A Division of The Texas Blues Roadhouse

The Magical Ascent of Blacktop Mojo

I can’t tell you how many times I have been in discussion of music with a ‘boomer’, (no offense, I am just under the line on that demographic myself) when they will unfailingly state something along the lines of “today’s music sucks”, or “rock is dead” or “nobody makes good music anymore”. I often immediately wonder to myself how out-of-touch this person must be, when a band like Blacktop Mojo not only exists, but puts out original music and tours annually, (both as headliner and supporting more well-known acts) with the level of musicianship, flat-out personality and self-deprecating wit that their fans have grown to love and appreciate. It’s hard not to hear them, or see their shows, without coming away wanting more, and counting yourself a lifelong fan.

Matt James

With humble beginnings in Palestine, Texas, they have independently put out three albums to date, the latest one “Under The Sun” debuted at #19 on the Billboard Hard Rock albums Chart and its single, “Can’t Sleep”, landed in Billboard Mainstream Rock Top 40, rising to #27 on the chart.

Philip Mosley produced the album, and it was recorded at Rosewood Studios in Tyler TX. Austin Deptula mixed it, and has done all their mixes since day one. ‘Scott Campbell Design’ out of Alabama did the incredible artwork. Musically, it takes you on a journey of Rock N Roll living, break-ups and make-ups, sinister and spooky at times, (The Lashing-Ghost, Can’t Sleep) sorrowful Blues, (It Won’t Last, The Void) and head-banging, foot stomping, heavy-metal beats (Lay It On Me, Keep). Something for everybody, but cohesive enough to listen all the way through, without getting bored. So very listenable.

They’ve just officially wrapped their national tour in support of ‘Under The Sun’ for now, but have plenty of dates ahead, after they take a much-needed month’s break. They’ll be kicking things off again at Texas Music City Grill & Smokehouse in Lindale, TX on March 29th.

Chuck Wepfer

I asked the guys what stood out for them, in the making of this album, and/or in touring to support it. Drummer, and co-founder Nathan Gillis had this to say. “As far as what stood out making the record – So many of the songs started out with guitar riffs, and I really loved what Kiefer and the guys were coming up with, so much. I wanted to make sure I didn’t get too busy on the drums, but accompany what I considered to be the best guitar riffs we’ve had on a record so far. I honestly felt like I didn’t hardly do anything on this record. It was so easy to just vibe out what they were coming up with. Definitely the least stressed I’ve ever been at doing my part in the writing process.”

Nathan Gillis

They have indeed made Rock fans happy with this album, (and a few ‘boomers’ too) harking back to old classic-rock gems, relying heavily on their signature ‘blues-infused-southern-rock-but-yet-indie-grunge’ sound, that somehow fits together nicely, like whiskey with a chaser of kombucha.

Their shows are lively and loud, with each of the players giving it their all, complete with a lot of onstage antics and wry humor. If it’s your first time seeing them, watch the bass player. Catt Murtis takes ‘performance’ to a whole other level. His stage name came from the need to distinguish one of the two Matts from each other, thus…Matt Curtis became Catt Murtis. Brilliant! What a character, and in action, very ‘cat-like’ actually.

Catt Murtis

Catt had this to say on writing and collaboration among the group: “I would say the biggest difference is just how we have grown together as a family, and a band. We all know how one another works, and we know how to work together, in everything we do. And we’ve all helped each other get better, at what each individual does. And writing together just comes much easier, because of that.”

Their VIDEOS are both moody (Can’t Sleep) and hysterical, and show just how good their sense of humor is, (Come Get Your Coat) while not taking themselves too seriously. They have every right to, considering their level of playing, and seriously good song-smithery going on. Each and every band member could be considered in the top category of their individual musical instrument’s mastery, and most of them have proficiency in more than one instrument.

20200212_blacktop_mojo_0235-2They have indeed made Rock fans happy with this album, (and a few ‘boomers’ too) harking back to old classic-rock gems, relying heavily on their signature ‘blues-infused-southern-rock-but-yet-indie-grunge’ sound, that somehow fits together nicely, like Texas whiskey with a chaser of kombucha.

Picking up new fans are a piece of cake for these guys, as I was witness to, when I caught their show at ‘Encore Tucson’ early in February, 2020. This was the first time the band had been to Tucson AZ, but the crowd was huge, and VERY appreciative. The same scenario has played out all over the country, at many other venues, not surprisingly.

That Voodoo That You Do

…”the growth of the shows has also stood out. We’ve had much bigger turnouts in the last year than we ever have, and it’s amazing to see that happen. Especially some places where, when we played before, we had a handful of people, to now 3 or 4 times as many. It’s amazing to see, and we are so thankful!” – Catt

Co-founder Matt James, lead singer, lyricist and sometime guitar-man said, “This album was the first record we got to make as full time musicians. We got off the road and locked ourselves in our house for 6 months, and worked on it 24/7 until we were ready to track it. We nearly drove ourselves and each other crazy while making it, but we got to make something that we’re very proud to call our own.”

Matt James on Acoustic

Ryan Kiefer, lead guitarist and vocal harmonies guy, had this to say about collaboration with Chuck Wepfer, their newest member. “One thing that stood out to me was how well we all collaborated on this record, compared to the last two. Being that Chuck is the newest to the lineup, it was great having Chuck’s input on different ideas, along with everyone else.” In my own opinion, the guitar licks are getting better with each album, and while ‘Burn The Ships’ had great riffs, this one matches or surpasses it, which isn’t an easy feat.  This is the guitar band you’ve been yearning for. So listenable, without hitting you over the head with endless solos. They show their stuff, and then you are back on the road to the melody. So tasteful, and such capable guitarists, and this band has FOUR. Catt and Matt both play as well. I think that must be the magic to the songwriting. They ALL get it. You don’t have instruments fighting against each other. Everything blends, and blends so darn well, you get to just feel the story and the playing, the way it should be.

Ryan Kiefer

The other pretty consistent thing I hear from fans, old and new, is just what nice guys the band members are. I got that from the first time I met them, and it continues to be a big part of their appeal. Ask some of the folks on their official fan-club page on Facebook – Mojo Nation. In fact, give it a like and follow along on their adventures, if you want.

Article Copyright 2020 – Abby Owen

Photography Copyright 2020 – Katarzyna Cepek Photograpy

Other Media Copyright 2020 – Blacktop Mojo

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Blacktop Mojo – ‘Burn The Ships’ CD Review by Abby Owen

To say Blacktop Mojo’s ‘Burn The Ships‘ has something for everyone is too simplistic. Let me elaborate. If you look for good drumming in your Rock music, this is truly bad-ass.  Nathan Gillis delivers spectacularly. If your favorite instrument is guitar, this far surpasses their peers. Ryan Kiefer flows from eloquence to knife-edge licks depending on what the song calls for, with Kenneth Irwin on as a very capable rythym guitarist. If the vocalist-frontman is who you look for as the standout, he is off the charts. Matt James growls out or softly sings the story with perfect pitch and conviction.  If you need to hear a strong bass-line to appreciate the mix, this is outstanding. Matt Curtis is as accomplished a bass player as he is fun to watch. If production is the thing that makes or breaks it for you, you will not be disappointed. This is top of the line. Right down to the album title and the artwork, this one hits it out of the park.15327426_1319681664730824_1293627615574736380_n

‘Where The Wind Blows’, the first radio single, is astonishingly good, and has been picked up by several media outlets. If you’d like to see the YOUTUBE VIDEO, <—(click here) to see what I mean.

The album lyrics are better than anything I’ve heard in a long while. They draw you in and make you feel you are witnessing a man’s struggle to make it in a restrictive and challenging existence. You feel his pain. The themes are sometimes based in classical literature, as in ‘Prodigal’ with the references to the Greek mythology of Icarus and his tragic fall into the sea after the wax in his homemade wings melted from him getting too close to the Sun. Other times it is a basic struggle between what is expected and what an individual has found for himself. “How do I describe the color of the sky when you’ve never been outside?” This is some of the brilliant introspection in the track ‘Shadows On The Wall’. Another is a warning to someone who never seems to learn in ‘Pyromaniac’. Even though the lyrics can be deep and philosophical, they stop short of being too ‘preachy’ and rather give one room to think and examine their own interpretations more easily. Who doesn’t feel the inner rage and Viking pride well up when singing along with the title track ‘Burn The Ships’, ”As you look into your enemies eyes there’s only one choice left …FIGHT OR DIE!!!”

16487300_10208206442986148_1992459204163220453_oAlthough they all contribute to the writing of the music, I cannot stress enough how impressed I am with the lyrics on all these album tracks. So much so, I had to find out who primarily writes the lyrics for the band, and I learned for this album it was mostly Matt James, vocalist and front-man. I’ve met Matt. It was shortly before the album dropped, in a small club in Baytown TX and he was the nicest, most humble guy in the world, and all the more reason I am thrilled to see them getting so much good recognition with this album. He isn’t the only writer, but he really shines on this one.

14600953_1289072831125041_3154020811934348625_nTheir live shows are incredible too; very professional and every bit as sharp and tight as the studio work. It wasn’t all that surprising to see them picked to open for Bon Jovi in early 2017 after winning a video contest, and then playing behind Sammy Hagar at SXSW in Austin shortly after. Right place, right time? …or competent and capable of stepping onto the ‘Big Stage’ with ease? Maybe a little of both. I mustn’t fail to mention their cover of ‘Dream On’ by Aerosmith is…dare I say, almost better than the original. Completely on point and very enjoyable.

Getting back to the production, they spared no expense in getting top notch engineers, production personnel, studios and mixing experts. Philip Mosley produced it along with Jimmy Johnson. Engineers include Steve Melton, Zachary Pancoast, John Gifford III & Spencer Coats. Mixing Engineer was Austin Deptula of Rosewood /Studios. The album was recorded at Sound Emporium Studios in Nashville TN, Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals AL & Audioworx Studios in Palestine TX, a small town they call home in a city of roughly 18.5K people. Palestine is about midway and a little to the right (East) between Dallas and Houston.

To recap, GET THIS ALBUM! It hits all the points without a flaw, and believe me I looked.

Copyright 2017 – Abby Owen

Photos Used by Permission – Copyright 2017 – Blacktop Mojo

Clay Shelburn Interview by Abby Owen

Clay Shelburn at Dosey Doe - Houston TX  10/02/2015
Clay Shelburn at Dosey Doe – Houston TX 10/02/2015

Part Two – In presenting part two of my interview with Clay Shelburn, I want to discuss his new CD, so we will pick up the conversation where I asked about his C.D. Release plans. You can find Part One <—HERE when you click on this link, if you haven’t read it yet.

Can you share details about the label, the studio or the engineers that worked on the new CD with us?, I asked Clay, as we sat down to snack on a sandwich on the evening of Annika Chambers’ 30th Birthday Party at The Big Easy, in Houston TX. Clay’s lovely wife Tiffany was there as well.

IMG_6641“Yeah! We recorded a lot of the rhythm tracks at a place called Playhouse in Wylie. I don’t know. I think it’s kind of semi-private, like you have to know them. My engineer knows the guy, so we were able to use it.” What is your engineer’s name? “Bradley Prakope. He’s really good. He’s got a great ear.” So, you like to use him for your engineering? “I do. Bradley did my first record 5 years ago, and did a fantastic job on this one as well. He used to be in Dallas and is now in Nashville where ‘I Feel a Sin’ was recorded at 1092 studios. 5 years’ worth of all of us honing our respective crafts made MY sound everything I hoped it would be and more! Audio Dallas was another studio we did overdubs in, as well as my producer, Josh Goode’s, private studio.”

'Broke Down & Blue'
‘Broke Down & Blue’

What was the name of that first CD, and how do I get one? “It is called ‘Broke Down & Blue’ <—(LINK), and it’s available on iTunes. The track that performed the best off that was ‘Fullmoonshine’, but people really connected with ‘Little Angel’ too. I didn’t really push anything to radio with a promoter on that CD, but a couple of awesome people Mike Crow and Jim Nash from 106.9 The Ranch spun ‘Fullmoonshine’ for me a bunch of times. 95.9 The Ranch has done it too.

Do you have someone in promotion working on your radio distribution? “I do. I have a guy that has really great connections with radio and promo. He knows what charts and radio stations to contact. He’s connected nationwide. He’s a good family friend as well.”

IMG_7552So far, Clay and Tiffany tell me, they have kept as much of the business workings between just the two of them. Tiffany offers up a piece of advice her dad once told her. “My dad was his own business owner, and he said that you are the only two people you can really trust at the end of the day, because only you have each others best interest, and you have to work through keeping that going.” I’m glad you guys are on that, I say, when Clay adds, “This one here is to business as I am to music. She’s just gifted. It’s so nice to have the honest wife that I’ve always dreamed of. She really is a blessing. I got a complete ‘Mulligan’ with this one.” (laughing) There was a lot more about how they ended up together, as they have quite a long history, but I think it’s safe to say they are both very happy and feel fortunate that their roads intertwined and came to the same destination.

With the release of the new album Clay is set to tour the nation to promote it, and then internationally after that. He tells me he is really big in Brazil! They are also getting things together for a U.K. Tour next Spring, hopefully.

What would you like your fans to know that is important to you? “Honesty is important to me. It’s a big part of my life. I’ve been burned by liars. I don’t like liars and thieves. I try to promote positivity. I like doing things for people without expecting anything back, paying it forward. There’s so much doom and gloom in the world now, I just want to be as positive as I can every day and make somebody smile. That’s really what my goal is. My music. I want to use whatever musical platform I have to spread a positive message.”

‘Defined’ Released November 1, 2015

Review of CD:

(Click on photo for link to purchase.)

The first thing that struck me was the quality of the production. VERY professional sound. “Young Country” seems to be the pervading sound on most of the tracks. I usually review Blues, but this CD actually transcends genre, and is full of good songs, period. ‘A Day At A Time’ is a softer sound than most of the tracks, with smooth backing vocals and a nice message for everyone. ‘Black Widow’, in contrast, is gritty- funky – fun with a darker story. A warning, if you will, about a woman who is up to no good. Not surprisingly, it is my favorite song on the album. That and ‘Dance With Me’, probably the biggest “Hit” if I dare to speculate. It is just so well done, and a great story to be told of a young man’s budding interest in a young woman. The stuff dreams are made of. Very catchy too. Clay’s voice is so right on track in so many ways. He has great pitch, control, and smooth delivery that can crescendo to gut-wrenching drama in the blink of an eye. Again, professional. Soulful. Bluesy. ‘Ever After’ is obviously a tribute to his sweet lady. A thank you for saving him after heavy heartbreak. His electric leads are right on track. Just the right number of notes. Tasteful. He definitely isn’t one of those guys that just wail away forever on his guitar until you wish the song would end. In fact, I found myself wishing the songs would go on longer. He has perfected that ‘leave them wanting more’ element to songwriting that I find very refreshing. There is never a dull moment, or a song that you scratch your head over, wondering why he bothered to put it on the album. They all fit together nicely, and the album is a pleasure to listen to all the way through. ‘Falling For You’ is another great song I could imagine hearing on just about any radio station format. It’s got some nice organ and horns to fill it out too. ‘Flavors of Funkytown’ is a chance for Clay to show his stuff on the guitar. It’s an instrumental foray into a more funk/rock sound, but it never gets old, due to the interesting twists and turns it takes, and the highly capable guitar work. ‘I feel A Sin Coming On’ is another “Hit” for sure. As good as anything I’ve heard on the Country stations. Clay’s songwriting is exceptional. I never hear a line I think should’ve been worded differently. He’s really good at telling a story with just the right verse. Very poetic. Clay’s songs get stuck in my head to where I find myself singing them to myself as I go about my day. Very catchy, so many of them. ‘Livin’ A Lovin’ Lie’ is a soulful-country sound, sparse and haunting with touches of a gospel feeling as well. ‘This Is Me’ has a ‘Soul-twisting Bluesy twang’…as indicated in the lyrics of the song. It goes on to explain that Clay’s sound “ain’t pure country, it’s kinda rocky and a little funky”. I really love the lyrics of this one, and the musicianship is again, accomplished and professional. His guitar work is superb. Another definite “hit”. ‘You Lied’ is another crushing story of heartbreak, easily identified with by anyone who has been unlucky enough to trust the wrong person. Great production, lyric and musicianship. I would venture to say there are, at the very least, four solid hits on the album, and a possible seven. I kid you not. This young man has extraordinary talent in songwriting, playing and singing. A triple-dip of artistry that is so hard to find wrapped up in only one person. Highly unusual, and I highly recommend you get his CD as soon as it becomes available. You will definitely not regret it. ~ Abby Owen, Texas Blues Roadhouse

Copyright 2015 – Abby Owen

Image Copyright 2015 – Abby Owen

Image Copyright 2015 – and by permission – Clay Shelburn

Clay Shelburn Interview by Abby Owen

I’m sitting here at a sandwich shop in Houston, TX, across the street from The Big Easy, H-town’s most well-known Blues joint, talking to Clay and Tiffany Shelburn. View More: is performing in Houston (video) this evening to join a host of surprise guests invited to participate in Miss Annika Chambers’ 30th Birthday Party, being celebrated at The Big Easy(video). I asked him if he wouldn’t mind us chatting a bit for the purpose of giving his many new fans an opportunity to learn more about this sudden internet sensation.

Friday, September 7th, 2015 – The first internet exposure happened when Clay and his new bride decided to marry. They got married this year, February 27th, 2015. They were quite the human interest story around town due to the fact they had an outdoor wedding planned, and the weather decided to step in and give them a ‘White Wedding’, literally. And now, every time I re-read that line, I hear Billy Idol. You can find out all about THAT particular viral event by typing in ‘Clay & Tiffany Shelburn wedding’ into Google for the news segment on YouTube.

The Shelburns
The Shelburns

Who is Clay Shelburn you ask? Have you ever heard of the ‘WalMart Rockstar’? Same guy. But more on that in a moment…

I asked Clay how he knew Annika Chambers, another very good friend of mine, and a girl who is taking the Blues world by storm since hitting the scene in Houston about three years ago.

“I started driving down to Houston on Tuesdays for the Jive Bar jam, after deciding to spread some roots out in other places”, Yeah! Absolutely, I say. That’s where I met you. “Yeah, I met you, James Roosa, Corey Tice…” I say, James Roosa was conducting it at the time. Other friends of mine had conducted it previously, but he was doing it then. “Yeah, James was running it, and Oh man…I fell in love with his drummer Corey Tice. He’s so good!” I know! He’s another really good friend of mine. “He’s so good! And Wes Covington is another really cool dude I enjoyed meeting, and still kind of keep up with.” Oh yeah, I say. He’s on that video I took of you doing ‘Gimme One Reason’ (video) that has done so well on YouTube. He’s got some comments on there too. “He’s good! Brother can play. He’s got soul. I love Wes Covington.”

Clay With Annika
Clay With Annika

“Anyway, they were all telling me about Annika, and actually I came down with a friend a year later to go to the John Mayer concert. It ended kind of early, so I said Hey, Annika’s playing tonight. Let’s go see her. We need to go see this chick. She’s great. So we go there. It was The Big Easy, actually.” Ah, full circle, I say. “Yeah. Full circle. There’s a lot more to the whole story where that’s concerned, but yeah. She didn’t even have her actual album out yet, just some, y’know jewel-case CDs with writing on them. Lol! She gave a big ol’ lipstick smooch kiss on my CD. So that’s the first time I met her.”

“I’ve been keeping up with her, promoting her stuff [unofficially] up in town. [Dallas/Ft Worth] Then she came up with the Paul Ramirez Trio to play Keys Lounge.” Paul is the best! “Oh yeah.” I think Paul Ramirez might be the best guitar player in Houston, I say. When he gets into it he just SMOKES! “Oh yeah. I bought his CD! The way they did it was really smart. Paul and his guys did their set and opened, then they backed Annika and did her thing. It was like an old school band show kind of thing.”

You say you used to come down to play at Blanco’s? [Houston] “I used to come to Houston a lot with a guy named Jamie Richards, who was a Texas country artist. One of the more traditional ones. An incredible song writer.” How old were you back then? You must’ve been just a young’n. “When he found me I was twenty. Maybe twenty-one? I played with him for three years, took a year off and played with Charla Corn, then went back with him for a year. Between those two artists I played a lot of places down here, like the Galveston County fair, I played Blanco’s, I played on the City Hall steps in that big shebang they have there. I’ve gotten to play the Houston Rodeo Cookoff, on the big outside stage, not inside the Reliant Statium. It’s a big two-week-long ordeal. People are SERIOUS about that stuff, man! We used to go down there and they’d hire us for a week-long at this tent, then another week or a couple days at that tent…it was fun. A lot of funny stories around then.” It’ll be nice to see you on the big stage, I say, beaming. …on the inside someday, and I have no doubt. “I’d love to be there one day. I’m shooting for it.”

Now, the thing that got you attention, from the WORLD. The WalMart video. 2015-06-06_162240It went viral. Everyone has seen it. Since that has happened, can you tell us about what kind of new things are happening for you because of it? “Yeah! That video thing was crazy. We shot it two years ago. Zac Stokes and I played a gig together and we were bored afterwards, so we went and watched some movie. I think it was Transformers or Avengers or something.” So, you played a gig together. You weren’t in a band together? He has his own band and you have your own band? “Yeah. We have our own bands, but sometimes we do song swaps. Acoustic song swaps. Or sometimes there are times when Zac needs a bass player and I go play bass for him.” So you’re like, com padres in the music scene up there? “Yeah. Like Zac might call me and say ‘Hey man. I got a show and my P.A.’s broke. Can I borrow yours?’, and I’ll show up and set it up for him, or whatever. We’ve known each other for a while. I think that night I was playing bass for him. So we went to WalMart in Lakeworth and …the rest is history. He started playing this keyboard and I tuned the guitar up and we started playing the song. We didn’t record the first take, and I stopped it in the middle and said, ‘Hey. Why don’t you record this because it’s just stupid? People might laugh at it.’ Never expecting it to go viral. I joke around now and say if I had known it was going to be seen, I’d have sang louder, in full voice, like actually the way I sing. I was trying to not draw attention. So next thing I know BOOM! Four and a half million people have seen it, at least on MY channel, and some of those viral sites have three or four million hits also. It’s crazy.”

Who’s attention has it grabbed that might further your career? Have people contacted you in the music industry? Booking agents? Have things opened up to you because of the attention of that video? Because that is what your new fans want to hear. They’ve seen you singing full voice in other videos, kicking ass. Taking names. Is there anything you can share with us that’s on the horizon? “It’s definitely opened a lot of doors that were slammed shut. Some of the venues that were never calling me back are coming to me now, wanting me to play shows. Venues are calling and offering shows that never would have before.” WalMart reached out to you, right? The WalMart meeting that you played? “Yeah. That was really cool. WalMart flew us out for their Saturday morning meeting and we had a lot of fun doing that.” And you can see that on YouTube as well. “Yep. It’s on YouTube. ‘WalMart Rockstars at WatMart AMP‘…or something. It was a really cool experience.”

“Labels have approached me. I haven’t found the right deal, I guess.” Then we talked a little bit about Clay’s new CD. As of this writing, the CD was just about ready for release, so in the interest of having more details and a link to the album later on, I’m going to stop here and finish in a ‘Part Two’ installment of my interview with Clay Shelburn in a few weeks. Stay tuned!

While we wait for the CD, and ‘Part Two’ of the interview, get ready for a special treat. Clay will be in Houston on October 2nd at Dosey Doe – Big Barn in The Woodlands with his full band. Starting around 7:00, I believe. Come see this great Texas Blues/Rock/Country artist who is also a very approachable and loving young man. (And …have you seen those EYES?!?!)  One of those guys you feel you have known all your life. Ditto with Mrs Shelburn too. Best wishes for a long and happy life together, you two. See you at Dosey Doe!

Copyright 2015 – Abby Owen

Image Copyright 2015 – and by permission – Clay Shelburn

Video Copyright 2015 – Clay Shelburn

Video Copyright 2015 – Abby Owen


Billy Gibbons – Perfectamundo…

Blues Magazine’s article on Billy Gibbons – Perfectamundo, debut solo album from ZZ Top guitarist/vocalist. <—(Click to read on their site.)


The Blues Foundation Selects New President & CEO | The Blues Foundation

New C.E.O. Barbara B. Newman

Click to read the latest news from The Blues Foundation: The Blues Foundation Selects New President & CEO | The Blues Foundation. Board Chairman Paul E. Benjamin added, “She will be a great leader who will help us move forward, taking The Blues Foundation to new heights. We all look forward to working together creating a great team.”

Kern Pratt ~ Broken Chains ~ Review & Interview by Abby Owen


Broken Chains, Kern Pratt’s new album has been getting some great reviews. No wonder. It’s solid. A real look into the past from the first note on a resonator guitar which becomes an interlude (that you didn’t realize you needed) between the fast pace of life and putting on this CD, setting you up for a step back in time and setting the tone of the project. Tradition. Blues. Soul. Nothing too flashy here. It’s old school right down to the rumba beat on ‘Don’t Leave Me Baby’, one of Kern’s own, by the way, to Albert Collins’ slow blues favorite ‘Lights Are On’, which gives my old Texas heart a twangy twitter. Reminds me a bit of Mark May’s style, but Pratt has a more earthy rumble vocally and has a nice sleepy guitar lead. Not ‘too many notes’, you might say. You can tell Pratt appreciates the nostalgic lure of the old greats, and identifies with them, growing up in the rough and tumble world of the South with its hot Summer nights and dingy Ice-houses. The world of the neon moon, as it were. The Texas blues-rock greats of the past like Albert Collins, Freddie King, Guitar Shorty were all influences of Hendrix and the Stones. If you’ve never listened to them much, do yourself a favor. They will never leave your collection again, I’m certain.


Pratt is from Jackson, MS which gives him a whole other take on the blues. Delta boogie and juke-joint roadhouses come to mind. Pratt’s ‘Greenville Mississippi Blues’ is a prime example of that rockin’ good-time music with keys pounding out the boogey-woogey. ‘Cotton Pickin’ is a fun-vibe instrumental with cool horns and tasty lead guitar. My favorite cover is his version of ‘Handcuffed To The Blues’. Funky groove!

11865348_1047928548560417_5159619702916849887_oKern Pratt has the look of a saddle-worn cowboy, with a voice that matches; a fitting image of a genre of music that’s a voice for the down-trodden and a cry for relief. But the blues can be a ‘juke-joint-jumpin’ rowdy good-time too. Kern Pratt has the fluidity to flow from one to the other with ease. When you add in his lovely lady Denise Owen, (we are not related, promise) it gets even more interesting. Their co-written ‘Soulshake’ is climbing the blues charts and has a fun, dance-able beat with a catchy tune & lyrics. Soft and sultry on ‘Smokin’ Gun’ Owen shows she is a talented songwriter as well as possessing a fluid soulful voice. Pratt has placed three times in the IBC’s in Memphis TN and has played with too many headliners to count. You can find out more about him on his website 

I asked Kern a few questions to add to this review, so here’s a little more about the man…

Q. I want to ask you about your parents. I see that you lost your mother early, age seven and your father in 2007. Would you like to tell your fans a little more about them, and their influence in your life?

A. Well, my mother’s death had a very profound effect on me, I can say it was and has been extremely difficult. That being said, it was at that time or not long after, I first started playing guitar. My dad owned a western auto store in Greenville, MS and right down the street was a music store. I would walk by and see the guitars, so I asked my dad to get me a guitar and lessons. This kind of gave me an outlet for the way I dealt with losing my mother. My dad always encouraged my music, in fact it was at his store that I met many great blues artists. For example, Calep Emphrey, “B.B. Kings” Drummer, Eugene Powel, AKA “Sonny Boy Nelson” Eddie Shaw “Howlin’ Wolf’s” sax player and band leader, just to name a few. There is so many other’s. Growing up around these great Blues artists definitely shaped the direction my music would go in. As I got older, my dad had the biggest influence on me; he was my biggest fan until the day he died, and I really miss him…

Q. What was what you consider to be your first ‘break’? Weather by luck or by hard work, that moment you feel you broke through to a larger audience.

A. I’ve been playing music for a really long time. I worked as a sideman for some really famous artists. I played with all the Great Greenville, MS bluesman and women. So its been a long road, I guess I would say I feel that I moved to another level about 8 weeks ago on Sunday. When I heard my songs on Live at the Midnight Circus with Richard L’ Hommedieu. After that, things just started rolling like crazy. In just five days we were number 1 in Mississippi. Number 22 nationwide and came in the Top 100 Picks at number 79 and we’ve moved to Number 57 as of this week.

Q. What happens when you are songwriting? What is the process you go through.Your method?

A. It’s funny, sometimes I just hear a riff in my head, or someone says something, and I think man that’s a good idea for a song. Sometimes something I read or something I dream about can make me think that as well. I woke up last night with an idea, but didn’t go to my voice recorder. Sometimes I’m not disciplined enough, but I try…

Q. We can all agree that the ‘music biz’ has changed drastically. What’s your take on it? (The good and/or the bad.)

A. Absolutely! The Indie Music Movement has begun to really take off, giving independent artists- like myself a worldwide form. Streaming, self distribution, i.e. CD Baby, ITunes, Amazon, Reverbnation, etc. has given artists control over things. In my opinion, it is the future of the music industry. Traditional stations are still very important because it does keep it personal, but podcasts and internet stations do that as well. I don’t see a down side.

Q. I know it’s a hard question, when music is obviously your passion, but if you HAD TO pick another profession, if there was no such thing as music, what would you like it to be?

A. It’s not a hard question, at all when my dad got ill I had to work as a EMT. I still played but I also worked shifts because I couldn’t travel and needed the security. So I’m feeling even more blessed and fortunate to be able to do what I love – playing the Blues!!

Q. What are some of the highlights from this album recording, or stories from the studio?

A. We had a wonderful experience in the studio, working with a Producer like David Hyde and an engineer like Nelson Blanchard and so many Great Musicians was exhilarating! But working with my singing partner and best friend, Denise Owen was by far the coolest thing!

Q. Do you have any ‘stories from the road’ or from gigging in your hometown that your fans might find amusing?

A. Yeah! We were on the road a few years ago and we got canceled on a gig, and were broke and hadn’t ate in a couple of days, so I said “Fella’s we’re going to Denny’s”. Then they said “we ain’t got no money” so I said “Y’all just trust me on this”.  So we walked on over and I told them “y’all get all the ketchup y’all can find and all the crackers”. I asked the waitress for 5 cups of hot water, and I told the guys to squeeze all the ketchup and crush the crackers in the cups and we had Redneck Tomato Soup!!! And it was real good at that point… That’s the Blues!

Q. Would you like to share with your fans something about your personal life, or your relationship? You have a lovely lady that is involved with your career, so I know many of us would like to know more. How you met? How you compliment one another? Funny stories to share? Future plans?

A. You know, I can’t get used to the word fan or fans. I consider these folk’s “Friends” that enjoy our music – normally I wouldn’t discuss my personal life but I’m going to make an exception this time because there are a lot of pictures on social media, etc. So here it goes, Denise Owen is my singing partner and is a professional with a life time in the music business. She has a solo track called “Smokin’ Gun” on the CD. We sing a duet – “Soulshake” on the CD as well. Incidentely, both are doing very well on the charts. So now, I’ll tell you about the other part. Yes, Denise is lovely and it’s great to be able to share the music with her. I saw Denise here in Jackson, MS 4-5 years ago; she was singing in a show band and I kinda thought, well she sure can sing and damn she’s pretty too! Well, I moved to Jackson, MS and started playing and we ended up working together as a duo, and I think y’all can figure out the rest. We sing great together, we laugh a lot and she’s my best friend. For the future? I’m gonna have to keep that underwraps, but you never know when you might hear some really cool news!

Q. Would you like to share something about the talented folks you surround yourself with as far as your ‘team’?

A. Absolutely! First, my executive producer, Kerry Brashear has been great. David Hyde has a history too long to go into! He did a great job producing this album and others; he is pure genius. Nelson Blanchard’s contribution was plain incredible. Engineered, mixed, background vocals – he is so talented. Denise Owen of course. Our special guest, Eden Brent… who I grew up with and has been a life long friend. The Blue’s Great Kenny Neal. Luc Borms, from Belgium who is also a great friend. Wes Lee, who played Resonater. My publicists Frank Roszak, who has done a remarkable job; I am proud he is on board, and even more proud to call him my friend. I have Johnny Palazzotto out of Baton Rouge, helping me also; he has been in this business a long time and I’m thankful for his help.

Q. What’s in store for Kern Pratt’s future? What do you have lined up? Also, what would you love to do musically if you could, and who with?

A. We are booked on some larger festivals, and are opening some shows for several major artists. We are hoping to sign with a booking agency soon and start touring. We are also looking at a tour in Belgium and possibly France next year. I’m already looking at doing another album, and Denise and I are also going to do another album together. That will be really cool.

To wrap this up I’d just like to say best of luck to you both, and keep on doing what you love! …looks like it’s working for you.

Copyright 2015 – Abby Owen, Photo Credits – JeffreLee Photography & Vicksburg Blues Society, Jim Steeby – Copyright 2015 – All Rights Reserved

Back in the saddle…

Howdy, y’all!

After the utter disappointment of finding out all my previously written interviews/articles were lost when the national news blog I wrote for (as their Texas Blues Writer) closed, I have had to come to terms with the thought of dredging up the lost files I created on my PC, without photos and last minute tweaking in many cases, if I want to re-publish them for posterity. I will do just that…eventually, but in the meantime I thought I might try doing a few NEW articles/interviews on MY OWN BLOG, a freebie WordPress one that won’t have any reason to ever shut down…hopefully.

I also want to figure out how to cross feed it to my newspaper and ReverbNation Blog.

So…this is the introduction, which I am purposely keeping short. Sort of a test page, if you will.

Tap, tap, tap…is this thing on?


PS~ Stay tuned for an interview from Clay Shelburn of Fort Worth Texas, and a CD review for Kern Pratt from Jackson Mississippi.

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