Archive for profiles

the message of music maker

timduffy

tim duffy of the music maker relief foundation.

If anything impacted Tim Duffy more than the glorious roots and blues sounds he grew up with in the Carolina region, it was the poverty so many of the music’s most versed but obscure practitioners lived in.

“Poverty in America… people don’t think about it,” he said. “But it’s very, very real.”

Experiencing the deep struggles of rural blues artists – not just in getting their music heard but in maintaining a sustainable existence – prompted Duffy and wife Denise to form the Music Maker Relief Foundation, an organization that has recorded the authentic roots music of over 300 artists during its 20 year history that would otherwise never be heard. But that’s just part of the mission.

“There is poverty throughout the world, but that’s not the whole gist of what we do. If you follow any popular music around the world – world music, blues, jazz – it’s born from the working class people of our nation. Go into those working class communities today and you will find people that kept the old traditions going.

“If someone doesn’t have medicine or heat and there is no one in their community they can turn to for help, maybe we can with a simple grant for medicine. Maybe in the wintertime, we can help so they can stay warm. That keeps the guitar out of the pawn shop. That’s our sustenance program.”

Music Maker also has a professional development program that helps get the music of these artists recorded and packaged as well as a cultural access program that provides forums, especially at radio stations, for the resulting music to he heard.

“At the heart of it, Music Maker is really a social justice organization, because these people are invisible,” Duffy said. “Audiences don’t know who these people are. They won’t go into their neighborhoods, so we have to give them a voice. We do that with the music and the songs.”

Duffy will further explain Music Maker’s work at Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. But the fruits of his project will be perhaps best reflected by live music from three of the artists the organization has helped nurture – Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks and Big Ron Hunter.

“Big Ron Hunter very much has a sense of joy about life,” Duffy said. “He’ll talk about the red clay of North Carolina and the squirrels chasing each other above the trees. He’ll talk about how he incorporates that in his music. Then there’s Boo Hanks. He is a living example of a Blind Boy Fuller, who created such great music in the ’30s. So Boo is a great, great Piedmont blues artist. And Ironing Board Sam… now here is a totally eccentric artist from South Carolina that started in the Winston-Salem drink houses. He’s like Sun Ra (the eccentric jazz stylist from Alabama who insisted he came to earth from Saturn). He’ll tell you how, in his first life, he was there at the Big Bang and how he visits this plain every 20,000 years or so. His music is all over the place. He can play simple down home blues, pop music, weird jazz, anything.”

The support of such blue celebrities as B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Taj Mahal has helped spread the word on Music Maker. So has the breakout of Duffy’s most visible discovery for the organization, the now-popular Carolina Chocolate Drops. But his work still boils down to providing a platform for unheralded and unknown artists.

“The artists we chose to help don’t really have a spit in hell’s chance of making it in the music industry, so we live completely outside of that. I’ve helped a lot of people. But to tell you the truth, all this work has helped me much more. I’ve gotten a lot more than I’ve given through all the people I’ve gotten to know very deeply.

“My grandfather used to tell me it’s not what you get out of this life, it’s what you leave behind. In other words, you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

The Music Maker Relief Foundation featuring Tim Duffy, Ironing Board Sam, Boo Hanks and Big Ron Hunter will be showcased at 6:45 tonight at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets: $10. Call (859) 252-8888.

up in the attic with tso

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paul o’neill of trans-siberian orchestra.

There is a curious addition to the titles Paul O’Neill can now make claim to.

Alongside duties as composer, instrumentalist, producer, engineer and all around rock music entrepreneur – all of which stem from his role as founder of the Trans-Siberian Orchestra – O’Neill can now rightly call himself an outlaw. Such as a distinction comes as a result of a youthful transgression that would later trigger the inspiration for The Christmas Attic, the double-platinum 1998 album TSO will bring to gargantuan life on Thursday at Rupp Arena.

“Well, the statute of limitations ran out on this a long time ago, so it’s okay to talk about. I think the technical term for it is breaking and entering.”

As a kid growing up in New York City, O’Neill and several youthful pals were drawn to rows of abandoned buildings. Vacated and boarded, he would venture inside and find little more than a whole lot of empty – that is, until he reached the attic.

“These attics had stuff left from decades, sometimes centuries ago,” O’Neill said. “The one I will never forget was like a wonderland for kids. The first thing I saw was a Gramophone. There was all this stuff from the past including this old sea chest. When we opened it, it was filled with letters from the 1850s and 1860s. That day we just sat and read those letters till twilight. It was like a time machine. That’s where we got the whole idea for The Christmas Attic.”

This month marks the first full seasonal run for The Christmas Attic as a concert piece. But that doesn’t mean TSO will retreat from its usual performance assault. In addition to the rock opera trapping of strings and guitar will be TSO’s equally cherished arsenal of pyrotechnics, lighting effects and general all-out flash.

The year began with the opportunity to take such grandiosity to a new locale – specifically, a New Year’s Eve performance at Brandenburg Gate. But there was a hitch – getting TSO and all of it titanic gear to Berlin after a pair of Stateside concerts the night before.

“We had that puddle between us and Germany to deal with called the Atlantic,” O’Neill said. “Plus we were flying against the clock. There have been times when I’ve played in Europe and then in America the next day, but there every time you crossed a time zone, you would get an hour. It’s the exact opposite when you’re going the other way. But this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. We had the jets waiting on the Tarmac because we only had about two hours of error room. But there was no turbulence, everything worked out perfect and we finished soundcheck with 15 minutes to spare.”

The result was a performance where TSO rang in 2014 before a live audience of two million and an estimated television viewership of eight million.

Next up for O’Neill is something perhaps smaller in scale but considerably larger in terms of ambition. With three new non-holiday recording projects in the works, he hopes to take TSO to Broadway and redefine the role of rock music in contemporary theatre.

“The idea of arena rock theatre is something we have developed quite nicely. But I’ve also wanted to take on Broadway.

“I love Broadway. But the problem is it is so stuck in the past. So I would like to take some of the special effects from the world of rock ‘n’ roll, the quality of musicianship from rock ‘n’ roll, but also the coherent storytelling aspect from Broadway and combine that so maybe in the next couple of years we will have our first Broadway production.”

And the cost? If there is anything more overblown than ticket prices to an arena rock show, it’s the ticket prices of most Broadway productions.

“We’re working on that aspect right now because getting the show written and put out there is only half the battle. It still has to be affordable for everyone. But it can be done. We are a perfect example. TSO keeps its ticket prices between $25 and $70 and we have one of the most expensive productions in the world. We’ve done that for 16 years, so it can be done. There has to be a way to do that for Broadway, too.”

Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs 7:30 p.m. Dec.11 at Rupp Arena. Tickets: $31.50-$61.25. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

head’s up on korn

Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu

Reggie “Fiedy” Arvizu of Korn. Photo by Arthur Mola, Invision/AP.

Two decades into a career that has brought a new generational fanbase to a wholly reconfigured brand of metal music, the members of Korn are still scratching their heads.

“I think it’s just one of those things that we could try to figure out and understand,” said the band’s bassist and co-founder Reggie “Fieldy” Arvizu. “But it just doesn’t make sense. I don’t know how you can keep making so many songs out of such a simple style. It just doesn’t make sense to me at all. I don’t get it. Music is weird, man. That’s all I can say.”

Simple, perhaps. But inserting modest levels of groove and melody in the usual metal crunch made Korn one of the initial “nu metal” bands of the ‘90s. That it rose to prominence alongside a growing alternative music scene didn’t hurt either. That, along with a reputation as a ferocious live act, made Korn’s self-titled 1994 debut album a monster hit that spawned double platinum sales and a quartet of hit singles led by the guitar-centric Blind.

“We are so limited in what we do that we’re kind of forced to be super creative. So these really cool tricks that come out in our songs are because we’re forced to make the music cool because we’re not that good.”

Korn’s current placement on the current Prepare for Hell Tour with longtime ally Slipknot cements a restoration of sorts for the band. While its music has never gone out of favor (its 2012 album The Paradigm Shift entered the all genre Billboard 200 chart at No. 8), Korn is coming off its first full year with founding guitarist Brian “Head” Welch back in the ranks. Welch left Korn in 2004 to deal with mounting substance additions as well as a blooming solo career. Several subsequent attempts to reunite him with the band fell through until Arvizu intervened.

“Over the years, we tried to have it happen a few times and it just didn’t line up or work out. Then Head just happened to show up at one of these concerts we were doing. So we talked a little bit. The next thing you know, he was like, ‘Man, I’m going to go watch your set, but it’s going to be weird because I’m used to being onstage with you guys.’ So as we were walking over to the stage, I said, ‘How about you do the last three songs with us. He said,’What? Are you crazy? I could maybe do Blind.’ When we got to the stage, John (Korn vocalist Jonathan Davis) and Munky (co-guitarist James “Munky” Shaffer) were there. I was going, ‘Hey, Head is going to do Blind with us tonight.’ And that’s how it happened. We did it. Everything felt good and it just took off from there.

“Now the spirit within the band is better than ever because I think everybody is finally at an age where they know their place and their role. With Head coming back, we wanted to do something that was totally just about who we were and what Korn was. That was our mindset in making The Paradigm Shift. We weren’t going, ‘Well, what role does Head play and Munkey play? Where’s my role? Everybody was stepping into what they do instead of trying to fill a spot for someone else. So we just took our positions and it turned out exactly the way we wanted.”

Following the conclusion of the Prepare for Hell Tour in early December, Korn will break for the winter and hit the road again in March for a more proper 20th anniversary tour that will have the band performing the 1994 Korn album in its entirety at every show. The tour is expected to last into 2016.

“The secret for people to understand in doing this is that the main thing you’ve got to do is show-up. We never really think about our careers too much. We just grab hold of the moment.”

Slipknot, Korn and King 810 perform at 7 p.m. Nov.22 at Rupp Arena. Tickets: $38.50-$65. Call: (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

the mule at 20

warren haynes

warren haynes of gov’t mule.

Warren Haynes knows how to celebrate a milestone. With the 20th anniversary of his guitar-centric jam band Gov’t Mule at hand, he is preparing to release four new archival concert recordings in almost as many months.

“We never really had any designs on the band being anything other than a fun project,” the guitarist said. “We didn’t think about the next year or the year after that or a second record or a fifth record or a tenth record or a 20 year anniversary. We were just taking it one step at a time. I think that’s part of what has worked for us.

“Once we decided to be a band, it was like, ‘Okay. We can have fun with this. We can keep exploring more and more of our influences and bring our friends into the circle. We can include them in the music and just see where it goes.”

Haynes began Gov’t Mule in 1994 as an offshoot of the Allman Brothers Band, which he joined in 1989. The original lineup boasted drummer Matt Abts and Allmans bassist Allen Woody. As the years progressed, Gov’t Mule’s visibility flourished while the Allmans slowly retreated from touring detail (its final live shows were presented in New York last month). Though Woody died in 2000, Haynes and Abts soldiered on with a quartet lineup completed by bassist Jorgen Carlsson and longtime keyboardist Danny Louis.

“The chemistry with the band right now, musically and personally, is just wonderful,” Haynes said. “It’s kind of at an all-time high. It feels so good just to be out breaking new ground night after night. I’m very proud of where the band is right now. We’re having a blast.”

What of the four new recordings, you ask? Let’s have Haynes fill us in.

+ Stoned Side of the Mule, Volume 1 (a vinyl only collection of Rolling Stones covers recorded on Halloween 2009): “A lot of our hardcore fans know that every Halloween and every New Year’s, we do thematic shows where we cover somebody else’s music. The Halloween we did all the Stones stuff was a great night.” (Due out Nov. 28)

+ Dark Side of the Mule (3 CD/1 DVD set of Pink Floyd covers recorded on Halloween 2008): “That’s from another Halloween show. We did 90 minutes of Pink Floyd music with surround sound, a laser light show and three girl singers, two of which had actually toured with Pink Floyd.” (Due out Dec. 9)

+ Dub Side of the Mule (3 CD/1 DVD package including a reggae set with Toots Hibbert recorded New Year’s Eve 2006): “We did an hour with Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals. In typical fashion for our New Year’s Eve shows, it was a really long concert so we included the whole night’s audio and a bonus DVD of the Toots performance.” (Due out early 2015)

+ Sco-Mule (2 CD set with jazz guitarist John Scofield): “John has been one of my favorites for a long, long time, and we’ve become good friends through the years. We’ve done more stuff similar to this since then, but this marks the beginning of the merging of our two worlds.” (Due out January 2015)

Covering rock classics, psychedelic staples, reggae and jazz on four separate live albums suggests Haynes and his Mule crew must possess a boundless love of music, especially when it stretches to styles that fall outside the beefy jams the band summons without the celebrity guest lists.

“I think musicians are the biggest fans of all,” Haynes said. “We start out as these geeky fans that want to take it further by learning how to play an instrument, learning how to sing and learning how to write songs. It’s all inspired by this passion of music and this feeling of music being an enormous part of your life. I know my passion for it has never dwindled.”

Gov’t Mule performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $35.50, $45.50. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

the post-idol daughtry

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daughtry: josh paul, josh steely, chris daughtry, elvio fernandes and brian craddock. (not pictured: jamal moore).

When you introduce yourself to a prospective pop public by way of network television and then capitalize on your popularity by selling over eight million copies of your debut album, the prospect of altering your sound even a little probably isn’t part of the big career picture.

But when Chris Daughtry is calling the shots, shaking the stylistic tree is part of the fun of being a star.

A season five finalist on American Idol, the North Carolina native formed a band that bore his name with a sound full of pop friendly riffs, proudly anthemic lyrics and an extra large guitar charge – sort of like Nickelback, only nicer. And it hit. Big. The 2006 debut album Daughtry was an immediate smash that had six singles, led by It’s Not Over, scaling the charts over the following year. Three hit followup albums proved the Idol album’s popularity was no fluke.

Then Daughty embraced something all rock stars are taught to avoid: change. For 2013’s Baptized album, he fine-tuned his songwriting, scaled back the guitar amp-age and offered a streamlined version of his band’s familiar brand of pop crunch.

“I definitely went into this with the mindset of not doing anything we’ve done before,” said Daughtry, who will front his namesake band for a Monday concert at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. “I didn’t know what that meant at the time. I just knew that if it sounded anything like what I’ve written before, then it wasn’t good enough for this record. I wanted this record to be a complete departure from what we’ve done in the past. That meant working with different people and different producers. It meant working with people that we’re going to force me out of my comfort zone, because as a writer, when you work with the same people or producers you tend to get into a system that’s comfortable for you.

“I don’t really have a set direction when we start these things. A lot of times you can start writing a bunch of songs and take them apart to see which ones feel fresh and new. Sometimes you pick one and feel that’s the general direction a record should go in. Or you just write and see where it takes you and deal with the direction when it comes time for production. But you still have to be cognizant of what is working on radio, as well. And heavy guitars right now are just not the favorite there. We had to be aware of that and know what we can get away with what we can’t.”

What Daughtry got away with were more melody driven singles like Waiting for Superman and Long Live Rock and Roll that helped retain Daughtry’s strong radio presence, making the band one of the most lasting success stories to emerge from American Idol ranks.

“Everybody’s paths are different,” Daughtry said. “There are certainly still bands out there that get signed the old fashioned way and then there is the avenue I took, which worked well for me. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work well for everybody. I think you have to go through different doors to see which is going to be the right one.

American Idol is not a guaranteed system of success on anyone’s part. You have to put in the work. Luckily, I’ve always had a strong work ethic. I knew right off the show I had to hit the ground running and start writing and working. I didn’t let a day go by where I wasn’t working. I think the combination of people wanting to hear what I had to say and me doing the work to give them the best I could kind of played hand in hand.

“But a lot of times people come off these shows and think there is this built in success. They wait for it to fall in their lap. I think they’re quickly reminded that’s not the case.”

Daughtry performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 10 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 521 Lancaster Ave. in Richmond. Tickets: $39-$79. Call (859) 353-6382 or go to http://ekucenter.com.

spirit and bone

lucinda 1

lucinda williams.

There was a time the only significant gripe fans or critics could muster about the music of Lucinda Williams were the seemingly eternal waits between albums.

Following the release of two initial folk-blues leaning records, eight years slipped by before her landmark self-titled album surfaced in 1988 to introduce the world to the rootsy endearment of Crescent City and the obsessive severity of Change the Locks.

It took another four years before we heard Sweet Old World, an album highlighted by the regal but emotively devastating eulogy within its title track. Then, nothing again for six years. But that wait yielded 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, a genre-defining work for a new Americana generation.

These days, Williams works at an altogether sharper pace – so much so that she attributes the wealth of music on her new Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone album to what she now views as a lengthy stretch of down time from recording.

“It’s been three years since Blessed (her previous record) and this album,” said Williams who returns to Lexington for a Sunday night performance at the Opera House. “That’s a good amount of time to come up with stuff.”

Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is the work of an artist that can now boast of being prolific. It’s a double-disc set of 20 songs, all but two of which are exclusively original works of love, loss, contentment, vengeance, heaven, hell – the works. But it’s not just a double album, it a magnum opus of a recording with a 1 ¾ hour running time

“We broke a few rules on this one, definitely,” Williams said. “There’s the whole double album thing, which people think is a little risky because you don’t know how it’s going to go over. A lot of the reason people kind of get nervous about double albums is there will be a handful of good songs on them and the rest of it might be filler. But every so often, you do have these great double albums that have worked, like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East.

“So that was the first rule we broke, the double album. Another was putting Compassion first, a solo acoustic song. Usually you put something like that at the end. I believe it was Greg Leisz (the pedal steel guitar stylist who co-produced Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone with Williams and husband Tom Overby) that suggested putting it first. Initially, I wasn’t sure about that. But it proved to be the right move because the song really grabs you”.

Compassion is different from any other song the songstress has cut because she uses a poem penned by her father, Miller Williams, as lyrics. The album title is also derived from the poem.

“What was difficult about it was just taking a poem and making it into a song. That in and of itself was hard, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. So I worked on it for a couple of days after all the other songs were done and managed to come up with something, and we cut it with just me on guitar. Initially, I was going to add some other stuff to it and make it into a Nick Drake kind of thing – you know, cello and all that to flesh it out. But I went in and demoed it with just my guitar. Greg and Tom both said, ‘Let’s just leave it like it is.’ So we did.”

At the other end of the record sits its only cover tune, a lovely reading of Magnolia, a 1972 song by the great Okie songsmith and guitarist J.J. Cale, who died last year. Williams’ version lingers for nearly 10 gorgeous minutes with an arrangement that culminates in a positively enchanted instrumental exchange between Leisz and guitar titan Bill Frisell

“The other rule we broke was the length of some of the songs,” Williams said. “I mean, I love great guitar playing on some of my favorite albums, like the early Allman Brothers stuff and all those extended jams. Like at the end of Magnolia, the way it just keeps going. That was another thing. There was a lot of spontaneity that went into this album. I think people can tell that.

“We found ourselves in Tulsa just afterr J.J. Cale passed away. He’s from there, so we ended up doing that song during the encore. I used to perform Magnolia back in the ‘70s and always loved it. It sounded so good that when we went to record this album, Tom said, ‘Let’s do that as a tribute to J.J. Cale.’ It’s just a great song.”

stuck in traffic

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dave mason. photo by chris jensen.

At the heart of the near 50 year career of Dave Mason – a remarkable run that has included collaborations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac in addition to a successful and extensive solo career – sits the sound of Traffic.

It was with the legendary British band that Mason’s musical teeth were cut. It was with that troupe, alongside fellow members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and the late Chris Wood that Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And it is the music of Traffic that the singer, guitarist and songsmith returned to this year for a concert program called Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.

On more of a Kentucky bend, the Traffic Jam tour will mark Mason’s first Central Kentucky performance since a 1978 performance at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. He performs Friday at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort.

“I look back on Traffic and regard it as one of the original alternative bands,” Mason said. “I didn’t start writing until Traffic started. There were a lot of diverse tastes in that band, which in the end led to me having to go solo. But during the time of it, I was 19 or 20 years old. When you’re that age, there is nothing really you can’t do.”

Mason cut two psychedelic albums with Traffic before the band initially disintegrated in 1969. A critically acclaimed 1970 solo album Alone Together followed interspersed with guest guitar work on such landmark records as Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet and Harrison’s All Thing Must Pass. Mason reteamed with Traffic for a small handful of 1971 concerts (chronicled on the live album Welcome to the Canteen), but quickly parted ways again to resume a solo career that would eventually yield the hit 1977 album, Let it Flow.

“The show is, I guess, kind of a condensed history of my music from Traffic all the way up to today.” Mason said. “It’s just a travelogue of my career.

“The show is in two parts. The Traffic set has a cool, reworked Dear Mr. Fantasy, (the title tune to Traffic’s 1967 debut album). You Can All Join In and Pearly Queen (the first two songs from the band’s self-titled 1968 sophomore recording) are in there. Then there are things like Medicated Goo (a December 1968 single that wound up on the 1969 compilation Last Exit). Mostly I’m sticking to stuff that was done when I was with the band, but I also worked up my own arrangement of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (from the 1972 album of the same name), even though that was not part of my time with Traffic. Usually, we take a break after that and come back to do stuff from Alone Together, Let It Flow and then some new stuff.”

The “new stuff” leans to Future’s Past, a 2014 recording fashioned very much along the lines of the Traffic Jam shows. There are new tunes (including Good 2 U and How Do I Get to Heaven) along with retooled Traffic and Alone Together songs.

“It’s more a collection of what I considered to be really cool sounding tracks,” Mason said. “I put them together in the hopes that people would enjoy it, obviously. But it’s also for people who maybe have never heard anything by me before. To a lot of them, all this music is going to be new.

“But to other audiences, there is a whole different scenario going on. I am part of the soundtrack of their lives. So a certain song will trigger certain memories for them on where they were, what they were doing. There are a lot of ways the music touches people on a very deep level that, to me, is very interesting.”

tales from the big emptiness

joe ely 2

joe ely.

He has shared international stages and recordings with the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Chieftains and Bruce Springsteen. But delve into the fascinating Americana music Joe Ely has made on his own over the last four decades and you will find all roads lead to Texas.

They might wind up in his birthplace of Amarillo, where Ely was introduced to the possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll. It could be Lubbock, where he discovered how the union of music and culture could transform a town. Then again, his music might take to his current home of Austin, or just outside of it as the veteran songsmith and champion roots rocker still describes himself, at age 67, as an upstart of sorts.

“I’m kind of a noisy neighbor,” said Ely, who performs a duo concert tonight with accordionist/keyboardist Joel Guzman at Natasha’s. “So I live outside of town a little bit. I had to find a spot where I didn’t have anybody within half a mile of me.”

Take in his recordings, from the Tex Mex pageantry of West Texas Waltz to the roadhouse rock and soul of Musta Notta Gotta Lotta to the proud folk balladry of Gallo del Cielo and you get an idea of how Ely could easily wake up the neighbors. But his love of music first took hold during childhood in the heart of a duststorm.

“One of the earliest memories I had of seeing rock ‘n’roll was going with my parents to a Pontiac dealership in a raging duststorm in Amarillo. This was before we moved to Lubbock. There was the stage with a madman wearing a bandana around his nose who was pounding on a piano. The wind was blowing so hard his microphone kept falling over. It was Jerry Lee Lewis. I just thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.”

Ely admitted live music was far from prevalent when his family relocated to Lubbock. Instead, he and soon-to-be singer-songwriter pals Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (who continue to perform together as The Flatlanders) absorbed the blues that came barreling through the airwaves via high wattage radio stations out of Mexico. The live music that did exist in Lubbock tended to indigenous and spontaneous.

“When I was growing up in West Texas, my daddy had a used clothing store,” Ely said. “On the weekends, the migrant workers would come in from the fields and buy work clothes. Lubbock would increase by 50,000 people when the cotton was ripe. All of the migrant workers brought their musical instruments and filled the streets, and what generally was old, drab downtown Lubbock all of a sudden was completely alive with trumpet players and accordions and (guitar-like) bajo sextos. It was really a great time.”

While Ely formed some of his first bands in Lubbock, it was the fertile music community of Austin that gave his music a lasting home. That helped forge an expansive career with a catalogue of roughly 20 albums (including the newly released B484, an archival record cut as a precursor to 1984’s synth-savvy Hi Res) and an increased visibility as both author (he recently published his first novel, Reverb) and visual artist.

“Everytime I start a new record these days, I tend to go back outside of Lubbock and just drive up and down those old two lane roads and seeing absolutely nothing in every direction. That’s somehow inspiring to me. I don’t know why.

“There is just this big emptiness that hits you when you get out of Lubbock. Look in every direction and there’s just flatness. There is something about that giant sky that makes me want to fill it up. I’ve had my ups and downs in the town itself. But that area…I just like that big emptiness.”

Joe Ely and Joel Guzman perform at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro. 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $20. Warren Byrom Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.

big mac

Ian McLagan by Jim Chapin

ian mclagan. photo by jim chapin.

The name he attaches to an extensive list of rock ‘n’ roll credentials, from founding membership in The Small Faces and The Faces to extensive work with The Rolling Stones to a reputation as one of the most jubilant keyboardists in the business, is Ian McLagan.

But to fans, contemporaries, protégés – everyone, really – he forever goes by a simple, endearing nickname: Mac. That’s the name the native Brit and transplanted Texan has happily answered to in a career that stretches back a half century.

“I’m the luckiest guy I know because I love what I do, and I can still do it,” said McLagan, 69. “People still come out just to hear the music, too. That’s a blessing, you know? What else am I going to do but play the piano and sing?”

McLagan’s performances Monday for the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour and Tuesday at Parlay Social will be his first Lexington performances promoting his own music. He will be accompanied both evenings by bassist Jon Notarthomas, a member of the keyboardist’s long running Bump Band, now based in Austin. But McLagan has played twice at Rupp Arena with two acts that have helped define his career – The Rolling Stones in December 1981 and Rod Stewart in October 1993.

The former performance was particularly telling as it paired McLagan with longtime Stones mentor and pianist Ian Stewart. The two shared similar tastes and inspirations. Stewart was a devotee of roots-driven piano music and boogie woogie. McLagan was fascinated by Muddy Waters blues records that featured pianist Otis Spann.

“Stu was a wonderful man,” McLagan said. “He had no ego at all. He wasn’t a showboater. I learned a lot from Stu just from watching him and listening to him.

“He would say to me sometimes, ‘I don’t understand what you’re doing. Your playing – it’s sounds right, but you do it strange.’ I said it was because I had no training. I had to fumble and figure it out for myself. Some things I do wrong, but I’ve got to get to the notes.”

The Stones figured heavily in McLagan’s performance education, as well – that, along with more informal serenading from within his family.

“It’s funny, my grandmother played the concertina. She was a fantastic player. She wasn’t a professional. She just happened to be brilliant. I think if there is any music to hit me from anywhere, that’s where it came from.

“But when I first started out, you just wanted to be inside of the music you heard. So when I saw the Stones play a little club in the West of London, I thought, ‘Okay, it’s possible.’ That encouraged a lot of young musicians in London to hear the Stones live, because they were a blues cover band back then. We thought, ‘Yeah, we love that music. Why can’t we do that?’”

The Stewart performance came on the heels of the singer’s 1993’s Unplugged… and Seated album. But his connection with McLagan goes back to the boozy rock and soul records the two cut with guitarist Ron Wood, bassist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenny Jones in the early ‘70s as The Faces (the band began in 1965 as the more pop-directed Small Faces with McLagan, Lane, Jones and soon-to-be Humble Pie chieftain Steve Marriott).

“Rod’s voice was just a delight to play under. But I worked as hard as I ever did with The Faces. My fingers would be battered, my nails would be broken. I would get these big blisters. The music brought a lot out of me. It was pretty physical.

“We’re talking about getting together again next year. Rod is real interested. Ronnie (Wood), Kenney and I are interested. It’s looking real positive (Ronnie Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997).”

“It’s ridiculous to think that 50-some years on I’m still doing this. I mean, I’ve never had a job. I’ve never had to go to work. I always had to go to fun.”

Ian McLagan and Jon Notarthomas perform Oct. 27 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour with Janiva Magness (6:45 p.m., $20) and 8 p.m. Oct. 28 at Parlay Social, 249 W. Short with Willie Eames (8 p.m.; $15, $20). Call (859) 252-8888 for the WoodSongs taping and (859) 244-1932 for the Parlay Social performance.

empty head space

Leo Color 2

the man behind the guitar: leo kottke.

The voice on the telephone belongs unmistakably to Leo Kottke. It’s a slow moving baritone that sounds alternately cautious, content and sleepy. None of those, of course, are the case. In conversation, he is open and alert, especially when it comes to explaining the often non-musical practices that have helped make him one of the most celebrated non-classical guitarists of the past 45 years.

But speaking from a hotel room in Cleveland, Kottke is greeting this Friday afternoon with unassuming hesitation.

How are you, Leo?

“Oh,” he offers as a groggy reply, followed by a lengthy pause. “About the same. There are these big power lines leading to some transformer station outside my window. It’s a glorious day.”
Droll? Dismissive? Perhaps. But if you have experienced Kottke in concert, such a remark would be almost expected. Mentored by the great folk-blues guitar stylist John Fahey, Kottke’s extraordinary fingerpicking on 6 and 12 string guitar is equal parts technique (with inspirations of folk, jazz, blues and even a fractured pop melody or two fighting for equal time) and instinct. But his performances have always been peppered with wryly hysterical stories that might seem like concert non sequiturs to some. Kottke admits that while his stories and musicianship are separate skills, both have always fed off each other onstage.

“The talking is independent of the music,” he said. “But without it, I don’t know what to play next. That’s why I open my mouth. I couldn’t look up for three years when I started playing. I used to get halfway through a set and realize that everything I wanted to play I had already played. But if I talked to the crowd, that doesn’t happen. There seems to be some way that talking to them organizes the set for me so that it follows a curve.

“The same thing applies to the guitar itself. Some nights I will have subjects that are familiar to me that will come up. But if I have an empty head, which is the requirement, they take turns, go places and develop in ways I do not expect. The nights that your head just won’t go blank are the nights that are difficult. You can get away with them and even have a good time, but there is a little bit of me that hangs around to drive the bus or something. But what is right is when you’re not there.”

Kottke added that having an “empty head” to trigger musical invention and possibility can never be planned for a performance.

“I suppose if performing sucked, I wouldn’t tell you. But it doesn’t suck. I don’t know why, but there’s more to it the longer you do it. It never, ever gets old.

“Emma Thompson did an interview to promote some movie she was in where she said artists are fundamentally inconsolable. That’s why they keep doing it. I’ve heard jazz guys say they play jazz because they didn’t want to play the same thing every night. Well, I’ve been trying to play the same thing every night for decades but it’s never happened. Every night is unlike every other night. I think that’s one of the reasons you keep going back.”

Helping enforce the notion that his music will never be overcome by sameness are plans for two new recording projects. That should result in the guitarist’s first albums in nearly a decade. The first continues an ongoing collaboration with Phish bassist Mike Gordon (the two have released two previous records), the other will be a trio session with violinist David Balakrishnan and cellist Mark Summer from the Turtle Island Quartet

“It’s always a surprise if somebody calls up and wants to pay you to come and play. But it suits who I have been as far back as my memory will go to be doing this. I can’t imagine anything that would fit better. And I will keep doing it until I can’t.”

Leo Kottke performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third. Tickets are $36.50. Call (859) 280-2218.

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