William Christopher Smither is an American folk/blues singer, guitarist, and songwriter. His music draws deeply from the blues, American folk music, and modern poets and philosophers. Wikipedia
Of course, it is all music, but Blues fans tend to set themselves apart. The Blues are iconic to American music. There are special blues awards and a blues association in nearly every large city. Blues clubs, blues festivals, all trying to keep the blues alive.
2016 Blues Music Award Winner Billy Price first attracted national attention during his three-year association with guitarist Roy Buchanan. Price is the vocalist on two of Buchanan’s LPs, That’s What I’m Here For and Live Stock. Since then, with the Keystone Rhythm Band, the Billy Price Band, and solo projects, Billy Price has recorded and released a total of 16 albums, CDs, and DVDs.
In April 2016, he was officially recognized and inducted as a Pittsburgh Rock ’n Roll Legend at an award ceremony.Price’s album This Time for Real, with the late Chicago soul singer Otis Clay, received a 2016 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2015. It has been nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2018.
The Pittsburgh-based Billy Price Band consists of Dave Dodd (drums), Tom Valentine (bass), Lenny Smith (guitar), Jim Britton (keyboards), Eric Spaulding (sax), and Joe Herndon (trumpet).
The Billy Price Charm City Rhythm Band, based in Billy’s new hometown of Baltimore, MD, consists of El Torro Gamble (drums), Greg Haughey (bass), Pete Kanaras (guitar), Tam Sullivan (keyboards), Dan Gutwein (sax), and Vince McCool (trumpet).
“It may be a bit premature to crown Albert Castiglia America’s newest King of the Blues, but there’s little doubt that he at least deserves the title of heir apparent.” — Miami New Times
As most artists will attest, the most unexpected circumstance can spark artistic inspiration. That’s a fact that hasn’t been lost on singer, songwriter and guitarist extraordinaire Albert Castiglia. With his latest album, the aptly named Masterpiece, he celebrates an unforeseen triumph — a connection with a daughter he never knew he had. The result is a work that’s both personal and provocative all at the same time.
Castiglia calls this the most meaningful album he’s ever made. “My daughter finding me and opening up my world to an additional family, including two grandchildren, brought out the deepest material I’ve ever created,” he notes, “along with my wife, they were my muses.” Indeed, songs such as “Keep On Swinging”, “Masterpiece” and “Bring on the Rain” address the unexpected emotions that infused his psyche with the discovery of a family he never knew.
In September 2014, some 50 years after moving to Los Angeles to form the band Rising Sons with fellow blues musician Ry Cooder and Jessie Lee Kincaid, Taj Mahal hightailed it to Nashville to receive an honor he called “one of the most powerful and wonderful things that could ever happen in my life.” Celebrating decades of recording and touring that have nearly singlehandedly reshaped the definition and scope of the blues via the infusion of exotic sounds from the Caribbean, Africa and South Pacific, the two-time Grammy winning singer, songwriter, film composer, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist was feted with the Lifetime Achievement for Performance Award at the 13th Annual Americana Honors and Awards.
Jon Cleary’s love and affinity for New Orleans music goes back to the rural British village of Cranbrook, Kent, where he was raised in a musical family. Cleary’s maternal grandparents performed in London in the 1940s, under the respective stage names Sweet Dolly Daydream and Frank Neville, The Little Fellow With The Educated Feet – she as a singer, and he as a crooner and tap dancer.
As a teen Cleary grew increasingly interested in funk-infused music and discovered that three such songs that he particularly admired – LaBelle’s “Lady Marmalade,” Robert Palmer’s version of “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley,” and Frankie Miller’s rendition of “Brickyard Blues” – were attributed to Allen Toussaint as either the songwriter, the producer, or both. Cleary’s knowledge of Toussaint’s work expanded significantly when his uncle returned home to the U.K., after a two-year sojourn in New Orleans, with a copy of a Toussaint LP and two suitcases full of New Orleans R&B 45s.
In 1981 Cleary flew to New Orleans for an initial pilgrimage and took a cab straight from the airport to the Maple Leaf Bar, a storied venue which then featured such great blues-rooted eclectic pianists as Roosevelt Sykes and James Booker. Cleary first worked at the Maple Leaf as a painter, but soon graduated to playing piano there – even though his first instrument was the guitar, which he still plays and has recently reintroduced into his live performances.
As word of Cleary’s burgeoning talent began to spread around town, he was hired by such New Orleans R&B legends as Snooks Eaglin, Earl “Trick Bag” King, Johnny Adams, and Jessie “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” Hill, while also gaining the respect of the great Crescent City pianists Dr. John and the late Allen Toussaint. Years later, in 2012, Cleary recorded a critically acclaimed album of all-Toussaint songs entitled Occapella.
Today, Cleary’s work pays obvious homage to the classic Crescent City keyboard repertoire created by such icons as Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Art Neville, Dr. John, and James Booker – while also using it as a launching pad for a style that incorporates such other diverse influences as ’70s soul and R&B, gospel music, funk, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-Cuban rhythms, and much more.
Deciding to stay in New Orleans, Cleary recorded his first album of nine, to date, in 1989. His ever-elevating profile led to global touring work in the bands of Taj Mahal, John Scofield, Dr. John, and Bonnie Raitt. Cleary has led his own group, the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, for over two decades now, but he still collaborates frequently with these old friends. At the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, for instance, Cleary performed alongside Raitt in a heartfelt tribute to Fats Domino.
Soars got bitten by the blues bug via a legendary source in 1988, when he won a guitar and two tickets in a raffle to see B.B. King in concert. Meeting the iconic guitarist and singer further enhanced the young musician’s quest to learn more about the timeless power of the music. Soars started his blues recording career a decade ago with the 2008 release Back of My Mind, followed by More Bees With Honey (2011) and Full Moon Night in Memphis (2014). Collectively, his catalog has received extensive airplay on the XM Radio programs of Little Steven (“Underground Garage”) and B.B. King (“Bluesville”); Top 50 status on the “Living Blues” charts, Blues Music Award nominations for “Best Contemporary Male Blues Artist of the Year,” and “Best Blues CD” and “Album of the Year” accolades from the Palm Beach Post.
A gritty and expressive vocalist, Soars elicits signature tones from hollow-body guitars, plus a home-made two-string cigar box guitar for his incendiary slide guitar playing. All of which has helped him earn dates at the Baltic Sea Festival in Germany, the Liberation Day Festival in Holland, and other shows in France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Austria, and Colombia as well as road work throughout the United States and Canada.
What sustains a band for more than three decades? Not a hit radio band, but a roll-up-your-sleeves/drive to the next gig overnight/carry your own gear up the steps and night after night make people happy kind of band. One that makes them dance; sends them home to come back again—and again. What makes that kind band stay together through relatively few personnel changes? Answer: A good idea; a universal yet somehow unique, good idea.
The Nighthawks sought not so much to reinvent rock and roll, but simply to have it reinvent itself by taking the original ingredients and following—if somewhat loosely—the original recipe. And like good cooks, the individual personalities involved ultimately affected the outcome.
The band was over 10 years old and had baffled the mainstream industry before the term “roots rock” was coined to explain the likes of West Coasters like Los Lobos and The Blasters. By then, the affiliation with many of the living blues greats seemed to brand The Nighthawks a “blues band” despite the fact that they played with Carl Perkins as well as Muddy Waters.
The Nighthawks had its genesis when lead singer-harmonica player extraordinaire Mark Wenner returned to his native Washington, D.C. after six years in New York City, lured back by the success of his friend Bobby Radcliff’s local acclaim with a blues band. Mark joined forces with a then very young Jimmy Thackery and formed The Nighthawks in 1972. They spent a couple of years building The Nighthawks’ reputation with a revolving cast of characters until, in 1974, they decided to get the best rhythm section the area had to offer: Jan Zukowski on bass and Pete Ragusa on drums.
The Nighthawks set off on a musical mystery tour that took them to 49 states and a dozen countries. They played with nearly all the living blues legends as well as a new generation of bands, sometimes called “the Blue Wave”, and released several important albums including the best-selling Jacks and Kingswith Pinetop Perkins, Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson, Calvin Jones and Bob Margolin. (Servern Records 2017)
Go back to December 31, 2008 when guitarist Derek Trucks and his wife, singer/guitarist Susan Tedeschi, were preparing to ring in the New Year. Married since 1999, these two soulmates, equally steeped in the musical roots of blues, jazz, and gospel, had finally decided the time was right to set aside their successful solo careers and commit to a new band melding their vision and talent. It wasn’t the first time they had collaborated; they had shared a stage countless times and traded album guest appearances, all while starting a family together. But on that night, hitting the stage together with members of the Derek Trucks Band and a guest horn section they heard the future.
“The 12-piece outfit puts out a big band sound that still rings intimate, shaking listeners to their emotional core.” – Rolling Stone
Two years later, the couple debuted Tedeschi Trucks Band. The nation’s economy was heading into recession. The popular music landscape was filled with technological theatrics and auto-tuned singers. And here were Tedeschi and Trucks along with their (then) 8-member band, loading up two tour buses and hitting the road with a sound that defied conventional genre boundaries or traditional labels; a gypsy caravan on the rock-and-roll highway. To call it ambitious was an understatement.
During their five-year rise, the group toured incessantly, raising their profile and being handpicked to play with the likes of Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, and Santana
In pursuit of their ideal sound driven by world class musicianship, Tedeschi and Trucks put together a musical collaborative like no other, flying in the face of any practical or economic considerations. There have been evolutionary changes to the band along the way, but the freight-train force of veteran drummers J.J. Johnson and Tyler Greenwell were there from the start, along with two brilliant Trucks Band veterans to amplify the rhythm section: Kofi Burbridge with his prodigious talent on keys and flute, and Mike Mattison, with his dynamic vocals and songwriting skills. A 3-piece horn section brought on for studio work proved indispensable to the group’s sound and became a permanent addition – now composed of Kebbi Williams’ intergalactic saxophone, Ephraim Owens on trumpet and Elizabeth Lea on trombone. Industry-renowned bassist Tim Lefebvre (David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Sting) joined in 2013, and two years later a third incredible voice, Alecia Chakour, was added to the background vocals provided by Mark Rivers and Mattison; each more than capable of delivering a stirring turn as a lead vocalist.
On the road for upwards of 200 days a year, the TTB family has grown strong, bonding over backyard BBQs and long bus rides, all the while developing a growing repertoire of original material and paying homage to an extensive canon of influences ranging from Sly & the Family Stone, Miles Davis and George Jones to Joe Cocker, Nina Simone, and even Indian sarod master Ali Akbar Khan. Embracing improvisation over convention, and set lists rarely repeated, the collective is adept at exploring almost any musical territory. The genuine respect within its ranks is evident on stage. Trucks’ masterful guitar skills and Tedeschi’s soaring vocals and bluesy guitar shine but don’t overpower the breadth of talent, happily yielding the spotlight as needed in service of what the song deserves.
“I saw them live and it was mind blowing. [Derek] has taken the guitar, specifically slide guitar, somewhere it has never been. His phrasing both with and without slide is uniquely his and just odd and jarring and exciting to listen to. [Susan] is an earnest blues player as well and her voice is astounding. The band was mind-blowing. They take a form that is arguably tired and turn it inside out with originality and musicianship and make it totally their own.” – Marc Maron
Trucks and Tedeschi’s uncompromising vision has paid off. Now 12-members strong, and with a catalog of five albums and nearly a decade of steady touring in the U.S. and abroad, Tedeschi Trucks Band carries a distinguished reputation earned from both audiences and critics as one of the premier live bands in the world. Sold-out multi-night runs at venerable venues like the Beacon Theatre, Ryman Auditorium and Red Rocks Amphitheater are a testament to the can’t-miss concert experience fans have come to anticipate. The band’s own “Wheels of Soul” tour has become a sought-after summer experience from promoters across the country, bringing TTB’s unique stew of upbeat rock and soul together on stage with a slew of guests, sit ins, and supporting bands that have included the late Sharon Jones, Los Lobos and most recently The Wood Brothers and Hot Tuna. 2018 will also mark the sixth year for the TTB-curated Sunshine Music Festival, hosted each January in their home state of Florida.
“Epic is an overused word, but if one contemporary rock band were to rightfully wear it, the Tedeschi Trucks Band might be the ones.” – Santa Barbara Independent
TTB’s most recent CD/film release, Live From The Fox Oakland (2017) was nominated for a Grammy and follows a quartet of critically-hailed and commercially successful albums, including the Grammy-winning debut, Revelator (2011) and Let Me Get By (2016), called “one of the great records of the year” by the Associated Press. The film documents the progress the band has made since its inception, while also showcasing its endless potential to bring out the best in each other every night in any musical direction they choose. It’s clear that the leaders have no intention of slowing down now. As Trucks remarked to Mark Maron on his WTF podcast featured in the film, “I haven’t found this band’s ceiling yet.” For Tedeschi Trucks Band, there may not be one.