Tuesday, March 28, 2023

With new album in tow, acclaimed blues/soul musician Derrick Procell to perform Friday at The Venue in Aurora

Photo by Ryan Bennett



“Hello Mojo!,” the second solo album from Chicago-based soul/blues belter Derrick Procell, has been enjoying critical and commercial acclaim since its release last August.

With the album, Procell is making his debut on label Catfood Records. “Hello Mojo!” was the No. 1 soul blues album on Roots Music Report for seven weeks. Procell will likely perform several songs from the new album during his appearance Friday at The Venue, 21 S. Broadway Ave. (Route 25). 

The show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at themusicvenue.org.

I had the chance to talk to Procell about the album and the upcoming show.


Q – I am sure you are going to be playing many songs from your new album at the Hey Nonny show.

Well, the plan is to play everything from the new album, quite honestly. 

I have my personal faves, of course, but the fact that every song on the record has been getting significant airplay over the last four months is quite an indictor to me that there’s something for everyone there.

As an overall piece, it’s pretty widely divergent. It’s in the category of soul/blues, but the truth is, it’s a pretty wide reaching album stylistically.

I like to say it’s blues adjacent.

Q – What were your goals for the album and do you think you achieved them?

My goals for the album were kind of modest. I hadn’t really been thinking about putting my stuff out and then I get this offer to release a record on an actual label with some label support. I got pretty excited about that.

The reviews for the album have been over the top. I just tried to put out the best record that I could, which I think any artist does, and hope for the best, hope that the critics like it, hope that the fans like it and hope that the DJs dig it.

Q – It does seem like there is a meaning behind the name of the song “Hello Mojo!” and the album’s title.

My songwriting partner, Terry Abrahamson, came up with these lyrics and I immediately sat down at the piano and came up with this sort of jazzy bluesy piano riff and off we went.

It’s a song of hope and a song of healing. Everyone loses their mojo at some point in their life and it’s always a good day when you get it back.

Q – I am sure that a lot of people lost their mojo during the COVID-19 lockdown.

That’s a fact.

Q – And I’m sure that you were affected by venues being closed for a while.

Q – Oh yeah. Since I have different income streams from songwriting and song production stuff, I don’t depend solely on live performing. So I was thankful for that.

But I did feel a lot for my musical brothers and sisters out there that had to find new ways to put food on the table. I know that my live performing certainly got shut down for almost all of 2020 and things picked back up a little bit in 2021.

But the devastation that the pandemic did to some of the venues that could not afford to keep their doors open was pretty significant.

Q – Yeah, including a lot of blues clubs, actually.

A lot of them kind of barely operate on a shoestring, you know. And having to shut the doors and try to keep the employees somewhat happy or satisfied, a lot of them didn’t survive it.

It affected everybody, some in more ways than others, for sure. So yeah, it’s good to get our mojo back, all of us, collectively.

Q – And I know the album was produced by Zac Harmon, who also plays guitar on three tracks on the album. What do you think he brought to the table?

Working with Zac was such a gas. I’ve got to confess, I was not that familiar with Zac. I had heard his name, but I was not that familiar with his work.

When it was suggested that Zac produce my record, I did my homework and looked him up and listened to a lot of his previous releases. He had released a couple of very successful records on Catfood Records, so he was a label mate.

We only actually met when we got in the studio. Of course, we had a number of conversations by phone before that and I loved all of his suggestions and ideas about some of the songs.

It was really helpful to me that he was as enthusiastic about the material as he was. And some of the suggestions that he made ended up on the record.

We worked really well together. It was great having him in the studio in that producer’s chair.

He let me be me and when he needed to kind of put a guiding hand in there about a vocal riff or the way something was going down instrumentally, it all served for the eventual good of the record.

Plus, he’s a fun guy to be around.

Q – And I understand you have a new band, right?

Yeah, I’ve thrown together a group, some of whom I’ve played with at various times in various situations. Some of them are from some tribute shows that I do. I do a Joe Cocker tribute show and I do a Van Morrison tribute show.

I’ve got a couple of Chicago blues all-stars, Brother John Kattke on keys, and Darren Jay Fallas on guitar and we’ve got a horn section and a couple of great players, Tom Trinka, who is a longtime Chicago name, on saxophone, and Mitch “The Lip” Goldman on trumpet.

Q – I know you are originally from Milwaukee. Since you’ve been living in the Chicago area, what do you think of the Chicago music scene?

The Chicago music scene is extremely wide and vast. It’s as wide and vast as the Chicago metropolitan area. Chicago is a great music city.

You just name a style of music that you want to hear and it’s happening somewhere.

Q – Now you did your first recording as a lead singer in Nashville when you were 16. What did that experience teach you?

Well, it’s the reason I’m still doing this. I just fell in love with the whole process, of being able to sing into a microphone and have people dig it, you know.

I knew that was it for me.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Jimmie Vaughan, Christone 'Kingfish' Ingram to perform at Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora

Performers at the 27th Blues on the Fox festival will include (top, from left) Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Jimmie Vaughan, Kenny Neal, (bottom) Mud Morganfield, Ruthie Foster and Joey J. Saye.


Jimmie Vaughan and Christone “Kingfish” Ingram will headline the 27th annual Blues on the Fox festival this summer.

The festival will be held June 16 and 17 at Thomas J. Weisner RiverEdge Park in Aurora. Although Chicago is known as the blues capital of the world, Aurora has also contributed significantly to the history of blues music.

In 1937 and 1938, Sonny Boy Williamson, Henry Townsend and other notable Bluebird artists made recordings at the Leland Hotel in downtown Aurora.

During the first day of the festival, four-time Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Ruthie Foster will open for Vaughan, who has four Grammys under his belt. Ingram, whose first album, “Kingfish” debuted on the Billboard Blues Chart in the number #1 position, will headline the festival’s second day, with Kenny Neal, Muddy Waters’ son, Mud Morganfield, and Joey J. Saye rounding out the day.

RiverEdge Park is located at 360 N. Broadway Ave. (Route 25), across the street from Metra’s Aurora Transportation Center. Purchase tickets on or before May 31 to take advantage of early bird discounts. Tickets for Friday, June 16 are $15 early bird; $25 regular.

Tickets for Saturday, June 17 are $25 early bird; $35 regular.

For tickets and information, visit riveredgeaurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by RiverEdge’s satellite box office, Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and until show time on show days, or purchase tickets at RiverEdge Park the day of the event.

All tickets are general admission. Fees not included.

Sunday, March 19, 2023

Acclaimed blues guitarist Tommy Castro to perform at The Venue in Aurora, SPACE in Evanston this month

Photo by Kathleen Harrison




Not many musicians can say they have received the coveted B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award three times in their career.

Tommy Castro can. He took home the award last year for a third time following previous wins in 2010 and 2008.

Along with receiving the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award during last year’s Blues Foundation ceremony, he also received album of the year for his album “Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came to Town” as well as band of the year with his band The Painkillers. Castro has been releasing albums on Chicago-based label Alligator Records since 2009.

The San Francisco musician will perform March 26 at The Venue, 21 S. Broadway Ave. in downtown Aurora. Tickets are available at themusicvenue.org.

On March 27, Castro will perform at Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston. Tickets are available at evanstonspace.com.

I had the chance to talk to Castro about his career.

Q – Last year, you received – for the third time in your career no less – the B.B. King Entertainer of the Year award. How does it feel receiving the award three times in your career?

Well, I have to admit I was truly surprised that I won. I thought it was great that I was nominated, but I had already won it twice and there were a lot of very deserving people in this category. I really didn’t expect to win that.

I was happy that the band received the band of the year award. And I thought that we had a good album on our hands.

Now it’s another spring touring season and we’re just going to go out and have some fun.

Q – And you also received album of the year for your latest album, “Tommy Castro Presents A Bluesman Came to Town.” What was your idea for the album and did it live up to you expectations?

Oh, it totally exceeded my expectations. I was excited to work with Tom Hambridge. This was the first time we worked together.

He’s a pretty big deal in the blues world. He works with Buddy Guy and a lot of the bigger names in the blues genre. He’s made records with a lot of my heroes.

So I just thought it was time for us to get together. I had expected it was going to be a good record and as time went on, everything started to fall together, the songs and the concept.

It’s really hard to be objective about my own work, but I could tell that it was basically what I had set to do and it all worked out. It kind of outdid my expectations, including the way it was received by the industry and the fans.

It sounded really good and all those songs worked. And the sequence of the songs worked out.

That was the tricky part, because you’re telling a story, but you also need to have a flow to the material on a record. You want to start out strong and you want to take the listener for a ride.

It’s been a while since that has been out and I’m thinking about what we’re going to do next.

Q – I know the story is not about you, but is based on your past experiences.

Yeah, listening to stories backstage from blues guys that I got to know over the years, young and old. Everybody’s got stories.

When musicians hang out, that’s all they do. They tell stories from the road and different people they’ve played with. You get a lot of good stories.

Q – Did it feel strange not having your band, The Painkillers, playing on the album?

Yeah, a little bit. But I was following the lead of a producer who is very successful and I wanted him to do what he does.

He makes records on a regular basis with a certain stable of musicians. And they know how to get things done in a certain way.

They have a formula that works. I explained it to the band and they understood. And then we put a track at the end of the album with all of those guys. So at least they got some credit on the album.

Q – As far as your music, what have you tried to do to set yourself apart from other musicians? You still work on your guitar technique every day, as I understand it.

Well, the world of guitar is so advanced now. When I started out playing blues guitar, I had a very simple approach to it.

The less refined and the less slick the music is, the more I like it. The guys who are my heroes had a real simple approach to the blues.

Over the years, blues guitarists keep raising the bar. And I keep practicing.

I like to add to my skill set and I want to be able to play something different, just to keep myself interested. And that keeps me young.

As long as you don’t feel that you know it all, there’s still plenty of room to grow.

Q – Talking about age, you’re 67 years old. Buddy Guy is 86 years old and is performing on his last tour, so he says. Do you have another 19 years left in you?

Oh, hell yeah. I take good care of myself. I lived a little harder lifestyle when I was young.

At some point, I realized I wasn’t going to last much longer if I didn’t change my ways.

I have a plan to still kind of work my career a little bit, to take it a little further. It seems strange to be doing that at 67, but it’s just how I’m wired.

Q – That’s refreshing that you’re still open to new challenges. So when you call it quits, who do you see helping keep the blues alive?

Oh, there’s so many great young players out there. Christone "Kingfish" Ingram is doing a great job. Danielle Nicole has an incredible voice.

Gabe Stillman is an amazing young player. David Julia is making a name for himself.

There’s just no shortage of great young guitar players. Jontavious Willis, he’s a country blues player, and there’s just not enough of those guys around any more.

I think he’s in his 20s and he’s an amazing talent. I’m not worried about the future of the blues at all.


Thursday, March 16, 2023

Chicago cellist Ian Maksin continues his Cello For Peace tour to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine



Russian-born Chicago-based cellist and composer Ian Maksin believes that music can be a unifying force.

Last year, Maksin started his Cello For Peace tour to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. A portion of the proceeds from ticket, merchandise and art sales benefit For Wellbeing, a charitable medical relief organization in Ukraine and also Doctors Without Borders Turkey earthquake relief fund.

As part of the tour, he will perform several shows in the Chicago area, including March 31 at Art Gallery Kafe in Wood Dale, April 1 at 116 Gallery in St. Charles and April 2 at Artifact Events in Chicago. More information is available at https://ianmaksin.com.

I had the chance to talk to him about the tour.

Q – I know you recently performed as part of a Ukrainian Festival in Orlando, Florida with several other Chicago artists.

Oh, yes. Chicago has one of the largest Ukrainian communities in the country. At the festival, they had a dance ensemble from Chicago of probably 30 or 40 kids. They were with me on the return flight to Chicago. The entire group was there with their parents and it was really touching.

Q – When you started the Cello For Peace tour last year, did you have any idea that unfortunately the war in Ukraine would still be going on?

Well, of course we were all hoping that it would end quickly, but even at the beginning, it was completely unpredictable how long it would go on and what the outcome was going to be. In fact, in March 2022, we had no idea if Ukraine would even hold for as long as they did.

Q – Because you still have family and friends living in Ukraine, correct?

Well, here’s the thing. I was born in Russia and I still have family in Russia.

In fact, my father is there. My mother passed away last year.

I also have family in Ukraine and I try to help them as much as I can. And I have friends and colleagues in both Russia and Ukraine. 

Q – I know that part of the proceeds from the tour will also go for a earthquake relief find for Turkey.

I wanted to do something for Turkey as well. What really has happened is that because the Ukraine conflict has hit so close to home, it really has raised my awareness and my level of empathy in general for other things that are happening around the world.

Maybe I can inspire other people to take action.

Q – In past interviews that you’ve done, you talk about music being a powerful unifying source.

It is. And the more that I’m doing this, the more that I realize that is true.

It really is an incredible force. And I get proof of that every single day in many ways, that what I’m doing is really powerful and that what other artists are doing as well is extremely powerful in many ways, such as helping people create peace inside their soul.

I do strongly believe that the world around us is a reflection of our own soul and if we don’t have peace inside our soul, the world around us will reflect that.

By creating peace inside our soul, we make the world around us a more peaceful place. And I do believe music is one of the cornerstones that can help us make that happen.

Q – I’m also impressed by the fact that you sing in 30 languages. Was it hard learning 30 different languages and why did you feel it was important to do that?

It started off as a hobby when I was 5 years old. Actually, I have to give credit to my father, who is a very, very accomplished amateur musician. He is a physician by trade.

And he used to play at weddings and he had a repertoire in probably two dozen languages. So he did sing in a number of languages – Italian, French, English, Ukrainian, Polish and Yiddish.

I started copying him doing the same thing, but I wanted to go beyond that. I wanted to know what those songs were about.

My first two languages were Italian and English. I was always fascinated with languages and with how languages are different and how cultures are based on language.

Our cultural differences are based on the language as well. And at the same time, music is what brings us all together.

I always wanted to reconcile that. When I do sing, I actually know every single word and every single phrase that I sing.

It feels like you become the carrier of the language while you sing. Right now, I currently have songs in 30 languages.

The majority of them I gathered doing trips to those countries.

Q – That’s really cool. I saw a tweet from you on Jan. 1 where you were saying “Happy New Year” in 23 languages.

That was kind of like a last second idea. I wanted to do a special greeting and I thought why not do something like that. Actually, people really enjoyed it.

Q – What do you like the best about playing the cello and what advice would you give to aspiring musicians?

I fell in love with the sound of the cello when I was 5 years old. Because of the depth of the sound, it felt like the resonance of the cello sound went straight to the soul, directly bypassing the conscious mind and bypassing thoughts and feelings.

And I think that’s what keeps me going today and that’s what other people find so fascinating and so enticing about hearing the cello.

As far as young musicians are concerned, I do believe that everyone should follow their passion. If they feel passionate for music, they should do it no matter what.

And I do believe that music can be an incredible outlet for creativity, for both professional musicians and people who just want to do it for recreation. I'm very happy to see more and more people of my generation and younger come back to explore their creativity.

I think it’s absolutely vital in our lives to feel fulfilled and to grow spiritually.