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BRUCE COCKBURN REDISCOVERS HIS MUSE

Posted in Uncategorized on November 13, 2017 by midliferocker

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After wondering if he’d ever write a song again, one of the most enduring and contemplative singer/songwriters of our time delivers more brilliant music.

By Steve Houk

Even the word “prolific” is an understatement for rare artists like Bruce Cockburn.

The thoughtful, brilliant Canadian singer/songwriter just released his thirty-third record, Bone On Bone, another superb piece in a magnificent career that has spanned fifty-plus years. And at the age of 72, Cockburn — who was just inducted into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall of Fame this past September alongside Neil Young – shows no signs of burning out or fading away.

But a few years ago in a rare twist of almost-tragic fate, Cockburn found that writing songs for a new record, which would be his first in seven years, wasn’t coming so easy. His mightily abundant supply of songwriting chops, fueled by his deep spirituality, went momentarily dry after he exhaustively poured all of his creativity and energy into his 2014 memoir, Rumours Of Glory. Stunningly, he wasn’t even sure he would write another song.

“When I came out of writing my book, I wasn’t sure if I was  gonna write anymore songs ‘cuz it had been so long,” Cockburn said as he embarks on an extensive US tour which brings him to The Birchmere on Tuesday November 14th. “It’d been four years since I wrote a song, so I wondered if I still knew how to do it. (Writing the memoir) was more work than I expected, and all the creative juice I had went into the book, I wasn’t prepared for it. So at the end of all that, it was like, ‘Well, maybe I’m gonna be a songwriter again, maybe I won’t.’ I was hoping I would be, I was hoping that I would write more songs, ‘cuz in my gut I didn’t feel like that was over. But I also wondered if it’s really meant to be that I should be doing something else. It wasn’t a negative feeling, really, it was just kind of a question.”

Cockburn first credits inspiration from an unlikely source, in the form of a surprising request from a legendary fellow Canadian, for getting him back in gear, getting the juices flowing, getting him writing songs again.

“I got an invitation to contribute a song to a documentary film that was being made about [Canadian poet] Al Purdy,” Cockburn said. “It just seemed like a gift, you know, here’s this guy who wants me to write a song, and I don’t even know him. And over the years I’ve done very little of writing on demand like that, ‘cuz it’s sort of the opposite of how I normally operate, but in this case, the idea of writing about Al Purdy seemed like a good thing.  The offer was wide open, it was like, ‘Well, you can take Purdy’s poems and set them to music,’ which would be very difficult actually because they’re not that kinda poetry. Right away, I got the idea, the image came to me, of this homeless guy who is obsessed with Al Purdy and rants his poems out on the street. The song just went from there. It was like, ‘I’ll give you three Al Purdys for a 20 dollar bill.’ And what would this homeless guy be saying when he wasn’t ranting Purdy poetry? So ultimately, it’s a question of looking around for things.”

And given Cockburn’s lifelong passion for activism, it was also the new regime in the U.S. that helped rejuvenate his need to express himself through song.

“I don’t think I’ve had a conversation with anyone in the past year that didn’t mention Donald Trump. Right now, as a nation, the U.S. is polarized and so fragmented. Everybody’s just in shock, ya know? But when I write, it’s not that intentional…or deliberate…I just react. When I write a song, its ‘cuz I got this idea. An idea comes, and I think I can run with it, and that’s what I try to do. So, it’s not like I sit around thinking, ‘How do I express how disturbed I am at what’s going on in the United States?’ But once the ball was rolling, it just kept rolling.”

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In inimitable Bruce Cockburn fashion, the songs from Bone On Bone have that extraordinary depth and thought and complexity that are staples of his work. Take the breakdown of his process for writing the catchy but startling “Stab At Matter” for example, it’s a description which opens a window into how Cockburn often comes up with themes for his often miraculous music.

“The original Stabat Mater is a Latin hymn from the 1300’s or earlier, maybe the 1100’s, it’s ancient,” Cockburn passionately describes. “In Latin, ‘Stabat Mater’ means basically that the ‘Mother is standing’ or ‘stand there, Mother.’ It’s really about Mary standing at the foot of the cross, watching her son die. It intrigued me, so I started obsessing over the phrase ‘stab at matter’. It just seemed to offer all kinds of possibilities and what came out was what you hear. It’s the destruction of ego, or the inevitable destruction of the stuff we surround ourselves with, depending on how you wanna look at it. It’s based on the notion that you don’t grow very far spiritually without getting your ego heavily in check. You waste a lot of energy, we all do, when being attached to things that do get destroyed. Or that just have their deaths built in. So it’s kinda getting free of all that. And I don’t know why it took that musical form, the words just seemed to want that. That’s how those things go.”

Cockburn credits the intense experience of writing his memoir for providing the basis for “States I’m In” which, along with a nod towards his disdain for the current administration, is also deeply personal.

“I don’t think there woulda been a song like ‘States I’m In’ without having written a book. You’re standing back, taking stock, and it gave me a sort of perspective on things. In a certain way, ‘States I’m In’ is a sort of encapsulation of the whole book. The song itself is not entirely autobiographical, I’ve never been a card shark. But it represents places I’ve been in myself and in the exterior world also. From being in war zones to watching beautiful sunsets over the Pacific. The sun going down in the West, over the ocean, is perhaps the most current thing in there. The sense of the divine creeping up at the end, like welling up. The whisper that has all that power at the end of the song. You could see the song as kind of a depiction of the dark night of the soul, in a metaphoric way, cos it starts with sunset and ends with dawn. I don’t know.”

And as far as his induction into the Canadian Songwriters’ Hall Of Fame, Cockburn was ushered in with a memorable speech by fellow CSHOF member, the legendary Buffy Saint Marie. “Buffy made the most lovely introduction to me that appeared to be just off the cuff and went on at some length longer than I thought she would, but she was great. It felt good to hear all that, and to have her do that.” Being who he is, Cockburn is typically humbled with the honor, but admittedly also very thankful for the welcome affirmation of his exceptional five decades of musical masterpieces.

“It means very little to me that I actually have an award per se, I don’t collect those things on purpose. But the best thing about it is that it’s a measure of how much attention people have paid to what I do, and I really care about that. That’s really the complement in there. That’s the positive reinforcement, which is very strong. I really appreciate that people have been listening and have attached importance to what I do. Not every artist gets that. So I’m grateful for that.”

Bruce Cockburn performs Tuesday November 14th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets, click here.

 

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SITTING AROUND SINGING SONGS

Posted in Uncategorized on October 16, 2017 by midliferocker

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Collaborating while just enjoying each other’s music is a present day phenomenon in at least one very talented rock and roll circle.

By Steve Houk

The ultimate goal of any great musician is to be their own man — or woman as the case may be — meaning they mostly want to succeed at writing and singing their own songs, and crafting their own personal vibe.

But make no mistake, collaborating and forming unions with other like-minded musicians is a tangible joy many of them gleefully endeavor to do as well. For some, it’s almost as important as their solo careers.

Nowhere is this more evident than within a specific circle of uber-talented singer-songwriters who find it especially enjoyable to just sit around and play their music together, tell war stories, laugh their ass off, and just have a good damn time feeding off the energy. And lucky for music fans, they’re doing it out on the road. This was evidenced most recently by the Southern Soul Assembly tour featuring roots/soul/rock heavyweights Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey and Anders Osborne, which then spawned another alliance, this time between Osborne and Dickinson’s North Mississippi All Stars, affectionately dubbed North Mississippi Osborne.

It appears Osborne has enjoyed this kind of interaction so much over his long career that this fall, he is joining forces with yet another superb singer/songwriter, Jackie Greene, on their acoustic Sitting Around Singing Songs Tourtogether 2017 that stops by The Birchmere on October 26th.

Osborne, the 51 year old thirty-years-and-countin’ warhorse who just finished a summer stint opening for Bonnie Raitt, and who also has a new single out called “Liquor Drought,” clearly has a passion for these kinds of collaborations, using it as a way to enhance his growth as a musician, and thriving on the experience every time.

“I get to learn and grow as, you know, a person and as a musician,” Osborne said as he was prepping for this run with Greene. “Because you’re absorbing these other artists and writers and singers, and what they do, so you get to kind of step out of your own thing and get a different perspective on your own music. There’s a lot of growth that comes with it. And then, of course, it’s the camaraderie, it’s the same as having a really great band, but each time you hook up with some new people, people that you don’t see all the time, it’s real extra exciting, and everybody’s on their best behavior most of the time. It’s a little bit like going to camp as a kid. You just get together and shoot the shit and crack some jokes and have a good time. It’s a little more lighthearted. When I stay out on my own, you know, it’s a lot of yourself, and you just kind of think about your own stuff and your own music, your own thoughts, your emotions, expressions. And, after a while that can get a little redundant, so it’s refreshing.”

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Southern Soul Assembly plays live in 2016 (L-R: Luther Dickinson, Marc Broussard, JJ Grey and Anders Osborne) 

Greene echoes Osborne when to comes to the joy of unions like this, and how organic a pairing the two make as far as the live experience goes.

“I love it so much,” Greene, 36, said from his home studio in Brooklyn. “(Anders and I) did a shorter run earlier this year, it was only like six or seven shows. We went into it without too much of a plan, really. We thought, we’ll get up there together and we’ll accompany each other on each other’s songs. And it turned out that we had such a good time and very, very real, very organic moments seemed to happen. It just turned out to be a lot of fun for everybody, we had so much fun, the audience had so much fun. We were joking around. We told some stories, we’d just sit around and play some songs. And later we were like, you know, let’s do this for real.”

Greene just wrapped up an EP of original tunes, The Modern Lives Vol 1, recorded at his small home studio, which fits right into the whole aestethic of keeping things simple and raw and real, something many music fans seem to yearn for these days.

“I really enjoy recording at home or at in home studios,” Greene said. “So I guess, the collective psyche longs for things that are homemade, in a world where things are mass produced and computer controlled. I think that there’s something about that that people want to latch onto in the world that we live in. They don’t want to forget that. They don’t want to forget that human beings made culture and they made civilization but with their bare hands. And I want to translate that somehow. Or maybe I’m subconsciously translating it to the way I’m making music these days. So as far as the tour, as it turns out, it’s like people ate it up and it’s selling really well. I mean, I think that’s proof that people want something handmade and authentic. So yeah, we’re really looking forward to it. ”

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Jackie Greene (L) and Anders Osborne

Osborne is fifteen years older than Greene, but with music, age is only a positive factor when it comes to playing with and learning from each other.

“I think we’re probably more similar, in terms of the kind of music that we like and that we come from,” Greene said. “We’re definitely very similar in that regard. Obviously he’s a generation older than me (laughs). But I look up to him, he’s a mentor, yet he’s so young at heart, he might as well be a 12 year-old. And I’m that way too. So we have a lot in common, we love a lot of the same kinds of music. We have a good time.”

Osborne has mutual respect for Greene, and echoes the sentiments about feeding off each other’s music. “Any chance that I get to step out of my own kind of hamster wheel is a good thing. Because when you do your own art and your own music and all that stuff, it is a pretty insulating reality. Digging deep inside your heart to find out what you want to express, it’s all a very internal kind of quest. But when you collaborate, you get outside a little bit and observe these other beautiful people doing this process. It’s more like a team sport, you’re swinging the ball back and forth, and everybody’s involved.”

Greene reiterates the feeling that with these kinds of partnerships and combinations, the possibilities are endless. And the main reason they work, besides the music? They like each other.

“Yeah, we get along. And it’s weird because on one level, it’s just like a bunch of dudes sitting around, talking shit. But there’s something that is so authentic about it and we’re not scripting anything. That’s not the kind of show it is. It’s about as real as you can get. And about as stripped down and naked as you can get. Not to say that we’re gonna get naked. We don’t want to scare anybody.”

Jackie Greene and Anders Osborne with special guest Cris Jacobs perform Thursday October 26th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets click here

 

 

 

 

JAKE CLEMONS’ INCREDIBLE JOURNEY

Posted in Uncategorized on September 13, 2017 by midliferocker

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One kid’s dream of following in his uncle’s footsteps ends up going far beyond just fulfilling one dream. 

By Steve Houk

When saxophonist Clarence Clemons passed away on June 18, 2011, the Springsteen Nation stopped breathing for a moment.

Not only was there a deeply palpable and profound feeling of grief, but there was also a fear that Bruce just might not want to go back out there without his muse, his partner in crime, his sidekick, his…Big Man.

Enter Jake Clemons, Clarence’s sax playing nephew. Since he was a youngster, he had watched his famous uncle thrill the world with his horn as a member of the E Street Band, but never had even the remotest thought that one day he would step into his shoes.

“My first concert ever was when I was eight, it was (Bruce’s) Tunnel Of Love tour, and I went with my Dad, who is Clarence’s brother,” Jake Clemons said on a break before the start of his current tour that hits Vienna’s Jammin Java on September 19th. “I was in awe of the band, and really just blown away by what I was seeing. But I knew right then I wanted to play the saxophone. It wasn’t only because of the sound, but because of the vanity as well. I mean, every time Clarence played, the whole place just shook. And I knew I wanted to feel that. But my Dad said, ‘No sax until you learn how to play notes on the piano first.’ ”

Clemons did learn the piano, and then five years later, the sax. And then, after years aspiring to be in his own band, playing his own music, Jake Clemons got the nod from Springsteen to replace…well, not really replace, but you know…step in for his famous uncle as the saxophonist for the E Street Band.

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“Of course I never had any idea, or would ever think, that I would be playing with Bruce, right where my uncle stood,” the affable Clemons said. “I wasn’t that egotistical to think that and it really never crossed my mind. But it’s funny the way things work out.”

“Work out” is an understatement. Clemons has toured all over the world with Springsteen as his sax player for the past five years, and after some initial and understandable trepidation has been welcomed with open arms by the Springsteen fanbase. He recently finished a world tour with Bruce on The River redux tour, so yes, dreams do come true. But even more importantly, he is now on his own tour, with his own band, supporting his excellent new record Fear and Love, his first full-length album. It’s a very personal record that speaks directly from his heart.

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Fear and Love is really a personal journey of a record, a very deep and introspective album,” Clemons said. “It’s a kind of story. It starts off with a bit of a ‘warning’ at the very beginning, and then it works its way along the road, through hardship and conflict, and then into the resolve, and new beginnings. I mean, it’s my story, my introspection, and I wanted people to feel that.”

Not only did his “new boss” drive him to be the best he can be, but he gave Clemons some profound advice that hes would carry to this day. It’s advice that would inspire him not only on stages around the world with the E Street Band, but now, when playing in and leading his own band and forging his own path.

“Anyone who knows Bruce or his music knows that he wants to give the audience the best show of their lives, every single night. At the beginning of the Wrecking Ball tour, Bruce pulled me aside, and he said, ‘Listen man, it’s important you understand this. You need to keep earning it, ‘cuz after forty plus years of doing this, I’m going on that stage and still earning it.’ That really, really blew me away. That’s the thing that engages the audience every night, and that’s where the fans are born and kept. And now, it’s what I bring to my own band. I want us to give our best every single night as well. And I think we do that.”

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So what would he say to his beloved Uncle Clarence after all this success?

“I’d tell him that I always aspired to be as great as he was, while also keeping my own identity and humility. I think he’d dig that.”

Jake Clemons performs Tuesday September 19th at Jammin Java, 227 Maple Ave E
Vienna, VA. For tickets click here

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WAR: LIVING UP TO THE NAME

Posted in Uncategorized on August 20, 2017 by midliferocker

(Photo By BradP)

A founding member of one of funk rock’s great bands hangs onto the name and tries to maintain its lasting legacy.

By Steve Houk

So how does a band end up getting named War?

I mean, that’s a helluva moniker to saddle yourself with, and then have to live up to. Not many more direct and in-your-face band names than that.

Well the story might surprise you, or at the very least it should amuse you. And who better to tell it than a guy who was there, War co-founder Lonnie Jordan, the only member of the original lineup remaining in this band called War.

It was 1969, in Japan of all places, where the Animals’ Eric Burdon was touring with his (hopefully) new post-Animals group, a bunch of talented mostly Afro’d, bell-bottomed musicians who had the exact funk vibe that Burdon was seeking. But his band still didn’t have a name.

“We went to a sushi bar for the first time, I never been to a Japanese restaurant, first time I ever had sushi or saki,” Jordan said on a break from War’s current tour that will bring the band to Wolf Trap on August 23rd. “So here I am, I’m young, big afro, bell bottoms, all of us were, and after we got done with dinner, we were walking with one of the promoters that was promoting the show, he was happy that Eric came down with his new band, and he and my manager Steve Gold and [soon-to-be War co-songwriter and producer] Jerry Goldstein turned around and watched us walking, we were all a little tipsy and buzzed from the saki. They looked at us and said, ‘My God, I’m glad I know you guys, otherwise man I would have started walking faster to get away because you guys look like you just came out of a battlefield.’ And that rung a bell in my manager and Jerry’s head, and bingo, they had decided on War. And later on, we pretty much caressed the name, realizing that the connection with our music is that we were like waging war against wars, like Vietnam which was happening at the time. Like raging against the machine, you know?”

Burdon would stay only two years, but this memorable band — a powerful blend of rock, funk, jazz, Latin, rhythm and blues and reggae — would live up to that daunting name and go on to sell 50 million records, be twice nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, and establish a reputation and musical legacy that continues to this day.  The guys who were playing music before Burdon came a callin’ had come straight outta Compton, honing and developing their sound in the ghetto before they got their break with the former Animal.

“We came from the streets,” the enthusiastic and affable Jordan said. “It was Howard (E. Scott), me, Harold (Brown), out of Compton, Long Beach, Harbor City, San Pedro. They had a band called The Creators, and they asked me to join them. Coming together doing talent shows in the different schools, then a few singles, everything we did was a street vibe. And that’s why to this very day I call our music ‘universal street music.’ ”

Jordan and his cohorts eventually got a new bass player, Peter Rosen, who fortuitously for them, owed some money to a buddy of future music mogul Goldstein.

“And that person was Bruce Garfield, so Peter called Bruce and told him, ‘I know I owe you the money, but I tell you what, you’ll make even more money if you come down here and listen to the band I’m playing with.’  So Bruce came down to listen to us, and Bruce said, ‘I need to go back and tell Eric about this new band because Eric is looking for a new band. He would love this band.” So he went back, told Eric, told everyone, and they all got together and came down to the club The Rag Doll and heard us play and Eric fell in love at that point.”

Jimi Hendrix with War co-founder Eric Burdon and Noel Redding

When they got back from Japan and that first tour, the guys and Burdon would record their first record Eric Burdon Declares WAR (1970), and War was off and running. Songs like “Spill The Wine” and “Tobacco Road” would establish their funk laced sound, while also exuding a then-unique multi-ethnic band vibe.  Also in ’70 at Ronnie Scott’s Club in London, band friend and up and coming guitarist Jimi Hendrix would join War onstage for what would infamously and tragically be his last public performance.

“Jimi came down on a Tuesday night without his guitar, just hanging out. I said, ‘Where’s your guitar man? Because usually you always have a guitar hanging on you.’ So he said, ‘I promise I’ll bring it tomorrow.’ So he brought his guitar but no amplifier, we just had a little small little toy amplifier and he came up on stage and we all jammed for a whole hour on a ‘Mother Earth.’ Ironically, it’s weird that we did ‘Mother Earth’ and then he goes back to his hotel and dies the next day. I just had to look at it in a double entendre, like he went back to mother earth.”

War in 1976 (L-R, Papa Dee Allen (congas, percussion), Lonnie Jordan (keyboards), Harold Brown (drums), Charles Miller (flute, sax), Lee Oskar (harmonica), Howard Scott (guitar), and B.B. Dickerson (bass).

In 1971, the band went on without Burdon who, after collapsing onstage from an asthma attack, would move on to a solo career and today has rock and roll legend status from his days with both The Animals and War. Although arguably the height of the band’s popularity was during those Burdon days when “Spill The Wine” caused rampant funk dancing everywhere, War kept making great music with songs that are recognized and played frequently on radio and streams today, like “Low Rider”, “Cisco Kid” , “World is A Ghetto” and “Why Can’t We Be Friends?” among others, plus they would record the best selling album of 1973 World Is A Ghetto.

After several personnel changes during the next twenty-plus years, including the murder of sax player Charles Miller, the band tried to unsuccessfully gain independence from Goldstein, eventually losing the band name War to a Goldstein lawsuit. In response, as Brown, Scott, Lee Oskar and a returning B.B. Dickerson (who had not worked with War since 1979) adopted the name Lowrider Band, Jordan opted to remain with Goldstein and create a new version of War with himself as the only original member, a decision that has obviously caused a rift between the founding members. Ironically, it has created its own war within the guys who went from the ghetto to superstardom together. But Jordan tries to be diplomatic and clearly still has love for his old friends.

“My relationship with the guys in the Lowrider band, all I can say about that is that I still have a lot of love for those guys, Lee Oskar, Harold Brown, Howard Scott, and of course the other guys that are not here today. But I have to say if there is any hate in their heart, they can’t help it. And because it’s automatic when people are upset about something that they’re not doing that they think they should be doing, but they’re the ones who made the decision not to do what I’m still doing. I still love them, if it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t be where I’m at and visa versa. So we just had a bad marriage, but we had great kids, which is our music.”

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Regardless of the issues with the original band members, Jordan remains ecstatic that he is still out there playing at 69, and giving audiences a heaping helping of the funk grooves that made War the legendary band that it is today.

“I know that my fans are my rock n’ roll hall of fans, so that’s what keeps me going, man. They uplift me and gives me a new fresh breath of air every time I perform on stage live. They need to be entertained. They need something different from what’s going on in the world today. And so do I. And that’s the bottom line. So it’s definitely a healing process for the mind, soul, spirit, body, everything.”

War with special guest Los Lonely Boys performs Wednesday August 23rd at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 1551 Trap Road, Vienna VA 22182. For tickets, click here.

JONNY LANG: FOLLOWING THE SIGNS

Posted in Uncategorized on August 16, 2017 by midliferocker
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(Photo Credit Daniella Hovsepian)

A rock and roll mainstay often loves seeing the cards fall where they may when creating his special brand of music. 

By Steve Houk

Yep, it’s the stuff of rock and roll legend. The story goes that there stood a 12 year-old Jonny Lang, wowing friends and family on the front porch of a North Dakota lake house with his guitar by erupting into mindblowing versions of rock classics.

Then he stops, and launches into a stunning rendition of Jimi Hendrix‘ version of the National Anthem. Quite the monster roll for a 12 year old. You can just hear mouths fall agape. But even then, he was molding his future.

Almost three decades later, Jonny Lang is a musical success not only because of his superb guitar playing and songwriting, but also because he is often able to just let loose, let himself go, let things happen. And it’s those musicians who have influenced him over the years, including Hendrix, who Lang is indebted to for just that, for letting him be who he wants to be as a musician.

“Jimi Hendrix mostly is responsible for just showing me that you can be reckless and that’s okay,” Lang said before he took the stage at a festival in Washington state last week. “If that’s what comes naturally, you can be reckless and just not think about it, not have to craft a solo, you can just let it be this thing that’s happening in the moment. If you don’t land on your feet every time, it’s not a big deal. That’s part of the joy of it, and the first thing he reminds me of is that that’s okay.”

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Since his ‘tween days wailing away on that porch, Lang has established himself as one of rock and roll’s most durable and talented musicians, with a Grammy to his credit, top charting records over a 25-plus year career, and a reputation for both blistering guitar work and beautifully crafted songwriting. Fittingly, he’s also appeared on the star studded “Experience Hendrix” tour a few times. And his latest record Signs is in some ways an ode to those like Hendrix who came before, with an unvarnished feel that Lang loves to convey with his music.

“I think I just kind of had the thought that whatever the songs end up being,” Lang said, “it would be nice to have some of them harken back a little bit in their production approach to some of the older, more raw-sounding records like, you know, Howlin’ Wolf stuff and all that great, good, unpolished kind of stuff. It wasn’t like I wanted to make an exact record like that, but it was the stuff I was listening to at the time and have been re-inspired by it, so I think a little bit of that spirit of that made it on the record, you know?”

And that kind of rawness, spontaneity and also a sense of camraderie and willingness to let his cohorts contribute their own vibe spread to the making of Signs. 

“That’s my favorite part of the whole thing, is just sharing it with other people, and making it a joint effort,” Lang said. “I guess in the studio, what I mean is, not trying to steer every little thing into what I want. I love letting everybody just do what comes naturally and then after that if it needs a little nudge or something, do that. For the most part, we just went in the studio and had the sounds ready and just played the songs for the guys, acoustic guitar and let them do what they wanted with it and it developed into what it is now.

As well as loving when things evolve and come naturally when playing and recording, Lang is thrilled to just be making music for people who not only enjoy it, but have their lives inspired by it.

“I just love creating and playing music for people, and hopefully inspiring people too. Just being somebody who can bring music to them that will help them like it’s helped me in my life. I love it, and it doesn’t go too much deeper than that for me. I just think it can be so many different good things to different folks at so many different places in their lives. It can all come together at a concert and agree on this thing, but they each have a different experience. It’s amazing to me. Art is just amazing like that, so it’s cool to be able to be a part of stuff like that, you know?”

Jonny Lang with special guest Zane Carney performs at The Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets, click here

WALTER TROUT: TRUE BLUES SURVIVOR

Posted in Uncategorized on August 13, 2017 by midliferocker

One of the blues’ most spectacular guitar men survives the biggest challenge of his life by doing what he does best.

By Steve Houk

You don’t have to go much past the title of blues powerhouse Walter Trout‘s 2015 record to see what kind of survivor he is.

The superb Battle Scars is a glaring symbol of what Trout has gone through the last few years, a coat of arms that speaks to a level of sheer guts and endurance that is intense even by rock and roll standards.

And thankfully for all those blues fans worldwide who know full well about his prowess on both the guitar and as a songwriter, Trout is doing damn well thank you, considering he was literally knocking on heaven’s door a scant two years ago. And two years after he almost died, he has a brand new record due out in late August aptly titled We’re All In This Together, featuring 14 songs he wrote for some of the blues genre’s most dynamic players to play, including his mentor John Mayall, Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Sonny Landreth, Warren Haynes, Randy Bachman, Charlie Musselwhite, Edgar Winter, Mike Zito, Robben Ford, and his son Jon Trout.

For guy a few breaths from the end, Trout is happier than he’s been, well, maybe ever.

“I’ll tell you something man, I feel like I’m in the best time of my life right now,” Trout said during a break on his current tour which brings him to The Hamilton in DC on August 17th. “Part of it is that I feel great physically, I’ve got a lot of energy. I’m playing, I think, probably better than ever. I’m 66 and I’m still moving up the ladder, which is exciting. Plus I got a great family, a great career, and I feel really good. I know that I have, I don’t want to say, a second chance, because to be perfectly honest, I should have been dead in my twenties from drugs, you know? This, to me, is my third chance. I know that we’re all on borrowed time here, and I’m trying to make the best of every day. I just feel great, you know?”

(photo by Bob Steshetz)

Still one of blue music’s most electrifying guitar players in his mid-sixties, Trout did the rock star thing and lived and partied hard for decades, playing in bands with blues legends like B.B. King and John Mayall, as well as a stint in Canned Heat, and also establishing himself solo as a leading blues guitar ace with a knack for solid lyrics.

But it all came back to bite him in 2013 when Hepatitis C finally ate up his liver and it was literally down to the wire to try and find a life saving transplant. Luckily, Trout got a new liver and a new lease on life, but instead of writing about that new lease, he wanted people to know what he went through, and what kind of battle scars he has after surviving a truly terrifying near-death experience.

“When I wanted to do another album after coming out of the haze,” the likable Trout said, “at first I wanted to write like, ‘Hey, I made it and I’m alive and I’m so happy and everything is so beautiful, and something like the singing of a bird reduces me to weeping mass of jelly,’ you know? Write about the beauty of life that I never quite saw this intensely before. I kept trying to write songs, and they were coming out smell the roses and the sunshine’s beautiful, and it would have been great for Helen Reddy, or Olivia Newton-John, or the band that did “Afternoon Delight,” something like that. I said to my wife, ‘I’m going crazy. I have all this music, but when I try to write lyrics, it’s this cliched, trite bullshit.’ She said, ‘Well, you know what you’re avoiding. What you really need to do is write about what happened to you, it might not be fun but you need to do it because it will be therapeutic.’ She said that to me and she went out shopping for the day. She got back five hours later, and I had written six of the songs on (Battle Scars). And I finished it the next day. The whole thing took two days, it just came out, man. I didn’t try to put on any filters, I didn’t go, well, I’m supposed to be a blues guy, this song better be a 12-bar or something. Whatever came out, just came out.”

After Trout survived almost dying, it took him a good long while just to get even the most basic guitar chops back. But he scrapped and scraped and worked through both intense physical and mental pain, all just to teach himself how to play again.

“I had to relearn how to play. I got back out, I couldn’t play. I would watch videos of myself playing and I would go, I don’t know who that guy is, I can’t even relate to that person. I started over. I remember saying to my wife, ‘Look, I just figured out how to play a G chord.’ I also remember saying to her, ‘This is the most painful thing, I mean, I don’t know how anybody does this, my fingers are on fire, and …’ So it came back. I worked literally, it was like five hours a day I sat on the couch and I did that for a year.”

Trout endured almost unbearable frustration as he tried to regain the high end guitar skills that had gotten him to where he was before he fell ill.

“Learning it again, I didn’t know what else to do. I was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this anymore.’ I could still remember positions, I could remember scales, where they were. I could look at the neck and go, ‘Okay, if that’s a bar there that’s a C,” but I could not do it physically. It was like being 10 years old, and you try to play a chord and it burns your fingers, and then your fingers crack open. I had to retrain the muscles because I had lost 120 pounds, and that was all muscle. I didn’t have the strength in the beginning, the strength to press the string down to the fret. I couldn’t get a note out. Not only was it practicing the guitar, but I worked with weights with my forearm muscles, and I worked with weights with my fingers and stuff like that, to redevelop the strength to do it. Little by little, it came back. I remember the first day I bent a string, we were celebrating, you know? Playing a bar chord, I went, ‘I just played a bar chord, and all the notes were ringing, there wasn’t a thud.’ We’re like, ‘Yeahhh!'”

Marie and Walter Trout embrace after Marie introduced Walter at his first appearance since his transplant, at Royal Albert Hall in London

But it was an annual Trout family tradition that poignantly showed him he was ready to fire up the amplifier for real and get back to business.

“I got home September the first, and the first time I tried to play in front of people was New Year’s Eve. We do a concert to the neighborhood, my family and I. My kids, we set up the band in the front yard, we’ve done it for years, and at the stroke of midnight, we play classic rock songs until the cops come, and all the neighbors come out. I played two songs with my kids, to see if I could do it. I did ‘Born to be Wild’ and “Fortunate Son.’ I played them, and at the end I was done. My hands hurt, but I actually did it, and I played a solo and I sang. I was like, ‘I think I may be able to do this.’ But that was only about eight minutes of playing. I kept working on it, that was January the first, and then the first time I got back up on a stage was June 15th, at Royal Albert Hall.”

And that comeback performance at one of the world’s most revered venues was the memorable moment Trout realized he had truly survived.

“It was a bunch of musicians doing Lead Belly music, Van Morrison and Eric Burdon among others. My wife introduced me, and said it was my first time back, and God, it was really emotional, she and I just stood there and wept. It was fucking heavy, man.”

(photo by Gary Moore)

Trout’s new record We’re All In This Together is clearly a way for him to exorcise some of the demons from the Battle Scars period, to put the intensity of the recovery behind him, and just enjoy being alive and playing the blues.

“Now was the right time for this record,” Trout said recently. “Battle Scars was such an intense piece of work, written with tears coming down my face. I needed a break from that, to do something fun and light-hearted. This album was joyous for me. It was quite a piece of work to get this record together, but I guess I have a lot of friends, y’know?”

And as for the future of the music that not only is in his soul but saved his life? Just like he feels after making it through his near death experience, Trout knows in his heart that the blues are alive and well.

“There’s so many young players coming up, so many young guitar players out there, and some good black players again, too. In many ways, in the ’60s I think, the blues kind of became in some ways the music of white college people. If you go to blues festivals, there’s not a lot of black people there. But now there’s a lot of young black guys playing blues, which hadn’t happened for a while, and there’s a whole batch of young guitar player singers. I think the blues is healthy as hell and has a great future, you know?”

Walter Trout with special guest Matthew Curry performs at The Hamilton, 600 14th Street, N.W., Washington, DC 20005. For tickets click here

CINDY BLACKMAN SANTANA’S RHYTHMIC JOURNEY

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on August 10, 2017 by midliferocker

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Keeping the beat solo or with legends, and even marrying one, is only one part of this very special lady’s rhythmic journey.

By Steve Houk

From the moment she arrived in this world, it was the tapping. The rhythm. The beat.

There had to be some force of nature driving it, or given the intense spirituality that still courses through her to this day, it was likely a higher power at work.

“Both my Mom and older sister tell me that when I came out, I was always finding something to tap a rhythm on,” Cindy Blackman Santana told me on a break from the current tour she plays drums and percussion on in her husband Carlos Santana‘s band. “My Mom said I even found it in tapping on her back as a baby. She always said to me, ‘I thought that was maybe something you’d grow out of. But you never did.’ I love playing the drums. I won’t even call it a career, I’m going to call it my existence in music, but I always just wanted to play drums. Whatever the capacity was, I just wanted to play because I love doing it.”

For Blackman, it really was never a question, what she would be spending her life doing. Percussiveness is engrained in her soul, and is truly what has guided her through her very successful 30-plus year career, all in an industry where female drummers are few, opportunities can be scarce, and where she experienced both gender and racial prejudice.

But from her early days under the loving tutelage of legendary jazz drummer Art Blakey, to being the driving rhythmic energy for Lenny Kravitz, to jamming with jazz legends past and present, and now up to her current stint as her hubby Carlos’ drummer extraordinaire, Cindy Blackman Santana has established a stellar and respected reputation as one of the best instrumentalists in the music business.  She and the Santana band play Merriwether Post Pavilion on August 15th.

From those days as a beat-tapping baby, Blackman always felt the drums, they spoke to her, she seemed to pull the rest of the music aside and feed voraciously off the drum parts.

“When I would listen to a record, the drums were the instrument that would always stand out to me,” the kind and affable Blackman said. “I didn’t even know what they were at a very young age, or even what they looked like, but that was just the thing that always attracted me. Then once I saw them, oh my goodness, I completely fell in love with the drums. When I got my first drum set, changing the drum heads and smelling the wood inside, that just even got me, you know? I loved the feel of drums, the look of drums, the smell of drums, the role that a drummer plays.”

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Art Blakey and Cindy Blackman Santana

Jazz drummer Tony Williams would be her first big influence, but it would be the legendary Blakey that would take her under his wing after she arrived in New York at 23 after leaving Berklee School of Music in Boston. Blakey, who died in 1990, not only adored her as a person, but clearly saw enormous potential in her, and sensed her innate drive to soak up everything she could from one of music’s true drumming virtuosos.

“Art Blakey was like a papa to me, he called me his daughter,” Blackman said affectionately. “I used to babysit his kids, I was at his house almost every day and he told me so many stories and so many things and he was just so loving. I never took a formal lesson from Art, but it was all much better than a formal lesson, because everything that I saw and experienced when I hung out with him was a lesson. A lesson in music, a lesson in life, and he was so pleased and proud to share the lineage and the history of drumming, of jazz, of being a black person, you know? He was so incredible in sharing all of those things, and being a good human being.”

Blakeys’ protectiveness was never more evident than in something he said to her one night at his home. “He looked right in my eyes and said, ‘Cindy, don’t ever get in any trouble.’ And I said, ‘Huh?’ He said, ‘Because I’m not a person who’s looking to get into trouble, but if somebody ever did something to you, I’d have to kill him. I’d go to jail and I wouldn’t be able to play anymore!’ Yeah, it’s still one of the most amazing periods in my existence hanging with him. It was just such a blessing.”

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Cindy Blackman Santana (left) on tour with Lenny Kravitz (far right)

Amidst recording with a slew of past and present jazz legends through the 80’s into the 90’s, collaborating on their records and also making her own, Blackman began perhaps the most fruitful professional relationship of her career with Kravitz, one that started with two highly unique audition experiences.

“First, Lenny asked me if I would play over the phone and I did. I was excited, I was just playing and I was hitting the drums pretty hard. I got back on the phone and said, ‘Well, I know that was pretty loud, could you hear anything?’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I could hear it, I’m in L.A., can you fly out here right now?’ ”

When she arrived at the L.A. manse Kravitz was staying at, she thought it was going to be just her playing for Kravitz, but soon realized that was not the case at all. Still, things turned out for the better.

“I saw somebody come in with a snare drum, and then somebody came in with a stick bag, and another cat with a bass drum pedal, and I’m like, ‘Oh no, these are all drummers.’ This friendly, no strings attached get-together was all of a sudden this big audition, thanks to his management and unbeknownst to Lenny. So after I played, he said, ‘Okay, the auditions are off, that’s it, I choose Cindy.’ I walked out of the room and his manager said, ‘Well man you’ve got like 38 other guys in there, it’s not really fair that they’re here and don’t get to play.’ So he auditioned everybody, and the next day said, ‘I still like Cindy better.’ So I learned the music, I rehearsed with the band, and then at the end of two weeks, we did the first video that I did with Lenny called “Are You Gonna Go My Way?”  At the end of the 18-hour shoot, they walked me outside and Lenny said, ‘So, you want to join my band?’ I said, ‘Sure, okay, when does it start?’ And he started laughing and he said, ‘It started two weeks ago!’ After a while, it was like they were all my brothers and I was their sister. And we really understood everybody’s flow, you know? It makes about 16, 17 years that I’ve played with him.”

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Cindy Blackman Santana and Carlos Santana release doves at their 2010 wedding (photo courtesy CBS)

Life took an unexpected turn for Blackman when she was introduced to Carlos Santana, and it was not only a musical kinship but their deep spirituality that eventually brought them closer together, resulting in Carlos proposing to Blackman onstage in 2010.

“When I met Carlos, when we started to get to know each other and started talking, I’m like, ‘Oh, this cat is really spiritual. I really like that, but I don’t want to be involved with a musician.’ I’ve done that, so I don’t think so. But he won me over because he’s so spiritual and he was right where I was in terms of what he was aligning himself with spiritually, and where he was at in terms of spirituality. And so that really was the major thing that was the bond for us. I believe that I was where he wanted a partner to be spiritually. We both did a lot of work on ourselves and we were both at a certain level spiritually, but definitely always searching to get more in line with our heart centers, with our light and with the creator’s light. It was really the major thing that bonded us.”

As well as the skins, Blackman is also lending her ample writing chops to the Santana sound as recently as their new record with the Isley Brothers, Power Of Peace, including the song “I Remember” which she wrote and sings. “To me, music is completely spiritual, it’s the way you ultimately connect with your higher self, and the universe. It’s also how you share light with millions of people. The music speaks, channels good energy, and makes a difference in people’s lives.”

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And as they have grown together as a couple, Blackman and Santana have found a spiritual bond that envelops them both. “It’s beautiful because that kind of light never dissipates,” she says glowingly. And as for what happens onstage during their current tour? Sounds like that legendary Santana magic is shared by his bride of seven years as well.

“You know, as close as I am to the situation, I’m still always amazed by Carlos, because his energy and his zest for not only finding new music to play but also keeping all of the music at a certain energy level and level of quality is just beautiful to behold. It’s a wonderful experience and the music soars, and he would have nothing less. If it doesn’t soar, you would hear about it.”

Santana (with drummer Cindy Blackman Santana) performs Tuesday August 15th at Merriwether Post Pavilion, 10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy, Columbia, MD 21044. For tickets, click here.