What Everybody's Reading Lately
Linsey Alexander’s life journey is as familiar as it is timeless: Born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis, and transplanted to Chicago ...
Singer Steve Sarder recalls an era when selling an album bundled with a tee-shirt was a good day. Adding a new name to the mailing list wa...
There is a quote that reads “life is a journey not a destination.” The culmination of experiences along the way is what matters most. It’s ...
Tuesday, August 1, 2017
Homecoming of Bluegrass jam-band Grasshoppah on Friday: West Michigan favorite reunites for Eastown show with original line up. Guitarist Glenn House moved to Oregon a few years ago, mandolin player Brian Oberlin goes his own way, bassist Chris Carr stays put and gigs with Thirsty Perch Blues Band. They all come together for Grasshoppah 2017 Michigan Tour at Billy’s Lounge August 4. @billyslounge #TMGR @tastemakersgrandrapids @TasteMakersGR
Thursday, August 11, 2016
Veteran singer Coolie Ranx of the Pilfers is thinking it's time to get back to the roots of his performing life. And he's not ready to just phone it in either. Ranx has been on the scene long enough he can essentially write his own ticket about when to perform.
“I have a different strategy right now,” Ranx said. “I can go play the big shows and make the big money. That’s very easy for me to do.”
But he says the chance do something different, meaningful perhaps, is now most important.
“I’m starting again over again,” Ranx said. “I believe I should refresh from where I came from and get a new audience.”
Ranx made his name early on as singer of influential Two Tone, Third Wave ska band the Toasters and many others since (Reel Big Fish, Catch 22, Pietasters). The Toasters were strict traditionalists; his current band is not.
“It’s a lot different now,” Ranx said of the Pilfers ska/punk style. “It’s not as restrictive as The Toasters. There’s not a set style I have to follow which allows me the freedom to explore and create.”
The brand new Pilfers release, From Far, is a prime example of the musical experimentation he mentions. Ranx says it goes heavy on old-style ska, smidgens of pop, and a dollop of new wave. From Far was recorded with the original band line up along with renowned trumpet player Kevin Batchelor (Steel Pulse, The Skatalites, Keith Richards 2015 disc).
“Each record has similar elements but they’re different,” Ranx said in a recent interview. “This new one is true hardcore punk style with heavy guitar riffs and trumpet over the top.”
The Pilfers show Founders Taproom August 13 spotlights New York musicians on drums, bass, guitar, and trombone—valued instrumentation in the land of live authentic ska.
Ranx says that should the Founders crowd need prodding he’ll be forced to deploy the new tune “Nothing’s Ever Good Enough,” with a driving pulsating beat underneath Batchelor's trumpet, and have the masses take to the dance floor.
“All of my songs are mood songs,” Ranx said. “They go up and down: sentimental, romantic, energized.”
He says the current tour is not just about grabbing the money and running but rather reconnecting and rebuilding his fan base.
“It’s good to go back to the basics,” he says. “It’s humbling and builds character.”
Most of all Ranx insists he’s not afraid of putting forth the effort. He says he's seen what happens to people when they don’t.
“There’s nothing wrong with hard work,” Ranx said. “People get really complacent when it’s just handed to them all the time. They don’t appreciate it in the manner they should.”
Pilfers featuring Coolie Ranx wsg J. Navarro & The Traitors, The Sailor Kicks, 9:30 pm, Saturday at Founders Brewing. 21+ $5
Pilfers Merch: http://pilfers.storenvy.com/
Thursday, May 12, 2016
Linsey Alexander’s life journey is as familiar as it is timeless: Born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis, and transplanted to Chicago following a girl and work—all part of the historical narrative of African-American blues musicians.
Alexander worked as a cook and later for the Chicago Police Department where he was wounded and received a pension. Times like these would have any other man throwing in the towel and moving to milder climates back home. There must be something about blues music to keep a man going day in and day out after 43 years in the competitive Chicago music environment.
“It’s a job and something to do,” guitarist/singer Alexander said when asked what keeps him engaged. “I make a pretty good buck at it.”
“You have to love the live the life you love and love the life you live,” he adds.
Linsey Alexander and his blues band return to Dreamers Blues Bar in Muskegon on May 14 for a night of world-renown Chicago blues.
Chicago blues bands of today almost always include a steady wallop of bass-driven funk in the repertoire, necessitated to keep crowds interested and gigs coming. Not so, however, with Alexander’s recordings.
“I got no popping bass strings on my records,” Alexander said during a recent telephone interview with #TMGR. “I ain’t trying to take (anything) from the blues. I just leave it where it’s at.”
Where Alexander picks up the blues lineage, in addition to his original compositions often featured on the respected Delmark record label, is in the revered style of none other than B.B. King and Albert King.
“You got to call the blues where it’s at,” Alexander said. “B.B. is the master of the blues. I don’t care how you put it. Chuck Berry might have brought out the rock-n-roll but Albert King and Albert Collins are the blues.”
Linsey Alexander has spent the last 16 years with a steady gig at Chicago’s world famous Kingston Mines blues nightclub. Lately it’s apparent to Alexander he’s not the man he used to be. But even on nights when the crowd starts out lame he says he doesn’t know any other way but to keep on trying to be the best he can be.
“It gets in my blood,” Alexander said. “I just like playing guitar and singing. You just have to push yourself out there no matter what.”
Linsey Alexander and band, 8:30 pm (doors 7:30), Saturday, at Dreamers Blues Bar. Dreamers is located at 978 Pine St 49442 in Muskegon. Telephone: (231) 728-9157
Dreamers Blues Bar FB: https://www.facebook.com/Dreamers-Blues-Bar-211298861412/?fref=ts
Linsey Alexander website: http: www.linseyalexander.com
Thursday, April 14, 2016
For today’s active touring musician nothing beats a pair of coveralls for crawling around grimy stages setting up gear. Jeb Puryear knows good coveralls when he sees them. The founding member of Donna the Buffalo is often zipping them up when his tour vehicle breaks down.
“We bought our own tour bus early on,” Puryear says as one mechanic of a few who have repaired Donna's vehicles since the beginning. “We were fortunate as a group to be mechanically inclined enough to keep one going.”
For most independent bands, where there is no financier or new deluxe tour coach, band members perform what grunt work they can do for themselves. If anything Donna the Buffalo is a study in self-sufficiency.
Ever popular rock-based zydeco/fiddle outfit Donna the Buffalo brings their unique presentation of music, dance, and social consciousness to the Intersection on Saturday, April 16.
Donna either makes their own records or works with small independent labels like Sugarhill. Puryear admits they’ve "done things in not-so-normal fashion." Call it a lifestyle choice if you will.
“There were no Colonel Parker’s (Elvis Presley manager) here,” Puryear said with a laugh. “Nobody saw us and perceived they could make millions of dollars. But we’ve always been able to make a living and have successful artistic experiences with audiences. For that we are grateful.”
Donna the Buffalo is 26 years into producing their own Finger Lakes and Shakori Hills GrassRoots music events. These festivals take cues from pioneering folk-life celebrations Blissfest and Wheatland in Michigan.
“The definition of a festival is shifting with Coachella calling itself a festival,” Puryear said. “To me they’re more like giant rock concerts in a way.”
For better or worse Puryear’s festival idea has come a long way from the 3-day weekend camping excursion with an emphasis on live roots music. Original organizers probably never imagined a lap top computer would headline the coveted Saturday night slot.
“The organizers of Bonaroo saw our kind of festival as doing well so they said we’re going to make a mega-festival,” Puryear said. “They succeeded in intimating that and now you have massive events like Electric Forrest.”
Women like men who can fix things. They almost always love a man who plays guitar. Puryear not only wields a mean guitar and fiddle but his game with a wrench and ¾ inch socket is strong. He continues this journey because he cherishes his role as a performer in creating an opportunity for all people to be part of something larger than themselves.
“The feeling is hard to describe sometimes,” Puryear said. “But a show is still about this one thing where the music is really happening and anybody who is there, or within listening distance, can be a part of it. That’s the most amazing thing.”
Donna the Buffalo wsg Big Dudee Roo April 16 at The Intersection
The Venue: sectionlive.com
The Herd: donnathebuffalo.com
Thursday, July 9, 2015
At one time the mention of amplified harmonica was considered wild and far out. Little Walter and Snooky Pryor experimented with the idea, always looking for the newest thing. No one threw a parade either when they started using tremolo and inserting country & western themes in blues music to make rock-n-roll. But that’s exactly what Chuck Berry and Bo Diddly did--and you know how they are revered today. Although heavily steeped in West coast jump blues tradition, guitarist Rick Holmstrom is of similar ilk. The unassuming Holmstrom is always reaching for the outer limits of the musical Milky Way.
The impetus for Rick Holmstrom’s genre expanding 2002 Hydraulic Groove release, featuring DJ Logic and loops de jour, was found in the making of RL Burnside’s Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (2000), which his band had just worked on.
“On the Burnside disc they asked us to listen to Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” and Otis Redding’s version too,” Holmstrom told #TMGR. “Then they asked us to play a version of all that. The producers cut it up, made loops out of it and other crazy stuff, and then had RL sing on top of it. I still like that disc. They kept the tones and grittiness of what we did but boosted it up with hip-hop production values.”
“We decided to try the same type of thing with my stuff. I’m influenced by Pee Wee Crayton. So let’s make something that sounds kind of bizarre using electronica and a Pee Wee Crayton idea. That’s how we came up with the song ‘Pee Wee’s Nightmare.’”
Guitarist Rick Holmstrom leads the Mavis Staples band when they appear as part of the Sweet Soul Harmony tour stopping July 9 at Frederik Meijer Gradens.
Blues music purists can be some of the most intolerant listeners. If you ain’t playing “Sweet Home Chicago” they’re heading for the exit. As you might expect Hydraulic Groove was met with indifference at best.
“For me it was a fun chance to push myself,” Holmstrom said. “I never claimed that it was trying to progress the blues or anything like that. I was just trying to do something creative. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing anyway, creating something not just recreating?"
As fate would have it there was a sliver lining to all of this. An associate of Holmstrom’s who helped work on that record went on to a future in artist management.
“One of the guys who worked at Tone Cool records (label for Groove), Dave Bartlett, is now Mavis Staples’ manager. Mavis was his first client. I would have never got the Mavis gig if I hadn’t done that record.”
Holmstrom says a big portion of him landing this current job has a lot to do with his willingness to bend rules and think outside the box. In true big picture form he says Hydraulic and the RL Burnside effort might have attracted music fans to the blues who might have otherwise dismissed it.
“There’s a valid argument against doing it,” Holmstrom said of adding hip-hop to blues. “The criticism of that record was not even half the amount of the good things that happened as a result. I think it widens the umbrella that much more.”
Rick Holmstrom appears with Mavis Staples in the Sweet Harmony Soul tour July 9 @ Meijer Gardens.
Rick Holmstrom website: rickholmstrom.com/
Friday, June 26, 2015
For Mark Gamsjager, guitarist and singer of the Lustre Kings, work life is pretty good right now. His Albany NY-based rockabilly band gigs about 150 dates a year. The versatile unit performs club dates, concerts, and festivals and supplements the rest with weddings and special events. Throw in a newly recorded Luster Kings CD and you can say he is already living the life of a King.
“I manage the band and I have a day job as a school bus driver,” Gamsjager said. “Other than that I work on my guitar playing and singing which keeps me busy.”
The Lustre Kings bring their heralded brand of East Coast rockabilly to Grand Rapids on June 26 in an 8pm show at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
Gamsjager is the first to admit he’s not been much of a songwriter. Performing pure DNA songs from the lexicon of American music is really where he’s at.
“My hat is off to anyone who can write quality material,” Gamsjager said. “But there’s so much bad stuff out there too. Maybe I’m not giving myself enough credit to try it. I just don’t have time to sit down and write 12 or 14 songs like they’re all going to be great.”
The latest CD by the group, Go Green, came out in May. Gamsjager explains how the title and material contained therein by Big Joe Turner, Johnny Horton, plus a new version of Sleepwalk, are essentially re-purposed.
“Basically I wanted to do a CD of tunes that we do live at a show,” he said. “Every time we play these songs people always ask for them, so we recorded a couple. In a way they’re kind of like recycled songs.”
You might be surprised to learn that Elvis-mania is alive and well all over the world, almost like to it never went away. Every year in January the Lustre Kings embark on a month-long Elvis Birthday Bash Tour.
“I’ve been into this kind of music since I was a kid,” Gamsjager said. “It’s ingrained in me. I am also a big fan of Chuck Berry and the blues."
Gamsjager has figured out that audiences want to hear what they’ve already heard from the band whether they’re original songs or not. But he admits it is hard work when trying to spruce up the already nattily attired.
“Overall I’d rather record and perform good songs,” Gamsjager said. “There’s a craft to that. I’m not trying to change the world I’m just trying to entertain the best way I know how.”
The Lustre Kings wsg Truckstop Cobras, 8pm, Friday @ Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
FB Event Page: www.facebook.com/events/923665154366758/
Lustre Kings website: www.lustrekings.com/
Thursday, June 11, 2015
Maybe it wasn’t the biggest shock for Dennis Gruenling to find his likeness pasted on the cover of a new Hohner Marine Band Crossover harmonica box, their latest in high performance harps. They would have already seen him around the office or over in Quality Assurance.
“I’ve been playing Hohner’s since day one, literally,” Gruenling said during a recent tour stop in West Virginia. “I tried others during my first years playing but I kept going back to the Marine Band.”
So now without ever hearing a note you might surmise how Dennis Gruenling, sought-after music instructor and part-time radio host, has the tools to make a run at a spot on the short list of Harp Players to Watch.
Gruenling appears with Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones, one of the very best swing and traditional jump blues bands, in a show Saturday at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
Ahead of the curve for certain, Gruenling came up ordering and playing specialty low key harmonicas designed by harp historian and technician Joe Filisko. Hohner recently released a line of low key harmonicas similar to Filisko’s customization. Gruenling is a product tester for the German company and helped with the design of this new Thunderbird series.
“I’ve been playing low tune harps since before my first record in 1999,” Gruenling said. “No one else was even making them back then. I had Filisko custom make me those harps before you could get them anywhere.”
Greunling is all things harmonica if you hadn’t already noticed. But wait, there's more. If you look closely on Saturday you’ll notice the chrome microphone he uses to amplify his instrument. He probably refurbished it himself at some point as part of a side business he runs. Gruenling got into restoring these 1940s-era vintage “bullet” microphones, like the Astatic brand, almost out of necessity.
“When I was first on the scene I bought a microphone from this guy and it didn’t work that well so I kind of got ripped off a little bit,” Gruenling said. “I think because I was so mad at getting ripped off I started looking out for and collecting them. I have hundreds of old vintage microphones. I started repairing them for myself and now I have customers worldwide like Kim Wilson (The Fabulous Thunderbirds), Charlie Musselwhite, and Tom Waits.”
According to Dennis Gruenling, in a fitting gesture, Joe Filisko’s face is purported to grace the covers of the new Thunderbird harmonica box. These guys will say it’s all about nothing but, really, how cool is that?
“It’s kind of like getting your picture on a box of Wheaties,” Gruenling said with a laugh. “Whatever happens I’d still be playing a Hohner no matter what.”
Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones w/ Dennis Gruenling, 8pm, Saturday @ Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill
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