John Kessler | KNKX

John Kessler

All Blues Host

John has worked as a professional bassist for 20 years, including a 15 year stint as Musical Director of the Mountain Stage radio program. John has been at KNKX since 1999 where he hosts “All Blues”, is producer of the BirdNote radio program, and co-hosts “Record Bin Roulette”. John is also the recording engineer for KNKX “In-Studio Performances”. Not surprisingly, John's main musical interests are jazz and blues, and he is still performing around Seattle.

His most memorable and satisfying KNKX radio moment was getting an email from Jimmy Lane, a bluesman and the son of blues legend Jimmy Rogers, who said something like “You’re playing the good stuff, keep it up!”

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Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

We live in a world of super-powers competing for global influence. Beyond military victory and economic dominance, they also compete for our hearts and minds, often deploying artists as ambassadors.

 Jaco Pastorius in Amsterdam, 1980.
Wikimedia Commons

Once in a generation, a musician comes along whose individual innovations are so dramatic they fundamentally change the function and perception of their instrument. For electric bass, that person was Jaco Pastorius. John Kessler has the story, part of our Jazz Appreciation series.

Stephanie Anne Johnson in the KNKX studios.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Stephanie Anne Johnson and The Hidogs stopped by KNKX studios and performed four songs from their new album, Take This Love. A Tacoma native, Johnson came to national attention as a finalist on NBC’s "The Voice" in 2013, and has developed a unique singing and songwriting style that draws on blues, soul and country.


Dressed as peacocks, a group of friends calling themselves "The Ostentation" form a dance line for revelers in the Society of St. Anne on Royal Street in New Orleans, Tuesday, Feb. 25, 2020.
Rusty Costanza / The Associated Press

In honor of Black History Month, we are taking a look into the career highlights of African American artists and their contribution to the world of jazz and blues. In our latest story, KNKX's John Kessler shares the culture and sounds of Mardi Gras. 

Members of Ranky Tanky pose in the press room with the award for best regional roots music album for "Good Time" at the 62nd annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center on Sunday, Jan. 26, 2020, in Los Angeles.
Chris Pizzello / The Associated Press

In honor of Black History Month, we are taking a look into the career highlights of African American artists and their contribution to the world of jazz and blues.

A modern-day band is drawing inspiration from Gullah, an American subculture that flourished in the low country of South Carolina and Georgia as far back as the 1600s. Meet Ranky Tanky, the jazz players taking their musical cues from Gullah.

In this Nov. 21, 1957, file photo, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, guitar-playing American gospel singer, gives an inpromptu performance in a lounge at London Airport, following her arrival from New York.
The Associated Press

A new musical at Seattle Rep celebrates the life of a musical revolutionary of the 1930s and ‘40s. “Shout Sister Shout” looks at the career of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a musical revolutionary who is considered the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll. KNKX blues host John Kessler sits down with the lead actor and one of the show’s creators.

I’m trying something a little different this year. Rather than listing the top 10 albums, here are my favorite blues songs of 2019. 

Janiva Magness is one of our best known and most decorated singers, with 26 Blues Music Award nominations, and seven wins, among them BB King Entertainer of the Year. Her 2016 album Love Wins Againwas nominated for a Grammy, and she just released her 15th studio album, Change in the Weather.

Jontavious Willis in the KNKX Studios.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

At 22 years of age, Jontavious Willis is already a formidable blues talent. Largely self-taught, he has highly developed skills at Delta and Piedmont guitar styles, as well as playing banjo and harmonica. In 2015, his talent got the attention of Taj Mahal and Keb Mo, who took him on tour and helped him fund and produce his latest release, Spectacular Class

Otis Taylor performing in the KNKX studios.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Otis Taylor is a unique Blues artist for many reasons. With 15 studio albums and 12 Blues Music Awards, he has made his mark as an originator of Trance Blues, a style that describes his mesmerizing approach to music and the blues.

Marica Ball in the KNKX studios.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

She's a legend of blues piano, but singer-songwriter Marcia Ball is so charming you quickly consider her a good friend. In the KNKX studios, our audience cheered on Ball and her band like they were gathered for a good time on the front porch.


Aretha Franklin performs at the NOKIA Theatre L.A. LIVE on Wednesday July 25, 2012, in Los Angeles.
Chris Pizzello / Invision/AP

We may have left 2018 behind, but we will always remember the musical greats we lost last year. John Kessler marked the end of the year with a two-hour special honoring the lives of those artists. (This show originally aired Dec. 29, 2018.)

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. locks arms with his aides as he leads a march of several thousands to the court house in Montgomery, Ala., March 17, 1965. From left: Rev. Ralph Abernathy, James Foreman, King, Jesse Douglas, Sr., and John Lewis (partially out
The Associated Press

Music was an essential part of the civil rights movement. This weekend, KNKX’s John Kessler will host a special hourlong program highlighting the most important songs of the era, as well as the milestones they marked.

All Blues host John Kessler recently released his annual top 10 list of blues albums. He sat down with Morning Edition host Kirsten Kendrick to discuss the music — a mix of old and new sounds. Listen to their chat and some of the tunes now.

Our holiday tradition continues. All Blues host John Kessler shares his top 10 blues albums the year. See which artists made the cut below, and listen to All Blues every Saturday and Sunday at 6 p.m.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Cary Morin is simply one of the best acoustic guitarists you are likely to hear, and a master storyteller as well. His 2017 album Cradle to the Gravewas on my Top 10 List for the year in Blues, and also received rave reviews from the Bluegrass and Folk communities. 

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This roots-rock band from Atlanta has been in heavy rotation on All Bluessince the release of their 2017 album Peach. Larkin Poe consists of Rebecca Lovell on guitar and lead vocals, with her sister Megan on lap-steel guitar and harmony vocals. They are both formidable instrumentalists, classically trained as kids, and as teenagers had a successful Bluegrass band called The Lovell Sisters. Along the way they’ve served as session musicians for T-Bone Burnett and Elvis Costello and are currently touring with Keith Urban for several months.

Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

This truck-driving, harmonica-blowing Bluesman won multiple awards in his hometown Minneapolis for his ace songwriting, singing and playing. Then about 10 years ago, Joe Cook moved his family to Seattle and had to start his musical career over again. He started going to some of the many local Blues jam sessions, where he met and teamed up with some of this area’s hottest Blues players.

Every year, blues connoisseur John Kessler compiles a list of his favorite blues records. Enjoy!


Ori Naftaly of Southern Avenue perfroming in the KNKX studios in Seattle.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

We were lucky to get a visit from Southern Avenue, one of the hottest new blues acts on the national scene. They have only been together a couple of years and it was their first visit to the Pacific Northwest. Hailing from Memphis, Tennessee and with a debut CD on that city’s legendary soul label Stax Records, Southern Avenue has a fresh take on blues and soul.

Doug Macleod outside the KNKX studios in Seattle, Wash.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

Doug Macleod is a modern renaissance blues man. An award-winning musician and songwriter, he is also a columnist, radio host and teacher. As a sideman in the 1960s and 1970s he played with legends Big Mama Thornton, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and Lowell Fulson among many others.

Andrew Trube of the Greyhounds.
Parker Miles Blohm / KNKX

The Greyhounds first came to national attention with the release of their 2016 album "Change of Pace," which features lush, yet airy psychedelic production, heart-wrenching songwriting and Stax-worthy soulful vocals. 

A duo out of Austin, Texas, the Greyhounds distinguish themselves with artful use of  loops and studio expertise that supports their mellow vibe. The uplifting spirit of their music is reminiscent of the soul era of the 1960s, but their grooves are 21st century Southern soul.

Every year, blues connoisseur John Kessler compiles a list of his favorite blues records. This year, he features a wide swath of talent new and old. Enjoy! 

Buddy Guy — 2014 Born to Play Guitar RCA  

You don’t have to read a book to learn the story of Buddy Guy’s life; it’s all here on this album. Back in 2008, Buddy Guy started collaborating with Nashville songwriter and producer Tom Hambridge, and four albums later that partnership is still flourishing, with a unique combination of Nashville songwriting sensibility and Buddy’s hard-core electric blues. At age 79, Buddy hasn’t exactly mellowed with age—he’s still a wild genius guitarist; his voice remains inviting and he tells his stories with utmost believability. He’s certainly on the short list of all-time greatest blues players, and this is my favorite blues release of the year.

Gene Herrick / AP Photo

Since it’s Black History Month, we’re going to take a look at some of the music from the Civil Rights Movement from the mid-‘50s to the early 1970s.

Gospel singer Mahalia Jackson’s “We Shall Overcome” was the unofficial anthem of the Civil Rights Movement.

Charles Sykes / Invision/AP Photo

The Yardbirds released their first hit record, “For Your Love,” 50 years ago. It was 1965, the year British rock invaded American pop music culture. 

John Davisson / Invision/AP Photo

Here are our picks for the best blues albums of the year.

harmonytalk.com / Wikimedia Commons

Charley Patton’s music set the template for all the Delta blues players who would come after him. Take a listen to “High Water Everywhere,” which Patton recorded in 1929.

But Patton’s records weren’t made in the South; they were recorded in Grafton, Wisconsin by Paramount Records, a subsidiary of the Wisconsin Chair Company. Now it seems pretty unlikely, not to mention bizarre, that this seminal blues artist from Mississippi would be recorded in a freezing shack attached to a Wisconsin furniture company, but that’s what happened.

Ever since the 1960s, when she worked as a solo blues singer and member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, Maria Muldaur has been dedicated to traditional American music, primarily blues and gospel. In 1973, she had her biggest hit record, Midnight At The Oasis.  Maria and her band stopped by the KPLU Performance Studio during a tour celebrating the 40th anniversary of the recording of that song.

Owen Sweeney / Invision/AP Photo

Today we’re going to talk about a genre of blues that’s so rare it barely has a name. And if you look up that name in Wikipedia, nothing comes up. We’re talking about “trance blues.”

We define trance blues as blues that has a strong electronic component, like samples, loops and drum machines. And woven into that is some element of traditional blues.

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