JOHNNY ADAMS – The Tan Canary

I heard Johnny Adams for the first time in 1969 on one of my “go to” radio stations, CKLW, out of Windsor. The song was “Reconsider Me”. About a minute into the song Johnny slid up the scale effortlessly on the lyric “please”. Actually, he held onto “pu-lee-ee-ease” at the top end for about 5 seconds. It was a full blown melismatic Blues song achieved in just over 5 seconds. It sent the proverbial chills down my spine in that I’d never heard anything quite like it. It would be later that I learned that the unmatched falsetto was a Johnny Adams trademark.

Another Johnny Adams memory. Having decided to get into the music business in late 1997 I ordered a copy of the Living Blues Directory that included contact information for various artists. At the time, I was so taken with Adams after both continually playing his current CD at the time, One Foot In The Blues, and witnessing an outstanding cameo appearance at the recent Handy Awards, (backed by Bonnie Raitt’s band), that I decided to see if there was a contact number for him. My thought was to inquire about the possibility of Johnny playing a date in Toronto. Looking through the Directory, I found a number anticipating that I would be speaking with his agent. I dialed the number and a woman answered. I told her the purpose of my call and the woman’s response was that Johnny was resting and asked if she could help me, introducing herself as Judy, Johnny’s wife. It was Johnny Adams’ home number!

She seemed pleased that I called and relayed the info to Johnny. She then went on to explain that Johnny wasn’t feeling well but that he would get back to me when he was feeling better. Before hanging up Judy said that they were looking for a manager and asked if I would be interested in managing Johnny. I replied, that while I would welcome the opportunity, someone else might be better suited for the job. I left Judy my number, but when I read shortly after that Johnny was suffering from prostate cancer I didn’t have any expectations of hearing back. We never got to finish the conversation; Johnny Adams passed less than a year later.

Still another memory: I was working a show featuring the great singer / guitar player / songwriter Earl King in 1999 and I was transporting him from Buffalo to Toronto for the gig, and back to Buffalo after the show. We got into an easy conversation on the way back to Buffalo with me asking him a number of questions about New Orleans, New Orleans musicians, and general music stuff. When I mentioned Johnny Adams a big smile came across Earl’s face and he chuckled. He commented that Johnny was a gentleman, and indeed special. Earl said that the memory that came to mind was that when Johnny got into a hotel room, regardless of the outside temperature, before doing anything else, Johnny would to turn the AC on high. That, and the fact that Johnny chain smoked Kools, (menthol cigarettes).

Laton John Adams was born in New Orleans on January 5, 1932. The oldest of 10 children, Johnny was raised in a religious family and was singing Gospel for as long as he could remember, including doing so in the church choir. He left school at 15 to pursue a Gospel singing career, and sang with primarily 2 quartets: The Soul Revivers and Bessie Griffin & The Consulators.

Johnny continued singing Gospel for the next 10 years or so when songwriter Dorothy LaBostrie, who lived in the same apartment building as Adams, heard him singing “Precious Lord” and was taken with his voice. LaBostrie, a songwriter for Joe Ruffino (who owned the local record labels Ric and Ron), suggested to Adams that he should try singing some of her secular material; (according to a then reluctant Adams, LaBostrie worked on him for almost a year).

LaBostrie* had written a song “I Won’t Cry” and wanted Johnny to record it. It was 1959 and Johnny at 27 years of age, sensing that nothing was happening for him in the Gospel field, agreed to go over to the other side. (At that point in his life Johnny was trying to make ends meet working as a roofer by day and singing Spirituals at night). The single, the start of his association with Joe Ruffino, produced by the 18 year old Mac Rebennack (Dr. John), was a local hit that started Adams’ career in addition to beginning a lifelong working relationship and friendship with the Good Doctor.

(*LaBostrie, a songwriter of note, is recognized for having written, (read: “cleaned up”), Little Richard’s “Tutti Fruiti”, as well as Irma Thomas’ first record and hit “You Can Have My Husband {But Please Don’t Mess With My Man}”, and L’il Millet’s “Rich Woman”.)

While “I Won’t Cry” would prove to be a start, Johnny’s career wouldn’t get much traction. Johnny attributed that to three primary factors. Firstly, was Ruffino not having the business savvy to align himself with major distributors thus limiting the sales of any Ric or Ron recordings solely to the local market. Secondly, Johnny missing out on an opportunity that presented itself when Motown’s Berry Gordy showed interest in recording him. That is, until Ruffino thwarted that chance as well by not letting Adams out of his contract – that Adams, in later years, speculated was fraudulent – and threatening to sue Gordy. And lastly, the fact that Johnny wasn’t allowed to pick the material that he recorded implying that the selected songs either didn’t suit him and / or were not marketable product.

The year 1962 would mark Johnny’s first National R&B hit, “A Losing Battle”, written by Mac Rebennack and climbing to # 27 on Billboard’s R&B Chart. The Ric and Ron labels would also fold in 1962 after Joe Ruffino’s death thereby freeing Johnny for a re-start. But despite having developed a considerable local following, Johnny wasn’t well known outside of New Orleans thus restricting his ability to draw any interest from a prospective significant label. Accordingly, for the next 5 years, Johnny continued to record for primarily small New Orleans labels such as Gone and Watch in what would prove to be a prolonged dry spell.

Johnny would resurface in 1968 on Shelby Singleton’s SSS label out of Nashville hitting with a cover of the Country classic “Release Me” that made it to # 34 R&B and # 82 on the Pop charts. Staying in the Country Soul vein, (a style that Adams played a significant role in popularizing), Johnny followed that up with the aforementioned “Reconsider Me” that fared even better by making it to the R&B Top 10 (at # 8) and # 28 Pop in 1969. (Both “Release Me” and “Reconsider Me” can be found on the fine SSS album Heart & Soul). Unfortunately, Johnny wasn’t able to follow up the success of “Reconsider Me” because Singleton decided to abandon his pursuit of R&B hits to instead concentrate on his Country artists.

Now Johnny was back to cutting singles for obscure labels once again. But Adams took it in stride reasoning that even if the singles didn’t sell well they would at least provide him with some market presence and an appearance of being active in the business. That, in turn, would enhance his opportunities for live gigs. So, while still not making any significant headway with his recordings, Johnny, who was hugely popular as a local live act, decided to concentrate on that avenue saying “The money is in gigs, not in the records”. As such, from the early 70’s until the mid 80’s, Johnny cultivated a loyal following at a weekend residency at Dorothy’s Medallion Lounge backed by guitarist Walter “Wolfman” Washington’s Soul / Blues combo. (It should be noted that Adams did hit locally – 50,000 copies – with a re-make of Conway Twitty’s “After All The Good Is Gone”, on the Hep’ Me imprint, in 1978).

For the most part never venturing very far outside of the New Orleans area, Adams continued to cement his local standing. Always handling an assortment of styles with credibility and authority, Adams used his multi octave voice to great advantage. Known for his swooping vocal gymnastics and unparalleled falsetto, Adams also exhibited great timing on his delivery that put him in a league with “silk” singers like Charles Brown and Bobby Bland. Add in flawless enunciation – sometimes reminiscent of Johnny Hartman in that regard – and you had a vocalist that was truly unique, and, for lack of a better descriptor, truly special. Such precision with passion and elegance would move New Orleans DJ Tex Stevens to christen Adams, the “Tan Canary”; a moniker that would stay with Johnny till he took his last breath.

In 1983 Adams came to the attention of Scott Billington at Rounder Records who wanted to record an R&B album with Johnny and his Walter “Wolfman” Washington led working band. (The sessions would evolve into his first Rounder album From The Heart). To Billington’s credit, he was quick to recognize Adams’ versatility and his interest in a wide range of genres. Billington sought to capitalize on Adams’ mastery of Jazz, Blues, romantic ballads, Country, Pop, Soul and whatever hybrid of the various styles on the Rounder releases. From Adams’ side, all was positive as well as he said that “This is the first time I’ve had the freedom to choose what to sing, and how to sing it”. Further, in describing his satisfaction with Rounder, he claimed that previous record companies wanted to categorize him as a certain type / style of singer when he instead had the capability of “doing it all”. The progressive environment provided Johnny with a new found confidence in his abilities and a willingness to test the limits.

Starting in 1984 Johnny Adams would go on to record 9 eclectic and critically acclaimed releases for Rounder that would eclipse much of his previous work. Johnny would not only reap the benefits of the recordings themselves but by extension would broaden his appeal by touring both nationally and internationally.

It’s safe to say that every one of Johnny’s Rounder albums hits the mark, has something to offer, and is complementary to the one that came before. The build from album to album can be attributed to Billington and Adams continually becoming more familiar with each other and Adams’ growing confidence in both his capabilities and desire to stretch out. And, if – subconsciously or otherwise – the fifty something Adams was intent on making up for lost time, he certainly did that and then some.

The first two releases, From The Heart and After Dark are wide ranging affairs as the Adams / Billington combo are establishing their varied direction. “Heart” is the first of the Rounder albums to feature two of Adams’ favourite songwriters’ works; those of Doc Pomus and Percy Mayfield. After Dark contains a great rendition of John Hiatt’s “Lover’s Will”. (One of Hiatt’s best, being such a fine lyric, it makes me wish that I could hear Johnny reprise the song using Bonnie Raitt’s outstanding arrangement. I have no doubt he could match Raitt’s resignation and longing and more.)

Things start to coalesce on the following records with Johnny at the height of his powers. The comparatively high points are Room With A View Of The Blues, Walking On A Tightrope: The Songs Of Percy Mayfield, Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus: The Real Me, One Foot In The Blues, and Man Of My Word.

“Room” is the first album to feature the twin guitars of Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Duke Robillard on truly first rate songs. It’s the Blues but there’s a Jazz feel in the arrangements and Johnny’s phrasing. The Percy Mayfield entry “Not Trustworthy (A Lyin’ Woman)” is a shuffle that flat out swings as Johnny tells the tale:
“I remember when I met you
You said your name was Mary Jane…
But when I saw you in the line-up
The heat was calling you by another name” 
And keeping the fun going is the cool funk of Robillard and Rebennack’s offering “Body And Fender Man”:
“I’m your body and fender man
Let me fix your car
When it comes to bodies and fenders
I’m sure some kind of superstar”
Also, “The Hunt Is On” bears mentioning; another great Mayfield shuffle that features Adams’ mouth trombone, (simulated trombone soloing), on the ride out.

“Tightrope” features all the Percy Mayfield goodies including the title song, “Lost Mind”, and “Danger Zone”. (The only missing piece is “Please Send Me Someone To Love”).The love that Johnny had for Mayfield is evident as he caresses every lyric. With all due respect to Brother Ray, the album exemplifies that Johnny Adams is indeed the premier interpreter of Percy Mayfield’s material.

Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus is Johnny’s tribute to his “other” favourite songwriter, and it’s truly unfortunate that the legendary Pomus, one of the top writers in the R&B / Blues idiom, didn’t live to see this album completed. Johnny was one of Doc’s favourite singers because of the feeling that Johnny injected into every song like no other. As reflected on this release, at this juncture in his career, Pomus’ songwriting had taken a turn to one of more simplicity and emotional directness. Both of those qualities were held in high regard by Adams thus making this outing a heart shared meeting of the minds. Johnny has commented that his favourite cut on the album is “There Is Always One More Time” because he could relate directly to the message of hope contained in the song:
“If there’s a heart out there
Looking for someone to share
I don’t care if it’s been
Turned down time and time again
And if we meet one day
Please don’t walk away
‘Cause there is always one more time
There is always one more time”

One Foot In The Blues got its title from the album concept of having one foot in Blues and one foot in Jazz. This is a masterful organ trio album featuring the eccentric Dr. Lonnie Smith on Hammond B-3, (including covering the bass pedals), Jimmy Ponder on guitar, and Shannon Powell on drums. With Ed Petersen’s tenor forays and Johnny’s sublime vocals on selections from the respective Dann Penn, Buddy Johnson, and Percy Mayfield song books, the result is a combination that’s tough to beat.

Billington and Adams decided the next album A Man Of My Word would be an all stops out R&B / Soul album and planned to record it in Memphis. However, the logistics proved to be too strenuous for Adams who was suffering from prostate cancer. Instead they pivoted to recording the album at Ultrasonic Studio in New Orleans. Adams is backed by a star studded cast including two of Johnny’s former band leaders, Walter “Wolfman” Washington on guitar and David Torkanowsky on keys, renowned Memphis guitarist Michael Toles, and a rhythm section of ex Meters George Porter on bass and drummer Donnell Spencer Jr. who worked with Stevie Wonder and Chaka Khan among others. The band is superlative as is the material. And given his physical condition it’s a true wonder that Johnny Adams’ considerable skills were intact as he commanded the room on a set of primarily outstanding covers including Bobby Bland’s “This Time I’m Gone For Good”, Little Willie John’s “Now You Know”, William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water”, and Percy Sledge’s “It Tears Me Up”. Toss in a handful of originals and a definitive reading of Bobby Charles’ “I Don’t Want To Know”, and all make for an emotional tour de force. The icing on the cake is a breath taking duet with Aaron Neville on the Gospel standard “Never Alone”.

Such was the last recording, a fitting musical epitaph for one of the truly great singers of our time.

As I was writing this article I thought it would be appropriate to reach out to Scott Billington, vice president of A&R for Rounder/Concord Records – who knew Johnny so well and was so instrumental in Johnny’s success at Rounder and beyond – for a comment that I could include in my essay. Scott graciously provided the following that serves as an eloquent summary of all of the above:

“Johnny Adams was one of the great vocalists of the last century– in any genre. His contemporaries like Irma Thomas or Aaron Neville would likely say the same thing. He had a gospel singer’s soul and a jazz musician’s ear, which enabled us to make each new album different from the one before. So, we went from R&B, to jazz, to blues and back again. Finding songs that matched his talent, and that had the right harmonic foundation to give him space to sing, was my challenge.  

Johnny was a pro in the studio, and he always came prepared, knowing the songs inside and out. Songwriters loved him because he stayed true to the melody and phrasing of a song as it was written– at least the first time through. He was also a master of improvisation, so the vamps of the songs were often his space to play. He loved being in an environment with musicians who could improvise along with him. After we had finished a track, he would often ask to overdub his vocal again… and again. It wasn’t because there was anything lacking in his performance, but because he enjoyed exploring where else he might take it”.


  1. I Won’t Cry
  2. A Losing Battle
  3. Release Me
  4. Reconsider Me
  5. Lover’s Will
  6. Not Trustworthy
  7. Body And Fender Man
  8. The Hunt Is On
  9. Walking On A Tightrope
  10.  Lost Mind
  11.  There Is Always One More Time
  12.  Good Morning Heartache
  13.  The Jealous Kind
  14.  One Foot In The Blues
  15.  Roadblock
  16.  It Ain’t The Same Thing
  17.  Going Out Of My Mind Sale
  18.  I Don’t Want To Know
  19.  Bulldog Break His Chain
  20.  Never Alone
  • Rico Ferrara, May 2021

BOBBY CHARLES – The King Of Swamp Rock

Dr. John: “I think of all of Bobby’s songs have something to offer at all times, for all people”

Delbert McClinton: “He’s Bobby Charles; there’s only one.”

Johnny Adams, Bonnie Bramlett, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Paul Butterfield, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker, Jackie DeShannon, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino, Etta James, Dr. John, Tom Jones, Kris Kristofferson, Delbert McClinton, Shannon McNally, Wilson Pickett, Lou Rawls, UB40, Jerry Jeff Walker, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells… What do all of these artists have in common? They all have, at one time or another,  recorded at least one Bobby Charles song. As a matter of fact, after forming a bond with Charles, Shannon McNally devoted an entire album to his songs. (Incidentally, “See You Later Alligator” – Charles’ initial claim to fame; more on the song later – to date has been covered an incredible 62 times!)

Such is the skill of Bobby Charles as a songwriter. And his songwriting expertise is even more remarkable when you consider that Bobby couldn’t read or write music or even play an instrument. That is, other than his own voice which was a more than serviceable in conveying varied emotions, and was all too rarely used. But singing isn’t where his interests lied; and it goes without saying that Charles was more successful as a songwriter than as a singer.

Robert Charles Guidry was born about 150 miles west of New Orleans in the Cajun Country town of Abbeyville LA., (population 9,300), on February 21, 1938. Growing up in a French speaking household, Charles was bit by the music bug early, listening to mostly traditional Cajun music on the radio. As a young teen he discovered Country and R&B, and cited his early idols as Hank Williams and Fats Domino.

It was also around this time, at the age of 13, that Charles started singing with a local group, The Clippers, at the Mount Carmel High School dances in Abbeyville where Charles was a student. The Clippers played primarily Country and Cajun material as was the fashion around Abbeyville. Charles also started dabbling in songwriting during his tenure with The Clippers, including his first fully realized composition “See You Later Alligator” that he penned at 14 years of age.

The writing of “Later Alligator” would prove to be a watershed moment in Charles’ young career. Things started rolling when Fats Domino played a show in Abbeyville, and Charles was able to speak to him after the show, taking the opportunity to offer “Later Alligator” to him to record. When the song was turned down by Domino, (who said he didn’t want to “sing any song about alligators”), through the connections of a local record shop proprietor, Charles, in turn, auditioned the song in a phone call to Leonard Chess, founder of Chess Records. Suitably impressed, Chess suggested a name change to simply “Bobby Charles” and arranged for Charles to record the song, (with The Clippers backing him), at Cosimo Matassa’s studio in New Orleans. Although the single was a hit locally, it didn’t fare well nationally – making just a token appearance at #14 on the R&B charts for one week.

All was not lost, however, because a major artist in the burgeoning genre of Rock & Roll, Bill Haley & The Comets, (who’s 1956 single  “Rock Around the Clock” would become, for a time, the biggest selling rock and roll single in the history of Rock & Roll), recorded the song and made it an International hit. (Not to mention the expression “see you later alligator” finding its’ way into the hipster lexicon of the day). “Later Alligator” would prove to be the start of a prosperous songwriting career for Charles.

Although “Later Alligator” had established Charles as a Chess recording artist, Leonard Chess didn’t meet Charles in person until 3 months after the release of the song. When introduced to Charles at the Chess offices in Chicago, Chess was, to say the least, surprised to find that Charles was white. He was especially confounded given that he had already set up a tour of mostly Black venues; including Charles along with Chuck Berry and other Chess artists. (Once audiences got over the initial shock of Charles being white he was well received).

Bobby, (the only white artist on the Chess label), would go on to record more singles, and be included in more package tours for Chess. After leaving Chess, Charles cut more singles on other labels like Imperial, Jewel, and Paula without much success. At the same time Charles admitted that he didn’t enjoy the touring required to support the singles and that he wasn’t enamoured with being a singer / frontman. Instead, Charles was more comfortable in the studio and writing songs. Coincidentally, his reputation as a songwriter was growing. Among other songs recorded by various artists, he wrote “Walkin’ To New Orleans” for Fats Domino and “(I Don’t Know Why I Love You) But I Do” for Clarence “Frogman” Henry. Those two songs provided a much needed jolt to his songwriting career, and put Charles on course as a pioneer of a musical genre known as “Swamp Rock”.

While Charles had success as a songwriter, he was growing increasingly disenchanted with the music business, and he drifted away while keeping a low profile working menial jobs in Texas and various parts of the Southwest. He did settle in Nashville for a short time, writing songs for John R at WLAC, but after being busted for pot possession he decided it was best to leave town and look for new horizons.

The story goes that, with no definite destination in mind, he came across Woodstock on a map and decided to make his way there. (Surprisingly, he apparently had never even heard of the famed Woodstock Festival). Once there he quickly acclimated to the laid back lifestyle and just as quickly made friends with some of the local musicians including members of The Band and Paul Butterfield’s Better Days. And in keeping with his low profile mindset, when questioned by one of the Woodstock musicians if he was that Bobby Charles of “See You Later Alligator” fame, Charles’ response was “don’t tell anybody”

But word got around and Charles eventually came to the attention of Albert Grossman, (the high powered manager of Bob Dylan, The Band, Paul Butterfield etc.), who signed him to his Bearsville label, and made the recording of his, (self-titled), first album possible. Backed by a star studded supporting cast including Amos Garrett, Dr. John, David Sanborn, and members of The Band among others; Charles cut more of a cult favourite than a commercially successful release. Co-produced by John Simon, (The Band’s producer), and Rick Danko of The Band, “Bobby Charles” is a swampy boozy mix of R&B, good time Rock & Roll, and Country that would fit well in a roots rocker’s or singer songwriter’s catalogue. Although the album didn’t sell well, it was well received by critics and contained 2 entries that came to be known as “Woodstock Songs”, continually performed by local musicians: “Small town Talk” and “He’s Got All The Whiskey”.

During Charles’ time in Woodstock, among other ventures, he became an unofficial member of Paul Butterfield’s Better Days, (as well as Butter’s running buddy), contributing songs and guesting on the band’s two studio releases. He made his presence felt on the second release writing the title track “It All Comes Back” in addition to 2 co-writes with Butter, and sharing vocals with him on one of them “Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It”. It’s also worthwhile noting that Charles wrote arguably the best song, (“Here I Go Again”), on Butterfield’s otherwise lacklustre solo album “Put It In Your Ear”.

Charles did make a couple of subsequent recordings while in Woodstock, although neither was released. The first was recorded with R&B / Soul songwriting legend Spooner Oldham while the second was a live effort with Charles backed by Butterfield and the NYC funk collective Stuff.

Charles’ stay in Woodstock wasn’t a long one as he became increasingly uncomfortable and decided to move back to Abbeyville. He did some sporadic recordings that found their way on various releases but for the most part Charles was content to be at home and live off his songwriting royalties. One of those recordings was “Down South In New Orleans” performed at The Band’s Last Waltz concert and captured on the soundtrack. (In keeping with his low profile mentality, in typical Bobby Charles fashion, he refused to be in the accompanying movie).

Bobby Charles resurfaced as a recording artist briefly in the 90’s, signing with Holger Petersen and Stony Plain Records, and releasing 2 CD’s. That was followed by 2 more on the Rice N’Gravy imprint. All four albums plus a number of subsequent compilations show that Charles’ songwriting skills remained intact, as he continued to entice various artists to cover his songs.

Despite his nature – that could be interpreted as passive – Bobby Charles was serious about his songwriting. Calling songs “the seeds of the music business”, Charles explained that he didn’t try to sit down and write a song but rather that songs are an inspiration that come from the heart. He went on to say that once inspired, he would usually finish a song in under a half an hour as “it’s like a release” that had to come out. (For instance, Charles wrote “Walkin’ To New Orleans” in 20 minutes).

Interestingly, to capture the creative moment – taking into account that Charles didn’t play an instrument – Charles would often sing the song onto his phone’s answering machine. From there he would “transmit” the song to the studio musicians, and, as was his custom, record the song in one take while it was “fresh”. (When recording the “Bobby Charles” album, Charles remembered laying down 5 or 6 of the 10 tracks in one session – all of them one take).

Bobby Charles, the “King Of Swamp Rock”, has taken on legendary status based on the simplicity, humour, and empathy displayed in his brand of Louisiana Rock & Roll and R&B. There’s no doubt that the world lost a real treasure with his passing on January 10, 2010 at the age of 71.

It’s only fitting that Bobby Charles was honoured by being inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame in 2007.


  1. See You Later Alligator – Bobby Charles
  2. Walking To New Orleans – Fats Domino
  3. Street People – Bobby Charles
  4. Long Face – Bobby Charles
  5. Save Me Jesus – Bobby Charles
  6. Grow Too Old – Bobby Charles
  7. He’s Got All the Whiskey – Bobby Charles
  8. Small Town Talk – Paul Butterfield’s Better Days
  9. Tennessee Blues – Shannon McNally
  10.  Down South In New Orleans – Bobby Charles w / The Band
  11.  Take Your Pleasure Where You Find It – Paul Butterfield’s Better Days feat. Bobby Charles
  12.  Why Are People Like That – Muddy Waters
  13.  Jealous Kind – Etta James
  14.  Here I Go Again – Paul Butterfield
  15.  I Don’t Want to Know – Johnny Adams
  • RICO FERRARA, May 2021


Luke Winslow-King is fluent in “the language of music”.

Apart from being an outstanding guitar player – he started playing at the age of 10 – as well as a multi-instrumentalist, Winslow-King can boast having an impressive academic music background as well. Born in Cadillac Michigan, he attended the Michigan based Interlochan Arts Academy where he specialized in Jazz guitar and Bebop. LWK also studied music theory and music composition at The University of New Orleans that led to earning a scholarship to study Czech music at St. Charles University in Prague.

As diverse and interesting as LWK’s academia is, so too are his life experiences to date. It was in 2002, then 19 years old, that Luke, while part of a cross country tour of a show comprised of Woody Guthrie songs – “From California To The New York Islands” – made a stop in New Orleans and fate stepped in. While In New Orleans it happened that the troupe’s van was burglarized resulting in everyone losing their instruments. Stranded, LWK decided to stay in New Orleans, and, for all intents and purposes, remained there till 2017, at which time he relocated back to Cadillac Michigan.

LWK, who initially spent his time busking and playing various club dates both as a solo performer and backing local Soul singer John Boutte′, did move to New York for two years after Katrina; (he returned in 2007). While there, the resourceful LWK took up residence in Harlem, and used his time effectively both working as a music therapist by teaching music at The Lavelle School For The Blind in the Bronx, and writing scores for plays and movie productions. (There’s no record of any commercial success of his musical scores).

Once “back home” in New Orleans, LWK started his recording career while once again busking and playing clubs around town, and continuing to immerse himself in the local music scene. It’s safe to say that he arrived in town as primarily a Blues / Folk performer and evolved into a musician adept at blending Delta Blues, Folk, Ragtime, Americana, and primitive Rock & Roll. And all has been done with an eye to shining a light on his adopted home’s musical heritage.

LWK has released 6 albums to date, (with a rumoured 7th in the works, “If Walls Could Talk”). All reap the benefits of his well-learned, fully formed expertise in playing a number of genres. In saying that, he has honed his skills playing vintage music forms so well that there’s a possible misconception of categorizing LWK as merely an archivist / revivalist. But anyone really listening will realize very quickly that there’s enough originality in the songs that such a notion doesn’t get any real traction.

Sitting atop his playing and arrangements are LWK’s convincing vocals. Given the material, although not as rough-hewn as might be generally expected, those vocals are expressive and certainly generate the heat as required at any given time. (And when those vocals are complemented by – now ex – wife Esther Rose’s backing and harmonies, a new dimension is added; that of a divergent Appalachian feel).

All of LWK’s releases are critically acclaimed but the last 4 – all on Chicago’s independent Bloodshot Records – with LWK hitting his stride, are a cut above the rest. “The Coming Tide”, “Everlasting Arms”, “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always”, and “Blue Mesa” all feature fine songwriting and outstanding performances, including the slide guitar work of recording partner and sometime band mate Roberto Luti of the Playing For Change Band. (LWK met Luti – who’s originally from Livorno Italy – when Luti was playing on a street corner in New Orleans). Although LWK is a formidable slide player in his own right, on recordings he gives equal time to Luti. LWK attributes Luti with teaching him to “spend my time trying to find passion out of fewer notes”. 

Following are some highlights that can be found on the aforementioned albums, and stand as proof positive that LWK’s music is always evolving:

  • “The Coming Tide” – the title song of the 2013 release, a sparse arrangement of a rural Blues number written by LWK
  • “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning” – from “The Coming Tide”; a tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell who LWK credits with an “incredible rhythmic style that is so rough and rustic… makes you want to jump”.
  • “Everlasting Arms” – the title cut that could be easily mistaken for a traditional, hopeful “lend a helping hand” spiritual but was actually written by LWK. (You may be familiar with this song from its’ inclusion in an excerpt of “Playing For Change” on youtube)
  • “Swing That Thing” – from “Everlasting Arms”; backboned by a sweaty Bo Diddley like riff that never lets up. Written by LWK.
  • “Domino Sugar” – from “Everlasting Arms”; an overtly commercial Blues co-written by LWK and Luti, and featuring their twin slide guitars
  • “Home Blues” – from “Everlasting Arms”; a classic New Orleans Ragtime style Blues written by LWK. It would fit snugly between a couple of Leon Redbone cuts
  • “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always” – the title cut written by LWK; an echoey “down in the bottom” Blues. Once again powered by LWK and Luti twin slides
  • “Louisiana Blues” from “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Always Last” – heavily influenced by Howlin Wolf; written by LWK
  • “Born To Roam” – from “Blue Mesa”; an all-out rocker written by LWK
  • “Chicken Dinner” – from “Blue Mesa”; written with Lissa Driscoll; it showcases counterpoint guitars, courtesy of LWK and Luti, against an infectious Rhumba / New Orleans backbeat

And that’s just a sampling of some of the great music found throughout. (It should be noted that the album “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always” consists of a collection of songs written after, and due to, the break-up of LWK’s marriage to percussionist and vocalist Esther Rose. It triumphs in the presentation of first-rate songs that have the desired effect without sounding self-pitying or maudlin).

Although still awaiting National acclaim – LWK currently enjoys a following in Europe – he has been celebrated in his sometime home of New Orleans. He’s been nominated 9 times for various OffBeat Magazine Awards including “Best Emerging Artist”, “Best Singer / Songwriter”, “Favourite Blues Album” for “Everlasting Arms”, and for “Favourite Blues Album” for “I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always”.

LWK’s 15 years in New Orleans served him well; as he refined his craft while the experience aided in his development of a highly personal, distinctive sound. What LWK offers up is honest, unaffected, no-nonsense, organic music – free of contrived histrionics delivered through a filter of Country Blues, Trad Jazz, Gospel, Ragtime, Folk, and good old Rock & Roll. For most people that’s more than enough.


  1. The Coming Tide
  2. Keep Your Lamp Trimmed And Burning
  3. Ella Speed
  4. Everlasting Arms
  5. Swing That Thing
  6. Domino Sugar
  7. Home Blues
  8. I’m Glad Trouble Don’t Last Always
  9. Louisiana Blues
  10.  No More Crying Today
  11.  You Got Mine
  12.  Leghorn Women
  13.  Blue Mesa
  14.  Born To Roam
  15.  Chicken Dinner