Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mudpuppy reunion benefits ailing band member

This file photo shows the members of the band Mudpuppy. Pictured are, from left, Darryl Pierce, Paul Randolph, Mark "Pazman" Pasman, Amp Fiddler and Lorenzo Spoons Brown.
For nearly a decade, starting in 1994, Mudpuppy was one of the top bands in the Detroit area. The group played an eclectic mix of blues, soul, New Orleans jazz and Latin music that defied categorization.
The band, which will perform at a reunion show on Saturday at Callahan’s Music Hall, featured Paul Randolph on vocals and bass, Mark “Pazman” Pasman on guitar, Lorenzo Spoons Brown on percussion, Darryl Pierce on drums and a variety of keyboard players. It was not only multi-racial, but multi-generational as well.
Paul Randolph, from left, Mark "Pazman" Pasman and Darryl Pierce are looking forward to a Mudpuppy reunion concert Saturday at Callahan's Music Hall. The concert will benefit their ailing band mate Lorenzo Spoons Brown.
“We were different on all kinds of levels,” Pazman said. “We didn’t look like every band, we didn’t sound like every band and we didn’t fit into a little pocket too easy, like most other bands. That’s why most of our fans liked us. We didn’t care. As long as it made us feel good and people liked it, we thought we were on the right track.”
The band had plenty of career highlights. Mudpuppy was on Dan Aykroyd’s “House of Blues” radio show, appeared on the TV show “Emeril Live!” in New York, played at the original Buddy Guy’s Legends club in Chicago, and opened for War and Eddie Money. A particularly memorable gig was a show at Meadow Brook Music Festival with the Brian Setzer Orchestra and the Robert Cray Band.

Mudpuppy’s origins trace back to 1993 and a stint as the house band at the Holly Hotel in Holly, backing up touring blues musicians including singer Big Time Sarah and singer-guitarist Larry McCray.
“We noticed, from driving up there and listening to music together, that the place where we all crossed over together was this area that included the New Orleans thing, but also included bands like War and Los Lobos,” Pazman said. “All of our favorite bands were bands that didn’t believe in names or boxes. They made great American music and then let everyone else worry about what to call it. Now, that’s wonderful, but it also turned out to be, if not our demise, certainly the thing that kept holding us back.
“The blues labels would hear it and say, ‘You’re awfully good but you’re not a blues band.’ Then, we would send our stuff to the other labels and they would go, ‘Oh, you’re a blues band, we don’t want anything to do with you.’ So we boxed ourselves out of a corner. Looking back, we wouldn’t change a damn thing, because that’s what we were.” 
“The audience’s got it,” Pierce said. “They dug it.”
Mudpuppy never had a farewell show. Band members became involved in other projects and the group just sort of faded into the background. Randolph is known internationally for his work with the group Jazzanova as well as collaborations with producers from around the world. He’ll be performing  with the Dusseldorf Orchestra in July. Pierce tours with soul singer Bettye LaVette and also plays in the new soul/party band Jeanne & the Dreams with Pazman, who  has hosted his "Motor City Blues Project" radio show on WCSX (94.7 FM) on Sunday evenings for 22 years and leads the popular Pazman’s Supersessions performances.
“There wasn’t a ‘last show.’ That’s one of the reason s we’re doing this,” Pazman said. “We just kind of fizzled out. Everybody got busy and part of the reason we didn’t just shut the door is because we all loved this thing. It was truly a labor of love. And we grew to love each other.”
“We never saw it ending,” Pierce said. “It just had its own engine.”
Saturday’s reunion show is also a fundraiser for Brown, who is suffering from kidney failure and must receive dialysis treatments three times a week. Brown hopes to perform at Saturday’s show if he’s physically capable. Also scheduled to perform Saturday are keyboardist Sean McDonald and the unofficial “sixth Mudpuppy,” singer-harmonica player Jimmy “Pickles” Nicholls.
Mudpuppy’s live shows back in the day were known for improvisational jams. Brown would roam among the crowd, whipping fans into a frenzied state. Randolph recalled a particularly memorable gig at the old Memphis Smoke in West Bloomfield.
“Basically anything that made a noise and he could bang on he would bring (to the gig) and would bring music out of it,” Randolph said. “One night, he brought out a kitchen sink. He had somebody in the audience carry it around for him.”
The crowd went wild, following him around in a pseudo conga line.
“It was amazing,” Randolph said. “Then, the next time we saw him, we said, ‘Where’s the kitchen sink?’ (Brown said), ‘I lost it.’”
Pasman, Pierce and Randolph recently visited Brown at his Detroit home.  Despite his physical ailments, Brown remained the same happy fellow the band members call “Mr. Positive.”
“He had that same wonderful, bright, shiny smile,” Pierce said. “He knows he has some problems, but he was so positive. I feed off that.”

The Mudpuppy reunion/benefit will be Saturday, April 30 at Callahan’s Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd., in Auburn Hills. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 at the door.  Jeanne & the Dreams opens. For information, call (248) 858-9508 or click

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Janiva Magness an advocate for foster children at risk

By her own admittance, as a teenager, blues singer Janiva Magness was “hell on wheels.”
“There’s no doubt about that,” Magness said in a telephone interview from her Los Angeles home. “It was not uncommon for me to refer to myself as a ‘force to be reckoned with.’ It was not a party.”
Magness, a Michigan native who attended Mount Clemens High School while living with her grandparents, had a traumatic childhood. Her mother committed suicide when Magness was only 13. Her father, who was a Detroit police officer for 15 years, committed suicide when she was 16. 

Magness ran away from home, snuck into nightclubs and generally raised hell. The fourth of five children, Magness had 12 foster care placements in a two-year period. None of her siblings were placed with her.
“The truth is I have all the ‘Jerry Springer’ stories, but I’m not interested in talking about that, unless it inspires people to step forward and help kids at risk.”
With the help of several adults, Magness, who will perform Thursday at Callahan’s Music Hall in Auburn Hills, eventually came through her traumatic period to form a successful musical career.
“I got really, really lucky because I found a good fit. I stumbled and fell into a small handful of really good people who ultimately stood up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself.”
The list of adults who assisted her on her way to adulthood includes foster parents, a social worker, a probation officer, and an English teacher. A foster mother in Minneapolis was a powerful influence.
“She was a strong and loving adult with boundaries, who was willing to stand up to me and stand up for me,” Magness said. “That was huge. There’s a lot that people can do to try to truly change the life of a foster child. There is a whole menu of things people can do to change a child’s lifetime.”
Magness is doing her part to help today’s troubled youth through her involvement with Foster Care Month and Foster Care Alumni of America. She is a spokesperson for Foster Care Month, which is May, and was named ambassador of foster care alumni by the FCAA. 
“That was a really big deal for me,” Magness said. “There are a half a million of us (foster care alumni), and it turns out there is tremendous strength in numbers.
“What I do, primarily, is to talk about foster care in every interview I do, and I also do a fair amount of public speaking, from judiciaries and social workers and everything in between, to youths still in the system and alumni. There is a tremendous amount of resources available to alumni in our country.”
Magness has a meet-and-greet talk with school children planned in Kalamazoo on Friday.
Her ninth album, “The Devil is an Angel Too” (Alligator Records), is dedicated to all foster youth and alumni. It was named top blues album of 2010 by Living Blues magazine.
“This is a collection of stories that deals with the duality of the human condition. Darkness and Light,” Magness writes in the liner notes. “Turns out we all have some of each -- light and dark on the inside. I know I do.”
Magness recognizes that her lifelong love of music helped save her life.
“I was the little kid putting on every petticoat I had and putting on shows for the cat and dog. I really wanted to play piano, but I couldn’t get my parents to give me lessons. I knew every song on the radio and every TV theme song. I was a complete and total mynah bird.
“It was my respite. My escape hatch was listening to music and studying records and songs.”
She didn’t start performing in public until she was 19.
“I was much too afraid to try. I was a scared, scared puppy. I didn’t think I could sing, but I had one of those moments where I thought, ‘I’m probably going to die young, so I better damn well give it a try.’ Otherwise, I would have died and never gone for it. That (thought) really fucked with my head.”
The emotions she’s experienced through her difficult life have ended up being at least a partial positive for Magness, who was named B.B. King Entertainer of the Year by the Blues Foundation in 2009.
“I think it totally informs my craft. What a lucky thing. Lucky me … I get to do something with all that shit.”
Magness wants to encourage foster children at risk to make the journey from darkness to light.
“I like to quote Winston Churchill: ‘When, you’re going through hell, keep moving.’ That, unfortunately, is not an uncommon foster care experience.”

Janiva Magness performs Thursday at Callahan’s Music Hall, 2105 South Blvd, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $14-$17.50. For information, call (248) or click

For information on Magness, and links to the Foster Care Alumni of America and Foster Care Month websites, click

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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Detroit Music Awards winners

Congratulations to the blues artists who were winners at the 20th Detroit Music Awards ceremony at the Fillmore - Detroit.
Singer-guitarists Johnnie Bassett and Motor City Josh each received two awards. Bassett was honored as Outstanding Blues/R&B Instrumentalist and Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents were named Outstanding Blues Artist/Group. Motor City Josh won Outstanding Blues/R&B Songwriter and Motor City Josh & The Big 3's "It's a Good Life" was tops in the Outstanding Blues/R&B Recording category.
Thornetta Davis was named Outstanding Blues/R&B Vocalist and The Groove Council won in the Outstanding R&B Artist/Group category.
Martin “Tino” Gross, frontman for the Howling Diablos, won three awards. The group was honored for Outstanding Live Performance and Tino won in the Outstanding Record Producer and Outstanding Urban/Funk Songwriter categories for his work at his Funky D Studio.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

Blues at the Library with Kenney Mitchell

Like many before him, singer-guitarist Kenney Mitchell took a roundabout path to finding the blues.
“I listened to Jimi Hendrix, mainly, that was my first influence, and The Beatles,” said Mitchell, 52, a Detroit native who will perform live with his band Third Stone From The Sun on Wednesday at the Southfield Public Library. “Jimi led me to Van Halen, Frank Marino (of Mahogany Rush), Robin Trower, and Ernie Isley, people like that. I also liked Wendy O. Williams of the Plasmatics. I listened to a little bit of everybody.”
Mitchell was exposed to blues, R&B and soul through listening to his parents’ music at home as a kid, but really became interested in the blues after venturing down to John’s Carpet House outdoor jam at St. Aubin and Frederick in Detroit.
“The first time I went there it was Van Halen and Jimi meets the blues,” Mitchell chuckled. “They were impressed for about five minutes.
“I just got into it. My dad always listened to it. I started studying Jimi’s licks and that took me to Otis Rush and Albert King. I said to myself, ‘Dang, that where he got that.’ ”
It was at one of the John’s Carpet House jams that Mitchell’s talent was exposed to Don McGhee, noted blues photographer and producer of the Jazz & Blues at the Library monthly series that is sponsored by the Friends of the Southfield Public Library and the Detroit Blues Society.
“One of the things I like is his passion for the music,” McGhee said. “I did a photo piece for the Detroit Blues Society’s Blues Notes newsletter featuring Kenney, (singer-songwriter and guitarist) Mo Motyka and (guitarist) Carlton Washington. There’s something about their approach to blues music and that they are making a serious attempt to learn and play it.”
McGhee digs the passion Mitchell has for the music.
“I love that style, it’s very moving. Kenney has moved more and more to the blues now and he’s paying attention to the blues masters. He has intensity and a passion for the music. I enjoy the rock licks he brings to it as well.”
Over the years, Mitchell has played with bands in a variety of styles, ranging from R&B to rock and even punk rock. But, now he’s been bitten by the blues bug.
“I love its simplicity, yet its complexity,” said Mitchell, who listens to older blues artists such as John Lee Hooker as well as newer artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gale, and Indiginous. “A lot of people can’t play it and I’m still trying to learn it. I like the emotions that it can convey.
“Put it this way: You can have two guitar players side-by-side, Yngwie Malmsteen and Buddy Guy, or B.B. King. Yngwie can play a thousand notes in one second. B.B. or Buddy will hit one note and you know exactly what they’re talking about. You can feel it. It will hit you. I like music you can feel and that will actually take you somewhere. That’s one of the reasons I like Jimi so much.”
Mitchell will be joined by keyboardist Rico, bassist Mo Hollis and drummer Perez at the library. They’ll perform mostly cover tunes, with selections from The Meters, Freddie King, Albert King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and, of course, Hendrix.
“I’ve got to include some Jimi,” Mitchell said. “It’s funny, when I first started playing guitar, folks would accuse me of being a Hendrix clone and I tried to get away from it. Now, they say, ‘You’ve gotta play this (Hendrix tune), or you’ve got to play that.’ People love Hendrix, especially if it’s done right.”

Kenney Mitchell and Third Stone From the Sun will perform from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20, at the Southfield Public Library, in the Southfield Municipal Complex, 26300 Evergreen Road. Admission is $3, with children under age 12 admitted free. For more information, call (248) 796-4224 or click

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