. These skills will be revisited later, as Steve ends his set playing a red Stratocaster that will be a central part of the show later in the evening.
Playing from many of his recordings, Davy and the band took the stage and set a high-energy tone with Ain’t Much of Nothin’ from his 2016 recording “Three Miles From Avalon”. Davy’s blistering guitar work was spot on and engaged the audience from the downbeat. Next up was Riverbed, first heard during Davy’s days with Back Door Slam. Completing a frenetic first three songs the band launched into Catch The Moon from 2015’s “The Outsider”. If any newcomers to a Davy Knowles show did not know his guitar talents, they understood after the first three songs.
The band, and the audience, needed to catch their breath, and next up was Devil and the Deep Blue Sea from the latest release, “What Happens Next”. To be sure, this song shows a different side of the band and is a well-crafted entertaining piece of music. Equally, entertaining if not downright spectacular was the bands treatment of Cream’s Outside Women Blues. This song featured a tight jam with the band complete with some amazing technical guitar work by Davy.
Changing guitars, Davy brought out the slide and demonstrated his significant skills with the slide while performing Ain’t No Grave, once again from “The Outsider”. Hell To Pay, from “What Happens Next” was a particular highlight, with Davy using dynamics to build and release emotions from the audience. Masterful.
Steve Arvey was brought to the stage and traded licks with Davy on Garbage Man, and following this song Steve took the vocal lead on a nice version of Ain’t Nobody’s Business. The band then surprised with a smoking version of the funky classic Fire On the Bayou, with Davy providing some of the hottest licks of the evening. But this surprise paled to what came next. For the first time in the evening, Davy showed his equally entertaining side of a storyteller. As expressed in my last article about Davy, he has a gift for storytelling and this art is part of the charm of a Davy Knowles performance.
Davy picked up Steve’s red Stratocaster, and proceeded to say that he just could not resist this opportunity. And then explained that when he started playing guitar he wanted to be like Mark Knopfler. And there it was: the band launched their version of the Dire Straits classic Sultans of Swing. As someone who has attended many shows at Cottonmouth, the ovation at the end of this song was among the loudest and most sustained I’ve witnessed in Bradenton’s Village of the Arts. The song was a tour de force from start to finish.
The audience was unrelenting with their applause and the band provided an encore of Wake Me Up When The Nightmare is Over. Sort of ironic because this evening of music provided joy and sweet dreams for the attendees, who witnessed a special night of music in Bradenton. This band, if they should so choose, is ready to take the next step to larger venues. They are that good.
The blues music community is one large family. You meet someone once, and you are acquaintances for life. Such is the case when a young(er) Steve Arvey took his talents to The Isle of Man for a 2001 blues festival.
Though the isle is a mere 30-miles long, the unique festival attracts a wide range of talent across multiple venues and stages. Past performers include Ana Popovic, Watermelon Slim, Guy Davis, Christine Collister, John Hammond, and of course, local heroes Back Door Slam – which featured the emerging talents of Davy Knowles.
Manx Blues Club on the isle has featured Catfish Keith, a pre-Monster Gentleman Jon Cleary, Louisiana Red, and St. Petersburg resident Roy Bookbinder. They take their blues seriously on the Isle of Man.
Steve described his 2001 visit:
“I was booked on the Isle of man blues Festival, 2001. Gibson guitars had me doing acoustic guitar workshops and talking about blues around the world. At the workshop, a 13-year-old young man by the name of Davy came. You can see him sitting there with his guitar.
I recall showing him how to play “Canned Heat” by Tommy Johnson. Davy followed me to my gigs, asking questions. And wanting to learn more about blues music. We stayed in touch on the Internet for a while after that and he became a great guitar player and musician.”
Davy Knowles, 13 years old, at Acoustic Workshop
Hosted by Steve Arvey Isle of Man 2001
During the trip, Steve received a guided tour of Davy’s Shabby Road Studios in the village of Port St Mary. Davy’s father, Tony, took Steve behind the scenes and onto the grounds where Davy grew up. Steve captured the visit and lovely views of Isle of Man’s countryside in this video. Much to Steve’s surprise this plaque hung on a wall in the studio
Fates collided in 2008. Far from the Isle of Man in Steve’s hometown of Chicago. Steve made a guest appearance with Davy and Back Door Slam at Buddy Guy’s Legends. Those who know Steve will not be surprised that he captured part of the appearance in a video.
Now, 13-years later Davy Knowles will reunite with Steve Arvey. Steve will open for Davy at Bradenton’s Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen on July 1, 2023. Come on out and see why reviewer Martine Ehrenclou perfectly described Davy and his latest release, What Happens Next, as
“A revered guitarist, and acclaimed vocalist, songwriter, Chicago-based Davy Knowles released his new album, What Happens Next. The 12-song set features roots guitarist, singer, songwriter Davy Knowles’ take on vintage soul, folk, rock, and blues. With poetic songwriting, soulful, emotive vocals, and brawny guitar riffs, What Happens Next features Knowles’ understated guitar playing with an emphasis on quality and meaningful songwriting. Davy Knowles is truly a multi-faceted artist.”
For a glimpse into the understated genius of Davy Knowles, enjoy the video for “Hell To Pay” from What Happens Next.
There are a few times in my life where I recall exactly where I was when I first heard a song. My career put me into many rental cars and for a time BB King’s Bluesville was free in the car. While driving between Boston and Worcester, MA I was on the Mass Turnpike, near where the supermarket is on the overpass – and there it was:
“I got your letter today, said you’re gone for good”
“I would get you back, if only I could”
My introduction to Davy Knowles began this day through Back Door Slam’s “Come Home” – intro bass riff hooked me, and before the first chorus was over the volume was up significantly. This raucous song from the Isle of Man trio had me hooked.
Fast forward a few years to 2018, and I’m on Joe Bonamassa’s cruise, and somewhere between Miami and Jamaica Davy Knowles reintroduced himself to me. There was Davy and a solo acoustic show that showed the true talents of this young musician.
Playing from his releases The Outsider and Three Miles From Babylon – Davy’s acoustic playing, singing, and his storytelling made for a highly entertaining evening.
Time and distance leave my memory sparse for all the songs – I do recall “Oxford, MS” and “Tear Down The Walls.” But the story I retell often is Davy’s description of life on the Isle of Man. Davy discussed what life was like and transitioned into telling tales of an annual motorcycle race on the island. With superb delivery Davy word painted images that set up perfectly what came next.
Among my favorite singer storytellers is Richard Thompson. And yes, Davy transitioned expertly from the Isle of Man motorcycle rally story into 1952 Vincent Black Lightning. Pure bliss. Luckily, a fellow cruiser captured the performance, and you can find the link below.
Later, Davy brought the Rory Gallagher “tribute band” Band of Friends to the Tampa Bay Blues Fest. Tribute band is a bit unfair – as this ensemble was a labor of love and featured ex-Rory Gallagher band mates Gerry McAvoy and Ted McKenna. The trio deliver a solid set of Rory tunes like Bad Penny, A Million Miles Away, Moonchild, and a neat version of Come Home. Sadly, we lost Ted McKenna shortly after this show.
On a subsequent Bonamassa cruise, I attended a Josh Smith show and noticed Davy paying close attention to Josh and his playing. Without question Josh is among a small group of elite guitar players who operate in the intersection of blues and jazz – including Robben Ford and Matt Schofield. Davy was going to school and his intent focus on what Josh was playing was noticeable. As Davy says on his website:
” It’s your job to be the worst player in the room, and absorb like a sponge”
That is what makes Davy good – his willingness to learn, to stretch, to test musical boundaries. Improvising and imparting his unique style into his and songs from other artists. Best known is his treatment of CSN&Y’s Almost Cut My Hair. – As an aside intent viewers will note that Davy cut his hair between 2018 and 2021.
Tickets to Davy Knowles with Steve Arvey opening are available by contacting Cottonmouth Restaurant at 941-243-3735. The venue is in the vibrant community of Bradenton’s Village of the Arts at 1114 12th St West.