Phantom Blues Band’s “Blues for Breakfast” available July 4, 2022

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The Phantom Blues Band supported the Taj Mahal for about an eternity and, as first session cats in Los Angeles, played behind many other big names, from Bonnie Raitt and Etta James to Joe Cocker and Bob Marley. After years behind Taj, they started releasing their own albums, and it’s chronicled below.

The kicker is that their new version blues for breakfast is on Little Village, a unique non-profit record label that seeks out music that might not otherwise be heard, which is no problem for the Phantoms. The real reason Little Village is presenting this collection is that all proceeds will go to a music school named after the Phantom’s late keyboardist, a beloved man named Mike Finnigan.

The band asked Los Angeles music veteran Bill Bentley to tell the story:

Despite all his considerable musical talents, Taj Mahal has always been shrewd. And smart. In the early 1990s, he knew he had gathered something special in his backing band. He dubbed his secret weapon the Phantom Blues Band.

After helping Taj win two Grammys and three other nominations, the band members realized they could do it on their own. The Phantom Blues Band began assembling what would become Out Of The Shadows in 2006, an album that stretched the band and won acclaim at every turn.

The Phantom Blues Band – drummer Tony Braunagel, bassist/vocalist Larry Fulcher, guitarist/vocalist Johnny Lee Schell, saxophonists Joe Sublett, trumpeter Darrell Leonard and keyboardist/vocalist Mike Finnigan – have been a resilient unit. On several occasions, its members have supported just about every Marquess group you can name, but they have continued to support Taj when needed.

Single-handedly, Phantom recorded Out of the shadows and Fingerprints in 2007 for Delta groove and Upside down in 2012 and Always cooking‘ in 2020, both for VizzTone. Album after album, the same musicians were present, although at one point Les Lovitt replaced Leonard on trumpet.

It’s quite a remarkable testimony that these guys who are the first accompanists of people like Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, Joe Cocker, Robert Cray, Eric Burdon, Bob Marley among others always seem to return to their nest with the Phantom Blues Band. Unusual allegiance and genuine camaraderie come to mind as character traits.

So it was particularly painful during the shadow of the pandemic in 2020, when Finnigan was diagnosed with cancer. Finnigan has held his own in the music industry. Over the years he has performed on hundreds of records and thousands of shows with artists as varied as Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Crosby, Stills & Nash. He was successful with the Still Cookin’ album, but succumbed to his illness in August 2021.

The Phantom Blues Band wasn’t going to let that knock them out. They recruited veteran Jim Pugh on keyboards (Etta James, Robert Cray, Chris Isaak) and immediately set about producing a tribute album to the fallen Finnigan.

Schell and Fulcher do most of the vocals for the new album, which is slated for release July 4 on Pugh’s Little Village label. The band invited two of their longtime musical mates – Bonnie Raitt and Curtis Salgado – to join in the effort.

As a tribute to the Finnigan, proceeds from the new CD will be donated to the Mike Finnigan School of Music at the Stiefel Theater in Salina, Kansas. Surely that’s an honor Kansas native Finnigan would smile at.

The members of the Phantom Blues Band can be very proud of their cumulative musical experiences, but they know that this project is something special.

Of course, the Taj Mahal probably could have told you they could do this a long time ago. He first believed in them.

School of Music Information: https://www.stiefeltheatre.org/school-of-music

Little Village: www.littlevillagefoundation.com

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