Alberta Adams

The undisputed Queen of the Blues in Detroit for many decades Alberta Adams, born Roberta Louise Osborne, is a Detroit blues and jump blues singer born in Indianapolis, Indiana sometime in the early 1920s. She was raised in Detroit, Michigan by a relative, and got her break in the 1940s performing in a club on Hastings Street amidst other artists like John Lee Hooker.

Soon after she landed a contract with Chess Records and recorded alongside Red Saunders for the label. She found herself touring with the likes of Duke Ellington, Eddie Vinson and Louis Jordan, only to name a few. Her solo career really did not lift off ground until the 1990s, when she landed a contract with the now defunct Cannonball Records and recorded two albums for them, 1999s "Born With the Blues" and 2000s "Say Baby Say". In 2004 she recorded "I'm on the Move", for the Eastlawn Records label.

She has been the undisputed Queen of the Blues in Detroit for many decades.

Alberta has long been the undisputed Queen of the Blues here in Detroit. She started as a dancer in the late 1940's and has been doing it ever since. Along the way she toured with T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, Cleanhead Vinson and even played the Apollo Theater with Dizzy Gillespie. It is amazing that a woman born in 1917 is still out there doing it and doing with power. She continues to represent the real old school and is still touring. She just got back from a tour down south in fact!

Alberta has just completed her third CD for the Eastlawn label, called "Detroit Is My Home." On it she sings with three different and amazing pianists: Mark Braun, aka Mr. B, Al Hill (from the Bettye LeVette Band) and Ann Rabson, from Virginia. Ann is a member of Saffire, a great all female blues band that tours internationally. All three are fine pianists that offer different takes on the blues. Mark being the boogie-woogie expert, Ann coming from an old-timey music background and Al, whom has toured with Alberta, being a little funkier than the others. All three are great Alberta Adams fans!

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RJ Spangler

"RJ Spangler is Detroit to the bone. Not only is our foremost revivalist of authentic classic R&B talent, he's also a hell of a drummer. Every move that he makes is informed by his love & passion for the music of this city. This collaboration with Bill Heid is a wonderful addition to both of their extensive catalogs." -- Matty Lee, Drumbeaters

I first started playing little gigs around Detroit with Bill Heid way back in 1985. We had a regular Sunday gig at the Tap Room on the eastside with James O'Donnell and Kurt Krahnke. We were mixing up swing, bop & blues, much like we do to this day, because that is what we like to do. Back then Bill was turning me onto lots of great records which over the years have influenced me greatly.

At this point it might be germane to mention that Bill Heid is quite a musician & singer. Born & raised in Pittsburgh, PA, he grew up digging serious jazz, blues & doo wop. He lived in Chicago for a number of years, recording with Koko Taylor (twice), Fenton Robinson (twice) and Roy Buchanan, all on the Alligator label. He has recorded for many labels since including impulce!, Black Magic, Cannonball, Wetside, Savant and many more. He is now a journeyman having backed the likes of David "Fathead" Newman, Jimmy Witherspoon, Big Jay McNeely. Bill lived in Detroit for over two decades where he created a large following of serious musicians. I count myself to be one of them.

By the early 1990's Bill was often living for long periods of time in either LA or Osaka, Japan. Upon returning one year, I hired him on a little private party gig. He was blown away by the guitar player that I had hired, the now legendary Johnnie Bassett. After a Heid style interview with Johnnie on the first break, Bill came back and told me that Johnnie was the guitar on all those old Fortune Records sides that he'd turned me onto a few years previously. That was basically the start of Johnnie Bassett & the Blues Insurgents, a name that Bill had devised.

"You Know I Can't Refuse" refers to a tune that Bill has been singing with us all these years. It was originally on one of those old Fortune sides, by the Five Dollars, backed by Joe Weaver & the Blue Notes (featuring Johnnie on guitar). It should be noted that Alberta Adams' only son, James Drayton, was the baritone singer on that record. I have been professionally linked to Alberta for about 15 years now so the title is appropriate indeed.

Except for the boogie composed by Bill on the spot, these are all cover tunes that we would do in the course of any gig with Bill & the cats. Blues tunes by Floyd Dixon, Jimmy Witherspoon, etc. As we had never recorded these tunes and with Bill, now living between Baltimore and Shanghai, it was a rare chance to record them for posterity. You hold the results in your hand. I sincerely hope that you dig these wonderful old tunes as much as we have.

RJ Spangler
August, 2009

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Planet D Nonet

The PLANET D NONET "a down and dirty little swing band from Detroit" was founded by drummer RJ Spangler and trumpeter James O’Donnell, two eastside Detroit based musicians who’ve been playing together for over 30 years. The Nonet features players from such venerated groups as the Sun Messengers, Bon Ton Roule' and Johnnie Bassett and the Blues Insurgents as well as some talented young veterans.

We play the classic swing music of Ellington and Strayhorn, Fletcher Henderson, Count Basie and Benny Carter as well as more modern jazz by Sun Ra and Pharoah Saunders, and always with a Detroit twist.

The Planet D Nonet is about swing, blues, space-age jazz and classic American songs all served with plenty of good humor with an eye toward turning people onto this kind of music. Check it out...

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Often there is something special about communities attached to waterways and the Jefferson-Chalmers neighborhood is no exception. Located on the extreme northeast side of Detroit, as this is being written in 2017, like so much of the city, it is undergoing a rejuvenation.  But in the late 1970s there was a special energy in Jefferson-Chalmers that was unique to the city. It attracted creative people from all over and it was at 256 Ashland that Kuumba was formed by RJ Spangler and myself. Kuumba was a culmination of the jazz, Latin and African music we were hearing live and on record. Most notable among our influences were Sun Ra, Abdullah Ibrahim, Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath, Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers, Tito Puente and The Art Ensemble of Chicago on the national/international scene and Griot Galaxy, Roy Brooks, Tribe & CJQ on the local scene. Another big influence on us was the New York Loft Scene and its self-determination movement that was mirrored in Detroit by bassist Shoobedoo at his Space Pad on Avery in the Woodbridge neighborhood. Against this backdrop, we started to build our band, something that was made easier by the number of talented musicians who lived close by, many within walking distance.

Rick Steiger


Back when we were in our early 20s, we learned how to play this music by practicing, listening to records and occasionally taking private lessons from the local masters. Jazz in college was just getting started and there was no YouTube so if you wanted to learn about it, you met and watched the greats that came through town as well as the greats lived in town. Often, Rick and I would drive to Toronto or Chicago to experience those that influenced us. It was an era of Afrocentric music and you had to prove that you were serious. My uncle Bud was the part of Strata and the Tribe collectives and was also broadcaster on WDET. He had a profound influence upon me. Rick mentioned the self-determination movement and John Sinclair taught us much of that.

At the loft of our friend Shoobedo, we met trumpeter Musa Abdul Malik & it turned out he lived right down the street. A contemporary of his, saxophonist Jabbar Clarington moved into our house and started writing arrangements and compositions. My friend, the bassist Mike Hollis lived a block over and his 15-year-old brother, Akunda joined us on congas. A master in the making already. My roommate Bob White brought over a young trumpeter that he had met at a party a few blocks away, James O'Donnell, age 16. Rick & I were 20. These men have been my musical brothers for my entire adult life. Such was the confluence of events back in the Jefferson-Charlmers neighborhood of the 1970s. Sulé, Fred Bergman, James "Blood" Cain, Tbone Paxton, Tim Mitchem, Dave Springer, Mike Cazabon, they were all there back in the day. Musa & Jabbar are now gone and we dedicate this music to their memory. I think that all of us look back at that time with great fondness.  We were lucky to have gone through that together. 

RJ, Winter, 2017 

We want to thank Ron Alpern, John Sinclair, Frank & Peggy Back, Gary Laehn, Jon Worrell, Maurice Greenia Jr and we’d like to remember our friends, Reginald Fields, aka “Shoobedo” as well as Faruq Z. Bey.

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Odessa Harris

Vocalist Odessa Harris represents a generation of artists connected to the birth of rhythm and blues popular in American music. Deeply rooted in the musical traditions of The Mississippi Delta region, her charismatic performances consistently display an innate ability to express themes in music that transcend classification. In a career that spans over five decades, Ms. Harris continues to deliver a diverse selection of music guaranteed to warm the heart of any audience.

Born in West Helena, Arkansas on June 8, 1936 - Odessa Harris began singing in the choir at a local Baptist Church. After a few years of singing with various bands at local gambling establishments ("crap houses", Ms. Harris landed an engagement with James "Peck" Curtis and The King Biscuit Boys on radio station KFFA 1360am during the Peabody award-winning blues radio program, "King Biscuit Time" - she was 14 years old at the time! This led to a tour as a featured vocalist with Robert Nighthawk.

In the pursuit of further exposure, she worked with a touring carnival show managed by entrepreneur Jerry Jackson between 1949-1953. Frustrated with conditions in the industry, Ms. Harris relocated to Jacksonville, Florida where she became a fixture in the local nightclubs. During the summer of 1959, Ms. Harris and a few girlfriends visited a local nightclub in order to hear visiting artist, B.B. King. Upon request of the audience, Ms. Harris joined the band for a few tunes. At the end of the performance, Odessa was summoned to visit the artist dressing room, where Mr. King invited her to join his organization, with one stipulation – "if you want a job, the bus leaves in the morning." Ms. Harris accepted the invitation, working as a featured vocalist with B.B. King from 1959 until 1961, recording two 45(s) for The Uptown label – highlighted by an energetic performance of Buddy Johnson's, "Since I fell for you." Upon her departure in 1961, she found new management and relocated to Miami, Florida. A chance meeting with Clive Davis facilitated recording sessions in New York for Capitol records. Although this material was released on two 45-Lp(s), all publicity for these recordings was neglected in lieu of management for Nancy Wilson and Dinah Washington.

Upon the recommendation of her manager, Jack Millman, Ms. Harris moved to Detroit, Michigan in 1972. After several years working as a freelance vocalist in the Midwest, she reconnected with drummer Sonny Freeman (Bobby "Blue" Bland, B.B. King). Sonny Freeman and the Unusuals (featuring Odessa Harris) and was a fixture in the Midwest rhythm & blues circuit until the death of Mr. Freeman in the late 1980's. Ms. Harris retired from her active performance schedule, seeking shelter within the community of a local Buddhist temple.

"You Know I Can't Refuse" refers to a tune that Bill has been singing with us all these years. It was originally on one of those old Fortune sides, by the Five Dollars, backed by Joe Weaver & the Blue Notes (featuring Johnnie on guitar). It should be noted that Alberta Adams' only son, James Drayton, was the baritone singer on that record. I have been professionally linked to Alberta for about 15 years now so the title is appropriate indeed.

During her hiatus from the music industry, Odessa was consistently encouraged by jazz trumpeter and fellow Buddhist Marcus Belgrave (Ray Charles, Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra) to reconsider public performance. A visit to The Music Menu Café with Mr. Belgrave yielded an introduction to drummer/manager R.J. Spangler. For the past three years, Ms. Harris has made select appearances in Southeastern Michigan and northern Ohio with an ensemble under the direction of R.J. Spangler, featuring guitarist John Barron and organist Duncan McMillan. The Easy Life (Eastlawn Records), her first recording in over 30 years, is available now.

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Geno Parks

Geno Parks, born Gene Purifoy in the Fairfield area of Alabama, traveled to Detroit to visit his mother in 1954. Through a chance meeting, he ended up recording at Fortune records. He became a member of Andre Williams New Group, singing first tenor in 1955. After Andre hit with Bacon Fat nationally, he took Geno on the road and they toured as a duo, singing in front of Tab Smith's swinging outfit.

Back in Detroit, he and Williams worked at all the top spots in Detroit; Denny's Show Bar, The 20 Grand, Lee's Sensation Lounge and Phelp's Lounge. It should be noted that on his Fortune sides and live shows Geno was often backed by Joe Weaver's Blue Notes.

In 1960 Geno singed with Motown's Berry Gordy, but nothing came out until 1961 (on Gordy's Tamela imprint). He cut Same Thing and That's No Lie in one session. These tunes show Geno at his incredibly soulful best. Geno cut more sides for Tamela in 1962, reunited with his good friend Andre Williams, but this time Williams was the producer. After Tamela, Geno signed with Golden World, where he cut Talking About My Baby and My Sophisticated Lady, again backed by Motown's Funk Brothers (including Joe Hunter on piano).

Geno, now retired and living the Atlanta, Georgia, area has returned to Detroit a number of times to sing. He made his European debut at the prestigious Blues Estefette in the fall of 2003. This 3-song mini CD was taken from a live broadcast on the Willy Wilson Show on WDET in Detroit and features RJ Spangler (drums), Paul Carey (guitar), James Simonson (bass), Joe Piccolo (sax) and Duncan McMillan (piano and Wurlitzer elec piano), who served as musical director. Check it out; he is as soulful as ever.

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Sun Sounds Orchestra

In 1991 the Eastlawn label released the Sun Sounds Orchestra's debut recording, "Open The Doors". The Sun Sounds Orchestra was a 13/14 piece big band that was based in Detroit. The founders, Rick Steiger, RJ Spangler and Paul Carey, had all played together in a group called the Sun Messengers, which played a mix of jazz, New Orleans R&B and world music, all with a distinctive Detroit flavor.

As the Messengers moved toward a more straight R&B approach, they still wanted to still play the African charts that was at their core sound. Enter the Sun Sounds Orchestra, playing South African Township arrangements inspired by Chris McGregger's Brotherhood of the Breath, Dollar Brand (Abdullah Ibrahim) and Hugh Masekela. This CD also features a great minor tune by Fela Kuti.

The musicians involved are stalwart members of the Messengers and their usual associates like saxists Mark Keime and Larry Lamb, trombonist John "T-Bone" Paxton, trumpeter James O'Donnell, percussionists Akunda Hollis and Steve Morris, drummer Jerome Spearman and Lyman Woodard on piano. Lyman is a very well known jazz organist and Latin music lover. Trumpeter Walt Szymanski is a special guest who has gone on to do quite well in NYC, where he is associated with Frank Foster, George Gee and Alex Harding. The leaders, Rick Steiger (bari/alto sax), Paul Carey (guitar) and RJ Spangler (perc.), round out the ensemble, with Spangler serving as producer. The CD won a "Best World Beat Recording" award from the Motor City Music Awards that year.

This is an excellent recording that features some wonderful African compositions and a few originals in the African jazz tradition. It also has some great ensemble playing with time tested arrangements and journeyman soloists. You can tell the guys really enjoyed these sessions. The CD also features original artwork by famed Detroit artist Tyree Guyton, of The Heidelberg Project.

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