COME TOGETHER

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on July 21, 2017 by midliferocker

A New Design (8)

I loved Linkin Park. I’m not saying this only because Chester died yesterday. Not at all. For one, their two masterpieces Hybrid Theory and Meteora took this 40-something parent of four wayyy out of his musical comfort zone, with a raw, powerful, intimidating and foreign blend of metal and hip hop that many my age wouldn’t go near. And then, there were Chester’s words, monumentally deep, torturous, desperate, desolate and wrenching, and yes, even you old man, you knew what he was talking about in there somewhere, even if you weren’t 15. But then there were the two boys Alex and Ben, a teen and tween respectively. They adored this enigma of a band, maybe for one of the reasons above, or neither, or probably just because it was loud and angry and pleading, or maybe because the divorces they’d endured made them gravitate to something that let them freely scream out their own pain and anguish, doing it privately yet defiantly within Chester’s wailing. Yes, it was the boys’ adoration that drove us to this bracing, brilliant, jarring, exhilarating music. But moreso, it was the first time the kids and grown ups could wrap their heads around the same music. We fell into the rock and roll euphoria together, we could ride the crowd and mosh it up side by side. Wow, what a concept. We took the boys to see Linkin Park twice, first time at the then-Nissan Pavilion, a big deal for all of us in our own ways. And after a Snoop Dogg opening set rife with obscenity and drug references (“Get high, get drunk and f–k!!!” Dogg blared, as we cringed and laughed), all of us ended up Wayne’s Worldesque dancing and pumping fists and screaming in unison along with this rock and hop force of nature that was LP. Mostly, you couldn’t help being mesmerized by their amazing, exhilarating, miraculous, and undoubtedly wounded lead singer. Stalking the stage pulling you into his agonized and elating howls. Yet you could make out his words perfectly. Sure, we got a couple of sly side eyes from the boys, a few ‘what are you doing’ glances. But deep down, I think they dug that we were all sharing something so powerful. So yeah, I loved Linkin Park. It’s not only because now at 56, and in the midst of another divorce, I can play Numb or In The End or, yeah, Somewhere I Belong, how fitting, and blast it in my car with the windows down, crying and feeling and trying to exorcise my own demons for just one minute. But more importantly, it reminds me of a beautiful, rare time when the magic of music bonded a generation together. It united us and our children in a way you dream about. At least for a moment, we got it, and each other. And in some ways, amidst a swirling whirl of change and emancipation for us all, God I hope we still do. 

RICKY SKAGGS: BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2017 by midliferocker

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A very thankful country/bluegrass legend pays homage to those who guided his way. 

By Steve Houk

If you’re Ricky Skaggs these days, well, you’re sittin’ pretty, you’re lovin’ life. Let’s look at just why.

Not only is Skaggs a country and bluegrass legend with an incredible resume — 12 #1 hit singles, 15 Grammys, eight CMA awards,  12 consecutive Grammy-nominated records, and on and on – but because of that earlier success, he is also able to live in the now, playing whatever music he wants to at this stage in his career, and seeing the music that started his career off played enthusiastically by a younger generation.

“I was afforded the luxury of having success in the 80’s,” the kind and affable Skaggs said on a break from his current tour which brings him to the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa on June 22nd. “It kind of catapulted me, and I had some number ones and stuff. And that gave me the chance to now, years later, be able to go back and play and experience the music that got me here, that I learned on. And wow, these young rascal kids out on the road playing with me, these kids can just play, they play me under the table at 20 something years old. It’s fresh fire, fresh wind, a fresh vocabulary of the music that Mr. Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs and others started. It energizes me. It’s worked out that I can enjoy the roots music that got me started. I’m 62, and have a left foot in the past, and a right foot in the future.”

Skaggs has been playing music since he was in his mid-single digits, and when he looks back at that little kid playing that mandolin, he can see why he has been doing what he loves to do for so long.

“I was playing on TV with Bill Monroe when I was 7,” Skaggs said, “and there’s a You Tube clip of it that’s amazing [see below]. You can see the determination in my eyes, it blows my mind, the settledness of it all. There was something in him, that boy, a knowing. Whether the mind knew, or the spirit knew, there was destiny ahead.”

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Ricky Skaggs helps unveil a statue of his mentor Bill Monroe at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville on June 7th, 2017 (photo courtesy Steve Lowry/Ryman Archives)

And thanks to his mentor/the king of bluegrass Mr. Monroe, as well as through his own unadulterated talent, Skaggs has thrived since those very early days. He recalls something he said to Monroe just before he died, a very special moment talking to his mentor and hero that he will never forget.

“One thing I told Mr. Monroe before he passed,” Skaggs fondly recalled, “I told him that I have been to many countries, places like Burma, India, Pakistan, Thailand, all over the world. And people would come up to me and talk about bluegrass. They’d even have their own bluegrass bands in those countries. It thrilled him to death to hear that.”

Among all the accolades Skaggs has received, being a 35-year member of the Grand Ole Opry stands out as a pinnacle. He was the youngest person ever asked to join the Opry, and being around the legendary Nashville stage for so long and learning from its legendary inhabitants has truly formed who he is today.

“Being in that Grand Ole Opry family, around those legends, wow, it has meant the world to me. The love of those elders, like Hank Snow, Jimmy C Newman, Billy Walker, so many others, they spoke life to me for the first time. Minnie Pearl was always so kind, had advice for me, helped me find my way. I am simply a messenger of their music.”

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Skaggs recently came to Washington to play at Ford’s Theater with the President and First lady in attendance, and later was invited to the White House for a reception. A chance encounter with a stranger under that famous roof caused him to remember just what his mission as a musician really is.

“Even in that setting, strangers come up to you,” Skaggs remembered, “and this guy comes up to me, and after introducing ourselves, he says, ‘I’m a doctor, I’m in the healing business.’  He said, ‘So what do you do?’ And I said well, ‘I’m in the healing business too, I’m a musician.’ And he looked at me kinda sideways, and I said, ‘Yes, I heal people through music.’ And that is just so right.”

And as for his fame, Skaggs knows what success really comes down to.

“I am very thankful for every award, but I know success is more than that, like family and faith. Raising kids, loving my wife. Plus I used to kinda dread after show meet and greets, it felt like work. But when I started doing it more and loving it, I thought, what have I been missing? Now it’s so great meeting people and hearing how special this music is to them. It’s a very humbling time. That’s what success really is.”

Ricky Skaggs performs Thursday June 22nd at the Chesapeake Beach Resort and Spa, 4165 Mears Ave., Chesapeake Beach, MD  20732. For tickets, click here.

IMELDA MAY: THE GIRL I USED TO BE

Posted in Uncategorized on June 13, 2017 by midliferocker

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An Irish rock and roll songstress uses some profound life experiences to forge a new chapter. 

By Steve Houk

Life is full of changes. We all experience them. Some are small, and some are big. But change is part of our lives.

Imelda May has gone through some profound life changes over the last few years, as profound as it gets, really. Having her first baby, getting divorced from her longtime partner and bandmate, reassessing her career, figuring out what’s next. Yeah, some bigtime changes.

And out of all of that turbulence came a revelation: a stunning, beautiful, and for her, a very different new record, aptly titled Love Life Flesh Blood, released in April of this year. It’s not the Imelda as sassy rockabilly siren that people have come to know, although she’s still in there. It’s an introspective, deeply personal collection of music that signifies a new chapter in this exceptional singer’s life and career. And often for musicians, their music is just the elixir they need for handling the many changing tides of life.

“Well, life changes, as you know,” the sweet, affable and open Imelda May told me on a break from her current world tour that will bring her to Wolf Trap on June 22nd opening for Elvis Costello. “And as a writer, I write about what’s happening. I probably took about a year to write this album. This was a really wonderful writing time for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed making this album. And I just wanted to write honestly.”

Love Life Flesh Blood certainly is honest, brutally so. You can just feel the pain, the struggle, the sadness, and also the redemption and recovery, oozing from it’s deeply emotional songs. It is a seminal time for the lovely Irish-born May, who also decided to put her preconceived image aside and move away from what people thought she was.

“I had no plan about what album I wanted to make,” the 42 year-old May said. “But before I wrote the last album Tribal, I knew that was going to be the last album that I wrote in that vein, because I felt like I’ve hit a glass ceiling almost. You know people say, ‘Oh, I know what you do,’ and that’s terrible. You know there was a certain album expected, and creatively, I just felt a bit fenced in, and so I knew I didn’t want to do that anymore. I’ve always done all kinds of music, but I was kind of tagged with just one, and so I just wanted that to stop. So I wrote Tribal as heavy as I felt comfortable with, and put a lot of rockabilly, a lot of punk in that as well, and so I could step away comfortably, now that I’ve gone as far as I wanted to go.”

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(photo by Ciaran Cunningham)

Although May knew she wanted to get out of the corner she felt painted into, she wasn’t sure what was to come next. That’s until she mined her own psyche for the intense feelings she had experienced during such a tumultuous time. The music flowed from there.

“I didn’t know what was next, and that was really liberating to just not know, and to just write and write and write and write. I just wrote so many songs, like 40, because so much had gone on, like I said, it’s a year. Things happened that caused me heartbreak and regret, and then hope and feeling guilty for being happy, and then letting myself go to happiness and desire.  I wrote what I wanted to write, and I wrote honestly before, but I found a way of kind of hiding things, meanings, in there, not in a weird way, just that’s what you do. If you’re talking to a friend, you might talk slightly different if there’s a microphone in between you. It’s that kind of vibe. If you think lots of people might be listening, you might hold back a little, but if you’re on your own with your friends, and you think no one’s listening, you just let it all out, and that’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to write this like no one was listening, and just write how I felt and let it all out, and almost use the album like a diary.”

May is happy she could not only convey her deep feelings into her music, but she hopes that people can connect with the songs as much as she did when she was writing them.

“Writing is an inward thing,” May continued. “I was writing for myself, and purely for how I was feeling, but then after the album comes out, I want to connect to people, and I almost feel like once an album’s out, you’re almost, you give your songs to others in a way. If somebody else relates to it, then it belongs to them. If I can write the words that you’re feeling, then we’ve connected in life somewhere along the way, and I think that’s lovely.”

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Selfie with Imelda May (left) and Bono, The Edge and Adam Clayton of U2 along with Panti, onstage in Dublin (photo courtesy U2 Twitter)

May was lucky enough to have a top shelf roster helping her out with the new record, including ace producer T-Bone Burnett and longtime buddies Jeff Beck and Jools Holland. But it was a fellow Irish rock star that she’s been pals with for a while who ended up being her most valuable adviser on the record.

“Bono didn’t collaborate as much as be a very, very, very good friend. He said, ‘If you get stuck, just give me a call.’ So anytime I’d get stuck, I’d give him a call and say, ‘I’m so close to the trees, you know, I can’t see the woods for the trees I’m so close,’ and he just put me in the right direction again, and reminded me what I wanted. He’d say, ‘Do you want to make a hit? You want to make art?’ And I’d say, ‘Oh, I want to make art.’ And he’d say, “Well, do that. If that’s what you’re feeling, write it down.’ And then, he was hounding T-Bone, like, ‘Mate, get this right or I’ll kill you,” you know? There were jokes, there was lots of joking going about on T-Bone, who’d say, ‘Would you get this small Irish man off my back?’ He’d say, ‘God, Bono’s onto me,’ because there was a couple of songs I was going to drop, and Bono was calling T-Bone saying, ‘Do not let her drop these songs.’

And as for that trademark blonde curl above her forehead that was part of her previous image? Well, losing that was also symbolic of the changes that signified a new phase of life for this very special songstress, who has come out of an intense time with a brighter future than ever.

“Do you know, I was in Dublin and I was walking around and I was getting stopped, and people are really, really sweet, but I felt like I was almost dressing up as Imelda May the singer, you know? As opposed to Imelda May, me. It was becoming the performer, and it was great while it felt like me, it was great. Like anybody, you go through changes, and when it feels like you, it’s great, and then the minute it doesn’t feel like you anymore, then it’s time to change. And now…I’m feeling good, I’m feeling really good.”

Imelda May performs as opening act for Elvis Costello & The Imposters on Thursday June 22nd at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, 1551 Trap Rd, Vienna, VA 22182. For tickets, click here

GARRY TALLENT: LET THE BASS MAN SING

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2017 by midliferocker

The guy who gave Bruce Springsteen his deep end from day one finally gets his solo turn. 

By Steve Houk

When Garry Tallent and his family moved to Neptune City, New Jersey in 1964, something really big happened.

Tallent knew no one when he arrived, so it was kinda hard to make connections. But since he had dabbled in music as a kid, beginning with the tuba (yes that’s him on “Wild Billy’s Circus Story”), he could find somewhere to fit in. So he eventually dropped the big horn and picked up a guitar, and hooked up with some scruffy new musician friends, guys like not-quite-Miami Steven Van Zandt, not-yet-Mad-Dog Vini Lopez, not-quite-Southside Johnny Lyon, and a Jersey rat sorta kid from nearby Freehold named Bruce.

Sure, they could jam and have fun and get girls and maybe some scratch on a Saturday night playing a bar, but playing music as a money making career? Really? Garry Tallent knew right from the get go that was where he was headed.

“Everybody was saying, ‘What are you doing to do after high school?’ I’d say, ‘Well, I’m going to play music.’ Even Johnny goes, ‘That’s okay on the weekends. What are you doing to do for a living?’ I said, ‘That’s it.’ He said, ‘Really?’ There was never any doubt in my mind. I would have been happy playing at bars, and that’s what I did for a long time. Just by wanting to do it, I guess opportunities come your way, and you just go with it and take it where it takes you.”

Where it has taken him is a spectacular fifty year music career, most notably travelling the globe as the only bassist ever (realistically anyway) in his old buddy Springsteen‘s world famous E Street Band. But now, at 67, after standing behind and providing the backbone for one of rock and roll’s greatest, he is grabbing the opportunity to do some long-awaited solo work where he is the front man, writing the songs, and singing them live. Tallent released his first solo record Break Time last year, and is now on a world tour that brings him to the Amp by Strathmore on May 14th.

For Tallent, although he’s stood tall on some of the biggest stages in the world, being out front is a whole new ball game, and it makes him appreciate his Boss’ job even more.

“It’s totally different, scary, exciting, new, fresh, so many different things,” Tallent said on a break during the current tour. “When I’m playing bass, I am playing the bass part, and I’m working with Max and Roy within the section. And at the same time I’m improvising things that come to my mind, yet still playing the song so it’s at least recognizable to the general public.”

“But in this case,” Tallent continued, “I’m still at the point where I’m trying to memorize all the words and all the arrangements, so there’s just so much more going on in your head. Instead of trying to figure out new things to do with things that you’ve done for 40 years, you’re finding what to do with things that you still haven’t figured out yet. But it just makes you feel like you can do anything. When you get that machine behind you, you kind of get the feeling that Bruce must feel every night. He had that freedom to just go out there and try things and have the band behind you, and making you look good. You screw up, they make it sound right. But it’s something I never pictured doing since high school.”

Tallent grew up in Detroit with a country western thing goin’ on thanks to his parents, so that DNA seeps in and soaks Break Time with a real C & W vibe that captures the old while also having a feel that is all his.

“Well, it really was my first influence,” Tallent said. “My parents are both from Tennessee and they loved Hank Williams. My father went around singing Ernest Tubb songs around the house, and my mother played a little guitar and would sing all these World War II-Webb Pierce songs, so that was really my first inkling of what music was. Then, of course, the radio in the early 50’s was pretty much the pop standard stuff. Then all of a sudden rock and roll hit right about the time that I was starting to be aware of what else was out there. That just really excited me and stayed with me all this time.”

If the old adage is true that if you please yourself, that’s all that matters, Break Time is a rousing success, being it gave Tallent exactly what he wanted. He is pleased with this first stab at doing his own thing. “It’s a first attempt. It did what I set out to do, and that was just to pay homage to the music that first struck my interest in rock and roll.”

Lucky for Tallent and other legendary side men who are making solo forays later in their careers, the industry has changed enough that they can get a record out without the arduousness of dealing with the same old nagging record company issues.

“It’s just the music business, how it’s changed. You don’t really need a huge record company behind you. You don’t really need a huge budget to make the record. I basically made it in a friend’s studio, in my own home studio. There’s no tour support. There’s really nothing that we had to have in the old days, where people had to have a deal with the big record company. So, the playing field is just evened out. Everybody has their own CD, so I’m really no different than the guy next door, except that I do have some experience being on the road. I think it makes it a little easier for me to deal with the bumps and the hurdles as I go.”

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Garry Tallent is the longest standing member of the E Street Band remaining (photo courtesy Poughkeepsie Journal)

Those bumps and hurdles could also be part of the lofty expectations some fans have when it comes to a Garry Tallent tour, as in, will he play some Bruce, will Bruce show up, all that comes with being associated with such a larger than life rock star as his old pal. Early reports off the road are glowing, as fans are lovingly embracing Tallent’s own songs and his own style.

“I’m not sure of what people’s expectations are, with the record or the tour. I assume that they’re expecting Bruce Jr. So hopefully they’ll come out with an open mind and just be ready to have some fun, because that’s really all I’m after. Just to put a smile on somebody’s face.”

Tallent has wanted to do a solo turn for a while, but you never know when the phone might ring and it’s “him” again, asking if you want to go conquer the world, ya know, go down Thunder Road one more time. And even though one small tour can turn into a couple years out on the road, Tallent relishes the time playing with his lifelong friend.

“Well, (the last River Tour) was supposed to be 22 shows. I said, ‘That’d be great. Let’s do it.’  Then it turned into nine months or ten months, whatever it was. But hey, the E Street Band is something I’ve been involved in for going on, jeez, I don’t even know how many years. Going on 50 years. It’s a huge part of my life, so of course I want to be there. This (solo turn) is really a side project. Though it’s important to me, I don’t think it’s as important to the rest of the world as it is to me.”

And as for his longest running job, what does he think about being the last member standing of the E Street Band, the survivor so to speak? The humble Tallent wants no honor, no title there. He just gives thanks.

“The reason that I’m, whatever you want to call it, the last man standing, is just we’ve lost Clarence, we’ve lost Danny. Somebody said, ‘You should be really proud of that.’ It’s nothing I’m proud of. It’s something I’m thankful for. Yeah. But there’s no pride in that. The band will go on because it’s important to survive. It doesn’t mean that we don’t miss the guys that really did it with us in the early days, every day of our lives.”

Garry Tallent performs Sunday May 14th at Amp by Strathmore, 11810 Grand Park Avenue North Bethesda, MD. For tickets, click here

RHIANNON GIDDENS: DEEP DIVE DOWN THE FREEDOM HIGHWAY

Posted in Uncategorized on May 5, 2017 by midliferocker

One of music’s most powerful voices creates a stunning album that speaks to her own intense passion.

By Steve Houk

You know, Rhiannon Giddens has deep thoughts.

Not just about the many details of the day, and there are surely many of those when you’re a mother of two, a wife, a Grammy winning singer/songwriter and an actress.

But as far as her overall creative thought process, she definitely goes very deep exploring the many intense facets of some of the tougher sides of African American history. She went deep with her first band, Carolina Chocolate Drops, conjuring up authentic string band sounds that beautifully conveyed the light and dark of the black experience of the early 20th century. She went deep on her miraculous debut solo record Tomorrow Is My Turn, paying homage to some of music’s most powerful, and in some cases most underrated or even ignored black female artists, by gorgeously rendering some of their most emotional songs.

But for her latest record, the stunning Freedom Highway, Giddens went even deeper, and as opposed to her first two records, wholly original. Delving into the agonizing and excruciating history of her enslaved ancestors by reading and then adapting slave narratives into song, Giddens made a record that is deeply moving, yet at times also celebratory. And she felt a particular kinship and empathy towards one particular segment of the slave population.

“When you read these stories, the plight of the African American woman is just intense,” Giddens said on a break between dates of her current tour, which comes to the Lincoln Theater May 9th. “It’s just terrible, it’s so difficult to read. As a woman of privilege now, to be able to have lived the life that I’ve lived and the rights that I have, the privileges I have, it just makes me all the more responsible to tell the stories. The complexities of these stories, the complexities of their life, I feel that deeply because I’m a mother and a woman of color living a very very different life, I just felt like it was really important to tell these stories. I didn’t really have a choice. I feel that way. The best ones really flowed through me and I gave them life, but they came from somewhere else. I do believe that. Pretty heavily. It’s not like ‘I feel like doing this today…” The songs had to be written.”

Freedom Highway is a catharsis of sorts for Giddens who thrives when thinking, feeling and writing about history that hits home is involved. When she learned these slave narratives existed, she knew she had to put them to song because they had never really had a chance before. And she realizes the painful truth that what happened yesterday is still going on today.

“I’ve always been into history, I’ve always been interested in how people live, and all of this kinda stuff,” the eloquent and candid Giddens said. “So I see what happens today as being just an extension of what happened yesterday, you know? I  always am driven to try to understand what happened at the inception of this country, at these major points, because the more I understand that, the more I understand what’s happening now. I was really into the Civil War and slave narratives from around that time, and one book in particular called The Slaves War by Andrew Ward. And these stories kind of, well, they wanted to be songs, and I hadn’t really written very much at this point, but I just remember thinking, the Irish and the English and all these people have these narrative ballad traditions, talking about what regular people were going through. But African Americans, we had to hide things and code things, if you were singing about this stuff, you’d be killed or whatever. It’s just not a part of the culture. So I just started thinking about what if.”

After recording Tomorrow Is My Turn with master producer T-Bone Burnett, Giddens realized she wanted to do something that was a little more her own, not only from a content standpoint, but a creative and production-oriented one as well.

“I knew after Tomorrow Is My Turn that I needed to do something different. I love T-Bone, and I think he did a fabulous job, it was definitely a conversation, I definitely had input into that and he was very generous. It was really wonderful. But it’s his record. I definitely knew that I needed more input, I needed to have a different relationship with this new record. I knew I wanted to put more original material on it, I knew I had this idea what the message was gonna be. I started writing more since Tomorrow Is My Turn, the New Basement Tapes project was a real jump start for that for me that told me that I can write songs, you know?”

And as far as her own creative process, Giddens has grown and prospered during this latest experience, finding ways to be more collaborative and open to new ideas while staying true to her own.

“I think that’s just such an important thing as a writer, to let go of your own expectations. Being able to let go of something that you think was the cleverest thing you’ve ever written, that’s the biggest lesson I feel like I’ve had. Being willing to take direction even if it’s just from inspiration, from your musical partner, being able to see what’s best for the song. I feel like I’ve had the most success doing that, I feel like the music lives the best when I do that, so I’m going to continue to do that. That’s really been a big growth area for me, just getting out of my own way, really. And I never want to get in my way again.”

And in a recent visit to the National Museum of African American History in Washington, not only was Gidden’s fervor for history recognized, but a surprise in one of the exhibits blew her away as well.

“The stuff in the basement there, it’s intense, I mean, I already know most of that, I lived there, I live in the basement of the African American Museum. But it’s beautiful, the way it’s put together, it’s so lovely. I think it’s incredible. You do get a feel for realness. You get a feel for the story. And I admit it, when I got to the exhibit that had the banjo and it’s got my big ass quote on there, I cried. Nobody warned me and I just walked in there and was like, oh my God!  But overall, the parallels that can be drawn to today, that’s where it lives, that’s where we need to focus. How can we become better people today by looking at how terrible that we can be.”

Rhiannon Giddens with special guest Amythyst Kiah performs Tuesday May 10th at Lincoln Theater, 1215 U Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets, click here.

JAY FARRAR: LOOKING BACK WHILE MOVING FORWARD

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 6, 2017 by midliferocker

Jay Farrar (center) and his band Son Volt (photo by David McClister)

An Americana music pioneer looks to the past while moving ahead.

By Steve Houk

The rise of Americana music wouldn’t have happened as easily or as profoundly without Jay Farrar in the mix.

The Illinois-borne singer/songwriter teamed up with Jeff Tweedy in the 80’s to form the now legendary Uncle Tupelo, a band that defined the blend of country/western and harder rock that was one facet of the burgeoning Americana sound. After they broke up in the late 80’s, with Farrar forming Son Volt and Tweedy starting Wilco, Farrar would continue that memorable mashup of C & W and garage rock on nearly all of his Son Volt records over the last 20-plus years.

Until now. Farrar’s most recent record, Notes Of Blue, was inspired by the blues and the unique alternate guitar tunings of artists like Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell and Nick Drake. It was a unique way for Farrar to delve into the roots of the music he grew up with and that has so deeply influenced his path. It’s still pure Son Volt, thanks to Farrar’s unmistakable vocals, but with a bit of a different edge.

“I think it was the realization, and this probably occurred over many years, that the blues were such a foundational part of early country music,” Farrar, 50, said on a break from his current Son Volt tour. “And I’ve always been around country music here and there, so I think that realization that the blues was such an integral part of early country music was a catalyst to dive deeper into the blues.”

Notes of Blue was an exciting challenge for Farrar, to not only pay homage to some deep seeded influences, but to also push himself to play music differently than he was used to.

“There were a couple of ideas I wanted to focus on for this recording,” Farrar said. “One of them being concentrating more on the finger picking method, that style of guitar, and having played pedal steel guitar in a side band gave me the experience to give it a go. I’d never really done too much finger picking style guitar on recording. And you know that’s also a common thread between some of these guys that were the source of the alternate tuning, Fred McDowell, Skip James, Nick Drake, there’ll all known for the finger picking guitar.”

“Another idea I wanted to focus on was really getting back to playing electric guitar. I have not played electric guitar over the last several Son Volt records, so this was an opportunity to focus on electric guitar. And as part of that, as part of passing the 20 year Son Volt milestone, I pulled out the old amplifier that’s pictured on the front of the first solo record Trace, it’s an old Webster Chicago amplifier that I felt just had the right aesthetic for this group of songs.”

Farrar’s musical family upbringing and his time living in St. Louis are both huge influences on his musical foundation, and so when he met Tweedy, Farrar already had a base on which to draw from, as did his new collaborator. Between their own individual roots and the current music out there, a unique musical style was born.

“I think it was more or less organic, I think there was sort of that convergence and that realization that the music that filtered down through your folks ultimately clicked and made sense, and coalesced with, at that time, alot of the music we were soaking up, which was punk rock and music coming from East Coast and West Coast. When Uncle Tupelo was starting out, I can hear a bit more angst, the result of alot of the stuff I was listening to, from Husker Du, to Meat Puppets, to The Clash or whatever. I think we probably came to the realization about the same time, although I was in bands before I met Jeff, with my older brothers, started playing out when I was like 11, 12, at parties and at school. I think even at that time we were playing some Buck Owens songs at 11 or 12, so the country element was there early on. And the rest was more garage-based, like The Yardbirds, we did a bunch of covers of theirs, it was blues based as well.”

So as Jay Farrar continues to make memorable music, he appreciates the challenges that trying out new styles and sounds presents.

“I felt it opened up a whole new creative process, you know you’re kind of going down a different path or road you haven’t been down before. It opens things up, and this time around I felt like it was a chance to connect with icons and heroes, I always felt like there was certain mystique attached. I just took it as a challenge and I wanted to learn those tunings and see what was there.”

Son Volt performs Tuesday April 11th at 930 Club, 815 V St NW, Washington, DC 20001. For tickets, click here

WILLIE NILE: HOW DOES IT FEEL

Posted in Uncategorized on April 5, 2017 by midliferocker

One of rock’s great singer/songwriters finds pure joy in playing the music of his hero.

By Steve Houk

 

There’s no doubt…Willie Nile is on a roll.

The 68 year-old rock and roll mainstay and almost peerless songwriter is coming off months of worldwide touring behind his acclaimed latest record World War Willie, and he continues to gain new fans while also retaining the respect of both critics and his loyal fans alike.

So when he was asked to close a Bob Dylan birthday tribute show in New York City a few months back, he jumped at the chance, and then some magic happened. Not only did he blow the room away, but Nile felt the Dylan vibe grab him, the music of one of his true heroes really took hold. So he decided to record a whole album of Dylan songs and has been ecstatic at the result. And like anything he does, it’s all about having fun playing music.

“It’s a labor of love, because it was fun,” Nile said from Michigan in between shows on his current tour. “I mean, the reason I got into this business in the first place was for fun. The beauty of music, the thrill of expressing yourself, whether that’s about anti-war, or about love, or life, or mystic revelations or visions, or whatever. This…is fun.”

Nile, who appears at The Hamilton on Saturday, has been a favorite of rock fans and rock musicians alike ever since he burst back onto the scene in the early 90’s after recording two records and then kissing the music business goodbye — “It wasn’t fun, it became more about business than music” — and starting a family in the 80’s in his native Buffalo. Ever since his return, he has crafted evocative, brilliant music on one album after another, evoking his hero Dylan as well as other songwriters like his pal Bruce Springsteen and others. But the Dylan project has him more energized than ever, and it all became clear that night at the City Winery that he wanted to do more than just sing Dylan at the show.

“They wanted me to close the show, so one night I went through every song on his website,” Nile said. “And I thought about each one…no, not that one, no, nuh uh, OK, well, maybe that one, I was really looking for songs I could bring something to. So I picked out four songs, and we brought the house down. I opened up with Love Minus Zero/No Limit, I said to the crowd that it was a beautiful love song and you don’t hear it. And then I did Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall, like Bolero, and the place, I mean, after each verse they’re cheering. I mean, the guy was 21 years old, writing a song like that. And then I did Rainy Day Women and then we closed with You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere. It was so much fun that I thought, ya know what, I can sing these songs, and I wanna pay a tribute to Bob. And his songs speak for themselves.”

Still on a buzz from the tribute, Nile picked a handful of other Dylan tunes he thought he could bring the most to, and hit the studio with a killer band that included his own bandmates Johnny Paisano and Matt Hogan, Spin Doctors’ drummer Aaron Comess and British singer/songwriter James Maddock. And by all accounts, everyone who has heard the rough cuts, including some people very close to Dylan himself, is blown away by the result, aptly called Positively Bob: Willie Nile Sings Bob Dylan.

“The record is off the hook,” Nile said enthusiastically. “The reaction that I’m getting from the few people who’ve heard it…yeah not him, but others…it’s a blast. The thing is all the musicians who played on it, everyone kept after each song, and every single vocal is live. The vibe, the players…we all kept exclaiming, as you know ‘cuz you play in bands…we all we would say, can you believe this lyric, this song, what the hell! I’m starting to think just from the initial reaction, that maybe this could be somethin’.”

(photo courtesy Cristina Arrigoni)

Nile goes way back with Dylan, not only holding him up as one of his greatest influences — “He just opened so many doors for me personally, and for our culture for sure” — but also as a colleague in the music business from the very beginning.

“When my first record came out in 1980, his publishing company, they administered my publishing. I think they represented two people, David Amram and me. So I met him back then. And I met him again when I was playing with Springsteen at Shea Stadium, the end of Bruce’s tour in 2003. I got there for the very last show, and Bob was there, and they played Highway 61.”

If there’s one point that Willie Nile keeps making, it’s that whether it’s his own music or Dylan’s, playing music in general needs to be fun, it needs to be enjoyable, or why do it? And the way things are going for Nile, it looks like he will be having fun rocking and rolling well into his 70’s.

“People say, how are you able to do this kind of show at your age? And I go, you know what, clearly the music has kept me going. No doubt about it. I’m having the time of my life. Even if I’m tired or not well, I go onstage and start singing, and boom. And I have always pursued my heart and my instincts, for better or worse, ya know, the ups and down of being an artist. And it’s paid off in spades.”

Willie Nile with special guest Jamie McLean Band performs Saturday April 8th at The Hamilton, 600 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.