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Wolf Records International Releases CD by High Country Residents, “King Bees Featuring The Greatest Blues Stars”

The King Bees’ CD cover design of their latest released record from Wolf Records International.

By Harley Nefe

The King Bees is a blues and American roots music band founded in the High Country 34 years ago by Rob “Hound Dog” Baskerville and Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni.

Baskerville plays the guitar and keys while Zamagni plays bass and is a singer and songwriter. Together, the King Bees call the mountains of North Carolina home in Ashe County; however, they often spend their time traveling with their music. 

The King Bees have performed on festival stages in European capitals including Paris, Rome, Amsterdam, Stockholm and London and have taken their internationally-acclaimed music across numerous countries including the U.S.

In the mid 1980s, Baskerville and Zamagni began traveling the deep South searching for and mentoring under blues artists of historical, cultural and musical significance. Many blues artists took the King Bees under their wings and guided the band toward the sound of authenticity. 

Now, the King Bees have a record that has been released which is a culmination of their career’s work. The record titled “King Bees Featuring The Greatest Blues Stars” includes music with blues artists Jerry McCain, Carey Bell, Beverly Guitar Watkins, Chick Willis, Nappy Brown, Chicago Bob Nelson and Neal Pattman.

“We performed with all these special guests who are all Wikipedia worthy entries,” Baskerville said. “Each of these guests is a fascinating person with lots of musical history, southern history and civil rights history.”

Baskerville and Zamagni would take off on the weekends and drive to Mississippi or wherever else was needed to chase the different artists down.

“Once they figured out we came with integrity and a little bit of knowledge and a little bit of talent, it was like the doors opened,” Baskerville said. “We got to record and tour with really southern blues and Chicago blues royalty and go to their homes, go to their churches, go into their communities and get a great PhD in musical education straight from the source.”

However, earning this education was not easy. Baskerville said they definitely experienced some ego-bruising moments and got their butts kicked a few times such as when he thought he was a great blues guitar player and a man told him he sounded like a hillbilly. Another example is artists having Zamagni play just a baseline and nothing else in the music. 

“But we did it, and we did it with respect,” Baskerville said. “I think of Penny. She’s a white woman bass player, singer and songwriter. She had it a lot tougher potentially than I did just because she’s a woman coming into an all male thing, which pretty much blues is, and then throwing her up there with these guys. They put her through some tests, and she came through. She was probably more dedicated than I am.”

These experiences playing with the different blues artists were also not a result of a one time trip. The King Bees had to make plenty of return trips to work with the artists.

Baskerville recounted chasing down Jerry McCain who was a harmonica player from Gadsden, Alabama. Baskerville told Jerry McCain that he played with Chicago Bob Nelson before and Jerry McCain responded, “Well, he’s pretty good, but he’s not as good as I am.”

“You have these great egos and these great recording histories and then you show up and go to their house, hang out, take them out to eat, and then you come back again,” Baskerville explained. 

Jerry McCain told the King Bees to come back to play some blues and they did. 

“We were crazy enough to make the 350 mile trip down there again to go to the guy’s house, listen to the records, pull out the instruments and play,” Baskerville said. “We made friends with the guy, he trusted us, he knew that we knew his stuff, so we turned into his band.” 

Baskerville further said, “He was happy to do it for nothing basically because he knew that we believed in him. And this is a tough guy. These are people who have seen stuff in the 60s — beaten up by cops and the whole civil rights thing. Well, we developed a bond of trust, which was an undertaking in and of itself, which was probably more important than even the music. These are important people in the blues world for people who really know blues, so it’s ultimately our association with these people and hopefully the ability to play good music which resulted in this record.”

All of the artists featured on the record have since passed away, and the production of the record is to honor these blues artists’ talents.

“They had immense talent,” Baskerville said. “A lot of them are not recognized to the degree I feel they should, and that’s another reason for putting out this record is just to say these people are every bit important as people who made it a little further. I learned so much musically. This whole thing has been a fascinating education.”

When asked what the blues can be defined as, Baskerville said, “That’s the quest that I’ve been on since I was a teenager, and every person has a different interpretation. I used to be very concrete of what it was. It had to be this, this, or this, but it’s just a musical interpretation of life, what you experience in life.”

Baskerville is currently 58 years old and has experienced many memories over the years and has ones that he finds to be unique. But now, he sees himself being at the stage of his career where his role models once were. 

“I’m at the age now where when I first started my heroes were this age. And so, I have to watch their pitfalls and watch how they handle aging with grace and what they did musically,” Baskerville said. “My interest is music. It’s the worst addiction I’ve ever had, which is probably saying something, but it is. It’s a lifelong passion for music and everything associated with it.”

The King Bees’ latest record has been produced by Wolf Records, which is a label in the field of blues in Austria, and it’s internationally distributed, which as Baskerville said, is a pretty big deal for them. 

“We got Wolf Records attention just by the fact that we have some pretty cool friends,” Baskerville said. “This record is special because these are our teachers. These are the people who took us under their wing.”

To inquire on how to get a copy of the “King Bees Featuring The Greatest Blues Stars” CD, email the King Bees at kingbeesnc@gmail.com, and for more information about the King Bees, visit their website at https://kingbees.info/. The CD listing can also be found on Wolf Records International’s website at https://www.wolfrec.com/produkt/king-bees-featuring-the-greatest-blues-stars/


“King Bees Featuring The Greatest Blues Stars” CD Song Line Up:

  1. Got The Blues – Jerry McCain w. King Bees 4,29
  2. Quit you Pretty Baby – Chicago Bob Nelson w. King Bees 2,43
  3. Natchez Burning – Nappy Brown w. King Bees 3,46
  4. Hello Central – Chick Willis w. King Bees 6,09
  5. What Mama Told Me – Carey Bell w. King Bees 3,49
  6. Black Rat – Neal Pattman w. King Bees 3,36
  7. Noccalula Boogie – Jerry McCain w. King Bees 7,32
  8. Run Your Reputation Down – Penny “Queen Bee” Zamagni & Rob Baskerville w. Jerry McCain 4,56
  9. Beverly’s Guitar Blues – Beverly “Guitar” Watson w. King Bees 9,10
  10. Goin in the Valley – Chicago Bob Nelson w. King Bees 2,40
  11. Alcohol and Blues – Penny Zamagni & Rob Baskerville w. Carey Bell 4,46


Below are the liner notes that contain bios of the blues artists featured on the “King Bees Featuring The Greatest Blues Stars” CD:


Jerry McCain 1930-2012 Gadsden, Alabama Harmonica Maestro

Jerry “Boogie” McCain waxed seminal sides for legendary labels including Trumpet, Excello, and Okeh. Over his 60 year career he was a major influence on legions of younger harp players who sought to capture the iconic McCain genius of such classics as “Steady” and “She’s Tough”. McCain’s inspired and idiosyncratic songwriting has led to covers of his originals by The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rod Piazza, and other torch bearers. {On these cuts McCain entertains a hometown crowd in Gadsden, Alabama for his Public Television documentary “True Blues”.}


Carey Bell 1936-2007 Born in Macon, Mississippi

Carey Bell Harrington was “adopted” and musically mentored by pianist Lovie Lee with whom he moved to Chicago. In the Windy City the young harp ace worked with the most historic post-war musicians including Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Earl Hooker, and Robert Nighthawk, and himself became part of the Chi-town pantheon {The cuts were recorded on the B.B. King 80th Birthday Tour in 2005.}


Beverly Guitar Watkins 1939-2019

A native of Commerce, Georgia, Beverly moved as a young person to Atlanta, where she was discovered by the legendary Piano Red Perryman. Red took the unusual step of making the young female guitarist an essential member of his band. There were few women of her guitar virtuosity in that male-dominated world and Beverly was spotlighted at Atlanta’s premier venues including The Magnolia Ballroom and worked with artists such as James Brown and Ray Charles. Beverly Guitar was a study in contrasts: a sweet, church-going lady of a certain age who fired blistering fusillades from her Stratocaster while playing it behind her head. Her unique talent and incendiary performances captured hearts around the globe. {Recorded live at England’s Rhythm Riot, 2013.}


Chicago Bob Nelson 1944-2013

Robert Lee Nelson’s roots were planted deep in the music scene of Louisiana where he was born. He grew up taking in live performances by Slim Harpo, Lazy Lester, and other regional stars who dropped by his family’s home. Moving to Chicago as a teen, he was dubbed Chicago Bob by none other than Muddy Waters. The patriarch of Chi-town Blues repeatedly encountered the harmonica player in all the Windy City Blues venues in the early 1960’s. Chicago Bob honed his style by mentoring under all the city’s greats: Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Big Walter Horton and many others. {This pair of Excello Classics from the historic Bristol, Virginia sessions with The King Bees reflect Chicago Bob’s rollicking Louisiana origins.}


Napoleon Brown Goodson Culp “Nappy” Brown 1929-2008

A native of Charlotte, North Carolina, Nappy Brown was early on steeped in gospel music, which he never entirely left behind. Nappy’s resounding baritone and passionate singing won him a Rhythm & Blues recording contract with Savoy Records in 1954. Nappy’s hits were numerous and made him one of the biggest R&B stars of the 1950’s. Brown frequently toured with Alan Freed with Jimi Hendrix as his guitarist. It is notable that Nappy could count on Elvis Presley being in the audience when he performed in Memphis. Brown is often cited as a preeminent linchpin in the birth of soul music. {Recorded with The King Bees at the inaugural New River Blues Festival, 2003.}


Neal Pattman 1926- 2005 From Winterville, Georgia

Neal toiled from childhood doing farm work. Around the age of nine he lost his arm when it was caught in a wagon wheel. Neal’s harmonica playing reflected a lost art, shaped as it was by his grandfather who taught him songs from the 19th century. In performance Neal often revived vanished tunes such as “Fox Chase”, while dancing and whooping. {These represent Neal’s first recordings, from a 1991 session with The King Bees in Athens, Georgia.}


Chick Willis 1934-2013

Robert Lee “Chick” Willis was a native of Cabaness, Georgia. Chick started in music working with his cousin Chuck Willis, known as The King Of The Stroll, with big hits such “C.C. Rider”. Upon Chuck’s death in 1958 Chick expanded his career. Soon he was playing guitar with the legendary Elmore James, recording on the Atco label. In the 1970’s Chick found his niche with ribald songs such as “Stoop Down Baby, Let Your Daddy See”. Chick was popular with both black and white audiences and traveled internationally up until the time of his passing. His last live performance was at North Carolina’s King Bees-produced New River Blues Festival, 2013. {Recorded with The King Bees at the inaugural New River Blues Festival, 2003.}


Photos courtesy of the King Bees:

Rob Baskerville and Penny Zamagni with Chicago Harp legend Carey Bell. Carey Bell is one of blues artists that are featured on King Bees’ latest record.


King Bees featuring Carey Bell.


Jerry McCain and The King Bees at Birmingham City Stages in 1991.


Nappy Brown and The King Bees at the Low Country Blues Bash in 2007.