In this blog I will talk about:

Chicago Blues A Living History tour in France and new CBLH album I co-produced: The (R)evolution Continues. With special guests Magic Slim, James Cotton and Buddy Guy!

The brand new Lurrie Bell acoustic/gospel CD we recorded in January with special guest Joe Louis Walker.

My acoustic duo with John Primer at the historical residence of the American ambassador to France.

The African tours my trio Taproot did in (Tunisia, Mali, Mauritania and Cameroon) in conjunction with African Regional Services and the U.S. State Department. And much more…

On November 12th I met Bill Sims in Aulnay France and collaborated on an acoustic show in conjunction with the screening of Lackawanna Blues. Bill Sims Jr. composed the music for the original off-Broadway production of the play and won an Obie Award for it. He also appears in the film. Bill and I have both worked closely with the playwright/actor/director Ruben Santiago-Hudson. Thanks to Ruben we met each other over a decade ago playing together for the opening night party for his autobiographical play Lackawanna Blues at the Public Theatre (Joe’s Pub) in NYC. We have been working on a variety of projects together since then and have toured extensively.

During the next two weeks we headlined the Aulnay All Blues Festival and several other festivals in the region with the Chicago Blues: A Living History ensemble, as well as teaching a seminar on the history of Chicago Blues at the University of Chicago Center in Paris with brother Larry Skoller and poet Sterling Plumpp. This was organized by Professor Michael Deitler of the University of Chicago.

My group Taproot was invited to tour in Africa with the U.S. State Department in December 2010 and January 2011. We played public concerts, taught workshops and master classes, played for ambassadors, returnee/refugee camps, music schools and cultural centers. Those countries include: Mali, Mauritania, Tunisia and Cameroon. During this tour I collaborated with many great African musicians including Bassekou Kouyate, Boubacar Traore, Malouma and Samba Toure amongst others.

In between the State Department tours in Africa I was honored to play for the US Ambassador to France at his historical residence in Paris. I accompanied blues master John Primer in an acoustic duo. Bill Sims Jr. also played solo the same evening. The night was capped off by all 3 of us jamming (Bill on piano) together for the grand finale.

On January 10th-13th I produced a record for the great Lurrie Bell at Joyride Studios. This record is a project that Lurrie has wanted to do for many years. You see, when Lurrie was 8 years old he was sent down to Alabama and Mississippi to live with his grandparents for a while and ended up playing and singing in the Baptist churches they attended. This record is an acoustic CD that features Lurrie singing and playing Gospel songs, spirituals and other related pieces. He is joined on three songs by one of the greatest musicians in blues music history, Joe Louis Walker! Also joining Lurrie is long-time associate Harp Master Billy Branch! as well as a cameo by yours truly playing on the title cut of the CD (which I wrote), The Devil Ain’t Got No Music. Look for the release of this CD in January 2012.

Some other highlights were:

I was asked to co-chair the Blues Committee of the Chicago Chapter of the Recording Academy with my friend and colleague Billy Branch. This is the first ever Blues Committee in the history of the Grammy Awards. It is currently being chaired by Kate Moss.

On May 5th our committee attended the “damage control” tour the Academy called “Grammy 101” at the Hard Rock Hotel here in Chicago. It was a national tour held by VP of awards Bill Freimuth explaining and discussing the very controversial “re-structuring” of the awards categories. I wrote and delivered, on behalf of the Blues Committee, a statement that expressed our outrage at the Blues awards being cut from only 2 awards (Contemporary and Traditional) down to 1 award (Best Blues album of the year). Click here to read the full statement.

June 4th I joined the legendary Lonnie Brooks at a corporate gig that we both were hired to play here in Chicago.

June 12th Triple Threat concert at Reggie’s Place in Chicago featuring Deitra Farr, Lurrie Bell and I. This was a wonderful Blues Fest weekend show!!

This same week we did 3 gigs for our favorite corporate account DIRTT Environmental Solutions during their NEOCOM convention. We have worked for them for years and it is always a pleasure being part of that team. This company makes modular walls that are at the cutting edge of the “green movement.” And their revolutionary software ICE is transforming the interior design industry.

July 1st we had the CD release party for Chicago Blues: A Living History The (R)evolution Continues. The show featured all 5 principles (Lurrie Bell, Billy Boy Arnold, Billy Branch, John Primer and Carlos Johnson) with guest appearances by Zora Young and Mike Avery. And of course the CBLH Band: Myself, Billy Flynn, Johnny Iguana, Felton Crews and Kenny Smith. Also joining Carlos was Bass guitar phenom Bill Dickens and keyboard ace Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy. A beautiful night!!

I have played two dates this year at the famed 55 Bar in New York City with my band and Mr. Bill Sims Jr. One gig was in March and the other was in August. We are scheduled to hit there again on November 4th! Love this club.

June 2nd recorded 3 songs for Toronzo Canon’s record debut on Delmark Records. Good luck with that old buddy! And thanks for having me.

After the August date at The 55 Bar Bill Sims Jr. and I went up to Peacham, Vermont and played the first ever Peacham Acoustic Music Festival. As I had gone to school in this picturesque village 37 years ago (!), there were several old friends from back in the day in attendance. It was a lovely event with workshops the day after the performance.

November 2011 will bring about another Chicago Blues : A Living History tour in France. See “shows” for times and venues. More soon!!