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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Twilight Saga: New Moon movie has TMGR relative

TMGR has learned that a relative of the publisher of this blog portrays the human werewolf character Sam Uley in the new hit movie The Twilight Saga: New Moon. Actor Chaske Spencer (second from left) has recently appeared in the movie 'Skins. He is originally from Lewiston, Idaho but his mother is from Montana with relatives in Michigan and Kansas. He moved to New York to study acting during his freshman year at college. Tidbit: His mother called up a relative to ask them to try to talk Chaske out of a cross-county hitchhiking trip he was on when Chaske turned up at the relative's home in MT.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Exclusive: R.J. Mischo at Cow Pie Blues 2010

TMGR is reporting that Fayetteville, Arkansas-based harp player R.J. Mischo and his band will be appearing at the 2010 Cow Pie Blues Festival held annually in August in Caledonia MI. Earlier R.J. had to scrap a late spring/early summer tour completely--one that would have stopped in Grand Rapids--because of a lack of gigs. It's nice to see when artists from down South are able to string enough dates together to get here and back home again. Check out

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Morris Dees at Grand Rapids Community College on Wed Dec. 9

Famed civil rights activist Morris Dees speaks at Grand Rapids Community College on Dec. 9 part of the Diversity Lecture Series 2009. Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center which was responsible for integrating the all-white Montgomery Alabama YMCA in 1969, speaks in Fountain Street Church at 7:00 pm. As an attorney Dees was one of the principal architects of an innovative strategy of using civil lawsuits to secure a court judgment for money damages against an organization for a wrongful act and then use the courts to seize its assets (money, land, buildings, other property) to pay the judgment. Dees' legal actions against racial nationalist groups have made him a target of criticism (to say the very least) from many of these organizations. He has received numerous death threats from these groups, and a number of their web sites make strong accusations against him and the Southern Poverty Law Center. More recently Dees obtained a judgment of $12 million against Tom Metzger's White Aryan Resistance. He was also instrumental in securing a $6.5 million judgment against Aryan Nations in 2001. Dees' most famous cases have involved landmark damage awards that have driven several prominent neo-Nazi groups into bankruptcy, effectively causing them to disband and re-organize under different names and different leaders. He is expected to talk about the resurgence of hate groups across the US since the Obama administration took office. Dees was most recently at Grand Valley State University in early 2000.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Bill Lupkin at Billy's in Grand Rapids Fri Nov 27

Bill Lupkin along with his brother Steve Lupkin have been playing harp-based Chicago blues for 30 years. Amplified harp man Bill and bass playing Steve have deep roots in the vibrant Windy City scene with people like Jimmy Rogers, Johnny Littlejohn, and Junior Wells. Between the two of them they have played and shared the stage with just about all of the old-school greats from that city. The brothers played the classic Chicago neighborhood blues bars like the north end Wise Fool's Pub ('71 with Buddy Guy), Ma Bea's on the gritty west side (with Howlin' Wolf), and the famed Pepper's Lounge on South State Street. Bill has performed with Muddy Waters (Wise Fool's '70) and Fred Below (Europe '69). Indiana native Lupkin made somewhat of a career within the relatively short commute to Chicago by gigging with the heavy cats. He knows his stuff and can back it up with a rich, fat toned harp. He's on the roster of Chicagoan Nick Moss' Blue Bella record label with a CD called Hard Pill to Swallow. This show features a guitarist who has played with Moss and a drummer formerly of the Junior Wells band. (Picture by Kate Moss at Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Los Lobos at Goshen College (IN) Nov. 21: Acoustic Brilliance

Thirty-five years and still going strong, this Grammy® Award winning band has captivated fans around the world. The band’s evolving styles are influenced by traditional Spanish and Mexican music, rock and roll, R&B, folk and country. Rolling Stone magazine confirms its relevance: “With the exception of U2, no other band has stayed on top of its game as long as Los Lobos.”

Los Lobos has recently taken their world-class traditional acoustic presentation, or their folklorico set, to some big names in higher education : Humboldt State University (CA), Michigan State University (Wharton Center), UCLA; early next year finds the band at Duke, the University of Alabama, and Mississippi State U. It seems fitting somehow that the Lobos set of traditional Mexican folk music would find its way into the halls of academia because, after all, this presentation is of Smithsonian Museum-grade caliber hence its still-vital educational value. Equal parts history lesson, language seminar, and music appreciation, this close-to-the-heart show was multicultural long before the term was even coined; the always cultural Lobos have been singing these songs since day one of their storied career. The use of traditional instrumentation like bajo sexto, tres, and guitarron only serves to add authenticity. So when the band lands at Sauder Music Hall on the campus of Goshen College in Indiana on Saturday Nov. 21, the Lobos will be among familiar performance hall confines. The acoustic show is seen more rarely than Lobos in-demand electric set. Just the four original members onstage at first but the night will also include at some point Steve Berlin on saxophone with Cougar Estrada on percussion. Acoustic Lobos opened up for The Chieftains (or as Dave Hidalgo put it that night "Los Chieftains") for a series of shows in 2000 which included a stop at the Meadowbrook Music Festival (Oakland University, Rochester MI). This presentation has the ability to make you rethink and reconsider how music can and should be played. (Meijer Gardens photo courtesy of Pamela Troyer) More Goshen College info at:

All things Los Lobos: http://loslobos.setlist.com/
and http://www.loslobos.org/site/

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Medeski, Martin & Wood in Grand Rapids at the Intersection Nov. 18

20 years ago Whitesnake made it cool for macho tough guys to sing along with a hard rock ballad--in front of their girlfriends no less. 10 years later Medeski, Martin & Wood made it good for hippies to go hear a jazz band and really listen. As you know true music lovers appreciate most all types of music evenly, so this is a show for them. The long jamming (read The Dead) and improvisation of MMW is what many hippies flock to, an aspect that was lifted directly from American jazz. For those seeking, they can get the best of both worlds at a MMW show: songs that aren't performed the same way from night to night; tie dye; modern forward-looking sounds; cute patchouli sprinkled hippie chicks. All of that adds up to a solid live performance; glimpses of briliance which were seen as far back as spring 2001, which was the year MMW played the Kalamazoo State Theatre to a crowded throng of mostly college age people. During that particular show percussionist Billy Martin played flattened metal pieces as percussion in retrospect could have been tile. Keyboardist John Medeski has recorded with gospel pedal-steel star Robert Randolph in a band called The Word and more recently appeared on hard-core jazz saxophonist James Carter's 2009 CD Heaven on Earth. Double bassist Chris Wood gigs with his brother Oliver in a acoustic blues/folk format-which also defies tidy description-appropriately called The Wood Brothers. A jam band in the MI area now covers their song "Bubblehouse" (Back Forty). www.sectionlive.com for more details.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Wood Brothers May 21 House of Blues Cleveland: Past, Present & Future of American Music

In some record stores the Wood Brothers, Oliver (l) and Chris (r), find their CDs filed under the broad folk category. But the show the Woods turned in on May 21 at the House of Blues in downtown Cleveland was anything but introspective. The 200 seat Cambridge Room, adorned in medieval decor, was perfect for an impressive intimate performance consisting of heart felt, soul laden acoustic blues--many of them originals. The wholesome sound of the Wood Brothers live is organic and natural but with perhaps a dash of preservative for good measure. The set on a wonderful Ohio night by the lake featured songs from their 2008 release Loaded (Blue Note). "Don't let me fall too fast, I want to fall slowly, I want my fall to last," sang vocalist Oliver Wood who soon had the folks who were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the palm of his hand. On "Fall Too Fast" his voice possessed an aged quality and youthful innocence sounding both vintage and in-step. Bassist Chris Wood is more than technically proficient on his instrument (he of jazz jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood), showed more grit, fire, and soul that first imaginable. Intent on showing they are no flukes when it comes to exploring the deep well spring that is American music, the Woods unleashed a rousing gospel version of "You Never Can Pray Enough," which had the more zealous of the believers swaying tie dye in the aisle. The blues roots showed early and often with a stunning reading of "Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor"(Mississippi John Hurt). "Postcards From Hell," which according to Oliver is purportedly about a guy who "plays in a chicken coop" featured Chris Wood getting out the bow for his bass fiddle. Not to be outdone by anyone in the Cleveland area, the Woods whipped out a Beck cover for good measure. The boys also did a song for their mother who had recently passed. "Lovin' Arms" must make Mrs. Wood awfully proud somewhere. Their sounds alternated from jazzy to folky and back to bluesy seamlessly. Initially Oliver had been playing a National steel guitar but he got out an acoustic for "Liza Jane," a song featured on their most recent effort Up Above My Head (Sister Rosetta Tharpe). In the Wood Brothers ever-capable hands this New Orleans stalwart sounded fresh, loose, and invigorated. Next up was "Chocolate on My Tongue" from the release Ways Not To Lose; about this time the vibe was getting good, of course, just as things were winding down. "Fixing a Hole" contained an attention-grabbing bass solo from Chris. The Wood Brothers live far apart in real life and only get to see each other at these shows. Here's to the whole Wood family; hope you can get together more often in the near future. Chris Wood appears with Medeski, Martin & Wood at the Intersection in Grand Rapids on Nov. 18. Check www.sectionlive.com for more details.

Kim Wilson Blues Revue at the Livery Oct. 25: Little Walter Rides Again

At the Livery brewery in Benton Harbor on Sunday Oct. 25 Kim Wilson demonstrated once more why remains atop the modern blues harmonica scene with an exceptional late afternoon performance. The second set of the show started with an audience request for Little Walter’s “Juke.” While this oft-requested tune has seen the miles, in the hands of Wilson and company it still breathes real life; they wasted not a single note impressing the small but engaged crowd. This edition of the Kim Wilson Blues Revue turned out to be such a tight collection of first-rate players that they perceptively know just what tune they’ll do next by the time Kim begins to count off. During the course of the show just a nod from Kim or some brief eye contact, and the band was off into the next number. Audiences get their money's worth each night as Wilson wastes no time between the end of a song and the beginning of the next, ala Van Morrison. Only first-rate musicianship allows Wilson to cut a wide swath in order to uncover all the elements of true blues music; songs and styles that may go by the wayside with Wilson’s other band, the guitar forward Fabulous Thunderbirds. Featuring Barrelhouse Chuck allowed Wilson to delve further into the deep history of Chicago piano blues reminiscent of keyboardists like Sunnyland Slim, Lafayette Leake, and Otis Spann. If there was one thing this lineup was assembled for it is Wilson’s overlooked instrumental harp extended jam workouts. These jams, often on the chromatic harmonica and sometimes solo, are a true privilege of seeing Kim and company in such a small place. There is no mistaking the influence of Little Walter on Wilson, as Kim was asked to perform all the Little Walter parts for the 2009 motion picture Cadillac Records. But on the chromatic Wilson conjures up in real time the ghost of William Clarke, who as you know was one of the best ever on this particular harp. Wilson again chose the right band for this short tour as evidenced by Kim letting each of his players shine in their individual light. Early on in the set guitarist Billy Flynn got the nod to get out the slide for authentic sounding renditions of Elmore James (Shake Your Moneymaker) and Leroy Carr (Blues before Sunrise). Proclaiming that they as a band “love Jimmy Rogers,” Kim and friends furnished a modified modern version of “That’s All Right.” Little Frank showed off the subtle style that has landed him work with Hubert Sumlin. Kenny Smith proved once again why he got the call for this gig; he’s soft and creative when Kim solos and hits hard on some of the up-tempo pieces. He is one to watch (Kim said it in a word: “wicked”). Of all the great harp players working today, Musselwhite, Estrin, Hummel, and Piazza, Kim is the one with the most signature sound, style, and presentation. He looks just as comfortable without a harp in hand all while sweating out a soulful vocal number by Little Milton. Wilson is either gracious, yes, or just smart enough to let his band do their work. At times he’d walk over to be near Chuck during one of his keyboard solos as if being three feet closer would garner more vibe; apparently so, because it looked like he was really feeling it. Speaking of a solo solo, that was our encore at the Livery. Just Kim alone: a man, his harp, and an amp. After that Kim got his children up to play, Steven and Hunter (on guitar and bass), for some great Sunday-type of family atmosphere. All the superlatives now applied: exciting showman, star bandleader, authentic bluesman, and Dad.(Photos courtesy of Alan Bartlett)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kim Wilson Blues Revue at The Livery (Benton Harbor) Oct. 25

If there was one blues/roots musician who can get the most out of the best players of a genre it has to be Kim Wilson. When not fronting the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Wilson executes a true-to-form time honored jump blues project that is without peer. Already we've seen Kim record (My Blues, pictured) with guitarists Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, and Rusty Zinn, along with pianist Fred Kaplan, and the dream team rhythm section of bassist Larry Taylor and drummer Richard Innes (both formerly with Canned Heat). When last in the area the Blues Revue employed as back up Doug Deming and the Jeweltones plus regional lead guitar legend Steve "The Snake" Nardella. Kim continues the fine tradition of featuring stellar musicianship when he appears next at the Livery in Benton Harbor on Sunday Oct. 25. For this gig Kim will be playing with some of Chicagoland's finest players, including guitarist Little Frank (Hubert Sumlin), guitarist Billy Flynn (Mississippi Heat), pianist Barrelhouse Chuck (Nick Moss & the Fliptops), bassist Bob Stroger (Pinetop Perkins, Lester Davenport), and pocket timekeeper Kenny "Beady Eyes" Smith (Ken Saydak, Rockin' Johnny Band) who is the son of blues drum royalty Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (Muddy Waters). Both Stroger and Smith won Living Blues magazine's 2009 Living Blues award for Most Outstanding Musician on their respective instruments. Check http://liverybrew.com for more details.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Root Doctor Members on the Move

TMGR has learned that two members of Lansing-based Root Doctor will be leaving the band in November. Guitarist Greg Nagy leaves to pursue solo projects with his trio The Greg Nagy Band and organist Jim Alfredson departs to focus attention on his jazz funk outfit Organissimo.According to sources the split is amicable and understandable. Look for the Root Doctor at Billy's in Grand Rapids on Sat. Oct. 10 while Nagy and company appear at the club on Oct. 30.

Friday, July 3, 2009

TMGR Exclusive: The Fabulous Thunderbirds at The Livery (Benton Harbor MI) in August

The Fabulous Thunderbirds are set to play the 4th anniversary celebration of The Livery Brewery in Benton Harbor. TMGR has learned that the group, led by phenomenal harp player and soul singer Kim Wilson (pictured), will be appearing the weekend of August 15 for two shows (tentatively Friday the 14th and Saturday the 15th). TMGR will confirm the dates soon.

Monday, June 8, 2009

The Winchester-Grand Rapids

On our most recent visit to one of Grand Rapids' newest gastro pubs TMGR was generously offered the opportunity to sample The Winchester's signature frog legs with mango mustard sauce (good sauce but in our humble opinion it could have used a tad more gourmet Dijon mustard). It was prepared well with a light batter encasing tender succulent frog leg and thigh. The frog legs were said to have come from "Smyrna." We washed it down with one of Northern Michigan's finest hand-crafted brews, a pint of Short's Brewing Company (Bellaire MI) Bellaire Brown. Add a non-smoking atmosphere, throw in a Red Wings shut-out victory and there is practically no way to go wrong. Make it your first stop on the next Red Wings playoff game night. The Winchester is located at 648 Wealthy St SE.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Nomad Willy at Billy's Lounge 5/16

Nomad Willy is a blues band born of the open mic night at the Intersection nightclub last summer. The core members of Willy were frequent participants who backed up jam hosts Jimmie Stagger and Hank "The Hawk" Mowery. They play a good mix of blues, rock, funk and soul as witnessed by TMGR at the Point Bar on Grand Rapids' west side in March. Nomad Willy features the phenomenal Molly B on vocals. Molly is a natural when it comes to engaging an audience and holding their attention with her beauty and voice. She looks to B incomparable if not unstoppable. Come see for yourself when Nomad Willy plays Billy's Lounge on Saturday May 16. The buzz from music lovers about these guys and gal has always been positive. And it would seem that their schedule reflects this as Nomad Willy looks to be busy with public dates throughout the summer.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Hank Mowery w/ Count Bracey & the Pleasuretones at Billy's 5/9

According to their website, Count Bracey & the Pleasuretones "play traditional and jump blues with the authenticity of an uncut diamond and the seriousness of a well timed left-hook." (Maybe it was a Manny Pacquiao sort of well-timed left hook like the one that recently dropped Brit Danny Hatton) But to hear drummer Chris "Count" Bracey tell it all, the American jump blues treasure as we've grown to know and love it may be on the ropes and is the one headed for a KO. How could this be? You mean this valuable slice of cool Americana--sweet like bowling shirts for guys and sweater sets for the gals--could be headed for demise? Ain't that a shame to say goodbye to dark service station Dickie's-style shirts and the flip hairdo. All fashion aside, a good jump blues band can be engagingly visual with the bass player slapping a big acoustic bass, the guitar player playing a vintage hollow-body guitar out of a crusty old amp. Sorry if this seems like we're rehashing nostalgia but this officially timeless music of America most steeped in all the important roots musics: country, rockabilly, Western swing; the spawn of the blues that became rock and roll. There is an art to playing behind a harmonica player, like Hank "The Hawk" Mowery (above right), so it would appear Bracey and company have it going on. See for yourself when harp-meister Mowery plus Bracey & The Pleasuretones play at Billy's Lounge on Saturday May 9. "You have to listen to the harp player, see where he's going and try not to out play him. It helps to find the groove," explains Bracey. For all their demonstrable talent it seems that today's blues crowd would more prefer to hear a Stevie Ray Vaughn cover, "Brown Eyed Girl,"or better yet, another semi-all right version of "Mustang Sally." Could it be that the paying crowd would rather settle for the songs/artists that they've been programmed to like? Programmed, i.e. brainwashed courtesy of Clear Channel & Regent repetitious programming. "People get in a rut with the music they hear. The only music they know is what they hear on mainstream radio and that isn't the stuff we play. If people listened more to jump blues the more they would like it," Bracey suggests. This type of blues has been around for decades ever since people like Texan T-Bone Walker headed west for work opportunities and infused their deep blues and Texas swing with cool California jazz. Bracey is a minimalist, in a sense, with his drumming style: an extra stripped-down kit with just a bass drum, snare, hi-hat, and one ride cymbal. This arrangement forces the particular drummer to be more inventive with fills (most often on the cone of the cymbal or the rim and side of the drum) and more steady with the beat (also using right hand on snare), something not all drummers are capable of nor inclined. But come to find out, Bracey only started this formation when fronting his own group so that the audience may better see him sing and play (plus he couldn't get the rest of his drums in the crowded car on gig night). Bracey's love of this music came by quite honestly, through his jazz studies in the now-defunct music program at Jackson Community College. "I was never a phenomenal jazz drummer. But because other drummers in the program weren't reliable enough to show up for class I got to play at least twice a day, once with the jazz group and once with the big band; that helped my playing immensely. I wish I had that to do all over again," notes Bracey from his home near Grass Lake MI. Even at that location, Bracey can't get a gig at the local Jackson "blues" bar probably because his group isn't loud enough to be heard over the chatter. The Pleasuretones set includes a smattering of more mainstream artists like The Fabulous Thunderbirds and includes tunes from the T-Birds early catalog, which is pure rock and roll, such as "Wait on Time," and "Rock With Me," plus "Baby, Scratch My Back." If Bracey had his way, his group would sound more like Wynonnie Harris, Roy Milton & his Solid Senders, Louis Prima, and Louie Jordan, among other giants of the jump genre. "I've always liked Billy's. They have a good, appreciative crowd. And they like to dance and dance, man," says Bracey with a laugh. "That's cool, more than enough motivation right there."

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Horns A-Many: Hip Pocket at Billy's 4/25

Bands with horn sections used to be all the rage from local guys Newt & the Salamanders to national touring act Roomful of Blues and every manner of crazy ska/reggae band in between ( bop Harvey, Daddy Long Legs). Although those days seem long ago, newer bands like JJ Grey & MOFRO carry at least two horns. But the bottom line is that when the economy goes raspberries the horns are the first to go. But for Phil Marsh's local horn-enriched 10 piece band Hip Pocket the lack of competition has its advantages. "Not having those bands around is good for us in a way," says Marsh during a break from his end-of-semester chores as adjunct professor of jazz guitar at Grand Valley State University. "There are a couple of reasons why there aren't too many around anymore. For instance, if you have more than one horn in a band you need a horn arrangement. And while it may seem basic it needs to be legible so the players can actually read it. Some people don't like to the put time into that. The arrangement has to include the rhythm section as well. Everybody has to be on the same page, making sure particular solos are a certain length every time. The more complex the arrangement the more critical it is for a good rhythm section be on board." Hip Pocket strives for the crisp brass & reeds of Tower of Power, the soul of Earth, Wind & Fire, the funk of James Brown, Motown, and the Dave Matthews jazzy sound. Dave Matthews, you say? "Dave Matthews is music unto itself and stylistically his own in that you know who it is right away when you hear it," explains Marsh. "We fatten up the voicings for the horns on those songs. From the rhythmic standpoint Dave Matthews is challenging and that's what we like about them," says Marsh noting that the HP set includes DMB songs Stay (Wasting Time) and Too Much plus some of his earlier work. "Certain jam bands could use an arrangement or two but it takes a lot of discipline. I feel you lose a certain necessary edge in not having an arrangement and that the sound gets dull night after night because it's not the same. They start to play a lot of 'fill' as a result." The Hip Pocket must be doing something right; they stay busy year round with fund-raising event shows (Gilda's Club) and corporate gigs (GR Hoops event pictured), both of which affords HP the luxury of repeat customers year after year. "Corporate gigs can be lucrative. We're there to create a specific vibe and to exhibit a certain amount of professionalism," notes Marsh. "They will compensate us well to make the whole thing successful and we're definitely into that."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

The Concussions: Magic Fingers

The unearthly opening song for The Concussions most recent release, Magic Fingers (the name reminds me of a great but weird mechanic I once knew), sounds like the theme music from some late night, 1960s Abbie-normal sci-fi television series. The Invasion of the Closed-Head Injury Guys comes to mind. "Think Pink" sounds like what would be on the turntable during a game of naked Twister beach bingo on 'shrooms back in the day. "All Skate" takes us back to the more innocent days of roller skating on Friday nights. You know, the song that came on for the couples skate which found the girl you asked looking like she'd rather enjoy sharp shards of glass in her fountain drink than skate alone with your geeky ass (she only gives in because her Mom is giving her the eyeball from the sidelines). Yeah, thanks for the memories. Bill Vits drumming is spot on and, more importantly, never too loud. Great example of ensemble playing by everyone. Danny Barber on trumpet is heard on "Stiletto" which is instrumentally reminiscent of Dick Dale & the Del-Tones "Miserlou" (which the C-HIG's do rousingly in performance). The Concussions have established themselves as one of the U.S. prominent surf bands alongside the esteemed likes of The Volcanoes, The Trashmen, and Los Straightjackets (whose members sometimes appear locally with part of The Concussions crew as The b/sides and The Neanderthals). A warm fuzzy sound quality permeates Fingers courtesy of the analog production at Goon Lagoon Studios. So come on in, take off your skin and rattle around in your bones with The Concussions. Next time you too will wish you'd worn a helmet. Magic Fingers is available at http://theconcussions.com/

Monday, March 30, 2009

Gaelic Storm at the Intersection 3/19

"...Russell Crowe is an ***hole..." Wow. What's up with that? Certainly more than a few attendees at the The Intersection's presentation of Canadian Celtic band Gaelic Storm on March 19 were left to wonder. But for many among Gaelic Storm's hearty Celtic fan base, they knew exactly what singer Patrick Murphy was blathering on about. It seems GS had written a song about an incident between Murphy and the Gladiator actor in which fisticuffs arose and things ended up with Maximus catching one in the jaw (The Night I Punched Russell Crowe). Gaelic Storm's niche is rollicking sing-along, audience participation numbers, and songs about drinking; and then later more songs about drinking. Fair enough. Sure, most of the songs were in the same tempo and rhythm. Still there is an organic natural quality to what they do, although the patter in between songs went on for what amounted to the length of another short song. To some the foreign accent thing only goes so far and certainly does not in total swap for another quick song. New Jersey-born Ryan Lacey was an absolute standout for the band this night playing a stripped-down percussion kit with some serious hand drumming on "The Scalliwag" ; the biggest piece of his kit was a conga. No wonder: Lacey twice graduated from the Los Angeles Music Academy, once for hands and the other for sticks. Jessie Burns on fiddle was noteworthy. Playing selections from their 2008 release What's the Rumpus?, GS showed just how worldly they have become (an appearance in the 1997 movie Titanic didn't hurt either) by incorporating traditional instruments from all around the world into their set. To wit: Guitarist Steve Twigger also played the bouzouki (The Beggarman); Pete Purvis played the traditional pipes, bagpipe, flute (Death Ride to Durango), plus the trombone (If Good Times Were Dollars); guitarist Murphy played accordion as well. "Darcy's Donkey" sported a spoon solo. "Kelly's Wellies" contained a memorable line about an earnest young man getting his groove on and how "he was trying to flirt in his hand-me-down shirt." You can't blame a guy for trying. The Intersection continues to bring in quality music rooted in tradition-whatever tradition it may be-from the vast world-wide stage.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Benefit for L.C. Davis at Diamond Ave. Hall Saturday 3/21

Benefit party for L.C. Davis to offset medical costs at the venerable St. Isidore Casino, 435 Diamond Ave. NE in Grand Rapids on March 21. Music by West Michigan piano legend Lew Russ. Food by former owners of the Grand River Saloon and Rhythm Kitchen Cafe. $10 suggested donation (does not cover donation for food). Cash bar.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tad Robinson: Soul Under Fire

Admittedly (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way) Indiana soul blues man Tad Robinson has played gigs at some dangerous, rough and tumble places in Gary IN and on the west side of Chicago. But nothing could have prepared Robinson for the excitement (if you will) of playing the Middle East in a war zone. And that's exactly what happened when Tad and his band visited Israel this past January during the latest Palestinian/Israeli Gaza Strip dust up. They had to play their show in a bomb shelter. "The local authorities would only let us go on after the club owner moved the show to an underground bunker/parking garage. We were definitely in range of Hamas missiles. At first we were worried about a low turnout," Robinson recalls from his home in the Indianapolis area. "But the people had been cooped up in their apartments for almost a week so they were willing to venture out. And a missile did hit outside on the street as we were finishing up. It was sad there was a war but overall things went pretty good." Tad Robinson plays the finale of the Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's on Feb. 28 in support of his recent release, A New Point of View (Severn). The disc (though not this appearance) features the guitar of Alex Schultz who is long known as the preeminent West coast jump blues player for his work with William Clarke and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. "Alex played with William Clarke on the "Must Be Jelly" recording which was blues record of the year that year. He had a choice between Clarke and Rod Piazza and chose Rod with Clarke's blessing. Alex replaced Junior Watson in the Mighty Flyers and everyone said that couldn't be done. But he did it and helped the guitar chair in that band become hallowed ground for all who came afterward, namely Rick Holmstrom (Mavis Staples)." But on A New Point of View, Schultz had to dig deep into his soul bag. "Alex and I have been lifelong friends. We grew up in New York digging the sounds of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. When he plays with me he gets to take on a different soulful role." Tad has been nominated in the Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year category for the 2009 Blues Music Awards (formerly the Handy Awards). He also plays harmonica and his oh-so-soulful singing voice has been described as having both "sandpaper and honey" qualities. The band he will bring on Saturday are some mates from Indy, Kevin Anker (keys) and Paul Holdman (guitar), plus phenomenal players from Chicago (well-versed in Tad's music) in bassist Harlan Terson (Dave Spector) and Marty Binder (Albert Collins & the Icebreakers, Ken Saydak) on drums. Tad has been busy establishing himself as a premier soul singer alongside the biggies: Curtis Salgado, Robert Cray, Doyle Bramhall, Darrell Nulisch, and Lou Pride. Robinson knows well how important it is to create your own niche. The niche that he has fashioned allows him to look farther afield for gigs when the music business is slow, like in January, hence the trip to Israel. During a time when gigs have been slowing down for some blues musicians, Robinson has a full slate of shows going into the summer including plans to head to Russia and Belgium in April, an enviable schedule he attributes to the aforementioned niche building. "European folks like the soul blues vibe. We have a pretty active touring circuit over there." Here's hoping the next trip overseas will be less eventful. "During the week we were there we got to see and hear how the average Joe on the street and Israeli intellectuals viewed this conflict," Robinson observes. "After a week the public attitude had changed considerably. It was an interesting peek into a different high stakes political environment."

The Kinsey Report at the Kalamazoo State Theatre 2/27

Chicago-based blues/rock band The Kinsey Report make a headline appearance in Kalamazoo this Friday Feb. 27 as part of the WRKR-FM 2009 Bud Blues Series. The Kinsey Report has previously appeared at the venerable State Theatre as an opening act for B.B. King. The Kinsey brothers have performed in the West Michigan area for many years. You may have seen them play at the Silver Cloud, 48 West, Martini's (now Billy's), and Blues on the Mall. They play Rosa's on West Armitage in Chicago on Saturday. The Kinsey Report consists of Donald Kinsey on vocals and guitar, with Ralph Kinsey on drums and Kenneth Kinsey on bass. Opening act is Harper. www.kazoostate.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Liz Mandeville: Conduit to the Blues

Ever the go-getter, Chicagoan Liz Mandeville related this tale to TMGR: "I woke up one day and said, 'What am I going to do if for some unforeseeable reason I am no longer able to sing? What am I going to do then?'" Come to find out Liz is of the rare breed who then goes out to find another style of music to play, one that relies heavily on serious instrumentation. In this case it was early Piedmont-style acoustic blues guitar. But not only did she learn it, she actually got good at it. Ever the songwriter, Liz even penned a couple of tunes while woodshedding with her guitar. In addition to the songwriting workshops she conducts around the country, she was nominated for Best Blues Songwriter of the Year 2008 by the American Roots Music Association. "Words are bridges to basic instincts; they make you want to know more," Mandeville notes from her home in Chicago. She counts the songs of Melissa Etheridge, Lucinda Williams, and Sheryl Crow among her songwriting inspirations. "They tell stories with their songs, of course and they're revelatory, but they have a hard edge to them to go along with their universality." Mandeville has been with the Earwig blues label for many years, and credits owner Michael Robert Frank with gentle prodding ever so often to get her to reinvent herself; to keep her moving forward musically and otherwise. The result: she is more than just an blues diva powerhouse with painting endeavors and music column writing to help round things out. "I'm an observer at the core. Through my songs the listener gets to see what I have seen and heard, be it in my voice, on my guitar, or through a painting. " A consummate entertainer with 20 years experience, she is sexy and sassy, a Mistress of Tasteful Bawdiness calling things out as they really are in the world. Nowadays Liz feels the need more than ever to connect on a deeper level with her audience in order to make the experience more worthwhile for all. "I'm there to make sure the happy animal comes out in people. I want to connect on a gut level. When I perform I want you to dance, to feel rhythm, to express yourself-to work up a good sweat. I want to conjure up the positive effect music can have the entire being," she says."After they have a couple of drinks, it's like okay, now we know each other. Now we trust each other. If I have it my way the audience will have access to everything I've experienced in my life," she continues. As for the approach she and her band use when working on songs for the set: "We try to reinvent the song to fit the band and then we work the groove. It's like a musical adventure. By doing songs differently each time we try to keep the feeling fresh and in the moment." Liz Mandeville and her world-class band The Blue Points will have you dancing and really feeling it deep on Saturday when they play the Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's in support of Liz's most recent release Red Top (Earwig). Mandeville has appeared in West Michigan previously at the Silver Cloud (GR), The B.O.B., Martini's (now Billy's), Winterfest (Grand Haven), and Creekfest (Newaygo). "I've seen a thousand performances. I've gone to check out people I might never go see just to see what it is about them, what is it that makes them so popular. Then I try to incorporate that into what I do. I try to provide the humor and sophistication. I'm really lucky to be doing what I'm doing."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Euforquestra at Founders Brewery 2/12

Euforquestra is a seven-member band who originally hails from Iowa City IA but who are now forced to admit they recently relocated to Fort Collins CO. Euforquestra, having recently opened for Eek-a-Mouse, plays a barrage of different styles: their material says they play Afro-beat/Reggae/Funk but later down the page it lists Afro-Caribbean and barnyard funk. I guess you can have it both ways; nothing get funkier than the barnyard at times. We'll see how adept they are at these musical adventures when Euforquestra plays at Founders on Thursday Feb. 12. They play in support of the release The Adventures of Glen Devey which at times sounds like that other famous Colorado dance band, Cabaret Diosa (at least the horns do, coupled with the world groove sensibility). The title track has a nice trance-like quality about it. "Medicine Bow Run" is the other good one and it sounds like Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom, the Green Eyed Soul era. Again, the seven-piece outfit appears to be a percussion powerhouse with dual horns and even the vibes. Can't go wrong like that. Progressive band, progressive booking. Check it out.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra at Founders Brewing 2/8-9

The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra will be making a live recording of their music for two consecutive nights, Feb 8th and 9th, between 5:30pm-7:30pm at Founders. The GRJO consists of Tim Froncek (drums), Steve Talaga (piano), and Paul Brewer (trombone) among many other fine local players. Admission is free. www.grjo.com

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Root Doctor at Billy's 2/6

The Lansing-based Root Doctor has been churning out their own trademark elixir of funk for 15 years now. Serious road dogs, the good Doctor has been traversing the land from Traverse City to Detroit and back with an occasional trip to the Nudie Blues festival (now defunct). They make a stop at Billy's Lounge in Eastown on Feb. 6. The Root Doctor's stalwart members are Freddie Cunningham (vocals) and James Williams (bass, vocals), and with the not-so-recent addition of Jim Alfredson (organ, vocals) and Greg Nagy (guitar, vocals) they now have some further songwriting credentials. Beyond that, what Alfredson and Nagy are able to bring to the band in both playing and presence is vital. There aren't too many bands who can still bring a crowd after 15 years at some of the same haunts. The key to the Root Doctor's sound is their connection to old school R & B (LTD's "Back in Love Again") and the Motown sound. For those of us who have lived in the state for so long it's easy to take the sounds of Detroit's West Grand Blvd for granted. Not so with the Root Doctor; their dance-floor-packing version of "I Can't Get Next To You" among others are worth the price of admission any night. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Motown records in 2009 than with a trip to see the only authentic practitioners of that quality, world renown vibe left, the Root Doctor. RD plays at Billy's in support of their latest CD, Live at the Cadillac Club.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nick Moss: Sparse Winter Blues

Like most of America, Chicago's Nick Moss is trying to tough out a long cold winter in slow economic times. And the talented guitar player ought to know first-hand how rough it is out there: Live entertainment along with the food service industry (bars, restaurants, catering) are usually the first to feel the effects of a tight budget. As imperative as it seems in the winter, for some getting out to see live music is a jaunt they might have to postpone for a month or two. For as in-demand as this young Chicago blues player has been for the past ten years, his have gigs slowed down a lot more this past year. "In the Midwest things grind to a halt in the winter. But this time my schedule slowed down back in October which is a whole month earlier than previous years. For the past ten years I would have weeks go by where I would be working a full schedule. Now I have three week layoffs with not one single gig," Moss says from his home near Chicago. Nick Moss and his outstanding band the Flip Tops will be doing their part to shake off the winter blahs when they appear at the WYCE-FM, West Michigan Blues Society, and Billy's Lounge presentation of the first Cabin Fever Blues Series of 2009 on Feb. 7. Although Moss has performed with Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Lynwood Slim, among others, it is the collective talent of his band which puts Nick above the rest. The Flip Tops consist of drummer Bob Carter (one of the best in the business, formerly of the Mighty Blue Kings), pianist/bassist Willie Oshawny (who could be a show all by himself), and Gerry Hundt on mandolin and guitar. Their muscular sound has a totally danceable rock and roll element but they can also finesse their way through the deep soul slower numbers. Look out for the stripped down portion of the show with Nick paired up with only one other band mate. Not all is a downer for Moss: He just firmed up an overseas trip to Riga, Latvia, and he has in the can the second installment of live recordings he did at Chan's Eggrolls & Jazz Chinese restaurant. Plus a 2009 Blues Music Awards nomination for Band of the Year, for an incredible third year in a row. With the cold month of January behind us, Moss looks ramp up for a month of gigs in February starting with a return appearance at Billy's, where previously the Flip Tops where the back up band for local harp player Hank "The Hawk" Mowery. In good times, Nick started his own record label, Blue Bella, where he recorded his own band along with Indiana harmonica master Bill Lupkin and blues mandolin player Gerry Hundt. "We're not a traditional label with a powerhouse roster or anything like that. For me it's more like a side project mostly for fun. Blue Bella is for recording the people whose music I think is worth something," Moss says modestly. Moss has performed previously in Grand Rapids at the Rhythm Kitchen Cafe (New Years Eve 2000), Blues on the Mall, and Celebration on the Grand. What you're in store for at Billy's on Saturday is the present and future of Chicago blues, the world renown brand of roots music that spawned rock and roll. "It will pick back up,"Moss says of the slowdown."Whenever we elect a new president there is an upswing of positive good-will that you can feel. We're just hoping to catch some of what is left of that while we're still slow on gigs. My booking agent tells me the summer festival season looks good for business. I'm looking forward to that."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Coming Soon: Interview with Chicago bluesman Nick Moss

Nick Moss and his band the Flip Tops appear at the inaugural Cabin Fever 2009 blues series at Billy's Lounge 2/7.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Interview with JJ Grey & MOFRO

JJ Grey seems to have it going on as of late. The certified soul singer and his sanctified southern soul review band MOFRO have been touring pretty steadily and there is some recent side work Grey just wrapped with producer Steve Berlin (Los Lobos). Grey even got to host his own roots music festival, the Blackwater Sol Revue in St. Augustine FL, the past two years. But the recent news that he sounds most excited about is the notable figure who lives down the road a piece from Grey’s Baldwin FL home: none other than Tim Tebow, quarterback of the 2008 national college football champion University of Florida Gators. For a self-proclaimed Florida college football nut this is about as cool as it gets. Grey’s funky lichen-hangin’- from-the-trees swamp soul, which are Southern as grits at the Waffle House, includes a rock/blues foundation complete with contemplative lyrics about developers cutting down all the woods behind your house that you and your brothers grew up in only to then have the owner let the property go to blight and sell it. They will probably roll up for their gig at the Intersection on Feb. 5 in a crusty (but not rusty since they're from FL) old Cadillac asking about a place to get some good chicken and fried okra. To understand just how Grey got to this point of success you must back seven years, to the beginning of his association with noted producer Dan Prothero, owner of Fog City Records, the Bay Area’s best soul funk outpost. Noted funk-miester Prothero ran the controls on Galactic’s first-ever studio release, Coolin’ Off, which is the first record Fog City ever did. Grey is grateful for all the good fortune that has come his way since he signed with Prothero.“Dan was the first person ever to offer me a record contract. He is the single biggest influence on who I am today. Playing, singing, you name it,” says Grey from a tour stop in Baton Rouge. With Grey arranging and writing all the music, he and Prothero created Orange Blossoms (Alligator), Grey’s 2008 release which he will be featuring on Thursday. Several songs on Blossoms can bring the funk (“WYLF,” "Everything Good is Bad") so this should be as entertaining it gets (MOFRO includes The Hurricane Horns). Of the several record companies who were in the running to release Orange Blossoms Grey picked Chicago-based Alligator records, the county's foremost roots music indie label. “I chose Alligator because of their philosophy that you don’t have to make all the money in the beginning of the record’s life cycle. Alligator has a rich history, thirty years, and they’re in it for the long haul. And they’ve been around so long for a reason. They have a back catalog that will withstand time. I hope that by being associated with that my records will have “legs” as well.”Grey is a multi-instrumentalist but equally adept at writing quality songs. He seems to have a natural knack for writing catchy hooks (the title track) which also tell a mostly complete story in less than five minutes. By his own unique definition, he counts Otis Redding, Tony Joe White, Toots Hibbert, and Jerry Reed among his favorite singer-songwriters.“The image of a singer-songwriter is an acoustic guitar, being introspective, not too loud, and without much groove. People don’t realize that James Brown was a great songwriter as well,” Grey notes.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Organissimo at Founders Brewery 1/17

The popular band Organissimo's jazzy-jam flavorings will be on full display during a rare Saturday evening appearance in Grand Rapids on Jan. 17. Lansing-based Organissimo found a home for a couple of consecutive months at Founders (the old place) in 2002. Since that time the band had been regulated to Thursday night appearances at Founders, so this being a Saturday gig is extra special. Organissimo has stayed busy since those early days of the now-legendary Boogaloo Sisters by recording CDs, accepting awards, and gigging where ever possible. They've also made headway into larger city markets like Chicago (Andy's Jazz Club), Philadelphia (The Philadelphia Museum of Art), Indianapolis (Jazz Kitchen), and even South Bend IN (Trio's, this past New Year's Eve). The band was even espoused upon by none other than Chicago Tribune music critic Howard Reich. So if you are looking for some Windy City grade entertainment this brisk winter evening, Founders is your place. The classic jazz trio is lead by Jim Alfredson on Hammond B-3 and Moog (he also plays with the Root Doctor), Joe Gloss on guitar, and a living legend in the West Michigan music scene (playing and instructing) on drums, Randy Marsh. An added plus at most Organissimo shows are the other heavy cats of the local music scene who show up to jam. Look to the packed dance floor for a rare sighting of the original Boogaloo Sisters. www.organissimo.org