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Friday, December 31, 2010

Los Straitjackets wsg The Concussions at Billy's Lounge Jan 1

Photo courtesy of the Sears Portrait Center
Good bands don’t have to come across as meaningful to have meaning. You can be meaningful if your sole purpose is to entertain. This is one thing Eddie Angel of the instrumental guitar quartet Los Straitjackets is willing to reveal to your un-masked face. According to guitarist Angel, rock ‘n’roll lost the way of fun around 1965. “There’s a good term for what we do--it’s called vintage entertainment,” Angel said from his home in Nashville. “We’re fans of the way entertainment was until the mid-1960s. Then it changed from entertainment to everybody getting on stage and singing about themselves. It’s a real simple idea that’s been lost.” In pursuit of this seemingly lost basic mission since 1995, Los Straitjackets have recorded 16 albums (including a Christmas collection) of instrumental surfs-up sounds pummeled with root equivalent rockabilly and garage rock. Their vibrato-rich chewy twang was featured on an entire blues album by Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater called Rock ‘n’ Roll City. One of their non-instrumental albums is called Sing Along With…and features guest vocals from Big Sandy, Raul Malo, Nick Lowe, and Dave Alvin. But according to Angel not every singer who agreed to be on the recording could make it in. “We had Joey Ramone lined up but then he got sick,” Angel said. “Brian Wilson (Beach Boys) was going to do it but then he got wishy-washy; he’d go back and forth. Brian’s a funny guy.” “But we’re big Beach Boys fans, “Angel continued. “Brian writes great songs. Their harmonies are amazing. It’s like ear candy.” In their Mexican wrestling masks Los Straitjackets might look like the space invaders from the crop circle movie Signs but they’re much less scary to listen to. “There’s a certain sensibility that says rock-n-roll should be fun—mainly,” Angel said, noting there is one Grand Rapids band who shares this entertainment-first thought. “They’re really good musicians,” Angel said of The Concussions, whose members play alongside Angel in a garage band called the Neanderthals. “It’s not that common (anymore) but they want it to be fun for everybody. And Tommy Schichtel is a good bass player,” Angel said of the Closed-Head Injury Crew guitarist. Link Wray and The Ventures are the biggest influence on Los Straitjackets, Angel admits. Angel was even tapped to provide the Wray-like vibe on a recording by pre-Stray Cats rockabilly revivalist Robert Gordon. Angel and company look forward to a return visit to West Michigan. “I really like Grand Rapids,” Angel said. “I think it’s a pretty cool rock ‘n’ roll scene.”
Los Straitjackets wsg The Concussions at Billy's Lounge on Sat Jan 1. Doors 8:30, show 9:30.
Visit Los Straitjackets MySpace page

Friday, December 17, 2010

New Riders of the Purple Sage at the Livery Friday 12/17

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 unclear whether this famous line by Ralph Waldo Emerson applies to a life that actually begins with a journey. But that’s how it happened for renowned pedal steel guitarist Buddy Cage of the New Riders of the Purple Sage. His musical trip began with a journey and an infamous one at that. By 1970 Cage had hooked up with Canadian duo Ian & Sylvia just as their influential country-rock group Great Speckled Bird was taking off. Before he knew it Cage and Great Speckled Bird were immortalized in the film Festival Express, a documentary about a traveling music festival of the same name by train across Canada. Also on the train were the Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Buddy Guy, and Delaney & Bonnie. During the shooting of the movie Jerry Garcia took a keen interest in the pedal steel guitar playing of Cage. Unbeknownst to Cage at the time Garcia was eyeballing him as a substitute for a new band Garcia was in called the New Riders of the Purple Sage. According to Cage, Garcia was becoming so busy that a sub made sense. “Garcia really tore into steel playing around 1969 and just went nuts with it,” Cage said. “He kept it up until NRPS put out a recording which is what they did in the day. Prior to that Jerry was just plunk-plunking around on the steel; he wasn’t that good at it. But during this time he was doing unbelievable shows playing acoustic guitar with (David) Nelson and a couple of the Riders but it was mostly Grateful Dead guys that formed an ad-hoc beginning set. Then they would switch to an electric New Riders country set and then they would switch over to the standard Grateful Dead two-sets which kept Jerry onstage for up to four and-a-half hours. Then that became too much even for Garcia. In the end NRPS were really getting good but Garcia wasn’t getting any better (on pedal steel). He was ready for someone to take the gig and I was the guy. Plus it was time for Garcia to go do serious work on Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty.”

The off-shoot band of the Grateful Dead then went on to tour extensively and record landmark albums like Oh, What a Mighty Time. In between all the craziness Cage was asked to record with Tommy James and the Shondells, fellow Canadian Anne Murray, and Bob Dylan. Something about Cage’s style of pedal steel playing attracted Dylan’s ear. Cage then recorded on perhaps Dylan’s most personal album Blood on the Tracks. "The stuff that I do is different than other people," Cage said. "That's what it's all about anyway--as an individual playing, right? On the Bob Dylan Blood on the Tracks stuff for instance, the cut "Meet Me in the Morning" defines a whole different way of steel playing. It was just something that I knew how to do. It wouldn't have fit with the Nashville sound of the day. They used asked me 'Why don't you move down to Nashville?' I would say ‘Why don't you kiss my ass?' Just so I can fit into some kind of mold or plug-in thing? I don't think so."

Even then those developments were a long way from when Cage starting playing music. In the early 60s he had to realize the only outlet for his instrument at that time was country music. Just prior Cage had been newly influenced by pedal steel master Ralph Mooney (Merle Haggard, Buck Owens). The only problem was Cage hated country music. “I never had a desire to be a country western player, " Cage said while he waited for sound check in Chicago. "When I was kid I thought it was cornball shit and hayseed. It just didn’t work for me. I ended up with country and western music until I found really good players and good bosses who taught me what was good country, and what was not. They gave me a great education into what was good bluegrass and stuff that was hard to listen to.” One of those good bosses ended up being early rock-n-roller Ronnie Hawkins, whose claim to fame about that time was having hired the band before they became The Band. Today the New Riders still perform and record. They have a new record out called Where I Come From. I asked Cage if he ever thought what’s left of the Dead and the New Riders would hook up for shows like they famously did. “Why yes,” Cage said. “We have a New Years gig in Pennsylvania with Bill Kreutzmann (Dead drummer) and Papa Mali in a group they call 7 Walkers.” So yes, from reluctant country and western pedal steel player to jam band NRPS and beyond, Cage and company are still around and doing fine.

The New Riders of the Purple Sage at the Livery, Benton Harbor, tonight 9 pm (doors 8). More info at:
The Livery website

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Carolina Chocolate Drops at Ladies Lit 12/1

(Originally published on Dec 8, 2010 in the The Collegiate student newspaper at Grand Rapids Community College)

In the musical world of the Carolina Chocolate Drops one kazoo and two curved bones are all you need to make authentic sounds. Then pass around a fiddle, jug, and banjo and you’re all set. This was the musical mission as executed by the Durham NC trio in front of a sell-out crowd at the Ladies Literary Club on Dec 1. The Carolina Chocolate Drops not only entertained and engaged but enlightened and informed on America’s lesser-known musical footnotes. With their old-timey string band presentation, complete with exchangeable instrumentation among members, the Chocolate Drops are one of very few African-American bands (along with NY’s Ebony Hillbillies) performing this time-honored historical tradition. They wasted no time getting into the gospel spirit by revving up “Starry Crown (Chase Old Satan through the Door)” as their first number. Throughout the night each member took a turn mentioning old-time fiddler Joe Thompson as vital inspiration. Fiddler Justin Robinson played the straight guy mostly during the colorful narratives of his band mates. Singer and banjo player Rhiannon Giddens laid it all out during her stunning solo vocal number, the Celtic flavored ballad “Reynadine” from their acclaimed release Genuine Negro Jig. If there was one standout among this talented group it had to be Dom Flemons. Flemons is not only fine acoustic guitar player but he is an absolute master on the bones, a basic percussion instrument that specializes in triplet rolls. In Flemon’s imaginative fingers the bones are transcended from lowly calcium and phosphorus deposits to performance hall-worthy musical devices. One gift of the group is their ability to bring a world music vision to their shows as heard in the reading of “Snowden’s Jig.” The audience response to “Cornbread and Butterbeans” was among the most rousing of the night. Their most modern sounding song, “Hit ‘Em Up Style,” with microphone beats from Robinson closed out the main portion of the show. Demonstrating this genre as an important link to all forms of contemporary music, and now with a sound young folks might relate to, the tradition of African-American string bands seems in good hands. With their enthusiasm clearly unabashed, we should all be grateful the Carolina Chocolate Drops are giving this type of music an invigorating shake of youthful musicianship.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Jennifer Kreisberg & Pura Fey (formerly of Ulali) at GVSU Nov 30

Jennifer Kreisberg, formerly of Ulali, took a moment to talk with TMGR the other day. We asked her what one might expect if they were to attend her Nov 30 show at Grand Valley State University's Pew Campus. She said that she along with slide guitar afficianado Pura Fey will be doing one or two songs with guitar but the show will mostly focus on their world class vocals and trademark harmonies.

TMGR found some background material that said Fey and Kreisberg were "one of the first Native American a capella women's groups to create their own sound from strong traditional roots and personal contemporary styles." We asked Ms. Kreisberg what this meant when we caught up with her by telephone. 

"Our traditional music and pre-Columbian (Columbus) contact music was very thick and full with harmonies,"  Kreisberg said. "The scale of it is what people today consider to be a blues scale; it's not a Western European music scale. People who think that all Native music is from the Plains are the ones who hear our music and try to put other labels on it."

What about the "traditional roots" part?
"We write songs that sound just like our traditional songs because no one should be allowed to use their ceremonial songs for general public consumption," Kreisberg stated."We use some stomp dance structures but we make the songs ourselves. We make them new. We don’t use the ones we use at home (in ceremony)."

"Music is either in you or not," she continued.

"Pura and I each have something in us. For her it’s about slide guitar. But Pura Fey can do anything. She likes jazz and blues," Kriesberg explained. "For me it’s more about reggae and hip-hop. What we both like in common is indigenous music from all over the planet. We both have extensive collections of African music and all kinds Native music, of course. But we enjoy music from all over the world basically: rain forest music, pygmy music, Celtic, and Mongolian. I don’t know if that necessarily influences our work but when that’s inside of you I’m sure it comes out somehow,"  she says.

"We just do music; a couple of Indian chicks,” says Kreisburg with a laugh.

Jennifer Kreisberg & Pura Fey (formerly of Ulali) at Grand Valley State University (Pew Campus) Loosemore Auditorium, tonight at 6 pm. Free and open to the public.

Monday, November 29, 2010

JJ Grey & MOFRO at the Intersection Nov 30

This much I know about JJ Grey: He likes his ice water icey cold, his Thai food spicy hot, sexy soul music, and the women even hotter. OK, I'm not exactly sure about the last one. Seems the only thing hotter than any of this is when JJ and company hit the stage running. You may have seen this action back in June when JJ Grey & MOFRO opened up for Buddy Guy at Meijer Gardens. Grey is a complete bandleader spinning around on his cowboy boots, pointing out band members for their solo, and otherwise letting the band do their thing. He told me afterwards that the reason he didn't do an encore was because he wasn't sure how much time he had left after forty minutes (he had about 5 minutes we figured later) and under no circumstances did he want to go a second over into Buddy's time slot. I found this not only smart but also extremely respectful.

Then come to find out JJ is a wiz at remotes and televisions. He single-handedly averted an uprising after that show when a tour bus full of basketball-crazed men couldn't get the NBA finals on the satellite TV. They said "don't worry, he'll get it; he always does." I'll admit I was skeptical (the thing was programmed in Florida). But sure enough he got it to work. In a snap it was game seven of the Celtics/Lakers championship matchup without missing a single inadvertent whistle.

Earlier that day we found a Thai restaurant for JJ to get take-out. During the afternoon we spent together riding in the car and getting his hair trimmed outside his bus in the hot sun, he talked about his grandmother's influence on his storytelling and in particular the time and care she took in sharing tales of the grasshopper known as the Georgia Warhorse. He seemed patient with the new-to-the-tour-that-day bass player (and with the radio guy hanging around) even going over some bass parts while still writing the set list for the evening.

JJ was a guest on my afternoon radio show that day at WYCE-FM. His publicity people told me he probably wouldn't be doing a live song on my shift. We went to pick him and after a quick stop at the local grocery store for protein bars, he surprised us by showing up at the studio with an acoustic guitar in hand.

I've interviewed on the radio and in-person (or at least sat-in) plenty of musicians and newsmakers: Ben Vereen, Bela Fleck, Tony Zamora (Tremoloco) and Cougar Estrada (Los Lobos), John Trudell, Donald Kinsey, Gary Primich, Robert Ward, and The Avett Brothers among others. But this one was special for one of my shows. First, I don't think anyone has ever debuted a soon-to-be-released single like JJ did this day. But we got to talking, and "The Sweetest Thing" off the forthcoming Georgia Warhorse was the one he wanted to do. Secondly I don't know if it was the Meijer's protein bars or what but he really nailed it. He sang like he was meant to live it and living the song like it was meant to be. This is a real person delivering worthwhile music the only way he knows how--with truth. If you go to see a JJ Grey concert (and you should) be ready to dance, sing, and otherwise feel human. Music like this doesn't come to town everyday.

JJ Grey & MOFRO at the Intersection tonight. Doors 6:30, show 7.

JJ Grey & MOFRO MySpace page

Friday, November 26, 2010

Raya & Mystic Dub: Have No Fear

On Have No Fear (Uncle Don’s Records) Raya & Mystic Dub manage to touch on all the important world music trends of the last thirty years. At times the disc sounds a little like dance-friendly Sly & Robbie, UB40, and Marcia Griffiths. Have No Fear features MD stalwarts John “Carlos” Ellsworth on drums along with Mickey McKenzie (clavinet). But Raya has also assembled some of the more credible players from West Michigan’s bustling blues and jazz scene: saxophonist John Gist (Steve Hilger Band) and bassist Jim Shaneberger (Greg Nagy). Raya reminds of Sade in a couple of ways. She shines bright as both songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (accordion, Hammond C-3 organ); all nine of the tracks are originals. The old school reggae sound is often characterized by a full horn complement which is found in abundance here. Rounding out the band is blues guitarist Donald Kinsey from the national touring act The Kinsey Report. Kinsey’s slicing lead work is unmistakable; warm blues tones permeate as famously heard on Mama Africa-era Peter Tosh. Producer Kinsey has credentials behind the board for legendary Jamaican artists as the aforementioned Tosh and Bob Marley. Singer Raya is able to give “Contagious” the sought after Middle Eastern flair. “Majesty Dub” sounds like it could have showed up on the Geffrey Morgan album it’s that good. There’s a lot to like on Have No Fear particularly if you’re not a big fan of the over-populated singer/songwriter scene. Positive vibes like this have been in short supply lately. Thankfully the one-love premise never goes out of style. Have No Fear is available locally at Vertigo Music and the Jumpin’ Java Coffeehouse in Grand Haven.

Raya & Mystic Dub, 10:30pm at The West Side Inn, Muskegon, tonight and tomorrow.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne, & Big Chief Monk Boudreaux at the Livery Sunday 11/14

Louisiana soul singer Tab Benoit is set to play the Livery (pictured) in Benton Harbor on Sunday. TMGR has learned that Benoit will be accompanied by guitarist Anders Osborne and New Orleans music legend Big Chief Monk Boudreaux on percussion. Benoit sings like Otis Redding and plays guitar reminiscent of Albert Collins. Imagine that if you will. Sweden-native Osborne has seen his songs recorded by country music star Tim McGraw. Osborne's songwriting collaborators have included Keb' Mo' ("A Better Man"on Slow Down). Boudreaux is a well-known "Big Chief" of the Mardi Gras Indian tribe, the Golden Eagles. He is a former member of the Wild Magnolias. The Wild Magnolias played the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970. Like Benoit he records and tours as part of the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars. Tab Benoit at the Livery continues their recent tradition of not to be missed shows.

For directions to the brewery and ticket information please visit The Livery website.

Monday, November 1, 2010

The Lustre Kings at Billy's Lounge Nov 3

The Lustre Kings are just coming off a busy summer. From this point on they're looking at a decent autumn booking season. Along with their club dates are special events like a wedding in Alabama, the Elvis Festival in Green Bay WI, and for the tenth year in a row the Hell's Angels Halloween Party at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que in Rochester NY. What is it about the Greenville NY-based Lustre Kings that makes them so irresistible? Is it because too few bands even try to pull off an Elvis number in the flesh? Try to pin down guitarist Mark Gamsjager (above) on what genre his band plays and he says this. "I'd like to think of it as American music. That's the way I label it. Rockabilly vein, sure. But it's not straight-up rockabilly or straight-up country. It's hillbilly rock-n-roll. We just try to play good music." Within that Gamsjager still considers himself a fan of the Stray Cats. "When the Stray Cats hit in 1980 it was like the freshest thing. There are these neo-hipsters who think they know everything about late 50s music and who like to bash the Stray Cats," Gamsjager said from his home near Albany. "I say keep it positive. Everybody's doing their own thing. There's enough room for it all. It's not really cool to say you like them. But I like 'em." Gamsjager started out playing bluegrass music then became a fan of Commander Cody. You may have seen The Lustre Kings at the former Gibson's restaurant on Lake Drive. If you were missing the steel guitar at the Big Sandy show recently, the Lustre Kings quartet has that covered. The band for their show Nov 3 at Billy's Lounge will feature a steel guitar player. "There are so many great bands I listen to like Jack Baymoore and the Bandits out of Germany. They're so authentic it's scary. I can't sound that way; I've got to sound like what we sound like," Gamsjager said. "I've never really tried to cop any one particular sound. I never said we're going to try to sound like Elvis or Jerry Lee. We play a lot and it sounds like the Lustre Kings. We try to make every song our own. By putting that on it, it works."

The Lustre Kings (MySpace) wsg the Midnight Cattle Callers at Billy's Lounge tonight at 9 pm. (MCC on first)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

JJ Grey and MOFRO: Georgia Warhorse

Hear tell the Georgia warhorse ain't your ordinary bush cricket. According to those in the know there ain't nothing mamby-pamby about the revered, delicious, and nutritious Caelifera neither. You might not realize it just by looking but soul singer JJ Grey and the grasshopper have similar attributes. Grey, a ten-year plus veteran of the worldly music biz, has that gritty hang-tough attitude just like the storied insect. Both are legends of the south Georgia woods; they have well-developed survival qualities. Each April Jacksonville FL native Grey must mull over the books and wonder if he didn't break even for the year. But he and the warhorse keep coming at life because they don't know what else to do; you might say that Grey has looked the grasshopper eye-to-multiple-eye without a blink. Good thing for the rest of us they keep coming back. Grey's newest release Georgia Warhorse (Alligator) roils and simmers with sweet southern sweat, genuine Stax pop, and swampy blues. Undertows of indisputable soul churn about ready to envelop true music lovers in warm currents of sound. The early 70s sounding "All" is total Memphis straight from the heyday. On Warhorse songwriter Grey presents a solid case to join the selective ranks of esteemed Dixie writers such as Jerry Reed, Tony Joe White, and Otis Redding. No slouches in that bunch, no sir. The gospel sounding "Gotta Know" is one to have the wooden pews in church gently bending and creaking with the beat. "The Sweetest Thing," featuring reggae master Toots Hibbert, has one of the best breaks going just like a mid-range putt bends decidedly on the way to the cup. Yes! "Slow, Hot, and Sweaty" has you right there with sweat dripping behind your shades into your eyes while sashaying to your favorite beat. Warhorse picks up where Grey's successful predecessor Orange Blossoms left off. Georgia Warhorse was recorded in the Blossoms studio with essentially the same personnel and gear; not a bad way to go. Please don't expect an ensuing installment of Where are They Now? on VH1 for Grey. Not unless the grasshopper is ready to bug out too.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bruce Katz: Live! at the Firefly

Bruce Katz and company wade deep into territory where few present-day jazz bands dare go: the blues. More precise would be to say that other jazzers don't feel like they need to go waist deep in this essential music form. For a jazz organ trio to roll out a slow blues or early boogie number would seem a no-brainer. You know, something to keep the crowd on the dance floor. Recorded at The Firefly Club in Ann Arbor Live! at the Firefly (Brown Dog Music) showcases the band at their live best with Katz at the piano and organ. When they launch into Mingus' "Better Get it In Your Soul" there can be no mistaking the sign out front that night said 'jazz band.' This might be a good time to point out the word soul; the Bruce Katz band has that in abundance. Not since Jimmy Smith has an organ-led trio ventured forth with such passion and skill. The beauty of the soulful feeling shows up clear as day on "The Blue Lamp." Superb guitarist Chris Vitarello sounds uncannily like Duane Allman on "Jump Start"; elsewhere reminiscent of Larry Carlton. Up the middle, Ralph Rosen on drums and Rod Carey on bass are about are good as a 1-2 as you can find. "Crew of Two" sounds a lot like the fine work Katz did with Ronnie Earl on The Color of Love. Speaking of the boogie number, "Norton's Boogie" is one hand-clappin' foot-shufflin' gem not to miss.

The Bruce Katz Band (MySpace) appears at the Livery in Benton Harbor on Oct 22.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Tin Can Trust by Los Lobos

Too often a collection of songs is more important than the songs themselves. For their best batch of original tunes since 2001’s Good Morning Aztlan, Los Lobos lays this convention aside. The band stays in finest form when they keep things simple for us. All they need to do to uncork the magic is focus on uncomplicated song structures, revisit poignant themes with no-nonsense riffs, and it's all over before anyone knows what happened. Los Lobos writes songs that go beyond just sounding good, the contents of which are filled wide with relevance and imagination. Their songs tell a story of what it must be like to head off to the bank first thing with your tin can of coins and realize what you don’t have by the time you corralled a runaway quarter on the landing by the stairs. The song is deeper than just that; how cool to connect on multiple levels. Trust was pieced together from recording studios across the US; no big surprise given the band’s hectic road schedule. But instead of sounding fractured and bumpy, Tin Can sounds smooth and taut due to the strength of the writing. Their ability to tell clear concise stories lies seemingly within strands of T1 fiber optics connecting the start of history to present life. “The Lady and the Rose,” a song of faith and struggle is destined to find its way into their tradition-rich acoustic show. “On Main Street” is a groovy 70s sounding Saturday morning jaunt down to the bakery and hardware store for your wife. "Jupiter or the Moon" is like the vaunted creeper buzz. It hits you when you're least expecting. The blues have been the bed rock foundation of a 35-year career and on Trust the Lobos again find ways to bring that out: here it’s the Hammond organ work of Steve Berlin and guest Rev. Charles Williams. The cover of the Dead’s “West LA Fadeway” is heavy blues worthy of comparisons to the old-school hard hitting funk of Albert King and the modern-day guitar of Buddy Guy. Cesar Rosas is the blues linchpin and one of many links into fertile musical territory. With their broad vision grounded in the blues, Rosas and company take it from that important roots strain into many directions. Rosas, their most recognizable member, strikes again with a new cumbia (Yo Canto) and a fine addition to the “runner” portion of the live show, “Mujer Ingrata.” The beauty of all this is that “Do the Murray” could be the set-ending number for the first show on any Saturday night for countless house blues bands everywhere. How grounded and universal is that? When Los Lobos dives deep and out of sight it’s perhaps too much for us to grasp (27 Spanishes). Ordinary humans have to see things in black and white to believe just a little; they can’t just feel it like is required here. When they go a little shallower, just skimming the surface of profound, Los Lobos is still better than most any other band going. Except maybe the all-time house blues band in the sky.

Tin Can Trust is available for purchase at www.loslobos.org

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Stone River Boys at The Livery (Benton Harbor) Oct 17

Look out now. Gettin’ all funky, bustin' a move in your cowboy hat and Tony Lama’s. Doesn’t sound quite right does it? But for Mike Barfield, singer with the Western-appareled Stone River Boys and formerly with the Hacienda Brothers, bringing the funk is all right and out of sight.
“I come from the funky side of things like the Stax records stuff,” said Barfield from a tour lay-over in Green Bay WI. “Even before the Hacienda Brothers I put out a record called 'Living Stereo' which was whole-hog R & B soul. Then I had my own band called Barfield which was a Cracker-like funk thing with no horns; just Hammond organ, guitar, bass and drums."
"So you see I’ve been doing this all along,” proclaims Barfield.
Barfield cites the cross-over sound of Memphis Stax soul blended with Louisiana swamp soul/blues and James Brown’s early R&B years as inspiration for what he’s doing now with SRB.
“I’m a big fan of Tony Joe White and his swamp sound. I got to open up for him once in Houston. Both Dave Gonzalez (guitarist with SRB) and I really like Jerry Reed. I consider Jerry to be funky. Not in the same way that you’d say funk since James Brown however,” said Barfield, a nationally known funky dancer himself.
“But Reed had that country swampy sound in his music," he continues. "Songs like “Amos Moses” may be a novelty song on the surface to some. But Reed's songs are really well done and well played; they’re great in their own right.”
As 2010 winds down the Stone River Boys are set to record new material and decisions remain about which way to proceed.
“We’re at the point now where we need to start working on our new record. We’re debating on what we’re going to do and where we are going to record it; we’ve been really busy on the road promoting the record we have (Love on the Dial) out now," says Barfield.
"It’s kind of a different world out there now and we're trying to figure out the best way to go about this release. The record business has changed so much in the last few years. Needless to say there are many different ways to go."
For their Oct 17 appearance at the Livery in Benton Harbor Barfield is almost sure to let loose with a version of the “The Struggle” an original from Love on the Dial.
“I was inspired by the old Marlon Brando movie The Wild Ones of all things. Though you’d never know it by listening to the lyrics," Mike said with a laugh. "
"There’s a scene where they're at this restaurant bar. This guy instead of asking the girl to dance, asks her if she wants to struggle. I always thought that was a great thing. It kind of turned into my passive political statement and dance,” Barfield said with a smile.
It’s great when you can get both ideas in at once, right? To be sure, there’s bound to be some funky struggling all up on the dance floor when the Stone River Boys hit town.

The Stone River Boys MySpace page. The band appears at the Livery in Benton Harbor on Oct 17 at 6 pm. More info at The Livery website.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

"We Are Here" at San Chez Bistro for Art Prize 2010

The 2010 Art Prize entry of Grand Rapids artist Pamela Troyer is now on display at San Chez Bistro located at 38 Fulton W. The Aboriginal-inspired "We Are Here" acrylic on canvas painting is featured prominently above the bar in the restaurant. Please vote UP for "We Are Here" # 41931. Her art work is available for purchase at Art Prize. Here is an article from the Grand Rapids Press in which Troyer is quoted about the art sale at Devos Place coinciding with this years event.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys at Billy's Lounge Sept 21

Big Sandy occupies a unique space as originator and survivor. The suave doo-wop crooner and debonair rockabilly front-man considers himself lucky to have lived through the swing music revival of fifteen years ago. He knows first-hand the excitement and frenzy of the hipster scene that reigned mighty from the mid-‘90s until the end of the decade. A pre-internet grassroots movement turned cultural happening if there ever was one. According to legend, it was Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys right alongside another instigator of the LA scene--the horn-fueled Royal Crown Revue.
“They were one of the bands that came up with us in the late 80s who started to make noise around town. I know there were quite a few other bands who, more or less, copied their style. Either that or they were heavily influenced by the Revue and wanted to get something going like that for themselves,” said Sandy.
“The Royal Crown Revue kind of created the scene here on the West Coast, in my opinion, as far as the swing thing goes. They started to attract a lot of dancers here in Southern California and up in San Francisco,” says Big Sandy (aka Robert Williams).
At first it was a tiny natural organic embryo of a small snowball.
“How it happened was kind of cool, an underground faction that built on itself. Other people took notice and it began to spread places,” says Sandy sometimes called Big Spanky in certain circles.
“We had our own thing going when swing started to boom. We got booked on shows with RCR, many times advertised as Swing Night. Suddenly the crowds doubled and tripled. Even though we didn’t quite fit into the mold of the time we were able to adapt a little bit to make it work.”
As the phenomenon began to take hold, Sandy found himself on the same bill with RCR at an LA club called the King King.
“The original place was one of the first clubs to actually pay us decent money. We started to bring people in and there were lines around the block. It felt like something was happening there.”
“At the same time up in San Francisco there was a group of guys who started to throw these warehouse parties. That began to attract all kinds of people. Regular kids started showing up in their 40s and 50s clothes. I think it was a big turning point,” notes Sandy.
“We’ve seen different little things come and go. Sometimes we’re able to fit in with them. We’ve tried to carve out something of our own so we’re not completely affected by trends along the way.”
According to Big Sandy today’s LA rockabilly scene remains vital. One of the more recent developments includes the participation of Latino youth.
“On the West coast there are tons of kids still coming into the scene and discovering it for the first time. A lot of them are good musicians who are starting to form bands now,” says Sandy.
“There is a record label out here called Wild Records who is starting to round them up. It reminds you that it’s living and breathing; still an ongoing thing.”
The version of the Fly-Rite Boys appearing at Billy’s on Sept 21 will be minus a seemingly integral part of the western swing sound: a pedal steel guitar.
“We’re back to just a four piece now. We’ve been playing without a steel guitar for about four years,” says Sandy.
Only the best can readily adjust.
“We had two-weeks off from a trip a while ago. Our pedal steel player was Canadian and he went home to Vancouver BC. While there he lost his passport. We had shows coming up and he couldn’t make it back in the states,” explains Sandy.
“We did some shows without him, kind of fumbled our way through that. Then he took his time getting his new passport and we had more and more shows without him.”
“Then it started to fall into place. I kind of liked the way it was feeling,” said Big of the stripped down tougher sound.
“It’s just another phase of the band. We’re kind of back to how we started--a little leaner" sayeth Sandy.
“I like it for now. We’ll see what happens next,” said Sandy with that famous grin.

Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys wsg The Rhythm Dogs (GR) and featuring rockabilly DJ Del Villarreal (Ann Arbor) between sets. Doors:8:30 Show:9:00 (Big Sandy on first) $12 (at door) 21+

Monday, August 16, 2010

Deke Dickerson at Billy's Aug 17

Mottled are the rockabilly music fans at Deke Dickerson’s shows. In the house you’re bound to see tattooed swing dancers swirling alongside mascara-lined punk rockers standing next to assorted guitar nerds. No matter the lot, these are the demographics that seek out future guitar museum curator and rockabilly artist Dickerson.
“I’m sort of unique in the rockabilly scene that way. I tend to draw from all types of audience members. We get some of the psycho-billies, sure,” says Deke Dickerson.
“But we also see people from all walks of life: the college kids, the old people, and whatever else. We have a very diverse audience.”
“I’m always glad when I win them over and they become regular customers,” he adds.
Among his many talents Deke now writes feature articles for Vintage Guitar and the Fretboard Journal, plus a bi-monthly column for Guitar Player magazine. That’s not too out of step. Dickerson started college with an eye on a career in journalism.
“It’s kind of interesting, all these years later, that writing is what I wound up doing. I’ve been writing a lot lately and writing about things that I would have wanted to write about anyway if I had been a journalism major,” said Dickerson during nine-hour drive from Kansas City to Minneapolis.
“I’m not going to complain,” said Deke of the seemingly win-win situation he faces.
Roots music fans will have a win-win on their hands when Deke Dickerson and his four-piece Ecco-Fonics hit Grand Rapids on Aug 17. Deke’s current edition of the Ecco-Fonics band includes drummer Pete Curry of Los Straightjackets and Australian bassist Jon Flynn. Piano player Amy Hawkins of St Louis hooks up with the group just in time for their appearance at Billy’s Lounge.
“Amy is a great piano player. I saw her play when we were in St. Louis earlier this year and she sat in with my band. She plays with a jump blues band called Miss Jubilee and the Humdingers. I liked the way she played so I asked her to come on tour,” said Dickerson.
Here’s a bonus for those fans of surf music. Deke says with the inclusion of Curry they’re doing more from the surf catalog, songs they wouldn’t normally do. This bodes well for those folks already coming out to hear the belly-flop beach sting of GR’s The Concussions.
But Deke wouldn’t come all the way to town without a special surprise.
“Did you hear the news story about the guy who discovered he had diabetes after the dog ate his toe?” Deke asked me.
“I’m writing a song just for the evening in honor of Big Jerry called I Miss My Big Toe.”

Deke Dickerson & the Ecco-Fonics wsg The Concussions at Billy's Lounge Tues Aug 17 9:00pm 21+ $12

Sunday, August 1, 2010

TMGR Exclusive: It's Official. Organissimo no more.

TMGR is reporting that the end has really arrived for jazz jam-band Organissimo. Keyboardist Jim Alfredson continues to tour with Janiva Magness, which was widely publicized. Lesser known is the revelation that guitarist Joe Gloss was recruited by the The Order of Christ/Sofia religious sect and has moved out of state. Drummer Randy Marsh has reformed his group from the mid-90s, Blue Train, now called Big Organ. You may remember the Blue Train trio of Marsh, guitarist/vocalist Ricky Hicks, and Hammond B-3 whiz Chris Moberly from their regular weekday night gig at the former Rhythm Kitchen Cafe in downtown Grand Rapids. Big Organ sounded tight, focused, and bluesy at a recent hit on the patio of the Grand Rapids Art Museum.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Nick Curran & the Lowlifes "Reform School Girl"

Mavericky Nick Curran--that’s what they call him these days. Mavericky seems appropriate given his all-orginals song choice and vaporous recording method on Reform School Girl (Electro Groove Records). In a Wild Ones cap bad-ass sort of way Reform School Girl sounds crusty and a little dusty but that’s part of its roughhewn charm; if you call pinks socks roughhewn. At first you might think you put on a Little Richard album without cleaning the needle first given the Penniman inspired vocal whoops and vintage palm-sliding piano of Derek Bossanova. To be sure, Curran is rambunctious but not reckless, psycho but not scary. Reform School Girl helps Curran find his place in today’s roots music scene without going to cheese. Cheesey is different from flamboyant as you know. Flamboyant has everything to do with being on stage, breaking a leg and living it up. By doing that Curran makes us feel like we’re in ye days of old and the era of flamboyant types like Orvis Goodnight, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Guitar Slim—who had the stage antics down green hair plus. Curran takes us on a wild trip on his motorcycle with slicing rockabilly guitar in the side car and early rock on the transistor radio. He gives it the gas hard all the way through the tight corners and careens about you’d swear he just turned off the headlight in the dark. Not that he's reckless or disrespectful but he runs over expectation flattening convention along the way via a double- dose of punk attitude. Now we’re slithering along the underbelly of the seamy blues world of the Lowlifes where inhabits tough lovers, everybody’s lover (Lusty Li'l Lucy), Pinky Tuscadero-types, and old-school record parties. Curran has spent meaningful time with rockabilly’s Ronnie Dawson, the Fabulous Thunderbirds (Painted On), and his own punk band (Deguello). On Reform School Girl all these hit money at once and the result is cashtastic.

Nick Curran & the Lowlifes wsg the Rowley Wheeler Band appear at Billy's Lounge on July 22, 9pm. $10

Nick Curran's Myspace Page

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Terrance Simien at the Jiggle Jam Festival, (Crown Center) Kansas City MO 5/30

Terrance Simien's enthusiasm for performing is evident all the time. But when he's in front of children during one of his specialty Creole for Kidz matinee shows, it's apparent he makes an extra special effort for the little ones. Zydeco music in Simein's experienced hands, it seems, allows anyone regardless of age to feel like a kid again. You can't help but be drawn in. This was the feeling when Terrance Simien and the Zydeco Express played the Jiggle Jam Festival in Kansas City on Memorial Day weekend. Encouraging kids to learn about another culture while having big fun is a win-win situation for all. With tales of his linage back to Africa and a word about his family's Creole roots in southwestern Louisiana Simien looked into the past while he continues to move the zydeco tradition forward. He accomplishes this by bringing an exuberant message of peace, love and zydeco to the young masses. Simien's hour-long set found him singing like Sam Cooke, playing his accordion like Clifton Chenier, and offering a brief musical history of New Orleans while extolling everyone to dance. With his gifts as an entertainer apparent, he is able to leave everybody smiling, dancing, and reaching for beads. A big part of this cross-cultural presentation is education; the telling of stories, origins, and histories. Simien willingingly shares with his young audience the story of Amede Ardoin, the first Creole/Cajun musician to record zydeco accordion, and about about how his people trace their roots back to Senegal Africa. It seems Simien was diversity long before it became a political term: his ancestors were French, Caribbean, African, and Native American. One of the highlights was long-time frottoir player Ralph Fontenot doing double duty by helping children--equipped with miniature rubboards around their little necks--on and off the stage after they'd had a chance to play along with the band. During the last portion of the show Simien performed a medley of hits from Crescent City artists like Dr. John, the Wild Tchoupitoulas (Mardi Gras Indians), and Fats Domino. Simien himself earned his keep on a muggy Sunday afternoon by relentlessly throwing multi-colored beads to all comers no matter size or age.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

JJ Grey & MOFRO June 17 at Frederik Meijer Gardens

We caught up with soul singer/songwriter JJ Grey as he busied himself finalizing production for his new album due later this summer. He was in the middle of getting copies made of the original recordings and sending the disc to be pressed. Otherwise preparing to depart for Grand Rapids and a show with Buddy Guy at the Fredrick Meijer Gardens Amphitheater on June 17. This trip comes days after a short Canadian tour with George Thorogood. One of the first things to come up is the oil spill.

“We don’t have any shows coming up along the Gulf coast so that’s not an issue now,” Grey said of the worsening slick in the Gulf of Mexico.

“But it will affect me somehow that’s for sure. I don’t know how but it will,” Grey said.

One way Grey's livelihood might be affected is if no one wants to hit the Gulf Coast on vacation this year because they can’t go to the beaches. If bars and clubs are struggling keep the doors open they won’t need the extra entertainment expense. It seems the ongoing news of the spill’s magnitude hits Grey hard.

“I live by all kinds of lakes and streams. We’ve got fresh and salt water down here. I can get to the ocean and surf in about 35 minutes. I live in paradise,” Grey said ever the outdoorsman.

His song "Lochloosa" helps illustrate his place among nature in his home state:

Homesick but it's alright; Lochloosa is on my mind. She's on my mind.
I swear it's ten thousand degrees in the shade. Lord have mercy knows - how much I love it. Every mosquito, every rattlesnake; every cane break – everything. Every alligator, every black water swamp; every freshwater spring - everything
All we need is one more damn developer tearing her heart out. All we need is one more Mickey Mouse. Another golf course, another country club, another gated community. Lord I need her, Lord I need her, and she's slipping away…

JJ Grey the musician lives in Northern Florida about half-an-hour west of Jacksonville and another 25 minutes from the udder–like chunk of densely-wooded Georgia forest protruding into the panhandle. Also living near him with the mosquitos and rattlesnakes is a well-known grasshopper. Hear tell it’s a cool grasshopper; you know, as insects go. Kind of spunky, resilient, and familiar. But evidently there's been some talk among the townspeople. Leave it to Grey to worry that people might say he is comparing himself to the grasshopper somehow, of all things.

“This is not the case," he said of the gossip.

"I could only hope to be as cool as that grasshopper. The old timers down here call it the Georgia Warhorse. It’s got a folklore all its own.”

Founding players and writers wrote about things they saw everyday like trains. Other local sights and sounds inspired Southern writers were church bells ringing, steamboat horns bellowing, and shrill whistling. True to this storied writing form, Grey writes songs about elements of life in his neck of the woods.

“Things like the Georgia Warhorse are just part of my environment down here. I write about what I see,” Grey said.

But unlike the four-piece band that just toured with Thorogood, Grey plans on bringing a big Southern-style soul revue band to the Meijer Gardens complete with horn players and guitarist Daryl Hance. This way you'll get to experience the spirit of Stax records and songwriters like Tony Joe White. It’s not often he can get everyone together with so many schedules to deal with but it’s an opportunity he tries to enjoy every time.

“I encourage my players to go do their own things when they feel it necessary. We’re all adult men and try to deal with it as such. I appreciate these guys but I don’t want them to feel like they owe me anything,” Grey said.

His new CD on Chicago-based Alligator records, Georgia Warhorse, is due at stores and online August 24. A brand new song collaboration with Toots Hibbert (Toots & the Maytals), who contributed vocals, has Grey particularly excited.

"I had Toots up for the Blackwater Sol Revue. He will always be one of my heroes. I was excited to hear he'd participate in this project, so I sent him demos of me singing all the parts of the song. He sent it back and it sounded great in a way only Toots can," Grey beamed.

If you’re wondering if Georgia Warhorse will sound similar to its successful predecessor Orange Blossoms (Alligator), Grey offers this.

“I recorded it in the same studio as Blossoms with the same gear and some of the same musicians. All of my releases have featured different sets of players and this is no exception.”

Buddy Guy wsg JJ Grey & MOFRO at Meijer Gardens Thursday June 17 at 7 pm

(As of Tuesday 6pm only about 60 tickets remained)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Smokin' Joe Kubek at Callahan's April 25

Sometimes it's all you can do just to get to the gig. Van trouble and an hour earlier time change are just two of the pitfalls to hitting the road. It takes patience, work, and-these days-plenty of gas money to get anywhere. So by the time Smokin' Joe and company hit the stage at Callahan's, they were ready to play. The workman-like approach to the art of performing seemed to serve the band well. Featuring guest guitarist Jimmy Thackery, the Smokin' Joe Kubek Band with B'Nois King did what they could to liven-up an otherwise sleepy Sunday night in suburban Detroit-and it paid off for everybody. It was no secret Thackery was at the club the night before, hence an invite to stick around and play. Thackery took in all the latitude that Kubek afforded. Thackery is a tasteful guitarist by far. His presence was much anticipated. In a pleasant surprise was how well these guitar players--including King--fit together. Many times on slide guitar rather than straight lead, Kubek unfolded a steady perusal through his 20-year catalog. Featured were the songs "Texas Cadillac," "Burn One Down," and "I Saw It Coming." The latter featured the sweet vocals of B'Nois King. Enough cannot be said about the front man talents King commands, or about the way he approaches his job. King never loses focus that the audience is always a part of the show, engaging them even while a guitar tuning takes a little too long. It was hard to believe that this was only bassist Patrick Recob's (Kansas City MO) fourth gig with these guys. But it hardly showed-even for a live recording. King pitched a new CD on Alligator records due this spring. Sure there was the van break-down outside Rock Island IL a day-and-a-half earlier. Then there was the hour time change back east that inadvertently slipped by everyone. But Kubek and his band showed poise all the while, later rewarding themselves with a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Wanda Jackson at the Orbit Room 5/15

Rockabilly singer Wanda Jackson loves what she does. She counts her blessings for having made it this far in her decades-long career, and she gets a kick out of Betty White. She is a 2009 inductee to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Early Influences category) and counts Elvis Presley as one of her former admirers.

Ask why music lovers who come out to her live shows still like to hear songs written 50 years ago, you’ll get this response.

“This music says America--rockabilly and ‘50s rock,” says Jackson on her way to a tour stop in Buffalo.

"I think songs like this will live on, really, forever because it's just classic and good stuff. Clean and innocent--for the most part. This music is so opposite from the stuff they're doing today. Not everybody likes what they're doing today. That's where we fill in a gap."

Jackson has been filling musical gaps all along, even forging her own way back in the ‘50s when it came to onstage fashion. She was one of the first to start wearing fringe dresses, high heels, and jangly earrings as part of her country singing act.

“I was the first to break barriers, whatever you want to call it. I had been wearing traditional cowboy attire. But I never did like because it was heavy and cumbersome. I didn’t look good in it. I’m only five foot one. It was just too heavy.”

“I told my mother who was always my seamstress that I wanted to come up with something that was showy but sexier, more glamorous. So we got our heads together, found this silk print, and decided that was the way we were going to go. I was the first one to get out of boots and hats,” says Jackson.

Her hour-long set with her band the Lustre Kings will showcase her influential singing style.

“I feel so lucky. I’ve always loved a variety of music. Even when I listen to it for pleasure I play a variety of styles. I feel fortunate that I could record it first of all, that my producer let me stretch and get outside the borders a little bit. This helped me in my career later on because now I have audiences in gospel, country, and rockabilly—I prefer to call it ‘50s rock.”

“Country and ‘50s rock are like kissing cousins. Anyone who likes one usually likes the other. It makes for a good varied show; I always get comments about the variety of material that I do. I even throw in a yodel to go with the gospel, country ballads, and Elvis songs,” says Jackson.


Wanda Jackson with The Lustre Kings, wsg The Rhythm Dogs (local) and DJ Del Villarreal (Ann Arbor), appear at the Orbit Room in Grand Rapids on May 15 at 7:30pm.

More info: http://www.orbitroom.com/

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Bruce Katz Band at the Livery in Benton Harbor April 18

If there is one original music which has kept dance floors busy across this country it has to be the blues. We're speaking here of piano-based uptempo roots music sounds of New Orleans, sometimes known as early rock'n'roll. Musician Bruce Katz seems to understand this reality and, as such, tailored his live set at the Livery to include material from all the leading American songwriter sources. Whether sliding into a jazzy Professor Longhair tune or a Hank Williams honky-tonk, Katz is fearless when reaching into the well for treasures from artists whose ageless gems grow more valuable with time. Katz also has the foresight to include other home-grown keyboard influences which helped put this country on the musical map. All of this make for lively in-person presentation. The second song of the 2nd set was a nod to Katz's days with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. "Blues in D Natural" proved a perfect showcase for guitarist Chris Vitarello. After trading hollow-body jazz guitar for solid wood Telecaster, Vitarello absolutely delivered. His first guitar solo was searing. Meanwhile Katz was providing some serious organ, often using the double-fisted triple keyboard method. Katz even stood up to play the piano in a Jerry Lee-inspired moment. Vitarello also proved a soulful singer as heard on the Allman Brothers version of Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More." From there it was on to what Katz described as a "Huey 'Piano' Smith version of Hank Williams" and a Fats Domino-inspired version of "Jambalaya (On the Bayou)." Drummer Ralph Rosen was spot-on, providing an enviable pocket in which to lay back. Katz featured songs from his most recent release "Live from the Firefly" and a tune from his Mississippi Moan CD originally sung by Mighty Sam McClain called "Hanging on the Cross." Katz finished up the night with tunes from Billy Preston and Blue Note's Jimmy McGriff ("Talking About My Baby") completing a unique American odyssey across the keys. (Photo by Alan Bartlett)

Morris Dees at Fountain Street Church April 1

Morris Dees has spent the better part of his professional life illuminating the dark issues hate groups in this country espouse and act upon. When the founding member of the Southern Poverty Law Center in Alabama speaks, like he did at the Grand Rapids Community College Diversity Lecture Series on April 1, he articulates in an authoritative way few of his peers match.

Speaking in front of a mostly middle-age mainstream audience not quite filling Fountain Street Church, Dees gave a compelling and comprehensive update on hate groups operating in the United States today. Dees described first-hand accounts of these groups--with a glimpse into their future--and speculated on what factors may have given rise to recent activity.

“The issues that loom for this country--a change in political power and the change in how we cut the economic pie--will present an enormous problem for this nation.”

Dees says the real issue is this: America is changing—sooner rather than later.

“In 1950 non-whites made up 20 percent of the population; this year it will be around 39 percent. By 2042 census takers and demographers tell us that people like myself and many of you here tonight will be in a minority,” Dees said.

He says memberships in most hate groups have risen significantly in the past two years; this includes a new group which targets Latino immigrants. But he also cautions about hateful venom spewed by both mainstream media commentators and members of the Tea Party movement.

Although security was expected to be tight for Dees' appearance due to near constant death threats, absent were walk-through metal detectors upon entering. Just before the presentation was to begin a man heard raising his voice was seen being quickly escorted out of the church by GRCC campus police.

After some welcoming remarks by Bob Woodrick, benefactor for the evening's discussion, Dees—a former preacher himself--took to the podium.

"I accept those kind words of praise for all the people who have worked at the Southern Poverty Law Center," Dees began.

As he would throughout his 50 minute talk Dees infused his lecture with the words and examples of civil rights icon Martin Luther King.

“Dr. King faced rivals and many in his own race who had no vision, politicians with no backbone, and finally in Memphis a terrorist with no conscience," said Dees of the many challenges Dr. King experienced during his short lifetime.

"However in the forty years since Dr. King we as a country have taken three steps forward and two steps back in regards to the civil rights movement," Dees said.

"There has been an enormous backlash since because of the election of Barack Obama. That’s really the best way I know how to put it."

Speaking with a soft-spoken southern accent, Dees contends there are many factors at work on this issue.

“Maybe this backlash is because we have elected an African-American president. Maybe it’s because of the economy that we’re going through now which is the worst in my lifetime and the lifetime of most of you here. Or it could be a backlash because of the enormous Latino migration in this nation. But there’s been an extreme reaction since the election of President Obama in our country."

By this time the already attentive crowd grew more silent with each word.

"There are approximately 950 certified hate groups operating today--Ku Klux Klan, Skinheads and others,” Dees said.

“That’s a big increase in the number before Obama starting running for office. But more alarming is the increase in what we at the Southern Poverty Law Center call militia groups in our country; I won’t call them hate groups--they’re not necessarily hate groups. They are those groups who feel it’s necessary to arm themselves in order to protect themselves against our government."

As expected he made a direct reference to the Hutaree militia in southeastern Michigan whose members were arrested less than a week earlier.

“We know here in Michigan, recently, eight members of one these groups were arrested,” Dees said.

“This is a group I guess you’d have to qualify as an absolute hate group because they hate Jews. They felt the Jews were controlling our country and that we were going to have a One World Government, and they wanted to start a war to end that. They were going to kill a police officer and then blow up those who came to the funeral. Now whether they had the ability to carry this out who knows.”

“But there’s been a 244 percent increase in militia groups in the last 12 months alone. Something’s happened in this country in the last year or two to cause an enormous increase in these groups,” Dees cautioned.

Dees went on to describe the methodology of the newly described hate group.

“And then we have about a 50 percent increase in what we call ‘nativeist’ groups. These are anti-Latino groups and in many cases create acts of violence against Latinos, whether they’re documented or not in this country. All told there are about 1850 militia, hate, and ‘nativeist’ groups—or just plan Klan groups. That is a 44 percent increase in just one year alone. You add to that the whole Tea Party Movement that we have going on, and I’m sure exactly what it is and what it will amount to or what percentage of our people this represents. But there are some really ill-tempered and hateful things coming out of the mouths of these people. And on top of that we have commentators like Glenn Beck and other who say things like 'Obama hates white people.' I don’t know where this comes from but Beck has a big audience—a very big audience. Add to that the dozens of other commentators who 24/7 spout intolerance in the worst sort of way.”

The current climate in Washington did not escape scrutiny.

“Then you end up with-- I’m not sure it’s totally the reason for the increase--a Congress in absolute gridlock. We tried to pass a healthcare bill that just got through by the skin of its teeth and it was opposed 100 percent by the Republican Party. That’s not the Republican Party I knew growing up when you had people in it like Richard Nixon, who proposed a much more comprehensive health care bill than was passed by this last Congress,” Dees said.

While listening to these stories it may seem easy to lose hope in fellow man. But Morris Dees left time to once again quote Dr. King, referring to his famous speech at the Washington Mall and the role of faith in a better America.

“I don’t mean to put words in this great American’s mouth. But if Dr. King were here today he would have to include the barrios, the reservations, the poor, and perhaps even the uninsured,” as groups still in need of equality.

Dees spoke of the SPLC, an organization which pioneered innovative legal strategies—with some surprising allies along the way--to bankrupt contemptible groups like the Ku Klux Klan and Aryan Nations.

“I think the health care bill is a precursor to the problems we see today because the bill is about how we’re going to allocate cash resources in the future. You might say in many ways this is a class issue.”

Monday, April 19, 2010

Claudia Schmidt at Wealthy Theatre April 22

The artistry of Claudia Schmidt goes like this: She's got a split-brain musical personality disorder--sort of. On paper, jazz and folk couldn't be further apart in most anything--audience included. However, over the course of a 35 year career Claudia has given the idea life and made it look easy. One might say her very own spot well-deserved; an 'X' on the musical stage of life. She practically invented a sub-genre of music--currently not classified by name--by infusing jazz and folk with highlights of spoken word and humor. Even with her unique talent and vision going for her, this duality is hard to grab hold of for some. Schmidt finds she must continue to carve out a space for herself.
“Those two forms--folk and jazz--as best as anything represent what I’ve been all along,” says Schmidt.
“I’ve always done a hodge-podge of different styles of music. My more easily described solo stuff tends to be more folk-ish and my band material more jazz-ish.”
The jazzy side of her sound will be the focus of her next show in Grand Rapids celebrating the release of her newest CD “Promising Sky” at the Wealthy Theatre on Thursday April 22.
Despite the boundary-straddling all is not on the downside for northern Michigan resident Schmidt. This twin approach has lead to musical appearances on the acclaimed “Prairie Home Companion” and spot in the movie “Gap-Toothed Woman.”
“Folk club owners are afraid to hire me sometimes for fear I’d sound too jazzy. Then you have jazz club owners who say ‘Oh. I didn’t know she was a folkie,’” says Schmidt from the middle of a two-week solo tour in the Pacific Northwest.
Add to that a perceived shrinking of an already-narrow mind set of some music listeners.
“It’s worse now than it has ever has been,” she says of people wanting to think of her in singular music categories
“People are less adventurous in terms of their musical palate.”
Leave it Claudia to come up with a handy answer for that.
“I’ve found I’m constantly there to rub salt in the wound of musical ignorance,” laughs Schmidt with her good-natured response.
“I’m here to say ‘Try this, it might not be as bad as you thought,’” noting that long term fans have always appreciated both sides.
“It’s still going to be me no matter what kind of music. It’s still my musical sensibilities. That is a constant,” says Schmidt.
“I’m only doing songs that I love to do. The art of performance for me is always about figuring out a fun sequence of songs. I never do the same set twice. That makes it fun for me. I always put together a set of songs that are special and particular for that night.”
Claudia Schmidt has stylishly out maneuvered musical margins—stealthy as she is—and that’s lucky for the rest of us.
On April 22 Schmidt will take the stage at the Wealthy with a quartet of jazz musicians from Traverse City plus local drummer Randy Marsh. Together onstage you get several decades worth of musical expertise.
“Promising Sky” contains several gems including the opening track, “Can’t Get Yourself Out of Love,” which reminds of Maura O’Connell courtesy of the languid pedal steel of Joe Wilson and enriching mandolin of Don Julin.
The bluesy side takes over on “Missy Ma’am,” a medium tempo propelled along by Marsh’s crisp drum work.
If putting together a long career weren’t enough, Schmidt must sometimes convince potential employers that while she might not be that much of a hot babe any longer, she remains the one who can deliver the goods.
“There are some club owners out there who when you call on them you get the impression they’re thinking, 'Oh, it’s you again. I thought you just went away…'”
At that point if Claudia has her druthers she’ll be right over with the salt shaker--no extra charge.

More info: http://www.claudiaschmidt.com/

Claudia Schmidt & her Funtet perform at the Wealthy Theatre on Thursday April 22 at 8:00pm. She also performs with the Funtet at Blissfest 2010 (Cross Village) July 9-11.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Bruce Katz at The Livery in Benton Harbor 4/18

The Bruce Katz Band plays a live show at The Livery in Benton Harbor on Sunday April 18 at 6:00pm. The band features Katz, on Hammond B-3, along Chris Vitarello on guitar and vocals; Ralph Rosen on drums and Rod Carey (Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters) on bass and vocals. Lately Katz has been part of the Greg Allman & Friends band. Here is a review of his 2004 release A Deeper Blue for 88.1 WYCE-FM.

The Bruce Katz Band: A Deeper Blue

Ross Bon of the Mighty Blue Kings poses this question: Is Ray Charles a first-rate blues singer or just a great jazz piano player? “You know what,” he says. “It’s both.” Bon ought to know; everyone just had to ask MBK if they were blues or jazz. Simply put, it was jazzy jump blues which couldn't help itself from smoldering in soul. A similar sentiment holds for this disc from Severn records--a solid blues label from the East Coast stabling Darrell Nulisch and Mike Morgan along with Bruce Katz. Katz is skillfully proficient on the piano as anything else: check out the honky-tonk duet “Stovepipe Boogie.” Most other times he builds on the soulful organ groove of the Hammond B-3. Many tracks on here are originals but one cover features guest guitarist Ronnie Earl (Katz was/is a member of The Broadcasters) on a vintage Earl Hooker piece, a cooker called "Blues in D Natural." A Deeper Blue offers shining and lively blues with jazzy low-down sensibilities. At his best Katz keeps the tempo moving just long enough for the sweaty lower-back, slow-drag blues to come around. All the players are solid. Enjoy now.

WYCE album review by Chet Eagleman, Jr.--July 2004