YO MAMA’S BIG FAT BOOTY BAND: COME AND SHAKE IT

Posted in Uncategorized on June 29, 2015 by midliferocker
Yo Mama's Big Fat Booty Band plays The Hamilton Friday July 3rd

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band plays The Hamilton Friday July 3rd

This seasoned funk/rock quintet brings their booty-shaking party from town to town. 

By Steve Houk

For any band playing live, getting the crowd to fall into your music at the show is obviously key. But for some bands, getting the crowd to become almost a part of the show is one of their main goals.

Take Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band for example. This uber-high energy funk/rock/soul/dance ensemble not only wants to be in sync with each other during their live shows, but they also want the crowd to be in the mix too. And it’s that interaction, and the ability to just let people be themselves and cut loose with the band, that’s kept them out there making music and records and doing their thing for more than a dozen funk-filled, booty shakin’ years.

“We keep people dancin’ and having fun,” said vocalist/keyboardist Mary Frances, who also goes by the aptly-bestowed name Mama Funk. “I think our music promotes just being you, no boundaries, no boxes, you just come out and be yourself. People who come out and see the Booty Band are gonna have an experience. And each night is different, each night for us is different on stage. As far as the show goes, or how the crowd interacts with us, it can get wild. That unknown, what’s gonna happen at this Booty Band show, that’s what we love. People know that they’re gonna come out and have the time of their life. I think that’s really sustained it.”

Formed in 2002 in North Carolina, this hybrid concoction of 70’s soul, 80’s dance funk rooted in the blues and soaked in their own very cool “thang” has seen a few different lineups over the years. But along with Frances, their current buncha funkmasters – featuring Al Al Ingram, JP Miller, Derrick Johnson and Lee Allen – is the best the band has ever had to offer.

“It’s just all these little things that happen along the way,” said Frances. “Seems like fate just brought everything together, and this lineup’s been the same for the last six years. It’s by far the best lineup ever. We really gel on stage, and off stage, and I think the music on our latest album really shows that it’s the tightest the band’s been ever.”

When Frances isn’t boogeying down in her role as the band’s queen, she teaches music back home, an enriching experience that helps her learn as much about her own presentation as it does teach her young students, as well as bring her a bit back to earth after being out on the road.

“They teach me as much as I teach them,” Frances said. “It’s fun to come off this road life and bars and playing shows to really hanging out with young kids and really seeing how they see music, and how they learn and write. I’ve really benefited from teaching children how to write. It’s really allowed me to free up and write way more. It’s been a cool experience.”

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band’s most recent record is what they seem to be living every day: Funk Life.  The band’s fourth release and by all accounts, their funkiest and most solid offering yet, was recorded in their hometown of Asheville, and combines the expected with the unexpected, a true party fest full of  funk grooves, dance riffs and bigtime contagious rhythms. But when it comes down to it, playing live is this quintet’s bread and butter, because after doing it for a while, they know just how to get people shakin’ their, well, you know.

“I feel we really understand after doing this for so long, how to connect with the crowd and keep ’em dancing all night. As entertainers we’ve really come a long way over the last years. Something that’s really strong at our show is keeping people connected and part of the show. And everybody’s ready to come out, let go of their day, have a few drinks, and let loose on the dance floor. We’re Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, so we like to get that booty shakin’.”

Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band plays July 3rd at The Hamilton, 600 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.

AMERICA: A SLICE OF OUR PAST IN THE PRESENT

Posted in Uncategorized on June 26, 2015 by midliferocker
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America co-founders Dewey Bunnell (L) and Gerry Beckley

A seminal 70’s band keeps playing its classic songs for new generations.

By Steve Houk

Whether it was sitting in the back seat as a teenager listening to their songs on FM radio with the windows down and your hair flying in the wind, or hanging with your best friend in your bedroom singing along to their landmark Greatest Hits album “History,” the band America is as much a part of many of us who grew up in the 70’s as bellbottoms, a Stingray bicycle or Wacky Packages were.

It’s hard to think of another band whose songs are so familiar to our generation, so engrained in us, that hearing them even today still makes us feel a whole range of emotions, like happiness, youthfulness, familiarity, as well as just digging on some really good music. Bands like The Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith or for us in Connecticut, any one of a number of Southern rock bands, were also part of our burgeoning rock fibre back then, but America’s beautifully written, evocative, easily-sung-along-to music — come on, if you’re my age, you can hum at least five of their tunes right now — remains a coveted time capsule of our youth. And hey, the songs still sound great all these years later.

And for the sixty-something guys in America, it feels incredible, and even a bit surreal, that it’s actually lasted all these years, that they’re still going strong, introducing their classic music to new generations, as well as the fact that people like me are still so drawn to their songs decades later.

“It’s very bizarre,” said Dewey Bunnell, America’s co-founder along with Gerry Beckley and former member, the late Dan Peek. “We’ve obviously accepted and lived each and every one of those years, but when you add ’em up and look back, it’s pretty amazing. We’ve said it over and over that we didn’t really expect to be around this long, at least musically and professionally. But it’s been good to us and we’re more than grateful for it. We really enjoy it that much more as each year has gone on.”

America co-founders (L-R) Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell

America co-founders (L-R) Dan Peek, Gerry Beckley and Dewey Bunnell on the cover of their second album

America burst onto the music scene in 1971, when their first major hit “Horse With No Name” caused a reissue of their debut album to go platinum. Things began to happen fast and furious for this new band right out of the chute, which can be a blessing, and a curse.

“We were always kind of the new kids on the block,” said Bunnell, “because we came out of the shoot with a number one record, and that can hobble you. We didn’t think it hobbled us at the time, but in retrospect, it opened alot of doors but also created this sort of ‘they didn’t pay their dues’ thing. In ’72-’73, David Geffen took us on and he already had a stable of very seasoned veterans, The Eagles were coming up and we were rubbing shoulders with them in the office constantly, and Neil Young was in there and Joni Mitchell and all the people we looked up to at that time. We always felt kinda like, sorry we had a hit.”

America continued on a stratospheric track through the 70’s, even partnering with Beatles producer George Martin for another string of hits. Little known fact: the late comedian Phil Hartman did the cover art for several of their albums when he was working as a graphic artist. But just as America’s star was shooting skyward, the band took a big hit when co-founder Peek abruptly announced he was leaving the band in 1977. Shaken, Bunnell and Beckley took a breath and kept forging ahead.

“Dan leaving did shake us a little,” Bunnell said. “We were at the crest of this whole thing, at our biggest cumbersome elephant of a band with alot of crew, and the band just got bloated. And Dan really didn’t handle it as well, and had other things he wanted to do. We were all in our own worlds, alot was happening fast, and I think Dan was a victim of that. Gerry and I weathered the storm, and came out the other end with the beginnings of this commitment to keep this thing going.”

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America live in concert in 2015

Although their huge level of success would wane through the 80’s and 90’s (they did have one more hit in 1982 with “Magic”), their hard work, cohesiveness and solid live shows have kept them active and productive ever since. They recently released “Lost and Found,” a deep cuts type of album they hope will appeal to both their older and newer fans.

“It’s a little slice of the last decade, things that didn’t make it onto other albums, things we never got back to,” said Bunnell. “At worst, it’s odds and ends, at best it’s songs that should have been spotlit at the time. It’s a bridge between a new album, which may or may not happen, and having our real dedicated fans keep wanting to hear new stuff.”

Bunnell and Beckley have kept the legacy of this great American band alive and well for 45 years now, and show no signs of letting up, putting on solid, memorable shows every night during a very busy worldwide tour schedule. That’s good news for not only those of us who relish our trips down Ventura Highway with the Tin Man, that unnamed Horse, and the Sandman, as well as those who are just discovering their timeless music. And for the guys in America, the music is what drives their ongoing journey.

“I think the music is what it’s all about,” said Bunnell. “The music is what you’re keeping alive, and those songs, you want them to be as fresh feeling as you can every night.  We want people to walk out of there going, ‘Yeah, we got out of ourselves for an hour and a half.’  All the bands from the 60’s and 70’s are bringing a slice of people’s past back to them, and I think what’s you aspire to. And now that we’ve sort of passed over that line into being more than an also-ran band, it’s about keeping this thing going. It’s about the here and now. And in this moment in time, we really seem to be clicking.”

America plays The Birchmere on Wednesday July 1st. The show is sold out. 

DAVID CROSBY AT THE BIRCHMERE: A LEGEND STILL SHINES

Posted in Uncategorized on June 25, 2015 by midliferocker
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David Crosby at The Birchmere (photo by Steve Houk)

By Steve Houk

The two most common questions I was asked after seeing David Crosby live last Monday night were, “How’s his voice?” and “Was he conscious?”

Well, any concerns about the quality of his vocals or his state of consciousness were totally unfounded, at least on this night. Crosby’s legendary voice was in truly peak form, especially for a 73 year-old who for years has certainly done his level best to undermine it. And as far as his overall awareness and stage presence? Man, Croz was all THERE.

Playing by himself to a sold out crowd at The Birchmere accompanied only by a guitar, Crosby proved that no matter what you may endure as a rock star over five decades, there can be a very bright light at the end of a sometimes long dark tunnel. His singing was rich and strong all night with nary a note missed, and his onstage demeanor was, well…typical Croz: a bit self-deprecating, a bit political, often funny, mostly pleasant, with an occasional barb or cranky comment tossed out for good measure. All in all, Crosby was as entertaining and enjoyable, and truly powerful, as he could possibly be at this point in his storied 50-plus year career.

The two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee (for his work with The Byrds and CSN) opened the first set with “Tracks In The Dust” from his second solo record, a poignant song with a lyric that set the tone for the evening: “But I think we’re passing through here kind of fast, did you think these tracks in the dust would last?” A Crosby & Nash staple was next, “The Lee Shore,” which appeared in its grandest form on CSNY’s 1971 live opus Four Way Street. As with other songs on this night that have always been rooted in the accompaniment of Graham Nash’s harmonies, Crosby managed wonderfully, filling any potentially empty spaces with his strong and often lovely vocal expressions. “Time I Have” followed, one of many standout cuts from Crosby’s excellent and underappreciated “Croz” album from 2014, with Crosby alluding to his penchant for disdain and how he doesn’t want it to rule his twilight years: “People do so many things that make me mad, but angry isn’t how I want to spend what time I have.” Next up was the beautiful “For Free,” a Joni Mitchell composition, with Crosby lauding his beautiful longtime friend, the brilliant CSN muse, as one of music’s best songwriters ever, along with his buddy “Old Weird Bob” as he called him; that would be Bob Dylan to you and me.  You could just envision him singing this decades ago with Joni and Graham out in the tall grass somewhere, enjoying a smoke and the beauty of the “Summer of Love” vibe. Crosby then rolled a deeply emotional song from 1999’s Looking Forward, the last CSNY album they will likely ever record, called “Dream For Him.” The song is a desperate message about then baby son Django, as Crosby wonders how to honestly explain all the strife in the world to him one day, and was delivered with palpable emotion: “I am uncomfortable lying to a child / Feels like building a trap for something wild / Feels like building your house on the sand, and expecting the ocean to let it stand.”

“Triad” was next, Crosby’s semi-controversial song about a menage a trois that he wrote while with The Byrds. It was preceded by Crosby saying with a wry smile, “This is a song that I did NOT get kicked out of The Byrds for. I got kicked out of the Byrds…because I was an asshole.” “Carry Me”, a touching song from Crosby and Nash’s second album, 1975’s Wind On the Water, once again highlighted Crosby’s strong vocals, and even without Nash’s help, he heartbreakingly conveyed the sadness of a mother’s death, but also the freedom that comes with: “And then there was my mother, she was lying in white sheets there and she was waiting to die, she said if you’d just reach underneath this bed, and untie these weights, I could surely fly.” The first set ended with a solid rendition of “Thousand Roads”, the title cut to his third solo album from 1993.

After a fifteen minute break, the second set began with a mournful rebuttal to love likely written after a bad breakup, “Everybody’s Been Burned” which appeared on The Byrds’ 1967 record Younger Than Yesterday. The deep introspection in nearly all of Crosby’s lyrics was very much at play here, you could feel the pain of a love lost even in this older man’s heart: “Anyone in this place, can tell you to your face, why you shouldn’t try to love someone, everybody knows it never works.” “Rusty and Blue” followed, the only tune of the night from his days with CPR, his band with Jeff Pevar and Crosby’s son James Raymond that traversed the mid 90’s to the early 2000’s.

It was here where Crosby went on his only political diatribe of the evening, calling politicians “pond scum who don’t care about you, they only care about themselves.” He mentioned how he always goes to the Lincoln Memorial whenever he comes to Washington, each time climbing the stairs to read the words “of the people, by the people, for the people” from the Gettysburg Address. A visibly emotional Crosby said he then always walks from the Lincoln down to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “the most beautiful memorial on earth, starting with that first name, John Anderson, on that sliver of granite until it gets bigger and bigger as you walk down and see all those names, I mean, how high that f—ing wall is.” He angrily growled, “I mean, they sent 58,000 young men to their deaths, and none of those f—ing politicians who sent them, not one, went over and fought.” Crosby then rolled arguably his most politically-driven anthem, “What Are Their Names” from his masterful star-studded first solo record If I Could Only Remember My Name, saying this was a song “they wish I wouldn’t play.” Jerry Garcia’s guitar and Grace Slick’s vocals were absent from this version, but it made the song’s lyrics and Crosby’s vocals no less powerful: “I wonder who they are, the men who really run this land, and I wonder why they run it, with such a thoughtless hand.” Hearing this very powerful song sung so passionately only a few miles from the epicenter of America’s political power was an experience no one in the room would soon forget.

Crosby then delved back into the world of CSN, doing a beautiful job with “In My Dreams” from the trio’s superb self-titled 1977 record. Even without his cohorts singing along on the “in my dreams, I can see, I can, I can see a love that could be” refrain, Crosby handled it perfectly, bringing the song to a beautiful close.

The crowd was treated next to two of Crosby’s excellent newer compositions which he said may appear on his next album, “What Makes It So” and “Somebody Home.” After the former, a visibly moved Crosby was clearly thankful for the positive response to his newer material, saying “Now you’ve done it. For a singer/songwriter that is the s–t, man.” Crosby has played these songs live before, and you could see why, they are strong and powerful and an indicator that Crosby’s songwriting days are still ever present.

After telling the adoring crowd, “Thanks for listening to those, I guess you deserve some of the older stuff now,” Crosby rolled a lovely “Déjà Vu” and closed the show with an absolutely gorgeous version of “Guinevere.” Again, although we are all used to the beauty and majesty of Stills and Nash (and sometimes Young) weaving their unparalleled harmonies into those two classic tunes, Crosby layered in his own still-strong voice perfectly on both, closing out “Guinevere” with a heart-stopping long sustaining note as the crowd erupted into a boisterous standing ovation. Crosby soon returned to encore with “Cowboy Movie” also from his first solo record, a dark yet affecting tune about the abduction of an Indian girl by a bunch of thieves, who turns out not to be just any Indian girl: “She wasn’t an Indian, she was the law.” Amidst another standing ovation, Crosby slightly bowed and walked into the night, having done exactly what he hoped to do, move an audience with his incomparably familiar and formidable voice, his magical words, and the power and beauty of his classic music. Well done, Croz.

Enjoy the songs David played here: http://www.setlist.fm/setlist/david-crosby/2015/the-birchmere-alexandria-va-6bc902ae.html

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DAVID CROSBY: IT’S THE SONGS, MAN

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on June 16, 2015 by midliferocker

Croz Album photo - Credit Django Crosby

A rock and roll legend still has the spark that got him this far.

By Steve Houk

When you ask David Crosby just what he thinks separates the music that he’s done solo, or with those three other guys named S, N & Y, from the rest of the pack, it’s a no-brainer.

“It’s the songs, man. Everything is the songs,” an animated and engaging Crosby told me from his home in California, as he prepares for his summer solo tour. “That’s what really separates the men from the boys. You can take a mediocre song and do all the production you want on it, and you’re still just polishing an ‘excrescence.’ There’s a polite word. But look, I think that we’re good writers. In whichever combination, either three good writers or four good writers, it gives us a very wide pallet of colors to work from. And I think that’s why the couch album and ‘Deja Vu’ were so strong. There’s a very wide scope of material there that one person couldn’t have written. I think that gave us a huge advantage.”

As Crosby, 73, traverses through his 52nd year of creating music — still immersed in a career that has seen him enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame twice, for his work with The Byrds and CSN — right now, his gift is in full bloom. Coming off his critically acclaimed solo release “Croz” in 2014, his senses are sharp, and his seasoned instincts appear keen. His songwriting spark is in the now, not just the then, the songs are coming fast and furious, and a lesser man might not know what to do with such a rush. But David Crosby does. If anyone knows how to handle a rush, it’s Croz. Take it and go with it.

“I’ve always written in kind of bursts of activity over the years,” Crosby said with a twinkle in his voice. “I’ll write two, three things in a row and then a couple of months will pass by before I write another thing. I don’t know why that is, but I’ve been in now the longest most sustained burst of writing that I can remember in probably thirty years. I’m just amazed it’s going this long. I wrote two things this week. So I don’t know what to think. I feel very grateful, I don’t really understand it, but I guess I don’t have to understand it, I just have to work with it. I was stunned by the amount of material that’s coming my way and very grateful. And I’m smart enough to pay attention to it so that’s what I’ve been doing. I pick up the guitar every day several times, and try to work at it and it’s been working.”

(L-R) Jerry Garcia, David Crosby and Neil Young during recording of Crosby's 1971 solo record If I Could Only Remember My Name (photo courtesy Jim Marshall)

(L-R) Jerry Garcia, David Crosby, Phil Lesh and Neil Young during recording of Crosby’s 1971 solo record “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (photo courtesy Jim Marshall)

Although Crosby can be prolific in his songwriting, he has only released four true solo records, beginning with the stellar, star-studded “If I Could Only Remember My Name” in 1971. That record came at a devastating period in his life, when writing songs was the only thing that kept him going when nothing else could.

“That was a life saver, that record man, absolutely a life saver,” Crosby said with a clear remembrance. “I was going through a really rough period in my life there, my girlfriend had just gotten killed in a car wreck. I had no way to deal with it at all. I was in pretty bad emotional shape when we finished ‘Deja Vu’ and the only place I really felt comfortable was in the studio. So I just stayed in there. And that’s the record that happened. Jerry Garcia was a good friend of mine and came almost every night, some of the other guys, Phil Lesh, and Paul Kantner and Grace Slick and people from Santana and the Dead and the Airplane and other bands up there would come by. And sometimes Nash and Joni Mitchell. It was a rough time but that’s how I stayed alive, making that record.”

44 years after that album was released, and as the Dead celebrate their 50th anniversary this year, Crosby recalls his relationship with the band members with much fondness, relationships that continue even today.

“I was friends with all of them, and I’m still friends with Phil, we are buddies and have been for a long time and I’m sure we will be for a long time. I love ’em, they are a bunch of great guys, we would jam alot and spend time at Bob Weir’s place in Mill Valley which is right near my place and I would go over there when they were rehearsing, and just interfere and get in the way and pester them. Start jams right when they were trying to learn new tunes and stuff.”

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From 1971 to now is a long time, but Crosby has endured long enough to keep writing memorable music, including 2014’s “Croz,” a record he’s very happy with but thinks he can surpass, given his recent burst of writing energy, and that of some equally famous neighbors. “I have to say, that record’s a good record and I’m proud of it. I think we’ll beat it, I think the next one will be even better. The writing’s going really well, man, I just finished one song with Michael McDonald that’s kind of amazing. Oh, he’s a great writer that guy, man. Up here at my house and over at his house, he lives near me, and man, what a great guy to write with.”

Crosby will be back out there on stage with his longtime mates this fall for a CSN European swing — “Why do we do it? I guess we love it, that’s the answer” — but for now, on this upcoming solo swing, it’s just him and his guitar, naked out there. And that’s just how he wants it to be right now.

“It’s more challenging, it’s how I started out,” Crosby said. “One guy, one guitar. But it’s also a way that I can do one of the things I love the most, which is tell you the story of the song. The words really count, and if it’s just you and the guitar, you get to really actually make the words count. And they’re a big deal for me, poetry’s a big deal for me. A BIG deal to me. I love doing it this way, it’s much more challenging, and at this point in my life, challenging myself is a very healthy thing to do.”

And as always, when it comes right down to it, it’s all about…the songs.

“To carry it yourself, it has alot more to do with the song. If you got a whole band there, you can play something that’s only moderately good and get away with it. If it’s just you and the guitar, it has to be a really good song. That for me is crucial stuff. I really like that. I do have some good songs. It’s a different ball game than playing with the band, completely. Not everybody wants to do it and not everybody can do it. I do really love doing it.”

And will Crosby be pulling out any buried treasures from his legendary canon, any big surprises, on this short solo soiree?

“Oh definitely, but I’m not gonna tell ya,” he says, laughing. “You have to come to the show, man. I hope you do come, I think you’ll like it. If you like songs, you’ll love it.”

David Crosby performs Monday June 22nd at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. The show is sold out. 

JEFF MATTSON: DRIFTING OUTSIDE OF THE DARK STAR

Posted in Uncategorized on June 10, 2015 by midliferocker
(courtesy Peter Wochniak)

Jeff Mattson (courtesy Peter Wochniak)

By Steve Houk

For guitarist Jeff Mattson, the Grateful Dead has been his muse for about as long as he can remember. Some of his earliest musical memories of childhood include not only listening to his jazz musician father jamming, but also rocking out to the Dead, the Allman Brothers and other legendary improvisational rock music.

And that’s a good thing, because over the years, the Dead’s music has been very very good to him, with the bulk of his successful 36-year career having been spent playing the Dead’s music in bands like the Zen Tricksters since 1979, and for the last five years, as lead guitarist for arguably the best Dead-related band ever, Dark Star Orchestra.

But it’s not surprising that every now and then, he and fellow DSO member and longtime friend Rob Barraco feel the need to change it up a tad by playing some different music, seems only fair, right? To that end, they are out on the road this month for a brief swing as Mattson/Barraco and Friends, with a stop at Gypsy Sally’s in DC on Saturday June 13th.

“Just to do something outside of the Dark Star paradigm of doing all Grateful Dead all the time,” Mattson told me from his home on Long Island, “we thought it’d be fun to put something together between Dark Star tours where we can play our original music and some other cover stuff, and yes, add some Dead, some Jerry Garcia Band stuff, but treat it a little bit differently, and have some fun with it.”

As the Grateful Dead celebrate 50 years of music this year, and even as he embarks on another little-less-Dead jaunt with Baracco, Mattson looks back on his close relationships with the surviving Dead members with great fondness, and even a dash of reverence.

“The first person from the Dead I got to play with was Phil,” said Mattson. “In 1999, I did three shows with Phil Lesh and Friends at the Warfield in San Francisco. I’ve been fortunate to have been able to play with all the living members of the Grateful Dead at one time or another, couple times with Bobby (Weir), buncha times with Phil, and Billy (Kreutzmann) and Mickey (Hart) and Donna (Jean Godchaux) and Tom (Constanten). That’s really been the highlight for me of my whole career, because these people, I have so much respect for their musical creation, what they’ve done in the past, what they’re doing now, so to get to play with them is kind of an intimate thing. The things that really shine when I look back, that stick out, are when I’ve been able to play with those folks.”

Mattson started playing with the Dead’s Godchaux in the mid 2000’s, but a few years later a personnel change in DSO opened up an opportunity that he just couldn’t pass up, and that proved to be what would propel him forward into the great gig he has now.

“(Guitarist and DSO founding member) John Kadlecik was approached by (Lesh & Weir’s) Furthur,” Mattson said. “At first he was gonna try to both things and they called me to fill in for some shows while he was off rehearsing with Furthur, and then it became apparent that he wasn’t going to able to do both because Furthur was gonna play alot of shows. So they asked me to consider joining DSO. At that point, my full time gig was playing with Donna Jean, so I was kinda torn because it was a good opportunity, but I was already doing this other thing. But obviously as it turned out, I did take the job with Dark Star in 2010 and have been with them ever since, and I still play with Donna Jean too.”

Jeff Mattson (L) and Rob Barraco

Jeff Mattson (L) and Rob Barraco

Mattson relishes his place in DSO, but again, it’s nice to be able to get out and work some other musical muscles in between playing all Dead. Joining Mattson and Baracco this go-round are Baracco’s son Tom on drums and Rob Friedman on bass. Mattson knows full well that audiences are going to still expect some Dead tunage from this brood, and they won’t be dissapointed as long as they also let these masters spread their wings a little.

“When people come see us, they’re going to want to hear some of that (Dead) stuff, so it’s definitely in there, too. But I think mainly the idea was for us to get to flex some other chops than doing the straight 100% Grateful Dead thing, because we love all kinds of other music.”

Mattson/Barraco & Friends perform June 13th at Gypsy Sally’s, 3401 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20007. For tickets, click here.

ODE TO BILLY JOE

Posted in Uncategorized on June 9, 2015 by midliferocker

BJS

Billy Joe Shaver ain’t givin’ up playin’ his legendary songs any time soon. 

By Steve Houk

Living legend? Yep, there are a few left out there, not many, but a few. And one of them is Billy Joe Shaver.

With a life that reads like an epic hard luck country song, Shaver made it out from under a sandpaper-tough Texas upbringing and forty plus years of hard living to become one of those great American songwriters, with fellow legends like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, Kris Kristofferson, The Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan and even Elvis Presley covering his songs. And that’s what it comes down to, all these years later, when the Grammy-nominated Shaver hits the road: it’s all about the songs.

“I’m enjoying going out and playing for the folks, because these songs, since I wrote all of them, they’re like little time capsules, and I can go out and play and every time I sing one of those old songs, they’re new to these kids, they’re so old they’re new. It’s just like going back, man. It’s a really great feeling. I really enjoy it.”

Billy Joe Shaver, 75, is truly a rare breed, one of the last of the singing outlaws, a group that includes still kickin’ better known road warriors like Waylon, Willie and Kris. His classic often story-centric songs evoke the trappings of a hard life, a raucous rough and tumble existence, with the goal being to still remain standing with a dirt-filled fistful of hope. Shaver takes The Birchmere stage on Saturday June 13th.

With a childhood like Shaver had, heck, even before he was born, it’s a miracle of sorts that he survived to write the songs he did. “I’ve lost fingers and I’ve been beat up, I’ve rodeo’d, I’ve done everything you can do, just about, in 75 years, I’m paying for it now.” Yet it’s the harder moments of life that have helped formulate his songwriting style and framed the content of his legendary songs.

“It contributed to it alot, because my grandmother raised me,” Shaver told me from his home in Waco. “My father claimed my mother was running around on him, so with me still inside her, he took her out to an old stock tank out there somewhere, and left her for dead. This old Mexican friend of ours was out that way and he pulled her out of the water and put her over the back of his horse, thought she was dead, and brought her back to the house. Somehow the water must have come out of her. She was still pregnant with me, and my mother told my grandmother, if he…that’s me…comes out and it’s a boy, I’m gone. And I’ll guarantee you, the day after she had me, she left.”

With his mother a mere memory, Shaver was at the mercy of his brutal father, and life was a nasty bear to say the least. But amidst the tough times, he vividly remembers how he first got a taste of music, in a most unlikely of scenarios.

“There was a buncha black people, cotton pickers, across the railroad track from us,” Shaver said. “And I’d go over every day, maybe I was about 6 or 7, and I’d go over and every evening there was a lady there that had a stand-up piano on the porch, and everybody’d gather round there and they’d get to singing. And I could sing real good and they’d let me sing. I got influenced by them more than I did anybody.”

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Shaver survived an adulthood that would have reduced many to dust, including a 2007 arrest for shooting a man, for which he was acquitted. But he also kept writing and recording, and even dabbled in acting. His most recent record “Long In The Tooth” (2014) was a pleasant surprise that showed Shaver’s songwriting is still going strong, still evocative, still Billy Joe. “We worked really hard, man. It was a labor of love really, but it just came out so great, it just amazed me, I couldn’t believe it. But I’ve always been trying to beat (his 1973 debut) ‘Old Five and Dimers Like Me.’ I think this stands up there with it.”

Shaver has sure seen his share of hard knocks but like any good ol’ cowboy, he’s picked himself up and come back strong, because, well, it’s his passion and what he does best.

“It’s not work, it’s still a hobby to me. I’m really lucky to be able to do this. God gave me a gift, and I just made the best of it.”

Billy Joe Shaver and special guest Curtis McMurtry appear Saturday June 13th at the Birchmere, 3701 Mt. Vernon Ave., Alexandria, VA. For tickets click here.

WILLIE NILE: BRILLIANCE REALIZED

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on June 1, 2015 by midliferocker

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One of rock’s most gifted songwriters reaps the rewards of patience. 

By Steve Houk

You might not know Willie Niles music. And until you do, well, it’s your loss.

Forget that Nile is one of the most prolific and brilliant songwriters anywhere, if it was up to some of the most gifted musicians on the planet, as well as a legion of fans he’s garnered over his 30 plus years in the business, everyone would know who Willie Nile is.

“From Richard Thompson to Bruce Springsteen — and I treasure his friendship, he’s as good a guy as you’d hope he’d be  — to Bono and Lucinda Williams just to name a few, they’ve all been so supportive,” the great Nile told me from New York recently. “Lucinda told me when she heard ‘On The Road to Cavalry,’ that it was the most beautiful song she’d ever heard. And I’ve been to Ireland the past two winters, and both times after sound check, I’d go up to the dressing room and there’s this wooden gift box with two bottles of champagne and five to six bottles of Guinness and a note, and you open it up and it says, ‘Welcome to Dublin, Love, U2.’ That’s from Bono, he’s been such a supporter, too. I just pinch myself. So as up and down a ride as it’s been, it’s really more satisfying than you can imagine, because of the respect I’ve gotten, and the joy I’m having making the music.”

Up and down is right, but respect and joy are what surrounds Willie Nile these days. At 66, the supremely talented Nile is one of those musicians whose career has had enough gaps in it that he’s almost slipped through them himself: a fairy tale start, followed by a long reclusion from the music business altogether, and then a masterful 25 year awakening, turning him into one of music’s most unheralded songwriting geniuses. Nile and his excellent band will be at Jammin Java on June 6th.

For Nile, it’s all about the songs, and album for album, from his self-titled debut in 1980 to his latest gem ‘If I Was A River’ released last year, his sublime tunes are what separates him from the rest of the pack, and has reaped him the major respect he so deeply deserves. Yes, he and his band can rock the house like nobody’s business, in the studio and especially live, but it’s the evocative and stunning tapestries of life that Nile paints with his words that place him in very rare company.

“When I write, I just write what comes to me,” Nile told me. “Whether it’s something political, you know, the world we live in, or I see something that touches my heart, whether it’s love or loss, or someone else’s sorrow or loneliness. I watch people all the time, looking for things that inspire me. From burning the house down on a Saturday night, just blowing the roof off a place with party songs, to other deeper songs about a time, a place or a love, what’s great about rock and roll is you can write about anything. There’s no limit, it’s boundless. There’s something about that that really appeals to me.”

Willie Nile's self-titled debut circa 1980

Willie Nile’s self-titled debut circa 1980

Willie Nile just might have become one of those aforementioned household names if things had gone a bit differently. An unexpected gig opening up for one of rock music’s most famous bands right after his first album dropped gave him a leg up most musicians dream about, and things seemed ready to blast off.

“I toured with the Who in 1980, after my first record,” Nile said. “When they told me at the record company, oh, Pete Townsend loves your record, I just thought to myself, yeah, sure he does, this is some kinda bullshit that the record company is throwing. So go forward, it’s the last show of my first tour at the Roxy in L.A., and after the show, Bill Curbishley, The Who’s manager and a number of Who people came back. They really liked the show, and asked me on the spot if I wanted to open across the US for The Who. They had another band opening, they just started the tour, and they kicked them off the tour. It was the dream of a lifetime, we had the time of our lives. I was playing in a few hundred seat clubs, first time ever playing with a band. Next thing you know I’m in front of 20,000, 25,000. It was great.”

With a huge break like that, you’d think it’d be pretty smooth sailing to the next level. But for Nile, after two stellar early records and the Who warm-up slot, it was an admirable combination of principles and responsibility that took precedence, and he literally dissapeared from view for a half dozen years just as his star was about to burst open. He spent that time largely letting family take a front seat, with music being relegated to the back.

“I walked away in ’81, we went and had kids and raised a family in Buffalo. It was a magical time up there, but a hard time,” Nile said. “I went through whatever savings I had and borrowed money, and I didn’t play at all. I mean, nothing. It also had become more about business and not about music. So I just said, you know what? I’m outta here. That’s not why I came. Music is a total joy for me, I love it, and they were totally killing my buzz, and I go, I’m not gonna let them kill my buzz, so I just turned around and walked away. If I had any regrets it would be management choices, choices that I’ve made. Like if I hadn’t made some of those moves, things would be different. But you learn, you make mistakes, and you learn hopefully from them. It’s taken me a long time, but it’s been a very rewarding journey for many years.”

Nile kept writing music up in Buffalo, but stayed away from performing throughout much of the 80’s. It was late in the decade when a unique opportunity presented itself, and the pull of his chosen gifts beckoned Nile back into a life of music.

“I got a call from a promoter in Norway saying, ‘I thought you were dead. We all thought you were dead,'” Nile said. “I had never been to Europe, which is really a shame, had I gone to Europe back in the beginning, things would have been quite a bit different. But I went to play a children’s cancer hospital benefit in the far north of Norway, and I ended up going there like six, seven years in a row. I also went to this benefit for this writer, the godfather of all the music critics in Norway. It was filmed, Joe Ely was there, I did like a 25 minute set. I took the videotape of that performance to a buddy of mine, a producer at Columbia, and he loved it so much he signed me on the strength of that. So that got me going again.”

The wait was worth it, Nile was back in business, and over the next decade he would release two stellar records, “Places I’ve Never Been” in 1991 (featuring Richard Thompson, Loudon Wainwright III and Roger McGuinn on backup vocals) and eight years later, “Beautiful Wreck Of The World,” which would be his first self-released record and change the course of his career for the better by freeing himself of the constraints of record companies’ incessant meddling. A whirling flurry of creativity and productivity would follow, and finally, his name would become synonymous around the world for both kick-ass rock and roll and thoughtful, deep songwriting.

“That was really a turning point for me, because of the internet plus the independent thing, that freed me up from relying on major labels to be interested or involved. In 2006, ‘Streets Of New York’ really put me back on the map, internationally. I had started going to Europe in maybe ’92 on a regular basis, so I had pretty developed fan bases in Italy and Spain, and now in these last years the UK and Ireland. But in 2006, ‘New York’ made a lot of noise, Bono gave me a great quote for it, a lot of people gave me some great quotes. Then I put out ‘House of a Thousand Guitars’ in 2009, 2011 was ‘The Innocent Ones’ which got a ton of acclaim on BBC, they called it the album of the year, again, independently released. In 2013, I put out ‘American Ride’ through a Sony distributed label. That won the Independent Music Award for Best Rock Album of the Year in a worldwide vote, which was really sweet.”

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Willie Nile (R) on stage with friend Bruce Springsteen

Finally, after his career had almost seemed like a classic case of too few and far between, or maybe even sheer brilliance never truly realized, Nile would garner the recognition he so long deserved, up to and including the latest “If I Was A River,” a record Nile is very proud of.

” ‘If I Was A River’ is a piano based album, and that was a labor of love. I played the piano early on as an eight year old, and I’d written so many songs on the piano. I saw a little window where I could put out a piano-based record. Stuart Smith and David Mansfield are backing me up, I’m really proud of it. It’s gotten a great reaction.”

For Willie Nile, it’s been a long road to where he is today, and if it weren’t for a couple of important decisions he felt he needed to make, he might be in that upper echelon of rock star popularity. But don’t let that fool you: they don’t get any better than Willie Nile, whose songwriting chops and live performances are as good as anyone out there right now. And he’s very pleased with where things are in his life today.

“You learn things, everybody’s got different paths. I’m very happy where things are now. It’s been much easier on my family. But I really treasure all the stuff that I have learned. I wouldn’t trade it for the world at this point. I’m having a great, great time. Still writing like crazy, and enjoying it as much as ever. And the people come out and give me a lot of love so it’s very rewarding. I consider myself very lucky.”

Willie Nile and his band perform June 6th at Jammin Java, 227 Maple Ave E, Vienna, VA 22180. Tickets are available here

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