THE JAYHAWKS’ GARY LOURIS : STILL STANDING TALL

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on June 14, 2016 by midliferocker
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The Jayhawks (L-R, Tim O’Reagan, Karen Grotberg, Gary Louris, Marc Perlman)

An Americana legend makes it to the other side by coming home to his beloved band. 

By Steve Houk

For a supremely talented guy like Gary Louris, writing music seems effortless. The consistent magnificence of Louris’ work over the many decades that he has been the front man and driving force behind alt-rock legends The Jayhawks is evident on every record the band has made since their stunning debut, Hollywood Town Hall, in 1985.

But life gets in the way of even virtuostic musicians, and a bout with addiction sidelined Louris for a while, threatening to deprive him of creating more incredible music, and us as loyal fans from hearing it. Lucky for us, Louris survived, and once again is thriving, as evidenced by The Jayhawks excellent new record Paging Mr. Proust and their highly anticipated current tour.

And if you ask Louris, he knows just how lucky he is. “I’m very lucky, not everyone has made it,” Louris told me from Chicago where the band was playing two shows. “I feel really good, especially considering I’m not 21 anymore. Clarity is a good thing. And my purpose on this tour among others is to show that even later in your life, you can still do some of your best work. There’s not alot of examples of that in the rock world, so we’re trying to show that it can be done.”

And boy, was it ever done. 2016’s Paging Mr. Proust is one of the band’s strongest and boldest records ever, and is evidence that Louris’ successful quest to put out solid music in the latter end of his recording career is working, and shows how talented and continually innovative he remains. Louris brings his Jayhawks to the Lincoln Theater Saturday June 18th.

For Louris, life presented some major challenges a few years back, so writing music took a backseat to getting healthy. When he got over that hurdle, he found himself wondering what was next, and after a while he realized it was the comfort and familiarity of his beloved band that would guide him towards the next chapter.

“The reality is that I went to rehab [for painkiller addiction] and when I got out three and a half years ago, I had to decide what I wanted to do with my life, and I had alot of time to think,” Louris said candidly. “So I started writing music with no particular…maybe this is the key…no particular place that it was gonna land. I wasn’t writing for the Jayhawks, I was just writing music, and some of it was completely off the Jayhawks radar, some weird electronica sounds and some other a little less so, but some ended up being more like Jayhawks stuff. Once I realized I really needed this particular band and the structure of the band and the friendships, the history, I kind of sifted through and found the songs that I felt fit the band, that still allowed us to push the envelope into different places, but still felt like the collective. Once I knew that was happening, I wrote songs specifically for the band and then we collaborated, so that’s how it kinda got going.”

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The songs began to flow and soon it was off to record, and an old buddy of the band with a Hall of Fame resume jumped on board because he had wanted to work with the band for a while and this looked like a golden opportunity.

“[REM’s] Peter Buck knew of us and mentioned that if we make another record, he’d like to be involved,” Louris said. “So we kinda kept that in our brain, and when it came time to make a record, his name came up, and also Tucker Martine came about because Peter lives in Portland and he wanted to stick in Portland. It was a great balance, because Peter’s more big picture, a ‘let’s not belabor the point’ kinda thing, he would have liked to have made the record in six days. Tucker is much more detail-oriented, so I think it worked out really well. They enjoyed working with each other. Not every record works this way, but everything kinda fell into place.”

After the many roads Gary Louris has gone down in his illustrious career, Louris always seems to come home. He just seems to be happiest playing and collaborating with his original band. And he also gets that despite his past aversion to touring, it’s a necessary part of life for this latest version of his one and only Jayhawks.

“It is pretty cool what we’re doing, we have a good group, we all get along, it’s a real great chemistry, and I’m excited about how good we’re getting. And I want to take it out to the people. And it’s just a necessary thing, people don’t buy music anymore, touring is the only way to make a living really, for a musician. I like to work and it’s good to be able to do what I love and have people come out and tell you how great it is. What’s not to like?”

The Jayhawks perform Saturday June 18th at the Lincoln Theater, 1215 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009. For tickets, please click here

LAKE STREET DIVE: SERENDIPITY BREEDS SUCCESS

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on June 7, 2016 by midliferocker

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One of music’s hottest acts combines superior talent and a tight bond to make a red hot band.

By Steve Houk

It could have all happened so differently.

Four strangers, four kids really, all attending Boston’s prestigious New England Conservatory of Music in the early 2000’s, all with separate yet equally passionate dreams of musical success. They could have easily found other bandmates, other collaborators at that mecca of musicianship to mesh and join bands and make beautiful music with. Or they all could have decided to go it alone.

But no, serendipity would step in, as it often has for this quartet. And thanks to one of them making the first move, a musical force of nature called Lake Street Dive was born.

“Yes, it’s been serendipity over and over and over again,” lead vocalist Rachael Price told me from a tour stop in Brighton, UK. “For one, we’d only been at the Conservatory for a year before (guitarist/trumpetist) Mike Olson asked us all to play together. He was like, ‘I want to form a band, I’d like to play some songs that I’ve been writing,’ and he got us together. It’s also about the amount of music that we share in common, as far as what we love and what we grew up with, it is so the same, on a really specific level. And it’s the way in which we get along as four people, it’s so harmonious, which is really the most serendipitous part. It’s not like we were already all good friends, that all happened post-formation, we became friends through the process of being a band. It’s like I found my three siblings. We always say we’ve been on a twelve year platonic double date.”

In addition to a truly deep bank of varied musical talent, that rare band cohesion has been a main reason that Lake Street Dive has been able to weather the last dozen years and become one of the most talked-about, sought-after and wholly unique acts out there in music today. They play Wolf Trap‘s Filene Center on Thursday June 16th with special guest The Lone Bellow.

The four members of Lake Street Dive — Price, Olson, bassist Bridget Kearney and drummer Mike Calabrese — all went to the Conservatory with a dream of their own. So who knew that it would take the four of them together to make their dreams come true? Take Price, for example; being in a foursome was not on her radar.

“I expected to come out of there being a jazz singer,” Price said. “I wanted to be the next Diana Krall, which is hilarious. I got really into jazz standards when I was young and that’s what I focused on with most of my vocal technique and training and learning. Then I was like, well, I’m gonna go to jazz school, obviously that’s what’s gonna happen next, I’ll get out of jazz school and I’ll be a jazz singer. And then, I met Lake Street Dive…and everything changed.”

Not long after the four got together in Boston, bassist Kearney entered a song in the annual John Lennon Songwriting Contest — and here’s more of that Lake Street Dive serendipity — she won in the jazz category, propelling the band to the next step in their journey.

“(Bridget) wrote that song, so it got her some prize money,” Price continued. “And she’s like, ‘Well, it’s the band’s performance of it that won, so I want to put all the money back into the band.’ So we made a record, probably earlier than we should have, but that record, and especially the tour around it, was just one of those crucial steps that cemented us as a band, which I think really was our desire. I think the four of us had that desire individually even without saying it to one another. We really wanted to be in like a set group, you know, four equal parts, working together, to make music, with no one being the particular leader. So when we went on the road together that time, it just made us all feel like we were doing what we were supposed to do.”

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Lake Street Dive’s latest record, 2016’s Side Pony (courtesy Nonesuch Records)

Lake Street Dive’s sound, their specific genre, is not an easy one to pin down. If you cut a swath across their catalog, you’ll hear shades of jazz, soul, rock and R & B all come through to create a sound truly all their own. Calabrese has described it as “if the Beatles and Motown had a party together,” but even that doesn’t describe their unique vibe.

“We don’t really do well describing ourselves with a genre,” Price said. “We could be like, well, this is a soul song, and this is a rock song. But we just kind of reach out for different styles, based on how we feel, and based on the types of songs that everybody’s writing.”

In addition to great songwriting by all four members, one of Lake Street Dive’s biggest pluses are its live performances, where you can feel the four bandmates feeding off the audience, a staple of a successful band.

“It’s something we focused alot on,” Price said, “and it’s just kind of the way we seem to work best. That’s where we figured out how to play with each other. How to have fun playing with each other. The songs don’t really come alive until we played them live, you know, for a few months. I think our goal is for it always to feel good, so to have it be funky in some way, and to make people move. Slow or fast, but yeah, we want people to move their bodies.”

So 12 years ago, when the four young musicians began their journey in Boston together, did they think they’d ever reach this level of success?

“I think we’ve exceeded (expectations) for sure,” Price said. “I don’t think we thought too much about it, but to be making a living, and for us making a really good living, and still artistically and creatively be doing what we want to do, it’s really kind of a dream.”

Lake Street Dive with special guests The Lone Bellow perform Thursday June 16th at Wolf Trap’s Filene Center, 1551 Trap Rd, Vienna, VA 22182. For tickets, click here

 

PETER WOLF: FINDING THE CURE

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 26, 2016 by midliferocker

Almost 50 years in, one of rock and roll’s coolest still finds a deep connection to his audience. 

By Steve Houk

It’s been almost 40 years ago now since my high school buddy Ted Riegel used to crank up “Musta Got Lost” from the J. Geils Band‘s seminal 1976 live record Blow Your Face Out on a cassette player in our locker room before our varsity baseball and soccer games to get us psyched up. It was that perfectly raucous combination of rock and roll, soul and R & B that the Geils band was so good at, especially with their powerhouse lead singer Peter Wolf blasting out the vocals in a style truly unique to him. And boy, did it get you stoked to go out and do some damage on the field.

I related this story to Wolf recently, and what do ya know, he had a very similar story related to him by one of rock’s most notorious leading men, a story that made us both laugh at the almost identical nature of the memory that involved Wolf and his wild old band.

“I met Axl Rose many years ago, and he told me that when he was a football player on his high school team, they used to play ‘Musta Got Lost’ before each game. And he said every time they played it, they won. You never know how the music penetrates.”

As far as Peter Wolf is concerned, his music has deeply penetrated our hearts, minds and rock and roll souls for nearly five decades, from his wild Woofa Goofa days riling up crowds (and high school athletes) into a frenzy with J. Geils, to his post-Geils days churning out consistently stellar solo work. And his excellent new effort A Cure For Loneliness is no exception, and may be his best solo foray yet. Wolf brings his superb band The Midnight Travelers to The Birchmere on June 1st.

For Wolf, Cure is a reflective piece that takes a look at where he is at this point in his life across a host of genres. He does it with just the right combination of flair, subtlety and power, along with solid musicianship, and says he crafted it with a specific process in mind.

“We put together a batch of songs and recorded it in studio,” Wolf told me on a break during his current tour. “And then we did some recording of the same songs live and we just picked and choosed. We tried to give it some kind of beginning, middle and an end. ‘Rollin’ On’ kinda leads into the thematic aspect of the record. ‘Stranger’ leads with a kinda lonely kinda feelin.’ And ‘Cure For Loneliness’, well, there it is, music’s my cure for loneliness.”

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Listening to the new record, I found myself feeling my own individual connections to the music, songs that seem to speak to what I’m feeling at this point in life, right now. Add that’s a hope every artist has when they create music, to make that kind of connection with the listener.

“When I make ’em, I make ’em to please myself,” the amicable 70-year old Wolf said. “Because I figure, if I can’t please myself, I can’t expect other people to be pleased. So it’s nice to hear there’s some kind of connection to the audience.”

As far as the current live show, it seems that it has something for everyone, and that’s really been Wolf’s appeal his whole career.

“I choose very special artists to perform with me, so by that alone it makes the evening unique. And we have a great camraderie. We can play all the songs on the solo records, we can play some favorite blues and rockin’ stuff that I like, and we can play most of the Geils stuff. We got hundreds of songs in our repertoire, and when we get to a show, anything goes.”

And when you ask Peter Wolf what makes him happiest these days, well, after almost 50 years, it still all comes down to the music.

“Playing with this band, in front of a good house, that’ll do it for me. I don’t mean that to sound like show biz jive, just telling you the honest truth. It still has to do with the connection to the audience, and also my connection with the band.”

Peter Wolf and The Midnight Travelers perform Wednesday June 1st at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here

 

 

 

JUSTIN HAYWARD: THESE DAYS, NOT MOODY OR BLUE

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on May 22, 2016 by midliferocker

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A rock legend carries on his timeless legacy while also finding powerful new subjects to write about.

By Steve Houk

Of all the miraculous, timeless music Justin Hayward has created – from the wondrous songs he wrote as a member of prog rock legends The Moody Blues as well as his strong solo work – there’s a song he recently wrote and debuted on his current tour that very well might be his most stunning. That’s saying alot from the guy who wrote such rock classics as “Nights In White Satin,” “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Your Wildest Dreams.” But “The Wind Of Heaven” is something different altogether.

Hayward had worked with filmmaker David Minasian on a live DVD of his Atlanta performance a few years back, and recently found out Minasian was working on a new film with a powerfully emotional story. Hayward was so moved by it that he and his friend wrote a song about it.

“It’s the story of a vet who comes back from Afghanistan, and really loses his way and has to find his life again,” Hayward said to the crowd in New Hampshire on the opening night of his current tour where he debuted the song. “He finds it through horses, and the horses give him back his life. We got so carried away with the story that we wrote a song together and we would like to do it for you now.  This is called ‘The Wind of Heaven.’ ”

The song struck such a powerful chord that the crowd roared through joyful tears after he finished. A man stood up in the middle of the applause and said, “On behalf of all us veterans in the audience, we want to thank you for playing this song tonight.” It was a moment that even a legendary rock star who’s seen it all must have taken pause at.

Justin Hayward has always written music that has moved and touched people, and as he prepares to turn 70 this year, he continues to write and perform his formidable songs from then and now with that familiar skill, passion and flair, as he always has. His current “Stage Door Tour” comes to The Birchmere on Sunday May 29th.

The name “Stage Door Tour” comes from the childhood experiences that he had hovering around the stage door of the Empire Theater in their hometown of Swindon, UK.

“My brother and I could not afford to go to the shows , in fact, we were regularly chased away from the lavish entrance by the fat commissionaire who stood guard there. But we loved the stage door – we saw many artists come and go – and we believed it was the place the real magic entered and left the building. Which of course, it is.”

Hayward still sporadically tours with two of his remaining Moody Blues mates when they can find the time. “The three of us that are still playing together, we’re so lucky to have been there at the right time and together and to have had success, that’s something that the three of us really treasure, it’s hard to let go of.” But it’s his solo work that really enables him to get to the core of the tunes.

“I enjoy this solo touring as well because it brings back the essence of the songs and it’s the way that I originally wrote them, it’s how they would have sounded in my own home,” Hayward told me from his studio in Italy. “I get to bring my acoustic guitars out from home, the ones that played on the records, so that’s nice too. It gives me a chance to do things that we’ve never done with the Moodys. It gives a different look to the set list and what to play. That’s always interesting, I get to do ‘Forever Autumn’ which was a hit for me as well. I enjoy every moment, it’s very precious.”

Of all the periods in his rich and lustrous musical life, Hayward relishes them all especially those he’s experiencing right now. But he looks back on one time in particular with great fondness.

“Things are always much more interesting when you look back at them,” Hayward said reflectively. “I think the most enjoyable time for me was the mid 1980’s. I wasn’t very much aware of what was happening in the 60’s, I suppose because I was so young. But in the 80’s, to have success with ‘Wildest Dreams’ and ‘I Know You’re Out There Somewhere,’ it was a real joy to have that opportunity, it’s like a second chance, and to be recognized in the street for the first time, people never knew my name but they’d say, ‘Hey aren’t you the Moody Blues guy?’ because of the videos and stuff like that. It was a wonderful time.”

Justin Hayward performs Sunday May 29th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here

 

 

 

DELBERT McCLINTON: UNDEFEATED

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on May 17, 2016 by midliferocker

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A music veteran perseveres into his 70’s by combining great music and a strong constitution.

By Steve Houk

One of the true bonafide survivors of the insanity that often is the music business, Delbert McClinton is still out there at 75, playing his familiar yet unique blend of rock and blues that’s been keeping him going for over 50 years.

When I called McClinton recently to chat about his current tour, his upcoming record and his formidable life in music, I asked McClinton what he was doing, and what he attributes his longevity to.

“Sitting here having breakfast with my grandkids,” McClinton said in his amicable Texas drawl. “We kinda did a reinvention on this new record. Wrote some really good songs and I think it’s a great record. And yeah, I attribute (my longevity) to the fact that I still love doing this. I’ve had this with me my whole life, and it’s always sustained me. I just can’t seem to get enough.”

Life is pretty darn good these days for the durable McClinton, who continues to play and record his music for a legion of loyal fans, while at the same time being able to look back at a career he made work for himself, eventually on his own terms, despite the nefarious dealings of record companies and the unpredictable nature of the business itself. McClinton plays the Birchmere Saturday May 21st.

Before he became a front man in 1972, McClinton began his playing days in a Fort Worth band called The Straitjackets, backing up a who’s who of American blues players on harmonica, many of whom were his early influences and musical heroes.

“Back in the day, many many years ago starting out, I was a big Muddy Waters/Jimmy Reed/Sonny Boy Williamson fan,” McClinton said. “So I picked up the harmonica and that’s the way that went. That’s where I got my on the job training, was from [backing up] Sonny Boy, Buster Brown, Jimmy Reed, Howlin Wolf. Back in the early 60’s, those guys were on the radio, they traveled all across the country, so they’d come to town.  And to put it in perspective, back in those days everybody in the world wasn’t in a band, there weren’t that many bands around. I think back in the time in Fort Worth there mighta been three bands, and my band was the best one!”

McClinton refreshingly and openly speaks his mind, and he is not shy when talking of the injustice he feels many black blues players, including those he played with and idolized, faced from their white record company counterparts.

“They’ll never get their just due man, that’s a horrible time in history, and an awful lot of greedy white men stole all the money from those wonderfully talented black men. That’s the way it’s gonna go down in history because that’s what happened. They’d do it today if they can. Not just from black people, anybody. It’s a sleazy world, this music business, it’s sleazy as anything. The backside of it is people that will steal everything ya got.”

It took McClinton until he was 50 to break free of the insidious music business trap by making his own records, and he holds nothing back when speaking of his disdain for the industry.

“I don’t trust any of ’em and I don’t believe any of ’em, course it took me a long time, I was 40 somethin’ years old before I decided to change my way of doin’ things. By the time I was 50, I was making my own records and owning them. And that’s also been the best music of my career, since I was 50, in my opinion. You gotta keep the eye on it man, or somebody’ll steal it from ya, that’s terrible, but that’s the way the world goes around.”

McClinton’s long career has seen him not only do solid solo work for decades, but also team up with stalwarts like Bonnie Raitt (they traded vocals on “Good Man Good Woman” off Raitt’s 1991 multi-platinum Luck Of The Draw) and Tanya Tucker (their 1992 duet “Tell Me About It” went to #4 on the country charts), but it’s his oft-told story about showing a young rock and roll upstart how to play harmonica in the early 60’s that may be his most storied “collaboration.”

“When “Hey Baby” came out in ’62, I think it was ’62” — McClinton played harmonica on the song — “it was a super number one hit, nobody saw that coming, but that’s what happened. When Bruce (Channel) got booked to do a tour of the British Isles, the promoter said, well, we gotta have the harmonica player too, so I got to go. We were over there in England, and every night somebody would show up in the dressing room with a harmonica and say, hey, show me how you do that. It was a novelty. So The Beatles were the opening act on a couple of the dates we did, and John Lennon wanted to make sure I (showed him). He was already fooling around with the harmonica, you can’t really show anybody anything on the harmonica, it’s kinda like masturbation, you kinda fool around with it and figure it out. I didn’t really teach him. I just showed him what I did. Ya know, when to suck and when to blow. Later, he mentioned it to somebody and they put it in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that he was influenced by me. It’s been romanticized as all of that stuff is. But it’s a good story.”

McClinton is a man who has worked hard to get where he is, breaking free of the chains that binded him, and today, is still making great music into his seventies. And he has made his career a success against pretty heavy odds.

“When I was with Capricorn, I had a record go into the top 100, and the same week, Capricorn closed their doors and declared bankruptcy. Every record company besides one in my whole career has gone out of business while I was on the label. Every one of ’em. You either live through something like that or it defeats you. And I can’t be defeated.”

Delbert McClinton performs Saturday May 21st at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here

JJ GREY’s DEEP FLORIDA SOUL

Posted in Uncategorized on May 11, 2016 by midliferocker

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Florida to the core, has thrived by singing about his roots and living one day at a time.

By Steve Houk

So when you think of Florida, what do you think of? No, I mean the good part, not the butt-of-jokes negative part.

Well, you could start with a sunset over the Gulf.  Collard greens and black-eyed peas and ho cake. The sweet smell of an orange grove. The Everglades. The Keys. Real sweet tea. A pelican swooping down over the bay. There’s a lot more, but yeah, those work.

Oh, and as much as a gator skulking in a swampy marsh says Florida, there’s also the music of JJ Grey.

As deeply ingrained in the Sunshine State as anything you’d find on a beach in St Augustine, a dinner table in Olustee, or in a pine forest in Alachua County, JJ Grey has spent his life as a living piece, a living treasure really, of the heart and soil of the state he was born in. He sowed his oats there, got his hands dirty there, raised a family there, and last but certainly not least, has made and continues to make incredible music there. Florida’s DNA is Grey’s DNA, and it’s what has primarily fed the miraculous soon-to-be eight albums worth of songs of one of the most respected singer/songwriters and live performers of the last 20 years. And that deep and sincere connection to his roots and his family has gotten him to good place, as he sits a stone’s skip across the pond from 50 years old.

“My family, my daughter, wife, son, ya know, music to me is a by-product of all that,” Grey, 47, told me as he was driving down the road in, where else, Florida. “It’s a by-product of the rest of my life, it’s just a conversation of that, you know what I mean? Everything seems to be a journey in the same direction, so to speak. In other words, whatever I’m doin’, it always seems to end up being about me focusing on bein’ who I am, where I am, when I am, and enjoying that and just sort of basking in that, if you will. That’s kinda where I’ve been for a little while now, it’s kinda like turnin’ on a joy switch and not turnin’ it off. I’m lovin’ it.”

You can probably cull from that that life seems to be going pretty good for JJ Grey right about now. From his first record Blackwater in 2001, to the soon to be released Ol’ Glory, Grey and his band Mofro have become eagerly anticipated staples in clubs and halls and festivals across the world, known far and wide for their blissful live shows that erupt with swamp-soaked, soul-charged, Southern-shined rock and roll, all driven by the powerful songs of Grey’s Florida life that grace records that, surprise, all have titles that drip with the imagery of his home state, like Georgia Warhorse, This River, Orange Blossoms, Lochloosa, and sure, Country Ghetto. Grey and Mofro and special guests, the also fabulous London Souls, grace the 9:30 Club stage on February 18th.

“Soul” – that word is stunningly prevalent in Grey’s music, and in his voice. His inner soul is where he visits to mine his past, present and future to write his songs, and it is with unbridled soul that he gloriously sings about the people, stories, moments and times he has experienced. Grey creates music that is at different times celebratory, reverent, poignant, exulting, deep. So where does this stunning and diversified JJ Grey soul come from?

“Man, you know what? I have no idea,” the affable and open Grey says with a chuckle. “All I know is I just hope it comes out. I liken it all to a sailboat, because I just man the rudder, which means I kinda move it in a direction, but I ain’t in charge of the current, I ain’t in charge of the wind, all I can do throw the sails up and then stand at the rudder, and try to steer it. And you know what, I’m happy there, I’m happy with that. Maybe it can be rough sometimes, but you can have all kinds of moments of beauty, and it feels so free. And for me, singin’ has become that same way. I used to be able to tell you exactly how I do this, that and the other, but anymore it’s all about just manning the rudder, man, and sail where the wind takes me.”

Born in the 60’s in Jacksonville with roots to Florida ancestors going generations back — surely as far back as some of the roots of the pecan trees that line his grandparents’ Florida farm where he now lives — Grey never had clear designs on becoming the successful and respected musician that he is today: “I’ve never really had that moment, that do or die moment. I’ve had friends who felt that there was this huge commitment that they would have to make to music, but I never viewed it like that. I just did what I felt like I was supposed to go do.” He took life as it came, one day at a time, working at a local air conditioning company and then a lumberyard, all the while gathering snippets of his burgeoning musical sensibility from family, , and even some inspiration from the Skynyrd boys, who all grew up cross town.

“My Dad had a buncha 8-tracks, there’s where I first heard Jerry Reed and Amos Moses, and was blown away by that,” Grey continues. “And my sister had a bunch of 45s, like disco 45s, like KC and the Sunshine Band, the Bee Gees, Main Ingredient, all that stuff from that era. Yet there wasn’t a whole lotta music that parents would give their stamp of approval to, especially secular music. But on the way home from church, my Dad would let us listen to that Casey Kasem Top Countdown on Sundays, and by the time we got outta church I think it was getting pretty close to the top 10 or so, if I remember right, on the way home, and we’d listen to all that stuff. Then my sister bought me Gold and Platinum which is the (Lynyrd) Skynyrd double album, and that’s the first record that was mine, that I owned. And my parents let me keep it. I remember playing that song “I Know A Little” for my Dad, and he was like, ‘That’s just juke music,’ but my Dad liked it, I could tell he liked it. But as a parent, he can’t qualify it, you know what I mean, he’s just gotta stay a daddy.”

Grey also used a little homegrown Florida ingenuity that he learned right in his own backyard and traded it for what would be his biggest gateway yet to a wealth of even more musical experiences.

“I got an AM radio, see, I traded a kid what we called a chinaberry gun,” Grey said. “We had a big ol’ grove of bamboo behind my Mom and Dad’s house, so we could make these guns, that you could shoot out a little chinaberry, about the size of a marble, pretty fast. Anyway I gave him one of those and he gave me a little cheap pocket radio. And I used to listen to the on the Mighty 690AM, and they played stuff like a little mixture of rock, and you might hear on there, it was a little wider range mixture than it is these days. I used to hear a lot of music on that, but Mom and Daddy didn’t know it, ya know?”

Music (orange) blossomed for Grey and became a viable way for him to support himself, but he had to choose if he should go at it full speed. And as usual, he dealt with this first big life decision like he seems to deal with everything else: with humility and a laid back take-it-as-it-comes attitude that appears to have served him well throughout life.

“For me, I never felt like I had to make a big choice,” Grey said. “It was tough at the beginning, at some points I didn’t get to sleep very much, I’d come home (from gigs) and go straight to work at the lumberyard. But they supported me, all long the way I had great people helping me, you know. And maybe that’s why it never felt like I had to make this hard core choice of one lifestyle or the other, I just did it all at the same time. Then I quit working at the lumberyard and if music could pay for the mortgage and the food and the car and the gas, that was good enough.  Time just shifted to doin’ music more than workin’ at the lumberyard.”

And if adversity came his way, well, he’d harken back to that ol’ A/C company job for a bit of office wisdom he hasn’t forgotten to this day.

“At the air conditioning company, this lady there had one of those little life things she put up that said, ‘Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.’ And the other one was a frog half swallowed by a stork, but the frog’s arms were still out and he was strangling the stork, and it was called, ‘Never give up.’ It’s funny how those two things come back to me later on.”

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JJ Grey (photo courtesy JJ Grey)

Since he stacked the lumber behind him and chose a life of music, Grey’s reputation has grown every year based both on his live shows and his stellar records, which blend the sounds of Otis Redding type soul and Jerry Reed style twang with his deeply personal and revealing songs largely about, yes, his beloved Florida, where he has experienced life, with all its struggles and triumphs. One thing he has dealt with in his music is the ongoing struggle in his home state between progress and preservation, and like fellow Floridian and best-selling author Carl Hiaasen, Grey uses his work not so much to preach about the consequences of overdevelopment, but to move someone via his art to think about their own connection with the land.

“A friend of mine, actually it was my first manager, she was a developer,” Grey said. “And she told me, she’s like, ‘After I listened to Lochlooosa, I decided that if I do anything, I want to do it with ‘x’ amount of land per house, and we gotta leave so many trees, and we gotta leave so much forest within a little subdivision’ and stuff. And I told her, ‘Look, I didn’t do that to preach to you, to tell you what to do with your business. I was just doin’ my best to remember what’s important for myself.’  So I guess, through my music, it was always my own wake up call, and if that helped her make her own connection with the place, then that’s great too, you know?”

Grey’s new record Ol’ Glory is another powerful mix of rollicking soul-fueled rock and roll and beautiful front porch ballading, another joy ride rife with sweet voice, big horns and slide guitar that once again epitomizes JJ Grey’s Florida style, a style that is steeped in where he came from, and where he’s going. And with that ol’ JJ Grey attitude, well, the sky’s the limit.

“The point is that everybody’s got their own hills to climb, their own crosses to bear and all that good stuff. For me, it’s just down to are you you gonna make it hard on yourself, or are you gonna make it easy? And I just decided to make it easy on myself.”

 

BELINDA CARLISLE: A GO GO KEEPS GO GOING

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on April 5, 2016 by midliferocker

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The front lady for a seminal 80’s band has kept her own star shining for decades.

By Steve Houk

Go-go music really makes us dance
Do the pony puts us in a trance

They are an integral part of the time capsule of the 80’s. They were the first, and to date still only, all female rock band to both write their own songs and play their own instruments while also topping the Billboard charts. And when you think great 1980’s music, you think “We Got The Beat,” heck, the song’s in the opening credits of seminal 80’s high school romp “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” Always popping up as a symbol of an era and a big dose of early rock and roll girl power to boot, The Go-Go’s made a huge mark and continue to conjure up memories for millions.

And still out in front of this now legendary band, who will reunite this fall for what is being called their farewell tour, is a stunningly beautiful, silky-voiced redhead who back then captivated both boys and girls and helped propel the Go-Go’s to lofty heights. And almost 40 years after their smash debut Beauty and The Beat was released, Belinda Carlisle hasn’t missed…a beat. Her own career continues to soar, helped by both her Go-Go’s connection as well as a highly successful solo career. Carlisle brings her solo band show to the Hamilton in DC on Friday, April 8th.

For the still gorgeous leading lady, it’s just loving what she’s doing that keeps her fire and her career burning all these years later.

“I’m 57, gonna be 58 in August,” the effervescent Carlisle told me recently after returning from Australia. “And it’s busier this year than I can remember it being for the past like 25 years. It’s good. I mean, I don’t have much of a breather from now until September. This is what I’m meant to be doing. I could probably be doing this when I’m 70. And I probably will in some form because I do love singing.”

In some ways, Carlisle’s life-after-the-Go-Go’s solo career has been more successful than the stratospheric rise of her band back in the late 70’s/early 80’s, given her solo stuff’s consistent appeal through the years. And she feels she’s sustained that success for a couple of specific reasons.

“I think that my voice is unique, I think that has really given me longevity,” Carlisle said. “Plus I’ve really been lucky to work with some of the world’s greatest songwriters, and I think that’s also given me longevity. And if you have an amazing back catalog, that can help give you longevity. I think now that I’ve been around for so long, that I’ve kind of gotten past that marker of not being just another sweet little pop singer. I’ve just been around for so long.”

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Carlisle is quick to point out why her pioneering Go-Go’s (minus Kathy Valentine who left amidst a messy lawsuit in 2013) all agreed that this is as good a time as any to go out with a bang, while also having her own reasons for doing one last tour now with her pals.

“Most of us have been kinda thinking that we want to end on a high note. In music there is a certain amount of sexism, and it’s different for men aging than it is for women, especially the kind of music that we do. We’re all getting older and I just started thinking about…I had just surgery on both of my hips last year, and I just started really thinking about how I want to live the rest of my life. I want to make room for alot of other things. I just thought, I just felt like it was time. And what’s great about this is that there is no weird sort of, like, we’re gonna go out on a good note with each other too, this is not an acrimonious ending. We all agreed that, you know something, it’s time now, let’s just go out with a big bang and go out on a high note, and that’s it.”

And Carlisle remains proud that her Go-Go’s have stood the test of time and remain more than just great danceable 80’s rock.

“The Go-Go’s transcend music,” Carlisle said proudly. “People have really sort of strong feelings about the Go-Go’s because, like you said, it’s not just music and memories. It’s hard to explain, but alot of the music transcends music, and becomes moments and everything else to people.

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Carlisle just finished a new solo album and continues to tour as both a solo artist and, for one last blowout, as the main face of her beloved Go-Go’s. And she remains grateful, and even until recently a bit surprised, at her ongoing success.

“Only a few years ago, I thought, oh, I guess this is what I’m supposed to be doing for a living, singing. But I never would have guessed back when I was 19 that I would have had such an amazingly rich career, and just so varied. I know I said it before, but I just love singing. And I think people know that. They can tell.”

Belinda Carlisle performs Friday April 8th at The Hamilton, 600 14th Street NW, Washington, DC. For tickets click here