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I started a quest to find terrific blues music and incredible musicianship when I was just a little kid. I also have a tremendous appreciation of fine musical instruments and equipment. One of my greatest joys all of my life was sharing my finds with my friends. I'm now publishing my journey. I hope that you come along!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise #22 - Stilladog Rides Again

This was my fifth Blues Cruise and this marks the third review of the LRBC I’ve done for Bman’s Blues Report.  I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve become a well-seasoned cruiser by now, or if it’s because I had some close friends join me on this cruise, or if the music was any better, or if the islands were more friendly, but this was the best Blues Cruise yet for me!

If you haven’t heard me say it before, I’ll start off with these words of wisdom.  A Blues Cruise vacation is exactly what you make it. You don’t even have to be a fan of blues music to have the time of your life, but it helps!  You can listen to as much music as you want starting as early as 10:30AM and going non-stop somewhere on the ship until 6:00AM.  One night I wandered into the Crows Nest at 5:00AM and listened to JP Soars jam until 5:30AM when they finally called it a night… except for one thing, it was already 6:30AM because we had crossed from the Eastern time zone to the Atlantic time zone at 2 o’clock.

So what I’m saying is you can’t possibly see it all. I know I missed some epic jams but I also saw some great stuff and came away with a new appreciation for several artists (as I always do).  

As all cruises do, it started out with a Sail Away Party on the pool deck. This one was hosted by Curtis Salgado.  Curtis has fought off some very serious health problems including cancer over the past 7 or 8 years yet his voice never sounded better.   I think through the course of the week he brought out his harp and jammed with just about everyone too.

Super Chikan
Next up was one of my –any many other’s–  favorites, Super Chikan.  My friends who were virgin cruisers enjoyed Super Chikan immensely.  From his custom “chiktar” made from a ceiling fan motor to his famous rooster crow, to ending every song with his catch phrase “Somebody shoot that thing!”  He put smiles on all the faces. I knew what to expect and I must say Super Chikan was in excellent form.  His sets are always great fun.  

The first morning, I attended the Returnee Party.  I walked to the venue with Scrap Iron, former manager for Little Milton and co-MC of the Returnee Party (along with Big Llou from BB King’s Bluesville on Sirius Radio).  I asked Scrap who we were going to see figuring if he’s introducing the act he knows who it is. All Scrap said was “They told me it was going to be something special. But they wouldn’t say who it is.”

When Scrap Iron finally did the introduction he told the audience just what he had told me privately.  And he brought on the All-Girls  All-Star Blues Band!  They really set the bar high right off the bat!  This band consisted of triple guitars, Debbie Davies, Ana Popovic, and Samantha Fish!  On keys was Eden Brent.  On bass was Danielle Schnebelen from Trampled Under Foot.  And on vocals in addition to the singing talents of those already mentioned there was Sista Monica Parker, Tasha Taylor, and the great Denise LaSalle.  On drums was the consummate professional, Tony Braunagel  (lucky dude!).  The highlights of this set for me were a) anything sung by Denise LaSalle, and b) the cover of ZZ Top’s “Tush” sung by Eden Brent.  Free drinks aside, this was a party you didn’t want to miss!   
All Girls All-Star Blues Band

While the Returnee Party was taking place, the Virgins had a party of their own on the pool deck with the Selwyn Birchwood Band. Normally I don’t mention this party because I haven’t been a virgin cruiser since the inception of Bman’s Blues Report. But my virgin friends who attended were very impressed with IBC Award Winner Selwyn Birchwood, who himself was a virgin cruiser.

Soon after, this whole cruise just melted into one big party for me.  I will only write about the things that really made an impression on me (there are many) and will not attempt to go in chronological order.  Quite frankly, I believe my brain cells that kept track of time were lost somewhere in the Caribbean, most likely during Lil’ Eds set at Margaritaville on Grand Turk.  But some of these sets were so memorable I’ll never forget them.

One of the most impressive performers on this cruise was Ana Popovic and her new big band,  Mo’ Better Love.   After growing up in Serbia, she now calls Memphis home and there is a definite Memphis sound to this band.  I’ve seen Ana probably 4 or 5 times over the years beginning back in 2006.  Back then, she struggled with English, both speaking and singing. In those days I remember saying “this girl can really play but I wish she’d just keep her mouth shut.”  We’ll let me tell you with each passing year and chance to see her she’s gotten better both on guitar and in English.  Honestly, the metamorphosis that has occurred for her has been amazing to watch.  She is now a master on guitar and speaks very clearly and sings beautifully in English.   When I got a chance to talk to her I told her I know how hard she has worked on both and how much it is appreciated by her fans.  I saw her play at least twice on this cruise in addition to the aforementioned Returnee Party and the band was a joy to see each time. 
Ana Popovic

The Zydeco band for this cruise –every cruise has one– was Corey Ledet and His Zydeco Band. This band featured Lil Buck Sinegal on guitar although he only got limited chances to solo.  They were very popular with cruisers.  They did zydeco versions of songs by as diverse artists as Bob Marley, Guns & Roses, and Cheap Trick, in addition to some fine material of their own.

Lil Ed  (photo courtesy of Michael Udell)
I wore my fez for the Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials sets of which I saw 3.  Ed was without a doubt one of the most popular artists. The “Ed Heads” were out in full force for all of them, particularly for his land event at Margaritaville on Grand Turk where you could spot a fez here and there on people in the pool while the Blues Imperials jammed on.  <pic of Lil Ed>

In addition to playing numerous sets Lil Ed and the Blues Imperials were the house band for two showings of the Joe Plummer play, “Nothing But The Blues.”  Just WOW!  This play is set at Theresa’s Lounge in Chicago in the early 1980s.  It’s the story of a small blues club in a basement in Chicago that culminates in what we now know as the Theresa Needham Award given annually at the Chicago Blues Festival for outstanding service to the blues community .  To find out more about the history of the real life Theresa’s Lounge, click here:'s/Theresa's.htm

Southern Hospitality (Victor Wainwright, JP Soars, Damon Fowler) were another band who absolutely wowed many cruisers.  I guess many of them were unaware of this band but I not only was familiar with SoHo (as they prefer to be called now to eliminate any confusion between them and Royal Southern Brotherhood) but also each of the guys as solo artists.  In addition to their own smokin’ sets,  Wainwright was hugely popular as Piano Bar host where the jams last until the sun comes up.  He was often accompanied by JP Soars who was also a regular in the Crow’s Nest for late night jams. 

Kenny Wayne Shepherd was a “headliner” of sorts mainly due to his popularity.  His sets continue to be professionally done but with little but manufactured passion for what he’s doing.  However, in a pool deck jam hosted by Trampled Under Foot,  Kenny and TUF guitarist, Nick Schnebelen  engaged in a legendary  jam.  It was the first time I saw Kenny Wayne really seem to have fun playing guitar since I first saw him in 2002 at the Chesapeake Blues Fest.  This jam was the talk of the cruise.

Marquise Knox and Selwyn Birchwood each played a land gig on the island of Anguilla.  They sounded good.  But I cannot really say how good because the venue was totally inadequate for viewing beyond a few dozen people and the sound system was not the greatest either.  This trip billed as The Ultimate Beach Party and sometimes known as The Chilla in Anguilla came up far short of expectations although a day on the beach drinking beer and listening to blues is always fun.

Tab Benoit was great.  His sets were wonderful. And he practically commandeered the Crows Nest jams to the point that we started calling it Tab’s Nest!  He could be found up there jamming almost every night and was frequently spotted playing drums while other people –often JP Soars or Selwyn Birchwood – took over guitar duty.   He also hosted a Bingo game to raise money for the Voice of the Wetlands which was hilarious.  I particularly liked his story of playing golf with Willie Nelson!

I did not get to see but a tiny bit of Sugar Ray & The Bluetones but I did hear their guitarist Monster Mike Welch a few times and he is another artist who has matured into a really top notch musician.

Tommy Castro, who is on every cruise, had a CD release party for his new album The Devil You Know which was very entertaining and his jams with Debbie Davies and Chris Cain were the highlights.

Chris Cain was again the supreme guitarist on the ship.  He was often seen playing with Debbie Davies. And they were part of the Legendary R&B Revue along with The Painkillers.  I guess those West Coast blues folks stick together.  His set in the Queens Lounge (called Theresa’s Lounge for this cruise) was great. 
  And few besides Theodis Ealey were willing to cut heads with him when it was his turn to host the jam.  

One of the most entertaining sets I’ve ever seen anywhere was turned in by what was billed as the Down Home Blues Extravaganza.  It featured the Mel Waiters band with Theodis Ealey on guitar, Latimore on keys, and blues hall of famer, Denise LaSalle.  The highlight of this set was the 15 minute version of Snap, Crackle, and Pop by Denise.  She had me practically rolling on the deck laughing as she described how to “make that coochie snap, crackle and pop” in song while poking fun at Theodis, Bobby Rush, and Clarence Carter.   Theodis Ealey was a guitarist I gained much new respect for on this cruise.  It was almost like I discovered him for the first time.

Finally, I went to a guitar summit of sorts hosted by Debbie Davies where Ana Popovic, Marquise Knox, Monster Mike Welch, Chris Cain, John Hammond, and Nick Schnebelen all talked about how they got started and how their styles developed.  It was very telling to hear how many of them started listening to their parents records at a young age. John Hammond whose father’s work in recording was legendary was to be expected.  But Ana Popovic said that all her father had in the house in the former  Yugoslavia was blues, soul and r&b records from America.  And Chris Cain saying his dad drove a truck yet they had the best stereo system around and how all his dad’s blues and soul records ended up in his room.  Or how Cain’s dad took him to see Ray Charles, Charles Brown, and BB King concerts as a youngster.   Very enlightening. 
Guitar Summit

As usual, I’ve left some people out.  Never got to see Otis Clay although I did get to speak briefly with him.  Same for Sista Monica who remembered a set she did with Elvin Bishop which I attended back in 2003. Or the Neal Brothers (Frederick & Darnell) who I found in the Piano Bar late one night/early one morning.   Or Eric Bibb who I saw do 2 songs on the way to someplace else.  Or The James Hunter Six who my friend who goes by the name Texasbluzer said was phenomenal.  As I said, you just can’t see it all.

Bottom line here folks is that if you are a blues fan and can afford to get away for a week in the Caribbean sun, the Legendary Blues Cruise is definitely the way to go.  And if you’re not a blues fan, one week on this ship and you will be!  

Thanks Dog!!  Bman
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