Review: Johnny Sansone at the Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen – Bradenton

Review: Johnny Sansone at the Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen – Bradenton

Review: Johnny Sansone at the Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen – Bradenton

Review: Johnny Sansone

Cottonmouth southern soul Kitchen, Bradenton

On January 15, 2022, Suncoast Blues Society and Cottonmouth southern soul Kitchen brought New Orleans blues artist Johnny Sansone to Bradenton’s Village of the Arts.

Performing under a full moon on a comfortable evening, Johnny performed solo in the courtyard at Cottonmouth. As much a storyteller as musician, Johnny treated a sold-out crowd to songs from his vast collection of tunes, many that impart Johnny’s unique perspective on life’s twists and turns.

The show started with Johnny’s version of Ted Hawkins’ “Sweet Baby” from the recording Crescent City Moon, and Johnny continued with guitar and harmonica as he performed “You Got Me” from Poor Man’s Paradise.

Given the pirate heritage here in Tampa Bay it’s appropriate that Johnny performed the “Sinking Ship”, a song that provides the truthful wisdom that “you don’t have to walk the plank on a sinking ship”.

Johnny’s legendary storytelling was prominent in the preamble to “The Night the Factory Burnt Down.’  The song contains thoughtful writing where the misfortune of a fire at a famous New Orleans pie factory coincides with fire being extinguished in a relationship. This song weaves together comments about the pie factory fire and the relationship and contains the marvelous line “all good intentions have been put to rest.”  A wonderful song and on this evening performed in the most enjoyable fashion.

The recording Watermelon Patch contributed “Civilized City” to this show. The song is typical of the way Johnny can craft cynical lyrics about society into a solid blues song.

Johnny brought out the accordion to perform his song “Poor Man’s Paradise,” from the Anders Osborne produced recording of the same name. This song speaks about some of the post hurricane Katrina challenges experienced by the citizens of New Orleans.

Sticking with the accordion Johnny spoke about his days with the Voice of the Wetlands Allstars (VOTWA) and presented a wonderfully funny story of how Johnny woke up an asleep Dr. John. As Johnny tells: “we thought Mac’s mike was not working but there was no sound because he was asleep.” Then “Jumpin’ Johnny” performed “Crescent City Moon” from the recording of the same name, and shortly thereafter wrapped up the first set.

Playing songs from Poor Man’s Paradise, Johnny started the second set with “Happiness, Love & Lies” and “44”. The storytelling became more pronounced in this set as Johnny first described his life touring the world as, in his words, “an international blues hobo.

And then told a funny story on how his song “Johnny Sandsong” came about from a misunderstanding over his name and how Sansone turned into Sadsong. Wonderfully creative.

“You Know Who” was followed by a highlight of the night for me, the lovely ballad “The Bridge” from Watermelon Patch. Many of Johnny’s songs bring back memories and images of times spent in New Orleans. This song does that well.

Johnny performed the equally lovely “In My Dream” from Once it Gets Started.

Winding up the show, Johnny presented a story about fellow VOTWA performer Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the time someone tried to buy Monk’s house and land. And the cultural destruction that can happen in the name of “progress.” Johnny then concluded the set with “Lady on The Levee” and thanked the audience who responded with a standing ovation.

Appreciating the response, Johnny returned to the stage for an encore. Setting aside guitar and accordion, Johnny brought out a chromatic harmonica and sang “The Lord is Waiting, and the Devil is Too.” The audience joined in with clapping and singing to the song that won Johnny the 2012 Blues Music Award for Song of The Year. A wonderful way to complete a memorable night of music at David Shiplett’s Cottonmouth southern soul Kitchen.

Scott Morris

Treasurer, Suncoast Blues Society

 (Photo’s courtesy of Jim Hartzell)

An Interview with Johnny Sansone

An Interview with Johnny Sansone

An Interview with Johnny Sansone

This interview done by Mark Goodman in 2012. With Johnny coming to town for a show at Cottonmouth Southern Soul Kitchen on January 15 within are unique insights into Johnny. 

Tickets are available at Suncoast Blues Society Shop

To many people on the blues scene, Johnny Sansone is a relatively new name. It was his last two records; Poor Man’s Paradise & The Lord is Waiting that really seemed to catch fans attention and bring him the recognition he so richly deserves. Sansone’s songwriting provides a window into his world, the city of New Orleans and yes, into his very soul. Best known for his harmonica and accordion skills, Sansone is also an accomplished guitarist. I had the opportunity to see his one-man show when he opened for RSB in Pennsylvania. I have lost count of the times I have seen him perform, but he always seems to pull something new out of his toolbox that keeps me amazed.

With his win for Song of the Year at the 2012 Blues Music Awards, maybe the spotlight will shine a little brighter on this multi-talented artist. 

MG:    Tell me a bit about your early days. Where you’re from originally and how you got interested in music.

JJS:     Early days… my father was a sax player in big bands. He played with Dave Brubeck during World War II, and he got me started playing saxophone when I was a teenager living in New Jersey, just outside New York City. He got me interested early and he had a pretty cool record collection. A lot of Duke Ellington and Count Basie, stuff like that.

I started playing saxophone at eight years old and then I picked up the harmonica and guitar just a few years later and started collecting my own records.

MG:    Okay. Why did you switch from saxophone to harmonica?

JJS:     Well, I was taking lessons and I was just a little kid, and the saxophone was bigger than I was, you know. The harmonica was a lot easier to carry around. But I played saxophone up until it was stolen in the early 80’s in Kansas City. It was my dad’s horn, and after it was liberated from my van, I never played saxophone again.

MG:    Okay. Tell me a little about your early professional career.

JJS:     I started doing gigs when I was in high school. You know, we had a little blues band and I always played Jimmy Reed kinda stuff with the harp in a rack. When I went to college at Colorado State, I met a piano player who was from Kansas City and a guitar player from Chicago. We all had the same kind of record collections, so we put a band together and started playing parties. That eventually gave way to playing in the bars and clubs.

It was a really good time back then for blues. It was the late seventies, and I was still a teenager then. A lot of the Chicago acts were coming through on their way to California. So, you know I got to meet and hang out, and learn from these guys. Cotton was coming through and Jimmy Wells, most of my favorite harmonica players, so I got to be friends with them and study them. It was just a really good time back then when a lot of real deal blues guys were walking the earth.  (Chuckling) It’s a lot different today.

MG:    Okay. How did you eventually get your gig with Ronny Earl?

JJS:     Well, we skipped through a couple years there, but I had gone to the east coast to join a band with Jimmy Carpenter called the Alcho-Phonics. This would’ve been around ’84, something like that. We both ended up quitting that band and putting together…actually reassembling the band that I had that included members of the Iguanas, and moved to Richmond, Virginia where Ronnie is from, and we were putting together our first record.

Now I’d known Ronny since he was playing with Room Full of Blues. They would come through Colorado and hang out after shows at my house. Years later I asked if he would do a guest spot on the first record that came out on King Snake Records. The band didn’t last much longer after that, about another six months to a year.

We had done a couple of shows in support of Ronnie and he had heard my band was breaking up, so he eventually just gave me call. He said, “I need a singer and harp player. Would you come up to Boston?’ So, it all fell into place and I moved up there around the late 80’s.

MG:    What made you decide to make the move to New Orleans?

JJS:     I had been coming to New Orleans for years. I lived in Austin for about a year and spent most of my time driving down to New Orleans and staying with friends.

I had family here and my cousin owned an oyster bar and, you know, it’s a really great place to visit but I was on the road all the time. So, after I left Ronnie’s band, the Iguanas were here and most of my old buddies from Colorado had moved down here. Actually, they became the Iguanas about the same time I moved down here. We were gonna all get together and play but it didn’t work with what I was doing. I had my CD coming out on Ichibon Records, so when I got to town, I was trying to promote that record and I kinda just moved all my stuff here. Things were better then because I was touring a lot and had a house Up-Town.

MG:    What is it, in your opinion, that gives New Orleans’ music its distinctive vibe?

JJS:     Yeah, I mean… it’s a really tough question and there is no definitive answer.  I mean, in my opinion, I think it’s the syncopation of the city… it seems to have a lot of grease on it, it seems slippery, and the tempos are relaxed.  It’s almost like an intoxicating sound like the drummers and the second-line beats. I’ll give you an example: I was playing in Lucerne, Switzerland and my drummer was warming up doing some second-line thing during sound check.  This guy came over to me and said, “Man, I’m sorry, I know this is a big show.”  I asked him what he was sorry about and he said, “Your drummer, he’s drunk.”  I said, “He’s not drunk, he’s not even drinking.” He said, “It sounds like he’s drunk.”  (Laughing) I told him that’s the style of the way he plays. These guys didn’t really get the idea that the dragging syncopation of the second line is a style. I guess they heard it as a guy that was drunk.

Sometimes people hear this music, and they think it’s… like sloppy. The slop is what makes the music cool, and that’s only a little tiny bit of what I think makes the music here interesting. There are a million different reasons why it’s different from a lot of other music.

MG:    Most people are familiar with you as a musician, but most don’t realize what    a good songwriter you are. Tell me about your process.

JJS:     Well, unfortunately I have… or fortunately, it depends on how you look at it, I’ve been writing from life experiences. I guess the song that was nominated first       was Poor Man’s Paradise. It was a tragedy song that I wrote by just gathering people’s pain. I thought it would really be helpful to regurgitate the suffering and that would be a healing process for people.

I had written songs for when the oil spill happened. I heard there was going to be a bunch of records, so I wrote songs for that. It looked like they had cleaned everything up, (laughing) but they haven’t! They haven’t cleaned everything up but the benefits kind of disappeared. It’s a tragic song that I had written and when I played it for people, I saw real emotion. I mean I saw some people crying, you know, I actually saw tears when I played the song.  I thought well, all I’m really doing is expressing stories I’d heard and put to music.

MG:    You’re a solid songwriter with a fairly long career. Why only four album releases? 

JJS:     It took a long time to cleanup my Rounder releases and Poor Man’s Paradise. It was kind of a contractual thing. I had written a lot of songs, but I was still under contract with Rounder. I still have a whole lot of songs; I mean I never stopped writing. I guess it was just a timing thing.

MG:    This next one is more of a personal question. One of my favorite songs by you is Crescent City Moon, yet I have never heard you do it live. Why is that?

JJS:     I actually do that song a lot in my club shows where I always feature a guitar in the song. I think you’ve probably been to a lot of the festival sets and that song is a slow blues and you can only do so many slow blues in a 60–90-minute festival show. For festivals I concentrate more on the harmonica, but I do that song pretty much every night in my club shows.

MG:    Being a true bluesman, what made you decide to pick up the accordion?

I saw Clifton Chenier a bunch of times and was really moved by the energy of the music. I was playing guitar at the time and was looking for an instrument that had more voice than the harmonica that I could use as a second instrument. I went to Clifton’s wake and decided the king was gone and I was really fascinated with the instrument, so I started that day. I don’t remember exactly, but it was back in the mid-eighties.

MG:    You have a very talented group of friends to play with such as Anders Osborne, Tab Benoit, and Mike Zito to name a few. What’s it like, and what impact does it have on your own music?

JJS:     Well, first off, I have to comment on how lucky I am to be in a group with those guys. I owe a lot to Rueben Williams for putting this thing together, making sure that we all came together as The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. I went to the session, and I got thrown right in and was standing next to Dr. John and playing accordion. I played on the record but didn’t know I was going to be asked to join the band.

An interesting little story there was, Rueben (Williams) had asked me to come to the session, but I didn’t know what we were going to do. I walked in and they were all there, and guys with a camera.

MG:    Believe it or not, I was the guy with the camera if we’re talking about the same session. Anyway, go on.

I took the accordion out but didn’t know what key or what was happening, we just started playing. George Porter was guiding us through the song and giving us the chord changes. I was standing right next to Dr. John, and when it was time for me to take a solo, I was a little bit nervous. Anyway, after my solo I glanced down at Mac (Dr. John). He stopped playing for a second and gave me a thumbs-up. I said to myself, “I guess I must be doing it right.”  It was great!

I can’t tell you how important it is to play with a rhythm section like that and being out on the road and seeing what their like. You can’t imagine the importance that goes along with being on stage and playing with what are essentially your heroes at this point. I mean, I don’t even know where to start saying how important it is. Every night something is different, there’s such great imagination in these guys. Everybody is at the top of their game; they’re just an incredible group of musicians.

I’ve known Tab pretty much since he started on the blues scene in New Orleans. I’ll give you a quick little story about how we met. My record had just come out on King Snake Records and Kenny Neal was working down there (Sanford, Fl), and had this Dodge Transvan. It was kinda like a motor home thing and driving around in it was really cool. So, when I saw one for sale I bought it, just because Kenny had one. I did a couple tours then decided to sell it downtown. This kid comes to look at it and I asked him what he wanted it for. He said, “I’m gonna be touring with my band.”  I told him that’s what I had used it for and asked what kind of music did he play? He said, “I play blues!” I told him I did too and asked where he was playing. He said he was playing a little bit here and there, so I invited him to sit in with us at the Howlin Wolf. That’s how we met, and he would play with us all the time before he actually had anything going on. He’s been a huge help to me by letting me sit in over the years and putting me on his records. Tab Benoit is a really helpful guy to have in the music world!

MG:    In 2008 I was traveling with Tab Benoit for a story, and he played at the Democratic National Convention Party. You were there with the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. What was that like?

JJS:     Actually, we did the Democratic and Republican Conventions. That was an incredible show and an eye-opening event to take part in, especially the Democratic show. I mean… the people that they had made for an incredible lineup. One of the most beautiful things that I got to do was perform Louisiana with Randy Newman. We had Johnny Vidocovich on the drums, George Porter, Jr. on bass and Anders Osborne on guitar. Waylon Thibodeaux was on fiddle, and I played accordion. We got to do that song at the Democratic National Convention; it was special.

We had gone there as a delegation to make our presence known, to explain what we were trying to do. I don’t know how they made that happen. The guys that worked to put everybody’s schedules together and put us all out on the road at the same time were absolutely amazing. I can’t imagine all the work that went into making it happen. And to be out there with all those guys, I mean, it must’ve been like traveling with the Johnny Otis Show. Oh yeah, and guys standing there with assault rifles pointed right at you when we arrived in Tab’s bus.

MG:    Your latest release, The Lord Is Waiting And The Devil Is Too, is full of anguish and anger. Tell me about it.

JJS:     Well… I was going through a hard time in my life, so the record is extremely personal. I think what happened was, I had been doing the Tuesday nights at Chickie Wah Wah’s (a club on Canal St. in New Orleans) with Anders Osborne and John Fohl (guitarist for Dr. John). It was kind of a song-writers day, and we would bring fresh songs to play for the first time in front of people. It was always packed with those that wanted us to play a song so they could be the first to hear it.

At the time, I was in a fairly deep blues depression.  I was carrying some anger and I was writing like that. Anders was so moved by what he was hearing that he went to Rueben Williams and said we need to record Johnny right now. We’ve got to get in the studio right now. I wasn’t prepared to sing these songs, and especially not prepared to record them. It was Anders and Rueben Williams that essentially dragged me out of my house and into the studio.

As we were recording the songs I said, “Anders, you have to let me know if there’s anything here that I shouldn’t be saying.”  I needed someone to listen to the lyrics closely enough because I was pretty wounded and didn’t want to say anything that I would regret later. He said, “All I hear is you expressing your pain and passionately showing your soul.” So that’s how the session went down.

MG:    I think it’s a powerful record and apparently the nominators for the Blues Music Awards think so too.

JJS:     That completely blindsided me. I was hoping that maybe I would be nominated for player of the year. This was my first all-harmonica record and I thought maybe there’s a chance that I would get nominated for player of the year or something. I thought maybe there’s a possibility, you know. And it’s funny that was the one thing I didn’t get nominated for. I was shocked when I got all those nominations, completely shocked, you know. I didn’t expect that at all.

I owe so much to Anders (Osborne) because he had the vision for the record. I wrote the songs, but it was his idea to go in there with Stanton Moore and those guys. I mean, they essentially did all of the arranging, or almost all of the arranging. And it was Anders’ concept to go without a bass, just drums, guitar, and me. It’s kind of like a Hound Dog Taylor thing, or maybe Black Keys, something like that.

Interestingly, one of the things about this record that I was concerned with, and I don’t know how many people realize this, but Anders didn’t want to put any solos on it. He said, “This is your record. You’re going to play the solos. It’s going to be focused on you. I told him I wasn’t sure people would buy a record that only had harmonica solos. I mean, every song has got harmonica on it. He said, “Trust me! Just play your heart and trust me.”  And he was right. I mean, maybe some people were missing guitar solos, and I would’ve loved it if Anders would’ve played some, but this is the way he saw it.

I produced most of my other records, and he co-produced Poor Man’s Paradise, but I had pretty much had the last call on how those records came out. On this one I just handed everything over to Anders. I just put all my trust in him, and he knocked it out of the park for me.

MG:    Do you find it easier as a musician to let someone else take the reigns in the studio and just focus on playing?

JJS:     That’s not a question I can easily answer. When I went into the studio to do The Lord is Waiting, I was kinda in another world. I wasn’t sure what was happening, and I just set up my stuff and played; I didn’t second guess anything. I just went and did it. I’ve never made a record like that before. I usually have everything worked out, you know, write a song, might make a couple changes, we rehearse everything. This record was done in one day and night. We just went in and played.

Actually, I could see the energy that these guys had. It was like every time a note was played it was with 100 percent passion. There was no, let’s go over the song and see how it sounds. We just went in there and just nailed everything to the wall. It was a session like I’ve never been on before.

MG:    I’ve noticed that with that group of musicians in the VOW sessions. They just went in and nailed it on the first take every time.

JJS:     When Tab was recording his last record, I went over to Dockside to just hang around and see if I could be any help to those guys. It was incredible to watch. Anders walked in and he played songs that he’d never done, just nailed them. I mean there was no reason to try and do it again. It’s was one take; Bam!  I wish people could see how it’s done. You don’t have to look back; you don’t have to do it again. It was really inspiring.

You know, you see bands do twenty-five takes, you know. They just kept doing it over until it was right. But who’s to say what’s right, you know? I think a lot of musicians would agree with me that you can do as many takes as you want, and usually the first couple takes are gonna be the best.

I was in the studio with The Voice of The Wetlands, and we stopped in the middle of a song. Dr. John said, “What’d you stop for?” I don’t remember who it was, but they said there was a glitch or something. Dr. John was like, “man sometimes those glitches are the best part. Just let it roll.”

You always looked for mistakes but sometimes they end up making the cut. You know, you’re playing, and something happens that you don’t expect. It’s not the way you rehearsed it but the passion of the moment.

MG:    What’s next?

JJS:     Well, I’m at the stage of my career where I’m ready to get out and play. The way I feel today, I would like to play every night until the last night I’m alive. I realize it’s a young man’s game to be out on the road; it’s hard travel. The last ten years or more, I’ve been doing more European tours. They seem to be a lot more doable financially. It’s a whole new game from when I used to tour in the ‘80s. I mean, everything is just so hard. You used to call up a guy and say we’re coming out there, he’d say great, let’s do a show. Now you have to go through eighteen people and send eighteen demos just to get considered.

It’s a different world today and it’s been difficult for me to keep the band together and make enough money to have the kind of players that I want and still be able to get out and tour. It’s too difficult. I think things are gonna get a lot better now, and I’m gonna start being able to get out on the road more. It’s been interesting for me to be in front of people that say, “wow I didn’t know you sang, or didn’t know you played accordion.” They’ve seen me as a sideman playing with Tab or any number of people. They didn’t realize I actually have a career that started long before most of these guys were even out on the road.

It was more lucrative for me to stay in New Orleans, especially before all this Enron bullshit happened. You know, there was a lot of corporate money, and those were great gigs. One corporate party would pay you the same amount you’d make touring blues bars out on the road for a week. You could make your money in a few hours, so it was a smarter thing to do. After they got caught wasting all the investors’ money, they just hired solo jazz players.

MG:    It took a long time before you would grant me this interview. Why?

JJS:     (Laughing)…You really want me to talk about that?

MG:    Well, I was gonna see if you would. They are the competition, you know!

JJS:     Well… there was an interview done and…. how do I put this? There was an interview done in another publication where at the end of the interview I said, “I look forward to seeing you when you come down to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. I look forward to seeing everybody. Come and say hello.

Well, the people that did the interview with listed my phone number at the end of the article. I had people calling me and asking what restaurants to go to, where could we meet for drinks, and could I pick them up at the airport. I don’t know how that happened, but yeah, it’s probably not a good idea to give your phone number out in an interview.

MG:    I promise not to do that! 

While a lot of New Orleans musicians stay close to home because of the cost to tour, Johnny Sansone has been venturing out more and more. With his membership in The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, and guest appearances with The Royal Southern Brotherhood, he has been on the road more and more. His latest release is a powerful look at a tortured soul releasing its pain through music. If you’ve never seen a live performance of The Lord is Waiting, be prepared. You just might catch a little glimpse of that Devil!

Message from President – “Board Elections”

Message from President – “Board Elections”

Message from President – “Board Elections”

Board Elections!

Last year your Board updated their bylaws – one of the changes we made after much deliberation was that for the sake of continuity, we agreed to elect Board members for 2-year terms.

As you are aware, we sent out requests for several weeks in our weekly Suncoast Blues News that we were looking for individuals to work with us to fill some open Board positions. I was pleased with the response we received! We had the opportunity to meet several dedicated Blues music lovers with an array of skills that will enhance the work of your Board in 2022.

Of the folks that responded, there was 1 person that was eligible to be a full time Board member. The 6 current Board members agreed to another term leaving only 1 open position. Since we had 7 people interested in 7 positions, an election was not needed.

Thus, I would like to present your Suncoast Blues Society Board for 2022:

  • Terri O’Brien will continue as President for the 2nd year of her 2-year term
  • James Randolph will continue as Vice President for the 2nd year of his 2-year term.
  • Scott Morris will continue as Treasurer for the 2nd year of his 2-year term.
  • Jesse Smoot, Pat Smoot and Cheryl Spradling, will remain on the Board for another 2-year term.
  • Lynn Deglin is our newest member of the Board.
  • Lisa Lanza and Linda Rasor have also joined as Alternates.

So, let’s congratulate and meet our new folks…
Lynn Deglin:  After 20+ years in N. California, I moved to St. Pete in October 2020. I am thrilled with the local music opportunities, as well as the plentiful art and outdoor activities. I love the celebratory nature of the Tampa Bay area! Recently, a friend mentioned the Suncoast Blues Society and I am now a member. I was very excited to receive my first newsletter and see how much of this music genre is accessible in the area. Blues is one of my all-time favorites!

I have been an IT Business Systems Analyst / Project Manager for a long time and am about to retire. I want to get engaged in community in a helpful and heart-based way. Being a Board member is a perfect way to do that! I am organized, resourceful and a good problem solver. I am also a very good writer and a long-term photographer.

Linda Rasor:  My interest in becoming a Board member is a result my lifelong love of the Blues. It is important to me not only to preserve this genre but to promote it to younger folk.  It is concerning that the majority of Blues fans are or becoming mature as evident at festivals and concerts.  New and younger fans need to be exposed and cultivated to sustain this art form. Besides my love of the music and artists, I am very interested in working with like minds in a team effort to preserve, promote and support the efforts of the Blues Society.  I wish to meet new folks, work toward a common goal and also have a “fun” experience.

I live in Dunedin and do have the time to devote to the Society.  My professional work involved customer facing experiences and problem solving. I enjoy people interaction and consider myself as a valuable team player. Besides music I am an outdoor enthusiast enjoying bicycling, kayaking and other water sports.

Lisa Lanza:   Blues has been my favorite since the 1960’s and I would enjoy interacting with others who enjoy the Blues as much as I do. I love to volunteer for organizations that I support. I am good at filling gaps. I am very observant, and I work to prevent potential problems from occurring. I have lived in Clearwater since 1978. I am fluent in Spanish. I am always on social media and feel that I can be a benefit to the Board.

 

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate” CD Review by Franc Robert

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate” CD Review by Franc Robert

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate” CD Review by Franc Robert

Carolyn Wonderland “Tempting Fate”

CD Review by Franc Robert

WOW!!! Tempting Fate… is one astonishing record. If you have not heard Carolyn Wonderland before, you owe it to yourself to get this CD, like-now!!! Ms. Wonderland can compare to Bonnie Raitt, but hotter like a cayenne pepper. Arguably stronger vocals, and much spicier playing and songwriting.

Right out of the gate, “Fragile Peace and Certain War” fires off on all cylinders with its raging Mississippi Hill Country blues stomp, hound dog wailing slide guitar and impassioned, politically tinged vocals. Vocals that find a higher gear each verse till the final scream that recalls Tina Turner at the height of her powers-yeah, it is that good!

“Texas Girl and Her Boots” is a wonderfully sassy look at the form and function of her boot collection (every girl has more than one pair!), set over a bare-knuckle Texas shuffle with the added treat of Marcia Ball on piano, loads of fun!

“Broken Hearted Blues” is a classic blues rocker with Carolyn detailing every failing of her (now presumably former) lover-the standout here is her vocals, which go from a near whisper to all out wail on the turn of a dime. “Fortunate Few” is more traditional, with the piano more forward in the mix, and very tasty guitar work.

“Crack In the Wall” is a slow Texas waltz, with Cindy Cashdollar adding a haunting lap steel solo.

“The Laws Must Change” shows Ms. Wonderland interpreting her old boss John Mayall’s song, and in the process making it her own. Her guitar scat’s along to her vocals-sometimes doubling, other times finishing the line, before getting to a lyrical but still cutting solo!

“On My Feet” is more of a traditional jazz number, with smooth crooning, and a surprise whistle and guitar call and response solo-very nice and a cool twist! “It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry” features Jimmie Dale Gilmore as a duet partner (sounding like Willie Nelson).

The album closes out with The Grateful Dead’s “Loser”- an unusual choice, but Wonderland makes it work. With its spaghetti western lyrics filtered through a blues-rock-psychedelic kaleidoscope leading to a dramatic rave up solo section. And its spine-tingling final chorus that leaves you wanting more, like a great album should!

Can you give six stars on a 5-star scale? That is what this record is, and I am sure it is already in the running for Blues Music Awards. Cannot wait for Ms. Wonderland to tour Florida!

 

Message from President – “Board Elections”

Message from the President

Message from the President

Message from the President

We have some exciting news to share with you – your Suncoast Blues Society has been asked to sponsor one of the stages at Dunedin Wines the Blues this year on Saturday, November 13th! We have been busy booking artists and have a stellar lineup that will be playing at the EAST Stage:

2:00 – 3:15pm –  Trey Wanvig Band
3:45 – 5:00pm –  The TBone Hamilton Band
5:30 – 7:00pm –   Brian Leneschmidt Band
7:30 – 9:00pm –   Dottie Kelly Band

And don’t forget…

  • 15-17th we have the 8th Annual Camping with the Blues at Sertoma Youth Ranch.
  • Nov 2, head up north to Homosassa for Blues ‘n Bar-B-Que sponsored by the Nature Coast Friends of Blues (NCFOB).
  • Nov 7th SBS will be back at Gill Dawg in Port Richey to feature our Regional IBC Challenge winner, Memphis Lightningwith Julie Black
  • The 10th anniversary of the Bradenton Blues Festival Weekend 3-5th
Jason Ricci, Here by Grace

Jason Ricci, Here by Grace

Jason Ricci, Here by Grace

Suncoast Blues Society presents an interview with Jason Ricci. The interview and story were written by Tom Bassano, and Suncoast sincerely thanks Tom for offering for publication this interview, and insights into Jason Ricci.

Jason Ricci’s talents are undeniable. Neither is his openness to his past, his troubles, and his exploration into all that life offers. Some of what follows will be an honest discussion, and some might find the material edgy. But much like Jason this piece is entertaining with little held back. Anyone who has seen Jason perform knows that he leaves it all on the stage; he does so here as well.

Jason Ricci, Here by Grace

Interview and story written by Tom Bassano

Jason Ricci, hailed as one of the greatest harmonica players ever, opens the curtains of his turbulent rise and fall from fame and rebirth as a living legend of Blues Harmonica.

At first glance, Jason’s appearance is everything but blues, with wild hair and eccentric clothing that can only be described as punk rock/hippie. But when his raspy voice hits the microphone it’s as if the mood of the entire world had just changed, and you suddenly relax into the rhythm of southern blues. Then Ricci pulls from the mic and buries his face in his hands.

As the first note pierces the air, you can see everyone perk up in their chairs, and as Jason dives into his first harmonica solo, even the band seems to be a part of the audience as they watch him with respect and admiration. Ricci hits note after note, sounding as if there are 5 harmonicas playing at once, even beat boxing, creating his own percussion accompaniment without missing a note. Everyone starts to yell and whistle, encouraging him to keep going. The crowd sounds like a revival sermon, with even some “amen”s being shouted. People are breaking into applause before he has even finished, multiple times

Ricci is like a maniac, feeding off the energy of the crowd, playing faster and more complex the louder they cheer. We can see the level of effort growing and you imagine he must be exhausted. You are wondering, “How long can he do this- will he fall off the stage?” He has got to pass out, but he shows no sign of deprivation as he designs a roller coaster of music and your jaw drops open as you watch like a child at a magic show wondering,  “How did he do that?” This is what it is like to watch Jason Ricci

I am Tom Bassano. I first saw Jason Ricci play at Terra Blue in New York City. Now, three years later, I am bringing him to Tampa Bay. I have never interviewed anyone before. I had originally thought to give the task of interviewing to someone who was accomplished in the field of writing, but I chose to do it myself because I wanted to dive deeper into Jason’s past and try to understand who he really is. I said, “Jason, I decided to interview and write the story myself.” Jason said “That’s cool, now just relax and we’ll talk and then you can take what you want from it. Ask me anything, nothing’s off the table – jail, addiction, homosexuality; I am an open book.”

TB: Well, let’s start off with the soft pitches and we will dive deeper as we go.

JR: Sounds good.

TB: You grew up in Maine, but somehow you ended up in the south being mentored by, and even living with, legends of the blues in your late teens and early 20s, like Pat Ramsey and David Jr. Kimbrough. How did a New England punk rocker find his way into the blues?

JR: It was the harmonica, the instrument itself. It was played in America by mostly black blues players and some white country singers, bluegrass, and folk. But if you are truly interested in the harmonica, you are going to be interested in the blues because of what those guys do with it. So, at first, I was attracted to the music. But then I listened to the lyrics and in what at first sounded old-timey in comparison to punk, I heard a similarity, and that similarity is sincerity.

There is a sincerity in both punk and blues that I could relate to. When I saw this, my mother brought me to acts such as James Cotton and Buckwheat Zydeco at a young age. Blues and punk are written more towards the arts and not so much for entertainment, unlike a lot of pop music. Today, I don’t try to play the blues. I just play music (he laughs) I play Jason Ricci. As a rule, I don’t think categorizing music is very creative and I don’t believe its marketable that way.

TB: What music were you listening to as a teenager and what has carried over to your playlist today?

JR: All of it – I didn’t grow out of any of it. For a while I did The Dead Kennedy’s, Pixies, Misfits, and 7 Seconds. Then at 17, 18, 19, I was blues and jazz in my 20s. I temporarily stopped listening to punk until I came out of the closet in my 30s. That’s when I went back to my roots and gave myself permission to be who I am. You see, I pretended to not like punk because it wasn’t in the culture. I wanted to be an authentic blues person so all I would listen to was Little Walter, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Jr., and Freddy King.

TB: If I were to describe your performance to someone, I would say you were a mix of Janice Joplin, Steven Tyler, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

JR: Thank you, Janice is one of my biggest influences. My mom would put on videos of her when I was 13, 14 years old and I would say to this day that I have never seen a better performance. The way she ran the band and her vulnerability, the audience would be wondering if she was even capable of finishing the performance. She would miss notes and she was trying too hard to get them that it was better than had she hit them.

TB: Who would you say influenced you?

JR: Janice was one of my biggest influences. I can tell you that Sean Costello’s live performance changed my life and watching Derek Trucks concentrate on a single note is like watching Buddha meditate.

TB: When you allowed yourself to listen to punk again, did that influence your music?

JR: That moment that I said, “You know what? I’m going to sleep with men.” That decision influenced everything that was repressed in me to come out. I’m just going to be me, and I don’t care how I’m perceived. As far as punk influence, you only need to go to my album, Done with the Devil, and you can hear my blues cover of “I Turned into a Martian”, a Misfits song. That’s some homework for you. (Jason laughs)

TB: When did you recognize your homosexuality?

JR: I recognized it on the school bus to kindergarten. I have always been attracted to men. I don’t have a choice of who I am attracted to, but I do have a choice of who I sleep with. It was easy for me in my teens, especially since I am a romantic and influenced by the heterosexual community. It was easy to have girlfriends. I didn’t have many, I had a girlfriend in high school and maybe slept with 11 girls my whole life, and for a musician that is not a lot. (Jason laughs) It’s low – I was obsessed with music, there was not much time for sex until I reached my 30s. I charged the first man I ever slept with, so I felt that exonerated me (Jason laughs again). That was a Lou Reed song:

“Little Joe never once gave it away/

Everyone had to pay and pay/

A hustle here and a hustle there/

New York City’s the place”

Later I fell in love with a guy – he moved away and broke my heart. I thought I was gay because the gay community said my attraction to women was just brainwashing from the conventional heterosexual society. I met a guy named Brady that I was going to be with for the rest of my life, and probably could have. I would have married him if it was legal at the time. He refused to acknowledge any bisexual thing that was going on, if I said a woman was sexy, he would say “You just want to be her”.

So, it took me a while to accept that I am attracted to both genders. I wasn’t going to say that I was attracted to both genders while I was in a long-term relationship. When I finally did, he said it was just me trying to hold onto some level of conventional American normalcy. I have slept with hundreds of men (Jason busts out laughing), maybe not hundreds, let’s take that out. I was with a lot of guys, like every night a different guy for like… (Jason pauses) wait a minute that is hundreds of guys (laughing hysterically). I can’t even come close to counting, I see people all over New Orleans that I have slept with. It’s a good thing I don’t go to Nashville very often anymore. I don’t regret it. Coming out as bisexual was the loneliest. If you’re straight, it’s great, everyone digs you and being gay you have the gay community and all the clubs. But when you come out as bi, chicks are like, “What do you mean you sleep with men?” And the gay community is like “Jason’s just trying to make more money.” Being bisexual is not as cool as being gay and it’s not as easy. I am attracted to women; I communicate better with men. I don’t know, I guess gender for me is irrelevant. I never considered Brady’s gender and I never considered Kate’s gender- my wife. Both were great.

TB: Okay Jason, I need to back you up a bit – you just glossed over prostitution like it was nothing!

JR: Oh, it didn’t last very long. I answered an ad in the paper that said, “Male sculpture models wanted” and I met a guy that was nice. It wasn’t like I was walking the streets; I wasn’t River Phoenix style – my own personal Basketball Diaries.

TB: Were you going through your addictions at the time?

JR: No, I was smoking a little weed… (Laughs) I was smoking a lot of weed.

TB: When did the drugs start to take over?

JR: Well, I went to treatment in 1997. I was 23. I left treatment after a few months and got a year and a day in a boot camp jail situation. I got out and went into a work release program and then probation. I stayed sober from 1998 to 2010. I was dealing with a lot of things when my band, The New Blood, broke up and my mental health was not good. I was placing my career, and material objects, and my physical appearance above my spiritual wellbeing. I had everything. A career, money, and I was in great shape; abs, the whole nine yards. But I wanted more, I wasn’t happy with it. Plus, I did not recognize severe bipolar syndrome. For about 4 years, I was staying up 2 or 3 days at a time. I became obsessed with the occult books. I was a member of O.T.O., a secret society – and I’m not saying there is anything wrong with that, there are plenty of people in O.T.O – but it’s classic bipolar behavior. I was dealing with forces I still till this day believe were demonic. You can chalk that up to bipolar or real life, I don’t care.

TB: In your mind?

JR: No, external. I full heartedly believe in GOD and the devil.

TB: Have you been able to escape?

JR: Yes, through GOD – but I don’t push it on people. So, after 2010, I started smoking crack and doing heroin. I had a French girlfriend, and we were sleeping with men together, then I was arrested and went to jail in Indiana for some big boy charges: assault on a police officer and burglary. (Jason pauses) I never touched him. I did a year and a day and never touched him. I did a plea bargain to avoid 12 years.

TB: What about the burglary?

JR: I robbed a woman’s house and stole guitars. A pretty shitty crime for a musician. I didn’t really know her. I met her once and knew she wouldn’t be home and robbed her to get crack and heroin. When I got out, I met my wife. Her mother worked in the jail – she introduced us.

TB: (Choking) What?! You have got to be kidding me. (Laughing in disbelief)

JR: Well, you don’t know my wife’s mother (Jason laughs, as if remembering a sweet moment). She is AMAZING. She’s a prison advocate. She was hired by Amnesty International to go into the Bloomington, Indiana Jail to police the guards  who were stun gunning their prisoners to death. That job evolved throughout the years for her to advocate for prisoners to get their GED’s, glasses, and medications, simple things that they need. She started an organization called “New Leaf New Life” that takes long-term prisoners who have lost their homes, wives, loved ones and felon’s incapable of being employed in many places. She puts them in a position to be repositioned. She doesn’t judge people by their past actions. She’s not Christian but that’s a very Christian thing to do. Because we are not broken, but circumstances may cause people to behave in ways that are outside of their true nature. She saw that I had this life before jail. When I got out, she had dinner with me a few times, as a friend of course. She told me about her daughter, who at the time was trying to get harmonica lessons for a friend of hers who had been in a car accident and could no longer play her original instrument.

TB: That is bizarre, I would never imagine a relationship developing that way.

JR: It gets weirder, my mother-in-law is a descendant of the Karnoffskys, who gave Louis Armstrong the money for his first cornet. Louis may have never become the legend if not for that cornet, as he had an incident that led him into a juvenile detention center for a year, where he homed in on his skills. Louis spoke fluent Yiddish and wore the star of David on his neck till his death in honor of the Karnoffsky’s.

Editor’s note: In a bit of irony, on August 30, 2021, while this interview was being prepared Hurricane Ida destroyed Karnoffsky’s – what was a registered historical landmark

 

I have survived and am actively healing through GOD’s grace. I don’t mean my career because I worked hard for that, but for my life. I’m talking about the fact that I shot more dope than Sean Costello, and I don’t know why I’m still here. I don’t think I’m favored, that’s part of grace. Grace basically means through no doing of our own, we are still here. All my hard work and my career in the long run, where will it really get me? My goal is, can I remain stoic in the face of adversity? In other words, how stable can I be regardless of my circumstances? Can I not let my circumstances dictate my behavior and how I have a natural tendency, like most anybody else, to turn to food, sex, drugs, and alcohol, even too much TV. But that’s something I try not to do.

TB: So, you have an addictive personality beyond just drugs?

JR: Yeah, a lot of that stems from trauma. I had a traumatic upbringing. It’s not too hard to dig and find that my father Joseph Ricci was all over 60 Minutes, Geraldo Rivera, mafia websites. My mother did multiple stents in hospitals, a couple of them long term more than a couple months. I was raised by the neighbors, people thought I had money because of my father, and they thought I got that money because my father killed people. I did not have access to that money because my mother was not present. She was bipolar and dealing with her own demons. Her parents were horrific. So, working too much is just a classic symptom of trauma as well as it is reinforced heavily by American culture. The harder you work, the better you are – workaholic. Don’t get me wrong though, I am a huge fan of America, I love living here.

TB: The addiction is a large part of how you became who you are. Without the work addiction you may not have become Jason Ricci, one of the greatest harmonica players.

JR: Absolutely, I lean heavily on the manic side. I am the opposite of attention disorder. I can focus on one thing for a few days and be productive until I become agitated by sleep deprivation. I would say highly productive. But I don’t allow it to go there anymore. I take medication. It took 10 years to find the right medication. I take an antipsychotic and a sleep aid. That allows me to get manic in the daytime and then it cuts it off so I can sleep, and it takes longer for me to get manic, like 2 or 3 hours. I just exhibit an overly enthusiastic person for a few hours. I am still manic, but I accept it, I like being a little manic. Every bipolar person likes being manic. Everyone around me has the right to tell me when I’m manic. I don’t always like it, but I listen, or I must explain why I’m not. (Jason laughs hysterically).

TB: Does the blues bring you to those dark places? Is it hard to do that while recovering?

JR: No, I think the blues has always been my lily. It’s like I made a mistake and I hope I learn from this. That’s the theme. It doesn’t always provide a spiritual solution. (Jason laughs)

TB: Do you find it hard to play in clubs as a recovering addict?

JR: Never, never. Because I don’t use drugs and alcohol like people in clubs do. That includes cocaine. I am not doing a line in the bathroom. I barricade myself in a room with furniture and mattresses, I smoke crack and shoot dope while watching porn for 4 or 5 days straight. Watching people drink in public is not the way I would like to, so it’s just not tempting. If they were smoking crack or shooting cocaine after the gig is over and I had a bad day, I don’t feel connected to GOD and I have not done anything to feel connected to GOD, I am in danger.

TB: So, your addiction is self-medicating?

JR: Yeah, there is nothing fun about it, the way I use. I remember coming back from a run and numerous parties that I had saying “Did you have fun?”, and that’s just a stupid question. It was just business at that point, there was nothing fun about what I was doing.

TB: What would wake you up out of that?

JR: GOD.

TB: So, you are laying on the ground and GOD wakes you?

JR: Not in the beginning. Normally it was an ambulance and a cop car that would interrupt it, two years ago, not quite two years ago, I will be two years sober November 20th. The last two years have been wonderful, completely different from when I was sober for 12 years and the time for 4 years. This is a totally different world where I am full of gratitude, and I recognize all the things that have happened to me and the rotten things I have done are all nothing but tools for me to help other people who may feel they are beyond forgiveness that may have done the same things as me or even worse.

I can use going to jail, breaking into someone’s house, and stealing guitars, prostitution, I can use what I did or what has happened to me to hopefully help others. Before you called, I was on the phone with a lady from Massachusetts that was fighting alcoholism, trying to find her resources to get better. It’s the most important thing I can do trying to give back.

You can see Jason Ricci on October 2nd featuring JP Soars and the Red Hots in Safety Harbor on the Bassano Cheesecake stage on 507 Main Street during the Safety Harbor Autumn Music Festival.