WIB Live: Rockin The Blues 2019

Big Boys Do Cry

Rockin The Blues 2019 live @ Carlswerk Victoria

Cologne, Germany

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Since its inception in 1989, and especially over the past decade, the Netherlands-based Mascot Label Group has become home to many of today’s most popular rock-oriented blues acts. Its Provogue imprint currently boasts an artist roster that includes Beth Hart, Robert Cray, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gales and Joe Bonamassa. Last year, the label decided to send three of its top guitar slingers on the road under the banner Rockin The Blues. That tour – with Gales, Gary Hoey and Quinn Sullivan – proved successful enough to merit a second go-round in 2019.

Eight dates in four European countries are on the agenda. Show #2 on the tour transpired inside the massive Carlswerk Victoria venue in Cologne and gave the local German audience a chance to witness a guitar-heavy blues extravaganza in Cinemascope. Combine any ten blues shows you’ve seen in the past year and you’ll get an idea of how big, broad and loud this spectacle was.

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WIB Live: The Blues Giants

Land Of The Giants

The Blues Giants live @ Harmonie

Bonn, Germany

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

They call themselves the Blues Giants – a group of five musicians from different corners of the USA, all of whom have paid their dues and earned their keep in a variety of band situations. Two years ago, when they toured Europe, Mike Zito was one of the Giants. This time, a slight lineup change allowed us to enjoy the chops and vocals of Nick Schnebelen. The vibe didn’t change much, though. This is a high-spirited, guitar-heavy and thoroughly soulful troupe in search of a good time.

As this is Blues Music Awards week (I still think of it as Handys week) and the indvidual members of the Blues Giants are up for a total of five awards, I thought I’d share a visual impression of each of them as they appeared onstage in Bonn, Germany last Thursday night, along with a few random thoughts. (Disclaimer: I am a bad photographer with a cheap cell phone.)

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WIB Live: Modern Earl / Vdelli

WIB Live Twin-Pack:

Modern Earl live @ Torburg, Cologne, Germany

Vdelli live @ Okiedokie, Neuss, Germany

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Hi folks! I’m going to bang this one out while the good vibes of the past weekend are still resonating. Two live shows by two bands who, on the surface, have little in common. One’s a blues power trio, the other a rootsy southern rock’n’roll combo. But there is a distinct similarity: Both outfits are based in Germany without being – in the strict sense – German bands. Vdelli’s frontman is a native Australian and Modern Earl has its roots in Nashville.

Let’s start with them, since they were the ones who gave this fun-packed weekend a rip-roaring kickstart on Saturday night.

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WIB Live: Jane Lee Hooker

High Spirits

Jane Lee Hooker live @ Spirit of 66

Verviers, Belgium

Words: Vincent Abbate / Photos: Dirk Schumacher

Is there a more thrilling experience in the blues right now than Jane Lee Hooker?

Honestly, I’d be hard-pressed to think of one.

Jane Lee Hooker is like a ride on the world’s fastest rollercoaster. Five gals from New York City who run on pure adrenaline. They take decades-old classics like “Shake For Me” and “Mean Town Blues” and “Mannish Boy” and make you feel like you’ve never heard them before.

And they don’t care about sticking to any one thing. They are blues and they are punk and they are southern and they are straight-up rock and roll. Just two albums into their recording career – last year’s Spiritus following on the heels of the 2016 debut No B! – these five troublemakers from NYC have already established themselves as a force to be reckoned with.

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WIB Live Slideshow: Blues Caravan 2018

Blues Caravan 2018

w/ Mike Zito, Bernard Allison & Vanja Sky

@ Harmonie, Bonn, Germany

Photos: Marcella auf der Heide

The 13th edition of Ruf Records’ annual Blues Caravan packs serious firepower. The pair of blues vets who are the tour’s main draw, Mike Zito and Bernard Allison, brought the pain at their January performance in Bonn, Germany – Zito displaying an uncanny ability to create tension and beauty through his deftly executed guitar licks, the ever-dependable Allison delivering the punch on familiar tunes including “Life Is A Bitch” and “Rocket 88.” Yet newcomer Vanja Sky was no slouch herself. The young lady from Zagreb displayed an easy, natural and appealing stage presence during her evening-opening set, showing off surprisingly rugged pipes and confident vocal phrasing. With drummer Mario Dawson and bassist Roger Inniss holding down the rhythm throughout, honestly, what could go wrong?

Our two-minute slideshow features photos from the show in Bonn and a cut from Vanja Sky’s debut album Bad Penny featuring Zito and Allison on vocals and guitar.

WIB Live: Josh Smith

Lemonade

Josh Smith live @ Yard Club, Cologne, Germany

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Some days you go to a concert. Other days, you really need to hear the blues.

This particular mid-November tick on the calendar put me through the wringer. It began with an unwanted call from my auto mechanic (“Your car’s not ready”) and found me filing a formal complaint and request for reimbursement at the local train station eight harrowing hours later. It was a traveler’s worst nightmare, like something out of Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and though I didn’t flip out like Steve Martin at the car rental counter, my insides were churning.

When evening arrived, I wasn’t where I was supposed to be. I should have been 150 kilometers away in the Dutch city of Eindhoven, taking care of important business. Instead, I was moping around at home. It felt as though life had handed me a whole sack full of lemons. There really was nothing left to do but lug that sack out to one of my favorite haunts, the Yard Club, hoping to turn them into lemonade.

That’s where the blues comes in.

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WIB Live: Jonny Lang

Old, New, Borrowed & Blue

Jonny Lang live @ Gloria, Cologne, Germany

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

The next time I hear someone knock Jonny Lang for being not gritty or gutty or bluesy enough, I am going to whack him upside the head.

But maybe it would be smarter to send them to the nearest Jonny Lang concert, where the evidence will surely speak for itself – as it did on this colossally beautiful October evening in Cologne.

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WIB Live: Ash Grunwald

Puttin’ the Hammer Down

Ash Grunwald live @ topos, Leverkusen, Germany

Words: Vincent Abbate / Photos: Udo Udelhoven, Gerwin Jakobowski

There’s not much hollering and moaning in the blues anymore.

We’ve got singers, the good and the great, and not a few vocally challenged guitarists. But can anyone rattle the window panes with his voice? That’s what happened when the incomparable Son House took his otherworldly field holler indoors to the coffee houses a half-century ago. And when, even further back, Robert Johnson moaned his “Me And The Devil Blues,” well … you could practically see ol’ Satan close his claws around the doomed minstrel’s shoulder.

Ash Grunwald has got the holler down.

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