Archive for steve houk

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

STREISAND: A POWERFUL & SENTIMENTAL JOURNEY

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , on August 21, 2016 by midliferocker

Barbra - The Music... The Mem'ries... The Magic! Tour - Washington DC

One of music’s most legendary artists brings along power and poise and a room full of memories.

By Steve Houk

If you flip through the record album synapses of your life, a rare few of them spark and then spring out at you as unforgettable early moments in your growth, both as a person, and a music fan.

For me, a 55 year-old on the edge of the boomers, it’s The Beatles, it’s Burt Bacharach, Neil Diamond, Herb Alpert…and yes, Barbra Streisand…that shine the brightest as artists whose music was most deeply woven into the fabric of life growing up on Millstone Road in the 60’s and 70’s. For me and millions of others, this kind of music acts as a blanket of comfort, a familiar sound, mindful of a time when life was full of love, wonder and possibility. But the same music also acts as a chronicler of history, of time passing, of things and events and moments, both personal, and as a society, that have built the framework of our lives.

So when Barbra Streisand gracefully took the stage last week in Washington, she took her thrilled and devoted audience’s hand and led them down a path full of both personal retrospection and emotional recollection as well as a stunning look at how the world has changed over the decades since she first graced mankind with those pipes. In strong voice with just a hint of rasp, and also brimming with an onstage poise and confidence tinged with humor and wistfulness, she gave the sellout DC crowd a very rare moment in time: a couple of hours in the same room with one of music’s most brilliant and enduring voices, inviting them along on a sentimental journey for the ages.

Any concert that starts with “The Way We Were” is going to have some deep emotion, it’s just a no-brainer. And after telling the audience, “This is what the evening is about,” Streisand launched into the throat-lumping, mist-inducing title track from the movie of the same name — a song that cemented her legend status when it came out in 1973 — and never looked back. The 74 year-old icon, looking a good ten years younger, guided the adoring crowd —  which poignantly included many wheelchair-bound elderly fans who no doubt braved much effort to get to their idol’s show — through the many fascinating pages of her long career story, most notably with other tear-inducers like “Evergreen,” “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers,” and her signature song “People.” Not only were you moved to recall her when she sang these songs so many years ago, but where you were in your life when she sang them. It’s that kind of music, creating swirling memories of long ago.

In looking back at her almost unparalleled cluster of achievements — as singer, songwriter, director, actress on both on stage and screen — Streisand fondly recalled a number of pivotal and personal moments. They included summing up her most famous film role as Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Funny Lady with a wistful yet defiant and energetic “Rain On My Parade,” conveying the pride in her experience as director and star in Yentl with a heartbreaking “Papa Can You Hear Me” and paying homage to dear friend Anthony Newley (another synapse) in a moving on-the-Jumbotron “duet” with the late star on “Who Can I Turn To.” She also admitted to wearing “musk only” in a “rebellious period” when she danced on the edge of rock and soul, illustrated by a buoyant version of Laura Nyro’s “Stoney End,” and amidst steamy pictures of her and her A Star Is Born co-star Kris Kristofferson, she crooned beautifully through “One More Look At You.”

But Streisand, who is on this mini-tour to precede the release of “Encore: Movie Partners Sing Broadway,” also used this rare live opportunity to remind her audience of what has happened, and what may happen, in the world around us during her six decades as an entertainer, and in a different way than the emotional reminiscence that dominated the evening, it was a powerful series of messages. She wondered aloud why she always seems to tour during an election — “and this one is a doozy” — and couldn’t help a few Hillary Clinton high fives and Trump jabs given her long standing as a close friend of Hill and Bill, saying she “passed the White House where Hillary is going to live” on the way to the show. But more profoundly, her stunning rendering of Carole King’s “Being At War With With Each Other” accompanied by stirring video and photos of civil and societal strife from the 60’s to today, and her beautiful version of the Willy Wonka film tune “Pure Imagination” embellished by HD footage of the beauty and also climate change-induced destruction of the natural world, took the night away from simple nostalgia and injected it with an impactful sense of realism. It also no doubt caused everyone in attendance to remember how long Streisand has been a part of their lives, and how much has changed, or hasn’t, during that time.

For an artist who has not only performed for three sitting Presidents — Kennedy, Johnson, Clinton — but also won ten Grammys, two Oscars, five Emmys, a Tony and the Presidential Medal of Freedom over a career that has spanned almost 60 years, you have to be someone very special, a rare talent that really comes along once in a millenium. And from the first note to the last song, Barbra Streisand put an exclamation point on her legend status by not only giving a powerful and meaningful performance, but by reminding us all how closely we have been connected to her, in one way or another, all these years, and how we need to stay connected in order to make the world a better place. And for most in the packed arena, that made them feel like the luckiest people in the world.

(Photo by Paul Morigi/WireImage for BSB Touring) 

GUIDING MARAH BACK HOME

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on July 26, 2016 by midliferocker
Marah (photo by Marko Korkeokoski)

Marah (photo by Marko Korkeokoski)

A beloved and extraordinary rock band finds that a second life can be even better than the first.

By Steve Houk

You know that old saying, “you never know what you got until its gone”? Or something like that?

Well, whatever that saying is could easily refer to the exceptional Pennsylvania-borne band Marah who, after 20-plus years of grinding it out, recording great music and playing epically euphoric shows to adoring fans all over the place, called it quits, and for a host of pretty common reasons lots of bands break up: people grow up and want another life, or they just grow apart, or it’s just time.

For Marah co-founder/singer/songwriter/guitarist Dave Bielanko, there was really no other life, no other choice. Music was him, and he was music. The end of the band hit him hard, real hard, but he did what lifetime musicians do, he survived, playing music even without his beloved band.

But five years later, a sort of miracle happened, well, a miracle as far as already broken-up rock bands go.

“It’s all kind of a little bit surprising ‘cuz we weren’t planning to bring ourselves back together,” Bielanko told me recently as the band readied for its upcoming tour. “It just started in 2015 with reissuing (2000’s Kids In Philly) for its fifteenth anniversary which was something that we had really wanted to do. And then one thing led to another, and we had a party to celebrate it, and it felt good to play. Everybody was at a kinda different place in their life, and the music kinda meant something different.”

Thankfully for both the reunited band and their rabid fan base, it looks like Marah — a band writer Stephen King once called “the best rock band in America nobody knows” — may be in for an extended second wind. They’re playing a few reunion shows on the East Coast this summer, including the first place they played after reuniting in 2015, Vienna’s Jammin Java on July 29th, followed by the Bowery Ballroom in NYC and a closer to home gig in Sellersville PA, all before they head over to Spain for a number of shows in October. And rumblings are that a new record isn’t far away. Marah is back…something not fathomed a few years back.

Bielanko speaks rather eloquently, especially for a weathered, seasoned rocker, when he talks about the wonder of Marah’s rebirth, and how a second chance can be even sweeter than the first, given you’ve already been down a long road together.

“Pretty much the second we stepped back onstage together, we were laughing and smiling,” Bielanko said effusively. “And it was like, wow, all of that experience exists somewhere within you, and it doesn’t go anywhere. That was kind of one of the big motivators, that stepping back into it when we’re 150 yards down the field already. Being in a band suddenly meant something that it didn’t mean when we were going through it six nights a week just because that’s what you did from the time you were 15 years old.  I think it might have been the same with anybody who had been in a good band or worked as hard as we did, playing six nights a week in bullshit night clubs or whatever, you develop something, and we had that. It wasn’t alot of work coming back because we’d done all that work. It felt really good. I think it’s a pretty cool and slightly righteous reason to play music.”

Did Bielanko ever think the band would get back together after their 2010 split?

“Hell no. The only thing that’s making it quite as special as it might be right now is the fact that it did go away and it went away for all the people that it meant something to. It was completely gone, no one had thought it was gonna come back. My brother (and bandmate Serge Bielanko) had children, and wasn’t available to me anymore. So I kept growing in the way that I could, and to all of a sudden have it come back, it’s more valuable.”

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Dave Bielanko and Christine Smith (photo courtesy Tim Yarrington)

After their breakup, Bielanko looked at any way to make music, and much-needed relief came in a most unlikely but astounding way, the stunning collection Mountain Minstrelsy of Pennsylvania, a unique project based on the songs and writings of Henry Shoemaker that came about when he and bandmate Christine Smith took on a project that surprised even them.

“At that point in time, I didn’t have a rock and roll band, I couldn’t think of anything to do. I had a big tape recorder and someone offered us this church in this tiny little town, and we said wouldn’t it be cool if we made a band out of these local people and we wrote these old songs. It kind of worked but it was such a rewarding and cool thing to do. We mad a couple thousand records and sold them all and that’s it. Closed up the shop. As far as Henry Shoemaker, we were drinking in some cabin one night and this guy brought down a book from his attic, and I couldn’t even believe it existed. I was looking through it and the romantic notion of it hit me pretty and I kept doubling back to it and looking at those songs and realizing no one knew anything about any of that music. You couldn’t even tell if it was true or if it was fabricated after the fact. That’s the cool thing about art, you know, you grab what you can at the moment, and that’s where it ended up.

Bielanko doesn’t hold back when talking about what the future could hold as a result of the band’s serendipitous reunion. He wants he and his band family to complete the story, and that means hitting the studio.

“We have to. There’s this bottomless hole in people like us, you can’t fake it. It was cool to get back together once and play in front of people, and then maybe do that five times, but then it’s like, where is it going? It has to be headed somewhere in order for us to feel validated. So the next obvious place it points to is to start to think about, what would we say? What would happen next if we were to make another record, and then that starts the wheel turning. It’s all lined up in a pretty cool way. I can’t tell you for sure that’s gonna go down that way, but I would really like to see that happen.”

Part of Marah’s legend, and part of what makes their return so exciting to their fans across the world, is their exulting live experience, and Bielanko and his Marah bandmates – brother Serge, Smith, Adam Garbinski, Dave Petersen and Mark Sosnoskie are elated that both band and crowd are feeling like the magic is back when they hit the boards.

“The coolest thing that’s happening is the looks on our faces when we walk on stage. And people are smart, they get alot out of it as long as you’re putting alot out. People are walking away from these shows like they really saw something. And I reckon that they really did. And that’s what we value more than anything right now. There’s not too too many people who can really do that, and that’s cool. We’re lucky to have it in our corner. But we did it the hard way, and didn’t really realize we were doing that back then, maybe. To have it is a kind of gift now in 2016. It’s something great.”

Marah performs Friday July 29th at Jammin’ Java, 227 Maple Ave E Vienna, VA 22180. For tickets, click here

 

 

 

 

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