Avey Grouws Band Review

Avey Grouws Band Review

Avey Grouws Band Review

Avey Grouws Band Review

Birdrock Taco Shack, October 13, 2022

Put this band on your radar!

Based in Iowa, the Avey Grouws Band is on a limited tour of Florida and stopped into Bradenton to perform a wonderful show at Birdrock Taco Shack.

Unlike it’s sister restaurant, Cottonmouth southern soul Kitchen, Birdrock sustained limited damage from Hurricane Ian and is up and running  bringing the best of blues to Bradenton. In the comfortable and roomy courtyard at the “shack” Avey Grouws showed the audience why they are two-time International Blues Challenge semi-finalists.

Led by the powerful guitarist Chris Avey, and the equally strong vocalist Jeni Grouws, the band for this show included Nashville-based bassist Calvin Johnson (Tas Cru), keyboardist and vocalist Leo Albertoni (Toronzo Cannon), and drummer Bryan West. The tight and professional show contained mostly original songs from a series of albums, including the latest Tell Tale Heart, which debuted at #7 on Billboard’s Blues Album Chart.

Right out of the gate we heard Jeni’s powerful and dynamic voice with “Hearts Playing Tricks,” and not to be outdone Chris and his impressive guitar skills showcased on a version of “Black Cat Bone.” Presenting their quirky and humorous side, the band performed the first of a few “drinking” songs – “Two Days Off (And A Little Bit of Liquor).” As Jeni described, this song’s lyrics, like many do, came from keeping ears open to what others are saying.

Rotating to their first EP Road To Memphis, Chris took vocal lead on “Hard Times.” Returning to the second recording The Devil May Care, “Let Me Sing The Blues” gave Leo time to shine on the keyboard. The lovely song “There For Me” showed the bands tight vocal harmonies and might have been my favorite moment of the evening.

Local guitarist Vincent Sims, who became familiar with the band while on tour with Lauren Mitchell, was in attendance and Jeni asked Vincent to the stage. Vincent sat in on while Jeni sang “Love Me Like A Man,” and then with Chris as they traded licks on “Early In The Morning.” Good stuff!

Peppering the shows with stories from the road, many which had the crowd laughing, the band ended the first set after crushing their “Dig What You Do,” again with some nice vocal harmonies – this time with Jeni and Chris.

“Dirty Little Secret,” well, you will have to attend a show to find out what this song is about! But the secret is in “the way you roll.” A version of Albert Collins’ “Honey Hush!” was most enjoyable. “Let’s Take it Slow’ brought the tempo down and that song was responded to by  “I’d Rather Be Drunk,” a fast-paced song reminiscent of “Mojo.”  The show concluded with a rocking version “Love Raining Down.”

This is a gem of a band. What a fun time at Birdrock Taco Shack with Avey Grouws Band!

There are two more opportunities for you to see the band:

10/22 – Buckingham Blues Bar (opening for Damon Fowler)

10/23 – Camping With The Blues


By Scott Morris, Treasurer, Suncoast Blues Society


Alex Lopez Band CD Release Party August 12, Sarasota FL

Alex Lopez Band CD Release Party August 12, Sarasota FL

Alex Lopez Band CD Release Party August 12, Sarasota FL

Alex Lopez Band CD Release Party
August 12, Sarasota FL

Tampa-based musician Alex Lopez brought his powerful band, The Xpress, to the Browne’s Lab Theatre at Florida Studio Theatre (FST) for a party to celebrate the release of Nasty Crime. And what a party it was as Alex and the band treated the large turnout to a non-stop energetic set of music that left the crowd standing in applause.

Taking the stage in the intimate, and quite lovely, room at FST, Alex and the band played primarily from the new release. “No Way” set the tone and got the band engaged early, as Alex wove crafty lyrics and licks around the up-tempo beat of this song. Flowing seamlessly from song to song “Just Wait” turned up the heat and highlighted the understated licks that he delivers.
Alex paused to introduce the concept behind his music writing philosophy and that properly set the scene for the title track, “Nasty Crime.” The Xpress (Kana Leimbach on drums, Steve Roberts on bass, Kenny Hoye on keys) kept up a driving beat, with Kenny tossing in some nice keyboard runs to counterpoint Alex and his guitar.

The slower bluesy “When The Sun Goes Down” followed. This song contains poignant lyrics that Alex crafted after reflection on life’s twists and turns. “Holy Woman” has a funky blues feel and is Alex’s tribute to the positive impact women make in the world. Scalding guitar licks accompanied this song.
Kana Leimbach drumming kicked off the next song, the current recording’s rocking first cut “World On Fire.” Alex showed his slide guitar skills, weaving slide rhythm with lead licks.
Concluding the formal sequence of Nasty Crimes songs, Alex played the recording’s final song, “That’s Alright.” Kenny on keys, and Alex, traded off during the lovely melody. Alex’s measured guitar response and solo gave this performance immense charm and kept me quite entertained, enough to call this my favorite moment of the evening.

Transitioning away from the current release, Alex performed the title to 2017’s Slowdown. Playing from 2021’s Rising Up, the band performed the title track, and “Paradise”. Yours Truly, Me (2019) contributed the bluest song of this evening, “Take Me Back Home”. A lovely song with an equally compelling slide guitar. Most enjoyable. On this evening, the same recording contributed “Tush,” a funky version of the ZZ Top classic.
Returning to Slowdown, the blues punctuated “Stolen,” and was followed by “Dangerous.” That wrapped the formal performance, and after a break of few seconds the encore kicked of with “Light It Up,” and the show concluded with “Even Up The Score.” One hour, forty-five minutes of non-stop fun!
Scott Morris, Treasurer, Suncoast Blues Society
(Photos by author)

Interview: Mick Kolassa

Interview: Mick Kolassa

Interview: Mick Kolassa

As with all of Mick’s albums, his generosity and love of the blues is exemplified by the fact that all proceeds from sales of his albums goes to help support the Blues Foundation’s HART fund, which helps blues artists and their families with medical and funeral expenses and Generation Blues, which helps fund young musicians under the age of 21 to attend blues music camps.

I recently caught up with Mick after he had been in Rockland, Maine, for the North Atlantic Blues Festival where he had been working with Midcoast Music Academy students for several days before they performed at the annual festival to ask him about his new release “I’m Just Getting Started.” As always, he proved to be a refreshing, dedicated warrior for the blues and a very talented artist.

BS:     As you know, I attended an acoustic performance of yours recently at the Heartwood Soundstage in Gainesville, Florida, with local favorite Paco. You guys blew the audience away with your synergy and held the audience in the palm of your hand with the interaction and storytelling. How does playing in an intimate venue like Heartwood compare to a large festival or club for the type of music that you play? Do you have a preference?

MK:       Two very different kinds of satisfaction!  In a small and intimate setting like Heartwood I try to have an actual conversation with the audience members, spending time talking about each song, so I’m sure they understand not just the song but often why I wrote it or decided to sing it. That’s hard to do from a festival stage. In a smaller setting you can have direct conversations with people without losing the rest, not so on a large stage. But the satisfaction, or adrenaline rush, you get when a large audience likes what you do is different, not better, or worse, just different. I think most performers would agree that the act of performing is a powerful drug, the feeling you get when an audience likes what you do is hard to match. Whether the audience is small or huge, if I can make them happy it makes me even happier!

BS:     Jeff Jensen produced and played guitar on your new release as well as previous ones. You guys seem to create magic together. How did that relationship come about?

MK:    Of the 12 albums I’ve done so far, Jeff has produced 10 and played on all but 1, so we’ve become quite a team.  I met Jeff when he was playing with Brandon Santini, they played at the Bluesberry Café in Clarksdale during the Juke Joint Festival. My brother-in-law and I were putting together a show in Spokane, where he lived, and thought that they would be a great addition to the show.  During that show one of the other acts invited me to sit in with them and when Brandon and Jeff played, they also invited me up, so I did a couple tunes with them. After that they would bring me on stage when I was at one of their shows. I started doing some of my original songs with them and Jeff said I should think about recording them, and things just grew from there. The partnership has been good for both of us because we have very different musical backgrounds that work well together.

BS:     You have been quoted as saying about your songs “I want to tell a story.” My favorite bluesmen tell a story with their songs. Lyrics and audience interaction play a huge role in that for the listener. At venues with loud guitars and loud talking audiences, is story telling possible. Do you adjust your set list accordingly?

MK:     I can usually get the stories in, even in a large venue I will set up each song, giving a little background or history. It’s honestly more difficult to do that in a loud bar than it is on a large stage. I think that one thing that helps is that I spend a lot of time on stage looking at the audience, not just playing or singing to them. I try to make eye contact so that the individual people feel that I’m singing to them – because I am!

BS:     On a personal note, we both have been impacted by great losses recently. Due to the pandemic, not only have the careers of our friends been impacted, but we both have lost spouses as well as numerous close friends. You also have relocated to Memphis after a lengthy residence in Mississippi. How are you coping with your loss? I certainly feel your pain but can’t express it like you can in your music.

MK:   It’s a struggle, for sure, and even though I knew that Molli was dying, and I was prepared intellectually but I sure wasn’t ready emotionally. My family and friends helped me amazingly but being able to work through the pain and questions in my songs really helped. I’ve always done that – my songwriting is often me just thinking and putting the thoughts into words. Because I have standards and “rules” for my songs I’ll often get creative with the story I lay down, but it works for me. Coming to terms with Molli’s alcoholism turned into the song “Baby’s Got Another Lover,” which is still my most streamed and downloaded song – the song was my way of working through it and understanding it. I wrote the song “Nothing Left to Lose” as a way to try to understand Robin William’s suicide. Of course, the last couple years have given me a lot to write about. 

But it isn’t just the bad things, I write happy songs and love songs, sometimes leaning back on my younger years when Molli and I first got together, but also writing to or about an imaginary muse who I can write about or to with very low risk.

BS:     On a lighter note, your new release “I’m Just Getting Started” is a sure winner with me but you also indicate more are in the works. Can you tease us a bit by telling us what we can look forward to?

MK:    Sure, In August I will release an acoustic album entitled “They Call Me Uncle Mick.”  The only musical instrument that was plugged in was a vibraphone, which has an electric motor that rotates the baffles. It was wonderful knowing that there would be no pedals or effects. That album has some very old songs, one by Bo Carter and one by Hank Williams.  I was joined by some amazing people on the album, Watermelon Slim played and sang with me on a bluesy version of Woodstock, Bobby Rush played harmonica on an acoustic version of my song Wasted Youth, Doug McLeod played on 2 of my originals, and I was also joined by Chris Gill, Brad Webb and Alice Hasan.  The idea was to show the versatility of acoustic music.

That album will be followed by one I’m working on right now. Called “For The Feral Heart”, it’s a collection of love songs, some original, one very classic old standard and a couple well known rock songs that, when played slowly and a little mournful, are amazing paintings of love going off the tracks.

BS:    With the price of gasoline, lodging, and in general all expenses increasing, are more musicians foregoing tours and streaming live shows? With club owners and fans all affected by inflation, how are you and fellow musicians coping?

MK:    Right now, musicians are just trying to figure out what’s going on. While most of the festivals are back online many venues have closed and some have stopped booking touring acts, so routing a tour is tougher than ever before. As for streaming live shows, some have done it and a few with large and loyal fan bases have done OK, but it’s not the same as a live show. I know many musicians who haven’t jumped back in yet, making money some other way and trying to book tours for next year

BS:    Can you tell us about Endless Blues Records in Memphis and how that came about and your role in it?

MK:    Endless Blues Productions was the creation of my brother-in-law, Ted Todd, who passed away about 7 years ago. We put together several shows and were in the process of incorporating the business when he died. I decided to keep it going with the record label, starting with my own work, the album “149 Delta Avenue”. Once that was in place, I reached out to some friends to see if they would be interested in releasing their work on the label. Several said yes, in some cases they brought the finished product to me, and I helped them to release and promote the album and in other cases I financed it and sold the individual CDs to the artist. To date I have really held it to be with people I know well. We queued up four big releases, Tennessee Redemption, Tullie Brae, Eric Hughes, and Kern Pratt, just in time for Covid to shut things down and put the brakes on CD sales, the vast majority of which are sold at live shows. To top that off we lost Kern to Covid in 2020.

Since then, the album releases have been mine, Dexter Allen, and Chris Gill, and we have really had to manage that carefully. Fortunately, every release on the label has charted well and gained attention and some pretty good sales.

So far, my role has been to be pretty much every job. Anne Bello has come on board, initially to help with my own music but has expanded her work with all the artists on the label. Dexter Allen and Jeff Jensen are working with me to take things forward, and we have some cool projects in the works that could help us make up for 2020!

BS:     You recently worked with young blues artists at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Maine as you have in the past. Can you tell us about that experience?

MK:   That was simply magic! When I played the North Atlantic Blues Festival in 2016 Paul Benjamin asked me if I’d like to spend a couple of hours with the students at the MidCoast Music Academy, where they have an intensive week-long blues camp to prepare the students to play a short set to open the second day of the festival. I was really impressed by the kids when they played.  Last year I went back to the festival because I had a few people from the label playing, and Paul asked if I’d like to stop by the academy for a couple of hours again. While there I brought up the idea of spending all or most of the week with them this year and they thought that was a good idea. It was so fulfilling to work with these young musicians, some were experienced and others just starting but all were enthusiastic. 

My main role was to supplement their training in music theory and some technical skills with educating them about the blues, the culture and history as well as the music, and to coach them as they worked though the songs.  I hope to go back next year and do it again.

BS:     I see that one of my favorite venues in your schedule for the fall is at “Camping With The Blues” in Brooksville, Florida. Any other appearances that fans should be alerted to?

MK:    Camping With The Blues is a great event.  I did it with my Taylor Made Blues Band in 2019 and loved it. I’ve been working with Dexter Allen to put some shows together so for Camping With The Blues Dexter’s band will back me up for my set (Dexter, who is an amazing blues artist, played bass and some guitar on my most recent album). Dexter will then do a set of his own great music later in the program. We will be playing together the week before at the Bradfordville Blues Club.

While we are looking for other opportunities, I’ll be doing some local shows in the Memphis area with different musicians and have a few solo shows and runs set up. I should be at Little Village in Pensacola in August, The Twisted Tail in Philadelphia, PA in late September, and a few other shows in that area. I’ll do a few shows in Clarksdale and plan to get to Michigan a couple times to do some shows. I’m still debating on whether to form a new band or not, we’ll just have to see what works out in that regard.

BS:     You were on the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation when they raised money for the Blues Hall of Fame, and you also have been an advocate for helping save the historic Riverside Hotel in Clarksdale. Can you update us on the status of that project? I know that a GoFundMe account raised some funds to help it reopen.

MK:   The Riverside is a wonderful piece of American history and I urge people to check into it. The Ratliff family, which owns and runs the hotel, are dear people whom I’ve known for many years. When it looked like the hotel might not be able to keep going, because of Covid and some damage from an ice storm, several of us who love the place got together to start the GoFundMe campaign. Teeny Tucker and I wrote and recorded a song about the hotel, laying out the amazing history of the place and the need to keep it going. 

The campaign has been successful but what really made the difference is that the National Park Service has awarded a very large grant to help us rebuild it and keep it going.  We will still be raising money to preserve the place where Bessie Smith died and where Rock and Roll was born!

BS:     A young “Kingfish” is certainly exciting to watch, as are David Julia, Ben Levin, Veronica Lewis and so many other talented young artists. Care to reflect on the future of the blues? Working with Generation Blues, you have a rare opportunity to see what talent the future holds.

MK:   I’ve known Christone since he was about 8, and he simply amazed me from the beginning.  I’ve also been a supporter of the Pinetop Perkins Foundation and their work with young artists, many of whom I’ve got to know over the years. That’s how I got to know David Julia and Cole and Logan Layman, each of whom have played on one of my albums, as well as Dylan Salter and Grace Kuch, and so many more. I love their enthusiasm for the music that I love, and their talent blows me away. I’ll keep doing whatever I can to support young musicians who want to play the blues.

BS:       Thank you, Mick, for your sincere love, support, and dedication to the blues and your wicked sense of humor. You are an inspiration to me and to others and for that, I am grateful. Your support of the HART fund and Generation Blues during this rough economic period could not be more needed or appreciated. See you on the blues highway soon.


MIck Kokassa

Alastair Greene Band at Side Door

Alastair Greene Band at Side Door

Alastair Greene Band at Side Door

Alastair Greene Band

Side Door, July 15. 2022

A large and enthusiastic crowd of rock-blues fans greeted Alastair Greene Band at Suncoast Blues Society’s show at The Side Door at The Palladium in St Petersburg.

Recently relocated from “SoCal” to Austin, TX, Alastair’s tour of the southeast came to St Pete to play at the always comfortable Side Door. The band consists of Alastair Greene on lead guitar, vocals, and song writing; Lonnie Trevino, Jr. on bass and backing vocals; and Luis Balderas on drums.

Playing from his collection of songs the show began with the instrumental Back at the Poor House from the recording 2020’s “The New World Blues”. This set the tone for what became a night heavy with rock blues and Alastair depth fretwork. Sprinkling the show with storytelling and jokes, Alastair described Living Today as a song written prior to the events of the past few years but one that none-the-less fit very well as a positive message on how to deal with  the struggles we all endured.

My favorite song from “The New World Blues” turned out to be Alastair’s as well. Bayou Mile allowed Alastair to describe some of the journey to Houma, Louisiana to make the recording at Tab Benoit’s Whiskey Bayou studio. Given the recent challenges with air travel I can’t help but think that Alastair in his songwriting has a knack for crafting songs that while event-based do not go stale.

Alastair’s witty humor shown through in the preamble to Down To Memphis. From the 2017 release “Dream Train”, Alastair discussed that he wrote the song while listening to a cab driver tell stories in Memphis. And suggested that after “8,000 or so” playing’s of the song from one of the digital streaming services that Alastair may earn enough to send the cabby, oh a $1.50!

Also, from “Dream Train” the band played Lucky 13 and Big Bad Wolf. All three of the songs, plus Lawdy Mama were highlights of this evening and appear on the live recording “Live From The 805”, a 2018 release of a live performance in Santa Barbara, California. For those who could not attend this show this live recording comes close to mirroring the energy in the room during the Side Door show.

Alastair paid homage to Tab, Debbie Davis, and played a version of Peter Green’s Merry Go Round, a song that shows while Alastair can rock with the best of them, he also has deep blue’s chops. As he does so well, Alastair combined both genres and played Robert Johnson’s Stop Breaking Down Blues, in a style that was closer to The Rolling Stones “Exile on Main Street” version than Robert’s original.

Concluding the show, the band returned to the 2009 release “Walking In Circles” with their version of Cut You Loose. While this evening’s version was not as incendiary as the recording, this was an entertaining way for the band to conclude the formal show. This performance had the band building up the tempo, backing it off, and then taking the beat to an even higher level. The audience leapt to their feet for a standing ovation and hearing the requests for an encore the band returned with a blistering version of Johnny Winter’s Mean Town Blues.

For a review of The New World Blues

  • Scott Morris

Treasurer, Suncoast Blues Society

(Photos by the author)


In Memoriam: Greg Poulos by TBone Hamilton

In Memoriam: Greg Poulos by TBone Hamilton

In Memoriam: Greg Poulos by TBone Hamilton

My friend for the past 30 years passed away on April 29th 2022. Greg Poulos was one of the most outstanding guitar players that EVER hailed from the Suncoast – his home. I personally known Greg since the time I was in the Poulos Ramsey Band. I wrote this piece to help heal the tremendous loss we are all feeling as family, friends, fans and band mates and to document a small part of his long successful musical career.

The Suncoast Blues Society asked me to permission to cross post this narrative from my website. Of course I accepted!

Its a story that needs to be shared since the SBS family has been fans of Greg for 25 years!!!

A shout out to Sarasota Guitar Legend – Greg Poulos.  Rest in Peace.

TBone Hamilton


In Memoriam: Greg Poulos


As I recollect, I met Greg Poulos in 1992. I was playing electric bass in Dan Electro (Mike Shannon) and the Silvertones. At that point I was an up-and-coming blues bass player, and I was fortunate enough to already have played with good bands. One man that was instrumental in my early career was Rock Bottom (David York), the harmonica extraordinaire. He scouted me out early on in the 1990’s. He had another band working with him at the time so I never really worked with him as a member of his band but he would recommend me to other musicians, the first being Clint “Deacon” Fuller. After spending some time with the Deacon Fuller Band, I was recruited by Dan Electro to join his band based upon Rock Bottom’s recommendation. Nineteen ninety two was a great year for me as that is when I met my girlfriend who is now my wife Carolyn Hamilton.

TBone & Greg hanging at Skippers Smokehouse

In the Silvertones, I got to play with a real good drummer named Dennis Laak, an excellent guitar player named Kirby Dietz, and Dan Electro on harmonica. That band played a little bit more funk and shook it up with other interesting tunes that I had not challenged before, and, hence, I was excited about being in the band. The Gator Club in Sarasota hired the band to be the house band. We were there 5 to 6 nights a week, Tuesday through Saturday, so literally it was a dream gig. We could leave our gear set up all week. I did not know Greg Poulos personally at this point; I only knew the name and knew that the man was an astounding guitar player.

Well, fast forward. Rock Bottom ended up having a heart attack and all the Tampa Bay blues community came together and had benefit concerts for him, one of which I performed at – the Gator Club in Sarasota, Florida.




No More Worlds to Conquer Robin Trower

No More Worlds to Conquer Robin Trower

No More Worlds to Conquer Robin Trower

No More Worlds to Conquer

Robin Trower 

As he draws nearer to the age of eighty, guitarist Robin Trower just gains more momentum with consistent studio releases. Remaining sidelined from live performances in the last couple of years due to the pandemic, Robin just uses the downtime to go into the Provogue studio to record the endless number of compositions he keeps writing.

The man responsible for the classic rock 1974 opus Bridge Of Sighs has a special place in the hearts of those of us as teen-agers who had blacklight posters wearing headphones letting songs like “Day Of The Eagle” and “Bridge Of Sighs” transport us to that special place that was an adolescent comfort zone.

Other reviewers have coined the phrase “psychedelic blues” in describing Trower’s music. It’s an old cliche but it best describes Trower’s approach to his Hendrix infused pedal/reverb guitar lines that deeply resonate with soul he imbibes

Letting vocalist Richard Watts sing the tunes that fulfill his vision, the Strat tones shimmer and ride the groove immediately from the onset. The medium paced “Ball Of Fire” opens the party and can become a live staple in Trower’s live sets. The title track can do the same thing with Robin coaxing his reverb drenched notes awash in an elixir he can create.

It’s a long way from the seventies in which he reigned strongly in the concert arenas. Since then, Trower has become comfortable in his role as elder statesman of the blues. Never one for speedy deliveries or a thousand note attacks doesn’t hinder him from transmitting emotion that is strong in his single note attacks. It’s the stuff guitar geeks can soak up when they purchase their Fender guitars and Marshall amps. Add a pedal board to the mix and you have the tools of trade.

While his tunes don’t headbang with the fire and fury of his classic rock yesteryear, Robin lays down his psychedelic blues smoke in the hazy “Birdsong.” The tempo picks up with Robin’s lyrical lines in “Losing You” that segues into the same paced “Waiting For The Rain To Fall.”

These tunes follow the same blueprint. Slow approaches undercut by Robin’s ethereal spacy notes that serve the purpose of creating atmosphere. Not disrupting it.

“Cloud Across The Sun” can be a great addition to Trower’s live sets as it gallops with rocking urgency that recalls a younger Robin in his heyday. Then it’s back to the slow crawl of “Fire To Ashes” with Robin’s ghostly guitar riding the bedrock of rhythm fleshed out by soulful keyboards.

“Razors Edge” with its lyrics pointing fingers at the politicians taking the world in a downward trajectory is the package of blues rock histrionics that could have found a home on Trower’s earlier work. Blues awash in psychedelia that only Robin can play.

The Hendrix influence is strong within the love song “I Will Always Be Your Shelter” that can lull couples into a warm embrace with Trower’s airy guitar painting broad strokes across the canvass.

If one wants to think of Robin as blues of the twenty first century, then it’s an honorable designation to live with.

  • Gary Weeks