Brandon Santini and Delta Highway by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

Posted on 4/05/2010 by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms

(Memphis, Tennessee) Last week I had the pleasure of sitting in with my friend, Brandon Santini, and his new version of Delta Highway. Victor Wainwright, who took the photo of the band above, invited the traveling Terry Lape and me to come down to Mr. Handy's Blues Hall at Third and Beale. Victor said he was setting up a piano that night and that I could drop in and play some with brother Santini's new band.

Of note, Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots' new album, Beale Street to the Bayou, has just hit #2 on the blues charts. You heard about him here first, at the American Blues News. Victor is scheduled to fly overseas with me and the Reba Russell band during an upcoming tour to Norway in October. We will be backing up Victor on the big cruise ship between Reba Russell sets. Here's an earlier article I wrote about Victor Wainwright: Victor Wainwright, Blues, Boogie and More

Handy Hall, where family pictures of Mr. Handy still hang on the walls

Billed by the owners as the last real juke joint on Beale, Handy Hall is a small venue which has been played by Watermelon Slim, the North Mississippi All-Stars, and back in the 1980's by Muddy Waters' harmonica player, Mojo Buford, accompanied by me and my band, the Wampus Cats. It is a tiny place with a wooden floor attached to the adjacent Rumboogie Cafe by a door. In fact, there is no bathroom inside Handy Hall. You have to walk next door to the Rumboogie for such amenities.

View from the street looking inside Mr. Handy's Blues Hall, or Handy Hall as it is known
(photo courtesy of Carson Lamm, Rum Boogie Cafe)

As Gatorman and I dropped in on this Thursday night, the band was just getting ready to play and I got to say hello to Victor and Brandon. Since American Blues News' Monica Yasher last wrote about the band, Brandon has gotten all new personnel. Click here to read Monica's article: Interview with Delta Highway by Monica Yasher

The last band was great and this band is actually even better. The instrumental virtuosity and tastefulness of accompaniment are not to be rivaled by many blues bands on this earth, and I have seen quite a few. I watched with delight as the band masterfully plowed through a wide selection of old blues with grace and fluidity. The band goes up and starts out the night with some instrumental numbers and is then joined by bandleader Brandon who guides the show with some good vocals, excellent crowd rapport and fine harp playing.

Brad Webb of I 55 Productions and Tom "Slim" Lewis
at the Memphis Blues Society jam
(photo by Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms)

My old friend and band mate, Slim Lewis, is still playing bass with Delta Highway. Slim is a steady hand at the bass and he has been a denizen of Beale Street almost as long as I have. He has many hours behind the bass on these stages. He is not only a valued old friend to me but also a real asset to all the younger players in the band. Tom returns to the band after a year and half absence. He recently toured with the Rockin' Jake Band and was also a member of Jason Ricci and New Blood.

Brandon Santini and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms on Beale Street

Brandon moved from his home in North Carolina to pick up the sounds of the Delta, which he absorbed like a sponge in short order. He currently plays about 3 nights a week with the band at their home base of Mr. Handy's Blues Hall. Like most Memphis' professional musicians, he is planning more lucrative and far-reaching tours in the near future.

Brandon Santini (photo by Victor Wainwright)

I played many, many nights at the Rumboogie Cafe while Brandon Santini played next door with Delta Highway and his harmonica playing has truly metamorphosed, going from being an excellent beginner into a first rate professional, delivering the goods with an eclectic blend of styles. Rather than being just another guy out there copying songs and styles, he has incorporated the best and owns it as his own now, playing with confidence that comes from paying your dues for so many nights in clubs and on the road.

The band now has good dynamics and more sophisticated playing skills. You can look for great things from Brandon. He has already been nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2009 as "Best New Artist Debut" and toured internationally, re-forming his band along the way.

Elliot Sowell
(photo by Victor Wainwright)

Elliot Sowell, guitarist for Delta Highway
(photo from MySpace)

Delta Highway's new guitarist, Elliot Sowell, is a truly tremendous talent, with a style that incorporates the best of blues and even some rockabilly influences. His playing sounds like it would be coming from a guitarist much older in years. This is what you want coming out of the guitar amp if you are leading a blues band, tasty accompaniment and searing lead lines. Elliot originally comes from Texas and he has also lived in St. Louis during the past few years, playing with the Rockin' Jake Band. I really enjoy Elliot's playing and would encourage you all to seek out the new record that these guys are producing for release this spring.

Derek Bonn and a few friends
(photo from MySpace)

I also got a few moments to speak with Derek Bonn, a superb blues drummer who knows the value of backbeat in the mix of a good blues band. Derek is not only talented but a very affable and genuine person as well.

Derek Bonn, drummer for Delta Highway
(photo by Victor Wainwright)

He formerly resided in St. Louis and was a member of the band, Los Carnales. He has also backed up many other artists, among them Arthur Williams, Nick Curran, and Kirk Fletcher. Derek adds a lot to this band. I don't think you could find a better drummer for the job.

Derek Bonn (photo from MySpace)

These guys just rocked the joint, just killing the capacity crowd in this little joint and they were particularly enjoyable when accompanied by piano virtuoso Victor Wainwright. I had a great time sitting in and playing a few numbers with these guys as they are a bonafide blues band. They deliver the real sound and are not just some guys calling themselves blues players. Lots of nights they will have a bigger crowd in this little club than the bigger club next door.

Likewise the members of Delta Highway share a camaraderie that is built on trust and respect for their fellow musicians. This trait is not shared by all the bands who have played on this stage. One such bandleader, who shall not be named, does not pay his band, only shares tips with them. His musicians put up with this repugnant, predatory behavior so I suppose they get what they sign on for, but you will never read his name on this page. To insure that we keep our music scene vibrant, I strongly encourage all of you musicians to refuse to participate in such ill-advised arrangements. Have some pride and respect for your brothers, for God's sake. Regardless, I am encouraged at younger bandleaders like Brandon and his guys who overcome the obstacles together and are doing it the right way.

Delta Highway's sound was full and hard driving without being too rocked out. They sound like a real blues band and this is something that is pretty rare in a world saturated by weekend warriors, misplaced hard rockers and dilettantes. Without reservation, I strongly suggest you make your way to see them on Beale Street and elsewhere. Don't forget to drop some tips in the bucket.

More NEWS:

Memphis Blues Society

I attended the Memphis Blues Society's Blues Jam at Neil's in Memphis and had a great time, visiting with loads of good friends and even leading a group at the end of the night. God have mercy on you all, as I will be the Jam Master on the next event on the 15th of April, starting at 7 PM in the big back room at Neil's, located in Midtown Memphis at McLean and Madison Avenue. It promises to be another extraordinary night with some special guests slated to attend and play.

I spoke with John Gemmil, Vice President of the Memphis Blues Society and he is arranging a method by which we can gather funds for the renovation of Memphis Slim's original Memphis home. We hope to have this set up in the next few days so that you can donate directly at their site.
Here's the article I wrote about Slim and his house: Resurrecting the Home of Memphis Slim

To join the Memphis Blues society, just click on this link: Memphis Blues Society

While you are at the site, order a copy of the Memphis Blues Society Compilation CD. It is excellent and features a rare performance of Beale Streeter Earl Forest and the late Richard Hite(formerly of Canned Heat) along with my band, the Wampus Cats. There are also great cuts by Billy Gibson, William Lee Ellis, the Pocket Rockets and Blind Mississippi Morris, Larie "Waddy" Mitchell, Krash Kole and the Blues Souls, the Eric Hughes Band(with me on keys), Victor Wainwright, Phillip Dale Durham and Bobby Lawson. These talented artists are all my friends and I really dig this record.

How do you get a copy?

This compilation is not for “sale”…you won’t find it in any music stores, on-line, etc. The only way you can get a copy is to join the Memphis Blues Society. The compilation is another benefit of MBS membership. Join/renew today, and start listening to some of the best blues in Memphis (or anywhere else for that matter).

The Memphis Blues Society thanks the artists for their awesome contribution and support of the blues and for Keepin' the Blues Alive!

click here:

Memphis Blues Society

Before the Music Dies

I would encourage you all to watch this video on Hulu and also to support live music and independent musicians in order to protect and nurture the music we all love and enjoy. The message of the video is self-explanatory, but to recapitulate, suffice it to say that greedy bastards everywhere are doing their best to turn art into a commodity not unlike fertilizer. We all need to be cognizant of this fact and do our best to cherish what we love to insure its survival for our descendants.

It features Erykah Badu before her naked public debut/misdemeanor/publicity stunt in Dallas and a host of other musicians. Check it out here:

The Blues Foundation

Speaking of supporting our music, let me encourage you all once again to join the single largest protector of the blues, the Blues Foundation. An entry level membership is now available for a nominal charge and this will allow you to vote for the winner of the Blues Music Awards in many categories. You will also be supporting the International Blues Challenge and the Blues Hall of Fame.

Please take a minute to do your part to support the music we love. It's easy to join online, here's the link:

Join the Blues Foundation today!

Check out my website at:


Photographs, ©Victor Wainwright, 2010
Photographs and text, © Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms, 2010

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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