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TRUE BLUE from Ellis Kell

SEPTEMBER '98

Larry McCray According to Larry McCray, it was high time to "get things percolatin’ again," noting that it has been a few years since his last CD release. With the ink yet to dry on a new record deal from House of Blues Music Company, McCray was very excited about where things are going from here. The new CD, "Born to Play the Blues," showcases the talents of a stellar blues guitarist and soulful vocalist. The new recording illustrates a well-versed and versatile blues artist, and one who knows exactly how he wants the end product to come out. McCray is already looking forward to the next CD project, and has very definite ideas on where he is going in the future with his music.

McCray noted that the opportunity to do the CD for the House of Blues label came up suddenly, and remarked that "my biggest concern was that I didn’t get to work with my regular band on the project." McCray was pleased with the outcome, however, and added "it was just nice to be working (in the studio) again." McCray is one of the newest additions to the House of Blues recording stable, along with Angela Strehli and legendary bluesman Otis Rush. He also noted that he had been traveling back and forth across the country doing dates, and had just recently performed on a couple of shows with Johnny Winter.

From opening delta blues rolling into a down and dirty title cut "Born to Play Blues," to the classic soulful strains of "Same Old Blues," to the powerful blues moan in "Worried Down with the Blues," and the no-nonsense charge of "Woman Across the River," this is Larry McCray’s strongest stuff yet. The closer, "I’m a Lover, Not a Fighter" is a rollicking "got-my-mojo-workin’-can’t-call-her-sugar" number, that shows that Larry McCray knows how to have a good time in the blues, as well as a good laugh.

"It had been a while," McCray noted, since the last CD effort back in 1993. As an artist and bluesman,McCray has always strived to maintain both meaningful direction and artistic integrity in his music. "You’ve got to believe in what you do to be successful at it, and (in our music) I’m just tryin’ to express the things we’ve believed in all along."

Though McCray is very happy with the new collection, he won’t be resting on his laurels for very long. "To be honest, I think we’ve got a few good songs on this one, but I’m still looking forward to doing my best work. I’m not ready to say that this is the best we can do, and we can’t take it any further. We’ve got to continue to grow, and to work harder. It’s one thing to miss out on opportunity because it didn’t come, but if it comes and you’re not ready - then its your own fault. We’ll just keep on working harder."

(Larry McCray rolls into town for one show at Rock Island Brewing Company, Saturday, September 12th. The show will be held outside, weather permitting, and local favorites The Bluefins will open. Cover charge is $4 per person at the door, and show starts at 8:30 outside and 9:30 if inside.)

True 'Blue Train' Keeps on Rollin'...

Blue Train This month's installment of True Blue rolls into the station with the light shining on Shane Johnson's Blue Train, a group of Quad Cities based blues musicians who have already made their mark in the regional scene. From the Quad Cities area to Des Moines and Chicagoland, this four-piece blues dynamo captured the second place spots in both the '98 Iowa Blues Challenge and in this year's Fox Valley Blues Challenge in Aurora, Illinois.

Blue Train is engineered by 22-year old Shane 'White Trash' Johnson on lead guitar and veteran Quad Cities' musician Johnny 'Cool' Resch, formerly of Meet the Press, stoking the fire on lead vocals and bass guitar. Johnson and Resch were brought together not so long ago in the 9-piece funk ensemble The Good, The Bad & The Funky. Shane Johnson has honed his guitar skills since the tender age of 8, and his stylings span the spectrum from passionate blues tones to molten bursts of true blue inspiration. 'Detroit' Larry Davison, an old blues brother and band-mate, brings his signature power-blues harp into the fold, and Quad Cities' drummer extraordinaire Anthony 'T.C.' Carton rounds out the quartet with his rock solid percussion work. Carton is well-known throughout the Quad Cities and surrounding area for his various stints with Harmonica Slim, Eddie Hodge & Jazz Express, The Edgar Crockett Quartet, Bo Warden's Top Five, Rattletrain, Ernie Peniston, and others. Performing also with the Black Hawk College Big Band and B.H.C. Jazz Lab Combo, Carton has long been one of the most sought after drummers on the Quad Cities' scene.

Blue Train's namesake, Shane Johnson, says his chief motivation for doing it all with this particular band is "to pay homage and tribute to those people (in music) who I've always respected the most." The soulful, inspired guitarist cites the 'rich heritage of the blues' as drawing him, along with the other three members of Blue Train, to "bring back some of the classic roots of the music, while always trying to put our own spin on things."

Blue Train released a special 8-song cassette compilation on July 4th to coincide with their knock-out performance at this year's Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, and the limited quantity of that collection went like hot-cakes. For anyone fortunate enough to snag one of those cassettes (don't worry, the band is in the process of securing a new batch), the selections range from powerhouse cuts like "With You Tonight," to the sorrowful, blues guitar moan of 'Dark Clouds,' to jump-blues fun in 'The Happy Song,' and the reeling and rockin' shuffle 'Hey, Hey Lordy Mama'. 'Detroit' Larry's trademark blues harp attack is showcased in 'Detroit Shuffle'. Johnny 'Cool' Resch's vocals are up front, his bass solid, and, when teamed with 'T.C.'Carton, the true blue bedrock is laid down solid on each and every occasion.

According to Resch, the band's current focus is on "writing all of our own material, which comes pretty much from me." Resch is quick to add, "Every one has the opportunity to add their contributions, though. We try and keep it upbeat and as close to the band's experiences as possible, while injecting the element of humor here and there." As far as the group's future plans go, Resch says they want to get the new CD out, and then work on pushing into the major markets in Chicago, Memphis and Kansas City. "That's where we'll concentrate on trying to get signed!" Resch added.

The power-house-rockin' foursome has already opened for midwestern favorite Duke Tumatoe at Rock Island Brewing Company, and is slated to open a show for Buddy Guy on September 5th in Cedar Rapids at 3rd Street Theatre. Blue Train will also be featured at the annual Labor Day Pub Crawl in Des Moines on Sunday, September 6th, sponsored by the Central Iowa Blues Society. The band also plans to do some session work on their upcoming CD while in Des Moines. The studio time came as a bonus prize for the band's second place showing in the state blues competition. Mississippi Valley Blues Society President Karen McFarland's recent fest program capsule on the group read, in part:

"...the Blue Train band is so professional that you'll wonder where they've been hiding all these years...all their covers have that downhome blues feel, and their originals sound like Muddy or the Wolf were still alive..."

For some time now, the blues have been 'in vogue.' National TV and radio commercials use more blues backing music now than ever before, and everyone from major airlines to national soft drink and pizza chains have B. B., Buddy or John Lee bending blue notes in the background. Even now, as so many other groups jump on the blues-band-wagon, Shane Johnson & Blue Train won't go down as just another group of 'white boys trying to play the blues'. This quartet brushes true blues on their canvas by 'feel,' and doesn't simply 'paint by the numbers'. The proof is on the tracks (and even more notably in the live performances) of this Blue Train.

True Blue Reviews…

  1. "Roll Over, Baby," Guitar Shorty (Black Top Records) Guitar Shorty, the "King of Wild Stage Antics, delivers a brand new collection of the no-nonsense, punchy blues and houserockin’. Backed by fat and sassy New Orleans horns and a powerhouse band, Shorty and the crew serve it up down & dirty, smooth as a Georgia peach, and as lusty as a Saturday night working girl on Rush Street. True Blue Track: "Me & You Last Night"… Guitar Shorty is kickin’ and takin’ names (but no prisoners) on this one!

  2. "The Skin I’m In," Elvin Bishop (Alligator) The Oakie with southern soul and Chicago blue blood returns with his fourth release on Alligator. The Paul Butterfield Band alumnus is back with the pedal to the metal, tongue in cheek, and slide ever-ready on his pinky. True Blue Track: "The Skin They’re In"… this good-natured poke at the insanity of intolerance and prejudice is just too slinky to deny.

  3. "Really Blue," Tom Principato (Powerhouse/Ichiban Records) Tom Principato has always been a favorite here in the Mississippi Valley, and midwestern blues fans will welcome this new assortment of blues stompers, kickers, moaners and passionate blues stylings from the stellar guitarist. The only thing that could beat sitting back and losing yourself in this fine collection would be to see Principato play it live. True Blue Tracks: Yep, that’s right - two of ‘em! "One for Danny"…serious Memphis chicken-pickin’ in memory of the late, great Danny Gatton, and "Really Blue"… these sweet strains have to be Principato echoing Stevie Ray’s "Riviera Paradise." Further on Up the Road…
    Powerhouse blues rocker Larry McCray returns to Rock Island Brewing Company on Saturday, September 12 for one show. Local favorites The Bluefins Blues Band will open the show, which will be held outside, weather permitting.

    The Mississippi Valley Blues Society will present Rod Piazza and The Mighty Flyers, along with special guest openers the Unidynes, on Friday, October 2 at the Col Ballroom in Davenport. Show starts at 8:00 p.m., and tickets are$12 in advance or $15 at the door. Advance tickets are available at The Col Ballroom or at all Quad City Coop Records. MVBS Membership Tickets are available for $12 at the door or $10 by mailing to Mississippi Valley Blues Society, 318 Brady Street, Davenport, Iowa, 52801-1509. The MVBS will have a FREE 1998 Blues Fest Poster for first 50 people through door. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. For more on Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, visit: http://www.island.net/~blues/piazza.htm and for more on the Unidynes visit: http://www.rcreader.com/05mus1.htm

    Though I doubt the soapbox will hold me for too long, here’s a true blue plea for the clubs and venues in our area. There is no substitute for live music, and there never will be. However, it only works if we all turn out to see the bands and musicians in the clubs. Recently, a few Quad-Cities area clubs have ceased to feature live bands, and even more live venues have been battling for survival for quite some time now. Whether it’s one too many high-priced concert tickets, the state of the art, or a state of mind, few if any of the live music venues in our area are bustin’ at the seams with crowds. With more great bands here in the Quad Cities and surrounding region than ever before, it’s a cryin’ shame to see the number of live venues dwindle. Your mission, should you choose to accept it: get out and about, support live music and keep the venues and clubs going. It will do you no harm, and the alternative is just too painful to even think about. So, blues brothers and sisters, until we meet again at this crossroads…

    Blues to ‘ya!


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