Saturday, January 5, 2013

Liz Mandeville's 2012 Year In Review

Dearest Readers, Friends and Fans!

It's been a year since my last post and a lot has happened.

2012 started with a series of fund raising gigs and a  trip to Memphis with my then partner and co-winner of the Windy City Blues Challenge, Donna Herula to represent Chicago in the International Blues Challenge. Donna and I made it through three rounds to become semi-finalists in the duo category. Big thanks go out to Linda Cain, Mad-Dog & Nina of the WCBS, Donna's family and Lon Mickelson for coming along to support us. We went on to play Buddy Guys' Legends, Reggie's Music Room, the Ice Melting Blues Festival, the Chicago Blues Fest, the Alpena MI. Blues Fest, Portage Perchfest, Maxwell Street Market (Thanks to the City Of Chicago Office of Special Events) the 20th Annual Creekfest Reunion, and the Mississippi Valley Blues Festival before parting ways to pursue our own musical paths.

2012 was also the year I started my new record label, Blue Kitty Music, at the suggestion of my long time musical friend, Grammy Winning Drummer/Bandleader,  Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. In April 2011, Smith, Darryl Wright & I went in the studio and cut the first five tracks for our new venture. They turned out to be the final tracks of his recording life. As you may know, Willie was stricken with health problems a short time later and by September he had passed away, so those five tracks and Willie's "Just Do It!" attitude became the hallmark and  inspiration for our future recordings. Those included sessions with Legendary Sax man, Eddie Shaw, pianist Leandro Lopez-Varady, guitarists' Nick Moss, Rockin Johnny Burgin, Peter Struijk, Donna Herula and Jim Godsey. Thanks to Planet10 Studios, Jimmy Johnson and JBG Audio for all your help and knowledge.

In May we released the first Blue Kitty Music CD, Clarksdale, which was met by great reviews, lots of international airplay and respectable charting, thanks in part to our wonderful publicist, Frank Roszak. Clarksdale is available for sale at www.CDBaby,com/cd/lizmandeville1 and at all Liz gigs!  Thanks to Hambone (aka Scott Hammer) on WDCB for having me and my husband, bassist Carl Uchiyama, play live on his blues show, what fun! Thanks to publicist Lynn Orman for her assist. I also returned to the Blues Music Awards in Memphis in May to network and carry on blues woman style. Thanks to Nick Moss for inviting me to sit in on his show at the Rum Boogie along with JP Soars and Terry Hank. That was a blast!

2012 was also a big year for collaborative efforts. I was part of four different incredible shows with many great Chicago artists. In the Spring I was honored to be part of the cast of The Voices of Chicago, produced by Chicago Cabaret Artist most excellent, Darryl Nitz. The show, which was hosted by the Mayne Stage, featured great songs from all genres of music, written by historical Chicagoan's performed by electrifying artists from today's Chicago music scene. I had a ball working with Kimberly Gordon, Denise Thomasello, Lynne Jordan and a host of others.
Then later in Spring and again in Mid Summer, Joan Gand produced more of her wonderful Chicago Women In Blues shows. Our catch phrase "10 Diva's for 10 Dollars" is more than accurate! Dia Madden, Peaches Statten, Hollee Thee Maxwell and I are always on the show with a revolving cast of female talent that might feature Demetria Taylor, Vivian Vance Kelly, Shirley King, or, well, you get the picture. The first show, a big charity fund raiser, was held at the new Vipers Alley Club in Lincolnwood. That was followed in June by our 2nd legendary show at Reggies during the Chicago Blues Festival, and in August we put on a barn burning show at SPACE in Evanston. Thanks to the Blue Road Band for backing up all us Women!
November 6th was a nail-biter of a show held election eve. Chicago Blues Mamas For Obama, produced by Fran Allen-Leake and Lynn Ormann filled the Mayne Stage with heartfelt blues. A different line-up than either CWIB's or the VOC, this show also featured the voice of SiriusXMBlues, Big LLou, and Cookie Taylor, daughter to the late Queen of the Blues as MC's. Nellie Travis, Dietra Farr, Katherine Davis and Tracee Adams were just 4 of the pantheon of Diva's who performed with an all star band. I was sure in good company that night! Thanks to all who put these shows together and made them successful.

We had a SRO crowd for the Clarksdale CD release party at Buddy Guys Legends, Chicago in August. The band was made of musicians who'd contributed to the making of the CD with Lewis Powell sitting in the drum throne formerly occupied by Willie Smith. The audience was made up of friends, family and some folks who've supported my music over the last 3 decades! Thanks to the staff at Buddy's for all your help and to all my peeps who made the party memorable just by being there.

We also launched a new website at, designed by Darlene Wright and edited by Diane Stojentin, who also shot the video on the "Workshop Page" of the new website. This is the place to find out the latest gigs, shows, news, to hear music and see videos or to book me! I need lots of good work now, being a Diva is expensive!

In September, Dutch Blues Producer/Guitarist, Peter Struijk, flew over to Chicago to produce tracks for his next release on the Blueshine Label. The traditional, Delta style tracks featured the guitar of Rockin' Johnny Burgin and a new, original song written and performed by Ms Liz Mandeville (that's ME) with Burgin and Struijk on guitars. We also did a gig together, with special guests Mary Lane, Crankshaft and Peter Harpman Marijkedulk at the Lizard Lounge in Chicago.

Rockin Johnny and Peter Struijk also laid the rhythm tracks for the 2nd Blue Kitty Music Release. One song only, "Watch Out For Santa" is a holiday blues with a whole lotta soul, thanks in part to Martin Lang who added the perfect classic Chicago blues harp and vocal asides to my 12-bar loping lump! I released this tune (which is available only until tomorrow BTW, get it NOW!!) for a limited time only, to help raise funds for the Red Cross Super-storm Sandy Releif Fund. You can get this special release at CDBaby.com It's only a dollar, but every cent counts.

October found me piling into the new Honda Touring Van, Pearl, and headed down to Clarksdale MS for a round of CD release parties, thanks to my friends Theo & Cindy at the Rock & Blues Museum, Art, Carol and Amanda at the Blues Berry Cafe and Stan & Dixie Street at the Hambone Gallery. Also a big shout out to Darryl Wright who came along to play bass, Roz Wilcox who played drums, Lon Mickelson who provided introductions, Robin Lane who played folk instruments he created and Sean "Bad" Apple who provided rhythm & charm galore. Sean gets the ladies to "Shake that thing" where ever he plays!
Thanks to my old friend the Legendary Sonny Payne, DJ on The King Biscuit Hour, Helena AK, for inviting me to be a guest on his show and to my new friends Paul & Bobbie Wilson WROX AM&FM in Clarksdale, for the support, interviews and Honolulu hook-up.
I also participated in the filming of the King Biscuit Blue Festival, my third year of running a camera for my friends Gary & Carol Vincent, and got to see some amazing talent through the lens.
We followed that week of music and merry/moneymaking with a trip to Louisiana for a networking and fun. In New Orleans I played my washboard and sang with Waylon Thibedeoux the Cajun Fiddler on Bourbon Street while staying with new friend Helene Shaw who also accompanied us to Houma LA where we attended the Voice of the Wetlands Fest. Special thanks go out to Herbert and Allie for hosting us again in Houma, may God Bless YOU.

In November, back in Chicago, I started hosting the Thirsty Thursday Full Band Pro Jam at the Water Hole in Chicago, which will happen the last Thursday of every month. We also returned for Holiday Music at the Airport, thanks to the City of Chicago Dept of Aviation., as we do every Thanksgiving and Christmas. We released "Watch Out For Santa" in November too!

Ah, December! Because my friend Kristjian trained and ran the Chicago Marathon with the "Team To End AIDS/HIV", (a group of dedicated athletes who run marathons to raise awareness and money to fight that dreaded disease) and did so well he was invited to run in Honolulu. At the same time KTUH FM DJ Steve Stoddard was spinning Clarksdale in regular rotation. So I contacted Steve to say "Thanks!" and ended up traveling to Honolulu and playing a series of gigs with local musicians there. Kristjian ran the marathon in 4:17 and then stayed to accompany me to gigs with Kevin Coleman and the Flat Five at On Stage Drinks & Grinds & Anna O'Brien's as well as radio appearances on the Perry & Price Show, KSSK and Something Blue, KTUH. Special thanks go out to Steve & Libby Stoddard, Dr.John Hart PhD. and Mailee, the staff at the Imperial Hawaiian Honolulu, for a wonderful and rewarding experience Mahalo and Aloha to you all!

Meanwhile, all year long I've continued to DJ for the Blues Show, WNUR-FM, one Sunday a month. Thanks to Mike Baum for offering me that honor! Just this year I've been lucky enough to interview Tommy Castro, Mike Zitto, Bettye LaVette and Dan Hicks and to spin new and old blues music with nobody telling me what I had to play. I've also continued to write interviews and reviews for my good friend Linda Cain's fine publication, The Chicago Blues Guide   This is where you can read my reviews of CD's & live shows from John Mayall to Lee Ritenour. This free, totally online e-zine (no trees are sacrificed for the CBG!) covers the best blues in Chicago written by blues insiders. Linda proudly told me we are now receiving more than 20,000 unique hits per month!

All year while doing all this, I was also caring for my soldier husband who was injured while serving in a Mulit-National Peace-keeping mission and required three separate surgeries that kept him laid up for the better part of the year. I'm happy to serve this man who means so much to me, who has taught me so much and who continues to be my greatest source of strength and encouragement as a man. I thank GOD that he is now healthy and has returned to duty, but it sure was fun having him home. His military career was the source of inspiration for several of my new songs from Clarksdale, including the ballad "A Soldiers' Wife" and the anthem for our women warriors, "My Mama Wears Combat Boots."

WOW! What a year, no wonder I'm tired. I hope all you who read this know how much I appreciate you. Thank you for being a big part of my life. If I've forgotten to thank you Bill Wax, Jimi Patricola, Frank John Hadley, my sister Robin, Eric Steiner, Mike O'Cull, thanks! If I've forgotten to thank you, please consider that I love you and appreciate all you've done even if you didn't see your name here. GOD bless you.
Liz Mandeville

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Book The Time!! How Willie "Big Eyes" Smith Got Me to Start My Own Record Label.

Bob Stroger, Liz Mandeville, Willie Smith
at the 2010 AK Blues and Heritage Fest.

Sitting around waiting for your life to begin? I'm here to tell you CARPE DIEM! Seize this day and make your dreams happen.
Nobody is promised a tomorrow. Wouldn't you hate to wake up dead only to find you'd blown your chance to be what you could've been?
Don't wait for somebody to discover you! You have to discover yourself before other people will recognize what a truely amazing being you are!

Here's the true story of how my friend,
Willie "Big Eyes" Smith 
helped me do just that:

One night, early last spring, I went to Rosa's Lounge where I'd been invited to help Amy Bratt celebrate her birthday. Amy was radiant, her favorite music was playing and her favorite cupcakes were being consumed.

It was a star studded night, Debby Davies band was headlining, with Tony Rogers, Nora Jean Wallace and her manager Lois in the audience.  Mama Rosa was doing a brisk business as Joined At the Hip's Robert Stroger and Willie"Big Eyes" Smith were also there celebrating their Grammy win that night with (long-time Legendary Blues Band Guitarist) Billy and Mary Flynn along with a jovial bar crowd.

Bob, Willie and I had a long and storied history. I'd met and played with Bob Stroger back in the 80's when I first happened on the Chicago Blues Scene. Bob Stroger, with his red Custom bass rig and unshakable groove, could  make any band sound tight. He still does, as he proved later that night when he and Willie took the stage with Debbie and her assorted special guests.

Back in the early 90's, when guitarist Billy Flynn had taken a sabbatical to help Mary raise their daughter, my then husband, Willie Greeson, had left our band to fulfill a life's dream: he joined the Legendary Blues Band. I got to know the Smith family during those early mornings when I'd drive down to the south side to drop my husband off at their crib before the bands' many road trips. The house was always neat, warm and welcoming and filled with the aroma of Lou's fried chicken getting it's last browning before she packed it up for her husband to take on the road.

Later, when I was playing with Aron Burton's Band at Blue Chicago, Willie Smith would sub for his son Kenny, who at that time was our regular drummer before Dave Jefferson joined up following Albert Kings' demise. I was there the night Jude Curio (Aron's GF at the time and an avid blues fan and documentarian) re-named a then 19 year old Kenny Smith.
"So what's your name and who are you?" Jude demanded.
"I'm Kenny Smith, Willies son" Kenny explained.
"Well if he's "Big Eyes" that must make you "Beady Eyes!" Jude proclaimed.
Although I'd hardly call Kenny Smith "Beady" eyed, the name stuck and there it is.

Willie Smith's brilliantly sloppy yet somehow solidly in the pocket shuffle, his down to earth attitude and professionalism always made him a pleasure to play with and to be around.

But back to Rosa's. I walked over to my two long time friends, Willie and Bob, and offered to buy them a celebratory cocktail.
"Man, " I said to Willie, "I want to win a Grammy, what do I need to win a Grammy, Willie?"
Without blinking an eye he answered "Patience!"
We all laughed, then I said "Willie, I suggested to Michael Frank back in '98 that I wanted to make a record with you, Willie Kent, Allen Batts and George Baze. He nixed it. He said I'd be over shadowed by my side men."
Willie looked incredulous, he said "Well, first I don't know how you could be over shadowed by the guys playing with you, and besides that, all them cats but Allen is dead!"
"Well," I went on, "I still want to make a record with you."
Willie didn't hesitate. "Book the time!" he said. "Look, I never made a dime in the music business until I started making my own records. Last year I did good business, my son helped me and we did it all ourselves. If I can do it, you can. And you should!"
He was very emphatic and actually named some pretty impressive figures. He said "Kenny's pretty savvy, he'll help you. Give him a call, I'll help you too! Book the time!"

The very next day I called my friend Jim Godsey, who's engineered on all my recorded work. I said "Jim, I want to get back in the studio. I need a good sounding live room where I can record all the rhythm tracks at the same time, like back in the day. I'm paying for this out of my own pocket, so I need a guy that'll work with us"
Jim said "Give me a few days, let me make some calls."

Less than a week later he called me and said "There's a guy in Palatine in the basement of the old Harris Bank building who's got what we need."

I trust Jim's judgement so we went on and booked two afternoons at Planet10 in Palatine where a smiling Jimmy Johnson greeted us with steaming hot coffee and a warm, organic sounding room. Willie Smith,  Darryl Wright (Bassist/arranger) and I went in and knocked out 5 tracks that first afternoon.

It's a good thing I didn't wait around because, as most of you blues folk know, Willie Smith was laid to rest before 2011 was out. Thanks, Willie, it would never have happened without you.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Best Eggs in the World are from Zottegem Belgium!

Welcome to 2012! If the Mayans and the Hopis are right we will all be profoundly changed by the end of this year. I look forward to change, what choice do I have?

Acording to my wise friend, Erwin Helfer, one of the cornerstones of life is impermanance. (More on my 7 hour intensive chat with the great Chicago Pianist and Sage later) All we can do is live and try to learn from our experiences. Behind every success are a host of failures. The difference between winners and losers is the former have fallen, gotten up, dusted themselves off and tried again and again. Enjoy your challenges, be bold and I'll tell you some stories.

I've had Europe on my mind lately, my many interesting friends there, who have all contributed to my good life and long memories! It all started for me in Belgium, well, actually it started at Blue Chicago where I was the Tuesday night Diva, singing with Aron Burton's Band. Unbeknown to me, a wild and crazy Belgian entrepreneur named Filip Moore had come to the Chicago Blues Festival and on to Blue Chicago afterwards to see my show.

We had a hot band back then, regular members included Allen Batts (who'd played with Aron in Albert Collins band during their Alligator years) on keys, Jr. Wells bandleader, George Baze played guitar and after George passed Michael Dotson took his place (before leaving to tour the world with Magic Slim). We had Orlando Wright (now Buddy Guys bass player) and either Willie or Kenny Smith. Everybody sang, everybody shined, it was a HOT band, one of those times in life you look back on with amazement. The band is documented, BTW, on the 1996 Earwig release Aron Burton Live from Legends, but that's another story.

The first time I went to Europe Filip Moore brought me to Belgium to play the 1995 Moore Blues Festival in Zottegem Belgium with headliners John Primer, Albert King, Rod Piazza and the Mighty Fliers and Tom Principato. We were all staying at the same family run hotel (except Albert King, who found it beneath his level of stardom, and he was moved to a Hilton or some such in Brussels, far away from the fun. Later, I ended up working with his drummer, Dave Jefferson, but we didn't meet at that time.) and after the last night of the festival we all sat together out in the garden, (except Rod Piazza who was feeling ill) looking up at the stars, enjoyng the company, telling jokes and smoking immeasurable quantities of hash before having to submit to airport security the next day. Have you ever drunk yourself sober? Well, we smoked ourselves straight, I've never really liked hash after that, except this one time in Germany, but that's another story.

As a festival and first trip to Europe, it was an amazingly successful time. Great crowds of blues loving fans packed the countryside for the entire weekend, drinking the staggering variety of Belgian Beers, eating the wonderful, fresh food, and listening! The music sounded great, everybody was on time and in tune. It was so successful, in fact, that Filip brought me back the following February for another short tour.  

Because everything in Belgium is driving distance from everything else in Belgium, I was lodged in a studio apartment about 5 miles out of Zottegem (which I'm told is Flemmish for 'Town of Fools') on the property of two good friends of Filips, who lived with their two small children in a converted school building across a stone courtyard from my accommodations. When it was time for the gig one of the band would come collect me, drive me to the show and then see me home after, quite convenient and more logical than a hotel.

The studio was an ancient stone building and the whole place was situated on an old stone road built centuries earlier by invading Romans. Outside my window was a cow pasture, down the old Roman road one could walk past family farms with Brussels Sprout bushes growing in their front yards and plow horses stamping in the back. They really DO eat Brussels sprouts here and lots of Belgian endive, cooked every way possible, but I digress.

I walked down this road one day, without a map, a phone or any knowledge of Flemmish, which is what people spoke around those parts, and found myself in a small Medieval town. Most of it seemed closed, but I did find my way to a museum with archaeological artifacts from the surrounding area. Piecing together the French, Latin and Flemmish descriptions I came to understand that the whole area had been under Roman occupation at one time and all the peasants thereabouts beholden to Caesar. Hmm, interesting, but the snack shop was closed and I was actually looking for some food. Behold, another turn and there was a tiny store with just eggs, milk, yogurt and cheese. I bought one of each and walked back to my ancient digs to eat them.

Without condiments or butter, without, onions or veggies, I was not too excited about eating these boiled eggs, but let me just tell you: I never had eggs before I had those fresh from the farm, Belgian Eggs!
I've had eggs in New Orleans at a famous breakfast establishment; not nearly as good.
I've had eggs in Iowa, supposedly laid in the hands of pure of heart Amish Folk, they don't hold a candle. These Belgian eggs had yellows that were nearly orange! They were so full of flavor, the whites actually had personality!!

I began to wonder what the heck we're doing to American eggs to make them taste so bland and watery?

Somebody once said "You might not remember what somebody said, but you remember how they made you feel."  I guess the Belgian eggs were such a sensory delight that I've never forgotten them, they almost overshadow the strange supernatural events that began to transpire the moment I stepped foot in that ancient studio, but that's another story.