Pass the Hat – Reviews


From: November 1998 “The Northern Light” Review by
Lennart Hedenström
Östra Parkgatan 20
S-97242 Luleå

Kraig Kenning/Steve Arvey, Pass The Hat – Acoustic Blues, USA

I had never heard of these boys until the CD landed in my lap. I realise now I have been missing out on something. Kenning and Arvey are two very accomplished blues guitarists these days making a living out of their music on the Chicago blues scene. Arvey has toured across the US extensively backing all kinds of blues artists and he’s been seen in the band behind such artists as Hubert Sumlin, Jimmy Rogers and many other of the blues royalty. Arvey and Kenning show a broad knowledge of different types of blue on this album but their main thing is acoustic country blues. The fingerpicking of Arvey and the slide of Kenning is pure gold. Just listening on the two opening tracks, two Muddy Waters covers, “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Big Road Blues”. All in all only five tracks out of twelve are original compositions on the album so I guess the boys are paying mostly a tribute to their heroes on this album. Another country blues number is the traditional song “St James Infirmary”, a raunchy acoustic boogie is the classic “Let The Good Times Roll” and a country blues is “Sliding Delta Blues” (also a trad. song) where Kenning throws in some great electric slide. We get simply fantastic acoustic renditions of stuff by Robert Johnson and Lightning Hopkins just to show you these guys are walking in solid blues territory. As a balance they throw in some numbers where they use a fully electrified backing band on some boogie rockers like “Coming Back To You”, “Roll Away The Stone” and “Getting Off ***” – three great foot stomping tracks! The highlight of the album though, for me, is a breathtakingly beautiful Ry Cooder-ish version of “Amazing Grace”. Are you into blues there is no excuse not to pick this one up!

From: October 1998 Review by Full Moon Records, Australia

Pass the Hat is a meaty dose of weighty blues, that put simply ,….sounds great. Kraig Kenning plays electric and acoustic slide, with Steve Arvey adding his rhythmic acoustic guitar, both sharing the vocal duties. They provide a fine mix of blues, some acoustic, and others with a full band line up, cool, rocking and electric.

Kraig Kenning has been a fixture on the Chicago blues scene for years. His road weary voice and stellar slide guitar fill the CD with a healthy dose of originals, traditionals and Delta classics.

Steve Arvey’s blues history includes a period in Bo Diddley’s backing band, and fronting Chicago big band, West Side Heat.

If you like slide guitar, Carolina rags, and a few blues rockers that don’t sound like rock artists are playing them, then check this pair out…. Ry Cooder fans will definitely love Kenning & Arvey.

From: October 1998 Review by Mr. Blues, Australia

Hooley Dooley …. An awesome blend of acoustic blues from the USA, with a few hot rockin’ electric based tracks as well. The Arvey / Kenning combination is a heart rendering, foot stomping duo that know how to groove their material in true delta and Memphis styles that are full of feeling.

Kraig Kenning is a slide master whether on the dobro, acoustic or electric. Steve Arvey matches the talent on acoustic and electric guitars and together their vocals descend in that weary laden blues vein of yesteryear that makes you want to settle on the porch (or wherever you can) and have a round or two with ol’ uncle Jack Daniels.

The opening track “I can’t Be Satisfied” features some beautiful fingerpickin’ slide work layered with Steve’s hoedown style acoustic rhythm. Then following on, “Big Road Blues” continues the flavour in a delta style groove with a dash of country blues creeping through.

Track 4 “Coming Back to You”, is the first of the full band electric numbers, being a grunting country blues feel that will have you putting that Jack Daniels aside and getting that rocking chair bouncing around the porch. An awesome slide orientated version of “Let the Good Times Roll” will have you out the rockin’ chair and getting those legs jiving, continuing with a lazy “Sliding Delta Blues” with that good ol’ delta groove that the girls love to get their hips swaying to. (Guys take notice of what the girls like).

Maaaaaan this stuff is awesome, being rocked now with another electric full band number “Roll Away the Stone”, these guys are showing that they can cover any style they wish to lay down.

Just when you thought it was safe to reach out for the JD again, along comes an acoustic delta style country hoedown version of Robert Johnson’s “If I had Possession Over Judgement Day”

Need one say anymore ? The remaining tracks continue the classy vein without missing a beat or leaving any empty spaces…..and just to warm our mellowed hearts, a rousing slide rendition of “Amazing Grace” reminiscent of the Mississippi gospel tones of yesteryear….this is actually the best version of Amazing Grace that I have ever heard and if it doesn’t draw and emotional response from the heart, then you must have just entered the pearly gates.

A must for any serious blues fan and if you are a Ry Cooder fan then this one should be marked for urgent purchase.

From: May 1998 issue of Blues Revue Magazine
Steve Walbridge

If you read the liner notes for Pass the Hat: Acoustic Blues (all 81 words!), you don’t learn much about this duo. Fortunately, there is additional information on the sleeve for anyone who might be interested (they give an e-mail address: What you will learn from listening to the CD, however, is that both Kenning and Arvey are accomplished pickers and mildly convincing vocalists.

Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Big Road Blues” both demonstrate versatile guitar playing, but Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Katy Mae” is the jewel in the crown for acoustic and country blues purists. The vocals are sincere and pure while the strumming, slide and pickin’ are top-shelf. Interestingly, there are a number of tracks that are electric and supported by a full band. Because there are no credits listed, you have no idea who’s in the band. The full band cuts stand up just fine, especially “Coming Back to You” and “Getting Off,” which is really more of a boogie-like rocker in the style of Savoy Brown. Another highlight of this CD is the enchanting instrumental take on “Amazing Grace.” The track has a prairie song feel to it beautifully done.

Kraig Kenning and Steve Arvey should let their prospective fans know more about themselves but then again, maybe they don’t care about that and playing good music and having fun is their only objective. If that’s the case, then they’ve accomplished the first half of that goal, and hopefully the second as well. STEVE WALBRIDGE

From: David Koepp
Subject: great blues at Chicago blues festival…
Jun 1998

thanks for the wonderful blues shows over the past weekend…i caught a couple of hours on sunday, and it was sublime. I especially loved the “Malted Milk Blues”, and “Saint James Infirmary”…you two musicians along with Homesick James, Henry Townsend, and David Honeyboy Edwards were the highlights of the festival. Good luck in the future…..warm regards, David Koepp

From: Terry Clear
Radio Onda Cero International
Edificio King Edward
Avenida Gomez de la Serna
29600 Marbella

At the radio station where I work, we’ve had more enquiries about “Pass The Hat” than for any other blues CD that we’ve played in the last 6 years!!!

Keep up the good work
Best regards

From: Paul Baldwin
Now Media Services
United Kingdom

Thank you for your CD which arrived this morning. It has some of the best acoustic blues I’ve heard. I’ll be very happy to include some tracks in the next series of World Blues.

February ’98 issue of Delta Snake Blues News
Editor/Publisher: Al Handa

“Pass The Hat” acoustic blues

Kraig and Steve are a blues duo out of Streamwood, Illinois. Their blues is a fine mix of acoustic duets, augmented at times by outside musicians, and full ensemble numbers that sound like tight, rocking blues as opposed to blues-flavored rockers.

This CD consists of new acoustic blues material, mainly with a delta flavor, and selected cuts from three previous releases. Most of those consist of the electric numbers featured here.

The two have played together for over ten years, and it shows, particularly on the acoustic duets. Their playing, which basically combines Kenning’s compelling slide guitar, and Arvey’s picked and strummed guitar, blend together in a dynamic and very active set of performances.

The music kicks off with an up-tempo, acoustic version of “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” followed by a great delta blues called “Big Road Blues.” Next is a languid, but emotional “St. James Infirmary,” which also uses piano to very good effect.

Kraig and Steve then blast away with a full band in “Coming Back To You,” leading to the churning “Let The Good Times A Roll.” Most bands do this one straight (a la Brother Ray), hearing it done as a delta boogie is startling at first, then compelling.

The two then play a slow rag called “Sliding Delta Blues,” followed by the full band treatment of “Roll Away The Stone.” “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” is a Robert Johnson classic, although most know the melody as “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” (an older blues).

“Someday” is a nice up-tempo Carolina style rag, which leads to another fine acoustic showcase called “Katie Mae,” which is a solo number with slide. After a rocking “Getting Off,” the set closes with two eccentric, but interesting numbers. One is a slow version of “Amazing Grace,” which features a feathery drum playing a march rhythm, and “1425 W. Byron St.,” a Dixieland march which fades off into the distance.

Kraig Kenning and Steve Arvey have created a nice overview of their work, including some newer acoustic pieces that give the set a nice sense of balance and dynamics. Their guitar playing is superb, and show that one characteristic of all great players, which is that they make acoustic blues sound easy.

This isn’t a classic Chicago style set by any means, so those who prefer the postwar sounds may find this collection maybe only half of what they want. However, if you like slide guitar, Carolina rags, with a few blues rockers that don’t sound like rock artists are playing ’em, then you might want to check this pair out. Ry Cooder fans will definitely love these guys. (AH)

December ’97 issue of Blueseye (Crossroad Blues Society) newsletter

Kraig Kenning & Steve Arvey – Pass The Hat

The duo of Kenning & Arvey have been playing together for over a decade. Many times these musicians have played for tip money in the streets of Chicago. They have been known to put on some very lengthy shows, up to 12 hours long.

This recording is a compilation of tracks from other previously released discs, plus new material. Kenning plays electric and acoustic slide with Arvey adding his rhythmic acoustic guitar. The liner notes list both Kenning & Arvey handling the vocals, but don’t mention who’s singing lead on each track.

Anyway both have good and soulful vocals. Even on the song “St. James Infirmary” Kenning does a decent Howlin’ Wolf imitation. Or was it Arvey? Most of the tracks on the disc are acoustic, but they do plug in on a few. Most noteworthy is the original cut called “Coming Back To You.” Some savory electric slide found here.

Of the acoustic tracks I was most impressed with was the Lightning Hopkin’s cover “Katey Mae” and Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgment.” Both tunes are choice renditions of the originals.

Kenning & Arvey seem firmly rooted in the traditional blues playing with confidence and plenty of style. Hopefully a major label will catch an earful of their fine talents.


From Pioneer Press:
Thursday, June 26, 1997
Martin A. Bartels
Diversions Editor-Nothwest Group

Kenning, Arvey put new spin on traditional, acoustic blues

If you haven’t seen Arlington Heights native Kraig Kenning perform yet, it’s certainly not due to a lack of opportunities.

Kenning is, by all accounts, one of the busiest musicians on the face of the planet, performing at venues throughout the Midwest, writing music, and recording.

On the last note, he’s out with another album, this time in a completely different vein, on Pass the Hat: Acoustic Blues, recorded with longtime Chicago blues musician, Steve Arvey.

Steve has a lot of experience in the blues world, Kenning said in an interview last week. He’s a very talented guy. I’ve kept this project quiet for a while, but now that it’s out, I’m really happy with it.

I guess the title is a little misleading because it’s not really all acoustic blues, but I’m glad we threw the other stuff in because it gave it a little different feel and flavor.

Four of the 13 tracks on Pass the Hat appeared on Kenning’s three previous albums, but each was selected because it fits very comfortably within the blues format.

Arvey’s blues history really determined the direction of the new album, which was drawn primarily from the pair’s impromptu (and often marathon) performances on the streets at the Chicago Blues Festival.

I started back when I was 17 or 18 years old, and got involved with a group down on Maxwell Street, Arvey said in an interview on Monday. A little later, I moved to Florida, right about the time that Bo Diddley had moved there, and I got involved in playing in his backup band. That was the ’70s , and there just weren’t that many guys who were into blues then.

Arvey eventually returned to Chicago, where he formed a band called West Side Heat. They were active between 1981 and 1991, and performed on stage at the Chicago Blues Festival in 1990.

I guess I just got burned out on that after a while, and shortly after the band quit, I started up with Kraig, Arvey said. We would basically go and play acoustic sets all day at Blues Fest, on the streets.

While I really like playing on the Crossroads stage and all, it was just a lot more fun to be on the street. It’s a lot more relaxed atmosphere.

In that time period, Arvey was also approached by the publicists for the Irish Beer, Harp Lager. And while he had never performed Irish music, he took the opportunity.

It was sort of unfortunate at first, because they told me they didn’t really want someone to play Irish ballads and slow songs, and I had told them I didn’t play Irish music, Arvey said. But then when I showed up at the clubs they sent me to, the people were shocked, and wondered where the Irish band was.

So I went to the Old Town School of Folk Music, and totally immersed myself in everything I could. I found all these ’60’s folk guys, like (Tommy) Makem and (Tommy) Clancy, and I really fell in love with it.

He spent two years performing Irish music, sponsored by Harp, at almost 150 dates a year at clubs throughout the Chicagoland area.

It was really great, he said. I never had to worry about getting money from the clubs because it was all handled by Harp.

The company decided to drop that promotion this year, but Arvey continues to perform about five dates a month at Irish clubs. And, he now has more time for the blues, as well.

From Daily Herald:
Time Out Section
Friday, Sept 5, 1997
Mark Guarino

Pass the hat for Kenning and Arvey’s choice folk blues

Two white guys sitting around playing country blues sounds suspicious, but Kraig Kenning and Steve Arvey are the definite exception. Their “Pass The Hat” CD is a meaty dose of weighty blues that simply sounds great.

Kenning – an Arlington Heights native and Streamwood resident – has been a fixture on the Chicago club scene for years. His road-weary voice and stellar slide guitar playing give a depth to originals that, by themselves, are instantly catchy.

The two make a good picking pair, filling their album with a healthy dose of originals, traditionals, and Delta classics.

Kenning’s “Coming Back to You” is a soulful, full-band blues romp that would be comfortable on any recent Bonnie Raitt album.

The restless country feel of Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” works well next to Kenning’s own “Someday” – his delivery and playing sound timeless. His restrained slide playing especially showcases nicely on Lightning Hopkins “Katie Mae”.

The aching full-band treatment of “Amazing Grace” fuses it with a timelessness that could as well have been from the Civil War days.

Who knew two Chicagoland guys played folk blues so well.

Review by: Ed Longnecker, 2000


If you caught this duo’s performance at Fest 2000, you probably already have this one. If you didn’t catch their performance, here’s a good way to savor the flavor. “Pass the Hat” is a 45-minute stroll through some “trads” and some originals, essentially an acoustic collection, but tastefully peppered with some electric work.

The album’s title draws on their beginnings, having first played in the vicinity of the 1991 Chicago Blues Fest, performing for tips. The duo consists of Kraig Kenning on slide guitar and vocals, and Steve Arvey on standard guitar and vocals. Veterans of the early days at Stickman’s may remember Steve as the driving force behind West Side Heat, a true-to-the-roots powerhouse of current generation Chicago blues players. Both Arvey and Kenning have worked with some of the windy city’s blues legends, and their treatment of the classic numbers reflects the respect and admiration they feel for their old masters.

They open the show with three such classics, Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and the traditional “Big Road Blues” and “St. James Infirmary,” which showcase Arvey’s solid rhythm and Kenning’s clean and smooth-as-cream resonator slide work. The arrangements reflect the duo’s own signature as well as a deep respect for the music’s origins. No “dress-it-up-to-sell” going on here. “Coming Back to You” perks up the flow with a little electric on the light side, and is one of four tunes on the album that were previously released on an earlier Kenning production. An acoustic treatment of Louis Jordan’s “Let the Good Times Roll” gets the toes bouncing, then we settle back for an introspective “Sliding Delta Blues” featuring Kenning’s electric slide crying behind Steve’s full-sounding acoustic fingerpicking.

“Roll Away the Stone” sits you back up with Kenning’s electric slide complemented by a thick coat of the venerable Hammond B-3 organ (no credit listed — who’s on the keyboard here Kraig?) then a hopping rendition of Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession Over Judgement Day” leads into Kenning’s original “Someday,” featuring more of Kenning’s luscious resonator slide over Arvey’s fingerpicked acoustic guitar. A riff-rich call-and-response treatment of Lightning Hopkins’ “Katy Mae” gives Kraig a chance to strut his stuff, then another Kenning import, “Getting Off” takes the electric back out of the case. Shortly thereafter, an introspective and reverent rendition of “Amazing Grace” winds the album down, leaving us with the sweet strains of “1425 W. Byron St.” drifting off into the fog.

This is some good stuff, highly recommended for any acoustic blues lover, not only for Steve and Kraig’s technical virtuosity, but for the respect shown their former mentors that’s woven into the arrangements. “Pass the Hat” serves as yet one more refreshing example of country blues still being out there mingling with the crowd. And if you’re of a mind to mingle with Steve and Kraig, they’re currently working on a return visit to the area at a local bookstore coffeehouse, so keep an eye on the upcoming events, and give these guys a listen, if you haven’t already. It’ll do ya no harm!