Monday, February 18, 2019

Chicago blues legend Mary Lane releasing new CD, subject of new documentary


Chicago blues legend Mary Lane is finally getting the attention that she deserves.

The 83-year-old, one of the last blues musicians to make the Great Migration from the rural South, is squarely in the spotlight these days. She is the subject of a new documentary on her life, "I Can Only Be Mary Lane," and on March 8, "Travelin' Woman" – her first album in 20 years – will be released on the newly launched Women of the Blues record label.

"Traveling Woman" was produced by Grammy-winner Jim Tullio and features appearances by all-star musicians like Billy Branch, Corky Siegel, late Howlin' Wolf sideman Eddie Shaw, guitarist Dave Specter and saxophone legend Gene "Daddy G" Barge.

There will be a screening of "I Can Only Be Mary Lane" at 8 p.m. Feb. 21 at FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn, followed by a performance by Lane and the No Static Blues Band.

Tickets are $10, $15 at the door, available at Lane also will perform at 9:30 p.m. March 9 at Buddy Guy's Legends,  700 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, as part of a CD release party for "Travelin' Woman."

Andre Taylor will also perform. Tickets are $20, available at

I had the chance to talk to Lane about the documentary and the new CD.

Q – The documentary on your life, "I Can Only Be Mary Lane," actually premiered on your 83rd birthday last November at Buddy Guy's Legends. Was that pretty special to you?

It was. Every birthday is special to me. I'm 83 years old.

Q – I know you haven't worked with him, but Buddy Guy is a friend of yours, right?

He used to be around with us when I would perform at Theresa's Lounge with Junior Wells. I've known Buddy for a long time.

Q – So the fact that someone wanted to make a documentary about you, was that humbling, that someone wanted to put you in the spotlight like that?

It was great. Jesseca Ynez Simmons was making a movie about the city's West Side blues circuit and everything. She got in contact with me. 

I think she did a great job on the film. She got a lot of the people I used to work with – like Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf – she got all that on the video.

Q – What would you like for people to come away with from the documentary?

I would like for people to know that I've been out here trying to do my best. The blues is the only thing I know.

Q – And you have a new CD, "Traveling Woman," that will come out on March 8 on the newly launched Women of the Blues record label. This is only your second album. 

Your debut album, "Appointment With The Blues," was released in 1997 when you were 62 years old. And now you're 83. Is this album long overdue, you think?

I know it is, but it's a race out here. People that could help you don't help you because they don't believe in you.

But it doesn't bother me. I go out here and I sing and I do my job. And some people appreciate it and some may not. I just keep on going until I can't.

Q – The CD is called "Traveling Woman." Is that an appropriate title you think for the CD?

Well, I did do a lot of traveling, but now I really don't like to travel. I went to Paris with Jimmy Johnson for 29 days. Then I went to Canada with Mississippi Heat for 13 days.

Q – Speaking of traveling, you are one of the last blues musicians to make the Great Migration from the rural South. What were those days like performing in Chicago?

When Howlin' Wolf came up here to the city, I got back involved with him, because I was working with him down south. Then I worked with him for a while in the city.

Q – What was it like working with Howlin' Wolf and did he have any good advice for you?

He told me that it was going to be a struggle out here. He would say, "Whatever you do, Mary, don't let people take advantage of you, because they know you are just starting out and everything."

Q – As far as this CD, what were you looking to do?

I'm looking for it to bring me some money, that's what I'm looking for it to do. It took me almost two years to get it together.

Jim Tullio, he came up with the music, but I had to come up with all the lyrics to fit the music that he had. I like the CD.

I tried to come up with lyrics that were reaching out to people and lyrics that were saying something about things that happened in my life and things that I want to happen in my life.

That was my goal and I did it. It's up to the people to buy it or like it. There's nothing else I can do about it.

Q – There are some people who are saying you should get a Grammy award for this CD.

I don't know about all that. I don't care if I get a Grammy.

As long as it's out here and people are buying it and it can put a dollar in my pocket, I appreciate it. I want to get a little enjoyment out of what I did before I leave here.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Chicago Soul Jazz Collective to celebrate release of debut album with free show


On its debut album, "Soulophone," Chicago Soul Jazz Collective breathes new energy and life into jazz classics like "The 'In' Crowd" and "The Cat."

To celebrate the release of the album, the group will perform a free show at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 13 at Wire, 6815 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. The show is sponsored by WDCB 90.9 FM and doors open at 8 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Chicago Soul Jazz Collective co-founder and saxophone player John Fournier about the album.

Q – Great talking to you again. We last spoke in 2014 when your band "Everybody Says Yes" was about to release its second EP. Now you have this new group, the Chicago Soul Jazz Collective. How did the idea for the group come about?

I had the idea to put together an ensemble like this for a long time but did not want to try it without the right partner on trumpet. Marques Carroll is a jazz trumpet master and when he came along and was equally interested I knew it was time to start this group.

Q – How did you go about choosing the songs for “Soulophone"?

I gathered maybe 25 tunes from the soul jazz era that I thought might work and we began rehearsing and performing them. These tunes on the record are the ones that seemed to flow best. I was looking for tunes that grooved hard and had an uplifting feeling.

Q – In performing the songs, what does the band hope to bring to them?

We attack these songs with passion. We want to feel the groove and emotion in every fiber of our beings. If we feel it, it is there to share and we hope folks will join us and feel it along with us.

Q – Do you think you bring the band's own identity to each song?

As it is a jazz combo and is an improvisational art at its essence, this is music that will only sound this way when these six musicians are performing. If you swap out one guy, it changes the sound of the ensemble.

We feel like we have a definite concept of how to approach, arrange and perform Soul Jazz. The umbrella of every genre of music is large and Soul Jazz is no different.

Chicago Soul Jazz Collective has mapped out our own little corner under the Soul Jazz umbrella and we have our own unique take and sound within the fabric of the style.

Q – I understand that the recordings for the album were cut live. Was it a lot of fun making this album and were you trying to capture that feeling on the CD?

Personally, I believe all jazz records should be cut live. Roll the tape, count off the tune and let the players loose.

There is a vibe, sound and groove that this band brings to the table every time we play and it was a great joy recording it and hearing it back for ourselves. As we cut it live, it contains great moments and a few warts but I think that is what a jazz record should be and ours is most definitely.

Q – What do you think each member brings to the table? I understand that you and trumpet player Marques Carroll bonded over your love of early '60s soul jazz.

Marques and I began the group. I took on the role of gathering material and doing the logistics and leg work required. Marques shaped the sound of the group by asking players to join.

Andrew Vogt and Keith Brooks play bass and drums and without their relentless and incredible grooves we would not have much of a band. Marcin Fahmy and Kyle Asche fill out the rhythm section on piano and guitar and both of these men are veterans of the jazz scene and have an uncanny and instinctive understanding of how to approach this style.

Why some groups of musicians have a spark when they perform together and other equally talented groups do not is a mystery of chemistry I suppose but when the 6 of us play together, this band is undeniable.

Q – Are you trying to give people who buy the CD a musical history lesson? Do you hope that people will want to find out the origin of each song after buying the album?

When I hear soul jazz played, it gives my spirit an enormous lift. I can remember the first time I heard some of these tunes when I was a little boy and it was the most exciting sound.

Goose bumps central if you know what I mean. I feel like I personally need that lift in my life as the state of the world brings me down lately.

So my first goal in playing this music is to lift my own spirits. Something playing this music never fails to accomplish.

Past that, I think there is a style of Soul Jazz that we play that is not really performed much live and Chicago Soul Jazz Collective is supplying a sound and interpretation unlike what is offered across the jazz scene today.

Q – I understand the band is getting ready to record the second album, which will be a blend of classic songs along with original songs. What should people expect from the new album?

We will have a few chestnuts we have discovered from the early 1960s that will expose people to some great seemingly forgotten compositions. We have begun to take the sound of the ensemble and apply it to our own original material and we have been performing those tunes in our live act and really digging it.

The overall sound of the ensemble is improving as we go along so I am very excited to get back in the studio for round 2.

Q – As far as other musical projects, what else are you working on these days? Is this band your main priority?

All of the guys in the Collective participate in lots of projects as leaders and sidemen. We created this band and recorded it as a labor of love and we have been thrilled by the overwhelmingly positive reception the record has received.

It seems our desire to lift our spirits through this soulful music is shared by others and we are humbled and honored to have the opportunity to play it.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Alligator Records artist Lindsay Beaver to bring soulful, passionate vocals to Hey Nonny

Photo by Barbara Frigiere

Alligator Records President Bruce Iglauer has described Lindsay Beaver as being like the "love child of Amy Winehouse and Little Richard."

Those influences and others can be heard on "Tough As Love," her debut album for the Chicago-based label. Beaver is a force to be reckoned with on the album, her soulful and passionate vocals dominating every song.

Beaver also does double duty as she keeps the beat as the band's drummer. Originally from Halifax, Nova Scotia, Beaver is living in Austin, Texas these days.

"Tough As Love," which continues to ride high on the blues charts, also features the talents of such guest artists Marcia Ball, Dennis Gruenling, Laura Chavez, Eve Monsees and Sax Gordon. She is expected to perform extensively from the album during her Feb. 7 show at Hey Nonny, 10 S. Vail Ave., Arlington Heights.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets range from $15 to $30, available at

I had the chance to talk to Beaver about the upcoming show.

Q – Alligator Records has a great reputation and so many great artists have appeared on the label over the years. What made you want to sign with Alligator Records in the first place?

I approached them with the hopes they could kind of help me grow my career, especially since they tend to work with more established artists. I'm glad they're kind of taking a chance with me, and I'm working really hard to not let them down.

Q – They've had some great things to say about you. Alligator Records President Bruce Iglauer said you were like the "love child of Amy Winehouse and Little Richard." Does that make you feel good, to hear a comment like that?

Yeah, I think it's really high praise. Those are two of my favorite artists. 

I do have a different sort of edge. We can do full blues in a set and also do something a little more soulful. 

And I'm glad that Alligator Records can embrace that. It doesn't have to be so particular and traditional all the time.

Q – In making "Tough As Love," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

I had been in a band for a long time and I did a lot of the songwriting, most of it, especially towards the end of my old group. I had played with the same people for a number of years.

One of the main things I wanted to do with this record was to be able to add guests and people that I admire and just to record with people who supported me throughout the years. Brad Stivers, who is my guitar player in my band now, we've been friends for years, but I had never gotten to work with these people.

I wanted to be in front and not hide behind the band, really being the front person. And I think we got there with that, too.

It's definitely been a transformation of sorts.

Q – I know that there aren't many female drummers around and certainly not many blues female drummers. Do you think you are paving the way?

I suppose to some extent, yes. It's true, I guess there aren't a lot of female blues drummers.

I don't know. I've always sort of just done things. I don't know that I think too far ahead of that.

I think there is a need for very strong women musicians, not just because they're women, but because they're great at what they do.

And that's what I strive for, to not just be the best girl drummer, but to be the best drummer. We need to be the best out there and not just the best of our category.

Q – I understand that you took up drumming by necessity. Your drummer didn’t want to keep bringing his drums over to your house for rehearsal and then your dad scraped together enough money to buy a drum set to keep in the house.

Yeah, that's what started the drumming for sure. And then it was hard to find people who knew how to play the blues and knew how to shuffle and knew all that stuff.

I didn't want to teach someone how to shuffle and I didn't want to give someone a record collection and hope they got it. So I thought I might as well do both and make a thing of it.

And I'm glad, because I like doing it. 

Q – And you know what you want, so you don't have to explain it to anyone else. As a child, I understand you discovered hip hop before blues music and wanted to know more about how hip hop came about. Is that kind of how you got into blues music?

Yeah, absolutely. I lived in a neighborhood where I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a lot of really good hip hop and R&B music. It certainly paved the way.

Q – You produced "Tough As Love" and you produced three of your past albums. Is that a case of just wanting to do it yourself, like wanting to be the drummer and wanting to be the singer. Is that another case of taking the bull by its horns and just doing it?

I think when you are used to leading a band night after night, when you go into the studio, you have the same mindset. But Bruce Iglauer and Stuart Sullivan – it was his studio and he was the engineer – they had a lot of input. I feel like I would be doing them a disservice by saying I did it alone.

Especially when it came to the mixing. They handled a lot of it. 

Q – Why did you choose to move to Austin?

There is just so much to see and everyone tours through Austin. The bar is very high and when you are surrounded by that, it makes you a better musician. You are exposed to so much talent and so much good music.

Q – So when people come out to see you at Hey Nonny, what should people expect? Are you going to be concentrating on the new album or are you also going to be playing songs from your other albums?

I don't play anything off the old records because that band's kind of defunct. I'll be playing pretty much everything off the new record and I'll be playing some new things I'm working on and some choice cover songs that I like.

I try to find things that either I really love or a song that's not covered often or not well known. I try to be really careful and not repeat what others have done before me.

Q – "Tough As Love" has received a lot of critical and commercial acclaim. How has that affected you?

When you put something out that's really good, your shows need to be just as good. You need to have your stuff together.

Through my whole career, I've tried to do my absolute best at every show.

Q – That's a good attitude to have, because it seems like a lot of musicians just rest on their laurels. 

I think it's easy to get comfortable and I don't ever want to be comfortable. If I am ever at a point where I think I have it all figured out, I need to readjust my thinking.