Archive for profiles

bring on the noise

bruce hornsby. photo by megan holmes.

He had led an all-star jazz trio, taken turns at bluegrass and collaborated with some of the most honored names in rock and pop. Shoot, the guy was even a member of the Grateful Dead.

But when it comes to the regal, piano-based music he makes on his own, Bruce Hornsby favors a setting where he can make serious noise. Hence, the Noisemakers, a band of diversely versed pop strategists that can match Hornsby’s virtuosic musicianship, play with a fearsome ensemble tightness and yet remain open to whatever spontaneous turns and jams that might emerge.

The Noisemakers – keyboardist J.T. Thomas, guitarist/mandolinist Doug Derryberry, saxophonist Bobby Read, bassist J.V. Collier and drummer Sonny Emory – are also the players that bring the multi-Grammy winning Hornsby back to Lexington for a Tuesday concert at the Opera House.

“The members of the Noisemakers are veterans, like me, of so many different types of gigs, from lounge gigs, frat parties with ropes to separate the dancers from the band, wedding receptions, bar mitzvahs, J-Lo, Was Not Was, biker bars, Earth, Wind & Fire, Mumford and Sons, Gladys Knight, Holiday Inns, Captain Beefheart, Brandi Carlile, on and on and on.

“They are very adept at moving from one style to another at the blink of an eye or wave of a hand – in this case, my hand. They watch me closely because they know I’m restless and often looking for something new to do within a song’s performance. Also, I try to ‘entertain the band’- to keep it loose, free and improvisational every night. This approach keeps it always fresh.”

Hornsby emerged as an expert pop songsmith when the singles “The Way It Is,” “Mandolin Rain” and “The Valley Road” made him a rock radio regular beginning in 1986. But his career has since traveled numerous stylistic paths his airwave-friendly music might not have forecasted, including two albums with Kentucky-born country/bluegrass giant Ricky Skaggs and an instrumental jazz record with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Jack DeJohnette.

“Jazz music, bluegrass music and lots of my own music have one thing in common- they’ve all been about virtuosity on the instrument. My style comes from a combination of these disparate stylistic elements and is often described as ‘Bill Evans meets the Hymnal, with some blues thrown in.’”

In 1991, Hornsby met up with one of his foremost musical inspirations, Leon Russell, to produce a comeback record for the elder artist titled ‘Anything Can Happen.’ But scan most any Hornsby record and you will likely find a song (like “Another Day” from 1990’s “A Night on the Town”) where the jubilant spirit of Russell, who died in November, beams.

“I thought I could do a pretty solid Leon imitation on the piano until I started working with him closely on the ‘Anything Can Happen’ record,” Hornsby said. “I saw that it was way deeper than I had thought. It was beautiful to actually be able to learn literally at the feet of the gospel/rock ‘n’ roll master. We were good friends for years, and I spoke at his memorial service in Tulsa last November. I’ll always miss him, very much like Garcia.”

“Garcia,” of course, was Jerry Garcia, the late guitarist of the Grateful Dead, which enlisted Hornsby as a touring member during the ‘90s. The connection was re-established in 2015 when he was asked to play as part of the Dead for a run of career-concluding concerts. The performances were chronicled on the concert CD/DVD, “Fare Thee Well.”

“The finality of these ‘last Dead concerts’ gave me a different sense of what was happening. I tried to savor certain special moments while they were happening, moments when things would really jell musically and the crowd would respond in that amazing Deadhead fashion. The ‘Fare Thee Well’ concerts were an unforgettable experience for me – such a great time playing with my old Dead cousins.”

Up next for Hornsby will be the completion of music for Spike Lee’s Netflix series based on his first movie, ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ (his ninth project with the filmmaker) and a record of new songs composed for orchestra.

“(It) may be the most original thing I’ve done,” Hornsby said of the latter project. “Or it may not be. But at the very least it’s surely the most dissonant and harmonically adventurous music I’ve made. So yes, I’m in a very fertile, creative place with regard to new music and musical areas to explore.”

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers perform at 7:30 p.m. June 27 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short. Tickets: $75.50. Call: 800-745-3000, 859-233-3535 or go to     ticketmaster.com.

lonesome ruhks

Band of Ruhks: Kenny Smith, Ronnie Bowman and Don Rigsby.

It’s been quite some time since Ronnie Bowman, Kenny Smith and Don Rigsby have been this Lonesome.

As the foundation of the contemporary bluegrass troupe Band of Ruhks, the three established their far reaching musical profiles as bassist, guitarist and mandolinist, respectively, with the Lonesome River Band. All three departed in 2001, after solidifying the group’s mighty instrumental drive alongside banjoist Sammy Shelor and, in the process, fortifying a level of popularity carried on by subsequent versions of the band.

But the chemistry between Bowman, Smith, and Rigsby was never forgotten as the three established separate careers. Band of Ruhks rekindles it completely. While its self-titled 2015 debut album hardly ignores tradition, as shown by a vocal cameo by the late bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley on “Coal Mining Man,” the record regularly extends its reach to more contemporary country and Americana inspirations.

“We’re a bluegrass band with traditional sensibilities but are forward leaning,” said Isonville native Rigsby, who served as the inaugural director of Morehead State University’s Kentucky Center for Traditional Music for eight years following his exit from the Lonesome River Band.

“We definitely pay respect and revere the old guys. I mean, shoot, we had Ralph on the last album. But it’s one of these deals where we know we can’t beat the guys who have already done this, so we’re going to do our own thing. When I play with these guys, I think that I’m with some of the best musicians on the planet. There is nobody who can sing better than Ronnie Bowman. There is nobody who can play guitar better than Kenny Smith.”

The three reteamed with Shelor for a one-off reunion of their Lonesome River Band roster in 2010. But with Shelor still committed full time to the group’s present lineup, Bowman, Smith and Rigsby worked with a succession of other banjoists to form Band of Ruhks. Its current enlistee is Brian Fesler, who preceded Shelor, Bowman, Smith and Rigsby in the Lonesome River Band.

“When the three of us were all in the Lonesome River Band together, we knew we could make great music and get along because we did so for years,” Rigsby said. “But at the same time, everybody kind of gets in a spot where they feel they need to explore more, so we all went our separate ways. Ronnie became quite a well known songwriter (he has penned chart-topping songs for Kenny Chesney and Brooks & Dunn, among others), Kenny went on to teaching and did great records with his wife Amanda. I went into the education field and had my own band together. There were growth opportunities for all of us.

“But when I was getting ready to leave my job at the university, I had been kind of itching to play with the guys again, so I contacted all of my bandmates for a Lonesome River Band reunion. We only did one concert because Sammy already had his Lonesome River Band lineup going since we had all been gone. We talked about doing some more dates, but I think it got to the point where Sammy felt like it might be counterproductive to have two Lonesome River Bands out there. Still, Kenny, Ronnie and me decided there was a lot of great music left for us to make together.”

A sophomore Band of Ruhks album, the group’s first with Fesler on board, is in the planning stages. Before that will be considerable summer touring. When off the road, Rigsby calls Sandy Hook, just a few miles from Isonville, home.

“They couldn’t run me off if they tried,” he said. “Even if they did, I’d just wind up back there in Elliott County. It’s good because they keep you humble there. They don’t want you to get too big. They like to keep you anonymity. I kind of like that anonymity, too.

“It’s nice to be able to go out and hear someone say, ‘Hey, there’s ol’ Don. He’s no big deal.’”

Band of Ruhks performs at 5 and 8 p.m. on June 10 as part of the Festival of the Bluegrass at the  Kentucky Horse Park Campground. The festival runs through June 11. Tickets are $10 (June 11 only), $50 (June 9 only), $55 (June 10 only). Call: 859-253-0806 or go to festivalofthebluegrass.com.

the lowdown from hammertowne

Hammmertowne. Top row: Scott Tackett, Bryan Russell, Dave Carroll; Bottom row: Caston Carroll, Brent Pack. Photo by Allison Pack.

The name is a little tricky – Hammertowne. Dave Carroll says it’s derived from the kind of aggressive, rhythmic bluegrass music his band fell in line with.

“We’re traditional in terms of the pace of our music and the type of music we prefer, but we’re also kind of edgy in how we play. We’re high energy and kind of like to hammer down onstage. That’s where our name came from.”

But then there is the town aspect of Hammertowne, which performs Friday as the Festival of the Bluegrass gets into full gear at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground. That could be seen as a reference to the variety of Eastern Kentucky communities the band’s members hail from. Guitarist Carroll lives in Johnson County (specifically, Flat Gap) but is a native of Ashland, which is where his son, Hammertowne mandolinist Chaston Carroll, now resides. Bassist Bryan Russell makes his home in Magoffin County, just outside of Salyersville. Banjoist Brent Pack is from Louisa and lead vocalist Scott Tackett lives in Olive Hill.

“We describe our origin as Eastern Kentucky,” Carroll said. “That’s the best way it works for us. We all live within about an 80 mile radius of each other.

“For me, music was just part of my life growing up in that area. I actually didn’t start playing music until I got out of high school. I have a relative who is very well known throughout Central and Eastern Kentucky, an old time fiddle player by the name of Marvin Carroll. I remember when Marvin was playing with a band in a local community center. I went out and saw him one night and the bug bit me hard. From that point, I was determined to play and sing. I got me a guitar which has encompassed a whole lot of my life ever since.”

Hammertowne got its start when Tackett, weary of his previous bluegrass band, set out to make a solo record with Carroll’s help. Once the record, titled “Looking Back,” was completed, the two took on concert dates initially booked for Tackett’s previous band. Friends soon joined and what was once a solo endeavor became Hammertowne. The band’s third album, “Hillbilly Heroes,” is set for release on June 30.

“Folks in the industry will tell you how, most of the time, bands don’t last to the third album,” Carroll said “The third album is kind of the bar setter. I’m more excited about this record than any project I’ve ever been a part of. We’ve got, I think, really great songs to work with.”

Carroll knows his way around a good song, too. His compositions have been recorded and popularized by, among many others, two longtime headliners at the Festival of the Bluegrass – the Lonesome River Band (which tops Thursday’s abbreviated bill) and Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out (which leads the Friday lineup).

While a few of the Hammertowne members have played the Festival of the Bluegrass previously in other groups, Carroll hasn’t. Like many, though, he has been a patron.

“I attended that festival for the first time in 1985, when it was still at Masterson Station Park, but haven’t been back since it moved to the Horse Park. Still, it’s one of those great festivals, like Bill Monroe’s festival in Bean Blossom, Indiana, which we got to play last year (and will again next week).

“A lot of people don’t realize this, but 2017 is only our fourth year as a touring band. When you look at the tradition of the Festival of the Bluegrass and the bands that have come across the stage… I mean, we could not be any more excited. This is one of those bucket list festivals. It was on our list, certainly, when we first formed this group. We were so thrilled to find out that we made the bill, so we’re super excited to be there this year.”

The Festival of the Bluegrass runs June 9 through June 11 at the Kentucky Horse Park Campground. Hammertowne performs at 2 and 7 p.m. June 9. Tickets: $10 (June 11 only), $50 (June 9 only), $55 (June 10 only); $100-$115 (entire festival). Call: 859-253-0806 or go to  festivalofthebluegrass.com.

jim lauderdale hits a new lowe

jim lauderdale.

Perhaps one of the least likely stylistic destinations for a songsmith so celebrated in Americana and country circles as Jim Lauderdale would be British pop. After all, over the past three decades, his songs – many possessing a strong, traditional country air – have been recorded by George Strait, Vince Gill and Kentucky’s own Patty Loveless, among many others. He has also collaborated on full album projects with the likes of bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley and Americana chieftain Buddy Miller.

But dig deep into Lauderdale’s very deep satchel of musical influences and you will discover a love for the kind of pop songcraft that began, not surprisingly, with The Beatles and runs through to the comparatively modern British musings of Nick Lowe. The former inspiration more than once fuels tunes from Lauderdale’s upcoming “London Southern” album, but it’s Lowe’s crew – specifically, his producer and several longtime band members – that help realize the album’s broader musical scope.

“Really, a lot of this record is heavily Beatles influenced,” said Lauderdale, who returns to Lexington for a solo concert tonight at Willie’s Locally Known. “That’s especially true of the early Beatles (as evidenced by the hullabaloo spirit of such “London Southern” songs as “No Right Way to Be Wrong”). That was kind of where I was coming from in a lot of ways with this. It was a combination of going back to their roots and going back to my roots. The Beatles were part of my roots since I was, like, six, having seen them on Ed Sullivan first. So a lot of that stuff has been in my system for years. They were so influenced by American music and we were so influenced by them back.”

That explains how the opening tune to “London Southern” better reflects the spirit of vintage George Jones than British pop. By the time “Only So Much Time” cues up, though, the country sound turns more progressive, as if it were an outtake from Bob Dylan’s classic 1969 country-inspired album, “Nashville Skyline.” One of the key elements to this cross-continental sound is the subtle keyboard orchestration of Geraint Watkins, a long time member of Lowe’s band.

“Geraint Watkins is a real master,” Lauderdale said. “That’s all him and Neil (Brockbank, veteran Lowe producer). A lot of that stuff we just had to trust and let it be different from the other records I’ve made. Sometimes it was hard for me to let go and not second guess things. But I’m glad I let them do what they wanted to do and needed to do.”

With several members of Lowe’s band and production team on hand for “London Southern,” one has to wonder why Lowe himself wasn’t part of the party.

“Originally, Nick was going to co-produce the record,” Lauderdale said. “The problem was that he really needed the songs several weeks in advance and I didn’t have them. And I totally understand. The way I make records when I co-produce is so chaotic.  For better or for worse, I have a habit of writing under tremendous pressure. That’s just the way it sometimes turns out. But he’s of the school, logically and understandably, of needing songs in advance to plan things out and to think about doing parts, instead of just working off the cuff.”

Once completed, another query surfaced for “London Southern” – namely, finding the right time to release it. An insanely prolific artist, Lauderdale recorded the album almost three years ago, releasing a total of six other recordings in its wake. Among them were bluegrass projects, a solo acoustic record, a country album, collaborative works with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and the North Mississippi All-Stars and more. That truckload of music may have delayed the release of “London Southern,” but it never lessened the feeling of artistic camaraderie and exploration Lauderdale experienced working with his British allies.

“I felt like we had a connection,” he said. “I was slightly nervous about working with this new group. I wasn’t nervous that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, and if they would like the material. But I think that we had a connection musically because we really shared the influences.”

Jim Lauderdale performs at 9 tonight at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Dr. Tickets: $17. Call 859-281-1116 or go to willieslocallyknown.com.

elizabeth cook doesn’t hold back

elizabeth cook.

Elizabeth Cook has never been one to hold back – not in the frank tales she revealed of her life and family during numerous appearances on “The Late Show with David Letterman,” not in the homey yarns she spun on her Sirius XM morning radio show “Apron Strings” and especially not on her soul-baring 2016 album “Exodus of Venus.”

A critically lauded country music renegade who is right at home channeling a subversive rock or folk inspiration if the spirit hits, Cook sees no point in hiding any personal truth, dark or otherwise, from anyone willing to give her songs a listen.

“I’m very forthcoming musically,” said Cook, who returns to town for a solo concert Thursday at The Burl. “That’s kind of the whole point. I just don’t see where I’m doing any service with my artistry if I’m holding back. We’re all here to comfort each other through our experiences and gain a deeper understanding. I mean, it’s sort of my job.”

Cook takes her work quite seriously on “Exodus of Venus,” an album cut in the aftermath of myriad personal hurdles – divorce, the deaths of family members, a family home burning down and a stint in rehab. The effects of each are worn like battle scars in a parade of proud, coarse electric songs whose titles do little to mask their sentiments – “Slow Pain,” “Straightjacket Love,” “Dyin’” and “Methadone Blues” – before the album concludes with a meditation of pure country anguish, “Tabitha Tuder’s Mama” that recalls, vocally and stylistically, Emmylou Harris’s finest work.

“If I’m any good at this, it’s because what I do is instinctive and it’s instinctive because I’m going down a rabbit hole for myself. Hopefully, that becomes relatable on the other side to other people. It’s absolutely and totally cathartic. I listen to it and I’m surprised by it. I found a lot of it to also be prophetic in things that played out since those songs were written and recorded. So it’s, first and foremost, self-serving.”

“Exodus of Venus” serves as a dynamic addition to a career that has clocked literally hundreds of performances on the Grand Ole Opry, collaborations with such Americana heroes as John Prine, Jason Isbell and Steve Earle and a 2012 trio performance here in Lexington with Midnight Oil mainstay Bones Hilman as her bassist (a show notable for, among other things, concluding not with a perhaps expected classic country cover but a lullaby-like reading of the Velvet Underground’s “Sunday Morning”).

But it was Letterman that proved one of Cook’s greatest supporters. Taken by unvarnished and very human stories about, among other subjects, her moonshine running father and his eventual incarceration, the comedian and talk host invited Cook back on “The Late Show” numerous times prior to his retirement in 2015.

“That was really cool and encouraging, but also very surprising to me,” Cook said. “It was very out of the blue. I was pretty shocked, especially at first. I couldn’t understand why I being put in that position of being asked questions and stuff. But I later became very humbled by it and, I guess, flattered by his attention about how he felt connected to me when he listened to me on the radio. I really think he wanted to introduce me to a wider audience.”

When asked about the influences that went into her country-conscious songs, Cook doesn’t point to a specific artist or recording. Her gateway into the world of songwriting and performance began at home.

“I had grown up with my mother and father being musical, watching them having a band and seeing how music was just a way of life for them and probably their greatest comfort and outlet for joy and solace. I think, by tradition, it became all that to me, too.

“So when I had an opportunity to start mining out what I would be doing for a living in that direction, it wasn’t so much that I saw the Beatles on ‘Ed Sullivan’ like Tom Petty did. I didn’t have that type of moment. For me, it was about coming up in an environment that was saturated by people directly around me making music all the time.”

Elizabeth Cook, Darrin Bradbury and Maggie Lander perform at 8 p.m. May 4 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. Tickets: $12. Call 859-447-8166 or go to burlky.ticketfly.com.

the whole oates

john oates.

In the introduction to his forthcoming memoir “Change of Seasons,” pop-soul celebrity John Oates states his mission succinctly – to tell both his personal story as well as that of his remarkable 45 year friendship and artistic alliance with Daryl Hall.

“Daryl has his own unique and powerful story,” Oates writes. “One day he may choose to share it… or maybe not. But until then, I can only offer my own story.”

That is exactly what Oates does over the course of 400 pages in an immensely readable chronicle that traces not only a storied pop career but also an absorbing personal saga that runs from a childhood spent outside of Philadelphia to recent time in Nashville with renewed emphasis on a solo career. There are personal lows (divorce, financial devastation) and highs (the birth of his son) and an unexpectedly moving chapter devoted to his dog. It is the story of an especially full and prolific life, one Oates is eager to share. He will do so, ahead of a spring book tour, with a performance and reading for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday at the Lyric Theatre.

“You know, I’ve kind of had an interesting life,” Oates said. “Obviously, people know me for the pop success I’ve had with Daryl. I understand that, but at the same time, I’ve done a lot of other things people aren’t so familiar with. So it was a chance for me to tell my story.

“One of the biggest challenges was, ‘How do I tell my personal story without it being the Hall and Oates Story, which has been so much a part of my outer life. So it really was an interesting challenge to weave my own personal story and at the same time not ignore the fact that I spent my whole adult life in this incredible musical partnership.”

The idea for “Change of Seasons” began through a series of interviews conducted with author and journalist Chris Epting, even though Oates’s own passion for writing has never been limited to music.

“I’ve always looked at myself as a writer,” he said. “I was a journalism graduate from Temple University and I’ve always known I would write a book. I just didn’t know it was going to be a memoir. But I’ve always written prose alongside the music I’ve made.”

Still, there is little denying the enormous level of stardom Oates achieved with Hall. In one of the most engaging chapters of “Change of Seasons,” Oates outlines the many artistic riches that came the duo’s way in 1985 – specifically, a mammoth tour supporting its “Big Bam Boom” album, an acclaimed performance at the Apollo Theatre with Motown legends David Ruffin and Eddie Kendrick (chronicled on a subsequent live recording) and participation in the iconic Live Aid benefit and charity single “We Are the World.” In the aftermath, citing “there was no place to go but down at that point,” Hall and Oates turned the hit machine off and went on hiatus.

“If you really want to isolate that episode, it becomes really symbolic of who I am as a person and who Daryl is,” Oates said “I don’t think people ever really knew we were very private people even though we were so commercially successful. We’re people who really care about our own personal integrity. Even though the pop songs and the stupid MTV videos – well, the silly MTV videos – kind of gave it this lighter than air quality, the reality was we were very committed and very dedicated to what we were doing. Every decision we ever made was based on what would allow us to keep making music for the rest of our lives, whether it was successful on a grand scale or a small scale. It didn’t matter to us.

“That scene, where we stepped back from this immense commercial success in 1985, was not the smartest thing to do from a commercial point of view, a business point of view or a monetary point of view. But it didn’t matter because we made a conscious decision to make sure we could somehow sustain this on one level or another. And that’s what we’ve done.”

John Oates and John Michael Montgomery perform for the WoodSongs Old Time Radio Hour on 6:30 p.m. March 6 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third. Tickets: $25. Call 859-280-2218 or go to lexingtonlyric.tix.com.

cruising with lake street dive

lake street dive: mike olson, rachael price, bridget kinney and mike calabrese. photo by danny clinch.

You can have the best players, the sharpest singers and the keenest songs. The members of Lake Street Dive can attest, as they are in clear possession of all that. But in the end, nothing really matters if the band chemistry isn’t there.

For the Boston bred quartet, an underlying friendship not only formed the foundation of a buoyantly infectious sound rooted in pop, rock and soul essentials. It has also grounded Lake Street Dive as it worked its way from dingy bars (like the one in Minneapolis the band is named for) to prestigious concert halls around the world.

“Yeah, we were friends long before we were any good at making music together,” said Rachael Price, whose commanding vocal presence is the catalyst of Lake Street Dive’s huge, celebratory sound. “The friendship was what actually propelled us forward because we got along so well.

“I mean, we have generally always enjoyed each other’s individual musicianship and what each of us brought to the table. But it takes a lot to figure out how all those elements work together. The chemistry among us personally has always been really, really stellar. There has always been a familial vibe between us. It’s been that way since the beginning, really, and has only gotten stronger. But we’ve worked on that, too.

“It felt sometimes like we were spending more time as business partners that we were on our friendships. That when we decided, ‘Let’s make sure we’re honoring our friendships as well as what we can do to keep this whole operation running.”

Though Lake Street Dive came together in 2004 while Price, bassist Bridget Kearney, guitarist and trumpeter Mike Olson and drummer Mike Calabrese were attending the New England Conservatory of Music, an ensemble commitment to working as a full time troupe came much later.

“We’ve been a band for 12 years but have been a serious, working band for about four,” Price said. “Only a couple of years before that could we have said, ‘Yes, we have a sound.’ Prior to that, it was complete exploration. I mean, we still don’t know exactly the type music that we play. But it was, like, this really weird exploration for the first handful of years. We were just throwing darts at the musical board and trying anything.

“No one was writing songs in a specific way. No one was playing in a specific way. There was just a love of The Beatles and Motown and music from that time. That was what started gearing us in that direction and applying the treatment of that type of music to the songs we were writing.”

Among the first signs of national infatuation was a 2012 youtube video of the band gathered around a single street corner microphone singing a decidedly bluesy version of the Jackson 5 hit “I Want You Back.” A year later the band was at New York’s Town Hall performing as part as the all-star, T Bone Burnett-curated “Another Day, Another Time” concert. Criticial acclaim began to pour in with the release of 2014’s “Bad Self Portraits” album and the rigorous touring and plentiful television exposure that followed. The Dave Cobb-produced “Side Pony” album solidified Lake Street Dive’s star status in 2016 as both a recording and touring act.

“For me, singing is one the purest forms of artistic expression,” Price said. “I don’t play an instrument with any proficiency, but I think singing is a very, very quick and direct way to the human heart. For me, personally, it’s also the most direct way to reflect what my own feelings are. I’ve always felt the most like myself and at the most peace with myself when I’m singing. Sometimes, I might be, ‘I don’t know what I feel.’ But if I’m singing, that’s like how I want things to be.

“I started singing when I was pretty young and fell in love with jazz – specifically, Ella Fitzgerald. This was when I was five or six. I would listen to her constantly and copied everything she did. That set me on a path of doing that with a lot of singers. Then I got heavily into soul music. Honestly, even at five, I’m pretty sure I would have told you, ‘I’m just going to be a singer.’ That’s all I ever wanted to do.”

Lake Street Dive performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 28 at Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester. Tickets are $20 in advance, $23 day of show. Call 859-537-7321 or go to ticketfly.com.

back into the blues game

lil’ john burton. photo by timothy duffy.

The mission of the Music Maker Relief Foundation has long been to preserve the blues-roots traditions of the South. That includes assisting the musicians from the region that have helped cultivate those sounds through the decades.

Trombonist Lil’ John Burton, who doubles as emcee for the long-running Music Maker Blues Revue, is among those artists even though he hails from an entirely different Southern region – specifically, the Southside of Chicago. But it was a lifelong pursuit, even when playing with blues icons like Junior Wells and B.B. King, to head to the real South where the blues, and Music Maker, took root.

“I came up in the projects in Chicago, so it was a little rough,” said Burton, who will perform with the Music Maker Blues Revue tonight at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville. “The idea was to get the hell out of there. So my mother had me play the horn as a deterrent, to be out of the gangs.

“Because I was a little kid then, when I got out of school, I would take the horn and go to the candy store. I’d be playing for my schoolmates and the candy man would give me candy for pay. I thought, ‘Oh, wow.’ Then as I got older and older, the candy turned to money. After that, I never looked back.”

Upon relocating to Atlanta nearly 20 years ago, Burton teamed with Music Maker, the North Carolina-based organization whose intent on enforcing Southern blues tradition meant locating a generation of musicians whose careers – and, quite often, lives – had been forgotten.

“They give everybody a platform when they wouldn’t normally have one,” Burton said. “Some of the musicians have fallen on bad times and haven’t recorded in years. Music Maker gives them the opportunity to, as they say, get back into the game.”

That involved the formation of the Music Maker Blues Revue, a rotating lineup of players whose credits includes tenure with Ray Charles, Clarence Carter, Bo Diddley and many others. The ensemble has given Music Maker its most visible performance presence outside of the South. The organization has also undertaken ways of financially assisting these players in day-to-day needs, from assisting with healthcare to helping with housing and basic transportation. For Burton, that meant helping cover the costs of hip replacement surgery.

“Yes, they did. Yes, they surely did. We’re looking out for a friend of ours now. His name is Eddie Tigner. He’s been with Music Maker quite a long time and is 90 years old. He was supposed to come to Kentucky with us, but he’s not able to because of an illness that keeps him from traveling. But he’s one of the superstars of Music Maker (Tigner’s diverse resume runs from work with blues pioneer Elmore James to the vintage vocal group The Ink Spots). He’s here in Atlanta now, so Music Maker takes good care of him. Everybody is looked after at Music Maker. Everybody.”

As emcee of the Revue as well as one of its performing members, Burton takes pride of introducing his fellow blues journeymen to audiences throughout the United States and Europe.

“I love having that responsibility because I do feel like I’m guiding the train. It’s wonderful to introduce these great, great musicians each night. It’s an honor and a privilege. I get such a thrill out of introducing them and then listening to them just explode like they do onstage.

“It’s a pleasure because these Music Maker artists are phenomenal. They didn’t just get to this point. They have years and years of experience and all have real kind hearts. They’re all really beautiful people, so we have a good time together. We’re like a big family.”

The Music Maker Blues Revue performs at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets: $20-$28. Call 877-448-7469, 859-236-4692 or go to nortoncenter.com.

hal ketchum: country dreamer

hal ketchum. photo by john lacker.

Songs aren’t always finite things to Hal Ketchum. A major presence on country radio during the 1990s through hits like “Small Town Saturday Night,” “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” and “Mama Knows the Highway,” he says his compositions don’t always come from real world inspirations – or even the real world, for that matter.

“Sometimes, I dream these things,” said Ketchum, who performs Thursday at Willie’s Locally Known. “They literally just come in a dream form, but it’s been really, really fantastic to explore the options. At the same time, there is no such thing as a song that’s finished. They can take a while to write but the more you play them, the more you’ve just got to let them go.”

Today, Ketchum operates outside of country music convention as an indie artist whose music gains as much admiration from Americana audiences as the Nashville mainstream. Similarly, his itinerary isn’t of full band concerts. The bulk of his touring schedule, including his Lexington performance, leans to stripped down duo presentations with longtime guitarist Kenny Grimes

“I used to travel with a full band and it just wasn’t very cost effective. So it’s really nice to do this with Kenny. He’s my best friend. We’ve been doing this for 35 years. Working with him has just been fantastic.”

Ketchum does have a new album to showcase titled “I’m the Troubadour.” But the big news isn’t so much that the record is his first full studio work since 2008 or his first release after a 17 year alliance with Curb Records. No, the headline here is that there is new music from Ketchum at all.

Following the release of 2008’s “Father Time” album, Ketchum was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, a spinal cord inflammation that brought paralysis and a near end to any kind of career.

“I was paralyzed from the neck down,” he said. “I was blind. So I moved to New Mexico, to Santa Fe. I rented a little adobe casita and just had to really work everything out. I had no feeling in my arms, so I had to learn to play guitar again. It was pretty tough for awhile.

“But I’m like the Black Knight,” he said, alluding to the character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” whose loses both legs and arms in a battle but refuses to concede defeat. “It was only a flesh wound.”

Today, Ketchum resides again in the Hill Country of Texas. A native of Greenwich, New York, he moved to the Austin region in the early ‘80s before his escalating career took him to Nashville the following decade.

“I grew up in upstate New York, so I’m a Yankee by birth but a Texan by choice,” Ketchum said. “Today, I live in paradise. This place we bought – five acres on a hill in Comal County… I mean, the sunrises and the sunsets here are all just absolutely magical. I feel really happy.”

Musical lifetimes spent in Texas and Tennessee might suggest Ketchum’s prime musical inspirations hailed from the world of country music. He is quick to point out otherwise.

“I have three musical heroes – Van Morrison, Van Morrison and Van Morrison. He’s truly the most creative man I’ve ever met.

“I got to do a show with him. We were playing Dublin one time in a pub and it was absolutely incredible. When I was soundchecking, I was playing ‘I Miss My Mary’ (an original composition from Ketchum’s 1991 album “Past the Point of Rescue”) and he just stood there and listened. He’s a very engaging guy. He said, ‘Did you write that song?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I did.’ We got along so well. It was fascinating. He’s absolutely my hero.”

Though he is proud of his hitmaking career, Ketchum said he feels little kinship to the country music emanating from Nashville today.

“I think it’s pretty much a wasteland. It’s just a bunch of tailwagging. I sound like a crotchety old man, I know, but I’m not impressed with it at all.

“But I still feel very creative and very much alive with what I’m doing. I just celebrated 25 years of being a member of the Grand Ole Opry, so I’m just very blessed to be doing what I do for a living. It’s all good, man.”

Hal Ketchum performs at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Drive. Tickets: $30. Call 859-281-1116 or go to willieslocallyknown.com.

a solo shade of moody blue

justin hayward.

Ever since the strains of “Nights in White Satin” defined the progressive sound of late night radio a half century ago, the pop world has known the name Justin Hayward. More generally, they knew he helped establish The Moody Blues. But it was Hayward’s voice, guitar and pen that summoned many of the group’s other established works, including, “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Lovely to See You,” “The Story in Your Eyes” and many others.

But here’s a fact even some of the Moodys’ most ardent fans don’t know. For 40 of Hayward’s 50 years with the group, he has also maintained a solo career, focusing on tunes that are lighter in tone and more personal in narrative.

“In the early days, I did hold some songs back that I didn’t think were kind of appropriate or a decent fit for the Moodys,” said Hayward, who makes his first Lexington appearance since 1994 on Tuesday at the Opera House. “It’s okay being personal, but sometimes it’s good to be… well, not deliberately obscure, but working in a place where you try and make a song more about a general emotion instead of a specific one. There are a couple of things on this tour that I probably held back from recording with the Moodys because they were a bit too me-me-me and not us-us-us.”

That’s not to say Hayward tucks the familiar Moody Blues tunes in a closet when he tours on his own. In fact, the repertoire this winter is being split between his vintage hits and solo career songs, many of which have been compiled on a new Hayward anthology recording called “All the Way.”

“It was a bit daunting, to be quite honest,” Hayward said of his solo career’s launch with the 1977 album “Songwriter.” “The people I met during that time were very precious to me. The musicians I worked with are still my friends today. It was kind of scary, but there was so much good will that I found. I didn’t find the world saying, ‘When are the Moodys going to get back together?’ I found a world that was welcoming to me and people that said, ‘I’ve just always liked your songs.’ It was as simple as that.”

The mix of Moody Blues and solo material at Tuesday’s show will play out not in a band setting, but in a trio configuration that will team Hayward with British guitarist Mike Dawes (who will also open the concert) and keyboardist/vocalist Julie Ragins.

“With this band, you can hear every nuance of the sound. I get a chance to bring my acoustic guitars, the ones that were used the records. It’s a little bit more like the original recordings, in some ways – particularly the early recordings where (producer) Tony Clarke and (engineer) Derek Varnals would put the acoustic guitar much further forward and the drums further back in the mix. The acoustic guitar and the mellotron often led the Moodys’ early recordings. It’s a little bit more like that.

“I mean, I’m very lucky to still have the Moodys. I love every moment of it. But this tour, without that volume, is like being in my music room, like being with friends. That’s how these songs were written, including the parts that I put on all my original demos. It’s how they originally sounded. It’s how the songs were born.”

So what drives Hayward in 2017? He turned 70 in October and still maintains a hearty touring schedule of solo dates and Moody Blues shows. What keeps his performance attitude so full of vigor?

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? There are some things I don’t have to deal with that others might. I don’t have to deal with celebrity. I don’t have to deal with paparazzi or that kind of stuff. I’m spared that. I can be just the guy walking down the street. But these songs, a lot of them mean something in peoples’ lives just as songs of other artists do in mine. And, really, what else would I do?

“My daughter tells me, ‘Look, you have a lovely house. You love reading books, why don’t we go there and just read books for the rest of our lives?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a nice idea. And? What about this other thing I have to do?”

Justin Hayward withMike Dawes perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Tickets: $55.50, $65.50. Call 800-745-3000, 859-233-3535 or go ticketmaster.com.

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