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Thursday, December 12, 2013

CDs of 2013: "Dig Thy Savage Soul" Barrence Whitfield & the Savages

Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot), the new release by Barrence Whitfield & the Savages, charges at you with the ferocity of a feisty boxing contender in the brightly lit ring of roots rock-n-roll.
Looking swift and decisive at the outset Whitfield pummels the punk region early. His smooth vocal punches find their mark with a gruff, effortless flurry. There is deft offensive execution on the gritty rocker “Hangman’s Token.” Always quick to the spot with the rockabilly shuffle Whitfield remains on balance throughout. He scores often with uppercuts of R&B, letting the hands go, so to speak, on numbers like “My Baby Didn’t Come Home.”
Whitfield surrounds himself with veteran corner men for this one. Peter Greenberg (guitar) and Phil Lenker (bass) are worthy conspirators (and original Savages) from the first-wave Boston punk scene. Tenor saxophonist Tom Quartulli (The Toasters) brings good organic energy (“Bread”) and does all he can to further the rockabilly aspect.
The tracks on Dig Thy Savage Soul clip by as quickly as 12 two-minute championship rounds. With time to spare Whitfield and company score an impressive TKO (Total Knockout). 

Available at Bloodshot records store: Dig Thy Savage Soul

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Music to Calm Your Inner Beast: Barrence Whitfield & the Savages Nov 14 at the Tip Top Deluxe

A good preacher tells you two things in church every Sunday: this is where it’s at and this is where you should be.

Barrence Whitfield is a Boston-based rock and soul singer whose spirit and legendary performances are somehow in line with the weekend service. They both count on the power of their uplifting message to reach audiences;  hoping somehow through the faith-based energy some affirmation returns. Only the best practitioners are considered true entertainers and performers for the Lord. In similar manner, by virtue of his gospel-truth hard rockabilly shuffle, Whitfield lays bare each night his passion for all things otherworldly.

“The energy comes from being in church and watching the people react every time the preacher would say ‘Raise your hand,’ or ‘Go down to your knees,’ or ‘Do you feel it! Do you feel it!’” Whitfield exclaimed during a recent interview.

So far the spirit has moved Whitfield in mysterious ways. It has hastened him into jumping off the stage onto unsuspecting people and swinging from a chandelier at a college party while the movie Scarface showed behind him. His R & B shouter-styled songs often lead him to convulsing in a writhing fit on the floor, but not before true believers of the truth drop down and really join him. 

“I think with what we do there’s more conviction than most these days,” Whitfield said of his high-octane presentation. “It’s more real and more to the soul. I think the energy in music today is lacking. It has to lack when you’re listening to melodies that go Bing, bong, Bing, beep-beep-beep-beep-beep (pinball machine sounds). How much can move to that other than to jump up and down and smile.”

With Barrence Whitfield & the Savages you’ve got a preacher’s presence and garage rock-n-roll going full-bore at one time. The edgy punk vibe comes courtesy of guitarist Peter Greenburg and bass player Phil Lenker. Greenburg and Lenker go back to 1983 with the Savages and then legendary first-wave Boston outfits DMZ and The Lyres. Whitfield says these crucial influences are held together like a lit candle that starts melting immediately until finally the wax is all over the table.   

“We just go out there and play our butts off until the sweat is pouring off our brows,” Whitfield said with a laugh. “By the end of the night it looks like we’ve taken three showers and a sauna. That’s the look, the energy you get. You see it, you’re enthralled with it, and you become part of it.”

Whitfield and company arrive November 14 in Grand Rapids at the Tip Top in support of their latest CD Dig Thy Savage Soul (Bloodshot).

“The new CD has been in people’s minds and ears,” Whitfield said. “It’s been accepted and doing well for the time it’s been out. We’re very pleased about that.”

If you’re ever in the market for a singer with a preacher’s good energy you could probably find someone. But if you’re looking for one with all that plus a little star power to keep things interesting, you turn to someone like Barrence Whitfield.

“We just get out there and play our music and take care of business,” Whitfield said. “We aim to grab hearts, minds, and ears.” 

Barrence Whitfield & the Savages wsg The Boss Mustangs, 7 pm doors, November 14, Tip Top Deluxe, GR

Friday, November 8, 2013

Mato Nanji & Indigenous at the Kalamazoo State Theatre Nov 9

Photo by Bruce Haley
In 15 years of playing professionally Mato Nanji of the band Indigenous has shared the stage with some of the finest musicians in the world. In other instances this timeworn phrase might ring hollow. But for Nanji (which means “horse” in the Nakota (Sioux) language) it’s pretty much the truth. The guitarist’s bold, slashing, blues and rock style found favor early among the top movers and shakers in the music business.

In 2000 Nanji and Indigenous fielded a timely break when B.B. King caught their act and invited them immediately on his Blues Festival Tour, which is known for welcoming newcomers as well as veterans. Nanji got to see Tower of Power, Buddy Guy, and Taj Mahal practice their craft nightly.

“That was a very cool experience,” Nanji said. “It was an honor to get out of the gates and play with these people so soon.”  

In 2002 Nanji was hired to play guitar on the Experience Hendrix Tour, an all-star tribute celebrating the music and legacy of Jimi Hendrix. Nanji performed nightly alongside David Hidalgo and Cesar Rosas of Los Lobos, Billy Cox from the Band of Gypsys, Jonny Lang, and Brad Whitford of Aerosmith.

“I’ve been with the Experience Hendrix tour since the beginning when they were doing just one-off shows here and there,” Nanji said. “They do a tour every year now, about 20 dates or so. I’m also on a DVD they put together in 2004. I think they’re planning another tour for 2014 so I’m looking forward to that."

Nanji lives every guitar player’s dream when he performs ‘Little Wing’ on stage. He says one of his favorites to do live is ‘Hear My Train a Coming.’

“I would get up and back up Billy Cox when they do ‘Stone Free,’” Nanji said of the Hendrix Experience. “It’s really cool, it’s really open. I have the opportunity to play ‘Manic Depression’ with Robbie Krieger (The Doors) and Dweezil Zappa. I enjoy that a lot.”  

Nanji grew up in sparsely populated South Dakota where few blues performers ever rolled through town. But many American Indian households contained varied and interesting record collections and this is where Nanji was exposed to the rock and pop sounds of the 1970s. His Dad was a musician who showed him the way around a guitar. He also was influenced by the soul and rhythm and blues LPs in the house.

When not on the Hendrix tour Nanji stays busy with Indigenous. He says they might get to do some festivals in Europe in 2014.

“We’re starting to break a little ground over there, I think,” Nanji said with a laugh. “We’ve been trying to get our music out over there.”

The Indigenous and Jonny Lang tour arrives November 9 in Kalamazoo at the State Theatre. Lang and Nanji have a friendship that dates back before the Hendrix shows.

“I’ve known Jonny on and off for a long time,” Nanji said. “I actually met him when he was about sixteen. He’s from Fargo ND which is north of here, and we've known each other from the Minneapolis music scene. He’s been real good to my band. We’ve always had opportunities to play together and tour.”   

Jonny Lang wsg Indigenous, 8 pm, November 9, State Theatre, 404 S. Burdick St, Kalamazoo MI 49001

More info at www.kazoostate.com 

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Peter Karp & Sue Foley at the Tip Top June 9

A potential list of famous male/female musical duos might look like this: Johnny Cash & June Carter Cash, Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, Ike & Tina. Recognizable names from country, soul, and rock. It’s tough to think of one from the blues.
Peter Karp & Sue Foley, one of the more dynamic musical duos on the scene today, could squeeze onto this list as blues. But since they consider themselves primarily as songwriters they will have to think up their own blues guitarist songwriter, co-ed team entry.

“We play blues guitar but we’re also songwriters,” Peter Karp said. “Nobody thinks of blues as singer/songwriter. Maybe it’s because there is a notion that the blues is filled primarily with instrumentalists like guitar players and harmonica players.”  

Sue Foley made her name in the roots music scene of Austin TX in the 1990s. The Kingston, Ontario-based singer released several well-received albums before joining Karp.

“The idea of a male/female blues duo is not really a popular thing I guess,” Foley said. “It’s even more unusual as singer/songwriters.”

Peter Karp went from a mobile home park in Enterprise, Alabama to artsy-fartsy film school at NYU. He says the under-appreciated fact about the blues is that storytellers have been around since the beginning.

“You listen to Robert Johnson and Robert Johnson was the original Bob Dylan,” Karp said. “His guitar playing supported what he was doing but he told such great stories that people are still playing and singing his tunes eighty years later.”

Part of the reason blues duos like Karp & Foley aren’t often pegged on the AAA radio dial is because the music industry is so micro-categorized. Karp is careful not to differentiate himself between the seemingly competitive but highly similar styles of folk and blues.

“I never distinguish between songwriting and blues,” Karp said. “Today everything is niche marketing. They want to know if you are Americana or what. Are you contemporary blues? Traditional blues?  It’s ridiculous. You have to sell stuff, sure, but in the end its all music.”

Karp & Foley are one of the few artists from the blues world who can walk into the Bluebird Café in Nashville, an intimate listening room famous for acoustic music performed by the composers, and hold their own. Their most recent release, Beyond the Crossroads (Blind Pig), contains 12 original songs written individually and together. That fact alone seems to fit one definition of singer/songwriter. 

“The thing about original blues was the story,” Foley said. “It was not as much about the instrumental prowess so much as telling the story of what was happening. Memphis Minnie, who is my favorite artist ever, was a singer/songwriter. She wrote her own songs and she just happened to play guitar.” 

There are facts to suggest that some blues “purists” want to keep the tradition by keeping it airtight under glass. Karp agrees there’s nothing wrong with that. But he also says the genre has to breathe to survive.

“It’s all about communicating and connecting with people,” Karp said. "You can either make them cry, laugh, or dance. But we’re all doing this together. That’s the beautiful thing about music.”

“Originally we were going to call ourselves Butterbeans & Susie but that name was already taken,” Foley said with a laugh. “If you’re telling your own story in song why not count all the early blues artists as singer/songwriters.”

Peter Karp & Sue Foley and band, 9 pm (8 doors), Sunday at the Tip Top Deluxe in Grand Rapids. $10

Visit Peter and Sue’s website: http://www.karpfoley.com/ 

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Joe Louis Walker at Dreamers in Muskegon 5/18

If they ever make a movie about the life of firebrand blues guitarist and soul vocalist Joe Louis Walker they should title it From the Tenderloin to la Ville des Lumières. And they should make a movie about Walker because he's everything you've ever heard about the American blues experience. The journey of The Man So Nice They Named Him Thrice is one of the total human experience today.

Just a snippet of his career accomplishments would make a great story line. The plot takes a nice turn when Walker returns to San Francisco State University to finish not one but two college degrees.

Walker, the youngest in his brood, grew up in San Francisco but his parents were originally from the South. Money might have been tight but his folks took the time to instill an essential work ethic.

“My family used to pick different agricultural stuff in the area,” Walker said by telephone during a recent interview. “They taught me to take advantage of hard work to open doors that might not have been open to them.”

As a teenager Walker was soaking up the psychedelic rock music of the day and hanging around with people like Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, and Jorma Kaukonen. He was learning the blues first-hand from Lightnin’ Hopkins at places like the Matrix. Walker would soon embark on a series of lifetime gigs at Eli’s Mile High blues club in Oakland.

He was heralded as one of the best of his generation with all the well-deserved notoriety imparted. But to hear him say it, one of the best things he ever did was to go back to school.  

“I went back to address some unfinished business and further my personal development,” Walker said. “I took time to work on self and music. I found that I was able to become more fluent in all things that were connected to me.”

During his time at SFSU Walker had given up the blues rock and was playing in a gospel group called The Spiritual Corinthians. When he was done with school he decided it was time to return to the blues.

“I found I could bring different sensibilities to the blues with a gospel background,” Walker said. “I was getting fresh handle on what I was trying to accomplish and the blues is my mother tongue.”

Walker never strays far from the gospel tradition. “Soldier For Jesus,” from his latest release Hellfire (Alligator), features harmony vocals from The Jordanaires and all the energy and exuberance of get-up-and-shout praise music. 

Although Joe Louis Walker has yet to field any offers for a film about his life, he says he might have a project which puts to use his bachelor’s degree in English (he has another in Music).

“If I ever write a book I’m going to call it ‘From the Projects to Paris,’” he said with a laugh. “It feels like I’ve gone from the outhouse to the penthouse.” 

An Evening with Joe Louis Walker, 9 p.m. (doors 8), May 18 at Dreamers Blues Bar, 978 Pine St, Muskegon 49442. Tickets $15 advance, $18 day of. Call the club at (231) 728-9157 for more ticket info.

More Things on The Man So Nice They Named Him Thrice: http://joelouiswalker.com/

Dreamers Blues Bar Facebook

Friday, April 12, 2013

Interview w/ Jeb Puryear: D the B @ the Intersection April 13, 2013

When guitarist Jeb Puryear first caught wind of the old time fiddle players at traditional music gatherings around Ithaca NY in the early 1970s he was convinced the sound was already an international phenomenon. The founding member of Donna the Buffalo, his popular American roots music and jam band, also noticed how these events provided everybody a chance to be part of something larger than themselves.

"I thought fiddle music was going on all around the world,” Puryear said from his home in Ithaca. “I figured if I could learn to play like that I’d have it made. As I got a little older I realized it was only going on here and a few other places.”

Puryear wasn't alone in feeling a sense of community at these events. He and a future yet-to-be-introduced band mate were about to find each other and, in turn, a lifelong joy of learning and playing music together.

“I’d go to these music festivals and play in the fiddle contests," Puryear said. "It’s a very social music. You’d bring your instrument and you could play with all these different people. That’s how I met Tara (Nevins).” (Nevins, an old-time fiddle player herself, helped co-found D the B)

Puryear feels that artists provide a service, of sorts. This utility gives all people--front of the house and back of the house--an equal chance chance to participate. In his view, music is a conduit.

“If you’re at one of our shows and the sound is good, you’re in it as much as anyone; just as much as the person playing guitar or drums,” Puryear said. "We have an ability to go out as a band and connect with this thing that we all enjoy. We’re fortunate that when we do other people have a similar ability to connect to it.”

D the B carries a socially-conscious sticky note. Puryear credits his father, who was on the academia staff at Cornell University in New York, with showing him how to live outside the norm.

“He was one to stop paying attention to societal expectations. He grew to dislike academic circles. Often the main topic around the table was what was working in society and what was not.”  

Puryear credits the early fiddle exposure, as well as the music of the Highwoods String Band, for how his guitar style sounds today.

“My guitar playing is half trying to make fiddle sounds that I remember and the other half is trying what I heard Jimi Hendrix do on guitar,” he said with a laugh. 

Donna the Buffalo finds continued success by fusing thoughtfully crafted lyrics and indigenous American sounds, like Cajun and zydeco, with Caribbean island rhythms. The consistency is entirely groove-laden. Together these elements provide an opportunity for positive individual interaction.

“I think people are looking for more of a bond to earth and a new humanity,” Puryear said. “By creating with our music we’re able to tap into the nice feeling we get. It also allows us to express ideas about the way we feel things ought to be. More often than not this comes down on the loving side of living.”

Donna the Buffalo wsg Big Dudee Roo and The Turnips, Saturday, at the Intersection. Doors 7, show 8.

Tickets:  www.etix.com 

The Bar: www.sectionlive.com

Heed the Herd: www.donnathebuffalo.com/

Saturday, April 6, 2013

The Twistin' Tarantulas at the Tip Top Deluxe April 6

(Editor's Note: This article originally appeared the Paper circa 2000)

The Twistin' Tarantulas' doghouse bass player 'Pistol' Pete Midtgrad is road savvy enough to know when his band is being given the once over when playing for the first time in a new bar.

"When people in the bar see that a rockabilly band is setting up, we get looks of 'Oh, here we go again with another 50s, no-hair-out-of-place, dog-and-pony show retro band,'" Midtgrad said. "But no. We surprise many by hitting the ground running, ready to rock hard, and playing loud as hell."

"Which leaves people saying, 'Who are these guys and who pissed them off?'" Midtgrad said laughing. 

By arriving the hard way honestly--via the gritty streets of Detroit--The Twistin' Tarantulas are certainly more swagger than swing, much too rough-hewn even for matching suits, and definitely more punk than purist. When Midtgrad looks to book the band into various clubs, he tries to avoid being stuck where only rockabilly bands play.

"I look for the places which have a built in base of patrons because we do better outside the rockabilly scene," Midtgrad said. "The blues and rock crowd likes us, and then some in the rockabilly scene think we're not always true to form."

Tarantula shows are energetic and edgy affairs. The doghouse is one of the largest instruments you can play onstage--you can never just strum it either--so you get a full visual workout to go with a speedy cover of Motorhead's "Ace of Spades."

"Most bands play like they're playing along with a record," Midtgrad said. "Even our slow tunes come with some desperation and sweat. The conviction has to be there for us." 

Occasionally during sound checks at different clubs, The Twistin' Tarantulas get smirks and rolled eyeball looks taking them for granted without actually hearing them.

"We have a saying, 'In like chumps, out like kings,'" Midtgrad said. "They think we're the coolest thing by the end of the night."

The Twistin' Tarantulas tonight at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids. $6, 8 pm.  The ChupaCobras open.

More Things Arachnid : www.twistintarantulas.com/main.html

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Keb' Mo' at the Intersection March 23

Keb’ Mo’ is one who wants to know that people leaving his show are in a better state of mind than when they arrived. A good blues man is adept at easing the worried brow of those seeking his humble note and word. If entertainer Kevin Moore has any say in it, you’ll soon be feeling some much needed clarity. This may be the only chance you see today for really getting outside yourself. By looking at life in the here and now, with a clearer mind perhaps, you’ll start to feel hope about your present station-in-life situation. “My hope is that people have an uplifting time,” Keb’ Mo’ said. “When that happens you feel different. When you feel different you think differently. When you think differently, you let go of whatever it is you have.” Mo' is not interested in directly addressing the prosperity of anyone. But believe it or not he’s just like you and me when it comes to acquiring an answer. “When I have a place where I need to grow and I have a situation in front of me, the more present I am the better I can think through challenges. There is a solution to the problems we have.”

Keb' Mo' is all about living in the present. He comes by it honestly, let’s say. “My career has been a series of little jobs,” Mo' said. “My next job is always based upon my performance the night before. If I do good, I get another job.” He says he learned long ago he prefers the right now equilibrium. “There’s no past, there’s no future, just right now walking onstage. There are no guarantees. Maybe someone will be affected by one of my songs and seek out another one. Maybe another musician will hear a song and want to do it themselves.” 

As a songwriter Keb' Mo' tunes have been recorded by a myriad of artists. His sentiment-laden songs will turn you inside out every time. “The Beginning” opens and closes with the hope—there’s that word again—that the end is merely a starting point. “I co-wrote that song with Bobby McFerrin,” Mo' said. “It’s about trust. Trusting what comes to your consciousness and believing that you can shape it the best you can.” 

For twenty years Grammy-winner Keb’ Mo' has been providing avenues to destinations inward and exit lanes to your outside world. Above all he'd like nothing more than for you to have fun at one of his shows. Acoustic set or not, Keb' wants those so inclined to get out there and grab a piece of the aisle and have fun. Be looking for when he gets out the slide and reaches for the National Resorocket. Then you’ll know for sure you’re where you need to be.  

Keb' Mo' solo acoustic, Saturday March 23 at the Intersection. 7 pm. 

The Venue: sectionlive.com/


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin' Altar Boys March 22 at the Tip Top

With that unmistakable evangelical flair the Reverend Raven gathers his followers in the dark of night. Go, he says, to the next open clearing and wait for me there. The Reverend’s flock ritualistically heads for the nearest dance floor. Once assembled the charismatic Reverend reveals his timeless message: you shall dance and enjoy yourselves whilst in my midst. Grand Rapids is in store for this and other divine edicts when Milwaukee-based Reverend Raven & the Chain Smokin’ Altar Boys return Friday March 22 to the Tip Top.

“My set is blues music except there’s more dancing,” The Reverend said. “The idea is to try to keep a bar full of people entertained.” Raven says that his sound is charged with 60s-70s Chicago blues grooves, one of which is the revered Elmore James boogie.

RRCSAB is known as a working band who tour constantly. Raven admits they don’t always hit a home run every time at bat. There are those occasions when they get booked into a sports bar by mistake. But more often than not, as they say, the basket looks twice as big most nights and they cannot miss. “It’s all about living for that one moment,” Raven said. “The beauty of it is you don’t know where it’s going to happen. It can happen and at the Tip Top; it can happen at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago. It’s a combination of a good crowd, the band sounds right, and you’ve had a good night’s sleep; plus all the equipment is working. Pretty soon the energy between the band and the crowd is feeding back and forth.”  
If people still aren’t dancing in the time frame set down by the Reverend, he seeks some kind of intervention from his longtime piano player Danny Moore. Moore has played with Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson and fronts his own rockabilly band on the side. Forget about the guitar rumba for a minute and let the tinkling, rollicking piano through. Woe the nonbelievers if they fail the Reverend's call now for he will be forced to brandish the slide guitar in what he calls the fire and brimstone Hound Dog Taylor set. “Younger people, students, really like that stuff,” Raven said. “It gets them going. I know my kids like it.” The key to salvation, according to the Reverend Raven, is getting that certain demographic on the dance floor first. After that his work is done. “Early on we focus on getting the ladies up moving. When that happens we’ve got it made."

Reverend Raven & The Chain Smokin' Altar Boys March 22 at the Tip Top Deluxe. $10. 8 pm doors, 9 show. 

Advance tickets: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=3372144&pl=tiptop

More info on the Rev: http://www.reverendraven.com/

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Los Lobos Feb 8 at Forest Hills Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids

In early 1980 Los Angeles-based saxophonist Steve Berlin realized he needed a new challenge. His goal: to find a band where all opinions mattered and high drama was minimal.

“At the time I was feeling like my input was valued less than a random person walking down the street,” Berlin said of the groups he played with in that day. “I was in bands where the one who wanted to scream the longest got their way.”

To be certain, a healthier work environment was in order. Berlin got word of a Latino band from East LA called Los Lobos making news. After seeing them play he took to their cultural artistry right off.

“It didn’t take a genius to see how amazing they were even then,” Berlin said. "They were playing folklorico, rock n roll, and integrating all this instrumentation. They had more in their arsenal, on balance, than but a few bands. Most bands have guitar, keyboard, and drums. They don’t come with the weaponry Los Lobos shows up with sometimes.” 

Legendary outfit Los Lobos appears Feb 8 at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center in Grand Rapids. 

Expert musicianship with cultural uniqueness is one thing. But what sealed it for Berlin was a one person, one vote agreement among band members.

“With Lobos it’s always been a fairly democratic operation,” he said. “Everybody gets their say. If somebody has a big issue that usually means there’s something that everybody needs to look at.” 

Productivity and engagement are two primary reasons why Los Lobos remains vital today. Last year the band celebrated the twentieth anniversary of their landmark ‘Kiko’ release. To mark the occasion they performed the album in its entirety for select dates. Berlin says the notion of playing a whole album live was pretty foreign to Lobos even in 1992. But as of late playing an album in sequence has become a thing.

“It’s not so unusual now but it’s new to us,” Berlin said. “The Pixies will play an entire album in sequence. When we made Kiko I never thought about playing it live in 20 years. You weren’t thinking about the next day much less twenty years down the road.” Even so he’s proud of the way the ‘Kiko’ sounds today. “The record really holds up pretty good, I’ve got to say. It doesn’t sound dated or old in any way.”  

Last year Los Lobos opened up for the North American tour of Neil Young, reconnecting with a long time kindred spirit. “We’ve been fans of his forever,” Berlin said. “He works extremely hard, rehearsing for two hours before every show. I kind of knew that about him so I can’t say it's a revelation. But we had the chance to play with him every night, hang out, and see how he does things. The intensity with which he goes about his business is impressive.” That much could be said about Los Lobos.  

40 years of continual service is an important milestone. The instance of four decades of all-original membership in the same band is obscure. Yet the inconceivable align for Los Lobos in 2013.

Big things are in store for the group who would once load up the gear for beer and gas money. They recently recorded two nights of material at the City Winery in New York City with plans for the release of a live effort by late spring. The Lobos tours again with Young, this time Europe in June for shows with the legendary rocker. This summer also finds Lobos reunited with Los Lonely Boys for the 2013 edition of the Brotherhood Tour. Since the beginning the Lobos approach to business was different, and Steve Berlin says he’s glad about that. “It’s like a marriage,” Berlin says of his time with Los Lobos. “We achieved a level of equivalence early on that made sense for us.” 

Los Lobos, 7:30 pm, Feb 8 at the Forest Hills Fine Arts Center.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Nikki Hill at the Tip Top in Grand Rapids Feb 1

Photo by Angela Vincent
Doubters about the value of a little gossip should consider the recent phenomenon known as Nikki Hill. The newest roots/rockabilly singer is hurtling through the entertainment stratosphere as we speak, and all systems indicate she isn’t heading back to earth anytime soon. Already folks are running around thinking Nikki Hill is out of this world.

According to Hill, a spark lit the fuse in April. She was in Vegas a few days early for the Viva Las Vegas rockabilly weekend. “I was just in town to catch up with friends I don’t get to see much and check out the scene.” With not much else shaking she finds herself with an invite to a mid-week party thrown by Rollin’ Rock records founder Ron Weiser. This the same not-to-miss affair partly responsible for jump-starting the recent JD McPherson craze. Hill’s friend merely signs her up to sing at the shindig. “It kind of became this big rumor that me and my band actually played Weiser's party but we didn’t,” Hill says with a chuckle. “I just sang a couple of songs at this jam.” But the damage had already been done. While wandering at Viva, she heads downstairs to a showcase on Saturday. “I had some friends in the host band call me up for a number,” Hill said. “That went over real well. The positive response to my appearances that week is what essentially encouraged me to even write and record.”

A couple of YouTube videos of the festivities soon emerge. Comparisons to Ruth Brown and Solomon Burke roll in. If vocal gifts can get you to the top, a powerful stage presence can keep you there. And Hill has plenty of charisma; credit--at least partially--one of her biggest influences, Little Richard. “The energy and intensity of his music is timeless,” Hill said. “One of the things we love most about artists like Little Richard is the rawness of the music. Energy like that is something a lot of people today can’t capture.”

Hill is joined Feb 1 at the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids by her bandmate-husband Matt Hill. Matt is a noted blues guitarist and singer with two recordings under his own name (Matt Hill & the Deep Fryed 2). Dave Herrero on bass and drummer Joe Meyer round out the quartet.

Time gives notice if Hill’s trajectory is an illusion. For now her journey is nothing but meteoric. “Things have been definitely moving along very quickly,” Hill says of her gravity-defying ascent. “We’re still kind of taken aback by everything and thankful things are going along so successfully.” From here it looks like she's clearing the launch pad amid promising billowy clouds. “So far things have paid off very well,” Hill said. “This year there's a big focus on hitting the road and getting out in front of all the people who have heard about it but who haven’t had the chance to see us yet.” 

Nikki Hill, 8 p.m. Friday at the Tip Top in Grand Rapids. Delilah DeWylde & the Lost Boys open.

Nikki Hill's new website:  http://nikkihillmusic.com/

$10 advance, $12 door

Tickets: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=3199024&pl=tiptop

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Hawktones wsg Patrick Recob at the Tip Top in Grand Rapids Jan 25

Hank Mowery had just put a wrap the highly successful First Annual Harmonica Summit Tribute to Gary Primich when a phone call came through. On the other end of the line was the sister of the late Primich, Darsha. A check-in from Darsha was not so unusual. The Primich family, including Gary’s father Jack, had been an integral part of the Harmonica Summit in September. Her call, come to find out, contained an offer almost too good to be true. “Darsha said we have these unfinished songs of Gary’s and we’re wondering what to do with them,” Mowery said. “She asked if I’d be interested in using the songs for future recording opportunities.” The tapes--rough drafts with just Gary on guitar--were from a workshop with harmonica customizer Joe Filisko at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. They were recorded in 2007 about month before Gary’s death that September. The family found additional lyrics when they where going through Gary’s stuff not long after. Hank readily agreed and an idea had been born: they would finish the new songs and record classic Gary Primich songs while they’re at it. One person has been at the top of the list all along for call-in help. Their name would have to have the deepest of connections to the music of Gary Primich. This notice would go out to Patrick Recob, a veteran musician from Kansas City MO. “Patrick is the first person I thought of when lining up musicians,” Mowery said. “Patrick toured with Primich throughout Michigan several times. He’s a helluva bass player and a fine singer too.” Recob recently completed shows with Kate Moss and Jimmy Hall (Wet Willie) in Colorado. For the last couple of years Recob has performed at the Buddy Holly Birthday Bash observance in Kansas City MO. He helps run a harmonica workshop at Knuckleheads Saloon in KC. Mowery is still scratching his head over how lucky he is to be handed these songs. But he admits the family thought he was coming from the right place. “I am honored of course,” Mowery said. “But to know how West Michigan rates with the Primich family is really something.” Hank won’t admit it but the bestowment has as much to do with his personal friendship with Gary Primich as anything else. “When you met Gary Primich he made you feel like he was your friend,” Mowery said. “Out of all the places around the world that Gary recorded, played, and made friends, Grand Rapids is high on the list with Jack and Darsha. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Gary Primich and Hank Mowery

Hank Mowery & the Hawktones wsg guest Patrick Recob, 8 pm, Friday at the Tip Top in Grand Rapids. $5

Tickets available at: http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionData&eventId=3272884&pl=tiptop