By Bill Sheffield
Review by Roy Peak
Bill Sheffield is a guitarist, slide player, and vocalist from Atlanta, Georgia who doesn't just dabble in the blues, he lives it. From his days of fronting the Eastside Blues Band and opening up for blues greats such as Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, and T-Bone Walker, to his stint singing with Roy Buchanan, to his solo performances reinterpreting classic blues by the likes of Charley Patton, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Blind Willie McTell, Sheffield has most definitely learned and owned his craft.
The hardest thing to successfully pull off in any style of music is sincerity. Distinguished listeners can usually tell when a musician is not putting their all into their music, when someone is jumping on the bandwagon or simply bucking a trend. Sheffield plays and sings like he means it, like a man living the blues he sings. He's a founding member of more bands than ten other musicians, and after decades of playing and touring with full bands, Sheffield decided to go out on his own, playing acoustically, and sometimes with a guest musician. This was a smart move for Sheffield as sometimes simpler and streamlined is better, especially when it comes to acoustic blues, and the pared down instrumentation gives him a chance to showcase his soulful vocals.
With a rather storied and lengthy career in music, here's a few tidbits about a few of Sheffield's albums.
In Other Words – Not is as focused as Journal on a Shelf, but still full of great guitar playing and some damn fine songs. One of Sheffield's strengths is surrounding himself with fantastic players and this album has plenty of Georgia's finest musicians taking part on Sheffield's tautly written tunes.
Lighthouse – Sheffield's gospel album. Eight classic gospel tunes reimagined the Bill Sheffield way.
Tuesday Night Madness at the Northside Tavern – Sheffield had a Tuesday night gig at the Northside Tavern along with Donnie McCormick. After performing these shows for many years, they recorded a live album as a celebration. Out of all of Sheffield's albums, this one is definitely the rawest while also being the one that rocks the hardest. McCormick's contribution to this lively set, besides singing about half the material, is banging on a "chicken coop" as an erstwhile drum kit. McCormick comes off as a rougher Levon Helm, giving a little more edge to Sheffield's playing. I get the feeling that McCormick kept Sheffield on his toes, so to speak, during these shows which is something more musicians should strive for. Being comfortable on stage isn't always the best thing. Of note is Sheffield's take on that Fab Four classic "Eleanor Rigby," which he dutifully turns into a blues-picked folk song, and the true story "The Three Legged Dog," compellingly performed by McCormick as a talking blues. Good stuff.
You can keep up with Bill and find out where he will hold his next live performance here. We've linked to Bill's site for his albums, but you can also find many of them on Amazon.
Roy Peak is Sacred Chickens Music Editor. He has played electric bass in more bands than he cares to remember for more years than he can remember. He wrote the theme song for the Utica, New York radio show "Hey You Kids, Get Off My Lawn" on WPNR-FM. His solo debut album, All Is Well, has been called "Loud, cacophonous, and beautiful by a truly unique artist." His short fiction has been published in The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature and he writes music reviews for the King Tut Vintage Album Museum of Jacksonville. Roy writes music reviews for the Rocking Magpie among others.