Wednesday, September 30, 2009


What is a true Blues man? I will utilize my 35 some odd years of hanging with the real deal Southside, Westside, East side, and North side Chicago Artists to try to answer this question. I have humorously answered this question in the past and will try to seriously answer it here.
Please realize that this is my opinion and mine alone.  I will use the term blues man in a generic way as one would use the word mankind. You can substitute gender where you like.
A blues man can be defined in many different ways and in order to define him we must first identify or examine a definition of blues music.  The “Blues” is a feeling that runs the gambit of all emotions from the happiest to the saddest. A blues artist uses music to communicate the emotional feeling he experiences. Just like any other artist he uses a certain type of media to express these feelings. A blues man in this case uses audio.  

A text book characterization of the blues genre is built around a simple framework of the musical scale that utilizes notes of the key signature.  It is principally played in a 12 bar framework. In the key of C the scale would be as follows; C-D-E-F-G-A-B-C. If we number each note starting with the low C as the first note of the scale and the D as the second and so forth, we would play the first (C), the fourth (F) and the Fifth note (G) of the scale. This is not a definitive definition by all means, but rather I offer it as a foundation.  John Lee Hooker made a considerable contribution to the genre and he primarily focused on the one or the root note of the key signature.
There are numerous variations to the above definition. Some examples are illustrated in these songs such as the 9 bar format of “The Mississippi sheiks’”  “Sitting On Top Of the World” and the 16 bar format of Herbie Hancock’s   “Watermelon Man”.
John Lee Hooker’s format is clearly shown with his “Boogie Chillun”. This one song hit the top of the charts in 1948 and influenced songs such as; ZZ Top’s “LaGrange”, and Magic Sam’s “I Feel So Good”.
By the previous examples one would conclude that a blues artist is one who plays or uses the above musical framework. This is not the case.  Rock and Roll (Baby of the blues) uses the I- IV- V twelve bar format throughout its genre. Some Rock And Roll musicians who have been labeled Blues men are in fact not.  They are still Rockers. They primarily focus on rock and occasionally venture into the streets of Bluesdom. 
A Blues Man can be defined as primarily playing, that’s right, the blues. An example of this is B. B. King. I do not believe that he has ever ventured away from the blues and tried to do play rock. Just because Rock and rollers have this desire to play the blues does not make them a blues man. I do not care if you are at the top of the music biz. If you earn your living by playing Rock and Roll you are not a blues man, you are a rocker.  
Think of it this way. I served a five year apprenticeship in woodworking.  My primary job was making complex wooden patterns for the steel casting industry. The training I received in those five years served me well over the years. I learned all phases of woodworking, including cabinetmaking.  I could make cabinets, bookcases, furniture, chairs and the like. I could do a cabinet makers job, but I was a wood patternmaker, not a cabinet maker. If you play Rock and Roll and earn money at it you are not a blues man. 
I discussed the above with my friend and blues mentor Wolf Records recording artist Smilin Bobby. I wanted to get his perspective on this essay.  Bob and I have been hanging out together for over 30 years and he is a real Blues man. I read this article to him and he is in total agreement with it. It has a blues man’s stamp of approval.
Smiling Bobby’s new release on Wolf Records is out October 1.

It is called Big Legged Woman Catalog Number CD 120.821

Here is the news release direct from Wolf Records

Wolf Releases

SMILIN' BOBBY with the  HIDDEN CHARMS - Big Legged Woman


CD 120.821

Smilin’ Bobby & Hidden Charms – Big Legged Woman

!!!new!!! His first CD ever!!!

Release date is 1st October.

Smilin’ Bobby always played in small clubs or in corner taverns way out in the suburbs. He is for many blues lovers the favorite unknown bluesman in Chicago. His guitar style is a cross between Magic Slims stinging leads and Magic Sam’s cool little rhythm fills while his great singing doesn’t really sound like anyone else. In 1958 Smilin’ Bobby started to play music in clubs and playing at Maxwell Street Sunday mornings beginning around 1961 or 62. He became a close friend to Magic Sam and used to hang around at his house. Smilin’ Bobby got his nickname around 62 or 63 because he was always grinning so much. He was influenced by Jimmy Reed and Willie Mabon, also Little Milton, Albert Collins and Albert King. His guitar style is not Delta Blues it is much more modern, somewhere in between R’n‘B and Chicago Blues. He is now 69 years old and his son Carlos Showers is another great guitar player who played in Willie Kent’s band the Gents. Nobody knows why Smilin’ Bobby has no CD out until now – but it doesn’t matter. On his Wolf CD you will listen to the best hidden Chicago Blues talent since Vance Kelly. Smilin’ Bobby is very young with his 69 years!


copyright 09/30/09 Terrance B. Lape
Book mark us at 

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chicago Blues: What happened at 2009 Chicago Blues Fest?

The first day was predicted to have scattered thunder showers. Instead we got sunshine 68 degrees and blues thunder. My “Hey Let’s go hear some blues” Buddy Jim and I headed down the highway 57 at about 10:00 am. It was quite cold “early in the morning” as they say. The traffic was extremely heavy for a Friday mid morning. We made a quick diversion to a side road and pulled into the parking garage about 40 minutes after our departure.

The parking was $25.00. The garage was within walking distance of the Fest. Security at the gate was rather laid back. The usual items were banned; Alcoholic beverages, tents, canopies, explosives, guns and knives. The guns and knives rule is probably more for the blues artist than the fans. You laugh, I’ve seen more guns over the years playing the blues then I did in the US Navy. Just joking folks or am I.

First stop was the Maxwell Street Reunion Stage. No stage just an old bus and some guys playing their version of the blues. The rhythm guitar player of this band occasionally plays with L V Banks and uses the moniker Ice Mike. I have seen him play on numerous occasions at the world famous Checkerboard lounge. He is a very accomplished sideman. The other guitar player is a Chicago Picker that has been beating around town for a long time. His name is Eric. Some of you know him and some of you don’t. I have heard about him for years now, but this is the first time I have seen him. He is a great player. I guess he is into the rock world more than blues. I don’t really know much about him, but today he is A.O.K. in my book, after all playing the blues sets him way above the rest of the herd that does not. The drummers name was Harvey whom I had talked with on numerous occasions and he is a very solid kicker. Our conversation steered us to the cats that we have played with and Smilin Bobby’s name came up. Harvey told me he was just talking with him and that he is at a different stage down the road. So off I went to hear one of the few West side blues men left and I am proud to say my blues mentor.

Some of you have read in my previous posts about how I met Smilin Bobby. Bobby truly is one of the greats. He has not received the recognition that he deserves. During one song he spotted me in the audience and gave me one of those head nods and wide grins that earned him his nickname, great guy and a great artist. After the set Bob climbed down the steps and was mobbed. One of those was Hans owner of Wolf Records. He told me Bob's CD is coming out in August so watch for it. Bobby and I have played in the dumpiest clubs that the city has and we enjoyed every minute of it, especially the fifths of whiskey we went through while playing. Those days are over my friends. I have not touched a drop in over ten years now. Occasionally while playing the aforementioned we received kudos in the form of a slap on the back or a high–five. This time Bob got the recognition he deserves and has earned. There were at least 75 people trying to talk to Bob all at once. He could not sell CD’s fast enough. Most of the CD”s that these struggling artists have for sale, are copied from a copy of a copy. That’s OK because there is a good chance that the artist will take the time to sign each and every one of them. The one on one time a fan spends with that artist is worth way more money than the 15 or 20 bucks they shell out. A great number of those fans came into to Chicago just for the blues fest. I was not going to take up any of the little precious time they have with Bob, so I just waved goodbye and he mouthed the words” call me next week”, while doing the universal hand signal for a phone.

You know it is kind of strange to know these artists on a personal level. Once you hear their stories and see them live you can see their life unfold in the grit and passion of their work. I have a different perspective of the blues than I think, a regular "Let’s go get a couple of Beers and hear the Blues" kind of fan does. Make no mistake about it, these blues men and women are just as good as the Rembrandt types or Picasso types of the world. The only difference is their chosen media. I would venture to say that 90% of the fans have no idea how difficult it is to get to the big stage at the Chicago blues festival. It is like a 55,000 piece jigsaw puzzle. You have to go through a lot of back up players/pieces before you get ones that fit. The person who coined the phrase “You gotta pay your dues to play the blues!” was so right. It is a very difficult business and some succeed and some fail. When they fail, they fail hard and when they succeed the sky is the limit. I know one blues artist that has purchased a house for each of his (8) children.

The Fest had a lot of sideshows this year including demonstrators against abortion and the war in Iraq. That’s OK and that’s what makes the USA so strong. We all have the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest, but do not ever, ever interrupt my daily dose of the blues. I was not there to hear protesters screaming about their right to say what they want when they want. Your right is assured as long as it does not infringe on mine. I personally honor and respect the troops and am in fact ex Navy. I will not comment on abortion.

We stopped for lunch at the now world famous Billy Goat Tavern Booth. We had two rib eye steak sandwiches. Very good and they hit the spot.

There was a real good vibe to the two days that I spent at the fest. I primarily went Friday to hear Smilin Bobby and Saturday to see and hear Cyrus Hayes & Lady Lee. They performed at 1:45 this afternoon CST. Cyrus Hayes & Lady Lee I have known for about 5 years and have played with them on occasion. A featured article was written about Cyrus and his blues harp ability in February 2008’s issue of “Big City Rhythm & Blues Magazine”. I have been assured a future interview for this blog about them. Up until Cyrus & Lee played this afternoon they were Chicago’s best kept secret. Well they are no longer a secret. The whole blues community knows about them now. Cyrus has assembled one hot, dynamite and in the pocket blues band. The anchor to this new group is super guitarist Sir Walter Scott. I will just state here that he has played with some of the best including the Four Tops and that’s it. I am working on an interview for later posting.

Cyrus did a version of “Sweet Home Chicago” that demonstrated exactly why he and Lady Lee belonged on the Gibson stage. Cyrus is one of the hardest working blues men in the biz. He almost flew across the stage while doing his quirky dance steps. He can blow the harp with no hands better than some harp men playing today. I have seen him at numerous gigs and there are always up and coming harp players in the audience. They follow him and study his style. Cyrus has an uncommon blues man trait, he does bird calls. That’s right bird calls. It is strange and why he does it I do not know, but the Chicago Blues Fest audience loved it.

Lady Lee took the stage and the first song she performed was the late Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle”. She did justice to the Queen of the Blues. It was a fitting tribute to Koko who was laid to rest Friday June 12, 2009. “Rest in peace Sweet Queen of the blues.”

I am going to go on record here and I believe I am the first to write this; “Lady Lee is the heir apparent to Koko Taylor”. We all loved Koko and none can take her place, but there is a void in the blues community and the only one that can fill that void is Lady Lee. She has a deep voice and a stage presence that is extraordinary. She is dynamite on stage. Her version of “You Can Have my Husband” was without comparison. If you have not heard Cyrus Hayes or Lady Lee you must, no matter how difficult it may be. Rumor has it that there may be a record contract in the works.

A guy from Italy walked up to me and wanted to know all about this blog site. I told him the regular things and in the conversation he mentioned a guy by the name of Fabio Traves. Fabio is an Italian harp player that has played with some of the greats. Check out his site.

Here are a couple of last minute thoughts. It is estimated that 600,000 and some change visit Chicago for the Blues fest. That is a lot of hot dogs. We never, ever put ketchup on hot dogs, fries yes, hot dogs no way. The City of Chicago should be given a special blues award for their efforts in supporting the blues. Hey wait a minute I am the Vice president of The Chicago Blues Music Society. I will have to bring it up at our next meeting. The other blues societies in the city could be part of that effort also. Maybe all the blues Societies should sign on to this. Comment back with your ideas Blues societies.

If you have never been to a blues Festival this is the one to see and hear. From the festival grounds you can see Lake Michigan across Lake Shore Drive. The skyline of Chicago is overwhelming and ever present. The city officials were very accommodating and polite as well as Chicago’s finest. Thank you Police everywhere. I love Chicago. Some of you will not believe this, it is know 9:35 PM. I live in a rural area just 60 miles south of Chicago. I went out to my car to retrieve my camera and man oh man the coyotes are howling tonight.
I love Chicago.

Friday, September 25, 2009

CHICAGO BLUES: Dude My Blues Dues are Paid in Full

For two years I chopped away on an Red Ibanez Roadster guitar. My amplifier was a Galien-Kruger 250 ML. It was quite a nice little amp that was rated at 100 watts. I think the thing weighed in at about 15 pounds. I mounted it on an old tripod that folded up. The whole rig was great for quick getaways.  I could grab the guitar and amp and be out the door in about 60 seconds. It came in handy on a couple of occasions. The first was at a club on 53rd and Ashland in Chicago. I think the name of the joint was “People’s Choice”.  I remember the incident very well.

The place was really a very nice middle of the block shotgun bar. We called it a shotgun bar, because if you fired a shotgun through the front door the buckshot would go out the back door. I could have used that shotgun, this one particular night.

It was late summer 1980. I was now playing off and on with Smiling Bobby on a regular basis. I would call Bob ahead of time to find out if it was safe to play at the club he was performing at.  Back in the day there were areas of the city that I just could not go into. Today is very different and that’s for the better. Bob knew the good clubs and the bad ones.  This particular night Bob told me it was a pretty cool club and he would make sure to save me a parking spot right in front of the front door. I was driving a 1979(?)  Chevette. That car was great. Good gas mileage and if I put the back of the back seat down I could fit my upright bass in it perfectly.  When I arrived Bob and Kenny (Bass Player) were standing outside the front door.  Kenny pulled his car forward and Bob drove his car backwards to open up a spot. I slipped in and parked. I retrieved my amp and guitar and walked into the club.  Once again I was the only white person in the place. No matter, I was there to play the blues and nothing else. Anytime I could play the blues was time well spent.

Kenny, the bass player, had an Uncle who shall remain unnamed by me. This uncle was and still is a very famous comedian.  Kenny had a tendency to drink too much and so did I.  I cannot tell you how many times I drove home from gigs drunk.  I really do not know how I got through that period in my life, but here I am. DO NOT drink and drive. The preceding has been a public service announcement.

The beers in the club were $2 each and Kenny had bought at the corner liquor store  a six-pack for $3.  I gave him$ 2 and he chipped in the rest.  We sat in my car and started drinking that six-pack. We each had two beers. I noticed a shady looking character lurking about 200 feet away from the front of the car. He kept looking at us. Kenny said to pay no attention to him, because he looked  like a local guy that was drunk.  Kenny exited the car and went back into the club. I finished what was left in my second beer can and exited also.

By that time, the shady guy was standing right next to my car. I thought nothing of it and walked towards the front door. The guy pulled out a 38 pistol and shouted up against the wall. I backed into the wall right on the side of the front door. My back was against the wall and my hands were up.

I said, “Man I’m just here to play the blues and I just spent my last two dollars on a six pack of beer. I’ll have some more money after the gig.”                

He shoved the gun into my right lower ribcage and said, “I don’t want no money! I want to know whats you doing my neighborhood. This GD territory.”                                                                                                         

I knew immediately that he was a member of one of the most notorious street gangs in Chicago namely Gangsters Disciples.  When I realized who this guy was I started to think about what the hell they were going to put on my tombstone.  Right then Bobby walked around the corner and saw what was going on.

He said, “Hey you leave my brother alone. He’s with the band.”                                                              

The guy yells back at him, “I don’t care who he’s with. He’s a dead man.”

When Smiling Bobby saw the gun he froze for half a second and then calmly walked into the club. I knew at that moment I was on my own.  The guy intimidated and taunted me for a couple of more minutes. Those minutes seemed like hours.

Then, from about a block away, I guy yelled, “Hey Tyrone get over here, man.”

Tyrone turned to look at the guy and when he did he took the gun out of my ribs and pointed it towards the yeller.  I took advantage of the situation and just rolled along the wall and into the club. I knew that the owner would not allow those guys in.

Jeff the drummer said, “Hey we gotta get you out of here”.

I replied, “How?”

The owner and ten guys walked towards me and then out the door. The owner, after a beat, came back in. He looked at me and told me to get my stuff and follow him. I grabbed my guitar and amp and towards the door we went.  He stopped me at the front of the door, walked out and then  motioned for me to get in the car and go.  I stepped out the door to be met by ten guys who formed a line from the door of the club to the door of my car. Five men on a side and each one was my personal bullet blocker. I opened the door waved thank you and off I went.

The next Monday I asked Bob what happened. Bob said the same old same old. What about the gun guy? Bob asked me what gun guy? That’s when it dawned on me that he drank just as much as Kenny and I.

I drove by that club last week after almost thirty years. The area has not changed that much, but the club is long gone and all that’s left is a vacant lot. The building right next door to it is a store front church. I wonder if the congregation knows about that club and the people who used to hang out in it. I wonder if they know about the shake dancer that frequented that club. I wonder if they know that right next door the devil's music played.


© Copyright Terrance B. Lape all rights reserved. Reproduction of this website, in whole or in part, in any form or medium without express written permission from American Blues Blog is prohibited. All use is subject to our Terms of Use

Monday, September 21, 2009

Chicago Blues: Shop Tech Tip; Welcome : Big dog Mercer

Big Dog Offers The following Guitar tips.

Some of the most common issues I see in the shop are players that don’t know how to properly string their instruments.

Get this wrong and you can and will have problems with string breakage and tuning instability

For strings to stay in tune, they should be changed regularly. Strings that have lost their integrity (worn where pressed against the fret) or have become oxidized, rusty and dirty will not return to pitch properly. To check if your strings need changing, run a finger underneath the string and feel for dirt, rust or flat spots. If you find any of these, you should change your strings.

No matter what gauge of strings you use, for the best tuning stability we recommend using quality strings, which are designed to provide superior performance. Make sure to stretch your strings properly. After you've installed and tuned a new set, hold the strings at the first fret and hook your fingers under each string, one at a time, and tug lightly, moving your hand from the bridge to the neck. Re-tune and repeat several times.

How you wind the strings onto the pegs is very important, whether you're using locking, standard or vintage tuning keys.
Start by loading all the strings through the bridge and then loading them onto the keys as follows:
Locking tuning keys;
Picture the head cap of the neck as the face of a clock, with the top being 12:00 and the nut being 6:00. Line the six tuning machines so that the first string keyhole is set at 1:00, the second at 2:00, the third and fourth at 3:00, the fifth at 4:00, and the sixth at 5:00. Pull the strings through tautly and tighten the thumb wheel, locking the string in. Now tune to pitch.
Standard keys; to reduce string slippage at the tuning key, we recommend using a tie technique. This is done by pulling the string through the keyhole and then pulling it clockwise underneath and back over itself; creating a knot. You'll need to leave a bit of slack for the first string so you have at least two or three winds around the post. As you progress to the sixth string, you'll reduce the amount of slack and the number of winds around the keys.
Vintage keys; for these, you'll want to pre-cut the strings to achieve the proper length and desired amount of winds. Pull the sixth string (tautly, remember) to the fourth key and cut it. Pull the fifth string to the third key and cut it. Pull the fourth string between the second and first keys and cut it. Pull the third string nearly to the top of the headcap and cut it. Pull the second string about a 1/2" (13 mm) past the headcap and cut it. Finally, pull the first string 1 1/2" (38 mm) past the top of the headcap and cut it. Insert into the center hole in the tuning key, bend and crimp to a 90-degree angle, and wind neatly in a downward pattern, being careful to prevent overlapping of the strings.
If your tuning keys have a screw on the end of the button, check the tightness of the screw. This controls the tension of the gears inside the tuning keys. Do not over-tighten these screws. They should be "finger-tight." This is very important, especially on locking tuners. 
Big Dog Mercer

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Chicago Blues: Wilmington Illinois Catfish Days Blues Festival


My friend and occasional band mate Billy King told me Thursday night, while at The Cool River Club, that he would be playing at the Rustic Inn Blues Festival & Catfish Days on Sunday. It is held in Wilmington, Illinois. Wilmington is one of those backwater river towns. The town is loaded with antique shops nestled right on the river bank of the Kankakee. There is a dam along the south end that is a great area for fishing. Northern Pike walleye and Catfish abound at the bottom of the dam. Because of this dam they have a very unique bait shop that is called; you guessed it, the Dam Bait shop. I used to stop there back in the day when I could still find time to fish. You know it’s funny that when I had an eight hour a day “day job” I could find time to fish. I have all the time in the world because of the way I work now, but I cannot squeeze in one day to fish. My pole is sitting against the wall as I type this. It’s calling me, throw me, string me, bait me, Take Me to the River Dip me in the water. Sounds like a song, mmmmmmm. This evil temptation I must resist or else I will never finish this post. Perhaps I should get out the fly pole heh D.A.? (my editor)

Behind the stage at catfish days the bands assembled in the beer garden as the great Scottish pipe bands would assemble for the royal Tattoo. Not the ink on skin, which by the way was in abundance at this fest, but rather the assemblage of a military display, often with a variety of items, performed as an entertainment, usually in the evening. Slowly they unloaded their particular instruments to the sound of the group that was playing before them. 

The first Group was” Michael Charles and his band.” A guy from Australia makes it all the way to a Back River town in the heart of the Midwest.  How the h-e- double hockey sticks did that happen? Mr. Buddy Guy booked him in 1990 and he’s been here ever since. This is the first time I heard Mr. Charles pick and man this cat, (no fish) is smoking. Great stuff Michael and I will be out to hear you again.

Next to mount the stage was another group that I heard for the first time called “Jaywalkers Jam Band.” I knew their bass man Greg from hanging out at different jam spots in the city. I got to tell you folks this band can jam. Excellent rhythm section, great keys, outstanding vocals and “take no prisoners guitar work.” The only fault  I found with them was their music selection. I am an admitted blues fanatic. I like the BLUES and only the blues. When I go to a Blues Fest that’s what I expect to hear. Once again you can say that the Allman Brothers are blues and I would challenge that and say it is more southern rock. That’s some good stuff, but I want to hear that one, four, five delta style blues. By the way the crowd absolutely loved them and I don’t blame them as they are a terrific jam band, just not my style. The crowd at this fest was primarily bikers from different affiliations or clubs. There was a certain tension in the air shall I say.

Third to mount the stage was my buddy Billy King. I can say this about Billy he is a blues man in the style of Jimmy Reed and is a unique and true to the form blues artist. He and I were talking about how many gigs does one have to play until the big stage comes knocking. I told Billy this “Do it for the art. As soon as you realize you are an artist than the rest will come.” Billy’s media is audio and sooner or later he will be recognized as one of the great blues men of our time. Hang in there Billy it is coming.

Fourth to hit the stage was Pauline York. Pauline is a young upcoming woman guitar slinger that reminds me of Rory Block. Pauline is a master at what she does and I like it. I think that Pauline could skyrocket to the top if she just picked up an old Martin acoustic guitar walked out center stage plucked it and sang.  She does not need a backup band. She is that good and mark my words you will be hearing a lot more of her in the future. You are great Pauline and everyone loves you, yours truly included.

The last act to hit the stage was non-other than Joliet’s very own T-Bird Huck. I’m sure everyone by now has seen the "Blues Brothers” movie, well T-bird has got to be the guy the writers of that movie were writing about. T-Bird is a 40 year veteran of the blues scene. I am amazed that he has not hit the major tour circuits. He can actually set a guitar on fire. I swear from my vantage point that there was a fire extinguisher right next to his amp. T-Bird opened up with a Mississippi sax solo that was on the edge of musical genius or madness. He took that harp to extremes. Well done T-bird, very well done indeed. Before T-Bird went on I asked him to play one song for me and it Was Rt.66. The entertainment tent faced RT.66 and T-bird thanked me for reminding him. I had heard him play that song on an acoustic guitar at another venue. I am still trying to figure out how he made that guitar sound like a piano. He has Nat King Coles opening piano riffs down to a tee, but after that opening introduction Rt. 66 is T-Birds and T-Birds Alone. His interpretation is dynamite. Very cool rendition. T-bird you are a BLUES MAN.

His backing group was turbocharged during this performance. Jimmy Caleca on keys is a musical dynamo. He claims he plays by ear and that’s no problem, because some of the greatest musicians of all time could not read music. Jimmy is most assuredly one of the best Hammond B3 players I have ever heard and  he can hold his own with Joey DeFransesco any time, any place, and anywhere, I kid you not. He did not have his 1948 Hammond at this Catfish Days performance, but I have heard him play it at different venues. One word Wow! If you can catch Jimmy’s work you must.

The rhythm section was anchored by another acquaintance of mine. Jeff Ruffin is a jobbing drummer and one of the best. I have even hired him to back -up Smilin Bobby and yours truly.  I am a bass player that appreciates a drummer who knows what time is, because without that drummer the band does not exist.  I first met Jeff Ruffin AKA “Muffin Man” at the Thursday night Cool River Jam sessions, Jeff and Jimmy (keys) play in the House band “Twist and The Groove Machine”. Jeff keeps excellent time and never ever skips a beat or drops a drumstick.  I think I will start calling him “Big Ben”, you know after that great time piece/ watch tower in London.  Jeffs job is to keep time and he does that stupendously.

Filling out the bottom was Ben Smith. Ben is the youngest member of the group. Do not be fooled by his age readers Ben is a Bassman that knows how to walk, jump, punch and pick those telephone pole sized four strings strapped to a couple of hunks of plywood and steel. Like the god Thor he can bring thunder at will or be quiet as a mouse. He is a sideman that knows his job. Too many bass players want to have the spotlight on them. They at times take too long of solos or play a flurry of notes that do not belong in the piece of music. There is a lot to be said for a band that has sidemen that realize the front man is the front man and they are there to make that person sound and look good. T-Bird has such a band and is very lucky to have them.

One last thing about T-Bird and the guys, managers and agents take notice they are ready for the major stage. He should be touring the world. Casey or Tony you guys listening they are are going to make some one a lot of money may as well be one of you?

“Catfish Days” was a blast all the way from the $5 Catfish dinner to the $4 bratwursts. Rojo’s blues festival was excellent and he should be commended for the effort he puts in. Rojo do you have to use that foul language when addressing the crowd. On one hand its mf this and mf that then in the very next breath it’s thank God for this and that. I hope next year it will be a little different. If it was an over 21 audience then foul language is not a problem.   l served in the US Navy and nobody and I mean nobody can cuss like a drunken sailor. There were kids in this audience and it did not belong. Even if they were not supposed to be there, they were and no excuses allowed. Common decency should have prevailed. I was going to take my15 year old daughter with, but after hearing the language I’m glad I left her home. Do not let that deter you from attending. I’ll be going next year. If you see a guy pull up on a Segway wearing a Dennis Hooper Fringe leather jacket and a Hoss style ten gallon hat say hi. It's the gatorman.  On the back of that jacket will be my own personal colors that read.  "Blues Me Or Lose ME" 

Thanks Rojo for mentioning the vets,

Terrance “Gatorman” Lape

gatorman gifts
Watch this video.

All Photos courtesy of Kathy Crnich Secretary "Chicago Blues Music Society"

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Chicago Blues: Well Worth It!

I must confess there are times when I really dislike being a musician by trade. Building a solid career as an artist is an extremely difficult task considering the multiple obstacle's that get in your way. Finding the right musicians, agents, management, promoters etc...........requires a serious commitment and hard work.

Not to mention dealing with each of them as you are hunting down gigs and talent buyers, building an Internet presence and much more,. Finding the right people who believe in you and see a future in what you do is as hard as winning the lottery. We are not even speaking of radio and press promotions, which is another complete ballgame it's self.

I recently got back into music after 11 years away, so for me it is starting all over again. I kind of fell into it. I was jamming around with some guys (2 of them are in the band now) just goofing off, then I lost my job due to budget cuts. I knew what I was getting into. Believe me after almost 14 years of playing for a living before I know the pitfalls and work that lay ahead.

However I was and am, determined to make a new and much more rewarding career in music. About a year into it and we have management out of Nashville and a label distributing a new CD for us. This is not to mention the Cd being aired in 15 countries, a powerful Internet presences and fans around the world. However the process to make it all happen when your independent is difficult. I spend hours everyday just doing promotions. I'm constantly contacting and connecting with people and other companies to get our music heard. It seems that everything about my life today is about promoting the Jimmy Warren Band.

Sometimes, I get really tired and sick of process. I want to just stop and join a local band where I don't have to call or promote anything. Or, I could go hang in the City and be a jobber. Some days that sounds great. But what makes it all well worth it, is when I step out on the stage and perform my material to blues fans. Making a live connection with an audience makes all the headache and frustration worth it.

The truth is I love to play, but I also love the connection that takes place when people are enjoying what you do. I guess I'm writing this to other artists and musicians who understand the struggles and headaches and who, like me, have the same war raging inside. I know it's all worth it. Because I believe the fans and audiences are worth. They are really the reason I personally endure the headaches of process. It's great to make a living do what you love, but I think some people don't understand that for an independent artists the part you love is maybe 10% - 20%, the rest is the part we may dread.

Anyway, if your a musician or artists out there, I want you to know I appreciate what you do in order to share your talent and music with. But I also want to encourage you to stay focused and remember the why, behind what you do. I love to read or hear stories about other artist's escapades in developing their careers. I find it extremely fascinating. I think the story help make the who they are a artists. Without it where would we be. When the days done I gotta say, It's all well worth it.

Jimmy Warren
Vision Records & Entertainment
Recording Artists

Website: Jimmy Warren Band

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Chicago Blues: Review: Level Five Leslie Amplifier

Today's article is aimed at organ players, an oft-neglected group of musicians.

Leslie Basics:

In 1940, Don Leslie invented the Leslie speaker cabinet which was sold with Hammond organs. The Leslie is a rotating speaker cabinet which contains a horn driver for reproducing tones over 800 MHz and a 15 inch bass speaker mounted downward which blows into a rotating drum. The overall effect is a spectacular room-filling sound that utilizes the Doppler effect to slightly shift the pitch of the tone, just as a siren or horn moving toward you and then away will drop it's pitch naturally.

There are 2 types of Leslie amps primarily in use today, the 122 and the 147. They are identical with one exception. The 147 uses AC switching to change the Leslie's motor speeds and thus change the speed of the rotating components to provide a steady slow spin or a fast tremolo. The 122 is DC switched and uses two 12AU7 tubes rather than the one found in the 147.

The old style Leslies made of all wood components(such as ones made in the 1960's) are generally more prized for their superior sound quality and because their replacement, the 122A features a Styrofoam bass rotor which after time, tends to cause an obstreperous rattle.

Old style, wooden replacement bass rotor(available from BT Productions)

I own 3 Leslie amplifiers and they are all becoming so aged that they have lost headroom, volume and clarity despite regular tube replacement and maintenance. Rather than having them rebuilt by a reputable firm such as Goff Organ, I decided to take another approach at playing my instrument, the Level 5 amplifier.

Leslie with the front panel removed

Level 5: Overview

The Level 5 is a hybrid custom designed amplifier made with the finest electronic components available. It uses a 6SN7 preamplifier tube on it's front end and a solid state 350 watt main amplifier. Unlike the old 122, the new Level 5 features tremendous variability of tone controls, allowing the player to adjust to his style( from squeaky clean to downright dirty tones) and to adjust bass, mid, and treble as well as the horn driver output.

The Level 5 Leslie amplifier

The Level 5 uses a standard quarter inch phono cable(guitar cord) and thus eliminates the costly and hard to find fat Leslie cables that cost about $100 each and are plagued with problems for the traveling road musician. These cables carry many conducting wires and have between 5 and 9 connection pins, and they also carry AC current to the amplifier. The Level 5 uses a standard AC cable as is used on you computer, again easy to replace.

The Level 5 eliminates the crossover network found in the old Leslie arrangement, having it's crossover built into the unit itself. Thus, the amp sends its power directly to the speakers.

The Level 5 has a two-position equalization switch which allows you to go from a higher to a lower voicing for the entire amp output, another nice touch.

The amp can be connected via quarter inch cable to a clone wheel organ such as a Nord Electro or Hammond XK-3c(my favorite!) or it can be connected using old style cables to a B-3 or other Hammond directly from the organ output(this may require special cable ends depending on the organ).

Hammond-Suzuki XK-3c breaks into two portable components and when
assembled(bottom photo) has the same form factor as the venerable B-3

The optional speed control pedal is a solid 5 pound block of billeted aluminum fitted with Switchcraft switches and fitted with a clear Lexan panel on the bottom to allow for easy inspection or troubleshooting. It's cord is connected using fine cable and a compression fitting- it's downright industrial in durability and the workmanship is outstanding.

From the BT Productions site:


  • Passive tone control set (bass, mid-range, treble)
  • Active tone control set (boost/cut for separate sub-bass and brilliance)
  • Separate Gain and Volume controls
  • Horn level control
  • Voicing switch to select preamp voice
  • 6 pin cable input connector, plus 1/4" line in with level control
  • Effects send/return loop with level control
  • 1/4" input for speed control footswitch
  • Custom wound power transformer
  • Ultra warm preamp tone with large scale 6SN7 tube
  • Volume to burn with 350 Watt custom power amp
  • Made in U.S.A.
Amplifier designer and sole distributor for the Level 5 is Tony LaBrasca from Chicago. Tony does a great job of insuring that the customer is versed on the set-up and operation of the unit and is a very knowledgeable guy, very experienced in working with Hammond organs and musical instruments in general. After he patiently helped me install the amp over the telephone he called me a couple of days later, asking "Are you getting everything out of it that you wanted?" because Tony wants his customers to be satisfied.

The original Leslie amp puts out about 40 watts of power at best. The Level 5 puts out a stunning 350 watts so the old Leslie speaker and horn driver components must be replaced to handle the additional wattage. I replaced my Jensen P15LL with a beautiful 600 watt Gauss speaker which was built for me by my good friend Dave at Glen Camack's Speaker Services in Memphis. I highly recommend Speaker Services to any musician for any speaker needs. They have been in business 25 years and do superb work.

Glen Camack's Speaker Services
549 S Cooper St
Memphis, TN 38104
(901) 725-9620

The original Leslie uses a 16 ohm driver and speaker. The Level 5 requires 8 ohm components. I would get the best speaker for this application as it is a bit unusual in that it's down-firing woofer requires a very thick paper gasket to avoid problems with over-excursion. This is important to avoid rubbing a hole around the edge of your speaker.

Gauss with huge Alnico magnet

Review and Conclusions:

I formerly owned a 960 series Leslie which was powered by a solid state amplifier. Although more powerful than some of the tube models, the tone is quite accurate, but much more sterile, lacking in the saturation and overtone harmonics inherent in the 122 and 147 tube amps. Also, when a transistor amp clips, it produces odd numbered harmonics which are repugnant to the listening ear. The tube amps, when saturated to the point of clipping produce a much more pleasing even numbered harmonic distortion that is the hallmark of many a nasty guitar solo.

After my experiences for 35 years with both types of amps I was totally biased toward the tube ones because of their more musical sound. Transistor amps were great for bass and full range piano reproduction, but tubes were always my choice for harmonica, guitar and organ. After playing the Level 5 with the appropriate upgrades in horn driver and speaker, I must admit that this damn thing is the best sound I have ever heard come from a Leslie...period. That includes the time I performed on Booker T. Jones' custom Goff rig when we shared a stage at the Memphis in May Musicfest a few years ago.

Seriously, this thing kicks major butt. I was almost incredulous at the amount of bass coming from the organ and the sheer volume of sound that the Level 5 delivers. Furthermore, the ability to shape the tone between a pure clean jazz sound all the way to the grunge of "Born to be Wild" is available to the player with just a few adjustments. Engineer Robbie Rose at the Rumboogie Club on Beale was equally impressed. The ability to "tune" the output signal to a particular room via the tone controls is extraordinary. The old Leslie tube amps simply have a volume knob.

Level 5 amp: Note the huge transformer, heat sinks, fan and big preamp tube.

The 6SN7 tube which is also used in the preamp of L100 Hammond organs, is a perfect match for the big transistor amp. It will get funky. It will growl, it will grunt and scream like a panther at a high volume and it also maintains a great tone at low volume levels thanks to the drive and level controls and my ability to dial in the tube sound from the console of my XK-3c.

At $1799 (plus $100 for the speed pedal) the amp is not inexpensive but it is made for the long haul and inherently more durable and trouble-free than the old style tube amps that I love. To me it is worth every penny and having Tony LaBrasca available just a phone call away is an added bonus, although I doubt I will ever need to do anything to this unit other than occasionally replace the one preamp tube. I have been replacing costly sets of 6550 power tubes about twice a year and that will be a thing of the past along with Leslie cables and cumbersome combo preamp pedals on the floor.

For professionals and serious enthusiasts of any genre, I heartily recommend the Level 5 Leslie amplifier without reservation, particularly to the road musician who wants the very best tone or the band musician who plays with a loud band and wants to easily cut through the mix.

available exclusively from:

Tony LaBrasca
BT Productions
(630) 205-4807

Here's a link to their site:

article by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

©2009, Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms