Reverend Raven at Chain O’ Lakes Blues Fest

The Rev and his Chain O’ Smokin’ Altar Boys Deliver the Blues

BY Michael Casper

Michael: Tell me about the Altar Boys.
Reverend: They’re a talented group of musician friends of mine. The current version of the band includes Westside Andy who is an incredible harmonica player, and I’m honored he’s with us.

M: Danny Moore has been around a awhile.
R: He’s played piano with Willie Nelson, Loretta Lynn, and many others. He’s one of the best. P.T. Pedersen my bass player toured with Charlie Musslewhite, Big Walter Horton, Pinetop Perkins…that’s a great resume right there. In fact P.T. just reconnected with Musslewhite at the Bayfront Blues Festival. They hadn’t seen one another in about 35 years, so that was pretty cool telling stories from back in the day…I always wanted to ask Charlie if P.T. was telling the truth about Charlie hitting a pig and totaling his truck (laugh).

reverandM: There’s a book to be written telling tales of the road. You have a favorite?
R: I remember Danny once eating some magic brownies (laugh). He doesn’t drink…he doesn’t do anything, but he likes food. Somebody offered him a plate of brownies, he says he ate one…I think he ate more than one. In the middle of a set I hear this weird jazz being played. I look behind me at him and he has this giant smile on his face. I leaned over and suggested he take a break. He said very happily ‘Okay’ and off he went.

M: And your rhythm section?
R: Bobby Lee Sellers on drums is a guy who’s always in demand as a session drummer when he’s not gigging with us, and his vocals help make the blues sound we create over the top.

M: You like the ensemble.
R: Love it. Nothing makes me crazier than a three-piece band that lags because of the lead guitar. My all-time favorite three piece is the Bel Airs out of Columbia, Missouri. I’ve always liked the larger ensemble with the piano and harmonica, bands like Muddy Waters, Jimmie Rogers.

M: And Freddie King was who hooked you?
R: My whole childhood I was like the kid in The Wonder Years, I wasn’t born into the blues, whereas my brother who was seven years older was in the middle of the whole hippie-thing, and flower power. He was bringing home the Stones and Yardbirds, we lived on the south side of Chicago on 66th and Winchester. Then he discovered Muddy Waters lived and played right across the expressway, and Howlin’ Wolf was part of the live music scene. Then all of a sudden he and his buddies were going to all the clubs. That was the big hippie invasion of all the black clubs on the south side, and he started bringing all those records home.

M: But you were the youngster.
R: I didn’t see anybody until I was 17 years old. And that was at the Kinetic Playground which was like Bill Graham used to be at the Fillmore, Aaron Russo who went on to become Linda Ronstadt’s manager…he had the Kinetic Playground club, and that was pretty much like the Fillmore, same deal…a blues act, the the Buddy Rich Orchestra, then the Who…something like that. Well, my first night Freddie King was opening for Jeff Beck, and Freddie stole the show. He had the Leon Russell Band backing him up, and he was out there with his red suit, red patten leather shoes, a guitar with a 200-foot cord, and he’s standing in the middle of 2000 hippies just ripping it up!

M: And that was it for you.
R: Stopped playing rock n’ roll right then and there. I wanted to be a blues guy, and started really practicing and woodshedding. Then I went in the Navy (laugh)!

M: What?
R: Yeah. I put the guitar away for 15 years.

M: I can’t believe that.
R: Didn’t start playing again until I was 38. The last two years I was in the Navy I had a guitar, and I sat in on a jam session in St. Paul while I was on a training trip. I caught the bug again. I had a hippie girlfriend from Oshkosh who didn’t like my being in the military, so I got out for a couple years just to try it, fully intending to go back into the Navy.

M: But?
R: I started getting some gigs. And started getting fatter and fatter (laugh). Had a heart attack. Can you imagine the Navy didn’t want me back?

M: Whatever happened to the hippie girlfriend?
R: She’s a psychologist.

M: I checked your schedule, and you’re booked!
R: I’ve always been the kind of person who wants to see what’s on the other side of the hill. I joined the Navy (laugh) to get out of town, grow a beard, get a tattoo, and drink my way through all the ports around the world. I got home and was assigned to shore duty in Chicago, then got orders to Oshkosh. I remember asking my detailer what the hell the Navy was doing in Oshkosh? He told me I was going to train reservists. And this was the late 80’s, and the live music-thing was still going on, Blue Tail Fly was going on, Janet Planet was huge…there was still a great music scene in the Fox Valley. I got out of the Navy, and into the music, moved to Milwaukee and started going on the road. What can I say? I’m a gadfly. It’s terrible (laugh).

M: You still dig the greats?
R: Absolutely. Still love Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells…my go-to album is Hoodoo Man. Contemporary artists I listen to anything Kim Wilson (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) does, Barrelhouse Chuck, Billy Flynn. New bands I like the 44’s, Nick Moss out of Chicago, Rockin’ Johnny is cool, Doug Deming and the Jewel Tones.

M: Do you listen back to your own music?
R: At home I’ll record myself, listen to it, pick things out I don’t like and try to change them. That’s why I was happy with the Big Bull CD, it turned out like it sounds in my head on a good night.

M: Big Bull took something like two years to complete?
R: I already had a live CD out, “Live at the Red Rocket” which is a bootleg CD I’ll be putting out every year, but that’s mainly for fans who come see us. It’s mostly covers that I’d never include on a regular album. But, we ended up with these recordings, and Steve Hamilton produced and engineered Big Bull. Steve works with Jackson Browne, and does the Steel Bridge Songfest in Sturgeon Bay, he’s done a lot of work with Jim Liban and Short Stuff. Steve said he had some music of mine he had recorded from 2012 that I’d never heard, and then some more recent recordings, two songs of which from Red Rocket, and that’s the Big Bull album.

M: And the Chain O’ Lakes Blues Festival?
R: Get your tickets early. There’s a great bunch of bands, and it gets packed. We’re looking forward to playing the Indian Crossing Casino again!

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