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Thursday, December 8, 2011

Interview with JD McPherson

Roots rock performer JD McPherson was pretty sure a cold which had dogged him for a week was turning the corner. But even a few sniffles couldn’t undermine his enthusiasm about playing a sold out show in nearby Tulsa OK just a couple of miles from hometown in Broken Arrow.
“It will be kind of a reunion because I haven’t played in Tulsa in a couple of years,” McPherson said. “I haven’t played in Tulsa with his new outfit yet. It’s going to be interesting to see who comes out.”
And if the sold out show that night wasn’t enough to get McPherson stoked, he could get just as excited about his first US tour which makes a stop in Grand Rapids on Dec 9 at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
When we talked guitarist/singer McPherson and his band had been enjoying the comforts of home at his house in the Tulsa area by sleeping in, making a homemade breakfast, and watching Sponge Bob.
“We were in Spain for two weeks, then home for a week, and now were starting this tour,” McPherson said. “This is the first proper US tour of getting in the van and being gone for a week or two. We’ve played a couple of shows in Chicago, a couple in New York City and Boston but that’s about it. I love playing in the states. We are going from Chicago down to Austin and back. The middle of the country is our neck of the woods so we’re starting here.”
If that weren't enough to keep McPherson beaming there was also a recent tour with Nick Lowe. "Nick was playing a short solo tour up the west coast," McPherson said. "We wanted to take the whole band. The only condition was that it had to be one person. It wasn't quite right according to etiquette to have a band open up for somebody who's performing with an acoustic guitar. So I just brought my electric and a small amp. We played LA, San Fransisco and Portland. It was one of the best experiences of my life." (Click here to see JD and Nick Lowe perform together)
What the crowds across the Midwest have amassed for is McPherson’s own brand of early R&B and high octane rockabilly blues. Not bad for a kid who grew up listening to punk music.
“I’ve always been consumed with music,” McPherson said. “I was interested in the ethnomusicology side of things and the tribal cultures that develop within popular music. The most tribal music of all was the punk stuff. Every band had their own thing. Minor Threat were these (Washington) DC clean living guys who were straight edgers. They played really intense music but were clean living type of individuals. Bad Brains were all black guys, Rastafarian’s, and they used to be jazz musicians. Now they play hardcore music because it’s the new form. Plus when you’re a teenager you’re looking for something to be involved in and this is something to be angry about. Punk rock is the music for those type of people. It’s fun and energetic; the Ramones are great and super catchy.”
McPherson says this independent fiery spirit was evident in the early R&B they incorporate into their sound.
“The old rock and roll had a lot in common with that stuff: it’s very enthusiastic and high energy especially the Little Richard, Larry Williams, and the New Orleans rhythm and blues,” McPherson said. “It has a lot of style and joie de vivre (joy of life). And that what’s we try to do each night.”

JD McPherson and band featuring Jimmy Sutton and Jason Smay at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill Dec 9, doors at 8p.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Interview with Tara Nevins of Donna the Buffalo; Dec 9 at the Intersection

To better understand the popularity of Donna the Buffalo's hybrid of rock, country, and zydeco music we begin with the Appalachian fiddle origins of founding member Tara Nevins. Nevins was a student studying classical violin at the Crane School of Music (SUNY), Potsdam NY, when the old-timey fiddle bug took hold. "I was in high school when I got the 'Will the Circle Be Unbroken' record," Nevins said while getting ready for a Dec 9 tour stop at the Intersection in Grand Rapids. "So I knew about fiddle music, loved it, and wanted to learn it. Then when I went off to college I actually met people who were playing this old time mountain music and I dove very heavily into that." Nevins furthered her learning with a field study of  the instrument at the roots music festivals of the south. "By attending the Mount Airy and Galax fiddlers conventions I was lucky enough to become part of this community of folks who were playing this old time music," Nevins said. During this period she was able to witness legendary fiddlers, like Benton Flippen and Fred Cockerham, whose old time styles would leave a lasting impression. Once she was steeped in this old time music she was asked to play in an all-female string band. "Once I was already part of that community of fiddle players I then hooked up with three other women and we formed our band called the Heartbeats." Nevins still keeps in contact with the girls from the Heartbeats to the extent that a couple of them played on Nevin's new solo record Wood and Stone (Sugar Hill). "We've been playing together a little bit again lately," Nevins said of the Heartbeats. "They've been helping me with a few support dates for the new record." On Wood and Stone Nevins addresses the vulnerable aspect of the human condition in detail. "This record is pretty personal," Nevins said. "The majority of the songs are of the relationship journey nature but they're very upbeat sounding. The whole notion of people staying together forever is becoming more and more iffy to me the more I look around and experience. It's really painful and really hard but every time you come out of these relationships you definitely grow and learn something about yourself." Of the 12 songs on Wood and Stone two are covers; included is a Van Morrison song (Beauty of Days Gone By) and a new version of the jazz standard "Stars Fell on Alabama." "I was asked to adapt "Stars" for a movie a couple of years ago in the fiddle/old time mountain style. I used the same lyrics but rewrote the music; completely rewrote the melody and added fiddle and banjo." (Click here to see a video of this song) Wood and Stone was recorded at the studios of Levon Helm (The Band) in Woodstock NY; Helm is featured on drums on two tracks. One characteristic of the songs of Donna the Buffalo are the positive, sometimes socially political nature of the lyrics. Nevins would have it no other way.  "I'd rather write a positive song than a negative one," Nevins said. "I think it speaks to my general life attitude. There's something to be learned in everything."

Donna the Buffalo wsg Big Dudee Roo, 7 pm, Dec 9, at the Intersection

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Interview with David Nelson of the New Riders of the Purple Sage

Jerry Garcia. The Byrds. Zane Grey. These are just a few names associated in some way with the fabled California band New Riders of the Purple Sage. Just the band's name alone could be the subject of an entire chapter. The story goes that founding NRPS members David Nelson and Robert Hunter (noted lyricist with the Grateful Dead) were sitting around trying to come up with a name for their new country-rock outfit when Hunter suggested Riders of the Purple Sage. Not wanting to be confused with the 1930s band of the same name-also the title of a 1912 book by western adventure novelist Zane Grey-Nelson decided to add the New moniker. The band member lineage of The Riders is indeed rife with history. At one time founding member Jerry Garcia was trying hard to split time between the New Riders and his brand new band called the Grateful Dead. At that time Garcia was playing pedal steel guitar almost exclusively. But then again he wasn't getting any better on the instrument. So he left the Riders to focus on playing the guitar with the then-fledgling Dead. This infamous move opened the door for the Buddy Cage era on pedal steel guitar. As David Nelson describes, the association with Garcia and the Riders even predates this late 1960s band shuffling. "I met Jerry in 1962," Nelson said from the van en route to a tour stop in Kentucky. "At the time I loaned him my banjo and he borrowed my acoustic guitar. We started a bluegrass acoustic band called the Wildwood Boys. It was Bob Hunter, me, and Jerry. We played around the San Fransisco peninsula area, many gigs, for a about a year. It was a lot of fun in those days." Needless to say there will always be a connection between NRPS and the Grateful Dead. But as Nelson points out the NRPS of today is not trying to regenerate an earlier period of jam-band mentality. "The difference between the old New Riders and the new New Riders is that we're not trying to recreate from the 70s-era," Nelson said. "When we're playing a song we're taking it out there to where it feels tonight instead of being a slave to the old arrangement." One highlight to a live performance of NRPS is the guitar Nelson plays for a good portion of the show. "It's a Gene Parsons StringBender," Nelson said. "He invented it back in the Byrds days. Clarence White was playing it then and Gene was the drummer in the Byrds. It takes the second B string so when you pull the neck down, the lever (inside) is where the strap is usually, you get a bend to an exact note rather than a string pull that pulls indefinitely. You tune it to bend to a whole step similar to what the pedals do on a pedal steel. I've been using this guitar for years. I'm really into it and enjoy it." This particular incarnation of The Riders came together in 2005. Along with the veterans in the group like Cage and guitarist Michael Falzarano (formerly of Hot Tuna), NRPS welcomed two newcomers to the band in Johnny Markowski and Ronnie Penque. According to Nelson drummer Markowski and bassist Penque not only hold their own instrumentally but they offer valuable songwriting contributions. "They bring a lot; both sing and have their own bands," Nelson said. "It's been a great thing. They are largely responsible for the renaissance of this band because they made it possible for me, Cage, and Falzarano to actually start doing it (again). I didn't think it was even possible but we tried it and it's working."

New Riders of the Purple Sage wsg Gunnar and the Grizzly Boys at the Intersection Oct 30 at 7:00pm.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Interview with Marc Broussard: "Cajun Soul Singer"

“Chet, you ol’ dog!” exclaimed singer Marc Broussard over the telephone. With such down-home exuberance evident right off we could have been talking about Broussard’s favorite football team, the New Orleans Saints. “I’m fired up about coming back to Grand Rapids--I can’t lie,” continued Broussard. To hear this sincerity it’s easy to understand why he has remained as one of the top vocalists going. Broussard’s music ripples with powerful currents of R&B, gospel, and swamp pop. His soul-laden original songs have always been quality crafted and delivered with emotional depth. Not bad for starters. Marc Broussard hails from the tradition rich, potent soil of Louisiana; so far has lived up to the southern soul singer heritage part. But when it comes to musical tradition down there, he says he comes by it honestly courtesy of the nearby Cajun community up by his hometown of Carencro. “I would say that some of these local boys, like Belton Richard and the Cajun and zydeco musicians, were always fun to listen to,” said Broussard from a recent tour stop in Columbia MO. “I’m still being influenced by Cajun and zydeco music,” continued Broussard. “Roddie Romero is an excellent musician and a good friend of mine. I’m a huge fan of Roddie’s stuff, no doubt about it. He started out playing accordion but he has turned into, truly, one hell of a slide guitar player. We’re going to do some writing together for my next record.” Broussard also readily acknowledges the influence of noted songwriter and fellow Louisianan Bobby Charles of “See You Later Alligator” fame, which was later immortalized by Bill Haley & the Comets. “Bobby’s a great, great songwriter,” said Broussard. "He wrote some fantastic songs for Fats Domino (“Walking to New Orleans”) and Bob Dylan.” Broussard appears in Grand Rapids at the Intersection on Sept 19 in support of his newest release simply titled Marc Broussard (Atlantic). The effort was produced and co-written by Nashville’s Jamie Kenney, who also contributed piano parts to the project. “Jamie was hugely instrumental in bringing about these arrangements,” said Broussard. “As a co-writer it’s rare to have such a connection from the get-go. We got along as musicians and as people. He’s supremely talented and a joy to work with.” For all the pop sheen applied to the Broussard release, the song “Eye on the Prize” is the most representative of Broussard’s “bayou soul” origins. “Prize” starts out swampy, murky, with a slash of slide guitar as you might expect and just keeps going. “We’re doing that one on tour now but doing it a little differently than the record version—a little more dynamic,” said Broussard. “I think it’s one of the shining moments on the album. I wish we would have had more time with “Eye on the Prize” before calling it quits on the recording. The original version of that song is vastly different than what we recorded. It started out really smooth and pop sounding. Imagine taking a Steely Dan song and totally swamping it out,” said Broussard with a chuckle. The Marc Broussard band coming to town will feature noted Memphis Hammond B-3 player Al Gamble on keys. In addition to a busy touring schedule, Broussard is known for his philanthropic work with post-Katrina New Orleans. “There was obviously a huge outpouring of support from all over this country and all over the world which allowed New Orleans to reclaim itself from shortly after the storm,” said Broussard. “Out of that tragedy it brought about some sort of reformation in that city. Obviously the New Orleans Saints football team winning a Super Bowl championship after the storm was a big part. Drew Brees (Saints quarterback) and those guys have been huge motivational factors for people who were skeptical about moving to the city. It’s funny how a football team can give a shot in the arm to a city like that but they sure as hell did. The city, I think, still has all of its charm and all of its culture but it’s got a little more pep in its step these days. I’m excited about being there.”

Marc Broussard wsg Chic Gamine & Scars on 45 at the Intersection Sept 19. More information at Marc Broussard's web page.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

TMGR interview with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos

Even for a seasoned musician Steve Berlin sounded enthused. He was talking about the current co-bill tour affair of Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys where so far the jamming opportunities have been plentiful. It seems that Berlin, Cesar Rosas, and David Hidalgo had been taking time out of their busy summer nights to jam a few tunes with Los Lonely Boys onstage. "We're doing the LLB songs "16 Monkeys," "Friday Night," and "Heaven," Berlin said from a tour stop in Colorado. You would think that jamming opportunities for working musicians must figure into the equation with some regularity. While not always the case you must still  trust the other band before you get back on stage. Fortunately for Berlin and Los Lonely Boys the bonds of trust were established on their 2008 Brotherhood tour together. Now Berlin and LLB's Garza boys--Jo Jo, Ringo, and Henry--make it an almost every night occasion to sit in with each others bands. "We really enjoy playing the Los Lonely Boy songs," said Berlin. "They're built for jamming--probably more so than our songs are for the most part. We know these guys so well by now that it just feels natural when they sit in and, I hope, vice versa."  The bonus for the fans of Los Lobos is that LLB joins them for their signature songs "Don't Worry Baby," "La Bamba," and a bluesy "Pride & Joy." Berlin notes that the current show-sharing arrangement is "really what a double bill should look like."  The kicker for career musician Berlin is that he's digging the view from the stage of the varying age difference in each audience. "It's quite gratifying to see the demographic range when we play," said Berlin. "It's a win-win for fans of both bands. I think we're expanding each others audience with these shows. I hope we continue to perform with them for a long time." Los Lobos comes to Grand Rapids'  Fredrick Meijer Gardens on Aug 11 in support of their most recent release Tin Can Trust (Shout! Factory), which was nominated for a Grammy in the Americana category earlier this year. As the tour winds down on August 12 Steve Berlin, though a tad wistful, sounded pretty sure of one thing. "I think we're going to miss them (Los Lonely Boys) when this tour ends."

Los Lobos and Los Lonely Boys at Fredrick Meijer Gardens on Aug 11 at 6:30pm.

More information at http://www.loslobos.org/

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Coming Soon: Interview with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos

Steve Berlin talks about his main influence on saxophone and what it's like jamming with Los Lonely Boys on their current tour together. The Brotherhood 2011 tour makes a stop at Fredrick Meijer Gardens on Aug 11. All this and more coming up on Taste Makers Grand Rapids.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Interview with Oliver Wood: The Wood Brothers at the Intersection 5/30

Heartfelt is just one characteristic of traditional American roots songs. Songs written by Oliver Wood display this and other essential lyrical traits. From fertile blues roots territory Wood is able to incorporate his own contemporary touch with folk and jazz nuances just as he did  when writing songs for blues singer Shemekia Copeland. In producing Copeland's latest CD Never Going Back, Wood says he believes Copeland and her camp were looking for the Wood Brothers distinct songwriting vibe and perhaps a brief departure from her rocking blues background. "I think they hired me to have her sing some pretty stuff, some spooky songs, and atmospheric things. I guess you could say they're contemporary but more than that the songs are just different enough than your standard blues." Oliver is convinced of one thing: most audiences secretly long to see the human side of those in the spotlight. “A lot of music can be great where its appeal is that it’s real aggressive or rocking; or its real forward or great for a party,” Wood said from his home in Atlanta. “There are so many good things about those types of music. My thought is what people like, and what often as artists we forget, is that people want to hear you be vulnerable sometimes. I think people want you to expose yourself somewhat. That comes from how you perform, if you sing softly for instance, but it also has to do with subject matter--what are you singing about. There’s a lot more to sing about than relationships. But often times you can still be personal about a song and it doesn’t have to be about a relationship. It can be just about anything: politics, addiction, kids, and parents. And it takes guts to do that. People like to see you be vulnerable about in the same way that--though they don’t always realize it—they like it when you screw up. It’s the same reason people watch NASCAR to see a crash or watch a hockey game to see a fight. They're there to see people’s pain and what’s real about them. As performers a lot of time, when you’re up there performing putting on a show you’re not doing that necessarily.” Even though he got his start as a touring musician with electric blues guitar great Tinsley Ellis, Wood says the roots influences he learned first-hand from that experience serve him today. “What’s similar musically is that we’re all influenced by the same roots,” says Wood. "From Chicago blues to acoustic blues, to gospel and R & B, there are so many ways you can express those influences and everybody does it a little differently. Even now with when I’m doing my original music thing with my brother this is how we express those influences. It is quite different from the Tinsley days but not a stretch.” Root vegetables are the best thing for the body. Similarly quality roots music done the right way is nourishment for your soul. Oliver Wood, along with his brother Chris, seem to feel this more than most. Although billed as a two piece act, the Memorial Day 2011 tour by the Wood Brothers will feature an extra musical hand in drummer/vocalist Jano Rix. Rix was asked by Paul McCartney to play piano on McCartney's Driving Rain release and world tour. He has recorded with Marc Broussard, Liz Wright, Damian & Stephen Marley. The Wood Brothers come to Grand Rapids in support of their most recent collection of songs called Smoke Ring Halo. Wood is proud to announce they’ve recently signed with a fresh imprint out of the Atlanta area called Southern Ground Artists, a new start up by Zac Brown of the Zac Brown Band. “Brown is doing really well now in the country market. He loves all kinds of music and wanted to start a label so he could get some music that he likes out in front of people. We’re already touring with the new record that comes out on August 2. We’re lucky to have been picked up by him.”

The Wood Brothers featuring bassist Chris Wood (below left) of Medeski Martin & Wood tonight at the Intersection, doors at 6:30 pm.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Coming Soon: Interview with Oliver Wood of the Wood Brothers

The Wood Brothers perform at the Intersection in Grand Rapids on Monday May 30.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Sharrie Williams at Billy's Lounge Jan 22: “I’m going to get right into your spirit.”

Sharrie Williams gonna tell you one thing; it’s about to get all spiritual up in here. Dig: her live shows dare conjure up such power side music that it just about threatens the known senses; this, friends, is when her inner side arises. "I'm just grateful when I'm able to use the lyrics of my songs to bring forth that power,” Williams said of her mostly original compositions described as “rockin" gospel blues.” The Saginaw-native Williams says she was raised in the gospel and still, as expected, infuses that flavor in her music. But her sound represents all the various shades of blues, she says. So while not a traditional blues band per-Se, she somehow incorporates into her show the hard-driving Tina Turner; the powerhouse blues of Etta James and Koko Taylor. “I do know some shuffles. I want to touch everybody in the audience and not just one sect of people,” Williams said. “I think that’s what's made me a ‘keeper’ in this business. People call me back because I love to entertain and I bring the audience into the experience.” Williams brings her 5-piece Wiseguys band back to Billy’s Lounge on Jan 22 on the eve of a week-long tour of Dubai. According to Williams there is more to helping people forget their problems for a of couple hours on a Saturday night. “I say forget about your problems and then get over them if possible,” she said. But that thought can be a tall order for just about anyone, Williams admits. “Nowadays with the killings in Arizona and the foreclosures and such, we live in a very blue moment.” But Williams proves again the importance of real belief. “We have to be strong enough to overcome all of that," she explains. "A lot of times people go into deep depression and they don’t come out. I want to be the blues buster and bust you out of that depression.” In substance abuse recovery for fourteen years Williams proves the Creator can see anyone through. “We all have the power to make it,” she said. “There’s a song on my latest album (I’m Here to Stay) called 'Power'. It's about the power we have within ourselves,” said Williams. “A lot of it is laying there dormant and we don’t know how to tap into it. That’s why I call it a musical movement. It’s there--we just have to find it. And we are going to find every bit of that power on the 22nd of January," Williams said with a hearty laugh.

Click here to listen to Sharrie's MySpace Page.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Tad Robinson wsg Greg Nagy Band at Billy's 1/8

Guitarist/singer Greg Nagy
Try as he might, Greg Nagy could hardly conceal his excitement. Nagy was getting worked up about his gig at Billy’s Lounge this weekend when a new development unfolded. No wonder. It seems Nagy had just secured Hammond B-3 player Jim Alfredson as a special guest to join Nagy’s band when they open up for vibrant vocalist Tad Robinson on Saturday night. Even though Nagy and Alfredson have an affiliation that goes back to their time with the Root Doctor, Nagy knows opportunities like this don’t always come together so easily. “Jim is helping me produce my new record as we speak,” Nagy said.”We’re in the studio now. Even so there are a few tunes that Jim knows that we haven’t done out live yet. I don’t worry because Alfredson is really good about thinking on his feet as far as just following along,” Nagy said of performing newer songs that might not be complete as they’d like. If that doesn’t work, there’s this. “Jim will pull stuff out of the hat which is kind of exciting. And when in doubt he can just lay out (improvise musically) and it’s not the end of the world,” Nagy said. Having a player as accomplished as Alfredson coming off the bench before half-time, so to speak, affords Nagy a coveted chance “to build a (better) show.” According to Nagy this sort of show-building worked out well when Alfredson joined the Nagy trio of Jim Shaneberger (bass) and kazoo playing drummer Kevin DePree at the Old Town Blues Festival in Lansing last September. “I think we’ll do half of the show as a three piece,” said Nagy. “Then I might have them sit down and I’ll do a solo number, a finger style thing. Then call the trio back up and get Jimmy up there as a special guest. When we call up Jim it clearly changes the sound and the choice of material you can do. The whole pacing of the set is more dynamic when you have a special guest.” Nagy sounded equally wound up about the chance to sit and watch Tad Robinson and not just play in his accompanying band on Jan 8. With good reason: Robinson brings to town a piece of blues history in the fabled Delmark records rhythm section of Harlan Terson and Marty Binder. Between them, these two Chicagoans have experience with just about every important blues artist of the last 35 years. For bassist Terson it came from recording with Lonnie Brooks and Otis Rush among others. For drummer Binder it was playing the kit behind Albert Collins & the Icebreakers and fellow Delmark label-mate Ken Saydak. “They’ve got that Chicago thing going on because they’ve been a part of that scene for so many years now,” Nagy boasts. “Marty has that ultimate “fat-back” beat which you don’t find too often.” Longtime Grand Rapids music lovers may remember seeing Binder with Saydak at the former Rhythm Kitchen Cafe. Rounding out Robinson’s side of the band is the Indianapolis connection of Kevin Anker (Delbert McClinton, Darrell Nulisch) on keyboards and Paul Holdman on guitar. And what more could Nagy say about Tad? “He’s a singer’s singer and an excellent harmonica player," Nagy explains. "In my opinion Tad doesn’t get nearly the credit he deserves for the way he plays the harp.”

Tad Robinson wsg the Greg Nagy Band, Jan 8 at Billy’s Lounge.