Archive for steve houk

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.                  

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COME TOGETHER

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

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

JAY FARRAR: LOOKING BACK WHILE MOVING FORWARD

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

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

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

By Steve Houk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOUTHSIDE JOHNNY: IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on December 12, 2016 by midliferocker

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A Jersey legend keeps making music and remembering his roots. 

By Steve Houk

There are plenty of treasures that have to do with the Jersey Shore. The boardwalk. The salt water taffy or the fudge you get there, maybe a Kohr Bros. cone. The old restaurants and legendary bars. And of course, the beautiful beaches.

But the Shore’s biggest treasure might just be the music it inspired. Of course, it gave birth to Bruce, with that Aurora risin’ behind him right there in Asbury Park. But of the slew of other great bands and musicians that have risen out of the sand, surf and beer soaked bars up and down the coast, none screams Jersey Shore louder than Southside Johnny, aka John Lyon, who fed off the influences of his other Shore brethren as well as those who came before all of them and crafted a sound that’s been blasting across the globe for decades now and is still going strong. And it’s been a combination of Lyons’ determination and a little help from his friends that has kept him going this long.

“I love playing so I knew I would play music somehow, but I thought I’d be like most of the guys in Jersey, and play on the weekends and have a regular job and that kinda stuff. But I got very lucky, got some publicity, and Bruce and Steven both helped. My sheer tenacity has kept me goin’.”

At 68, two years older than his childhood buddy Mr. Springsteen, Lyon is still packing clubs and theaters and touring heavily in both the US and Europe, and released his 13th studio record Soultime last year. He and his Jukes appear at The Birchmere on Saturday December 17th.

For Lyon, it was those he surrounded himself with early on that helped pave the way, a group of buddies that seemed to know exactly what they wanted to do from the get go.

“(E Street Band bassist) Garry Tallent was my big inspiration,” Lyon told me recently. “He and I went to high school together, and Sonny Kenn and (original E Street Band drummer) Vini ‘Mad Dog’ Lopez, they were all like, we are going to be musicians. And they were 16 years old! 15, 16, 17 years old. And then I met Steve and Bruce, all these other people, and they all said, we’re gonna be musicians. I’m thinking, how can you know at 17 that there’s not going to be some other path you’re gonna take? They just were so focused. And I joined up with all those people and it was music 24 hours a day. We would listen to it, we would talk about it, we’d play, we’d jam, it just was all music. For years, that’s all we concentrated on. It just became this great obsession with all of us. It was just the greatest time ‘cuz we really had a purpose and a focus.”

And it was that sense of camraderie that continued and pervaded the Jersey Shore music scene, helping the budding musicians to hone and craft their own sounds.

“There was no real competitive scene, in the sense that we all really rooted for each other,” Lyon said. “Steven of course was a big influence because he had so much ambition and he wanted to learn how to produce, and he wanted to learn how to arrange. He really had the push to get things done. Just like Bruce. Bruce was a ball of energy as far as rehearsing and writing and playing.”

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Bruce Springsteen, Steven Van Zandt and Southside Johnny on stage together

Lyon made a decision early on to add horns to his music, something that helped set him apart from other bands on the scene and cemented his trademark sound.

“I was in blues bands, playing and singing, and that’s fine, but two hours of blues just didn’t sound fulfilling for me,” Lyon continued. “I needed to hear some R & B, and some rock and roll, even a little jazz if we wanted to. I wanted it to be a broader palette than just blues. And one of the things I grew up listening to was Count Basie and other big band stuff, then there was the Stax horns. And you think, yeah that’s what I want, I want horns. Steven and I had bands together, we had an acoustic duo, and finally when we started to get into the recording, after Bruce made his first record, I said I’d like horns on some songs, and Steven said yeah, I’d love to have a horn section in the band. So we made the first demo of four songs with some guys from the Asbury Park High School Marching Band, believe it or not. They weren’t skilled musicians but we got what we needed out of ’em. It was alot of fun. The horns have been the thing that makes us unique in some ways but it also…when you start a song and the horns come in, it just takes it up that step and people really get excited, and I do too. It lifts me up, too.”

And like his Shore buddies, the power and magic of the live experience would be something that would not only drive his success from then until now, but it would save his sanity, much like Springsteen recently revealed about himself in his autobiography.

“That’s the place where I feel most comfortable. I went through an anxiety period, and I would really not want to be around people, until I walked on stage and everything was OK. It was the weirdest feeling just to be…you can’t talk to anybody backstage and you just want to run out screaming into the night. And then you walk out on stage and the band starts and you feel completely comfortable and like, everything’s alright. It’s two hours of being who you want to be. For me it has always been therapy, giving it all up on stage, we all learned that from people like Jackie Wilson and Otis Redding and Sam and Dave. If you’re not sweatin’, you’re not workin’.”

Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes perform Saturday December 17th at The Birchmere,  3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, Alexandria VA 22305. For tickets, click here

 

 

SWAMP FOLK WITH HEART

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

The Krickets lurkin’ in the swamp (L-R: Katrina Kolb, Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Lauren Spring)

Sheer talent, a love of home and some Muscle Shoals magic make beautiful music for The Krickets.

By Steve Houk

During just about any evening down on the Florida panhandle, if you listen closely, along with the sounds of lapping waves or a distant boat horn…you can hear it.

Amidst the Gulf Coast’s swaying cypress trees and blowing palms, amidst the ambling gators, skittering lizards and floating pelicans, amidst the thick marshes and moonlit beaches, there is…music. Oh boy, is there ever. Singers and songwriters are plentiful and plenty talented down here, with many often writing musical homages to, and evoking the legendary lore of, this truly breathtaking part of the world.

No group of artists is more happily steeped in the innate beauty and fascination of their homeland than The Krickets, one of the Gulf Coast region’s musical treasures. A quartet of supremely talented women who recently found brilliance as a powerful folk/Americana quartet, there’s is a tale of four individual talents who became one big one. And no one is more appreciative of where they live, and what they write about, than they are.

“You cannot live here and not be touched by the beauty in what God put out there in front of you,” said Lauren Spring, one of the four multi-talented ladies who make up The Krickets. “It’s absolutely stunning. Every day, in some different way, it doesn’t matter if you’re staring at the water, or you’re staring at an eagle, you’re staring at something pretty awesome every single day. You can’t help being inspired, you can’t help writing songs about it. And to find a group of people who want to do that with you, and they’re like, pretty phenomenal? I’m gonna do it every day.”

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That “group of people” are Spring’s beloved Krickets’ bandmates Melissa Bowman, Emily Stuckey Sellers and Katrina Kolb, and these four forces of nature, their beautiful harmonies wrapped around the sounds of mandolin, guitar, fiddle, banjo and stand-up bass, are like one of those majestic osprey that you see soaring and then diving into the Gulf after fish: they’re flying high and on a mission. With their indigenous panhandle-bluegrass-meets-Americana sound —  “swamp folk” as it’s been coined — they’re gigging consistently on the Gulf Coast and beyond to adoring crowds, were just named Best Folk Artist at the International Music and Entertainment Association’s (IMEA) Awards, and recently released their first record, Spanish Moss Sirens, which has not only garnered a slew of positive reviews, but was just nominated for three Independent Music Awards for Best Alt-Country Album, Concept Album, and won for Best Folk Song (Cool Cool Water). Seems they’ve caught that fish.

The Krickets’ personal connections run deep and wide, sorta like the long strips of Gulf sand bar these ladies have spent time wading along. Sellers and Bowman played with each other years ago in their native Alabama, and after Bowman moved to Port St Joe on the eastern panhandle, she hooked up with Spring amidst some poignant circumstances surrounding a fund raiser for The Cricket Fund (thus the band’s name although with a “K”), which supplies free mammograms to local residents in memory of 22 year-old Port St Joe resident Kristina “Cricket” Russell, who died of breast cancer.

“Lauren was asked to play this Cricket Fund event because they wanted a female musician, and she wanted to have somebody play with her, and knew that I played,” Bowman said. “So we practiced I think one time, and then got together for the event, and we had so much fun practicing and playing that we decided that we wanted to do it as a weekly thing just so that we could get together and see each other and keep playing music. We had a connection on a couple of different levels.”

Sellers eventually moved to the Coast and joined up with Spring and old pal Bowman, and things clicked from minute one. “We knew it was magical,” said Spring. “The first time we heard our three part harmony, I looked around at the audience just to see if anyone else is like, hearing this, I mean, I was thinking, is anybody else picking up on this?” Then Sellers recruited her friend Kolb, and last fall, the Krickets were born. “I was like, you wanna come jam with us and (Katrina) was like, yeah!” Sellers said. “So we all got together, and that was another big explosion of awesomeness.”

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After raising nearly $25,000 from fans and friends via Kickstarter to record Spanish Moss Sirens, The Krickets felt obligated to deliver a worthy product. “It makes you feel responsible to them, you’re accountable to give them something worth what they gave,” Spring said. The band first tried to book sessions at revered Muscle Shoals Sound, not just because of the studio’s legendary reputation, but also because of something deeper and even more meaningful. Bowman’s father had been close with the Swampers, Muscle Shoals’ storied group of session musicians, and after his passing a year before the Krickets’ sessions, she and her family had scattered his ashes in Muscle Shoals. Unfortunately, Muscle Shoals Sound was closed for renovations so they recorded at Sun Drop Sound in nearby Florence. But when The Krickets arrived, they had a special welcoming committee, in both body and soul.

“When we showed up in town to record,” Spring recalled, “his people were there that he used to run with, the Swampers crew, they were there waiting for us with open arms. We felt his presence there too, it’s just magic, it’s all holy, and you couldn’t not feel him there. When we were frustrated or it got harder during the sessions, you could just feel it.”

“I was incredibly nervous because these people, the Swampers, were our heroes,” said Bowman, whose musical lore also includes being babysat for by Drive-By Truckers front man Patterson Hood when she was a kid. “When we were ready to record, I knew we were just standing on the precipice of something great. And the studio itself was really laid back and cool and quirky, and the engineer and the assistant engineer were hilarious. And we could be ourselves, we could make inappropriate jokes and have fun, and also make great music.”

As if the Daddy and the Swampers legend plus recording at a top studio wasn’t enough, the group also had Alabama Shakes‘ touring keyboardist Ben Tanner as their producer, seems he had asked to record the band once he heard some of their demos. It was his ability to let The Krickets’ music remain their own while also making his presence known just enough that made the sessions so successful and fulfilling.

“(Ben) was really encouraging us to stick with our authentic sound and not try to make it sound too perfect and too commercialized,” Bowman elaborated. “He wanted to make sure that we kept the ‘it’ that we have, that thing that we have. So alot of it we did live, alot of the vocals we all sang at the same time in the same room, alot of the instrumentation is done at the same time in the same room. So it was all very real, and he would push us to make the right take, and then would be a wizard on things that just really had to be twerked….wait, is that the right word? Ha! Tweaked.

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All of the Krickets also have solo or side projects, Spring with her husband Bo in his excellent (and also local) Bo Spring Band, and the others with their own enriching endeavors. But when they get onstage in Kricket mode, it’s all for one and one for all, for sure.

“As far as personalities go, we are actually really good in kind of specializing in different things,” Bowman said. “So it makes it run pretty smoothly when we’re onstage, we have alot of fun and it’s really a joy to be able to share the spotlight and not worry about stepping on people’s toes. This is the least diva-ish group of musicians I’ve ever worked with before, which is hilarious ‘cuz it’s an all-female band.”

And as far as their beautiful, memorable music, it is the spirit of the Gulf Coast that drives them, and fills their music with evocative images of home.

“There’s something healing and sacred about those waters, and I don’t know exactly what it is,” Bowman said. “It was important to us to kind of contribute to the mythology of this area, the panhandle area. I was inspired to write the songs that I did because of Lauren’s song ‘To And Fro’ where she talks about cypress trees, and that was really kind of the song that inspired the whole mood of the album. Kind of like that, ethereal, dark, talking about the water, talking about the area, it really kind of inspired the whole thing.”

“The history of Port St Joe is a folk story that you could not make up if you tried,” Spring added. “I thought it was the coolest story I’d ever heard in my life. Bringing the stories and the traditions and these weird quirky things that are old Florida kind of out into the limelight, it’s just incredible to me.”

THE HEART OF ROCK AND ROLL

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 16, 2016 by midliferocker

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Three recent Rock & Roll HOF inductees bring their rockin’ A-game to a sizzling summer triple bill.

By Steve Houk

If there was anything to come away with from last weekend’s Heart/Joan Jett & The Blackhearts/Cheap Trick triple bill out at Jiffy Lube Live (other than they raised the damn beer prices again), it’s that the heart of rock and roll is still alive and well and beating hard in three bands who were all FM radio darlings of the 70’s and 80’s. One thing that connects them is they were all recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame (Heart in 2013, and the other two last year), thus the cute “Rock Hall Three For All” label on the tour.

But the more deep-seeded connection is that when all is said and done, when these bands are long gone, they’ll say that all three always delivered damn good rock and roll music. They may have different modes of delivery for said R & R, but this common thread was never more evident on this balmy yet comfortable late summer evening. From the first chords of Cheap Trick’s opening song “Hello There” (“Hello there ladies and gentlemen, are you ready to rock?“) to the last notes of Heart’s epic cover of the rock-anthem-to-beat-all-rock anthems, Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway To Heaven,” good ol’ rock and roll was the name of the game on this night, and all three bands came, saw and conquered because they fell right into the rock and roll wheelhouse that has kept each of them going for decades.

If anyone has a standard rock and roll type repertoire, it’s opener Cheap Trick, and their set was rife with classic rock riffs, lyrics and postures. Amidst a couple of their 80’s power ballads like “Tonight It’s You” and “The Flame” and a cool Velvet Underground cover, the Illinois-bred band steamed through a short set comprised mostly of true hard rockers, from the short “Hello There” opener to “Baby Loves To Rock” to their live Budokan staple “I Want You To Want Me” to their ode to teen survival, “Surrender.” Between the textbook rock posing (complete with top hat) from lead singer Robin Zander, to the wild guitar God persona of Rick Nielsen, Cheap Trick reminded us why legendary Beatles’ producer George Martin produced one of their early 80’s records: because he knows what good old fashioned rock and roll sounds like. And when these guys really get down to it, even decades in, they can still hang with alot of great rock and roll bands.

As for Joan Jett, she has proudly carried the tattered rock and roll flag ever since her early days with groundbreaking all-girl band The Runaways, and so many shows later, she and her Blackhearts haven’t really missed a beat. Her strong set would have been just as good, or maybe better, in a dark, beer-soaked basement rock club, but it was still cool to see her still get down and dirty even with high-tech screens and high-end lighting blaring around her four-piece rock and roll steam engine. And rock she did, through a swath of her biggest hits, pounding through pump-your-fist tunes like (what else) “I Love Rock and Roll,” “I Hate Myself For Loving You,” “Do You Wanna Touch” and her popular cover of Tommy James’ “Crimson and Clover.”  The pinnacle was the Bruce Springsteen-penned “Light Of Day” which roared good and loud amidst clips of the film of the same name that Jett and Michael J. Fox starred in 1987. Jett finally got her just due with her recent HOF induction, but to see her play such a formidable and solid set 40-plus years after her Runaways blasted into the picture was a testimony to her status as a true rocker.

Headlining the night was Heart, and after a long and sometimes meandering career since their heyday, the Wilson sisters and company showed up and delivered an excellent rock and roll power punch to close the night. In a set that also featured 80’s power ditties (“These Dreams”, “Alone” and “What About Love” had women throughout singing aloud), Heart churned more than admirably through some of their biggest radio rockers like “Barracuda,” “Even It Up,” “Magic Man,” and an especially good “Crazy On You” preceded by Nancy’s stellar acoustic intro. Ann’s vocals were even stronger than expected and she impressed throughout the set, and Nancy looked and played as delicious as ever handling her various axes.  But their lasting rock and roll brand was never more evident than in the encore, when the world’s greatest Zeppelin cover band rolled an impressive finishing double shot of “Immigrant Song” and “Stairway to Heaven.” Not a bad twofer to end with.

Those Zep tunes were the cherry on top of a highly satisfying hot fudge sundae of classic rock, as these three legendary bands supplied a packed crowd with rock and roll music that even decades later still rattles your teeth and makes you shake your tail feather. And isn’t that exactly what rock and roll is supposed to do?

 

MARY GAUTHIER: SONGWRITING SAGE

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on September 6, 2016 by midliferocker

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A gifted songwriter sees her unexpected career take yet another positive and surprising turn. 

By Steve Houk

 

Who knew?

I mean, who knew that Mary Gauthier, whose early life reads like a bad luck hardship tale — left in an orphanage shortly after birth, foster family, addiction, DWI, jail and so on — and who didn’t even write a song until she was 35, would not only become revered worldwide as one of Americana-folk music’s most powerful and talented singer/songwriters, but that she would also be asked to write a book on songwriting this year.

Well, of all people, even Gauthier herself didn’t expect it to happen. In fact, in many ways, she didn’t see this last dozen or so years of success coming either.

“(Writing the book) is right up there will all the other things that I never saw coming. For them to come to me and give me an opportunity, it came out of nowhere, and I’m thrilled and honored. It just seems like I’ve been blessed with opportunities to keep going. Good thing is I don’t have to push so hard anymore, it just keeps coming.”

Gauthier (pronounced Go-Shay) is one of those rare songwriters whose music gets inside you, it just does. Whether or not you can understand the place from where she writes some of her very affecting and very personal songs, the depth of emotion, the words, the mood, grabs you and won’t let go, often for a long time. That has been her trademark since springing onto the scene 14 years ago, all the way up to her most recent effort, the magnificent Trouble and Love (2014) which propelled her to new fame and a solid reputation. And on a current swing that stops at D.C’s Hamilton on Thursday September 8th, she’s upped the ante even higher by bringing along some very talented buddies, Americana-folk cohorts and two-time Grammy nominees Gretchen Peters and Eliza Gilkyson, in a show labeled Three Women and the Truth, guaranteeing it to be a one-of-a-kind experience.

“The show came together as an opportunity to spend time with my friends really, I so love Eliza and Gretchen as people, and their work is fantastic as well,” Gauthier, 54, said on a brief tour break recently. “I just asked them if they thought it’d be a good idea to team up and do some stuff together, so that we’re not out there on our own the whole year. It just came together in such a way that it was easy, and that’s a sign that it might be the right thing. The three of us are out there kinda solo’ing it, and it’s just been working. It’s a great show and we have a great time. Putting strong women on stage together and swapping songs, it’s pretty bad ass.”

As far as the book, her reputation had grown so wide not only due to her music but her renowned songwriting seminars and sessions including one for veterans returning from overseas, that Yale University Press tapped her last year to write a book on…what else…songwriting. She’d had some of her short stories published before, but a book on her craft? She jumped at the chance.

“In my heart of hearts, I always wanted to write a book, always wanted to be an author,” said the genuine and affable Gauthier. “But I never would take the time out of songwriting to pursue that. So they came to me and wanted me to write one on songwriting for them, and yeah, I’m closing in on it, I think I should have a first draft in the next two weeks. All my writing energy this year and been poured into writing this book, but I think it’s just about there. And there’s alot of songs piled up in my brain, so when I turn this book in, I’m going to return to songs.”

And judging by Gauthier’s vibe, it’s got to be a book about the process of real songwriting, not the churn-out-a-song-one-hit-wonder style of writing songs that seems so prevalent today, right?

“Exactly,” said Gauthier emphatically. “Exactly. It’s about approaching songwriting as a troubadour, as an art. As opposed to commerce and hitmaking. Articulating the distinction between approaching songwriting as an art, or approaching it as a Chicken McNugget. And articulating what it means to be connected to some form of truth in your work. And what the meaning of integrity is for the artist, for the individual.”

Three Women and the Truth, featuring Mary Gauthier, Eliza Gilkyson and Gretchen Peters, perform at the Hamilton, 600 14th Street, N.W. Washington, DC 20005. For tickets, click here.