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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