Archive for February, 2008

brighter truckers

drive-by truckers

It doesn’t look like Drive-By Truckers will be making their way back to The Dame anytime soon. So why not indulge in a Saturday night road trip to Louisville where the new generation pride of Muscle Shoals, Alabama will further redefine Southern rock stereotypes with music from what might just be their finest album to date.

The January-released Brighter Than Creation’s Dark nicely reflects a ragged triumph-over-adversity theme. As always, the rural detail of the Truckers’ songs possess a darkly spiritual cast. And, for sure, there are trials to face on its road to salvation. Daddy Needs a Drink and You and Your Crystal Meth, for example, state their bleak cases bluntly.

Ditto for That Man I Shot, an unapologetic plea of self-defense that kicks the Truckers’ mighty guitar machine into overdrive, and Goode’s Field Road, a Springsteen-ian saga where desperation leads a tirelessly honest man to an unavoidably crooked demise.

But much of Brighter Than Creation’s Dark is, well, brighter. It’s also considerably more soft-spoken than past Truckers albums. Guitarist Patterson Hood sets a lean, blue collar depiction of family values (“more bills than money, I can do the math”) against a steamrolling, Bottle Rockets-style groove on The Righteous Path.

Later, bassist Shonna Tucker wrestles with love in the afterlife on The Purgatory Line aided by the kind of reverb melancholy that recalls Neko Case. Co-guitarist Mike Cooley also outlines a very earthy country faith in Bob :”he goes to church every Sunday, every Sunday the fish ain’t bitin’.”

“There’s gonna be some fine times and there’s gonna be some pain,” sings Hood in the concluding Monument Valley. How indicative of life, especially the spiritual dance and everyday horrors that populate Brighter Than Creation’s Dark. It’s one of the finer albums to emerge in a young 2008. And Saturday may be our only chance to hear it fully realized onstage.

Drive By Truckers and The Pernice Brothers perform at 9 p.m. Saturday at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road in Louisville. Tickets are $25 through Ticketweb. Call (502) 584-8088. 

sarah and strait

sarah johnsAs a teenager, Sarah Johns sat in the rafters of Rupp Arena watching George Strait sing songs of Texas swing and country contentment.

 “That was the first concert I went to at Rupp Arena,” said the Jessamine county native who has made major inroads with country radio in recent months thanks to the old school country singles The One in the Middle and He Hates Me, as well as her debut Sony album, Big Love in a Small Town.

Johns will be in for a better view of her favorite country artist on Friday when she opens Strait’s first Rupp show in twelve years. And with a wealth of family members from nearby Pollard cheering her on, she expects to be deliriously overwhelmed.

“It’s going to take everything in me to get up there and not cry my eyes out,” Johns said. “George and I have the same manager. So I went to Irv (Woosley) and said, ‘You have to get me on this tour.’ And he said, ‘Sarah, this is the deal. George will pick. That’s how it’s always been. I can’t talk him into nothing.’ ”

Luckily, Strait selected Johns as a touring mate. Now comes the daunting task of visiting the mammoth Rupp as a performer instead of a patron.

“I used to go to all the shows at Rupp. I remember seeing Sara Evans there one night and just crying. My girlfriends looked at me and said, ‘Sara, what’s wrong?’ I said, ‘I know I can do that. But I don’t know how.’ And now I’m doing it.”

And doing it in a big way, to boot. Big Love is a rarity among major label country debuts in that Johns co-wrote all 11 of the album’s traditionally charged songs.

“I said to the label, ‘Look, I’m telling you right now, I’m not doing a bunch of pop-country music.’ I mean, I just refused to do it. Country music is supposed to be country. The label respected me on all of those fronts. We even looked for other songs to do. But everyone just said, ‘They just don’t sound like you. Your stuff is more your story.’ So everyone was really good about letting me have a say on my first record.”

(above photo of Sarah Johns by Russ Harrington)

George Strait, Little Big Town and Sarah Johns perform at 8 pm Friday at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $56 and $66. Call (859) 233-3535.

critic’s pick 8

marc ribotThis solo acoustic guitar adventure is, at first, almost childlike in its sense of light, playful abandon. The music speeds, slows and then mutates, much like the sound an organ grinder might make were he suddenly distracted. Then scratchy interference enters, a sound like a cat clawing on a door – mostly likely to escape. Slowly the tune, the first of 14 guitar etudes (this one is subtitled Five Gestures) darts about, its notes in search of a purpose, if not a melody. The piece comes to rest in a sea of quiet that is curiously unsettled for music so enclosed by stillness.

And that is just the first five minutes of Exercises in Futility, a wonderful new guitar manifesto by New York guitar chameleon Marc Ribot. Over the past two decades, Ribot (pronounced REE-bo) has collaborated extensively with John Zorn and Tom Waits while cutting a clever dance groove with his Cuban-inspired ensemble Los Cubanos Postizos (The Prosthetic Cubans). More recently, he became the guitar voice for Robert Plant and Alison Krauss’ joint band. While, regretfully, Ribot won’t be part of the global tour the duo will open this spring in Louisville, he is all over the hit Raising Sand album and a bit of a show stealer on the recent Plant/Krauss CMT Crossroads performance. That’s Ribot sitting alone at stage right making glorious noise while fellow guitarists T Bone Burnett and Buddy Miller establish the swampy, electric atmospherics.

Ribot on his own, though, is quite a different beast. He is a champion of New York’s famed “downtown” improvisational music scene and has designed all kinds of vehicles for his more jagged and confrontational playing, like the new avant-groove band Ceramic Dog which should be issuing a debut album later this year.

Futility offers yet another side of Ribot’s vast guitar profile. Here, he improvises – sometimes with a wisp of a melody, but mostly with no rhythmic baggage at all – at surprisingly modest volume. In fact, Futility‘s all acoustic setting works against the traps that trip up even the most revered avant-garde guitarists, especially the ones whose musical depth is dictated solely by volume and distortion.

Among the album’s 14 etudes is a splash of grace and groove that unfolds into a restless, lyrical ramble (#3: Elvis), a series of playful skirmishes that nosedive into a darker, more spacious foreground (#5: Lame), a fractured Western riff that disintegrates into a scrapbook of scratchy, percussive clips and burps (#6: Cowboy), a fluid but wistful melodic run (#12: Mirror) and a minute-long street parade of brittle, percussive outbursts (#14: Event on 10th Avenue).

The album-closing The Joy of Repetition breaks ranks with the etudes and opts for a more defined compositional platform – but just barely. It starts with Ribot honing a near minimalist theme into a collage of more meditative delights as guitar chords are applied like brushstrokes. The rhythmic patterns soon reveal an inner, almost folkish beauty. The edges then blur and the feel becomes more impressionistic – a sense of disceptive calm that is never far from complete implosion.

That kind of musical brink is what Futility constantly pushes toward. It starts at a plateau of quiet so beguiling that you tend to forget you’ve been led to the edge of a cliff. In short, this is not an album to relax to in any conventional sense. Yet Ribot’s whispery abstractions embrace music that resounds profoundly in a state of gorgeous, contemplative unease.

in performance: linkin park, coheed and cambria and chiodos

linkin park 

“You don’t want the Canadians to be louder than you, do ya’?” teased Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington.

Ah, yes. The rock ‘n’ roll dare. Egging on a hearty Rupp Arena crowd with the idea that audiences the increasingly streamlined California nu-metal band played to recently in Ontario made a rowdier ruckus than the one at hand in Big Blue Country. Understandably, the noise from the seats shot through the roof.

It was a cheap ploy, of course. And a moot one. After all, Linkin Park had already cooked up an ear-blasting assault that ran from the throat-ripping angst fest Given Up, the rap-rocking Somewhere I Belong – one of many fine moments that employed Bennington and rapper/co-vocalist Mike Shinoda as a performance tag team – and the crunchy bolero-esque No More Sorrow.

After those little earthquakes, audiences in Lexington, Canada and Timbuktu could scream from now to Labor Day and not match Linkin Park’s volume and intensity.

But, for once, this wasn’t an arena rock show that let its thunder fade to static. Unlike Linkin Park’s 2004 Rupp outing – a numbing, horribly mixed aggravation that swallowed up every lick of invention the band offered – this performance offered impressive dynamics.

Admittedly, much of that was due to the fresh material from the band’s third studio album, Minutes to Midnight – a record that has tempered Linkin Park’s volume but not its temperament.

Typical of the newer tunes was In Pieces, which began as a plaintive ballad with Shinoda on keyboards and Bennington on a vocal lead that reigned in the screams and snarls. But just when you thought things got a little too settled, In Pieces fused together into one of the heartiest pop grooves Linkin Park has ever lost itself in.

Then on Shadow of the Day, a tune that came across as a more vengeful variation of U2’s With or Without You, Bennington took over. His vocals transformed into a rich melodic lead that still managed to reflect an uneasy undercurrent.

The shift in tempo and volume also unveiled the evening’s most quiet and inward surprise: a non-album gem called My December performed only by Bennington and Shinoda.

Expanding, contracting and artfully playing with its hotheaded sound came with a price, however. Last night attendance figure was 9,400 – down from the 12,000 fans Linkin Park brought into Rupp in 2004 (a show also held on a Monday). But make no mistake, this was the more insightful, more nuanced and, when the time came, more confrontational of the two concerts. It was light years stronger.

New York rockers Coheed and Cambria – a self-described “prog” band that fleshes out the extended sci-fi musings and narratives of singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez  – preceded Linkin Park.

There was some dazzling instrumentation, especially in the guitar vocabulary of Sanchez and Travis Stever on the set-opening No World for Tomorrow. The band’s expanded lineup also offered an intriguing mix of sounds, strategies and sights that included metal-savvy guitar hooks, female backing vocals, a doomsday storyline incomprehensible to all but the band’s most ardent fans and, most impressively, Sanchez’s hair. Man, has he got a mountain of it. At times, when stationary at the microphone, he looked like a hefty palm tree with locks covering his entire face.

Michigan’s Chiodos opened the evening with a similarly varied sampler of pop and rock treats, but the sound mix buried the vocal shrieks, groans and croons of singer Craig Owens. Jason Hale favored better, with a guitar display that drove over – and sometimes straight through – the band’s crunchy pop reveries.

(above photo of Linkin Park by James Minchon)

land of linkin

linkin parkIt’s conference call time.

On one end of the line, waiting for the telephone festivities to start, are the two frontmen for the multi-platinum, rap-rock, nu-metal, what-have-you band Linkin Park: singer Chester Bennington and rapper/emcee Mike Shinoda.

On the other are a pack of ravenous journalists, selfish predators that we are, each hoping to get in at least one question during the mass interview’s allotted time frame of 30 minutes.

Not exactly the ideal setting for a talk – and Linkin Park has a ton to chat about (or not) of late, from a massively publicized squabble and potential lawsuit with its record label, Warner Brothers, to a collaboration with Rick Rubin, the star producer who has overseen records for Johnny Cash, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, Tom Petty, Dixie Chicks, Neil Diamond and a dozen or so other stylistically diverse notables.

The setting has all the potential of a scrappy bar fight, except that nobody can see one another. When the session turns out to be orderly, the Linkin Park men seem almost disappointed.

“I thought it was going to be a free for all with everybody talking at the same time,” Bennington said.

“That’s what I was hoping,” Shinoda added.

The first half of the conference call proceeds with few hurdles and even fewer revelations. Bennington and Shinoda are posed questions about everything except their music. How do you select your opening acts? What do you think of the new digital/downloading musical age? Are you giving tickets away again for military personnel and their families?

Finally, a reporter from Minneapolis brings up the dreaded words: Warner Brothers. The air over the telephone lines – if there is such a thing – tightens. The promotional stance the vocalists had been taking retreats and the overall mood becomes slightly more tentative.

“We voiced our concerns back then,” Bennington said in a still polite but affirmative tone. “I don’t want to get back into it at all.”

Get back into what? Well, here’s the deal. Since 2000, Linkin Park has sold somewhere along the lines of 50 million records worldwide. The band’s first two studio albums, Hybrid Theory and Meteora, were loud, angst filled affairs that mixed arena rock bravado, metal and rap with an accessibility that, at times, was downright poppish. Then when cost cutting measures were implemented at Warner Brothers – specifically, the Warner Music Group – Linkin Park sought release from its contract. Litigation seemed all but inevitable.

“Linkin Park has become increasingly concerned that WMG’s diminished resources will leave it unable to compete in today’s global music marketplace, resulting in a failure to live up to WMG’s fiduciary responsibility to market and promote Linkin Park,” the band said in a May 2005 statement.

But by year’s end, peace was declared. No real terms of the treaty were disclosed. But Linkin Park remained with Warners as work on a third studio album commenced.

Luckily, that was something Bennington was in the mood to discuss when my telephone time with him rolled around.

“I think where we were at was we were really hungry to make a record,” he said. “As much as we talk about how much time we like to be with our families and take off, it’s important for us to have a balance. The reality is that if we take even a week longer than we expected, it becomes uncomfortable.

“As much as a vacation sounds good or taking time to work through some issues, like we had with Warner Brothers, it was also difficult for us. Once we got ready to make a record, we were very ready to make a record.”

The questions Linkin Park then faced were these: what musical direction should the new record take and what producer should be enlisted to guide it? Once Rubin was brought on board, an answer to the first question became even more vital.

“Rick asked us, ‘What kind of record do you want to make?’ recalled Shinoda. “All six of us were like, ‘Pretty much something totally different.’ He was like, ‘Good, because that was what I was thinking.'”

So the members of Linkin Park – Bennington, Shinoda, guitarist Brad Delson, bassist David “Phoenix” Farrell, drummer Rob Bourdon and turntablist Joe Hahn – wrote. And wrote. And wrote. When they had what Bennington termed as “100 bazillion songs,” Rubin went to work. What resulted was a more streamlined, less-rap savvy album called Minutes to Midnight.

The change of musical tactics was pronounced. Songs like Valentine’s Day and Leave Out All the Rest came off as radio-ready ballads while crunchier rockers like No More Sorrow and especially Bleed It Out that were more in keeping with Hybrid Theory and Meteora were wrapped in plentiful melodic hooks. Shoot, you could almost dance to them.

David Fricke of Rolling Stone magazine, in a four star review of Minutes to Midnight, summed up the album and the pop age surrounding it in two sentences: “Rap rock is dead. Linkin Park are not because they were always more than the meager sum of that combination.”

“We knew in our hearts that we wanted to make a record that was going to be a turning point for us,” Bennington said, “a kind of revamping (of) the band creatively and intellectually.

“We went in and did it. We took our time and we exhausted every avenue. We blazed new paths and tried new things. It was great. It was a great experience and I think Minutes to Midnight speaks for itself because of that.”

(above photo of Linkin Park by James Minchon) 

Linkin Park, Coheed & Cambria and Chiodos perform at 7 p.m.  tonight at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $36.50, $46.50. Call (859) 281-6644, (859) 233-3535.

Not just football on the Villa Park Xmas menu.(Features)

Birmingham Mail (England) October 10, 2006 THERE’S an extensive programme of Christmas party ideas at Villa Park Stadium that’s certain to mean you can find the right celebration for you, your family and friends, or for you and your work colleagues.

The choice is yours! A diverse programme of discos, lunches, tribute acts and grand parties will ensure your group really get into the Christmas spirit at Aston Villa Football Club.

Prestigious suites, elite cuisine and a range of entertainment from Abba and Robbie Williams nights to Grand Christmas Parties, Stadium Tour and lunch days and Beer and Balti nights. There’s even a very appealing Treasure Island pantomime visiting on 28th and 29th December, where children are sure to be encapsulated in the enchanting tale of Long John Silver and the Jolly Roger! With a dedicated member of staff to handle your booking and extensive free car parking, the only thing you need to worry about will be selecting who’s lucky enough to be invited. go to website christmas party ideas web site christmas party ideas

In the spotlight this week at Villa Park is the superb Robbie Williams Tribute Show on November 25th and the Abba Tribute Act on November 26th. Matthew Holbrook emulates the sound, the look and especially the persona of the man himself – Robbie Williams. Matthew, whose show has travelled the world, has been described by the New Zealand press as ‘Robbie’s Clone’, Norwegian press as ‘Fantastic’, and the British press as ‘Perfectionism’. Tickets to both events cost just pounds 26.95 including a two course buffet and a disco. Individual table bookings for meals are also available through out the Christmas period in the elegant Cornerflag Restaurant overlooking the pitch.

Call Aston Villa’s ticket office on 0871 423 8101.

on the case

peter caseThe return of fiddler/folk stylist Carrie Rodriguez to the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday is reason enough to celebrate. But the taping will also feature the first Lexington performance in over six years by the great West Coast songsmith and postpunk pop stylist Peter Case.

His expert rock works with the Los Angeles band The Plimsouls notwithstanding, Case has been making extraordinary solo records that explore varying temperaments of folk, blues, pop and more for over two decades. The 1993 folkie covers collection Peter Case Sings Like Hell and a more stylistically varied 2000 set of reflective originals titled Flying Saucer Blues are personal favorites. But just as arresting is Case’s recent Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John.

Contrary to what the title suggests, the album is not a tribute to bluesman Sleepy John Estes, but a folk/blues sampler of originals that team Case with guitar greats Richard Thompson (on Every 24 Hours) and Duane Jarvis (on I’m Gonna Change My Ways).

As always, the brief WoodSongs sets succeed in making one salivate for a longer feature concert programs by the artists it features. But 10 bucks? For and Rodriguez both? Bring on Monday!

(alove photo of Peter Case by Denise Sullivan)

Peter Case and Carrie Rodriguez perform at 7 p.m. Monday for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre. Admission is $10. Call (859) 252-8888. Reservations are strongly suggested.

in performance: lonesome river band

lonesome river band 

For all its country music leanings and progressive instrumentation, the Lonesome River Band took roughly a minute-and-a-half to establish its still-vital bluegrass credibility.

To preface the well worn string music staple Sally Goodin’ – the only instrumental the band performed over the course of two 45 minute sets last night at Clay City’s Meadowgreen Park Music Hall – banjoist/ bandleader Sammy Shelor and fiddler Mike Hartgrove engaged in a brief but robust duet full of rustic, traditionally flavored charm. It wasn’t flashy. Nothing the two players engaged in all evening was. The exchange was simply an exercise in taste, subtlety and conversational fluency – attributes many bluegrass ensembles toss aside in favor of warp speed licks and eccentric soloing.

From vocals that regularly reached into country territory – like guitarist Brandon Rickman’s decidedly George Jones-flavored lead on Jimmy Martin’s Mary Ann – to blues flavored tunes that embraced that most deliciously decadent bluegrass indulgence, the murder ballad (or “killin’ song,” as Shelor termed it when introducing Perfume, Powder and Lead), nothing the Lonesome River Band shelled out was overblown. In fact, there were instances when the band’s steadfast resolve seemed almost bulletproof.

When a guitar string busted during Whoop and Ride, Rickman didn’t blink. He simply kept singing verses with calm authority, maintained the song’s comfortable pace and confidently went about restringing his instrument. Nothing stopped. Nothing even slowed.

The rest of the band was equally sharp with mandolinist Andy Ball taking double honors for the humble vocal lead on the riotous two-timing lament Carolyn the Teenage Queen and the richly propulsive string drive of Am I a Fool.

Still, watching Shelor (a LRB band member since 1990) matching modest musical wits with Hartgrove (who returned to the band in January following a three year stint with Doyle Lawson) made this artful and contemporary bluegrass sound seem far more cordial than lonesome.

current listening 02/23

“san francisco”Off hours listening during an especially icy week…  

* Bobby Hutcherson featuring Harold Land: San Francisco – With an eye to an urban sound, Blue Note Records teamed mallet-man Hutcherson, reed stylist Land and Crusaders keyboardist Joe Sample for this ultra cool 1970 soul session.

* Marc Ribot: Don’t Blame Me – A 1995 doomsday covers album featuring solo electric guitar versions of I’m in the Mood for Love,  These Foolish Things and Ol’ Man River from another stylistic universe. A record of rich, unsettling beauty.

* Sigur Ros: Hvarf/Heim – Nothing goes better with icy weather than an Icelandic band. Sigur Ros’ intimate ambience proved a nice slice of warmth when the weather froze over. The studio recorded Hvarf boasts a mightier chill than the live Heim.

* Eliane Elias: Something for You – A beautiful new mix of artful piano trio sessions and Jobim-flavored singing by Brazilian born Elias. The intent was to honor piano great Bill Evans, but Elias gently asserts her own knowing jazz voice.

* Free: Heartbreaker – The soundtrack of a band falling apart. Still, Brit rockers Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke found a light but vital blues urgency on this 1973 swansong. The following year, the two dissolved Free and formed Bad Company.

you’re either on the bus…

born cross eyed

Mixing a lot of business and some especially novel art this weekend will be Born Cross Eyed‘s Joseph David. A guitarist for the 16 year old local Grateful Dead tribute band, David is also a senior transportation planner for the Lexington Area Metropolitan Planning Organization as well as a board member of Art in Motion.

Along with LexTran and LexArts, Art in Motion recently held a national contest for designs of new, artistically inclined bus shelters. The winning design is to be constructed on Versailles Road later this year. So having helped plan the shelter (along with future shelters), David is now helping raise the money to build it. He the rest of Born Cross Eyed will headline a benefit tonight at The Dame, 156 West Main.

“It’s interesting for me, because it’s part of my everyday job to look at projects like this,” David said. “Then I thought it would be cool to join Art in Motion to blend art into it all. And, lo and behold, I’m a musician that has felt very well supported by the community for 16 years. It all works together.” 

The evening begins with an Art in Motion reception at 8. An exhibition of works by University of Kentucky visual arts students will follow at 9. Born Cross Eyed will perform at 10:30. Admisssion is by a $5-$10 donation to Arts in Motion at the door. Call (859) 226-9005.

Born Cross Eyed will also play Saturday at Brick Alley in Frankfort and March 1 back in Lexington at Lynagh’s.

les is more

les mcann

It wasn’t the first time Les McCann felt perplexed by a reporter. But few interviews the Lexington native has given in his 50-plus year jazz career have derailed in such outlandish fashion.

While in Switzerland for what would become an historic 1969 performance with saxophonist Eddie Harris, pianist/vocalist/composer McCann couldn’t make sense out of questions being posed by a foreign journalist.

 “This guy was asking all these things that had nothing to do with me,” McCann recalled. “I thought, ‘Man, what are you talking about?’ Finally, he goes, ‘OK then, Mr. Basie…’ And I began laughing so hard. This guy thought I was Count Basie.”

It would be the last time a writer or jazz fan in or out Switzerland would mistake McCann and his soul-soaked music for anyone else.

The performance, a highlight of the annual Montreux Jazz Festival, was recorded and released as the career defining Swiss Movement album. Within its grooves was a volcanic piece of social commentary that had already been part of McCann’s repertoire for six years. But the Montreux version was released as a single and became a generational anthem for change. Its title: Compared to What. To this day, some 70 subsequent versions of the song exist. Among the artists that have covered it: Ray Charles, Brian Auger and the artist McCann is credited for discovering, Roberta Flack.

Compared to What is alone reason enough to win McCann a place in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. But for decades, he has forged a jazz sound full of modern groove, feisty spirit, topical smarts and one of the most effortlessly soulful singing voices of his generation.

“I’ve never been a predictor of the future,” McCann said last weekend from his home in Los Angeles. “But I always knew we had a great song with Compared to What. It’s just that my style of learning comes from playing a song until I finally figure out a way that it makes sense. We had already tried to record it because the words were so powerful. They still are. The words will always be relevant. But it wasn’t until six years later, while I was onstage in Switzerland, that the song really hit me.”

Inducting McCann into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame this week is a reminder that Kentucky has not only introduced the world to groundbreaking country, bluegrass and gospel music, but to extraordinary jazz. Sadly, it will fall short of a full homecoming. At 72, McCann is recovering from hernia surgery and will be unable to attend the induction ceremony. But McCann emphasized his appreciation of the Hall of Fame honor and of how Lexington helped prepare him to take on the world.

“How could I have had a better foundation to go out and face life than with what I learned in Lexington? It was a time of perfect understanding. We didn’t grow up surrounded by racial hatred. We didn’t grow up with any of those awful things people think of when they think of Kentucky as a Southern state. We grew up with open minds that were soon ready to see the world.”

And see the world they did. A graduate of Laurence Dunbar High School, McCann joined the Navy in 1953 and eventually found himself stationed in Northern California. But jazz, especially in the nearby San Francisco area, was everywhere. And once McCann got a taste of serious jazz pianists like Erroll Garner there was, literally, no turning back.

“Erroll Garner was the whole reason I wanted to play piano,” McCann said. “When I first heard one of his records, I was marching in formation. The record was playing in a building nearby, so I followed the music there instead of following the company. Got into a bit of trouble for that, too. But as experiences go, it was an eye opener.”

Encouraged by a commanding officer to pursue music just as he was by teachers at Dunbar years earlier, McCann moved to Los Angeles and formed a jazz trio after his discharge. A recording career began with 1960’s Les McCann Plays the Truth.

From there, McCann never slowed down. Swiss Movement and a 1971 studio sequel with Harris called Second Movement were part of a highly prolific eight year stay with the flagship R&B label Atlantic Records. While the Harris collaborations are among his best known works, McCann selected two other Atlantic albums, 1971’s Invitation to Openness and 1973’s Layers (which contained an instrumental ode to his alma mater, The Dunbar High School Marching Band) as personal favorites.

Layers was done almost completely alone using keyboards and electronics while Invitation to Openness has 15 musicians who had come into the studio because of a vision, a dream I had. I remember calling the people at Atlantic and saying, ‘I’ve got to do this music.’ And there was no argument. They understood then what it meant for an artist to be creative at the moment.”

When asked if five decades of making music has made for a good professional life, McCann seemed stymied. Maybe he sensed a Count Basie question was coming next. Or perhaps he was simply at a loss to fully describe a jazz life that brings him this week – in spirit, at least – to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame.

“Has it been a good life? No. It’s been a great life. It’s been the best life. Everything I ever dreamed about has happened. And best of all, it isn’t over yet.”

The 2008 Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony honoring Dwight Yoakam, Florence Henderson, Norro Wilson, Crystal Gayle and Les McCann will be held at 6 p.m. tonight at the Lexington Center Bluegrass Ballroom. Tickets range from $125 to $2,000. Call: (877) 356-3263.

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