From Blues and Greens in Boulder, CO
Before I go, I’d like to talk about Bill Sheffield. He played last Saturday night with Bill Shannon on bass and Peter Gregory on drums. His voice simply must be heard. Beautiful and haunting, he takes his audience all over the emotional spectrum, playing an acoustic guitar as he was born with it in his hands. We’ll have him back for sure. Here’s what one regular said:
Once again, last nights performance by Bill Sheffield was another outstanding night at Blues and Greens. Bill's voice alone could carry a show. His choice of bass and drummer could not have been any better. Everyone I talked with agreed. The level of talent that you and Dan have brought to the Blues and Greens this past spring and
summer thus far has hit an all-time high. I am looking forward of being part of music history being made at the Blues and Greens. Thank you Honey and Dan for your commitment to provide top notch quality music. ~a grateful customer~
It was one of those nights. Believe me, I’ll be promoting him from every rooftop when next we book him. He’s a treasure."
Bill Sheffield - In Other Words
Stomp and Stammer review by Tony Paris 2011
Bill Sheffield has "that voice," the kind that immediately grabs you by the heart and holds you close as he explores yet another lyrical landscape. A mainstay of Atlanta stages for years, Sheffield is a unique interpreter of song, not one to merely cover another writer's material, but to recreate it as his own. In the years of doing so, he's also found his own voice, a gospel-inspired, blues-tinged timbre that is the perfect vehicle for this new collection of his original compositions.
A departure from what one might expect, given his blues-soaked shows at locals like the Northside Tavern and Blind Willie's, this twelve-song set finds Sheffield delving deep into his roots, emerging with a rough-hewn, yet beautifully-crafted set of songs that fly in the face of Americana while accentuating the genre's best qualities.
The album starts off with the title track, a plaintive love song with an irresistible guitar hook, detailing what transpires between two hearts – and what ultimately keeps them together. From there, Sheffield takes the listener on an emotional roller-coaster, one not so much erratic and unsettling as it is reassuring and comforting, dealing with the ins 'n' outs 'n' overundersidewaysdowns of relationships. For a better understanding, listen to "Loving You," "Wild As The River" or "Hearing Things," songs that invoke the spirit of Jerry Jeff Walker and David Bromberg, but delivered with a nod to Johnny Shines and an impeccable finger-picking guitar style, finding Sheffield not only defining and perfecting his sound, but cementing his position as a songwriter in his own right.
With his suitcase and his Kalamazoo, this Georgia journeyman, like Mudcat and others who frequent the Northside Tavern, hasn't let the red clay of Georgia slow down his footsteps. Instead, Sheffield has tracked it into bars and pubs across the U.K. and Europe, creating an audience and appreciation for music that, more times than not, is given the backdoor in the U.S.
Bill Sheffield brings his not-so-blues to Townsend
By Steve Wildsmith of The Daily Times Staff
Bill Sheffield often gets billed as a blues artist, and for good reason -- he built his career on songs by masters of the genre.
But don't make the mistake of thinking that's all he has up his sleeve. Over the past several years, his growing catalog of original material includes everything from gospel to bluegrass to soul.
"I just finished a new album, and I'm really using a lot more of my influences now than I used to," Sheffield told The Daily Times this week. "I have songs that are more Al Green-oriented, one song that's very bluegrass-oriented and one song I call 'psycho-gospel,' because I have a penchant for (complaining) and moaning about the Christian community, of which I'm a part of but with which I'm not very happy."
Sheffield considers himself an average Christian living in America today, although he prefers to call himself a "Jesus freak." Right-wing conservative commentators, he believes, have hijacked the beliefs of Christianity and distorted the messages for their own political purposes.
But that's neither here nor there. That's only one song, and it's an example of what Sheffield has been trying to do since he first put pen to paper and decided to write his own material.
"One of the reasons I wanted to write was because I wanted to meld black blues and Hank Williams blues together into a form," he said. "I've always wanted to make a statement about religious stuff, and I've always had a sexual connotation in my gospel songs. I try to put that in there to make a point that we're all human beings."
Songwriting may come naturally to other blues players, but Sheffield's philosophy has always focused on spotlighting the classics rather than trying to improve on them. For years, he was the vocalist for Atlanta's Eastside Blues Band, performing with greats like Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and Waters.
In 1974, he recorded and toured with Roy Buchanan, and a decade later, he formed The XL's, earning accolades as one of Atlanta's top blues singers and guitarists. In the 1990s, he went solo, writing a few originals steeped in the vintage blues, but over the past several years, he's carved a niche performing interpretations of classics by Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bo Carter, Charley Patton and others.
Over the years, however, his attempts at recreating those classics led to the development of his original songs.
"My initial early songwriting was typically a failed attempt at playing an old blues song," he said. "I would pick one I wanted to work on and try to play it, and when I realized what I was doing wasn't even close, I would decide to write another song altogether."
At first, stepping out on the strength of his own songs was intimidating, he added. He could always count on covers to draw a crowd, but the challenge came in figuring out what he wanted to say, getting it across in the form of music and finding receptive listeners who identified with him.
"There was a huge measure of apprehension, just because I started writing so late in life, and I needed some positive feedback just to keep going at all," he said. "It's so easy to fall back on the blues, and I still get hired to do these blues festivals and shows, but I don't even know what that is anymore. I doubt one-sixth of the people out there even know who Robert Johnson is.
"I think that, for me, going back to the blues kind of undermines what I'm trying to do. I've written some blues songs, and I think I write them really well, but I try to avoid falling back on Blind Willie McTell or Big Bill Broonzy or those guys. I just go out and play the songs that I wrote, and people either dig it or they don't. I've been doing it so long now that I can't let the market dictate what I do anymore."
Sheffield has appeared regularly at Brackins Blues Bar in downtown Maryville, and tonight, he'll open up the fall concert series at the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center in Townsend. It's a two-man show -- Sheffield will be performing with his son, with whom he collaborates regularly -- and it'll include a wealth of material that's all over the map.
"We're singing really strong harmonies," he said. "There's a real familial thing there. It's not the Everly Brothers, but there's a sound like that about it, because the vocals are what we really rely one. It'll just be original songs, performed by me and my son, and maybe some new material that hasn't been released yet."
Review by The Natchel' Blues Network, Bill “Big Dog” van Elburg, Pres., www.natchelblues.org - " As always, I'm gonna give you the straight skinny, the righteous 411. No holds barred, nothing which is worth even a passing observation or comment will go unobserved or uncommented upon.
Truth be told, when I first picked up Bill Sheffields 2006 “Journal on a Shelf” and the 2007 follow-up “Got a Gig, Gotta Go” I thought , “cripes, this guy looks kinda like me!”. Now I want to tell you that while that might not be the best recommendation for buying a CD, it certainly was enough to get me to pop that disc into the ol' player and fire the bad boy up. Take me now Lord. I've never experienced such bliss as the moment the first strains of “Cherry Blossom Time” floated from my speakers like a audio cloud of the afore mentioned blossoms. And it just kept coming!
“Black Bottom” featuring Simon Kenevan, “Back In My Baby's Arms” also with Kenevan, “Trouble (When It Starts)” co-written with Ross Pead and featuring Sean Costello and Stephan Talkovich, “New Tattoo” again with Kenevan, the Tom Waits classic “An Invitation to the Blues”, “I Don't Hate Nobody”, “It Don't Bother Me”, “Comes Easy, Goes Easy”, which, I believe, is by Henry Odin and The Harlem Blues Serenaders with Sean Costello, “Your Still On My Mind” featuring Paul Linden and co-written with Ralph Lutrell and Liane Webb, “Holy Mother”, Tom Gray's “Shooky Come Home”, “The Ballad of Brer Rabbit” again with Paul Linden, and the achingly beautifully “Journal on a Shelf” with Deb Gerace. Not strictly speaking a blues song, trust me, they don't come any bluer.
Bill plays a swinging, lyrical, finger-picked Piedmont style of Blues guitar with grace and and sings with such a range and depth of feeling, that it is no wonder the many talented musicians and songwriters that have teamed with him on this disc. Along with others already mentioned: Dave Saunders on acoustic bass, Roger Gregory on standup bass, Dan Sheffield on percussion. Back up vocals are provided by Beth Casner, Lamar Jones and Jeff Catton.
On “Got a Gig, Gotta Go” Sheffield changes up a bit. While still exhibiting his fine songwriting talent and musicianship, the songs are a bit more “Americana” than Blues. I'm flexible enough in my listening tastes to be able to hang, but some might have difficulty with the roots leanings of many of the twelve tunes on this disc. “Three Man Band” co-written with Dave Saunders kick starts the CD, followed by “Kalamazoo” co-written with Edna Rasmussen, “The Great Society”, The Legend of John Montgomery”, “These Four Walls”, “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” by Richard Thompson, “Spider”, “After the Rapture”, “Cabernet Sauvignon”, “Anna Lee”, “A Greater God” and the title song “Got a Gig, Gotta Go”.
As on his previous recording Bill brings together a diverse group of talent to back him. Dave Saunders is once again featured on bass, Jon Liebman on harmonica, Joyce Carey on violin, super musician Rex Schnelle - drums, banjo, tambourine, baritone electric guitar, mandolin, bass, harmonica, B-3 organ, shaker, water jug, djembe…whew! Nathan Nelson handles backup vocals. All in all, this is definitely a praise worthy follow-up to “Journal on a Shelf “. No matter the musical road he may choose to mosey down, Bill Sheffield is a truly unique talent and original voice in a wasteland of wannabes and sound-kinda-likes."
Bev Moser, Music City News, - "If you are looking for an amazing American roots CD .. this man is the master of it. I could not stop listening to his storytelling songs. There are upbeat, fast and good dance tunes on this collection, as well as some knee-slapping , crowd participation, sing-a-long tunes, combined with humorous lyrics and very serious melodramatic sad reflections of life songs. Bill Sheffield is no beginner in the world of music. He has been at this for some time and it shows. The title song, Gotta Gig, Gotta Go shows a tongue in cheek side of the business and is a great crowd warm up song – gets you out of your seat and wanting more. You also get a fill of the southern blues, something Bill has perfected. This is the ninth album for Bill and his style of storytelling and sharing everyday blue collar day to days stories is as unique as the man himself. If you enjoy kicking up your heels, Three Man Band will keep you on the dance floor with its fast beat . The Legend of John Montgomery stands alone in its lyrics and true to life story which is put to music. These Four Walls brings a melodramatic feel, mixed with a deep sad feeling and reflection on life. Definitely a contender for one of the top American Roots CD’s for this year."
MUSIC CITY NEWS ...Macon & Cleveland - "As our devoted editors continue to spread their musical wings into the wild blue yonder, we are introduced to Bill Sheffield’s new work. Now, this ain’t country, but it’s genuine grassroots stuff. Blues--and Blues done darn well, I might add--in old style acoustic guitar with earthy or nearly no percussion and harp to speak of. This guy has really done his homework on old blues [like 1940‘s and 50’s stuff]. His vocals are meaty with good tone and inflections. The almost-all-original writing is exceptional (except I don’t agree with him on all his politics) with great down home themes full of catchy choruses that make you laugh or cry. There’s one Tom Waits song [“An Invitation To The Blues”] and a few other writers featured and it’s all good stuff.It’s a shame so many young black artists have abandoned this rich heritage of great music for rap! This middle-aged white man performs this music like he was born with it. I liked this album and it will be played in my house. And, although I doubt if this Atlanta record will ever make it to mainstream radio, I bet it makes it into some of the CD collections of some of my old buddies in Macon and Atlanta who used to play in “The Screamin’ Willie Hawkins Band.” [How’s that for a name of a band, Cleveland? It beats the heck out of US Metal!!]"
MACON CLEVELAND Music City News- "As I begin to get a little grayer and a little slower with each tick of time, sanity is maintained in part by disconnection and reflecting on an era of significant music, movies and people. Before reality TV, before lives of family and friends took a back seat to the bottom line, to a day when the nation’s moral fabric was whole, not torn and tattered. When we were all young, skinny with long hair and great music was all around us. Well, folks, let me introduce an artist that will take you back, even if only temporarily. The journey to a better place starts on Track 1 [“Cherry Blossom Time”]; Bill Sheffield’s gift for guitar and vocals shine to light the path that leads to blissful serenity. A mix of delta blues and southern folk is my definition of this Georgia native. Life experiences (good and bad) pour out in all 14 songs; 11 of which Sheffield wrote or co-wrote. Tracks 1, 2 and 3 are my picks with Track 1, ”Cherry Blossom Time,” being my cherry pick. Few white singers possess the kind of soul required to sing the blues with conviction. Life’s hard knocks and true love for the genre is apparent throughout this project. A humble, unassuming delivery, vocals and guitar blend to create group unity leaving the listener wanting more. [Enough so that even Macon may put his latest edition of the Victoria’s Secret catalog down!] Production value here is impeccable and an easy listen for mature ears! A “must-have” for all music enthusiasts; the Summer of 2006 and Bill Sheffield’s JOURNAL ON A SHELF are a perfect match..."
. "Contributed by: redtunictroll ANGRY COUNTRY Bill Sheffield "Journal on a Shelf" (American Roots) This Atlanta-based singer/songwriter/guitarist writes and plays songs that find a "connection between Muddy Waters and Hank Williams." He's not the first to combine acoustic country and blues, but his folksy lyrics and old-timey tinged voice add flavors of artists such as Loudon Wainwright III, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Leon Redbone to the usual battery of blues influences. Backed by acoustic bass and the occasional harmonica, Sheffield's picking (replete with ragtime inflections) and soulful Southern vocals provide the album's musical focus. After a half-dozen albums, this is his first national release, and the eleven originals and two covers (including a reading of Tom Waits' "Invitation to the Blues") stand upon timeless blues progressions. Sheffield's acoustic playing and dynamic vocalizing will draw you right in. [©2006 redtunictroll at hotmail dot com]"
Plan Nine Music, Ames Arnold - "Music-Row Magazine, Nashville - "Sheffield’s first national release showcases the picker’s acoustic stylings to solid and honest effect. A fan of blues and country music, this Atlanta-based musician gives us song after song full of worried minds and troubles that sound as if they came straight out of the Depression. Funny thing is, Sheffield wrote the majority of these 14 tunes and he really has a knack for making the old sounds come alive again. “Cherry Blossom Time” kicks things off in an easy rolling guitar-and-harmonica groove and it takes no time for Sheffield’s affable baritone to capture the willing listener. Following tunes “Black Bottom,” “Back in My Baby’s Arms” and “Trouble” fall into a similar pleasant front porch pickin’ groove. Of course, he’s not afraid to jazz the old time feel up a bit with the jaunty “New Tattoo” that sports the lines “got a little angel and a devil’s face/bright red lips in a very private place.” He also tackles Tom Waits’ “Invitation to the Blues” to switch gears when the picking party gets a little rote. “Invitation” doesn’t really work too well but it’s a nice idea. The humanitarian spirit of “I Don’t Hate Nobody” voices much needed sentiments to tasty, dexterous picking. “Comes Easy, Goes Easy” features a fine guitar duet with Sean Costello, another excellent Atlanta bluesman. “Holy Mother” is a funny little tune that finds Sheffield tempting the straight-laced object of his desires and “Shooky Come Home” eerily reminds this listener of the late Ted Hawkins. In short, this solid project won’t blow you out of the water but it’s a worthy effort by a talented player who should easily find a niche on the blues club circuit."
BILL SHEFFIELD/Journal On A Shelf.... Atlanta-bred bluesman Sheffield says, “My goal was to find a connection between Muddy Waters and Hank Williams.” The introspective title tune to his album spotlights his slightly raspy soul singing and luxurious acoustic guitar work. Mission accomplished. I think this is going to be a breakthrough CD for this fellow. Whether in humorous originals like “New Tattoo” and “I Don’t Hate Nobody” or on his cover of Tom Waits’ “Invitation to the Blues,” he is a stylist worth hearing."
Clarksdale, Mississippi Press Register, David Owens - " Though a native of Atlanta, the Mississippi Delta flows through blues musician Bill Sheffield's veins. Sheffield said he was immediately attracted to music after seeing The Beatles perform on Ed Sullivan. However, it was his love of blues/roots music that sent him on his current path. "My father had a Jimmy Reed album that I was kind of obsessed with," Sheffield said. "I just loved the whole record. I was also really interested in Chuck Berry. "I started going to the library to pick up other blues type stuff," he said. "When you hear some of that, you want to hear all of it." Like many artists of his generation, Sheffield began his career in a high school lving from dances to the coffee shop circuit. "There was a sort-of hippie commune in Atlanta with several places bands played," he said. "There were bands like the East Side Blues Band and Hampton Blues Band. We just did a circuit." Having seven albums to his credit, Sheffield is happiest with Journal On A Shelf, his first national release which also marks a return to his roots. "My studio is in my basement so I do most of my work down there," he said. "It really works well. I'm not comfortable with going into the studio and knocking it out in a few days time. "The album represents three months of pretty extensive work downstairs," Sheffield said. "I was able to take my time." Though "not nuts" about all blues music, Sheffield said he was the drawn to the immediacy of the emotion of the artform. "The stuff always slayed me," he said. "Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson brought a tear to your eye and made you wear your emotions on your sleeve. "It's the way I always wanted to go," Sheffield said. "Now, I'm trying to merge the line between Muddy Waters and Hank Williams. You find the same thing in his music." Sheffield said he's also drawn to the soulful sounds of the music, reflecting back on his childhood. "I was a misfit as a kid and never got involved with people very much," he said. "I felt sadness and didn't know how to express it. I felt happiness and didn't know how to express it. Blues was where I went." Sheffield said at that time (the '70s) country music or blues were more novelty acts than anything else. "I was the only white blues act in Atlanta at that time," he said. "In the '70s, most black people didn't like blues. They thought of it as their daddy's old sad music. "They wanted to listen to the Temptations and Otis Redding," Sheffield said. "Middle-aged black people came out when B.B. King came to town. But, it was mostly for white kids in college." Sheffield, who is currently on tour promoting his album, lists "It Don't Bother Me" as his favorite on the disc. "It's my particular favorite because it says exactly what I wanted to say," he said. "What are we so scared of?" While blues may not be your taste, Sheffield definitely deserves a listen as he blends in plenty of country. "I play more a variety of music," he said. "I was a blues Nazi for awhile. I refused to do anything else because I thought it made my work more authentic. "You have to find the heart of any song and put the emotion in there that it deserves," Sheffield said. "I play a little McCartney, Eric Burton and the Animals... I try to put emotion into it whether it's country, folk or blues." Sheffield said he doesn't feel bad about blending the music styles because the music itself has progressed. "People love it for what it is," he said. "There's never going to be another Muddy Waters. Blues had a time when it was the thing. "You can still hear great stuff in that genre, but nobody will ever do it better," Sheffield said. "Everything else is some form of copying it. When I listen to blues, I go back there, but George Jones has the same feeling."
TRUETUNES.com, By Kevan Breitinger - "At the risk of sounding like a battle-worn stall door, I gotta say it: for a good time, check out Bill Sheffield. Pick up “Journal on a Shelf” and have yourself a rip-roaring time. Call your goodtime friends and make a party out of it. This is a man who loves life, loves to make music and loves to get your feet tapping and a smile tugging. This acoustic roots blues project is full of sly charms and pretty picking. Fourteen songs, all but three his own. He masterfully covers Tom Waits’ superb “An Invitation to the Blues,” and Odin’s “Comes Easy, Goes Easy” feels right at home on his guitar too. Sheffield’s own stuff is irreverent and funny, performed so effortlessly that its beauty could be easily overlooked. But make no mistake, his musicianship is strong, and he’s got great players on here with him, including two hot harp players, Simon Kenevan and Paul Linden. Sheffield’s playful charm is all over this CD, most noticeable in his lyrics. “Holy Mother” had me blushing and “I Don’t Hate Nobody” tells it true too. In the midst of the good times he’s laying out some gutsy emotion, always underscored powerfully by that lyrical guitar. The title track closes the party out with courageous confession wrapped in sparkling picking, and you realize an hour later that you’re still smiling."
April's Kynd Music Review, By Dave Terpeny - "Sheffield’s latest album (his 8th) starts of with a rollicking Piedmont Blues tune that evokes the easy, rolling sound of John Jackson with its deceptively simple sounding but engaging riff. This song, “Cherry Blossom Time,” flows easily into the slightly heavier “Black Bottom.” Chock full of greasy slides and Sheffield’s textured southern twang, it crackles with muddy energy. “Back in My Baby’s Arms” and “Trouble (when it starts)” come next and both drop the tempo and mood down a few notches. Mixing the aforementioned acoustic Piedmont sound with a more electric Chicago vibe, he wails, gnashes his teeth and yet glides through two beautiful tales of woe. “New Tattoo” picks the pace back up with intricate finger-picking and a bouncy rhythm played on acoustic bass by Dave Saunders and then he surprises me with a somber cover of Tom Waits’ An Invitation to the Blues, off of his ’76 Small Changes album. Interpreted with flair, respect and a deep down tuning, it bleeds from the speakers. From here the album continues in much the same vein. Rollicking Piedmont Blues tunes, with liquid yet concise tumbling finger-picking, are followed up by slower, more Chicago-style tunes. Another repeating pattern is that most of the songs are introduced by Bill’s scratchy voice grunting or muttering incoherently before being interrupted by his melodic guitar. It’s different, fun and gives the album a very intimate feel. But I would be remiss if I completely skipped over the second half of the album. I certainly don’t do it for a lack of tunes. They are all stellar but I would have to say that “Holy Mother,” track 11, is my standout. Gathering together his mastery of the Piedmont style and Hurt’s unique finger-picking style, he adds a gospel chunk-a-chunk, Carter Family-like multiple-part vocal harmonies with Beth Casner, Lamar Jones and Jeff Catton and a charismatic revival chorus that subtly attaches itself to your subconscious. It is an amalgam of the best traits of the best American roots music has to offer, written and delivered flawlessly. Sheffield has been playing the blues for nearly 3 decades and has riffed with the greats (Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Big Mama Thorton, Stevie Ray Vaughn) and it shows. His blues, folk, gospel and even rockabilly chops are unassailable. The interesting thing to me, after listening to him for the first time, is that all the while he was playing with the greats, he seems to have become one himself."