Home » Jazz Articles » Record Label Profile » The Blues Period: The First Decade of Nola Blue Records, 2014-2024


The Blues Period: The First Decade of Nola Blue Records, 2014-2024


Sign in to view read count
Start with a degree in Business Administration and Management and you might just wind up running and owning a record company. Sounds like a long shot but that's what happened to Sallie Bengtson in 2014 when her passion for all things blues—especially if it has something to do with New Orleans—inspired her to visit the city. "It started with the atmosphere—it's a gumbo of the architecture, the food, the music and the spirit. "It's 'my' place" she recalled during a spring 2024 conversation. She soon met traditional blues artist Benny Turner, who was a long-time side man, and realized that his decades of rich stories should be preserved in a book. So, as the book came together, a record company began to blossom as well.

A decade later, in 2024, Nola Blue Records celebrates its 10th anniversary—in addition, Blue Heart Records, a sister label, was founded in 2020. Interest in the labels and their artists steadily grew. Long-time radio host and blues fan Jim McGrath compiled the Living Blues Magazine official playlist (as reported by 80-100 stations in the US, Canada, Australia & Europe) for 35 years. He's met many of the legendary blues artists and is familiar with numerous musicians. "I remember when Nola Blue first debuted in 2014. It didn't take long for Nola Blue releases (and later Blue Heart Records) to start charting. There were and still are, great releases by Nola Blue Records including Trudy Lynn and John Nemeth."

A long-time music fan herself, Bengtson recognized that most independent musicians are just that, musicians. They'd have a much better chance of navigating the convoluted labyrinths of the music industry if there was a dedicated team helping the musicians with promotion, distribution and other elements that are the essential moving parts of a comprehensive marketing plan. Bengtson perceptively observed that those challenges confront all musicians, from a so-called gritty blues artist to a seemingly more refined classical artist. Add the fact that, since many of her labels' albums are either re-issues or nearly completed when presented to Bengtson, musicians maintain their independence and the rights and ownership of their songs. Certainly, different than many other labels, but it's a business plan that has sustained and strengthened the musicians and the labels during its first decade.

As of 2024, Nola Blue has released over 25 recordings. Between Nola Blue and Blue Heart Records (which has released over 60 recordings), there's a flow of music from artists such as the late Cash McCall (who performed with titans such as Bo Diddley and Willie Dixon) as well as from Grammy-nominated artists including Teresa James, Frank Bey and Rick Vito. There's obviously a wealth of music, so let's cherry-pick a few artists and take a closer look:

Benny Turner

Turner's recording Journey, was the first recording released Nola Blue back in 2014 and the spark for the label. Bengtson met Turner when she visited New Orleans and the Turner book became a reality. Bassist and singer Turner, born in 1939, comes from a musical family, including his older brother Freddie King who passed away decades ago. Inspired to reenergize his performing career, he realized it was time to record an album of his own as well. Turner called upon some of the best musicians based in and around New Orleans and hit the "record" button. The collection of all originals starts with a razor-sharp guitar riff as the long-time side man kicks the door open as a leader on vocals and bass. From both stinging and sympathetic guitars, as well as trumpet, saxophone, harp, keys and more, each track is seasoned with different musical spices. And what collection of music with New Orleans roots would be complete without a nod to the spirits, which, in this case, is acknowledged via "Voodoo Lady." As of 2024, there are four releases featuring Mr. Turner with another one on the way.

Teresa James

Born and raised in Texas, she's got gritty southern boogie and blues in her blood. Now based in LA and working with producer, musician, husband Terry Wilson, they've collaborated on several albums including Rose Colored Glasses Vol. 1 (2021) and Vol. 2 (2023). Fueled by a number of Texas guitar slingers and soulful horns (and even one cut sweetened by violins, violas and cellos), Vol. 1 has sassy cuts such as "Takes One to Know One" plus the prowling "All You Ever Bring Me Is the Blues." Stand-out cuts from Vol. 2 include "The Idea of You," which drifts toward a jazzy American Songbook tune, and the sultry "That's What I'm Talking About." With Wilson writing or co-writing a vast number of the records, it's clearly a team effort between Wilson and James.

Chris Beard (with special guest Joe Beard

Chris Beard's father, the blues veteran Joe Beard, is friends with Buddy Guy as well as having been friends with the late Matt "Guitar" Murphy and others. As potent as those musicians are, Joe had another musician he was close with and played with, Son House, who was there "in the beginning." The passion for the blues has passed from one generation to the next, as the Joe and Chris duet "Pass It On Down" confirms the album's title track. It's a song Chris realized had to be recorded sooner rather than later. Although Chris has a reverend respect for the past, he's clearly a 21st-century bluesman. This album features five previously recorded/remastered cuts from past albums as well as five newer recordings. Chris charges out of the gate with "Let the Chips Fall," a propulsive, high-energy, horn-fueled song. That's followed by plenty of modern blues as well as several frantic funk-powered tracks that pepper the disc. Things come in for a landing on the sultry "Bitter Blues." A number of A-List guests, including soul/blues singer Johnny Rawls, members of the sacred steel group, Campbell Brothers, as well as the next generation, Duane Beard, sit in on various songs and add to the richness of the album.

Rick Vito

Rick Vito's slides are imbued with explosive electricity as he grabs his guitar, hits the "detonate" button and blasts off with yet another collection of alluring songs. That's how Vito starts up Cadillac Man (2024). The incendiary opening cut is followed by a casual shuffle, rambunctious jump and rockabilly, some straight-up blues and more. As for the blues, Vito acknowledges those who came before him, including masters such as B.B. King and Elmore James, as the blues ripple throughout the collection. One of the recording's three instrumentals, "Bo in Paradise," salutes both Bo Diddley as well as Santo and Johnny who, in turn, partially inspired Peter Green to write his stunning late 1960s instrumental, "Albatross." This is not surprising since Vito was a driving force behind a 2020 tribute concert for Green, who is a guitar icon. In addition, Vito is one of the very few guitarists who earned the right to play and record Green's chart-topping "Albatross," which Vito had recorded before, including for his 2005 release Rattlesnake Shake (a fan-favorite Fleetwood Mac tune from their early days)and via the tribute concert.)

As for Bengtson, she has no plan to slow down as she starts a countdown to 2034 and the next decade. A double album tribute disc saluting Mississippi-born Matt "Guitar" Murphy is already scheduled for summer 2024 release. It's packed with talented veterans—just a few of the artists participating include Steve Cropper, Lee Osker, Duke Robillard and Joe Beard.

< Previous



For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.


Jazz article: The Mosaic Records Story
Record Label Profile
The Mosaic Records Story
Jazz article: Edition Records: A Guide To The First Fifteen Years
Jazz article: Rhythm And Blues Records: Small But Perfectly Formed


Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.