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Living Blues #280 features the Mississippi Blues Child, Mr. Sipp. In 2013 Mr. Sipp seemed to come out of nowhere and reached the IBC finals in Memphis. But Castro Coleman was already a well-established name in the gospel scene in Mississippi; he was just rebranding himself as a blues artist. Over the past decade he has used the skills he learned in gospel to wow the blues world. Vocalist EB Davis grew up in the Arkansas Delta and built his career in the clubs of Memphis and New York. But, after an army deployment to Germany, Davis settled in there to become one of the most popular blues artists in Europe. Guitarist Melody Angel is one of the top rising young stars on the Chicago blues scene. Her dynamic guitar playing and energetic live shows have quickly made her a crowd favorite. Texan Larry Lampkin came to the blues late, guided by a dollar store Freddie King CD. Mentored by U.P. Wilson and Ray Reed, the young guitarist was soon a budding bluesman. Within a few years he was on tour with Vernon Garrett and over the last decade has focused on his own career. This issue’s Let It Roll focusses on Blind Blake. Blake is one of the most skillful guitarists in the history of the blues. His remarkable guitar runs and seemingly effortless playing continue to amaze listeners today. By August of 1929 Blake was one of Paramount Records’ most popular artists, and for this session they paired him with Detroit’s premier pianist Charlie Spand. The result was some of Blake’s best sides including one of his most popular, Diddie Wa Diddie.

All of this plus the latest in Blues News, Breaking Out with Dylan Triplett, plus over 50 record reviews.

In early 2013 Mr. Sipp seemingly appeared out of nowhere when he reached the finals in the International Blues Competition (IBC) in Memphis representing the Vicksburg Blues Society. To be fair, being “unknown” isn’t odd at all at the IBC, where bands arrive from far-flung places around the globe. It was notable, though, for a proficient and entertaining band with original material like Mr. Sipp and Kin Folk to go relatively unnoticed in Mississippi, with its glut of blues festivals and state-sponsored promotion of blues culture. 

Under his birth name, though, Castro Coleman was well established in the gospel community, with nearly three decades on the circuit. Born in 1976 in McComb, Mississippi, the birthplace of artists including Bo Diddley, Vasti Jackson, and Little Freddie King, Coleman began playing gospel guitar as a small child and by eight was touring the region in a family band. 

In high school Coleman and his peers formed a group that toured as an opener for the venerable Williams Brothers, and in 1995 he founded the True Believers, which subsequently became a leading gospel quartet. Coleman also worked extensively as a studio musician and producer, served as guitarist in the Williams Brothers, and in 2006 debuted Castro Coleman and Highly Favored, who were signed to Jackson, Mississippi–based gospel, southern R&B, and soul powerhouse Malaco Records.

EB Davis is not the typical blues singer. Yes, he was born in the Mississippi River Delta, and yes, he paid his dues singing in clubs from Memphis to New York City. But he eventually made his mark far from home, in Germany. His story—one that features some clandestine work for the US government alongside his role as singer and bandleader—is a tale worthy of a movie. And in fact, there is one: How Berlin Got the Blues: The Secret Life of EB Davis.

But today the warm and affable singer is out of the military, and his life is anything but a secret.

The rise of guitarist/vocalist Melody Angel is further proof, if one were needed, that Chicago continues to incubate and nurture blues talent, and that the current generation of blues artists, like their forebears, continues to expand and reimagine the music—from the “roots” to the “fruits,” as Willie Dixon might have phrased it. Befitting both her generation and the times she lives in, Angel also brings to the forefront an element of the blues tradition that’s always been there, but has often been implied (or slyly coded) rather than stated outright: her music melds fiery celebration of life with equally fearless and uncompromising demands for social justice, driven by a blues rock impetus that allows her to meld genres and influences as freely—and pointedly—as her lyrics challenge the boundaries between the “personal” and the “political.” “I’m not going to pigeonhole myself,” she vows. “I’m not going to pretend to be something I’m not. I have to be true to myself.”

Larry Lampkin is a no-frills guy. He doesn’t need or want a show name; never, ever brags; plays an unabashedly straight-ahead muscular guitar; and ignores theatrics in favor of singing and playing the kind of heartfelt blues he loves. He calls himself a modern blues player, but it was a Freddie King CD in a discount store and older blues musicians who helped teach him the trade. 

Lampkin’s son’s untimely death ultimately focused him intensely on the pain that produces the deepest kind of blues. And yes, Lampkin’s fine with rocking it up a bit when it helps him reach into an audience.

In mid-August 1929, Blind Blake, guitar in hand, arrived in Richmond, Indiana, to record for the Paramount company. By then Paramount had already released dozens of stellar Blake records. His solo releases such as Early Morning Blues, West Coast Blues, and Come On, Boys, Let’s Do That Messin’ Around revealed him to be one the era’s most facile fingerpickers. As Big Bill Broonzy claimed in his autobiographical Big Bill Blues, “He made it sound like every instrument in the band. I have never seed [sic] then, and haven’t to this day yet, seed no one that could take his natural fingers and picks as much guitar as Blind Blake.” Blake had also recorded adventurous sides featuring backup musicians on piano, clarinet, kazoo, slide whistle, xylophone, woodblocks, and bones. He’d worked as a studio guitarist for Gus Cannon, Bertha Henderson, Ma Rainey, Elzadie Robinson, and Leola B. Wilson. His singing and mastery of the popular hokum style was on a par with that of Tampa Red, Georgia Tom Dorsey, and Big Bill Broonzy, and the public loved his records. 

 
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