Reverend Raven & the Chain Smoking Altar Boys
Twentieth Anniversary - My Life
"My Life' is an album that’s ahead of its time by staying behind the times"
The blues took an interesting leap in the 1960s, quickly going from traditional black American artists to the Rolling Stones and their straight blues covers, to The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, who moved the blues needle right into Cream, who used the blues to segue into manic jams.
Before the 1960s ended, Led Zeppelin would release its debut album, and the blues was officially something almost completely different than it had been at the start of the decade. In the span of a decade, the blues became completely reinvented, its limits pushed to something very different from its origins. Those 1960s bands had the swagger of the blues, but it’s questionable to what extent Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, or any of the Kings might have recognized their music. Boundaries had been pushed and the blues exploded into something completely new and different from what it had been.
But what if it hadn’t changed? That question is answered by Reverend Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys. My Life is a blues album that sounds like it could have come out of the mid-1960s. It’s what the blues might have been had it not have become a departure point for acrobatic musicianship, breakneck tempos, and often-ridiculous lyrics.
My Life is a band revisiting its catalog. Reverend Raven takes original songs from his band’s four studio albums and uses various lineups to reinterpret the tracks. If you’re not familiar with Reverend Raven’s work, it’s a great and fun way to easily cover a lot of ground. The album plays like a live show. Reverend Raven is the common thread, providing guitar and laid-back vocals.
The laid-back vibe is what separates the album from so much of that later 60s blues rock. The sound is reminiscent of The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, with lots of impressive harmonica work and guitar solos that show flash, but that don’t overpower the songs.
The songs represent a survey of the blues. “Handyman,” the lead-off track is jazzy, featuring lots of impossibly clean guitar. “Creature of Habit” is a bluesier rockabilly take on “Stray Cat Strut.” “I Can Do You Right” is a slow blues with a huge organ sound that will make you feel like it’s Sunday. “My Life” is pure Elmore James. But where The Paul Butterfield Blues Band pushed that classic riff to its limits on “Look Over Yonder Wall,” Reverend Raven lets it breathe.
Lots of incredible music came out of the 1960s blues revival. But the time was so fertile, and creativity was so strong, that no one really dwelt in the sounds. Instead, artists built and built and built. My Life captures a moment that never was, or at least wasn’t long enough, in a fun, interesting way. It’s an album that’s ahead of its time by staying behind the times.
On any given weekend if had to pick one band in our area to go listen to I would track down where Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys (CSABs) are playing and go out there and sit down with them to listen to them for some blues done the way they are supposed to be. This CD celebrates 20 years in the life of the best blues band in the Mid West. Rooted deeply in the sound of old school Chicago blues and based out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Reverend (Richard) Raven has spent the last two decades honing a sound that is unique, sublime and enticing. The vocals and instrumental work is never over blown or over done. The solos are tasteful and authentic. The band knows what everyone is supposed to do and does it. No one steps on each other’s toes and everyone works to make the sound better.
In 1993 Chief Raven got out the Navy and supplemented his separation pay with gigs in Milwaukee and Wisconsin’s Fox Valley area. He honed his sound as he replaced the 16 year old wunderkind Scott Sharrard with the Blues Disciples. He worked on his chops and tried to avoid getting his head cut off by special guests like Perry Weber, Billy Flynn and Mel Ford. The Chief then ventured out on his own a bit with Jimmy Rogers’ harp man Madison Slim. Slim was still touring with Rogers so the work with Slim was a side project for both the Rev and Slim.
When Rogers passed away the CSABs were born 20 years ago in a South Side of Milwaukee tavern called Jim Dandy’s. Larry “The Legend” Taylor was on drums. They were playing in a country bar but when George Stancell walked in with a gold fur coat and sang with abandon and Slim killed them with his sad and blue harp solo and the band began it’s trek across the Cheese Curd Circuit of the upper Mid West.
Lamont Cranston helped get them noticed and the crowds grew and grew. They worked their way up to playing Buddy Guy’s Legends and opening for B.B. King at the Surf Ballroom. They tour the Mid West and South East with annual tours to the Virgin Islands and now Jamaica. From a poor kid on the South Side of Chicago hanging out at the Checkerboard Lounge to today, the Rev never dreamed he would get this far. A half dozen CDs, many awards and packed houses wherever they go are the norm now. Life is good and the Rev is thankful for his hard won success.
The bands have changed over the years. Cadillac Pete Rahn played harp with the Rev after they met on Bourbon Street with Bryan Lee at the Old Absinthe Bar. Madison Slim was from Jimmy Rogers and the Legendary Blues Band. Benny Rickun was a harp protégé of Mid west harmonica legend Jim Liban and he and the Rev spent time together when Slim moved south. Big Al Groth played sax with the CSABs after the Rev met him with Bobby Sellers in the Rhythm Dawgs in Kenosha, WI playing that old style honking sound. His current harp cohort is westside Andy Linderman who he met when Andy was with Paul Black and Flip Kings. They tour today joined at the hip with the swinging-est and coolest sound on the circuit. Each of the players added their talents to the band and are represented on this CD.
Piano and organ players also came and went in the band. Ron Kovach, Danny “Pork Chop” Moore, and Mickey Larson have each spent time playing with the Rev and appear here. Jimmy Voegeli also makes a special appearance. On bass are Andre Maritato, Brad Bull and his long time bass man PT Pedersen. Vic Span, Spencer Panosh, Bobby Lee Sellers Jr., and now Spencer’s brother Craig Panosh have played drums for the CSABs. Jeff Roberts appears on rhythm guitar on a couple of tracks. Each has brought their enormous talents to the band and this CD.
All the songs were written by Rev Raven who produced the album with help from Steve Hamilton. The first three tracks with Cadillac Pete are completely remixed and sound fresh. Track 4 with Madison Slim has never been on a CD before. The stuff with Benny is on tracks 5 through 10 and Andy is featured on tracks 13 through 16. Moore is featured on tracks 6, 7 and 9 through 16. While these songs all appeared on other CDs with Benny, Andy and Pork Chop, tracks 7, 9, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 are brand new versions of the songs for us to enjoy.
“Handyman’ opens the set. A long-time staple of the Rev’s shows, this is a sweet and bouncy little shuffle with some dirty killer harp from Pete. He gets the first solo and then the Rev lays out a tasteful and restrained solo of his own. “Bee Hive Baby” and “Creature of Habit” also feature Cadillac Pete. The former has a driving beat and the Rev’s vocals are sublime. The solos are Pete and then the Rev with some chicken scratching thrown in for good measure. The latter is a nice jump blues with Pete and Rev trading off solos again. “Bad Little Girls” is an older recording that was never released before. Madison Slim greases up his harp and the Rev delivers the lyrics in his ever-captivating baritone style. Slim takes the lead first and blows a mean solo and then the Rev rings clear with his own and takes us home.
The “Rickun Era” songs are next. “I Want To Love You” starts us off with a winner with a driving beat. “Once Women Start Talking” is another CSAB standard his fans have all grown to love that is well done here, too. It’s got a rumba sort of beat and just a great vibe to it. “My Life” is another Rev Raven classis. It begins with a nod to his sailor days, “I’ve been around this world, I’ve sailed the seven seas,” as the Rev embarks on a tune where he searched for the woman of his dreams. Danny Moore blazes on the ivories and Benny is quite effective on the harp, but the Rev sells one with his slick vocals and guitar. “Here Comes My Baby” is another rumba-styled tune with Jimmy Voegeli coming in for some pretty organ work. The Rev stings with his big time guitar solo and overall work here. “Praying For A Princess” is a jumping cut that Benny launches with abandon. He, the Rev and Moore once again blaze as this song goes 100 mph with reckless abandon for a very fun ride. “Big Bee” is classic CSABs, a take off of Slim Harpo’s “King Bee.” Distorted vocals dirty this up nicely and the big harp sound from Rickun also makes this one special.
“Looking For Love” and ”Slow Burn” are the two saxophone pieces with Big Al. The sax is awesome on both and Pork Chops piano interplay with him is also spectacular. The Rev jumps and jives with his guitar and vocal work as the boogie woogie of “looking For Love” unfolds. “Slow Burn” is a mid tempo piece strident guitar and the sax and organ adding a lot to the mix.
The last four cuts are the Westside Andy tracks. “Someday When I’m Dead and Gone” is a blues shouter tune as Andy’s harp responds to the Rev’s vocal calls. Andy plays some wicked harp to complement the well-paced and strident guitar. They take things way down with the slow blues of “I Can Do You Right” where the guitar, harp and organ all take us to church. The rumba returns with “She’s Moving On,” with a testimonial that the Rev testifies to us about how his heart was torn out by that woman in red Ferragamo pumps. This is another staple of his fine live shows that his fans (and I) love. All good things must come to end and so does this great CD. “I’m Your Honeyboy” is a swinging jump blues with Danny Moore on piano and Jimmy Voegeli delivering backing vocals. Andy’s harp work is spectacular here once again. The Rev’s guitar takes a long solo to take us home as he, Andy and Pork Chop help him fade into the sunset. Wonderful stuff!
What can I say? This is some great stuff to commemorate 20 years of some of the blues worlds best music from one of my all time favorite artists and his band. As I said earlier, this is blues the way blues were meant to be played. Run do not walk, and go buy this one NOW! You will not regret it!
Reviewer Steve Jones is president of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career since 1996, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program. He resides in Byron, IL.
Rather than enumerate the sixteen titles of this eighth album, I prefer to talk about the spirit of it. Here, we find the best songs that this guitarist singer gleaned from his previous recordings to remaster or re-record. We are in the presence of a Chicago-born artist, currently based in Milwaukee who has scoured the Midwest and Florida up and down with a dream line up to perfectly perform a most traditional blues, It is jump, swing, Delta, Chicago or other. The baritone voice and finesse of Reverend are his hallmark and to support him in this anthology of songs, there are no less than three bassists, four drummers, four keyboardists, a saxophonist (Big Al Groth) and four harmonica players: Cadillac Pete Rahn, Madison Slim, Benny Rickun and Westside Andy Linderman. These dream blowers deserve to be mentioned because they participated greatly in the success of this training which celebrates with this album its twenty years of collective work. You just need to polish your shoes and dance the blues on the rev 's lively rhythms. And from Rev to dream, there is only one step.
Reverend Raven is currently a resident of Appleton, Wisconsin. He was born and raised in Chicago and began playing guitar after seeing Freddie King at The Kinetic Theatre in 1971. He spent the rest of the seventies playing clubs on the south side of Chicago. After spending fifteen years in the Navy the Reverend resumed playing in the taverns of the greater Milwaukee area. The Reverend became Scott Sharrard’s replacement in the Blues Disciples. Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys released their debut album “Slow Burn” in 1998. Reverend Raven has opened for B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Junior Wells, Magic Slim; and is still a headliner at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago.
Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys 2010 recording “Shake Your Boogie” received two 2011 Blues Blast Award nominations in the categories of “Best Blues Band” and “Best Song”. Their last album was 2015’s “Live at The Big Bull Falls Blues Festival”.
This new album, Reverend Raven’s eighth, is a compilation of original songs re-mixed or re-recorded from his previous four studio sessions. As a guitarist he has great tone and has mastered all styles. As a vocalist the Reverend’s baritone voice displays great range and clarity. This recording documents his twenty year career.
The rhythm section heard is usually PT Pedersen or Brad Bill, bass; and Spencer Panosh, Craig Panosh, Bobby Lee Sellers Jr., or Vic Spann, drums.
Reverend Raven has played with some excellent harp players. “Slow Burn” his first album featured Cadillac Pete Rahn who plays on the opener “Handyman”, on “Creature of Habit” and on the Slim Harpo styled “Bee Hive Baby”. The title track from that early album features Big Al Groth on saxophone.
The fabulous harp of Madison Slim can be heard on “Bad Little Girls”. He was the featured harp player on Reverend Raven’s 2002 album “Live at Blues on Grand”. Slim also played with Jimmy Rogers and can currently be heard with Doug Deming and The Jewel Tones.
Harp ace Benny Rickun appears on the Reverend’s 2007 Big Bee recording. Reprised is this new album’s title track “My Life”. Danny Moore is featured playing barrelhouse piano on this tune and throughout the recording.
The Altar Boys’ current harp player Westside Andy Linderman plays harp on “Someday When I’m Dead and Gone”; on “She’s Moving On” with a fabulous narrative from the Rev; and on “I Can Do You Right” from the 2010 “Shake Your Boogie” recording.
As their name implies these guys are smokin’ hot. This is highly recommended Chicago blues.
A veritable institution in the Milwaukee area, guitar man Reverend Raven and the Chain-Smoking Altar Boys have also cut a wide swath thru the Midwest, and also deep down in Florida as well. Armed with a tremendous traditional sound that incorporates vintage jump blues and R & B, along with Chicago and Delta-fired blues, the band celebrates its twentieth anniversary with sixteen of the best cuts from their previous albums, re-worked herein specifically for this occasion. The result is “My Life,” as Reverend Raven recounts his life as a bluesman over this dance-floor-burnin’ set.
Another one of the blues’ “OG’s,” Raven was born and raised on the South Side of Chicago, and has been playing the blues on his guitar since 1971, after seeing Freddie King. On this set, all his myriad of influences are on display, and all the cuts are heavyweights. He utilizes four different harp players, all of whom are band veterans, each unique in their approach and sound.
Cadillac Pete is up first, as the Reverend touts his, er, “plumbing skills,” on the slightly-nasty “Handy Man,” and keeps that groove going on the set-closer, with West Side Andy Linderman on harp, as the Rev. raps to another lover that, “I’m Your Honeyboy, satisfaction guaranteed!” Benny Rickman is on harp on the swingin’ title cut, as “My Life changed at the age of 43, when I finally met the woman the Good Lord meant for me,” this one with Danny Moore on the 88’s, and the Rev. gittin’ down on some fine Elmore James-inspired guitar.
Favorites were aplenty, and we settled on two. All that’s missing from that little “Bee Hive Baby” are those fishnet hose–cut kinda low at the top, and high at the bottom, ya know. And, “Once The Women Start Talking” no man is safe! Benny’s playin’ it cool on the harp, and the whole thing rides that rhumba beat for all it’s worth!
Twenty years in this bidness is a milestone, indeed. Picking only sixteen cuts was arguably tough to do, but Reverend Raven And The Chain Smoking Altar Boys and “My Life” effectively traces the history of one of the Midwest’s , er, “smokin-est” blues bands ever to lay down a groove! Roll back the rug, and dance your ass off until….next time! Sheryl and Don Crow, The Nashville Blues Society.
Don & Sheryl's Blues Blog/Nashville Blues Society
With the key words "Blues & passion" you could describe Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin 'Altar Boys. Reverend Raven (vocals, guitars), grew up in the somewhat less beautiful South Side of Chicago, has been playing blues since he was seventeen, was fifteen years with the US Navy, moved to Milwaukee and befriended Madison Slim, harmonica player of Jimmy Rodgers . Harmonica player Westside Andy is from Wisconsin, played in Paul Black's Flip Kings, has his own band and has been working with Rev. for three years. Raven. Drummer Craig Panosh and P.T. Pedersen form the rhythm section.
'My Life' is the eighth album of the Reverend & CSAB. It is a compilation album with sixteen originals from previously released albums, which have been reworked or recorded with a different line-up. With musicians like Madison Slim, harmonica player Cadillac Pete Rahn, Benny Rickun, Big Al Groth, Andre Maritato, Brad Bill, Victor Span, Spencer and Craig Panosh, Bobby Lee Sellers Jr., Ron Kovach, Jimmy Voegeli, Mickey Larson, Danny Moore & Jeff Roberts.
Harmonica player Cadillac Pete Rahn can be heard on the quiet bluesy opener "Handyman", the sultry rumba "Bee Hive Baby" and the jump blues "Creature Of Habit". Madison Slim on "Bad Little Girls" and Benny Rickun on the following tracks, including "I Want To Love You", the autobiographical title track "My Life" (with Danny Moore on barrelhouse piano) and "Praying For a Princess". Saxophonist Big Al Groth can be heard on the rocker "Looking For Love" and the double shuffle "Slow Burn". Westside Andy Linderman is the harpist on the last four tracks. Including the swinging "Someday When I'm Dead and Gone", the dramatic slow blues "I Can Do You Right", "She's Moving On" and the rocking sweet ending "I'm Your Honey Boy".
Rootstime Belgium - Eric Schuurmans
Dear blues parish ... it is good to be able to introduce a new pastor to you. Although new ... Reverend Raven has been in Blues for 20 years together with his Chain Smokin` Altar Boys and has played in almost every tent in the Midwest and Florida.
This eighth album from our pastor is a compilation album with old songs in a new mix and in some cases re-recorded. It is mainly Chicago blues that hits the clock here. In the style of, for example, Little Charlie & The Nightcats or The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Thus Handyman is a lazy shuffle with scorching harmonica by Westside Andy. The minister offers himself in this issue as handyman, who can do something in every room of your house. Including the bedroom ...
In the shuffle Bee Hive Baby with his thunderous drums, the reverend goes on the Casanova tour. He does this with lyrics like "You look so good, you make my stinger rise" The shuffle Creature Of Habit has an irresistible drive with a roaring harmonica solo. In Bad Little Girls the vicar is again on slippery ice with a nice swinging shuffle.
In the funky shuffle I Want To Love, the vicar explains his parish of love, accompanied by roaring harmonica and piercing guitar. Once The Women Start Talking mixes blues with rhumba. Loosely rocking from the hips, the minister makes sure that the female part of his parish turns away from him. In the pumping right for his turn Chicago blues from My Life, the pastor looks back on his life. The raw Big Bee with distorted vocals reminds, not surprisingly, a lot of "I'm A King Bee" but then a lot of raw. The slow-blues I Can Do You Right stands out for its deep soul sound. The reverend lets his piercing guitar speak fine in the funky She's Moving On.
The smoothly swinging shuffle I'm Your Honeyboy takes care of the closing of this album.
There is not really one bad song on this album. An album with which our pastor will certainly win new blues souls.
Blues Magazine (Netherlands) - Peter Marinus
Looking back over 20 years of living on the road, this crew rerecorded or remastered their high points from their back pages. A loping, easy going good time that has a total blue lights in the basement feel, these white boys with the blues make sounds for that party that doesn't need to raucous energy to keep the energy flowing. Tasty stuff from some of the hardest working blues road warriors out there, it's time for them to be less of local Milwaukee treat and let the word get out. Hot stuff.
Midwest Record Review - Midwest Record Review
Reverend Raven & company are celebrating 20 years of playing blues throughout the Mid-West and Florida. The Reverend has been playing blues ever since 1971, when he saw Freddie King perform. I guess you could call that his "Damascus Road" experience. It would have been enough to knock me off my ass, to be sure. After a 15 year stint in the Navy he moved to Milwaukee, where he teamed up with Madison Slim. He and Slim went to work, and the Reverend has hardly taken a break ever since. Personnel have changed over the years, but the band has done nothing but get tighter with each passing gig. This is Blues to the core...the kind of stuff that has been pouring out of jukes, roadhouses, clubs, bars and dives every weekend since the blues began (pretty much). Not unlike the DC based Nighthawks, these guys have a deep love for the blues in all forms and give 100%, whether playing for a small club or at a huge festival. Their years on the road, while not making them rich, has honed their skills and their ability to read the crowd, to a razor sharpness. Having had the pleasure of seeing the band perform live, I found their Twentieth Anniversary compilation to be everything I expected and then some. Raven is as sharp as ever on guitars and his vocals are smooth as a well-aged bourbon. The four harmonica players represented are among the best in the business, the rhythm sections are tight and right on the money and the piano/organ players...you get the idea. This is an album I would suggest getting several copies of...that first copy is sure to wear out quickly. These guys do their blues heroes proud. If, by chance, you have never heard of the Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys, now is as good a time as any. This is as good as it gets.
Reflection in Blue - Bill Wilson
Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys have done it again! Here we go with their eighth CD and it is fabulous! Hailing from Milwaukee, The Reverend and his boys have played and toured the known universe for 20 years now! Over those years they have played about every venue you can think of, while sharing the stage with about every blues Icon you can think of. This wonderful compilation of their best stuff is fabulous! How do you pick the best out of 20 years together? Well, you find a way. Pulling from their four studio albums they have remixed, or all together just bluesed up a new version with some new players helping out. Reverend Raven nails it with his outstanding vocals, guitar, and slide work! That big baritone voice just lays right in there. Talk about harmonica players this CD features some genuine monsters! Cadillac Pete Rahn, Madison Slim, Benny Rickun, and Westside Andy Linderman just blow up the tracks! I mean outstanding harp players! If you’re a harp lover, this is enough to
get the CD! Born and raised on the South side of Chicago the Reverends credentials and background are impeccable! Over the last thirty years he has opened Perkins, Junior Wells, Magic Slim Elvin Bishop, Sugar Blue, tons of others, and has been on headliner status rotation at Buddy Guys Legends Club for sixteen years! Go to www.reverendraven.com and check out his extensive career! Reverend Raven “My Life”! Twenty years of the best of the best. Just ace top drawer!
Better check it out. One Love, blue barry – smoky mountain blues society.
Smoky Mountain Blues Society - Blue Barry
"Each track has it's own timbre and sound and gives one a smorgasbord of listening pleasure."
Blues Music Magazine - Pete Sardon