On Stage: Reverend Peyton overcame a lot to become a blues guitar ace

By Denny Dyroff, Entertainment Editor, The Times

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band

If it’s country blues and top-flight fingerpicking you’re looking for, then look in Reverend Peyton’s direction.

Reverend Peyton has performed many times at the Sellersville Theater (24 West Temple Avenue, Sellersville, 215-257-5808, www.st94.com) and he’s coming back again on November 16.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, a 2019 Blues Music Award nominee, is billed as “simply the greatest country-blues band in the world.” The trio, which includes the Reverend’s wife “Washboard” Breezy Peyton and drummer Max Senteney, is led by the Reverend Peyton, who most consider to be the premier fingerpicker playing today.

He is both a singularly compelling performer and a persuasive evangelist for the rootsy, country blues styles that captured his imagination early in life and inspired him and his band to make pilgrimages to Clarksdale, Mississippi to study under such blues masters as T-Model Ford, Robert Belfour, and David “Honeyboy” Edwards.

“The challenge of making the blues is that it takes work,” said Peyton, during a recent phone interview. “In terms of writing, the first thing you have to do is study – put in the time to see where this stuff comes from. Then, you have to write for yourself. It has to be personal.”

The band’s latest record, “Dance Songs for Hard Times,” was produced by Vance Powell (Jack White, Chris Stapleton) and debuted at #1 on the Billboard and iTunes Blues charts.

There has been no shortage of praise.

No Depression stated that “Peyton emphasizes his burly, commanding voice and eloquent original material, populating “Dance Songs for Hard Times” with catchy tracks that have the zing of classic pop music, only greasier.”

Rolling Stone wrote, “Their full-throttle version (of “Shake Your Money Maker”) deftly blends elements of roadhouse blues with the back-porch vibes of the Big Damn Band: listen to the clicks and pops produced by washboard player Breezy Peyton.”

American Songwriter said, “Like a trusted friend at a party, it grabs you by the hand and steadily walks you in; chatting you up as you come up the walk but leaving no doubt as to exactly when you’ve stepped through the front door. Brilliantly comfortable yet electrifying as all get out.”

“Dance Songs For Hard Times” was released on April 9, 2021, on the Family Owned label and distributed through Thirty Tigers. It reached No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s Blues Albums chart for the week of April 24, 2021.

‘With COVID, we waited until it was O.K.,” said Peyton. “It wasn’t until this year that things got back to normal. Unfortunately, a lot of venues closed because of the pandemic.

“Now, we’re on the road again – playing as well as ever. We’ve played a lot and we’re really hot.

“In the last few months, we’ve been hitting it really hard. We just spent six weeks in Europe – a lot of countries in western Europe. Normally, we play Europe one or two times a year.”

Peyton has been travelling his musical path for a long time.

“I’ve been playing music since I was 12,” said Peyton. “I played a lot of music and gave lessons. When I was 18, I was told by a doctor that I’d never be able to play again because I had issues with tendons in my hands.”

Doctors told Peyton that he would never be able to hold his left hand in fretting position again. At that point, he gave up on music.

“Two years later, I found a doctor who would operate,” said Peyton. “They had to cut away a bunch of scar tissue — in both hands. It was a miracle. Then, I met Breezy and the rest is history.”

Not long after the surgery, he met Breezy and the couple’s whirlwind romance and shared love of music inspired him to pursue his potential. Breezy took up the washboard, and by 2006 the members of the Rev. Peyton’s Big Damn Band had sold their possessions and taken to the road.

“The timing was perfect,” said Peyton. “I was in a pretty dark place because I had played guitar since I was a kid. It’s who I was. When I met Breezy, my hands were still in bandages. Two weeks later, I was playing guitar again. Breezy believed in the music.

“My hand is doing good now. I had this cyst that grew really big – ganglion cysts — Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is a group of inherited disorders that affect your connective tissues — primarily your skin, joints and blood vessel walls. Connective tissue is a complex mixture of proteins and other substances that provide strength and elasticity to the underlying structures in your body.

“You have to grind on the tendons,” said Peyton. “I can make them go away. I can open my hands wider than ever I’ve been really good. I’ve been healthy.”

Peyton is now playing his guitar better than ever.

“I like to create new music that is timeless,” said Peyton. “I like to write songs that are new but sound like they’re old. Blues should be timeless – and stand the test of time.”

“I first started listening to anything — classic rock then blues guys like Johnny Winter. I wanted to know who they listened to and through that I discovered guys like Muddy Waters.

“When I first heard finger-style country blues, it blew my mind. I became obsessed. I went all the way back to Charlie Patton. I realized that this was the roots of it. Charlie’s stuff is so fun — so great to listen to. Country blues is the root of it. Muddy Water and Howlin’ Wolf wanted to be Charlie Patton. Rural blues lends itself to storytelling.”

Peyton not only listened to rural blues; he lived the life of an old rural bluesman.

“We’ve been doing this for a lot of years,” said Peyton. “The first few years, we were homeless and lived in a van. We never had a rich benefactor — never had a record label. Everything we ever did was because people saw it and realized it matters. I’m really proud of what we’ve done.

“It’s still possible to make blues music that is fresh. I want to make new music and keep this stuff going. With blues, you have to be yourself. I wanted to take country blues to a new level, and I think that’s what we’ve been able to do.

“I think there’s something to be said for making albums. I think making albums is cool. I believe in doing it for the sake of music and art. I don’t mind fighting back.

“There is something about seeing a good musician and playing it live. It has to be experienced. The algorithm is king. It’s a strange world we’re living in.”

Video link for The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band — https://youtu.be/Tw1g_2NPjoI.

The show at the Sellersville Theater on November 16 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $22.50.

Other upcoming shows at the Sellersville Theater are Liz Longley on November 17, Joe Conklin on November 18 and comedian Bob Marley on November 19.

In the world of rock music, internationally famous supergroups have been around ever since the late 1960s with bands such as Cream and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. The tradition has continued through the present time and, as usual, most of these groups exist for just a short period of time.

Almost a full decade prior to the “British Invasion” featuring acts such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and the Who, another supergroup existed. This group was like a supernova with a very brief but very brilliant duration.

Million Dollar Quartet

On Tuesday December 4, 1956 in the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, there was an impromptu jam session that featured four of the major artists from rockabilly and the early days of rock and roll — Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.

Fortunately, the session was recorded when engineer Cowboy Jack Clement realized that something very special was happening.

That historic day has been celebrated with a hit musical appropriately called “Million Dollar Quartet.”

The original Tony Award-winning musical brought to life a legendary session that occurred on in early December 1956 when Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” who was responsible for launching the careers of each icon, brought the four musicians together at the Sun Records studio for the first and only time.

The Broadway play was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical for Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Levi Kreis.

A few years ago, a special version of “Million Dollar Quartet” was created – a holiday show titled “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas.”

From November 17-19, the Playhouse on Rodney Square (1007 North Market Street, Wilmington, Delaware, www.thegrandwilmington.org) is presenting a three-day, four-show run of “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas.”

The Playhouse will feature these musical greats – bringing them together to celebrate the most wonderful time of the year. Sun Records is decked out in Christmas splendor with a Christmas tree, garland, and mistletoe. It rings with the sounds of the season and the chart toppers that made these four famous.

This jukebox musical, written by Colin Escott, boasts a seasonal score of songs including “Blue Christmas,” “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “Rockin’ around the Christmas Tree,” “Silent Night,” “Jingle Bell Rock” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.”

“Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” lets the audience spend another magical night with incredible musical personalities that will create unforgettable new holiday memories. The gang is up to their usual antics in a joyful evening filled with nostalgic holiday hits, including “Run Run Rudolph,” “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,” and “Mele Kalikimaka.”

The cast in Wilmington features Garrett Forrestal as Jerry Lee Lewis, Kurt Jenkins as Carl Perkins, Peter Kendall as Sam Phillips, Kathleen Macari as Dyanne, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Alex Swindle as Elvis, and Michael Potter as Elvis/Perkins/Cash understudy.

“We just finished an all-day rehearsal here at the Playhouse,” said Michael Potter, during a phone interview Wednesday evening from the theater. “Friday will be the opening night for the tour and then we finish on December 23 in Spokane, Washington. After that, I’ll fly back home to Saratoga Springs, Utah.

“I’ve been doing ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ productions, but this is my first ‘Million Dollar Quartet Christmas’ show.

“This show starts where the original left off when the original picture was taken. That picture comes down at the end of the original and our picture is up there.”

Obviously, the show focuses on holiday standards – but not exclusively.

“There are a few non-holiday songs,” said Potter, who has played in several other productions of “MDQ” as both Cash and Elvis and has been in love with early rock and roll and classic country since his youth.

“We do ‘Don’t Be Cruel,’ which is an Elvis song, ‘Cotton Top,’ which was a Carl Perkins song and ‘Ring of Fire,’ which wasn’t in the original ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ production. People always want to hear that song, so we’re excited to be playing it.

“We also play ‘Chantilly Lace’ and a ‘Billboard Medley’ with ‘Que Sera Sera,’ ‘Let the Good Times Roll,’ ‘Hot Diggity’ and ‘Tutti Fruitti.’

“We play Elvis’ ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’ which is set to the melody of ‘Looking for Trouble, ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,’ ‘Jingle Bells’ ‘Mele Kalikimaka’ and ‘Run Run Rudolph.’”

Potter has performed a lot of Johnny Cash tributes. He also had the role of Cash in Norwegian Cruise Line’s “Million Dollar Quartet” aboard the Norwegian Getaway for a few seasons in a row, also playing Elvis in that show.
“I just finished performing at Drury Lane Theater in Chicago where I played Johnny Cash in their production of ‘Ring of Fire.’,” said Potter. “I flew here just in time to get started with this show.

‘One of the highlights of this show is ‘Run Run Rudolph’ done Chuck Berry style. It’s probably the ultimate rockabilly Christmas song ever. We play it last, so the show closes with a bang.”

In a geographical side note, the play is being presented in Wilmington – not far from where Perkins was involved in a serious auto accident more than six decades ago.

After playing a show in Norfolk, Virginia, on March 21, 1956, the Perkins Brothers Band headed to New York City for a March 24 appearance on NBC-TV’s Perry Como Show. Shortly before sunrise on March 22, on Route 13 between Dover and Woodside, Delaware, their vehicle hit the back of a pickup truck and went into a ditch containing about 12 inches of water.

Perkins was pulled unconscious from the water. He sustained three fractured vertebrae in his neck, a severe concussion, a broken collar bone, and lacerations all over his body. Perkins remained unconscious for an entire day. The driver of the pickup truck, Thomas Phillips, a 40-year-old farmer, died when he was thrown into the steering wheel.

In another Delaware connection, Wilmington-based George Thorogood and the Destroyers covered Perkins’ song “Dixie Fried” on their 1985 album, “Maverick.”

Co-incidentally, two days after the Wilmington Delaware run, the play will make a one-night stand in Wilmington, North Carolina.

Video link for “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” – https://youtu.be/5AfNXj97BAA.

The show at The Playhouse will be performed on November 17 at 8 p.m., November 18 at 2 and 8 p.m. and November 19 at 2 p.m.

Ticket prices start at $50.

The Grand Wilmington presents shows at several different venues in the heart of Wilmington – the Playhouse at Rodney Square, Copeland Hall, The Grand Opera House and the Baby Grand.

On November 18, Graham Nash will perform at Copeland Hall and Musicians Giving Back: A Tribute to the Legends of Motown will play the Baby Grand.

On November 17, Bees Deluxe will be making a return appearance at Jamey’s House of Music (32 South Lansdowne Avenue, Lansdowne, 215-477-9985, www.jameyshouseofmusic.com) – and making everybody happy…the band’s fans, Jamey and the band itself.

Fronted by British guitar monster, Conrad Warre, with Carol Band on keyboards, harmonica and vocals. Bees Deluxe is grounded by Jim Gildea on bass and vocals and Paul Giovine on drums.

“We’ve played Jamey’s before,” said Warre. “It’s like dying and going to heaven.

Band added, “The people are there for the music.”

Bees Deluxe is an anything-but-basic blues band. Hell-bent on a mission to drag the electric-analog blues of 60’s Chicago, the Blue Note catalog and the funk of New Orleans into the 21st century, the band has created a genre-bending sound it describes as “acid blues.”
Bees Deluxe has won audiences from Maine to the Mississippi with their arresting and highly danceable originals and their innovative interpretation of less-traveled tunes by artists like Etta James, Joe Zawinul, J.B. Lenoir, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Albert Collins and the three Kings.

The musicians each bring their own experience to the mix. Band was recruited from jazz bands that were playing the Boston circuit, notably Ryles Jazz Club in Cambridge. Giovine was discovered by the band playing rock and roll in a slew of punk rock clubs in New England and Gildea was drafted by drummer Giovine after sharing the stage with him at several country-bro festivals. Warre was in a high-school band in London with Paul Kossoff of the band Free.

“I’m from London – from Notting Hill Gate, where the riots were,” said Warre. “I wrote Two-Tone music and toured with The English Beat and Joe Jackson. I moved to New York and played a lot at CBGB’s.

“I found Carol playing jazz at Ryles Jazz Club in Boston. I got Paul in the band because he knew who Bernard Purdie was. Jim was a friend of his and they played country blues together.”

Bees Deluxe has played with Ronnie Earl, Joanne Shaw Taylor, Matt Schofield, Roomful of Blues, Walter Trout and David Maxwell. The four-piece band celebrates the music of B.B. King, Robert Cray, Albert King, Tinsley Ellis, Freddie King and others.

So, the band’s background includes blues, rock, English ska, punk rock, jazz and country rock. Its current sound is all of that – and none of that.

“Our sound is more modern – more progressive – more edge,” said Band.

Warre, who is a British football fan and supporter of the Arsenal Gunners, said, “The communality is acid rock and blues. So many bands play the same songs the same way every night. When we play, we stretch it out and change it always. Arrangements are made up on the fly.”

Bees Deluxe push the limits of the blues, color outside the lines of convention, and do it with impeccable musicality, originality, and a touch of insanity.

“This kind of music appeals to fans of all ages – if they get to hear it,” said Warre. “We’re at our best when people are dancing.”

“Or if they’re hooting and hollering,” added Ware. “We adjust our music to the audience. If it’s not a dance crowd, we can stretch it out.”

Hooting, hollering, stretching it out, dancing, jamming – expect a little bit of everything from the crowd at Jamey’s on Friday night.”

Video link for Bees Deluxe – https://youtu.be/vcl0t_Ux26g.

The show on November 17 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.

On November 18, Jamey’s will host the Gabe Stillman Band.

Stillman, an accomplished blues guitarist from Williamsport, seems to have found a home-away-from home in Delaware County. This will be his fifth concert at Jamey’s in the last year-and-a-half.

“I’ve stayed busy all through the last year-and-a-half,” said Stillman, during a phone call from his home in the birthplace of Little League Baseball.

Stillman was busiest during a two-week period in April 2021.

“I went to Austin in April and recorded my first album,” said Stillman. “It was produced by Anton Funderbergh at Wire Recording.”

Funderbergh is top-flight guitarist and the bandleader of Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets since 1978. Their style incorporates both Chicago blues and Texas blues. He is also one of the most respected producers in Texas’ capitol city.

“I met Anton at the International Blues Challenge a couple years ago,” said Stillman. “I’ve been a fan of his since I was a teenager. He’s in my top 10 list of blues players. And I loved his production work with other people.”

Stillman’s album, “Just Say the Word,” was released in August by the Vizztone Label Group.

“It’s a 15-song album – 13 originals and two covers,” said Stillman. “The covers were Bill Withers’ ‘Friend of Mine’ and Bobby Blue Bland’s ‘I’ll Take Care of You.’

“When the album came out in August, it debuted at Number 10 on the Billboard Magazine Blues chart. It was also named one of the top blues albums of 2021 by Roots Music Report.

“I brought my rhythm section Bassist Colin Beatty and drummer Ray Hangen – down to Austin. In the studio, we used Taylor Streiff, a piano player from St. Louis, Austin’s Texas Horns and had Sue Foley and Anton playing guitar on one track.”

It was a big step forward for Stillman, who has been studying guitar for almost a decade-and-a-half.

“I started taking guitar lessons when I was 11,” said Stillman. “I’m 25 now so I’ve been playing for 14 years.

“When I started out, I wanted to play heavy rock and heavy metal. Listening to guitarists in those genres, I realized that their playing was very fast and technically complicated. A teacher told me to learn rock by getting into the blues.

“So, I started listening to a lot of blues guitarists like B.B. King, Freddie King, Albert King, Buddy Guy and Elmore James. I was also listening to guitarists such as Duane Allman and Derek Trucks. I realized – hey, I can do this. I got hooked on blues and R&B – and jazz. When I was 13 or 14, I started to perform live.”

A key stage in Stillman’s development came at the Uptown Music Collective in Williamsport.

For 20 years, the Uptown Music Collective has been providing exceptional modern music education grounded in traditional educational principles. Its programs engage students through an emphasis on modern genres including rock, pop, soul, blues, country, R&B, and funk.

“I studied at the Uptown Music Collective when I was younger,” said Stillman. “I also taught there after I got out of college.”

Stillman spent his college years in Boston where he got a degree in “Professional Music” with an emphasis on guitar performance and songwriting.

“I started my band in 2015 after graduating from Berklee,” said Stillman, whose honors include making it to “Final Eight” of the 35th Annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis Tennessee.

“My band has been primarily a trio but at the Blues Challenge, I made it to the finals with the addition of a harmonica player in the group.

“My bass player Colin Beatty, who is also from Williamsport, has been with me the whole time. We’ve had different drummers come in and out. Right now, our drummer is Ray Hangen from Buffalo, New York.

“With the trio, we play mostly blues and American rock. There also is a little mix of R&B in there.”

Video link for Gabe Stillman — https://youtu.be/QGIJgb51Kw8.

The show on November 18 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 at the door.

Jamey’s features a popular “Jazz at Jamey’s” on Thursday featuring many of the best singers in the region performing a set from 7-8 p.m. with the backing of the Dave Reiter Trio and occasional guest musicians.

This week’s guest singer is Starlene Bey.

Bey’s musical roots began in South Philadelphia where she was singing before the age of five. Her first big performance was her kindergarten’s graduation ceremony. She sang her very first solo, “Me & My Teddy Bear,” and that was the beginning. Most of her influence came from her musical family, the smooth velvety tenor voice of her uncle Salome Bey, her Father Melvin’s deep baritone sound and the countertenor voice of her Godfather Sam.

Together they sang amazing harmony and recorded albums as The Brotherhood. Bey followed her dad’s suggestion to join a Gospel church and sing alto in the choir. She became a choir member and lead singer, which ignited her love of God. That musical shift was life changing. That was when she discovered her unique vocal power.

Bey was educated musically in high school where she joined the school orchestra. She learned to play and read music and earned First Chair Honors by mastering the viola. Bey honed her vocal skills as a member of elite vocal groups, gospel choirs, music competitions and live band jam sessions.

When she was still a teen, Bey recorded with jazz artists Alfi Pollit, Byard Lancaster and Stacey Harcum at Morning Star Studios. Her current recordings are with Emmy Award Winner Bill Jolly’s Studio and Sera Phi Studios in Philly, New York’s Jam Box Studio. They have been mastered by Grammy Award Winner Glenn Barratt’s Morning Star Studios in Norristown. Impressively, Bey’s music has been produced by the legendary Norman Connors. Connors has discovered and produced many great singers including Jean Carne, Michael Henderson, Phyllis Hyman and Glenn Jones.

Lauren Calve, who is performing at Elkton Music Hall (107 North Street, Elkton, Md., www.elktonmusichall.com), has just released her debut album, “Shift.”

“Shift” is more than a title; it is an aural assessment of where Calve was when putting the songs together for the LP.

“I taught myself to play guitar when I was 15 or 16,” said Calve, during a phone interview from her home in Maryland. I played covers and went to open mics until about 10 years ago.

“Once I started writing my own music, that’s when things started to click. I was really into roots music. The new album, which is my first full length, is a little bit of a shift. While it still has some of a roots influence, it has a sound that is a little more generic.”

Calve released her debut EP, “Between the Creek and the Tracks” in 2014. She released a pair of singles in 2018 – “Be My Home” and “Sunny Day” – and followed with the “Light Dark” EP later that year. Next was the “Wildfire” EP in 2020.

This year, Calve put out three more singles – “Shift,” “Everything at the Same Time” and “Alchemy” – prior to the recent release of the “Shift” album.

“My early music was definitely acoustic blues – Delta Blues – slide guitar, resonator, lap steel,” said Calve. “I was listening to blues greats like Son House, Elmore James, Robert Johnson and Lightning Hopkins.

“I started listening to a lot of folk recordings – Lomax recording and Smithsonian Folkways albums. I also loved Chicago blues. I definitely listened to it all.

“When I was first writing, I was surprised to hear these blues influenced come through in my writing and vocals. Blues is a through line for everything. Some of that made it onto ‘Shift.’ I wanted to take my recording experience to the next level.”

“Shift” was recorded in Nashville at 3Sirens Music Group with producer, engineer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Dex Green (Margo Price, Aaron Lee Tasjan, Allison Russell). Green brought heavy hitters into the studio: Fred Eltringham on drums (ACM Drummer of the Year, Drumeo Country Drummer of the Year, Sheryl Crow, Willie Nelson), Audley Freed on guitar (Sheryl Crow, The Black Crowes), Robert Kearns on bass (Sheryl Crow, Lynyrd Skynyrd), Marlon Patton on drums (Larkin Poe, Lera Lynn), Jared Reynolds on bass (Ben Folds) and Joe Costa on the board (Ben Folds).

“He took songs that had never been road tested, songs that went directly from my living room to the studio, and effortlessly brought them to life,” said Calve. “Nashville is home to some of the best musicians in the world.

I felt like I got to work with the best of the best.  It wasn’t just their technical ability; they approached every song with true artistry and infectious enthusiasm. As a developing artist and singer/songwriter, you have to hire all these players.

“I went down to Nashville four times in 2020 and 2021. Each time, I came down with a new batch of songs. It gave me more time to write songs – thought-provoking songs that were more reflective of what I was going through.”

The shift was more than musical.

During the 14-month writing and recording process, Calve was thriving on pushing herself outside of her comfort zone. In turn, Shift was the catalyst for major paradigm shifts in her life.  Several months after wrapping up the album she ended an engagement and six-year relationship. And she finally stopped drinking after years of failed attempts, and the writing process forced her to examine the ways she had limited herself.

“There was a shift in songs and a shift in personality,” said Calve. “I was going through some serious personal changes. All the songs had this yearning for change. I wanted to make an album not a collection of songs.”

Video link for Lauren Calve — https://youtu.be/uJegCHsActQ.

Lauren Calve’s show at the Elkton Music Hall, which has Rhett Miller as the headliner, will start at 7:30 p.m.

Tickets are $12 and $15.

Other upcoming shows at the Elkton Music Hall are Elkton (107 North Street, Elkton, Md., www.elktonmusichall.com) are Rachel Baiman with special guest Caleb Stine on November 18 and Olivia Reynolds on November 22.

This weekend’s Reading Blues Fest (www.readingbluesfest.com), which runs from November 17-19, will have a lot of top-flight blues musicians including Ruthie Foster and Jimmy Vivino.

Another top caliber headliner will be Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials on November 18 at DoubleTree by Hilton – Grand Ballroom (701 Penn Street, Reading).

Electrifying Chicago blues masters Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials — recently named by the Chicago Reader as the city’s 2022 Blues Band Of the Year – will give six live performances at South Jazz Club (600 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, www.southjazzkitchen.com) from July 14-16.

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, beloved around the world as reigning champs of the raucous, slide-stoked Chicago sound, have spent more than 30 years cranking out high-octane blues on a series of critically acclaimed albums and in thousands of club, theatre and festival performances around the globe.

With sales of more than 120,000 units under its belt, this legendary band is captured at the top of its game on its latest album – “The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials.”

Lil’ Ed is Ed Williams, Chicago-born blues guitarist, singer and songwriter who has risen to fame on the strength of his standout slide guitar work.

“I wasn’t working as much as I usually do because of the pandemic,” said Williams, during a phone interview from his home in Hawthorn Woods, which is located approximately 40 miles northwest of downtown Chicago.

“I did some acoustic shows and some screenings – low key shows. I actually played a lot and did a lot of screenings, but it wasn’t the same as a real live concert. In an ordinary year, we’d play around 200 shows a year.”

“The Big Sound of Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials” is bursting with Lil’ Ed’s rollicking slide-work and raw-boned vocals on a joyous blend of burning boogies, romping shuffles and heart-stopping slow blues. The ever-ready Blues Imperials continue to be his perfect sidekicks — laying down greasy, percolating grooves with reckless precision.

Lil’ Ed ‘s backing band — The Blues Imperials — are bassist James “Pookie” Young, guitarist Mike Garrett and drummer Kelly Littleton.

“I’ve always used a four-piece band — two guitars, bass and drums,” said Williams, during a recent phone interview. “Kelly, Mike and Pookie are my guys. This is a really tight band. These guys have been with me for about 30 years.”

Williams and his half-brother Pookie Young, received childhood encouragement and tutelage from their uncle, blues guitarist, songwriter and recording artist J. B. Hutto.

“J.B. would come and play for my family,” said Williams. “Slide guitar was the instrument for me because it shimmied. J.B. would play his slide and the 40-watt light bulbs in our house would dim.

“I started playing guitar when I was 11 or 12. J.B. would always play songs by Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and Elmore James. The Muddy Waters songs always had a lot of slide guitar. That’s what I really liked a lot.”

It’s been 30 years since Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials released their debut album “Roughhousin’” on Alligator Records. All of Li’l Ed’s records over the last three decades have been on Alligator Records, a Chicago-based label specializing in blues music.

“Back around 1985, I was playing a North Side club here in Chicago and Bruce (Iglauer — producer and owner of Alligator Records) heard me play,” said Williams. “He invited me to play a couple tracks on a compilation album called ‘The New Bluebloods.’

“I went to their studio and did 15 songs. Then, we kept going. We cut 32 songs in a couple hours. That was where all the songs from ‘Roughhousin’ came from.

“I signed with Alligator Records then. Bruce and I shook hands and we’re still together 30 years later.”

Williams has started working on his next album for Alligator, but no release date has been set.

“I kind of write as I go because I write about things that I see or little things people say,” said Williams. “A good example is my song ‘Icicles in My Meatloaf.’ My wife had made meatloaf — some of it was for dinner and she froze the rest for later.

“When she defrosted it and served it, it wasn’t heated up all the way. My mother-in-law started to eat it, came across a part that was still frozen and said — there’s an icicle in my meatloaf.

“You get that kind of vibe going. I look around me. I try to focus on what’s going on around me in the world — all the things that happen in everyday living in all our lives. That’s why people relate to my songs.

“I have a little studio in my house. I’m always sitting down plucking on my guitar. I get a groove going and then decide if it’s a heavy song or as happy song.”

In 2013, the band was awarded the Living Blues Critics’ and Readers’ Awards for Best Live Performer. The band won this same distinction in the 2012 and 2011 Living Blues Critics’ Poll. The group won the coveted 2009 Blues Music Award for Band Of The Year, the same honor they received in 2007.

In his live shows, Williams presents fans with an overview of his career — and a heavy dose of the blues.

“I’ve got so many songs that I can play,” said Williams. “Every show, I try to mix up the material — old songs from 25 years ago along with newer songs. I also throw in some covers — Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Elmore James — all the good ones.

“I’m always working on songs – trying to find new material.

Williams comes to the blues naturally. He was born in Chicago on April 8, 1955 in the heart of Chicago’s tough West Side and grew up surrounded by music. His uncle J.B. Hutto, taught him how to feel, not just play the blues.

Willliams and Young spent their teen years making music together, and in 1975 formed the first incarnation of The Blues Imperials.

They played their first gig at a West Side club called Big Duke’s Blue Flame, splitting the $6 take four ways. Over the next few years, the group played every club in the neighborhood but still needed day jobs to pay the bills. Williams worked ten hours a day as a buffer at the Red Carpet Car Wash while Young drove a school bus.

Through relentless touring, the group became tighter with each performance. The band’s spontaneous live show became legendary among blues fans worldwide.

Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials have played the Chicago Blues Festival, The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival, The Tampa Bay Blues Festival, The San Diego Blues Festival, The Pennsylvania Blues Festival and dozens of other festivals around the country.

They also have performed at festivals in Canada, Great Britain, France, Spain, Sweden, Denmark, Poland, Japan, Australia, India, Turkey and Panama.

“I’m a fun bluesman,” said Williams. “A lot of blues songs are sad. Me – I’m a happy blues player.”

Video link for Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials — https://youtu.be/B2A6p9OA-EY.

The show at the Reading Blues Fest on November 18 will start at 1 p.m.

Chapel Hill, North Carolina has a lot to like – a great university (University of North Carolina), one of the best coffee roasters in country (Counter Culture Coffee), exciting collegiate basketball rivalries (UNC, Duke, N.C. State) and an innovative band that combines a traditional string band format with a variety of modern influences (Mipso).

Mipso, which is headlining a show at Johnny Brenda’s (1201 North Frankford Avenue, Philadelphia, www.johnnybrendas.com) on November 19, features Wood Robinson (Bass, Vocals), Jacob Sharp (Mandolin, Vocals), Joseph Terrell (Guitar, Vocals) and Libby Rodenbough (Fiddle, Vocals).

Mipso formed in 2012 as an excuse to play music between classes in Chapel Hill. Terrell came from a family of banjo-playing uncles and a guitarist grandma, and he’d gotten curious again about the string band music he’d heard as a kid. Sharp was raised on equal parts Doc Watson and Avett Brothers in the mountains of North Carolina, and he was hunting for a chance to sing some harmonies.

Robinson added a Charlie Haden-esque interest in bridging jazz and grass sensibilities on the double bass, and Rodenbough soon joined on fiddle, unsatisfied by her classical violin training and attracted to Americana.When Mipso started out a decade ago, it was viewed as a rising young string band from North Carolina.

Mipso played a lot in the Research Triangle area, built up a strong fan base and eventually began to spread out to new areas. The band released its debut album “Dark Holler Pop” in 2013.

“Remarkably, it’s the same four of us,” said Sharp, during a phone interview Wednesday afternoon. “We started at 19 and we’re still doing it 10 years later. When we started, we were in college at UNC and were just playing for fun.

“We’re all from North Carolina and met in college. Actually, Joseph and I met in hih school when we were touring the UNC campus. We started talking, ditched the tour and started playing music together. I graduated in 2013 with degrees in geography and international studies.”

When Mipso started, all four members were students at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The three guys graduated in 2013 and Rodenbough collected her diploma in 2014.

“Making music is our living,” said Sharp. “The music industry wants acts to stay the same. That’s not us. We’ve always been willing to change.”

Their first album, “Dark Holler Pop,” produced by Andrew Marlin (Watchhouse), included Terrell-penned fan favorites “Louise” and “Couple Acres Greener” and turned Mipso into a full-blown touring band. Although it hung out on the Billboard Bluegrass Top 10, its sonic mission statement was in the name. “Dark Holler Pop” was groovier and catchier than its string band contemporaries.

2015’s “Old Time Reverie” earned them an invitation to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade where they rolled down Fifth Avenue on a 12-foot bucket of fried chicken. They got to have breakfast on the green room bus with Pat Benatar and Questlove, but in hindsight the whole experience was a little beside the point. They doubled down on touring, playing upwards of 175 shows a year, honing a telepathic, sibling-esque connection onstage.

2017’s “Coming Down The Mountain,” produced by Brad Cook (Bon Iver, Waxahatchee) added drums, bass, and pedal steel and put the band on bigger stages with an expanded Americana sound, including the Rodenbough-fronted title track, another streaming hit and live staple.

Post-pandemic Mipso is starting fresh again with a new album just released in August on 1RPM.

The band is currently coming down the home stretch of their extensive North American tour in support of its powerfully poignant sixth studio album, “Book of Fools.”

“We recorded the album in Eau Claire, Wisconsin because that’s where our producer Shane Leonard is,” said Sharp. “We also did some recording in California – Tiny Telephone Oakland – because we wanted to record to tape.

“We had a lot of time to make it. We pulled ourselves off the road and had writing sessions. It was 15 months in the making. We wrote 40 songs, recorded 14 and used 10 for the album.

“There are some definite changes on the new album. It’s different in sonic tone – more electric, more synthesizer. We’re still a string band – but with more energy.

“For the live show, we’re playing songs from all six albums – equal representation. Our show is more geared up tempo-wise – like Americana-influenced rock.”

Video link for Mipso – https://youtu.be/dks1OPAlUJU.

The show at Johnny Brenda’s on November 19 will start at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $20.

Other upcoming shows at Johnny Brenda’s are Pansy Division on November 16, Bit Brigade on November 17, and Squawk Brothers on November 21.

Many questions that were left unanswered in “The Wizard of Oz” were answered at a later date — questions such as what the witches of Oz were doing before they encountered Dorothy and how they got to be the way they were.

They were answered in “Wicked,” the hit musical based on the best-selling novel by Gregory Maguire. “Wicked,” the fourth-longest running Broadway production,” is a winner of 15 major awards — including a Grammy Award and three Tony Awards. The show features the music and lyrics of Stephen Schwartz.

The musical, which has already had several sold-out runs in Philadelphia dating back to the early 2000s, is back for another hot-selling visit. “Wicked” is running now through November 26 at the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust streets, Philadelphia, www.kimmelculturalcampus.org.)

“Wicked” is the winner of over 100 international awards, including Grammy® and Tony Awards®. Since opening in 2003, “Wicked” has been performed in over 100 cities in 16 countries around the world (U.S., Canada, United Kingdom, Ireland, Japan, Germany, Holland, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, The Philippines, Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland, and China) and has thus far been translated into six languages: Japanese, German, Dutch, Spanish, Korean, and Portuguese. “Wicked” has been seen by over 60 million people worldwide and has amassed over $5 billion in global sales.

The production is directed by Tony Award® winner Joe Mantello with musical staging by Tony Award® winner Wayne Cilento. Wicked is produced by Marc Platt, Universal Stage Productions, The Araca Group, Jon B. Platt, and David Stone.

The ultra-popular show depicts what the witches of Oz were doing before they encountered Dorothy and how they got to be the way they were.

“Wicked”, which carries the subtitle “the untold story of the witches of Oz”, tells the story of two girls who meet in the Land of Oz. The one born with emerald green skin is smart, fiery and misunderstood. The other is beautiful, ambitious and very popular.

The show tells the tale of how these two unlikely friends end up as Elphaba, the Wicked Witch of the West, and Glinda, the Good Witch. Their initial rivalry turns into the unlikeliest of friendships…until the world decides to call one “good,” and the other one “wicked.”

Madame Morrible is the headmistress of Shiz University’s Crage Hall, which Elphaba and Glinda attend. Elphaba and her friends suspect Morrible to be responsible for the murder of Doctor Dillamond.

At one point, Madame Morrible proposes that Elphaba, Galinda, and Nessarose become future behind-the-scenes rulers in Oz, a proposal that they never willingly accept.

Elphaba suspects that Madame Morrible has at least some magical powers and may have indeed controlled the fates of the three women. It remains unknown whether Elphaba murdered her or if she died of natural causes minutes before Elphaba’s attempt.

The cast features Celia Hottenstein as Glenda, Olivia Valli as Elphaba and Kathy Fitzgerald as Madame Morrible.

With a thrilling score that includes the hits “Defying Gravity,” “Popular” and “For Good,” “Wicked” has been hailed by The New York Times as “the defining musical of the decade” and by Time Magazine as “a magical Broadway musical with brains, heart, and courage.”  NBC Nightly News called the hit musical “the most successful Broadway show ever.”

With a thrilling score that includes the hits “Defying Gravity,” “Popular” and “For Good,” Wicked has been hailed by The New York Times as “the defining musical of the decade” and by Time Magazine as “a magical Broadway musical with brains, heart, and courage.”  NBC Nightly News called the hit musical “the most successful Broadway show ever.”

It’s an amazing family show. It’s a great Broadway production. The songs are incredible. The dancing is amazing. It’s funny. It’s relatable. Everyone knows the story of the Wizard of Oz.

Video link for “Wicked” – https://youtu.be/WNIuOrz0Gt8.

“Wicked” is running now through November 26 at the Academy of Music. Ticket prices start at $30.

Uptown! Knauer Performing Arts Center (226 North High Street, West Chester, www.uptownwestchester.org) is presenting one original act and two tribute bands this weekend.

The schedule features Sara Michaels- Chapter One: Full Circle Album Release Party on November 16, AM Radio Tribute Band on November 17 and 33 1/3 LIVE’s Killer Queen Experience on November 18.

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