Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited
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Thomas Mapfumo & The Blacks Unlimited


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"Musical roots run deep for Chicago Blues Reunion"

March 14, 2008
BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

If you want to follow the roots of the Chicago Blues Reunion, you have to go back to weekend afternoons in the early '60s at the Jazz Record Mart's old location on Grand Avenue and the chance meetings of a group of enthusiastic young blues fans including Barry Goldberg, who lived at Foster and Sheridan at the time, and Mike Bloomfield, a curly-haired kid from the suburbs.

"We all sort of met each other at Bob Koester's record store, and we all had this amazing passion for Chicago blues," Goldberg recalls. "Rock 'n' roll was bad enough, but when our parents started to hear Howlin' Wolf howling in our bedroom like that, they really got concerned! Mike and I were in high school, and we were in rival teenage rock 'n' roll bands. We just started talking about the blues, and it was wonderful, because we were from Chicago, and all of that music was happening just a few miles away -- though it might as well have been a thousand miles, because in those days, no one ever really crossed those borders."
» Click to enlarge image
Barry Goldberg (from left), Corky Siegel, Harvey Mandel and Nick Gravenites are otherwise known as Chicago Blues Reunion.

Chicago Blues Reunion
8 p.m., March 22
Park West, 322 W. Armitage
General admission $35; VIP tickets $100
(312) 559-1212;

Goldberg and Bloomfield did cross those borders, along with several of their friends, eventually studying and sitting in with blues legends such as Wolf, Muddy Waters and Otis Rush at clubs like Silvio's and Pepper's.

Eventually, they learned enough to set out on their own: After his stint in the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, guitarist Bloomfield formed the Electric Flag with organist Goldberg, vocalist Nick Gravenites and drummer Buddy Miles, who died last month at age 60. And though that version of the band only lasted long enough to record one album ("A Long Time Comin' " in 1968) and play only one really prestigious gig (the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967), it made its mark by being among the first to merge the traditions of Chicago blues with the innovations of psychedelic rock.

"Eventually, we liked to think we returned the favor," Goldberg says. "When Big John's opened on the North Side, we talked them into booking the Wolf and Muddy and Otis, and that exposed them to a larger audience. And eventually, when we left Chicago to play at the Fillmore West with the Electric Flag, we got Bill Graham to book those guys. Anyway, that's how we sort of all met, and this group I have now, we're the ones that have, thank God, survived and banded together in the tradition of Michael [Bloomfield, who died in 1981] and Paul [who died in 1987] and with reverence to them and Muddy and all our other great teachers to celebrate this blue-rock tradition and carry it on."

When the keyboardist left the Electric Flag at the same time Bloomfield quit in 1968, he started Barry Goldberg's Blues Reunion, the first of a long list of musical adventures dating to the present and including his current band, Chicago Blues Reunion, whose membership is completed by Gravenites, Corky Siegel on harmonica, Harvey Mandel on guitar, Butterfield veteran Rick Reed on bass and Gary Mallaber of the Steve Miller Band, among others, on drums.

This all-star group is coming back to its old home town to perform a special show at the Park West next week that will be documented on CD and DVD, with a portion of the proceeds from the gig benefiting the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. Given the incredible resumes of everyone in the band, how does Goldberg even begin to put together a set list?

"I just try to keep everybody's interests in mind and consider what they all like to play. They're all very different, but I try to incorporate some of what everybody loves... My goal whenever we get up there is for all of us to look at each and say, 'Man, we're still alive, we can still play together and we can still groove and get each other off!' "

When the 67-year-old Goldberg talks about the band, he still sounds like the super-enthusiastic teenager scouring the racks at the Jazz Record Mart, and this may be the most inspiring part of his legacy. He was never threatened by new sounds; among the other points of pride on his resume are his role in the backing band during the controversial 1965 gig when Bob Dylan plugged in and went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, and his session work on the Ramones' Phil Spector-produced "End of the Century" album in 1980. And he still hasn't stopped listening and growing.

"Oh man, I love the music happening now, because I love the enthusiasm and the energy. When I hear something great on the radio and it's rock 'n' roll, I still have the same feeling I had when I was in high school! I do these jam sessions in Laurel Canyon where I used to play with Crazy Horse in a young hippie pad, but now Chris Robinson is the singer, and guys from Wilco, - Jim DeRogatis- Pop Music Critic

"Chicago Blues Reunion in Hollywood"

Watching Chicago Blues Reunion perform last weekend in Hollywood, a term from the film industry came to my mind: this is a high-concept group. An ensemble cast of players from legendary blues bands like the Electric Flag, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, the Siegel-Schwall band and the backing bands of such greats as Howlin' Wolf, Janis Joplin and Bob Dylan, the Reunion is also just that, a gathering of old friends from the Chicago blues scene of the early 1960s. That sense of camaraderie came through in the music in the sympathetic communication between the band's nine musicians and their obvious comfort in sharing the spotlight. The mic was passed from Nick Gravenites to Tracy Nelson to Sam Lay and the solos allotted to Harvey Mandell and then Barry Goldberg. Nobody seemed to be trying to show anyone else up except maybe in the most good natured way that sometimes happens among friends.

Gravenites, Nelson and Lay each took turns as featured vocalist. Nick Gravenites, with crucial backing from Ms. Nelson, provided an early highlight with a rousing version of his original "Buried Alive In The Blues." This is the title track of the band's current CD and DVD (Out The Box Records) and a song that first appeared as an instrumental on Janis Joplin's last album Pearl. (Joplin was scheduled to lay a vocal atop that track but drank herself to death the night before, roughly three miles from the site of tonight's performance.) Tracy Nelson has a magnificent voice and she unleashed it on "Mother Earth," the song from which her late sixties/early seventies band took its name. Sam Lay, nattily attired with a suit, gold crucifix and a belt buckle bearing his name, earned his fame as one of the premier and pivotal drummers in blues history by playing with first generation Chicago bluesmen like Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter. Later, he played with artists like Butterfield and Dylan. With veteran Gary Mallaber holding down the drum chair tonight, Lay showed his considerable skills as a vocalist and frontman by performing a medley of early rock and roll tunes and an R&B workout from Ray Charles. Segueing between "Hound Dog" and "Roll Over Beethoven," he gave Harvey Mandell an opportunity to bust out some Chuck Berry licks that were really outstanding.

Harvey Mandell is one of the most truly innovative blues guitarists of the last forty years. I'm not sure why he isn't a bigger star. He's had some brushes with fame: playing with Canned Heat at Woodstock, Heat bassist Larry Taylor in John Mayall's underrated USA Union band, and a brief tryout with the Rolling Stones, which can be heard on a couple tracks on their Black and Blue LP (also underrated in my opinion). Still, he isn't the household name he should be. He was certainly the player I was most jazzed up to see, though. His leads and fills all evening were beautiful and right; showcased on "GM Boogie," he took things to another level. At its base, the riff comes from John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillun" through the later explorations of Canned Heat, ZZ Top, et alia; Mandell started of on it as a simple blues, but expanded on it in a way that was uniquely his own. In the post-Jimi Hendrix/Cream/Led Zeppelin era, a lot of players will take a blues riff and morph it into a kind of proto-heavy metal. Mandell pretty much avoided this trap and went instead in a direction that was deeply and personally psychedelic and imbued with a kind of grace. The closest comparison I can make would be with Jeff Beck; he doesn't sound like Beck, really, but his style is singular in the same way--there's this bedrock of traditional blues and early rock that informs each of their playing and then there's this other 20 or 30% that just seems to come from themselves alone.

Mandell may have been the most dramatic instrumentalist on stage with the Chicago Blues Reunion, but he was not the only one to contribute impressively. Barry Goldberg's Hammond B3 organ and other keyboard solos were consistently tasty and built a kind of cumulative weight over the course of the band's seventy minute or so set. The rhythm section of Mallaber, bassist Rick Reed and second guitarist R. Zach Wagner held everything together throughout the evening. Closing out the performance was a lively version of the old blues standard "Drinking Wine." Gravenites sang lead on it like he did forty years ago in the Electric Flag with Nelson and Lay doubling on the great chorus of "Wine, Wine Wine!" This was a perfect note on which to close a blues show at a dry venue. After more than an hour of listening to the blues, I doubt that I was the only one to head out onto Sunset Boulevard and get a drink.
- Edward Kane, Jazz

"Sept 2009-Chicago Blues"

Back in the 1960s, a group of white teenagers from Chicago ventured into the city's tough black neighborhoods to learn the blues.

After perfecting their craft with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, the kids grew up to perform blues licks with Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Janis Joplin and Canned Heat.

Now in their senior citizen years, the performers are back together in the Chicago Blues Reunion band, coming to the Gallo Center for the Arts in Modesto on Thursday.
Chicago Blues Reunion Harvey Mandel
Chicago Blues Reunion will perform at the Gallo Center for the Arts. (Paul Natkin/Wire Image)

* Chicago Blues Reunion
* Harvey Mandel

o WHAT: Chicago Blues Reunion
o WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday
o WHERE: Foster Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto
o TICKETS: $19-$43
o CALL: 338-2100

"We learned the blues firsthand," said Barry Goldberg, 65, the keyboardist. "We didn't learn from across the ocean or from records. We learned it from the masters."

Goldberg, who lives in Los Angeles, performed with Dylan and founded the Barry Goldberg/Steve Miller Band. He'll be joined by Nick Gravenites (vocals), who wrote "Born in Chicago" for Paul Butterfield and "Buried in the Blues" for Janis Joplin; Harvey Mandel (guitar), who recorded with The Rolling Stones and played with Canned Heat at Woodstock; Charlie Musselwhite, a blues-harp player who reportedly inspired Dan Akroyd's character in the "Blues Brothers"; and more.

Goldberg said he and the others discovered the blues on an obscure radio station at the end of the dial.

"We didn't know what this music was," he said. "It was captivating and mesmerizing, hypnotic and beautiful. It was so different than anything else we ever heard."

They met one another at record stores and decided to go as a group to the black neighborhoods on the south and west sides of Chicago to hear the music live. At first, the musicians and patrons of those clubs wondered if the white kids were cops. But eventually, they saw that they really loved the music.

Pretty soon, the artists started having the kids come up on stage with them. Audience members would pay 50 cents extra to see the novelty of white teens playing in the black clubs, Goldberg said.

"They were our extended family," Goldberg said of the musicians. "Not only did they teach us their music beautifully, willingly and wonderfully, but they told us their stories growing up on the Delta."

The teens' parents didn't understand their interest in the music and thought they were really strange, Goldberg added. They thought it was bad enough that the kids were listening to Buddy Holly and Little Richard. When they heard the howling and wailing of blues, the parents thought their kids had gone off the deep end.

The clubs' neighborhoods weren't the safest places, either. A man once attacked Goldberg with a knife, but that didn't discourage him from continuing to be a part of the scene.

"When you really love something and you want to learn something and you have an affinity of it, you're not aware of the danger," Goldberg said.

People who attend the Gallo show will get to share in the performers' passion for the blues.

"They can hear some of the old and some of the new of the blues and rock together," Goldberg said. "They can see how happy we are to play together and to relive those moments we had in Chicago."
- Modesto Bee- Lisa Milegan


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The Sons of Champlin, led by Bill Champlin, former member of the American iconic band “Chicago”, are as always musically evolving. The Sons started in 1965 in Marin County. Now it's forty five years later and of all the rock bands that exploded out of the San Francisco music scene in the '60s, they are the last band standing. The Sons' sound defies easy categorization, because after 45 years it is unique to the band. It's nothing like the folk-rock that inspired their San Francisco dance-hall contemporaries, such as Quicksilver Messenger Service and Jefferson Airplane but owes more to James Brown, Wilson Pickett and B.B. King. Sometimes merciless R&B, sometimes tinged with rock or reggae, sometimes deep in the blues, sometimes just its own thing, it is the unique product of a group of virtuoso musicians who have spent four decades absorbing the entire spectrum of American music. The reason that these guys play together becomes obvious with the first few notes of the first song and it gets steadily better for the next couple of hours. Although The Sons revolve around Bill Champlin's singing and songwriting, he distributes the spotlight throughout the performance to showcase the individual abilities of his band mates.

As front man, Hammond organist, guitarist and lead singer, Bill was a member of the platinum super-group Chicago for 28 years, writing much of the material that they recorded. Before joining that group, he picked up a pair of Grammies for his songwriting, penning hits for Earth, Wind and Fire ("After the Love is Gone") and George Benson ("Turn Your Love Around").

The addition of Tamara Champlin's vocals has brought even more soul to the band. Her credits run deeply, from singing with Rita Coolidge and writing for Paul Rodgers, to performing in movies, to fronting her own band, to songwriting.

Will Champlin, Bill and Tamara's son, has recently joined the Sons of Champlin. Will is an amazing talent who has already co-written a Grammy winning song, “Ordinary Me”, which is on Heather Headly's 2009 Gospel Album of the Year, “Audience of One”. Will sings and plays keyboards and guitar. His songs are bringing fans to their feet. And he is a son of the Champlins!

Geoff Palmer's expertise with the keyboards and vibes brings the Sons sound all the way back to when he joined the band in 1967. Geoff is a musician's musician and his contribution to the band has been ever present.

Jim Preston has held the drum seat since 1972. Jim's playing and singing is unmatched and makes him a sought-after session player. He has played with Moby Grape, Cold Blood, Dr. John, Norton Buffalo and more. He also performed on Sheryl Crow's Hallmark Christmas album featuring Booker T.

On guitar and vocals is Carmen Grillo, who played with Tower of Power from 1988 until 1997, and has also performed with Bill and Tamara for 30 years. Carmen owns and operates Big Surprise Music studio in Los Angeles.

On trumpet is Jeff Lewis, who has performed and/or recorded with Ray Charles, B.B. King on his Grammy winning “Duets” album, Boz Skaggs, Kenny Loggins, Huey Lewis and the News, Diana Krall, Robben Ford, Pete Escovedo and more.

Doug Rowan is a San Francisco based saxophonist. His current projects include Steve Lucky and The Rhumba Bums, Adam Theis' Brass Bows and Beats Hip Hop Symphony and more.

Curtis Ohlson toured for years as the bass player for music legends such as Ray Charles and Buddy Rich. Curtis then went on to work with numerous other successful artists, including: Branford Marsalis, Sheila E., George Duke, Bob Weir and more. Ohlson says: "I saw The Sons of Champlin at Winterland in SF when I was 14 years old and I have been a fan ever since, so performing with The Sons of Champlin is a dream come true for me!"

The Sons of Champlin boast a career that spans more than 4 decades with over 12 albums to their credit. They are much more than a heritage or nostalgia act and have garnered a solid fan base that has loved and followed them since the 1960's. Always growing and always keeping the audience moving to the soulful, funky groove of their music, the Sons of Champlin are as vibrant as ever and look forward to seeing you as they come to play in your town.