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Blues Guitar Workshops Before the Festival!

Once again, blues fans and guitar geeks have a chance to get up close and personal with some of the acts performing at the Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival on October 23rd. This year we’re hosting not one but two guitar workshops!

Starting at 10am at the Buchanan Center for the Arts (less than a block from the Rivoli), the festival will host two guitar masters for workshops on style, history and how to play the blues.

First, Little Joe McLerran will introduce workshop participants to the unique characteristics of Piedmont style blues. Little Joe has given numerous workshops (including several in the Middle East) and is the 2009 winner of the International Blues Challenge.

Next, master blues teacher and historian Scott Ainslie will be taking us deep into the Delta with his extensive knowledge of the guitar stylings of the first modern bluesman: Robert Johnson. Ainslie has been studying roots and Delta blues for 40+ years and has delivered successful teaching videos and DVDs for MelBay.

The workshops are free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so please RSVP to to reserve your seat.

All levels of players are welcome, but players should have a basic knowledge of chord fingering. For participation, please bring a acoustic guitar (or unplugged electric), pick, thumb pick and slide.

This is an amazing opportunity and a great way to get you in the mood for a day of great live music. We’ll see you there!

2010 Performer: Scott Ainslie

Scott Ainslie heard Virginia Bluesman and grave digger, John Jackson play a couple of songs in the middle of a Mike Seeger concert just outside of Washington, DC, at Groveton High School back in 1967. Things haven’t been the same since.

Scott started playing guitar a month later and has now spent nearly forty years studying and playing traditional music, visiting and documenting senior musicians in America’s old-time banjo and fiddle music, Blues and gospel traditions.

With four CDs, a teaching DVD on the guitar techniques of Delta Blues legend Robert Johnson, and a book on Johnson’s music “Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads” (Hal Leonard, 1992) to his credit, as a performer and a teacher, Ainslie continues to present programs that are vital and entertaining. He currently makes his home in of Brattleboro, Vermont after transplanting there from North Carolina.

Ainslie’s deep voice and powerful slide guitar technique command attestation and pull the listener back in time, back before amplifiers and top-40 radio, to a time when the blues was a mirror of the lives working familes lead.

“I’ve played house concerts and sold out 1800 seat auditoriums,” reflects Ainslie, “and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’d enjoyed them both. But, if I had to choose my favorite setting, it would be something in between:  a small theater whose stage has seen generations of my brothers and sisters over the years where, rather than separating the audience and the artists, the stage is a place where we come together and get to know each other. The Rivoli is one of those places. It has soul, a history, and when it’s filled up with people and artists, a living presence. It is going to be a real pleasure to join the ranks of musicians and performers who have walked onto that stage.”

“I spent a week with the Carolina Chocolate Drops years ago and had a ball,” continues Ainslie. “We’ve all spent time with Joe Thompson and we have interests in Old-Time music as well as Blues. We are going to have a ball.”

Ainslie will also be leading the second of two guitar workshops at the Buchanan Center for the Arts on the morning of the festival (Saturday, October 23rd, approximately 11am). Ainslie is a deeply dedicated teacher and historian and will bring his wellspring of knowledge to local musicians and blues fans.

“Back in 1967, when I began to play guitar I had no teacher,” says Ainslie.  ”No lessons, no workshops, no TAB, no YouTube videos: just a cheap guitar and a book of folksongs with chord diagrams (many of which were wrong). I spent some time wandering in the wilderness, falling into every muddy ditch, bumping into every tree. I can spare you a good portion of that walk. Having been there, I’m  a good guide. You’ll still have to walk the walk, of course, but it’s a big help to know which paths are dead ends and what you need to know to move forward.”

“Over the past 43 years, I’ve built a body of knowledge about roots guitar styles and acoustic blues and slide guitar. Robert Johnson, David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, Muddy Waters, Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, and Mississippi John Hurt and many other relatively unknown musicians have all shaped my understanding of this instrument, its expressive power and flexibility. Sharing that knowledge is one of the ways I honor them. It is a part of my responsibility as a link in a chain of human knowledge, culture and musical tradition.”

“And whenever I need to reconnect with those first few months and years with a guitar in my hands, I simply turn it around backwards and ask my left hand to do my right hand’s job and visa versa. The brain knows, but the muscle patterns necessary are discrete, handed knowledge. In a workshop, I can show your brain. You still have to develop the hand knowledge, the muscle patterns, which take time and repetition.”

“The beauty of having a teacher is to have them look at your hands and how you are playing a guitar and suggest ways to expand your playing and make what you are aiming to do simpler, easier and musically more effective. I always enjoy being allowed into someone’s musical life and being able to be useful. It can be difficult here in America for an artist to feel useful. When it happens, it is always a good thing.”

The workshops are free and open to the public, but seating is limited, so please RSVP using the contact for on the site.

To learn more about Scott Ainslie, check out his website.

2010 Performer: Little Joe McLerran

Little Joe McLerran has packed a lifetime of musical experience into just 25 short years, culminating in achieving a dream of his: winning the 25th Annual Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee. It took four consecutive trips to the event and three stellar sets to earn the crown.

Little Joe McLerran, “Perhaps the finest Piedmont Blues player on the face of God’s green earth”, writes Billy Austin, editor of Blues News. No small wonder. Little Joe has spent 16 of his 24 years on God’s green earth working on his Piedmont chops. For his first public performance Joe sang a Leadbelly song and played another by Rev. Gary Davis as his 4th grade classmates provided theatrical support.

Little Joe McLerran came to the blues early on, discovering the music as a kid through friends of his dad, longtime local bass player Rob McLerran. When he was a teenager, Joe and his brother, Jesse, played on the Pearl Street Mall as “Buddy Hollywood,” a duo specializing in the Beatles, Bob Marley and the blues. Joe played guitar and Jesse — who died in an accident a few years ago — played drums.

Nine years ago the family moved to Tulsa, Okla., where Joe adopted the name “Son Piedmont” and immersed himself in the acoustic Piedmont blues style of the ’20s and ’30s. The 25-year-old blues musician has a penchant for the classics, but he has created a sound that is current — and all his own.

He’ll hit the Rivoli stage as a trio, with father Robbie Mack on bass and his long-time reed man Dexter Payne. Little Joe will be working hard on the weekend, also performing in a pre-fest event at the Fat Fish Pub on Friday, October 23rd (be sure to come by to score some free tickets or a free t-shirt!). He’ll also be presenting the first of two blues guitar workshops at the Buchanan Center for the Arts at 10am on Saturday, October 23rd (Little Joe has given Piedmont Blues workshops all across the US and also in the Middle East).

Many thanks to for the great picture of Little Joe!

Learn more about Little Joe at his website.

Tickets Now at Fat Fish!

You can now buy tickets for the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival at the Fat Fish Pub in Galesburg. Head over to Fat Fish for some great micro brews, great live blues, festival tickets and the festival pre-party featuring Little Joe McLerran on Friday, October 23rd.

Jimmy Thackery at Fat Fish on Thursday!

Hot guitarist and found member of the Nighthawks Jimmy Thackery and the Drivers will descend on the Fat Fish Pub this Thursday. Tickets are $25 at the door (opens at 4pm) and the show starts at 6pm.

Thackery comes by his six-string brilliance honestly, having learned from the very best sources. Besides Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix, Thackery cites Chicago axe master Otis Rush as a primary influence. Moreover, he learned quite a bit from playing on stage alongside such blues legends as Muddy Waters, James Cotton and Luther “Guitar Junior” Johnson.

Thackery has been acclaimed as one of the hottest live acts around, with his jaw-dropping performances becoming the stuff of legend. As the Boston Globe put it, “Jimmy Thackery is a four-hour performer. That’s not how long he plays, but how long one should travel to see him. He’s a phenomenal guitarist, one of the best we’ve seen.”

Coming In From Out Of Town?

If you are coming from out of town to see the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival, then plan on having a wonderful day. Remember that there will be blues guitar workshops starting at 10am on the festival day (Saturday, October 23rd) and the fest doors open at 2pm. The fest generally runs until around midnight. If you plan on coming in on Friday or staying Saturday night, here are the best local accommodations:

The 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival

Kellerman Rocks MVBS Festival

We trekked up to the IH Mississippi Valley Blues fest on July 4th and enjoyed an amazing day of live music. Standouts included Bill Sims and Mark LaVoie, playing old school Delta blues with some sweet harmonica. We also spied harmonica wizard Matthew Skoller in the audience catching the grooves.

The Shawn Kellerman Band ripped up the main stage just as folks were starting to freak about the rain. A few drops fell and the radar looked dire, but the festival was spared and Kellerman destroyed the set. We had a chance to stop by and talk with them after the show – it was Kellerman’s birthday and the MVBS provided a huge cake for him.

Other standouts were Kim Massie, belting out with an amazing voice, and for the headliner, it was the Tommy Castro Band featuring Debbie Davis on guitar, Magic Dick (of J. Geils Band fame) on harp and Sista Monica on vocals. The rythm and blues revue tore up the stage and Sista Monica riveted the crowd with an amazing parformance.

All in all, another great year of music for the MVBS. Great job guys – keep the blues flowing!

Mississippi Valley Blues Festival This Weekend

The awesome Mississippi Valley Blues Festival is this weekend in LeClaire Park in Davenport. It looks to be an amazing three days of music, and I hope to see you there!

Some standout performances include 2008 Deep Blue Innovators alumni Lurrie Bell on Friday, 2010 DBI performer (and workshop leader) Little Joe McLerran on Saturday, 2009 DBI performer Shawn Kellerman on Sunday as well as Tony Castro and the Nighthawks.

For a full lineup, click here.

2010 Festival Tickets Now On Sale!

Tickets are now on sale (online only until late July) for the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival!

Tickets will be $20 at the door this year, but you can pick them up online for only $15 each! Grab a couple of pairs today! Just click here to visit the store.

Tickets will go on sale at regional outlets at the end of July. A full list of ticket locations will be posted here.

We’ll see you at the show!

In Praise of Joe Price

How many of you listen to your bloated iPod on shuffle nearly all the time? I made the move to shuffle a few years ago, because I didn’t have time to scroll through every musical Tom, Dick and Harry when I wanted to hear a tune. Most of the time, I get a wonderful, eclectic mix of songs… at times it’ll be something awful and at other times, inexplicably, it’ll rattle off six Beatles songs in a row… how’s that work?

Then every once in a while, a song will come on that will make you stop dead in your tracks… something amazing that compels you to stop what you are doing and just listen. Sometimes, I’ll have to look at the artist to see who is making my feet tap. Other times, I know right away who it is. Joe Price is one of those artists I recognize instantly.

Joe’s music forces me to stop what I’m doing and listen, smile and tap my feet. It’s a crazy elastic form of old-school guitar blues that sounds like nothing else. The rhythms bounce and hop like a super-ball on caffeine, and at times, it sounds like two or three guitars at once, with a crazed cat-in-a-bag thrown in for good measure… but it’s all just Joe slapping and hammering those strings and layering vibrations and tones over each other into this heady cocktail of joyous musical energy.

I play blues guitar as a hobby, and at times, I listen to a guitarist and go “wow, I’d love to be able to play like that!” That’s NOT how I feel when I hear Joe play (either live or on my iPod)… I know with absolute certainty that there is just flat-out no way I can ever play like that… but the music compels just the same. The crazy tunings, the breakneck rhythms and the growling, dancing bass notes work together to weave a unique and utterly un-copyable sound and tone. No one sounds like Joe Price… not before, now now… probably not ever.

If you haven’t seen Joe Price (and his lovely wife Vicki) play live, then shame on you… look them up and go see them this summer. Buy his CDs and load them on your iPod… support his music and then, one day in the near future, you’ll hear one of his songs come on and you’ll stop dead in your tracks and just smile. And isn’t that what music is all about?

Joe Price’s website

See the Bruce Katz Band at Fat Fish

See this amazing, energized piano-based band on Tuesday, June 22nd at the Fat Fish Pub in Galesburg.

Bruce Katz is a legendary keyboardist (Hammond B3 and piano), and besides leading his own band is currently a member of the Gregg Allman Band. Based in Woodstock, NY, he has appeared on nearly 70 other CDs with the likes of Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Little Milton, Jimmy Witherspoon, John Hammond, David “Fathead” Newman and many, many others.

The Bruce Katz Band blurs the lines between blues, soul-jazz, rock and New Orleans inspired roots music – their trademark instrumental jams with an equal number of vocal tunes as well. The band has a trademark sound, blending the B3 organ and guitar. Bruce has been nominated for the past 3 years in a row by the Memphis based Blues Foundation for their “Piano Player of the Year” award, which is the equivalent of the “Blues Grammys”.

For more information, see the Fat Fish Pub website… click here.

2010 Festival Lineup Announced is pleased to announce the lineup for the 2010 Deep Blue Innovators Blues Festival. This year’s festival, to be held on Saturday, October 23rd, will be the best yet. We’ll see you at the show!

Starting the festival off will be our old friends Hayes and Fleming.

Next, we’ll enjoy the old-school, energized guitar mastery of Oklahoma’s own Little Joe McLerran.

Blues troubadour Scott Ainslie is trekking down from Vermont and will take the stage and deliver a set of powerful slide guitar blues.

Master guitar virtuoso Dave Specter will bring his band to present a set of eclectic jazz-inspired blues.

…and headlining this year’s festival will be the one and only Carolina Chocolate Drops! We’re very fortunate to have this internationally-recognized group make a stop in Monmouth to thrill us with their high-energy, toe-tappin’ deep roots blues. This is not to be missed!

Before the festival, we will once again have a guitar workshop, this time featuring both Little Joe McLerran and master-teacher Scott Ainslie.

Tickets will go on sale online later this month and will be available at local outlets by mid-July.

MVBS Presents Albert Castiglia

The Mississippi Valley Blues Society presents the Albert Castiglia Band on Tuesday June 22 at Rascals, 1414 15th Street, Moline. The show starts at 7 p.m., and admission is $7.00, $5.00 for MVBS members.

The Miami New-Times notes that Castiglia is “ a standout showman and exceptional guitarist… His live performances are events in themselves, thanks to Castiglia’s penchant for tossing off stirring solos while strolling off the stage and wandering out on the sidewalk.” Vintage Guitar magazine says, “Castiglia the songwriter shows a knowing grasp of the blues’ variations and nuances and instinctive feel for what works. This is no one-note man… His unabashed love and respect for the music is lit large. Albert Castiglia is acolyte, priest and proselytizer for America’s great native music.”

Can You Learn Music Online?

I just finished up my second 12 week online course from the Berklee College of Music (the last one was their Blues Guitar Workshop). This go-round, I tried out Basic Improvisation, a multi-disciplinary course on the basics of improvisational soloing.

While it kept me away from open mics over the last three months (every free moment I could dedicate to music was consumed by this course!), it really was a wonderful experience. I’m really amazed that online music education can be so effective. Each week, students are presented with videos (from the instructors), lesson text, written music and web-based jukeboxes filled with tunes to illustrate key concepts. Online class meetings each week provide a chance to share with students and get direct, non-email teacher feedback. Each week, we worked through one or two major assignments that we had to record and post as MP3s.

As a computer geek who makes web applications during his day-job, their course site is top-notch and I’m a little jealous of all the bells and whistles it has.

In the improvisation course, we spent time working on transcriptions skills, listening skills, playing with accompaniment, note-based and rhythm-based motifs, chord tones, chord scales and chromatic approach shapes. While most of the class didn’t really deal with the type of old-school mono-bass blues I like to play, I was able to see how I can sally-forth and apply that knowledge to the way I play the blues.

If you can spare 5-6 hours a week of musical study time, it’s a great investment in learning. Check it out here.

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