Archive for May, 2017

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.