Connect with us
April 2024
Vol. 23, No. 7

CD Reviews

THE WAYNE RIKER GATHERING: Alphabetical Blues Bash, Volume 2

by T.E. MattoxMarch 2024

Wayne Riker has become a San Diego institution. A multi-talented guitarist, singer/songwriter, producer, author, teacher and musicologist, he’s not just a pillar in the community but more like the bedrock. The San Diego Lifetime Achievement Award winner has just released the Wayne Riker Gathering’s Alphabetical Blues Bash Volume 2. The recorded project features no less than 14 stellar vocalists and musicians and was engineered, mixed, and mastered by Ian Sutton over the summer of 2023 at Studio West in San Diego.

This recording marks Riker’s 16th release, with five of his last six featuring vocalists singing individual cover tunes. As Wayne told me, “I love that format in particular. It gives everyone a chance for a little added recognition and offers the listener different vocal stylings.” The Volume 1 of Alphabetical Blues Bash featured blues tracks from A through M; this Vol. #2 compilation has track titles beginning with the letters N through Z. Wayne says, “Lots of choices for some of the letters, so I went for a variety that includes both standards and some lesser-known tunes. The letters Q, X, and Z were the most challenging to find a relevant title.” One can only imagine, especially the letter Q. Wayne then adds, “I went with ‘Quarter to Three’ for its R&B feel.”

Speaking of relevancy, the opening track Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out could very well be talking about our world today. But the lilt in Sandi King’s vocals intertwined with Riker’s electric guitar take you back in time to Bessie Smith and the smoke-filled speakeasies of the 1920s. Drink Up… One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beerwas a hit for Amos Milburn in the early ’50s. Here, vocalist Stacy Antonel places renewed urgency in her plea to the barkeeper while Riker and the rhythm section of Oliver Shirley III on electric bass and drummer Marty Dodson add some serious jump to these blues.

There are so many surprises on this disc, especially the Santana-esque feel to the instrumental track X. “I literally found a song titled ‘X’ by the Jonas Brothers.” Wayne says. “I played the vocal melody instrumentally with lots of bends to give it a blues/rock feel, then jammed out on it. As for Z, I stumbled on the Black Sabbath tune “Zeitgeist,” which is in a haunting minor key, sans drums, with a minor blues backdrop.”

The album highlights every shade of blue, including a number of classic desperation songs from the genres’ originators like Bukka White’s “Parchman Farm Blues.” But for purists—when Riker breaks out his slide on Son House’s “Walking Blues” and Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”—it gets real deep, real fast. The same can be said for vocalist Deanna Haala and the Gathering’s gritty version of the Stones’ “Ventilator Blues.” Wayne says, “I found videos on Facebook of Deanna Haala’s band It’s Never 2 Late. She’s a very impressive vocalist and really nails the lead male rock vocal tunes. I’ve used her on four of my CDs.”

And Lauren Leigh’s cover of Zeppelin’s “Your Time Is Gonna Come” is outstanding. Those soaring harmonies with backing vocalists Chloe Lou and Cassie B are incredible. “I met Lauren Leigh a few years back through Whitney Shay, so she, too, has been aboard on the last three CDs.”

I couldn’t help but ask, with so many talented folks to choose from, just how do you decide which vocalist should sing which song? “Some I’ve worked with or have known for years,” Wayne says. “Others I just met for the first time and assigned them the song I think would be in their wheelhouse. I met Sandi King last year when I wrote the Josh Taylor/Sandi King cover story for the Troubadour. I met Stacy Antonel for the first time when we recorded. I’ve known Steve Gouveia since 1994 when I was playing guitar in musical theater gigs; he’s a great actor and guitarist as well. He was in the original Jersey Boys cast that went to Broadway and played Buddy Holly in the national tour of the Buddy Holly Story. I was in Shelle Blue’s band from 1999-2002, playing at Croce’s Top Hat on a weekly basis. Shelle Blue, Deanna Haala, and Lauren Leigh are my go-to participants, as they’ve all knocked it out of the ball park. The others mentioned worked out delightfully well along with the two backup singers, Chloe Lou and Cassie B, whom I both met for the first time when they recorded; all of these singers have strong reputations. I met Rebecca Jade for the first time recording Volume One of this series and I’ve known Roni Lee for a couple of decades now. And I met Nathan Raney at the NAMM show a few years ago.”

Riker pulls double duty on the song “Still Can Boogie,” playing guitar as well as singing. He also plays all the instruments on two different tracks, “Parchman Farm Blues.” “That’s three separate guitar tracks,” he says, “including acoustic guitar bass figure, acoustic rhythm guitar, and the electric lead guitar fills. And on the song “Walking Blues” Wayne says, “I play acoustic rhythm guitar, electric slide guitar rhythm, and electric slide guitar solos.”

You can tell that the Wayne Riker Gathering Alphabetical Blues Bash Volume 2 is a labor of love from one of San Diego’s most respected musicians who says he enjoys “giving well-deserved exposure to local musicians.” By the way, musicians who perform “live” with their own bands throughout Southern California happens on a pretty regular basis. If you can’t get out, you can always pick up a copy of this CD to hear what you’re missing.

Continue Reading