Walter “Wolfman” Washington & the Roadmasters

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 “I’m used to playing with another person. To do something like that by myself, I was kind of nervous,” said Walter “Wolfman” Washington, sitting in a chair in his living room and talking about his new record My Future Is My Past, produced by Ben Ellman of Galactic. He smiles and continues, “Oh man, it was really a thing.  I had never done something like that. I had to really discipline myself where I couldn’t really underplay and really overplay, so I had to stay really in the middle which was a trick for me. I was amazed at my own self at how it turned out.”

 Now 74 years old, Walter “Wolfman” Washington has been a mainstay in the New Orleans music scene since the early 1960s. He cut his teeth backing up some of the best singers and performers in New Orleans history including Lee Dorsey, Johnny Adams, and Irma Thomas before putting together his long time band The Roadmasters, who have been burning down and burning up local and national stages since their first gigs in the 1980s. This new record confirms what fans have known for years: Walter “Wolfman Washington has soul to go along with that fire.

 Like many African-American musicians in the South, Washington started singing in school and the church. He had just hit double digits when he formed an acapella spirituals group in his neighborhood called the True Love and Gospel Singers.  One Sunday they went on the local gospel show on WBOK to sing, and Washington noticed the guitar player in the studio who was playing behind them. “I just sat there and watched him,” Washington recalls, “He was playing with all his fingers.” When Washington got home he made his own guitar from a cigar box, rubber bands, and a clothes hanger. One of his uncles saw this and gave him a real guitar, and Washington started practicing. His dad supported his music, and took him to see a musician he knew across the river from New Orleans, and those two played his first gig in Gretna, Louisiana. Even though his parents were not musicians, “I had lots of uncles who played guitar. Guitar Slim and Lightnin' Slim were my uncles. And Ernie K-Doe – the renowned New Orleans performer and singer of international hit “Mother in Law” - was his cousin.

 Washington continued playing with different musicians around New Orleans – including Irma Thomas, who sings the great slow burner “Even Now” on My Future is My Past. Lee Dorsey was Washington’s first big gig.  Dorsey was a New Orleans singer with a couple big hits, “Ride Your Pony” and “Working in a Coal Mine” under his belt.  Dorsey hired the 19 year old Washington to go on the road with him where he spent the next two and a half years. It was 1962. “The furthest I'd ever been from home was Mississippi or Baton Rouge,” chuckled Washington, “Our first gig was at the Apollo Theatre in New York, and we drove straight there in a red Cadillac. It was great.”

 My Future is My Past is a different kind of record than his playing with Lee Dorsey or The Roadmasters. Washington had to take more care with these songs. He explained, “When you’re with a band, you have to really punch it out.  When you’re alone, you have to pay attention to your notes and pronunciation and stuff. And then you have to put your soul into it and your feelings. Each one of the songs is a story. You can actually picture things like that happening. I had to fix my mind into each of the situations in the song.”  

 Songs like “Lost Mind”, ‘Save Your Love For Me’, and ‘What A Difference A Day Makes’ are subtle and heartfelt.  “I always liked jazz,” he says, ‘What a Difference A Day Makes’?  It’s a happy song.  It’s a song about how you found someone who makes you feel different, and each day represents the way you feel, and that day you feel different. That particular song was a song I used to do when I was playing with the AFB (All Fools Band) back in the 1960s. There were a lot of jazz songs at that time in the world of real musicians. I came in on the tail end of when a lot of those musicians were going out, and I had a chance to meet most of them. It was fun to play with them. Big Joe Turner and all those cats. It was a thrill to me when I could play with them. And those were the songs they played.”

 Washington has always embodied both the wildness and sophistication of New Orleans, but finally we have a set of songs that reflects the yin to Walter’s bring-the-party yang. This is the record that we all have known he has in him. This is the night after that party, or maybe just the after party. He’s been given free rein to express himself, and that’s special. Producer Ben Ellman has assembled a sympathetic group of musicians from keyboardists Jon Cleary and Ivan Neville to a versatile and sensitive rhythm section of bassist James Singleton and drummer Stanton Moore.  When asked about being in the studio with these musicians, Washington’s enthusiasm comes through immediately.

 “To have all those cats in there at one time, and they are playing behind me!  That was one of the most thrilling things for me. While we were doing the album and what has become of it, that’s even better. That’s what happens when you have certain musicians that are qualified to do that. There aren’t but two cats that really amaze me when I saw James and Stanton. I said, ‘Man, there they are!’  I had Jon Cleary playing too, and then when I saw that David Torkanowsky is going to be there! Man!!!!”

Photo: Greg Miles

 Washington is being characteristically modest. He has played with many of the greats. Starting in the late 1960s, he went on the road with singer Johnny Adams and also backed him up at a gig that has become infamous at Dorothy's Medallion on Orleans Avenue in Mid City that started at 3 AM with shake dancers and ended at daylight.”  Washington says, “The place would packed until daylight. You go in there, and you come out and it's daylight.” 

 Wolfman also started recording with Adams. He backed him on his long run of acclaimed albums on the Rounder label. He and the Roadmasters also recorded 3 albums for Rounder, Wolf Tracks (1986), Out of the Dark (1988), Wolf at the Door (1991), and one for Rounder's subsidiary Bullseye Blues Funk is in the House (1998). The Roadmasters have proven to be Washington's longest lasting band, lasting 28 years. Their steady Saturday night gig at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street in Carrollton entertained legions of Tulane students and rhythm and blues fans until the wee hours of Sunday morning for over a decade. 

 All of those experiences have been distilled into this record. Ellman creates a space for the Wolfman to express this side of himself. We’ve known him for his impassioned vocals and cutting guitar tones - that isn’t gone here, but it’s been refined into a smoother style that goes down like a lover’s caress. Washington embodies both ends of the African American vocal tradition: the impassioned cries of a James Brown and the urbane lines of a Nat King Cole.

 Walter uses his voice to embody both those traditions here, and then twist those traditions so that he’s doing both at the same time. His vocals and playing is quiet but keeps up the slow burn intensity. He filters his smooth croon through his unique raw blues feel, and the result is subtle, tasteful, and powerful. His guitar playing has that searing tone but also the well placed chords of a bebop player. That’s all here but it’s jazzy and improvised and in the moment in such a way that you are on the edge of your seat wondering what he’ll do next. It is exciting to the listener, and it is exciting to Washington. He says, “People tell me, ‘Walter, you don’t ever lose the root of what you’re coming from,” and this record proves he is as close to his roots as he has ever been.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Lamont Cranston Band

From the rural hometown settings of Hamel, Minnesota and the river banks of Minneapolis/St. Paul, the blues influence surfaced as early as the mid 1960's for what was to become "The Lamont Cranston Blues Band". By 1969, The Lamont Cranston Blues Band was well on their way to becoming the legend that it is today. You can't seem to go anywhere today from coast to coast without running into someone that has heard of the band. They are one of the founders of the Minneapolis music scene which is flourishing more than ever to this day.

From the clubs, concert halls and festivals to the auditoriums and stadiums, the Cranstons have shared the bill with Muddy Waters, Luther Allison, Albert King, Albert Collins, Jimmy Rogers, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Charles Brown, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Thackery, Junior Wells, Keb Mo, Jonny Lang, Robert Cray, Son Seals, Charlie Musselwhite, Sam Lay, Earl King, Mighty Joe Young, Sugar Blue, Otis Rush, Elvin Bishop, Jim Belushi & The Sacred Hearts, Little Feat, Mick Fleetwood's Blue Whale featuring Ron Thompson, Delbert McClinton, Koko Taylor, Lonnie Brooks, Percy Sledge, Solomon Burke, Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown, Kim Wilson, William Clarke, Tinsley Ellis, The Climax Blues Band, Tower Of Power, The Kinks, The Yardbirds, The Animals II, Kansas, Yes, Jeff Healy, Wilson Pickett, Bonnie Raitt, The Blues Brothers and many many more. One of the biggest thrills was opening for The Rolling Stones on a leg of their North American tour in 1981.

Their visibility increased in the 1980's when RCA reissued the band's smash hit release "Upper Mississippi Shakedown", selling over 100,000 copies and cracking the lower reaches of the Billboard charts.

Lead singer, guitarist and harmonica giant, Pat 'Lamont' Hayes has also enjoyed his own success touring with Bonnie Raitt as a member of her band on her 1990 "Nick Of Time" tour; blowing harmonica duets with Charlie Musselwhite in Minneapolis and during a 1994 Hollywood trip after Pat received an invitation from Dan Aykroyd to be a special guest performer at a private pre-grand opening bash at Dan's new 'House Of Blues' nightclub, where he performed with Charlie and his band the first night and with The Blues Brothers band the next. Pat has been hailed by Bonnie, Dan and many others as being one of the best harmonica players around. Dan even called on the boys to play the grand opening of his new Chicago House Of Blues in November 1996, Cleveland in 2004 and Atlantic City in 2005.

The Cranston hit 'Excusez Moi, Mon Cheri' (written by Pat's brother Larry Hayes) was recorded by The Blues Brothers on the flipside of their 1979 hit "Soul Man", as well as on the soundtrack of the Tom Davis-Al Franken movie "One More Saturday Night", along with their biggest hit "Upper Mississippi Shakedown".

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Gary Cain

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Gary Cain’s guitar work on stage has been described by reviewers as“genre-bending”, “jaw-dropping” and “the real deal”, but the foundation of his virtuosic style was laid via marathon practice sessions as a youngster in his parents’ basement.  “Back then it’s all I would do some days – sometimes 13, 14 hours a day. I’d have to be reminded to eat.” says Cain.  Long days poring over the musical styles of blues legends gave him a deep respect for the music, but he’s not beholden to it. “I’m not a purist.” he says, “What made those players so great was what they brought ot the music to make it their own.  Albert King was the best Albert King there’ll ever be.  You gotta do your own thing with it.”

After studying guitar at Humber College’s world-renowned music program, he played in several bands, eventually landing a gig in the house band for The Lodge, one of Dubai’s largest nightclubs. The four-sets-a-night, six-nights-a-week pace eventually led to a vocal injury that sidelined him.  Now, back in action with a style he calls Twangadelic Bluesophunk, he’s backed by a rhythm section featuring two incredibly well-rounded, experienced, and talented musicians. “It’s great to be able to play with guys that can draw from so many styles. It gives us a lot of freedom to stretch out of the typical blues box and into a lot of cool different places.”

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Dwight Carrier and BlackCat Zydeco


Bandleader, accordion player, and singer Carrier comes from a long line of distinguished musicians (he’s the nephew of Roy Carrier and cousin of Troy “Dikki Du” and Chubby Carrier, to name just a few), a family where zydeco music was a pastime for holidays and family gatherings. He embodies both tradition and a unique style that is infused with his blues and R&B influences.

Growing up in Church Point, Louisiana, in the time when rap music was gaining popularity, Carrier’s friends would laugh when he and his brother Joseph practiced their zydeco music. In 1988, his first band, Dwight Carrier and Zydeco Rockers was created, with Dwight playing accordion and Joseph on drums. When he was just 14, Dwight released his first album entitled “My Baby Left Me,” which earned him local status. In 1991 Dwight was asked to join the Creole Zydeco Snap Band, headed by Creole and blues musician Warren Ceasar. Dwight became the group’s accordionist and traveled extensively around the world for several years, including multiple appearances at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. After a break from music, Carrier returned to the family business of zydeco in 2008, forming his band Black Cat and the Zydeco Ro Doggs. They have taken their pumping style of music to both coasts and the Midwest as well as throughout Louisiana.

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Brian Naughton

Brian Naughton, a recording artist, singer, songwriter and guitarist born in St. Paul, Minnesota, possesses a signature sound driven by an energetic mix of Blues, Rock, Funk and Soul, originating far from the Twin Cities. Although based in Minnesota, his wails, croons and soulful emotion derive in and around the heart of the Deep South. At seven-years old, Brian, a third-generation musician, picked up his first guitar and discovered the love of all three Kings, Albert, Freddie and B.B. in quick order. He deftly adapted more tricks of the trade through the study of artists such as Lonnie Knight, Tim Waters and Gus Dewey, while layering on the heavy influences of T-Bone Walker, Albert Collins, and Robert Johnson. Over the years, Brian has continued to push the limits of genre and soul, and has yet to put that guitar down. His style, the evolution of his own brand of expression and his riffs, entwined with raw inflection, interpret and resuscitate the bold flavors of Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Johnny Winter among other greats. 

Brian’s passionate commitment to creating and pushing the boundaries of music has allowed him to build a reputation as one of the foremost guitar players in the Twin Cities. He has shared the stage with Buddy Guy, Lonnie Brooks and Luther Allison among others at both local and national events, combining his pipes and flying fingers to enhance a mix of songs and sounds. Whether performing with industry talents, as part of his band’s trio, paired in a duo, or grooving solo acoustic, Brian expands the expectations and definitions of music in all its forms and will leave you wanting more. 

A return to the studio is currently in the works with an album release date planned for Fall 2018. Mario Dawson, Erick Ballard and Steve Jennings on drums, Mark Martin and Ryan Butler on bass and other special guests including Eric Gales, Steve Clarke and Craig Clark will accompany Brian on his latest work, geared to expose more soul, funk and passion within the brave nuances of his inimitable talent. Stay tuned for details on the album’s upcoming release. 

When not in the studio, the Brian Naughton Band performs at festivals as well as local venues across the Minneapolis and Saint Paul area and surrounding suburbs. 

“Brian Naughton, breaking all boundaries, driven by emotion and impulse.”

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Stefan Geisinger

“Blues music can be sad, but can also be about love, happiness, and healing the spirit. When I’m playing Blues, it’s as if the music completely consumes me.” ~ Stefan Geisinger

After hearing B.B. King live at the Regal, a then-17 Geisinger picked up a guitar and dug deep into the roots of Blues music. “Something touched me. King’s impassioned voice and guitar playing made me tear up. I still get the same feeling when listening to - or performing - Blues today.”

Geisinger, a native of Rice Lake, WI, honed his guitar skills for eight years; at age 23, ready to bring his distinctive style to live audiences, he formed The Stefan Geisinger Band with Buck Barrickman (The Pumps, “Cover To Cover”) and Travis Nocolai (Big Back Yard; Greg Gilbertson, “Surviving The Echoes”).

“When performing, I try to entice people to experience the same emotions I am. Playing Blues is the only means I have to share emotions with an audience. Music, to me, can express a happiness so intense that it makes you cry. For me, music is a feeling.”

The Stefan Geisinger Band plays recognizable covers from Blues guitar greats such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Jimi Hendrix, and Howling Wolf, as well as original tunes.

“I write songs about current situations going on around me - the good and the bad. Whenever I’m experiencing a heightened mood, I pick up my guitar, put pencil to paper, and just let the words flow through me. Writing songs and expressing myself through both my lyrics and my guitar is like a double-whammy; I get to share my feelings with the world by combining words with music.”

Geisinger’s expressive and skillful - not to mention spirited - performances have drawn rave reviews from audiences. Listeners often remark that there seems to be an old soul inhabiting such a relatively young Blues artist.

“When performing, I feel free. All worries slip away as they come out through my guitar. I close my eyes, and I’m transported to a different world. I hope to do that for listeners.”

Bassist Barrckman - a TNB veteran who also played with Tommy Tutone’s backup band, says, “Audiences love what Stefan has put together for this kick-butt, rockin’ Blues band.”

With a strong jazz background, drummer Nicolai brings a unique finesse to the mix. Nicolai is no stranger to live music performance, having appeared at both Country Jam and Country Fest, as well as the Northern Wisconsin State Fair.

“I just want people to feel their own emotions when they listen to my music,” says Geisinger. “It’s all about sharing the feeling. If someone listens to my song and feels something… mission complete.”

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-Anastasia Vishnevsky

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