Celebrating with The Rockaholics at Darwin’s in Sandy Springs

Lisa Kitchens

The Rockaholics are a very popular group around Atlanta, and performing with  Lisa Kitchens, they are not only incredibly talented but so much fun! Saturday, they were celebrating Lisa’s birthday, and they were just unstoppable. When we left at 11;30, after a jam-filled version of  “Wang Dang Doodle,” they were still going strong after 2 hours without a break. Lola Gulley brought her cake to the stage so she could blow out th candles in the middle of a song!

Lisa obviously does not have to worry about birthday, as she looks the sam now as she did when we met her 12 years ago. She looked but sexy and adorable in her little football jersey-dress.  Rather than try to tell you all about the show, I want to share a little bit of it with you. It won’t let ne embed this, but click on the  Warch on Facebook link below to see Lisa and The Rockaholics in action!:

Mick Kolassa and The Taylor Made Blues Band at Darwin’s- Feb. 3, 2018

Taylor Made Blues Band
Mick Kolassa

Mick Kolassa and The Taylor Made Blues Band at Darwin’s- Feb. 3, 2018

by Rhetta Akamatsu

When my husband and I walked into Darwin’s about an hour early Saturday night, Mick Kolassa was sitting at the bar. He stood up when he saw us and greeted me with a hug.

“Your husband will have to excuse us for hugging like this,” laughed Mick, reaching out to shake his hand. “that’s alright,” I assured him.  “He’s seen me hug them all.” Which is not entirely true, though I have hugged a lot of musicians.

We immediately started talking about his new album, Double Standards, which he gave me. I was excited,  because he first told me about it months ago, and I knew it had duets with some of my favorite people.. I can now tell you that it is an excellent album and I will be reviewing it tomorrow if all goes according to plan.

The conversation continued as I asked him about Jeff Jensen’s wedding. He eagerly showed me photos of Jeff’s first dance with his beautiful bride and several other gorgeous photos. Jeff and Mick often produce each others’ albums, and Jeff actually produced Double.Standards. Jeff and Bill Ruffino of the Jeff Jensen Band play on it, too. “He’s my brother/son/co-conspirator,” Mick commented with a grin. He mentioned his own happy, 43-year marriage. “She’s just happy seeing me doing what I enjoy doing,” he said of her attitude toward his post-retirement touring schedule.

At this point, some more friends came in and we moved on to give them a chance to talk.

Soon it was time for the show to start, Mick took the stage with lead guitarist and fellow vocalist David Duravent, bassist Seth Hill and drummer Preston McEwen. They did some of Mick’s songs, including “Time Ain’t On My Side” and his song inspired by “You Were Always On My Mind,”  “I Always Meant to Love You.” They did Duravent’s rip-roaring “Early Morning Blues.” Then they tore into the covers and “uncovers.” (“I like to uncover the blues that’s already in a song and do it that way,” says Mick.) They also did a standard that is on the new album, “Outside Woman Blues.”

But most memorably they did a couple of numbers from the album of Beatles’ songs Mick recorded with Mark Telesca, You Can’t Do That. The audience really loved those, and when a guy came up and told Mick it was his friend’s birthday, they tore into “Birthday,” followed by David’s take on the traditional birthday song. It was a chance to reflect on how good this band is, “Birthday” is not an easy song to play In fact, throughout the evening, the instrumental solos and particularly Duravent’s fiery lead guitar drew applause.

Other fantastic “uncovers” were “The Letter” and especially, “Mamma Told Me Not To Come.” That song is perfect for Mick’s voice and playful dramatics.

It was a wonderful evening at Darwin’s, the kind we love best. We got to hang out with friends and watch one of them have a   great time onstage. Every song had its story and quips flew through the air. My favorite: “OK guys, G for Jesus” Mick gives the key.”G for Jesus!” booms David.

Go see Mick Kolassa and The Taylor Made Blues Band if you get a chance. You’re going to have a good time. And check out Darwin’s Burgers and Blues in Sandy Springs, where evening like this happen, if you are in the Atlanta area.

An artist to watch: Cody Matlock at Darwin’s, Sandy Springs GA, Dec. 30, 2017

Let’s talk about Cody Matlock.

There he is, on the stage at Darwin’s. two days after his 22nd birthday. He’s already a seasoned performer. His dad hauled him around to play Atlanta clubs when he was 13 We first saw him at 16, when he seemed shy on stage and didn’t sing much, just letting his already amazing guitar playing speak for him. Now, how different this confident, funny, brilliant singer, musician, and bandleader seems!

On this day, Cody and the band have the largest crowd they have ever had at Darwin’s. where Cody plays every Thursday. The place is packed with mostly 20-somethings. With Robert and Bandon Boone on bass and drums, Michael Westbrooks (with his irresistible grin) on keyboards, Tony Erice on bongos and extra-special guest Truett Lollis adding his guitar to Cody’s, the sound is amazing. Cody and the gang easily handle blues, soul, funk, and R’nB with ease and enthusiasm. They play original tunes like “Get Up and Do Your Thing” and Cody sings and plays awesome covers like one of my favorite songs, Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me” and a spine-tingling version of “Purple Rain.” He says that one is for his mom, who is at the show.

Cody has promised my husband and me that when he is playing large venues and amphitheaters, he will “hook us up.” I have always believed in his talent, his determination, and that those combined with good looks and charm would take him far. That is why I included him (and Truett) in my book, Southern Crossroads: Georgia Blues As he is now playing all the major Atlanta clubs, I expect that to happen any day and I fully intend to hold him to it.In the meantime, Saturday at Darwin’s, he and The Mothership put on a show on a par with any I’ve ever seen.

Cody  Matlock

Atlanta Blues Society Holiday Party was festive fun Dec. 3

Atlanta Blues Society Holiday Party was festive fun Dec. 3

Rhetta Akamatsu

It’s the party Atlanta Blues Society members look forward to all year, and this year as always, it lived up to expectations! The Atlanta Blues Society Holiday Party took place at the Helene S. Carter Multipurpose Facility in Atlanta, with loads of space for tables, food, drink and dancing and a big stage.

The tables were decorated with festive centerpieces and a lot of them had Christmas Headgear on them, which was a genius move because the room certainly looked festive with all those Santa hats and holiday headbands! My husband and I shared ours!


There was free food from Fat Matt’s for members, which means we had the best barbecue chicken and pork in Atlanta, plus delicious sides and cookies! There were tea and water and for a minimal fee Spike from Blind Willie’s would provide you with beer, wine or a mixed drink.

The music was fantastic and let the dancers really show their moves. We had the winners of the Atlanta Blues Challenge play for us, starting with People’s Choice winners, the dynamic Danu Mac and Co. After them cane band winners ThunderGypsy who kept the momentum rolling right into our favorite Youth Group, repeat winners No Solution. They are repeat winners, and yet the oldest members of the group are 16 years old!

KODAK Digital Still Camera

No Solution led to the last music of the evening, with Dos Blues Guys, who are also repeat winners, but Bennie Mobley made sure everyone was still alert and paying attention to them with the best holiday stagewear I have ever seen! They then proceeded to give us a set that blended originals from Andy Johnson and Bennie, with some hot guitar and that unmistakable harmonica.

Blues people are huggy people, generally speaking, and some of us had not seen each other in months, so there was a lot of hugging and talking and smiling, as there is in the best holiday parties. And that is what this was: one of the best holiday parties! And we contributed several huge boxes of toys to the Marin Corps’ Toys For Tots, the Society’s 20th year of participation in that program.

If you are interested in learning more about the Atlanta Blues Society and how you can join, visit the website for all the info you need!

JP Soars and The Red Hots Nov.18, 2017

Some performers are just mesmerizing to ‘watch. JP Soars is one of those.

JP Soars

He’s not a particularly tall man, or physically imposing. He isn’t flamboyant in his movements or his speech. But on stage, with his excellent drummer (Chris Peet) and bassist (Fredrick Cleveland), he consumes your attention. Playing that red guitar or one of the cigar box guitars he and his brother make, mixing vocals and instrumentals, and even occasionally hitting the bass drum using a foot pedal or shaking a  rattle, he is in constant yet controlled motion. He gives brief introductions to the songs but keeps things moving along. The music is a wild mix of originals and covers, ranging from rockabilly to gypsy to blues and even surf and punk influences.


On this night, he had to replace a string, and while he replaced it, the Red Hots kept the audience fully engaged with what seemed to be an impromptu drum and bass jam.

For his part, Soars played a rousing version of “Caravan” with a little bit of “Sweet Georgia Brown” in the middle. He played his own “Missin’ Your Kissin'” and “Viper” as well as  Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s “Gangster Of Love.”

The whole night was amazing. JP Soars and The Red Hots are fantastic entertainers who always deliver a solid show.  Kudos to them and to Darwin’s Burgers and Blues for a wonderful evening!


What a day! Blues Stotts: Blind Willie’s, November 11, 2017

It was a great way to spend a Saturday. The scene was Blind Willie’s, one of Atlanta’s best-known and most popular blues clubs.

Blind Willie’s window

Att 2 pm, Garrett Collins, the youngest performer at 18, and Bennie Mobley, the most mature, started things off by proving that age means little to the blues. Mobley is one of the best harmonica players around. Collins is an accomplished guitarist, and both can handle vocals. Mobley has a sly sense of humor and was definitely the best-dressed man there in his sharp blue suit and white shoes. Collins wore dark colors and a tie. He said Bennie made him and he will never wear one again but if he realizes how good it looked, he may change his mind.

Bennie Mobley and Garrett Collins

After their excellent set, it was time for The Cazanovas to take the stage.  I have been saying that they are the best band in Atlanta for 10 years now and with their current lineup, they’ve just gotten better. Maurice Nazarro on vocals’and harmonica and Danny Vinson on guitar make a great core, and Pte Maier on drums and Harold Patillo are a fantastic rhythm section. But it is the addition of Valerie Waters on keyboards that has added extra energy to the whole group. Every time that woman solos on keys I am as happy as I can possibly be. Together, the band played a mix of original tunes and upbeat classics and did two stellar sets.

The Cazanovas
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Then came a group we did not know, The Clarksdale Regulators/ What a wonderful surprise! It was headed by Mick Kolassa,. We know Mick and consider him a friend. He has another group called The Taylor-Made Blues Band, and both groups include David Dunavent. But this group also includes Heather Crosse on vocals and bass & Lee Andrew Williams, Jr on drums. Mick formed this group to tour with when The Taylor-Made Band’s  drummer and bassist are touring with Watermelon Slim.

Since David has a huge voice and Heather’s is smoky and a very welcome addition to this otherwise all-male gathering of musicians. They performed mostly original material. Mick did sing a “bluesified” Beatles song from the excellent album, “You can’t Do That,” which he recorded with Mark Telesca. The band also performed a stellar blues version of The Temptations’ “I Can’t Get Next To You.”

Clarksdale Regulators
Mick Kolassa

It was time, then, for the final act, my personal favorite band in any genre, The Jeff Jensen Band. I had strategically placed my husband and myself at a table right up front just to make sure I got hugs from Jeff Jensen, Bill Riffino and David Green, and I did. (They came to me, I didn’t have to trip them with my cane or anything. )It was like seeing family you really, really love and they put on a perfect first set.

jeff Jensen Band
Jeff Jensen

Unfortunately, it was late and we had an hour’s ride home, so we had to leave after the first set.

Even so, the whole day was a dream. Blues Stotts is a yearly event honoring the memory of ABS founding member Larry Stotts. All profits go to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Mark your calendars now for next year!

Blues on the Block Festival – Darwin’s Burgers and Blues, October 27-29, 2017

Darwins Blues on the Block Festival got off to a great start on Friday with Poverty Level, The Way Back Band, and The Markey Blue Ric Latina Project. We missed Poverty Level because of work but thoroughly enjoyed The Way Back Band’s interpretations of hits from the past, announced in fabulous DJ style by drummer Tony Lee Williams. “Please, Mr. Postman” really did take me way back and had me dancing in my seat!

Way Back Band

Then Markey Blue, Ric Latina, and the band hit the stage. We adore these guys and had already got to exchange enthusiastic greetings before the show. There was a good crowd and as always, they wowed everybody.

Markey Blue Ric Latina Project

Saturday the weather was a nasty surprise. Suddenly it turned bitterly cold and rainy. Stephen”Bluesdude” Duncan bravely performed his set as scheduled at the outdoor stage, delivering his excellent acoustic Americana on banjo, ranging from Flatt and Scruggs to my favorite Dylan song, “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” to an audience of exactly three… me, my husband and our friend Kelli. Stephen deserves a commendation and we love him.

While outside. we picked up some delicious barbecue from oricuaSmokehouse, Then we trooped in and found other people huddled in the comfortable dryness. We had a drink to warm up while we listened to the Atlanta Blues Challenge Youth group, No Solution. These teenagers really know how to sing the blues. From that point on, every of Bean and Bear Studios, who was selling delicious boiled peanuts.

Stephen “Bluesdude” Duncan

We were thrilled to see one of our favorite groups, Chickens and Pigs. We love Jeff Evans’ lyrics and laconic style.  He and his bandmates always make me happy.

After a cute puppetry skit from Bean and Bear, it was time for my favorite local group, The Cazanovas, to take the stage. every time I have ever seen this group they have been excellent. Maurice Nazarro is one of my favorite harmonica players and vocalists and Danny Vinson is an amazing guitarist. The entire band is great, and adding Valerie Waters on keyboards has made them even more dynamic. They were joined by special guest Jeff Baker for several songs, which was a delight.

The Cazanovas

At this point, we had to leave and missed Mark Hummel’s Golden State Lone Star Revue.

Sunday was dry but terribly cold. My husband was exhausted and I can’t drive so we had to miss this year’s Atlanta Blues Challenge winners ThunderGypsy, The Blues Hearts, Wavetree and Andy T and Alabama Mike with Anson Funderburgh. My friend Barb, who was there all day, t9ld me that ThunderGypsy was great, with Heather Stratham  really “belting it out.” Wavetree, she said, was excellent,” with a very diverse set from Buddy Guy to the Allman Brothers to Zappa. ” As for Andy T with Alabama Mike & Anson Funderburgh, she reports that they were “awesome. They played their hearts out and they all were so talented and so tight, a blues lover could not have asked for more.”

It’s a real shame more people let the weather keep them away, but those of us that were there for any part of it had a great time, with good friends, food and drink, and wonderful music!

Eliza Neals and The Narcotics at Darwin’s Burgers and Blues Oct. 21, 2017

By Rhetta Akamatsu

Photos courtesy of Takesi Akamatsu

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Eliza Neals looked every inch the star on Darwin’s stage Saturday night. She is still her same sweet self though, and before the show, we hugged and had a few minutes to catch up. The band recently got back from the UK, which she tells me was great. People loved the music, she says. Of course they did. There is absolutely nothing not to love about Eliza Neals and The Narcotics.

On one side of Eliza was Howard Glazer, master guitar player and often Eliza’s writing partner. Like Eliza, he is and always has been from Detroit. Bassist Darryl Lee is also from Detroit, but he has made his home in Atlanta for some years now and is a respected part o our blues scene. He had a health care not too long ago, so we were so happy to see him in fine form and sounding great with Eliza. The other “Narcotic” onstage was DeMarcus Edward Sumter and together they made a perfect blues lineup and a glorious sound!

Eliza Neals has a marvelously expressive voice and the personality to sell a ripping blues song like Koko Taylor’s “Wang Dang Doodle” or her own “You Ain’t My Dog No More” from their latest album, 10,000 Feet Down, or a blues heart-render like “Ball and Chain.”. She can get every ounce of emotion out of “Can’t Find My Way Home.” Whether she is doing her own songs or someone else’s, she puts her whole heart into it. I would easily put her in on the same level as Koko Taylor, Janis Joplin or Bonnie Raitt as a vocalist and as a performer, with her own special Detroit sass.

Many of the songs let Howard show off his amazing guitar chops, including “Call Me Sunshine,” and the truly incendiary “Burn the Tent Down.” In fact, he and Eliza complement each other perfectly and that is the core of this band’s greatness. Eliza also plays keyboard on some of these songs with great proficiency. Darryl and DeMarcus keep the rhythm steady and the audience eats it all up.

We were all privileged to be a part of this evening. I can’t wait until the next time they come around!

KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera
KODAK Digital Still Camera


Review: Jason Ricci and The Bad Kind, Darwin’s Burgers, October 14, 2017

Picture a packed house at Darwin’s Saturday night for Jason Ricci and The Bad Kind. At first sight, dressed in loose white pants and shirt and with his hair pulled back by a headband, Ricci looked rather like a decadent angel. But when he started to blow that harp, it was immediately clear that the sides aren’t that easily divided. But whatever side between sublime and diabolical or whatever line this music and this live performance falls on, it is nothing less than mesmerizing.

First of all, let’s make it clear that Ricci is the best harmonica player I have ever heard. At times I swear it sounds like he’s playing many instruments at the same time, like a whole orchestra issuing from his mouth, with his incredible band provides the structure that lets him soar. Harps appear and disappear. In fact, he is like a magician, moving fluidly whether he is playing, singing or directing his band with his body like a marionette master..point this way, the guitar dominates and now down…bam! point the other way, the bass and now hands flung upward..all together!

Now he’s telling a story about what it’s like to get hit on by girls and boys and possibly mountain lions and then he’s pouring so much emotion into the heartbreaking “Broken Toy,” the story of being the outsider in all sorts of ways, and then his amazing rendition of “I fink You Freaky” leads to his triumphant “I’m Too Strong For You” and that incredible harp solo, which he claims he had to “simplify” because on the test pressings for Approved By Snakes, the solo was causing people to have mass hallucinations and see visions and his agents said he had o change “So no more children get hurt by your music, Jason.” He then turns a basic scale into something incredible.

And that’s how it goes for the entire two hours we were there. “This is my 2,” Jason confided to the audience. “My 2 is most people’s 11. I always have to remember that.”

Maybe so, but the crowd is eating it up, all of us clapping and howling after every song. I have to keep remembering to change my slack-jawed stare of amazement to a huge grin of delight all night so as not to look as thunderstruck as I really was, not that it mattered if I was staring like an idiot. Everybody is looking at the stage, anyway.

Something must be said about The Bad Kind, who are, of course, incredibly good. Imagine what it takes to keep up with Ricci night after night! But they do, and this night they are brilliant.

Ricci says he often gets complaints that the music he plays is not blues, but after sharing Webster’s definition of the blues as “a musical lament,” he ends our set with an amazing version of “Walk On The Wild Side,”extremely moving from one who openly talks an out how far on that side he has been.

Stay healthy, Jason, and keep making music. You have a unique story and the will and talent to share it. And you’re good man, you’re freaking brilliant.

It should be obvious that I think you should see Jason Ricci and The Bad Kind every chance you get.

Jason Ricci courtesy Takesi AkaatsuOriginally posted by Rhetta to Making A Scene

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