PUSS N BOOTS: IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CONNECTION

Posted in Uncategorized on September 24, 2014 by midliferocker
Puss n Boots Photo_credit_Richard_Ballard 2

Puss N Boots is (L-R): Catherine Popper, Norah Jones and Sasha Dobson (Photo Courtesy Richard Ballard)

Three talented musicians, including one superstar, find a common bond and yeah, a great band.

By Steve Houk

It’s tough to know what to do next after you’ve sold more than 60 million records, won multiple Grammys, acted in movies, and basically conquered the world.

Norah Jones did all that darn fast, and amongst a slew of other projects after her incredible run over the last decade or so, she decided to back off, blend in and get comfortable with two stellar fellow musicians on an ever-evolving side project called Puss N Boots, a country-tinged, Americana-feelin’ cool-as-all-get-out trio featuring Jones, Catherine Popper and Sasha Dobson.

And by all accounts, including the band’s, it’s working out just fine. The group has a new record and a current tour underway including high profile gigs at the Newport Folk Festival and Neil Young’s annual Bridge Benefit, and lucky for DC area folks, they play the Birchmere in Alexandria on Wed Oct 1st.

Most people know about Jones, but let’s not skirt past Popper and Dobson, who are truly accomplished musicians in their own right. Popper toured as bassist/background vocalist with Ryan Adams and Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and Dobson has hit the road as a sidewoman for, who else, Norah Jones, as well as having her own budding career as a jazz singer/songwriter. No surprise there, everyone in her family is a musician, including her father, well-known jazz pianist Smith Dobson, and the whole family played the Monterey Jazz Festival when she was 12.

But it’s the root connection and band vibe that really brought the three ladies of Puss N Boots together, as well as the attraction of everyone playing equal roles.

“It is so much about that, as far as none of us having to be alone in it,” Dobson told me while walking her dog on a late summer day in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park. “I mean, neither Cat or I have had to deal with the level of responsibility that comes along with being as widely known as Norah. It sounds like a dream come true, but it’s also probably one of the scariest, heaviest experiences ever, I can’t even imagine the pressure. So this band, even with higher pressure gigs, it works because we’re together in it, and we really are together in it. From what I know from Norah and Catherine, it’s just been really super fun and low pressure.”

Dobson and Jones hooked up in 2008 after Jones returned from her second huge world tour, all amidst her stratospheric rise to superstardom, when both were laying low hanging around legendary NYC club The Living Room, and a bond was created that has only strengthened with time.

“When Norah got back from her second record tour,” Dobson said, “I was just starting to dabble in hanging out at The Living Room with singer/songwriters, and she was well into that scene. I had stayed on the jazz path and she was dabbling in different worlds, and we lost touch. And when she got back, I was just starting to pick up the guitar and so was she, coincidentally. So I got us a gig at a pool hall, and we kind of learned how to play guitar at a pool hall for about a year or two. Our friendship has always included music, or been based around music.”

After honing their new guitar chops together in the stimulating NYC environment, the two decided to start something more tangible and added the respected Popper to the mix, and lo, Puss n Boots was born. Jones asked Dobson to tour with her in 2010 as both opening act and backup musician on her tour to support her album The Fall — Dobson admits that “I didn’t even believe that I could do the job, but it worked out” — and after the tour ended, the trio got serious and made Puss n Boots a real commitment, writing songs, nailing killer covers (check out their stunning version of Neil Young’s “Down By The River” with Jones on lead guitar, below), and playing more shows, and after a few years at it, eventually releasing an album, No Fools, No Fun this past July.  A truly unique element of the project is that the three often play different instruments than they’re normally used to, making it just another way the ladies of Puss N Boots have found a common bond.

puss alb

“Catherine has a couple songs where she plays guitar, and I play drums on a buncha stuff, and Norah plays guitar on pretty much everything,” Dobson added. “Puss N Boots has been kinda been about like us all coming back together, and it’s been really fun to actually have a record out, because we can hone in on our thing a little bit more. We’ve never really had the opportunity to put so much time into it. It’s so fun.”

And for all three, it keeps coming back to the relaxed and comfortable connection they have on stage, that’s what makes Puss N Boots what it is. Chill.

“If I don’t know what’s happening I just look over at Norah and she smiles and I’m good, ” Dobson said. “Stay connected on stage and you’re golden. And it’s really nice that people enjoy that, it seems to be kind of what we’re riding on as far as it all working out, and it not being like, a joke. It’s about having fun and sharing music and connecting, both with each other, and the audience.”

38 SPECIAL: SPIRIT OF THE UNDERDOG

Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2014 by midliferocker

Don-1

A Southern rock mainstay still has his band on the road after 40 grueling yet ultimately satisfying years. 

By Steve Houk

It was back in the early 80’s, and the guys in 38 Special knew they had played to packed houses in the Northeast before, so why not play the huge Brendan Byrne Arena in New Jersey’s Meadowlands? I mean, they had a couple hit records and some hot FM radio singles like “Hold On Loosely” and “Caught Up In You” under their belt, so their confidence was brimming. But as band co-founder and sole survivor Don Barnes tells it, their management and handlers didn’t share the band’s belief they could fill the big venue.

“They were all like, ‘You don’t really want to go in there and embarrass yourself, ‘cuz you might get like half house,’ ” Barnes said recently from the road, a place he knows well after 40 years out on it. “We kept thinkin’ that we have been back there so many times, we really feel like they would come out and see us. And they thought ‘Well, it’s your funeral, we’re gonna advise you against that, you might want to play a smaller venue, ‘ but we were pretty stubborn about it, and kept saying ‘No, we can do it.’ And buddy, let me tell ya, 24,000 people came out there, and they had to eat their words. That’s one of the cherished memories of up and coming, to finally reach that pinnacle.”

It’s around 35 years later, and 38 Special has pretty much gone the way all the other big Southern rock bands have gone — except maybe the Allman Brothers — where arenas are no longer on the itinerary. But as with many of their counterparts, the baby boomers that showed up at the big gigs back then are still rabid fans today who love hearing the music of their youth, so packed clubs, theaters and festivals are still the order of the day, like the fifteen or so thousand who showed up at a recent outdoor show in Illinois. And you can expect a pretty decent crowd of 38 Specialers to show up Friday night when Barnes’ band plays the Birchmere in Alexandria.

The last remaining member left from the original lineup, Barnes founded 38 Special with childhood pal and former 38 Special lead singer Donnie Van Zant while living in Jacksonville in 1974. Van Zant is the younger brother of the legendary Ronnie Van Zant, who fronted Lynyrd Skynyrd until his death in a plane crash in 1977, and the older sibling of Johnny Van Zant, who would eventually take over for Ronnie and who sings with Skynyrd today.

“We grew up on the same street (as the Van Zants), when I was a kid,” the affable Barnes said. “Three guys who ended up in 38 Special also lived on Woodcrest Road. It was a big four lane road, and when we were young, our parents wouldn’t allow us to go on the other side of Woodcrest, that’s where the Van Zants lived. There were over there on the ‘bad side of town,’ the wrong side of the tracks kinda thing.”

Barnes saw his buddies in Skynyrd slowly climbing their way towards success, so he and Van Zant decided they would give rock and roll a shot too. And the camraderie with the guys in what would become Skynyrd was a key component in Barnes learning the rock and roll ropes.

“I was right there in the middle of all this history being made,” Barnes continued. “Ridin’ my bike to go to (Lynyrd Skynyrd guitarist) Allen Collins‘ house when I was 13 years old, him having some European English import records, and we’d sit down and we’d pick out guitar licks, and he would show me a few things. I mean, this was (one of the guys) who wrote “Free Bird” eventually, ya know. He would have a big Vox Super Beatle amp in his hallway and he’d just be rattling the windows when his Mom would come in from work, and she’d be so proud of her son. My mother would never let that happen in my house. And Ronnie, he was four years older and a big mentor as well for us.”

navy jax

Being a navy town, Jacksonville was full of venues the sailors would frequent on leave, and it gave budding young Southern rockers ample opportunities to play live and hone both their performing and songwriting chops.

“They had four naval bases there,” Barnes said, “so all of us kids, I mean from Duane Allman and Gregg Allman to Ronnie Van Zant, everybody played the sailor’s clubs. We were fifteen years old making a hundred bucks a week, that was big money for a fifteen year old kid. There we learned the foundations, the structures of the craft of songwriting, playing the hits of the day, radio songs, and you realized it was a craft, there was a system to it where you have the A section and a B section and then a ramp that goes up to the chorus, and then the bridge and that kind of thing. You learned the structures at an early age. And then we’d get cocky and think, ‘Oh well I can write my own songs now.’ And that’s when you go starve for ten years.”

Barnes and Van Zant played in “like, fifteen bands before 38 Special” and then began to pick up the stronger guys from other local groups as they began to focus on their big dream.

“It started like any band, you play in somebody’s garage and get the cops called on you for playing too loud. But you really tried to get guys who would commit to it. Skynyrd was kinda just taking off and we thought that we were really gonna be serious about it. But it was hard, we all had day jobs too. I wouldn’t recommend it to many kids today, because you work so so hard, and there are no guarantees, and you can give 110% and still not make it. But it does build character, I guess.”

Don Barnes (center rear) and the original 38 Special lineup, circa 1980

Don Barnes (center rear) and the original 38 Special lineup, circa 1980

After conquering the local bar scene, 38 Special sucked it up taking warm up slots often on three act bills playing mostly to alot of yet-to-be-filled chairs, but to their major credit, they played as if their lives depended on it, keeping the standards high no matter what the crowd was. And it turned out that being humble and working hard was well worth the effort.

“We tried to act like we were the headliner, ya know like God help who was following us, we tried to throw it all down at ‘em, so hopefully they would go home and tell somebody. Just keeping that high standard. We felt like if we got a couple of sentences at the bottom of the review the next day, you know it’d say, ‘Peter Frampton did blah blah, and Gary Wright did this, and 38 Special delivered a lively set at 7 0’clock,’ we thought wow, that could mean something! But it never really did.”

Along with the Van Zants, Barnes and his 38 Special boys, and the Allman Brothers, Jacksonville was also a rock and roll breeding ground for the likes of former Eagle Don Felder, Stephen Stills and in nearby Gainesville, Tom Petty, among others. So what was it about this Florida navy town that made it a mecca for young soon-to-be rock superstars?

“People ask what’s in the water down there, I don’t know,” Barnes said. “But I’ll tell ya, comin’ from the west side of Jacksonville, it’s pretty much no man’s land, you either end up drivin’ a truck or goin’ to prison or something. I really think there’s a thread of that underdog spirit, ya know, that comes from not being from New York or L.A. so you really gotta show your stuff to people, you gotta put it in their face, get out there and make your statement. I think that’s what the underlying aggression, the big strong guitars, ya know, “Listen to me!” You’re there screamin’ at people, basically to pay attention, because you’re not fashionable, you’re not from a hip place. I think that common thread of the underdog spirit is what is prevalent with all those people.”

After two middling albums in the mid-70’s kept the band a relative unknown outside of the South, 38 Special shifted into more of an arena-style Southern rock sound and got some attention in 1980 with their third effort Rockin’ Into The Night, but it would be their next two albums Wild Eyed Southern Boys (1981) and Special Forces (1982) that would vault them up onto that elusive next level of stardom. Two Barnes-penned and sung singles, “Hold on Loosely and “Caught Up In You”, were the lightning in the bottle that got them that coveted heavy FM radio airplay and seats began filling in arenas. But Barnes is quick to point out that the road to making it is long and arduous, and can sometimes temper the success.

“It’s such a long road, and it’s tiny baby steps at a time, and when things started happening, you’re a little bit anxious about it all because you worked so hard for so long. It took a lot longer than we thought it would, ya know, we’d do interviews and people would ask, ‘How do you feel now that you’ve made it?’ and we were just so weary. Our management was always about pushing forward, saying don’t be complacent, because there are bigger things to get. If I had to do it all over again, I’d try to enjoy myself a little bit more. Because it was always about push push push all the time, there were times when we’d do nine months of a tour to promote the record, then you’d have to do another record, but you have no songs written, not one note, and you’re so burned out from the road.”

Barnes left the band in 1987 — “It had been ten years of absolute pushing and I was worn out”– and had a solid solo album done and ready for release, but it never saw the light of day, becoming a casualty of the sale of A & M Records. It was a crushing blow for Barnes: “I went on vacation after that, I said I’m going to the islands somewhere, and I did.” He eventually rallied and rejoined 38 Special in 1992, and has been the driving force and band anchor ever since. “I picked up right where I left off,” he said. “There were no ill feelings. Once we lit it all back up, it was all back, the formula was there. We kept going onward and upward, ya know.”

Don Barnes onstage with 38 Special, 2014

Don Barnes onstage with 38 Special, 2014

What keeps Don Barnes — or any of his fellow Southern rock survivors for that matter who are still out there banging away four decades later (like Henry Paul with the Outlaws, Doug Gray with the Marshall Tucker Band and Gary Rossington with Lynyrd Skynyrd) — still working hard out there on the road, playing dozens of shows a year to adoring fans, after all this time? It’s all about using the emotion of the songs they remember to create an experience for those fans, and giving them something special every night.

“I guess it’s that instant reaction in people’s faces,” Barnes said. “These songs have a history all their own, so when we go out there, we take the crowd up, up, up up and they are just manic at the end because we’re unfolding all the history from the beginning. We’re there to make sure they have the greatest time. We see ‘em singing along, giving each other high fives, clapping and yelling, and we also see tears in someone’s eyes if a song reminds them of something or someone. And you see these kids, they’ve learned about all the songs through games and stuff. That is the fuel right there, seeing something you created from that long ago, that after all the scratching and all the suffering, it really worked out OK. You really mean something to these people. It really is special to us.”

DON FELDER: BEYOND HOTEL CALIFORNIA

Posted in Uncategorized on September 1, 2014 by midliferocker

Don

So, what makes a song timeless, long-lasting and unforgettable? Well, a few things.

One is the melody. Does it stick in your head? Do you want to keep singing it, like “Satisfaction,” “Johnny B Goode” or “Hey Jude”?

Or perhaps it’s the lyrics that move you, make you think or keep you guessing what it really means; as in “Imagine,” “What’s Going On,” “Like A Rolling Stone.”

And yes, there’s the mass appeal; that people from all over the world know the song, can hum the tune, or sing the chorus by heart. Come on, you can sing along right now to “Light My Fire,” “Respect” or “Let It Be.”

Around 1976, Don Felder came up with the melody to such a song that covers all of those attributes, and even now, almost forty years after it was written, it remains one of the world’s most recognizable and well-known songs. Felder is constantly reminded of the depth of its breadth, sometimes in truly profound fashion.

“Two years ago, when I played in New York City for the United Nations, there were 450 or 500 heads of states, presidents, secretaries of state, all these kinds of bluppity blups from all over the world were at this event,” Felder said. “And when I went out and played “Hotel California,” half the people in the audience didn’t even speak English, yet I got a massive response, a prolonged standing ovation, for that one song. You continue to realize that it had such a global impact.”

It has to be hard, and even somewhat daunting, to top being a co-writer of an epic tune like “Hotel California.” But don’t tell Don Felder that. After crafting that classic song about ’70s-era excess and isolation, plus other popular radio-friendly tunes as a member of The Eagles, Felder has had a successful career as a solo artist, a sought-after session man (he just played on Sarah McClachlan’s latest record and co-wrote one of the songs), respected producer, hit songwriter, composer and everything else under the sun; you name it, Felder’s done it. Yes, there is life after Hell.

And who wouldn’t end up as a musical icon after cutting his teenage rock and roll teeth with a who’s who of future rock icons, including fellow North Central Floridians Stephen Stills (he and Felder had a band called The Continentals), future Eagles co-founder Bernie Leadon, and good buddies Duane and Gregg Allman. Truth be told, Duane taught Felder to play slide guitar while sitting on the floor of the Allman family home often into the wee hours. Felder also worked at a local music store where he gave guitar lessons to a gawky Gainesville kid named Tommy Petty who was tired of playing bass. Yes, that Tommy Petty. Not a surprise Felder’s music career worked out pretty well after palling around with those kids.

These days, Felder, who’s 66 but looks 15 years younger, plays dozens of shows a year and currently has a top ten song on classic rock radio, “You Don’t Have Me” from his accessible 2012 CD “Road To Forever.”  And his latest venture, as opening act on the 2014 Sounds of Summer Tour with Styx and Foreigner, is a calculated yet sincere career move aimed to target devoted fans that can sing along to a slew of hit songs from all three ’70s bands in one evening, including a newly arranged collaborative version of “Hotel California.” 

“When the idea first came up and was presented to me,” the easygoing Felder told me from his studio in California, “I was pretty excited about it because I know the guys in Styx well, and [the Styx and Foreigner] fan base was very similar to the Eagles'; same genre so they’ll know all the hits and songs. Plus, it’s gonna actually be fun, instead of arguments and yelling, and I thought, hey wait a minute, we can actually go out on the road, play great music and have fun? Wow, OK, that’s something I haven’t done for a long time. There’s no ego, there’s no drama, it’s just great music and good people.”

The Eagles with Don Felder (second from right) in the early 70's (courtesy Getty Images)

The Eagles with Don Felder (second from right) in the early 70’s (courtesy Getty Images)

Well, you had to know a chat with Don Felder couldn’t go by without a salty reference to his tumultuous past with Papa Eagles Don Henley and Glenn Frey; a legendary period of major collaborative rock genius marred by massive egos, bitter infighting and later, dismissal and lawsuits. But Felder knows the reasons for all that, ones that similarly affected bands as huge as The Beatles. In fact, Felder got a heads up about said band unrest from childhood buddy and Eagles co-founder Leadon before he joined up. And from the first day at the studio, all the warnings he had gotten were unfortunately dead on.

“I had heard from Bernie about all the turbulence and dissent and arguments, and how difficult it was personally in that band,” Felder said. “Anytime you get four or five A-type personalities that all write, sing and play together in the same room, there’s gonna be this struggle for who’s in charge and who’s the boss and what songs and what lyrics and who’s gonna sing this. There’s gonna be this just constant friction going on. So I just stepped to the back and went, ‘I’m here, whaddya want me to play?’  I always thought I had joined a band that was always breaking up. Every day, somebody was upset about something. But at the time, my wife was pregnant with our first child, so I wasn’t going to go storming out of the room in a huff with the opportunity I had there, so I just took a really deep breath and hung in there and played guitar and wrote songs.”

Felder hung in as long as he could, but the band disintegrated under it’s own inflated weight in 1980. They would regroup in 1994 for the Hell Freezes Over reunion and be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 (yes, they all showed up), but things got uglier in 2001 when Felder was summarily kicked out of the band; the reasons differ depending on who you ask. There were suits and countersuits before a settlement was reached in 2002. But Felder relishes his time during the Eagles heyday, while also understanding the pros and cons of both band and solo life.

“There’s a lot of great stuff about being in a band, especially a unique band where everybody sings and writes and plays,” Felder said. “But there’s also that friction and struggle at the same time, that you don’t necessarily have when you’re doing soundtrack or solo and session work. They both have their likes and dislikes about them, ya know?”

But even though he has had solo success in a variety of musical areas since he flew high with The Eagles, it’s “Hotel California” that he regards as his career pinnacle. He is reminded of its reach and impact over and over, and remains grateful to have been a part of rock and roll history.

“I got a text message a few days ago from a friend of mine who’s down in Buenos Aires,” Felder says, likely with a smile, “and it said, ‘You won’t believe this, but they’re doing the Argentinian version of “Hotel California” right here, right now!’ (laughs) You just realize that you were fortunate to be part of writing something that went on to have global success. So I would have to say that’s my crown jewel.”

 

 

J. RODDY WALSTON & THE BUSINESS: WILD MEN ON THE ROAD

Posted in Uncategorized on August 19, 2014 by midliferocker

j roddy

When you see J. Roddy Walston attack his piano at live shows with his band The Business, you have to wonder what intense childhood experiences or wild and crazy influences fostered this nearly insane yet fabulously wonderful performance style. Or maybe it was just grandma.

“My grandmother had a [piano] at her house,” Walston said. “She was this really great gospel-slash-country piano player so she would teach us to play. I sat for hours with her trying to learn to play old gospel tunes like ‘Will The Circle Go Unbroken’ and stuff like that. She was on the gospel circuit in the South for a long time. I remember my grandfather loading up the old Town Car with her and her sisters and traveling to churches to play.”

So credit his granny for instilling a love for an instrument that became an important cog in the success of Walston and his band, who just released their third record “Essential Tremors.”  The album’s title alludes to a nervous-system disorder that makes Walston’s hands shake periodically. As far as shaking on the piano, or his guitar for that matter, I mean, just watching Walston attack songs as his churning bandmates throw down a powerful Southern-based dirty rock groove makes you feel that good ol’ kick-ass rock ‘n’ roll remains alive and well. Think Followill-esque vocals with a harder edge to the band than KOL.

So as far as the ivories, who are Walston’s piano heroes? Well, the “Killer” is in there of course, but so is another piano pioneer.

“I love Jerry Lee, but I think song-wise my favorite piano guy is Fats Domino ‘cuz I think he kinda slays it as far as arrangements and just his vibe,” Walston said from the road. “Performance-wise he and Jerry are it. They’re performing for people, but they’re both lost inside some weird spirit-slash-animal place or something. I don’t know what it is that happens to those guys or that it’s anything like what happens to me or us onstage. You kinda feel that people are there but you’re kinda more working out somethin’ on your own, ya know?”

And for a band like Walston’s Business, 11 years of relentless touring is part and parcel of their hard-fought success. It’s where the rubber meets the road, literally and figuratively.

“Touring has basically been what our band is. If we stop touring, people stop talking about us. And when you’re a band that’s trying to get over the hump, you can’t have people stop talking about you,” Walston said. “We did five years of almost non-stop touring, and by the end of that we were definitely ready to be off the road. But then we were off the road for about a year writing this new record, and by the end of that, everybody was confused. We were like, ‘What are we? Are we still a band?’ Touring is sort of in our DNA so it was confusing for a lot of us. It was strange for us not to sit in each other’s stink for eight hours a day.”

Walston’s Tennessee roots naturally throw him and his band into a Southern music category of sorts, but that certainly doesn’t limit them to sounding like Southern rockers.

“This (new) record overall may be a little less ‘Southern-y’, but to me, rock ‘n’ roll is from the South,” Walston said. “People say Southern Rock and mainly think of the Allman Brothers, but James Brown, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Stax, Big Star — all of them are ‘the South,’  they’re no less Southern as far as I’m concerned.”

The reckless abandon that Walston exhibits in his live shows makes every performance special. Overall you feel like you’re seeing a band on the brink of breaking out in a huge way, a band that has paid its dues and deserves the rewards that come from a tried-and-true rock ‘n’ roll tradition: working their collective asses off.

“We had a very long time to figure out what it is that we do and to continue to keep it fresh,” Walston said. “We don’t even travel with a sound guy or anything like that, so every night is different. At this point, I’ve never had a moment when we’re walking on stage and I’m like, ‘I hope we can figure out what to do.’ I always feel that we are ready.”

TRIGGER HIPPY: LIFE AFTER THE CROWES

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 11, 2014 by midliferocker

trigger hippy logo Is there life after The Black Crowes? Steve Gorman’s superb new band proves that there sure is.  

By Steve Houk

So what do you do for an encore after you play drums for 15 years in one of the world’s biggest rock bands? Steve Gorman, an original member of rock heavyweights The Black Crowes, did what alot of great musicians do who still have their chops (and their faculties) after such a run — he started his own band.

And a damn good band at that. Trigger Hippy, who plays the Birchmere August 17th, is an idea Gorman and buddy Nick Govrik had for a few years, one that they weren’t sure they could ever get going.

“I think the first time I ever played with (Nick), I said, ‘Man, we gotta start a real band,” Gorman told me from his home in Nashville. “And he said ‘Yeah we should.’ Well you say that alot and then you move on. But it was something that for the both of us was always in the back of our heads. And so in 2009, we were still tryin’, but the Crowes were so busy from ’05 through ’10 that the scheduling was impossible. In 2010 I knew the Crowes were gonna take a break, and I said, ‘Hey look, now’s the time if you’re interested,’ and we had always thrown song ideas at each other, you know, we had this two years of an idea really seriously germinating.”

So when it looked like the Crowes were coming to a triumphant (and in some ways, welcome) end after 25 years of taking the world by storm, Gorman was finally able to make Trigger Hippy a reality, the only issue was rounding out the band. First, a lead singer was needed, and after grappling with who to recruit, Gorman realized the perfect choice was pretty much right in front of him.

“I was in the car one day and I heard ‘Right Hand Man’ by Joan Osborne“, Gorman said. “Joan and I had been friends forever, and in two years of seriously thinking about this, I never once thought about a female singer. But I heard one note of that song and thought, ‘Oh my God, what’s wrong with me? Joan would be perfect for this.’ I called her the next day and I was like, ‘What’s goin’ on? I haven’t talked to you in forever’, it was a nice catch up, ya know, ‘How’s your kid?’ and ‘My kids are great’ and ‘Anyway, ya wanna start a band?’ She was luckily at a point where she had been putting alot of thought into that very thing, like, it’s hard to be the name on the ticket, it’s hard to just constantly be the artist, everything’s on her shoulders as Joan Osborne. She said, ‘It’s so funny, I’ve been thinking lately, I just wish I was a singer in a band.’ And I said, ‘Well, here it is, let’s go.’ “

And Osborne jumped at the chance, flying to Nashville two months later. The next piece of the puzzle was also someone Gorman knew — talented (and briefly Black Crowes interim) guitarist/singer/keyboardist Jackie Greene. But it wasn’t until Greene and Osborne were sitting together at an early rehearsal that the vision of the band became crystal clear to Gorman. It wouldn’t be the jam band he envisioned, it would be more of a vocal based band, given the sheer vocal talent he had on hand.

“(Jackie and Joan) were just sitting there off to the side singing,” Gorman said, “It was like, ‘Did you ever hear that song by so and so?’ and he would start to sing it and she would just harmonize, and there was that moment, ya know, like in a bad movie about bands, when we all looked at each other and went, ‘Holy shit!’ I’d love to say it was by design, that this was the vision we always had, but it wasn’t that at all, it was really a great happy accident to go, ‘Oh wait, you guys sound amazing together!’  It just fell into place, like literally overnight. The next day we all got back in the room, and we were wholly on our way to being a real band.”

The current lineup of Trigger Hippy: (L-R) Tom Bukovac, Joan Osborne, Nick Govrik, Steve Gorman and Jackie Greene (photo by Paul Natkin)

The current lineup of Trigger Hippy: (L-R) Tom Bukovac, Joan Osborne, Nick Govrik, Steve Gorman and Jackie Greene (photo by Paul Natkin)

After playing a few gigs with respected musicians like current Widespread Panic/former Allman Brothers & Furthur guitarist Jimmy Herring,  they were still looking for that last cog in the machine that would solidify the band, and Gorman was elated when one of Nashville’s top session men, guitarist Tom Bukovac, agreed to come on full time.

“We knew we hadn’t found the fifth person yet, we’d had a couple guys play with us and they were great and it was fun, but you could tell they were treating it more like a gig, and we were getting seriously minded about it. I called Tom praying he would say yes to playing a few gigs with us, I really never thought he would say, ‘I’d like to do this’ because I just didn’t think that was possible. But we did three gigs and after the third gig, he walked up to me and Joan and said, ‘Alright, what’s next? What are we gonna do?’ and we coulda just cried, we were so happy. That’s when we started workin’.”

Finally, Trigger Hippy are ready to spread their wings, their first full album of soul-infused rock is due out in September, and Gorman couldn’t be happier. Why? Just Google the name and you’ll find a dozen live videos that show the band’s power and promise, from solid original tunes to covers like The Beatles‘ “Don’t Let Me Down”, the Grateful Dead‘s “Sugaree” and Neil Young‘s “Southern Man.” So as Trigger Hippy begins their journey, does Gorman think his legendary first band will ever come a’ callin’ to pull him away from this exciting new venture?

“I don’t think so. I’ve thought that before, but if you go see Chris (Robinson, The Black Crowes’ lead singer) he’s very happy doing what he’s doing. But I haven’t given the Black Crowes a second thought since that last tour ended. We had a really good year last year, everyone was respectful of each other. We got along as well as we needed to and I thought the shows were good, so when it ended, I just felt like, that was great, see you guys later, perfect. Now my sole musical focus is Trigger Hippy. Time to move on.”

Steve Gorman (far left) and Trigger Hippy play live in Fairfield CT earlier this year (photo by Chad Anderson)

Steve Gorman (far left) and Trigger Hippy play live in Fairfield CT earlier this year (photo by Chad Anderson)

Trigger Hippy appears Sunday August 17th at The Birchmere, 3701 Mt Vernon Ave, Alexandria, VA 22305. For tickets, click here

BRUCE COCKBURN: MUSIC FROM THE COSMOS

Posted in Uncategorized on August 8, 2014 by midliferocker

BRUCE-COCKBURN-photo-credit-Kevin-Kelly-12DK8884 (1)

Talking to the brilliant Canadian singer/songwriter Bruce Cockburn, you get the standard share of chit chat about what he’s up to, when we might get a long awaited new record (he’ll finally be able get to it now that he has wrapped up his memoir) and what’s the skinny with the current tour (he starts it off solo followed by a month playing with his trio, including a gig at the legendary Birchmere on August 21st).

But one thing is certain about a conversation with Cockburn: he never wallows in everyday musician minutia. Mention his faith as it relates to his songwriting, for example, and whoa, you’re hit between the eyes and the brain with some of the most thought-provoking revelations that you’ll ever hear from anyone, let alone a world class musician. Just check THIS out.

“When I read the news and look around at a lot of the crap that goes on in the world, it doesn’t seem like a very loving place,” Cockburn said. “But somehow the cosmos is filled with love. And whether you attach that to a set of religious beliefs or not, or whether you want to view it in strictly materialistic terms, it’s the action of cosmic rays on your microtubules…or whatever…it doesn’t change it.  And I feel like what’s good about that, from someone else’s point of view, is because I’ve been given the ability, such as it is, to write songs, and I can share it with people whose skepticism parallels my own. I didn’t grow up in a faith – it’s different for people who grew up believing.”

That pretty much defines Bruce Cockburn. You ask a question and you get…an answer. He is just like that, very down to earth and affable, yet also existing somewhere high up in the cosmos, wielding his masterful songwriting and guitar playing gifts in an ongoing ethereal journey into the depths of man’s faith, spirit, struggles and triumphs. And lucky for us, he’s been passing on his passionate visions to his audience for 40 years now through a sweepingly poetic and majestic tapestry of rock, jazz and folk landscapes. It’s material that certainly rivals the overall prowess of fellow Canadian songwriting icons like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, though unlike them, he’s remained just under the radar of the masses. But he is equally revered by those who have taken the time to drink in his brilliance.

Cockburn, 69, has quietly spent the last four decades creating his own brand of unique and unforgettable music, around 25 albums worth, that spans the spectrum of moods and topics, from love to war; from human rights to the environment; from wondering what he’d do if he had a rocket launcher to wondering if a tree falls in the forest, does anybody hear it? No matter what the genre, theme or style, Cockburn has put his indelible and unique stamp on it. Lucky for his fans, right now his personal footprint is as prominent as ever, with an excellent film bio “Pacing The Cage” recently out on DVD. “There should have been somebody in the film who said ‘Ahh, the guy’s a piece of shit’ to give it an edge,” Cockburn quips, “but given that’s not there, it went pretty well I think.” His aforementioned memoir “Rumours of Glory” is due out November 4th.

Cockburn is a product of the musically and politically explosive ’60s, where after a brief stint at the famed Berklee School of Music in Boston, he spent time in a couple fledgling Canadian bands, and then in 1968 branched out on his own; he’s been flying solo ever since. But that was no surprise to Cockburn, who could see the songwriting on the wall early on.

“Toward the end of the ['60s], I felt like I had this body of material that just sounded better when I did it alone than with any of the bands that I was playing with,” Cockburn said. “And I was getting tired of the noise. It was a combination of the sort of fatigue that comes from having to compromise musically all the time, and having no money. I realized that as well as this core group of songs sounding better solo, that I’d be more mobile and flexible and able to do everything that came up. I knew that I was gonna quit at some point, and step out on my own, and that’s kinda what happened.”

Since his humble beginnings in those struggling bands warming up heavies like Cream, Jim Hendrix and the Lovin Spoonful, but never gaining traction, the solo Cockburn has built a sizable core following worldwide with exhaustive touring, intimately addressing subjects both very personal and  highly political, while also becoming a passionate advocate for a myriad of important causes. But it’s almost impossible to say what Bruce Cockburn is more accomplished at: writing incredibly well-crafted songs, singing in a distinctive voice unlike any other, or playing  like a virtuoso on guitar. Well, a variety of guitars actually. The first time I saw him live back in the ’80s in NYC, he was surrounded by 10 to 12 emerald green guitars of different shapes and sizes, and he played every one of them better than the one before. It was a stunning introduction to what has become a 30-year Cockburn fascination.

As for the Cockburn songwriting process, it begins with his luminous and expansive thoughts and images, and then the glorious music he creates becomes the bed the lyrics lie upon. “It starts with words, and then the music has to create a field in which those words can exist,” Cockburn told me from California recently. “I often compare it to scoring a film, where you have images, you have situations, you have whatever that needs to be supported by the music, but not distracted by it. That’s the challenge and that’s the starting point of how to go at it. I’ll play around with the guitar as much as I can and things pop up. Sometimes it’s just the lyrics sitting there, and then I just grab a guitar and start hunting for things that work.”

Photo by Michelle Ruby

Photo by Michelle Ruby

Cockburn is in the Canadian Music Hall of Fame and is a member of the Order of Canada, accolades he certainly appreciates. But amid the high recognition and adoration from his devoted fan base, Cockburn has grappled with big questions, like those surrounding his perspectives on religion, of which there is a thread throughout some of his work. Ultimately he chooses to use his music to start the conversation and then let others finish it to see how it affects them, rather than foist his opinions on the listener.

“My parents did their best to teach us to be Christians, but their faith was not deep,” Cockburn said. “They tried and they dropped away from it themselves and so did we. You get all the trappings, the language, and the imagery, but not the meaning. I had that in common with most of my peers, and most of us had this skepticism about traditional religion. So my own experience, to the extent I can convey that, can say to people, hey look, there’s more to this than we thought, and it’s worth paying attention to. Even in the most materialistic world view, there is still that capacity for ecstasy in the face of the scale of the cosmos.”

 

STEVE HACKETT: REVIVING GENESIS

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on March 24, 2014 by midliferocker
Courtesy Lee Millward

Courtesy Lee Millward

The late 60’s-early 70’s, it was a time of explosive and profound musical experimentation. The Beatles were leading the charge into “progressive” rock music and would inspire many of their peers to use both their expanding minds as well as new technology to create music that was uniquely powerful, that was new, that was, well, different.

“I was a huge Beatles fan, and they really set the template for what we called ‘progressive’ music,” says Steve Hackett, legendary guitarist for progressive rock kings Genesis from 1971 to 1977. “The most interesting period of the Beatles for musicians is basically ‘Revolver’ through ‘Sgt. Pepper’ through ‘Magical Mystery Tour.’ That was the golden period for production, ideas, the beginning of what was being called ‘progressive.’ Much of what followed with British music was in the wake of that. I owe a huge debt to the Beatles.”

But as Hackett remembers, the same people who were profoundly influencing him and his bandmates were also becoming their admirers during the same time period. “Genesis has been through a number of incarnations, but that 1970s era truly inspired other musicians, not just rock musicians, but ones in other areas and in other genres,” Hackett said. “Back then, bands like Weather Report listened to us, and we listened to them. John Lennon even said he liked us. And it’s that era of the band that was really respected that I’m taking on the road.”

Hackett has taken the very best of the Genesis music from that influential period — a period where he helped mold the band’s sound and direction — and crafted it into a tour calledGenesis Extended,” a concert experience that even the most diehard Genesis fans say is as good as the original band, if they were to get back together. Or maybe even better, given Hackett’s profound influence on the band during the seven years he was one of their driving forces, and also the fact that he hasn’t seemed to have lost even a step on guitar. The current incarnation of the show hits the Lincoln Theater this Wednesday night.

Hackett, 64, cites not only the Beatles but a diverse group of influences for helping shape his musical direction, from early on in his life, up to when he was a full fledged musician. “Early on, I got hooked on two different kinds of music,” Hackett told me from his recording studio in England. “I listened to pop from a very very early age, and as I was growing up, much of the music I listened to was classical music. I didn’t have any formal training, but my father played several instruments. Then I think when I was 12, I found myself listening to a lot of radio, some of it the work of pure genius, like the Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Del Shannon, The Shadows, The Ventures, and Jan and Dean and The Beach Boys. Of course The Beatles and the Stones. It all just took off for us in such a huge way.

“Then in 1965, I got to hear (classical guitarist Andres) Segovia play,” he continued, “and suddenly, that was another revolution for me. It’s a bit like going through the turnstiles and suddenly life was never the same again after I’d heard that. I was completely besotted by that. For many years I was learning these main three licks I was picking up, from Chuck Berry to Keith Richards and so on. I never imagined I’d be adopting the articulations and the harmonies like on the stuff from Segovia. Rock music started to amalgamate and change itself, and many bands had started to do things in the wake of what the Beatles had done.”

Genesis in the early 70's (Clockwise from bottom: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford)

Genesis in the early 70’s (Clockwise from bottom: Peter Gabriel, Tony Banks, Phil Collins, Steve Hackett, Mike Rutherford)

Hackett joined Genesis in 1971 after being approached by Peter Gabriel, who had seen Hackett’s “guitar for hire” ad in Melody Maker magazine, and he immediately made an impact on their sound with the release of the band’s ’71 album “Nursery Cryme.” Over the course of the next five years, he help define the band’s sound. However, although he is very grateful for the time he had with the band, Hackett felt increasingly disposable. Much of his material was dismissed and his overall role diminished, largely by what he intimates were larger egos and a one-sided process.

“Being a part of taking the band from free shows and clubs to doing stadiums was pretty amazing,” Hackett said. “We managed to totally expand the fortunes of the band during a six-year period, 1971 through ’77. Six and a half years of my life were in the middle of that. I was really hot to keep the [momentum] flowing with Genesis but felt that the band wasn’t evenly balanced. I felt like I was kind of just another member of the band, just another guitarist. What I really felt like doing was to be a tad more virtuosic and collaborative. So I really don’t think I could have stayed with it. There were changes in the air, plus it was a bit easy to get into a confrontation, and things were just not solved democratically. But I was privileged to work with great, great people.”

Life after Genesis has been plentiful. Hackett has recorded several solo albums, formed a short-lived yet successful supergroup called GTR with Yes’ Steve Howe, and consistently took on side projects and guest spots while also embarking on different incarnations of  the “Genesis Revisited” tour. Participating in a Genesis reunion has always been something that has been bandied about. Hackett’s been interested, but it has never come to fruition for him largely because of one main factor: Peter Gabriel’s involvement, or lack thereof. “I was approached in 2005 to be part of the Genesis reunion,” Hackett said, “and for me, it was going to be both Peter Gabriel and myself, or it wasn’t going to happen. That was a condition made to the other guys. But there was no real offer. I mean I’ve been extremely flexible about this, but I might be waiting a lifetime and it may never happen. I actually saw Mike and Tony last week at a lunch for Mike’s biography, and I asked them if they were going to reform with Phil, and both of them said, ‘Oh I don’t know, doesn’t look like it.’ So they don’t even know any more than I do.”

“But that’s part of the reason that I decided to go out and play what I thought was the best music of the band, those early years, and when I play these concerts,” Hackett continued. “I get feedback from people about songs they absolutely adore, so I’ve made that the music of “Genesis Extended.”

Hackett has stayed vital and active, playing both his own music and that of his epic band, and his revered guitarist status remains intact. And even though he is bringing that classic old Genesis music to fans all over the world on this current tour, he says he is on an even bigger quest, one he seems firmly dedicated to. “Seems to me that music’s gotta broaden out, and if I’ve got a mission in life, it’s to rid people of prejudice against all the things they think they don’t like. So that’s my calling,” he said.

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