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Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Legendary musician John Mayall to perform in Chicago next month

Photo by Jeff Fasano

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

As the Godfather of British Blues, John Mayall has provided guidance to countless musicians over the years, including Eric Clapton and Jack Bruce.

The 82-year-old continues to tour and on Sept. 30 will perform at City Winery, 1200 W. Randolph St., Chicago. The show, which starts at 8 p.m., is sold out.

I had the chance to talk to Mayall about his esteemed career.
 
Q - In May, you were inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Did you ever think that would happen to you when you were starting out in the music business?

I don't think people think that far ahead. You just put one foot in front of the other, and then pursue your career. 

Q - How does it feel to be inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame? Are there a lot of people in the Blues Hall of Fame you admire?


It's very nice, very nice. Yes, of course. I think it all helps.

Q - For the longest time, you have been called the "Godfather of British Blues." How do you feel about that title?

I have no control over that whatsover. It's just part of my history. I've been around so long, you don't pay attention to it.

Q - Last year, you released the album "Find a Way to Care." Your producer, Eric Corne, really wanted to feature your keyboard playing on the album. How do you think the album turned out?


I'm very proud of it. Working with Eric is a very good collaboration, because he knows all the technical stuff.

He's a good friend, and just very easy to get along with. He doesn't interfere with what we're doing. He just captures what we play.

Q - What were your goals for the album? Do you think it documented where you were at musically?

When you put out an album, you want to put out something that's your latest work. That's the goal, to capture it. That's what albums do, show what you up to musically at any given time.


Q - Which do you prefer, being in the studio or on stage? Or do you need both in your life?

Well, they are both very different from each other. If you are in the studio, you get to shape something that is going to stand the test of time and be a complete piece.


When you are playing live, you are communicating with the audience. There's a lot of give and take with the audience.

They are two different things, but the main thing is to get what you're playing across to the audience.

Q - In 2008, you announced that you were going to disband the Bluesbreakers.  Have you ever regretted that decision?


No, no. It's just a name.  That particular lineup of the Bluesbreakers was together for 15 years or so and it had run its course.

It was back to starting up with a new band. The Bluesbreakers name got retired. It's been a very happy relationship with [drummer] Jay Davenport, [bassist] Greg Rzab, and [guitarist] Rocky Athas.

Q - I know that Greg and Jay are from Chicago. How did you connect with them?

I've worked with Greg before, and I asked him to choose a drummer he works comfortably with. He picked Jay, so I took him on his word.

And it's proved to be a very happy relationship.

Q - What are you working on now? 

We're on the road now, but the new album will be released I think in January.

The name of the next album is called "Talk About That."

Q - What should people expect from the album?

It's more fireworks from my current band. I've written most of the songs on it, which is kind of different from the last one.

Q - Do you prefer writing your own songs versus covering other people's songs?

It doesn't matter. If I have an idea for a song, I'm obviously going to put it down on a record.

If a feel a song by a certain musician is appropriate to my playing, then I include those too.

It's whatever works best.

Q - And you put your own stamp on those?

Yes, absolutely. There is no question. I don't believe in copying them. My personality always has to come through.

Q - I know you were drawn to the blues by listening to musicians like Leadbelly and Pinetop Smith. What did you want to do after hearing them?

I never thought of it in terms of a career. I loved the music, and I started to play it.


I put together local bands, but I never thought it would be a career.

Q - What drew you to the blues in the first place?

You can't explain it. You go with your instincts.

Q - The Bluesbreakers had various musicians in them, and some of them went on to even bigger fame, such as Eric Clapton. Did you ever think that he would get to be as big as he has?

No, you have no idea really. You hire musicians because of what they play and that you think that they are really great.


Where it goes from there, no one can tell. It is gratifying to know that most of the musicians I've chosen have gone on to really successful careers. 

Q - Do you kind of feel like you've been a mentor to some of these musicians?

I guess so. You supply the groundwork from which they grow.

Q - Of course, the music business has drastically changed since you started in the business. Do you think the music business is better or worse than when you first started?

Well, I can't judge things like that. All I know is that the blues is very much alive and well.

As long as that goes on and continues, then I'm very happy with it. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Inspired by June Carter Cash, Chicago actress and musician Cory Goodrich releases new album



By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
Playing June Carter Cash in the musical "Ring of Fire" led Chicago actress and musician Cory Goodrich to an interest in the autoharp, an instrument that is at the center of her latest album, "Wildwood Flower."

Goodrich will celebrate the release of the album by performing Aug. 16 at Uncommon Ground – Lakeview, 3800 N. Clark St. Chicago. Christine Mild also is on the bill.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and there is a $10 cover. Reservations are available by going to www.yelpreservations.com.

I had the chance to talk to Goodrich about the upcoming show.
 

Q - Great talking to you again. In sitting down to make "Wildwood Flower," what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

Last spring, as I was researching the autoharp for our remount of "Ring of Fire" at the Mercury Theatre, I came across an application for the Cohen/Grappel recording endowment, and I applied on a whim, never believing they would chose my project. 

I was given a grant to produce a full-length album that featured the autoharp on at least 75 percent of the tracks. My initial idea was to pay tribute to the Carter Family, both the original three, AP, Sara and Maybelle, and the Carter Sisters who followed: Maybelle’s daughters, Anita, Helen and June Carter. 

I also wanted to incorporate the autoharp on some of the folk songs I have written.



Sonically, I found that traditional autoharp albums became tiresome to the ear after about six tracks, so I wanted to look for different ways to play the harp and to include it in the tapestry of the music without it necessarily being the featured instrument. We did a lot of alternate tunings and used it as a bass instrument on one track, and we had a very special drone harp built by Pete D’aigle specifically for “Sycamore Tree.” 

That harp is ethereal and so unusual and lends an almost mystical quality to the song. 

All in all, the album exceeded my expectations for what I jokingly called “the autoharp album no one will hear.” I really feel Malcolm and I made an album that is not only autoharp-centric, but one that tells a story and is really fun to listen to.

Q - Is there a story behind the album's name?

“Wildwood Flower” was Maybelle Carter’s favorite song. As I researched the origin of many of the Carter family songs, I was particularly drawn to this one.
 


In the Carter version, the lyrics didn’t really make sense. It starts with, “I’ll twine with my mingles and waving black hair,” and I was like…what the heck is a MINGLE? 

With a little digging, I found the original Maud Irving poem that the song was based upon and in the poem, the opening line states, “I’ll ‘twine ‘mid the RINGLETS of raven black hair the lilies so pale and the roses so fair...”


The music of these ballads were passed on in an oral tradition. There was no Google to turn to when one forgot a lyric, so consequently, many of the words were misheard or changed to make sense to the one singing.

When I found the entire poem, the narrative changed from a sad girl (the ‘Wildwood Flower’) mourning her abandonment by her lover into a strong-willed woman determined to make her errant man pay for her mistreatment by essentially going out and partying and showing him she couldn’t care less that he left her.  

That changed everything for me. 

It was an unexpected feminist anthem, not another “he left me I’m going to die” ballad. 

The whole arc of the album is really about lost love and how we handle sadness and disappointment of the heart. "Wildwood Flower" is my statement about how we keep carrying on, and smile through the pain until we can smile for real. 

Q - Do you see the album as a natural outgrowth of your portrayal of June Carter Cash? What do you like about the autoharp as an instrument? Did you learn how to play the autoharp for the role of June Carter Cash?

 Oh, definitely. I never would have even picked up the harp if it hadn’t been for playing June. The autoharp is something many of us encountered in grade school.



It's an easy instrument to strum while singing, without too much thought. But it’s fascinating and frustrating, learning to pick out melodies and arranging something that is more complicated than your basic I, IV and V chord strum. 

There is really so much more for me to learn and discover about the instrument, and as I start attending autoharp festivals and meet people who are master players, I realize how much potential there is. I’m looking forward to seeing where I can go with this, musically.

Q - What would you like listeners to get from the album?

When you think “folk songs,” you think of the songs you sang as a child in school. There’s such a deep history in these stories that we don’t think of.


“Shenandoah,” for instance, started as a rowing song for men working on the ships. It told the tale of Chief Shenandoah and the trader who fell in love with the chief’s daughter. 

Most of us think that song is just about the beautiful Shenandoah Valley. When we approached the tune, Malcolm and I wanted to honor the Native American origins of the story, but incorporate our own vision of technology and modern life overtaking the beauty of the wild America we used to have, so we wrote our own two verses. 

It’s a tradition in folk music to grow and adapt to the singer, so we felt that putting our own spin on the song was totally within the character of folk music.

I’d like people to come away with the thought that the autoharp isn’t just for those “old time” songs. That it is a beautiful and neglected instrument of the past that we can totally incorporate in modern music. 

And I’d like them to come away with the idea that the music of our past isn’t just “old.” There are stories and feelings and experiences then that we can still relate to today.

Q - Malcolm Ruhl produced "Wildwood Flower," as he did your last album. What do you think he brought to the project?

Malcolm is a consummate musician, and he is so good at getting me to focus on the story at hand. His instrumentation for these tracks is storytelling at its finest.


Anything we chose to add has a purpose and I love that theatrical sense of music that we share. He’s also just a brilliant arranger and understands theory and composition in a way I never will.

I spend my time concerned with the vocals and the story we are telling, and he works on the music and seeing the vision come to life. We work so well together, when we’re not talking. We talk WAY too much in a session.

Q - What other projects are you working on? Do you have any dream projects?

Next up theatrically is The Bardy Bunch at the Mercury Theater I play Carol Brady/Lady MacBeth, which is just a hilarious juxtaposition.




I would love to work on an album of swing jazz next…you know, all that lush music of Rosemary Clooney and Frank Sinatra. The composers and lyricists of that era were brilliant and poetic.

It was truly the golden age of songwriting. I’d love to dig into that a bit.

Vocally, I am just so intrigued by so many different styles of music and I want to be able to explore different sounds and genres. It makes me a bit hard to pin down as an artist, but that’s half the fun and the challenge of it for me.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Chicago musician Lara Filip releases debut album, will perform at SPACE in Evanston


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Lara Filip never expected to follow in the footsteps of her parents and become a musician. 

But she did. And she will celebrate the release of her debut album, "Stop Time," with a show Aug. 8 at SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets cost $12 to $22, available by going to www.ticketweb.com. 

I had the chance to talk to Lara about the new album.


Q - Great talking to you. Congratulations on the release of your debut album. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Thanks! You know, in all honesty, the album being made was kind of a surprise. I was writing and playing out a little, but had no budget to work on an album the way I would have liked.


An angel investor stepped in and basically said, “I want you to make the album that you want to make. Let me help you.”

https://soundcloud.com/larafilip/sets/stop-time

In some ways, my initial goal was just trying to stay accountable to that faith. I also wanted to keep the process fluid and open and I definitely accomplished that.

That’s why it took such a long time to finish. We didn’t shy away from re-recording things, adding and cutting songs and playing around in post-production.

Q - Is there a story behind the album's name?

Yeah. We actually changed the album name right around the end of the project. First off, the title track ended up being so beautiful and pretty much everyone on the project’s favorite tune.


But it also explains how I think about music and what it means. So many of the stories behind the songs have changed.

The relationships ended or evolved, but the song captured that moment. Literally stopped time. Took a musical picture of it.

And even though I may have moved on from that moment, someone else may hear the song and it’s exactly where they are, and now that song has stopped time and captured that moment for them.

Q - Liam Davis, who is well known in the Chicago area, produced the album. I know that he has done a lot of work with Grammy nominated children's musician Justin Roberts. How did you connect with Liam and what do you think he brought to the project?

I’m lucky enough that Liam is my best friend’s husband. So, I’ve gotten to watch his career and see him work for years.
 


He helped me develop my first batch of songs and we talked early on about him producing for me, but I couldn’t afford him. So, I was just kind of muddling along, saving pennies. 

Then, the investor came along. Liam was literally the first call I made. I can’t tell you how important Liam has been to my development as a writer, and how beautiful the work is he’s done on the album.

We have very different tastes, but both ridiculously high standards. That combination has been fascinating.

We push each other and trust each other and really dig when one or the other of us can change the others perspective. I’ve said many times that I consider making this album with him, getting my Master’s degree in songwriting.

Q - You started writing songs in 2009 even though you had vowed you would never go into the music business like your parents. What changed your mind? Has the music business lived up to your expectations? 


All the crap in my head simply busted its way out. Seriously. I started writing because it was just happening.

There was no denying, or stopping it. I’ve always written poetry and some work in the theater as a writer. I’d written a kid’s musical. 

But songwriting was this sacred area that my parents owned. I wasn’t going to touch it.




They are both so wildly talented. I had a lot of feelings surrounding my upbringing and their careers. But I didn’t change my mind really. Like I said, it just happened.  

I would wake up singing things. I’d walk home from the train and by the time I got home, have a full song written in my head. I don’t know how you say no to that. 

It pissed me off actually. Now, it’s my therapy and how I feel and share. And it’s actually changed some of my thoughts about my parents. 

If anything has changed, it’s that. I appreciate the legacy now and the things they’ve been though and what they’ve given to me.

Q - You were diagnosed with breast cancer a few years ago. How is your health these days and how did the diagnosis impact your songwriting and music?

Yeah, that was a “fun” year. I’m happy to report I’m doing great healthwise. Thanks for asking.


It was a shock. I was young for it. No family history. No prior medical issues. It was rough.

You know, at the time you put on a brave face, but in hindsight, I can say it really sucked. But it also cracked me open.

It made me braver and more willing to put myself out there. I spent a lot of time lying on my couch in a chemo haze just ruminating about the past and the future and who and what was really important to me.

I think that quiet, painful time gave me the space and urgency I needed to write the way I do now.
 

Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?

I love Chicago. I do think it’s a bummer that it’s hard to make a real living as an artist here. I mean, I have five jobs. No exaggeration.


But that’s also kind of the beauty of it. The “hustle” in Chicago feels more about trying to have a really good life balance. Everyone I know has families, or cool other jobs and hobbies.



There’s a real spirit of collaboration. I feel like as long as you don’t suck and you’re a good human, the music scene here will embrace you. You can find your people. You can easily find a niche for yourself.

That’s been my experience with it. The people I know are joyful and cool and open and so ridiculously talented. How I fit into it? Hmm. To be determined.

I’d like to be as loved and respected by my peers as my parents were by theirs. Go figure.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Short term, I’d love to open for bigger acts and play some good shows. I think my bigger focus is really as a song writer though.


If I can get some placements on film/TV or publishing going on, that would be great. I’m realistic. I’m not trying to go out and be a pop star and tour and be, like, “super famous”.

However, I’m also kind of a mainstream chick. If I could get a song on "Grey’s Anatomy," I’d die happy. I know. Sell out, right?

I’d also love to go do a small venue tour in Ireland. I lived there for a year and my keyboard player (who I went to performing arts high school with), has family there still.

Short and long term aren't much different. I want to continue to be brave enough to put myself out there and do the music for myself and whoever is getting something out of it.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dale Watson and Reverend Horton Heat present intimate evening of Tall Tales and Short Songs

Photo by Roman Sobus
By LINDA CAIN
 

Honky Tonk hero Dale Watson and Roots Rocker Reverend Horton Heat (a.k.a. Jim Heath) transformed City Winery’s sleek nightclub into a Texas bar room for a sold out show on July 20 on a hot summer night.
 

It seemed a monumental task since both artists were minus their bands and performed solo. Nonetheless Watson and Heath proved up to the task and put on a show that was wildly entertaining and lived up to its promise of “Tall Tales and Short Songs.”

The atmosphere of twangy retro roots music (Watson coined the term “Ameripolitan”) brought to mind the late, great Chicagoan Steve Goodman and his take on how to write the perfect country song, which is exemplified in his classic “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” famously covered by outlaw country artist David Allen Coe: “I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison…”

Goodman noted that country songs mainly consisted of these subjects: trains, trucks, prison, mom, pet dog and drinking. Watson’s and Heath’s sets fulfilled Goodman’s standards, especially the drinking songs.

Their closing duet of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” covered most of the bases alone. Trucks didn’t make an appearance on this night, but Watson is known for playing some badass truckin’ songs with his band.
 

The affable, humorous Watson opened the show, dressed in a black leather vest and tank top to display his many tattoos, plus jeans and boots. You will not find Watson covering his white pompadour with a cowboy hat.

Photo by Roman Sobus
When it comes to both kinds of music -- country AND western as well as rockabilly-- this guitarist-singer-songwriter is decidedly old school and rejects the pretentious pop music masquerading as country that Nashville continues to churn out. Later in the evening, Watson and Heath performed as a duo and served up Watson’s indictment of the country music industry with “Country My Ass,” a favorite of George Jones.

In fact, Watson sings in a deep, resonant baritone that sounds uncannily like the late great legend Jones; and also like Johnny Cash when he sings down low.
 

Watson asked for requests from the sold-out audience and he granted many of  them, both covers and originals. On this night, Watson sat on a stool, playing an acoustic guitar, rather than his trademark Telecaster, decorated with all manner of silver coins.
 

The covers included a couple of Merle Haggard’s songs, plus an audience singalong on Tom T.Hall’s bluegrass hit from the ‘60s, “Fox on the Run.”
 

The audience rejoiced in Watson’s originals: “I Lie When I Drink (And I Drink a Lot),” “My Baby Makes Me Gravy,” “Holes in the Wall,” and “Where Do You Want It” (a semi-apocryphal song about outlaw country artist Billy Joe Shaver’s back alley brawl and arrest).



Best of all was a trip down the yellow brick road to visit the Honky Tonk Wizard of Oz with “Whiskey, Tequila and Beer – Oh My!” which was a fun, and funny, sing-along.
 

Watson got us laughing as he shilled for Lone Star Beer in between songs. He sipped from his longneck, accompanied by cheesy recorded music on his phone, and sang the praises of his favorite Texas beer, declaring: “The only beer that whitens your teeth!” And: “The only beer that creates brain cells! Einstein drank it.”

Raconteur Watson recalled Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result that never happens.”

“Well, I’ve been married four times,” Watson said, adding “which is why I wrote this next song.” He then performed the title track of his most recent studio album “Call Me Insane.”
 

Watson mentioned the release of a new live album, due to drop in August, "Live At The Big T Roadhouse, Chicken S#!+ Bingo Sunday,"  on Red House Records. He didn’t go into detail about how the game is played but this reporter has the scoop on the poop. 

In a nutshell: Watson owns The Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwig, Texas (outside of San Antonio). On any given Sunday that Watson and his band, The Lonestars, are in town, Big T’s hosts the Chicken Shit Bingo game in which a caged hen struts across a plywood board divided into numbered squares. 

Patrons purchase $2 tickets (which  includes free all-you-can-eat hot dogs) and cheer for the bird to poop on their chosen number to win cash prizes, while listening to the band (guitar, pedal steel, standup bass and drums) play honky tonk, outlaw country, authentic country, rockabilly and Texas swing.
 

This reporter acquired an advance copy of the CD, which – in addition to some great “Ameripolitan” music -- includes all of Watson’s hilarious game show host banter, jokes, audience participation and Lone Star beer commercials. The bingo game also has a “Let’s Make A Deal” aspect to it that involves Dale’s jean pockets, which we won’t reveal here.
 

Watson’s City Winery set may not have been as wild and crazy as Chicken Shit Bingo Night, but it was pretty darn fun just the same.
 

We have never seen Reverend Horton Heat, but his raucous psychobilly shows with his band are the stuff of legend. He has been described as: “a rock’n’roll shaman channeling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins through Buddy Holly, surrounded by tattooed rockabilly chicks in poodle skirts and cowboy boots.”
 

We knew that seeing him solo would be a much tamer experience.

Jim Heath (his real name) came onstage equipped with a stunning custom Gretsch guitar emblazoned with his name. He was ready to follow Watson’s lead to unleash a stable full of tall tales – funny, strange, eerie and outrageous stories -- along with a buffet of covers from the '50s to '60s, and originals that sound like they are from that era as well.



Photo by Roman Sobus
Without his hard driving trio to move the crazed rock ’n’ rollers to the dance floor, Heath had to rely on his wit and immense guitar skills to wow the faithful, who remained politely seated.
 

He furiously played his six-string hollow bodied signature Gretsch 6120RHH on rowdy rock’n’roll, surf rock and rockabilly songs like “School of Rock,” “Red Rocket of Love” and “Big Little Baby.” He even played a Jerry Lee Lewis style original on which the Killer’s piano pounding was translated to the guitar -- a pretty neat trick. He got the joint rockin’ in their seats.
 

Heath’s guitar needed constant tuning, so he had plenty of time between songs to give us the back story on why he wrote them. “Where Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush?” is a song about his first wife leaving him.

It was a perfect “tears in my  beer” country song with lines like “She took the last bar of soap/ And didn’t even leave me a towel to dry my tears.” She even took his best friend, Smokey, his dog. (Steve Goodman would approve of this one.)
 

He told a story about his college days with roommate David Livingston and another classic country song they wrote together: “Liquor, Wine and Beer.” Heath showed his musical diversity and his nimble guitar skills with some finely arranged covers. He played jazzy swing on Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” along with a splendid version of the classic “Harlem Nocturne.”
 

He introduced the next instrumental number, saying it was a Henry Mancini song from the 1930s. However, it sounded a lot like Link Wray’s “Rumble” from 1958, which also was used for a theme song on a Chicago TV show called “Creature Features.”
 

Heath told stories about Johnny Cash dropping M80s down toilets in hotel rooms, a haunted hotel room he once stayed at in Chicago, playing golf with Willie Nelson, and his comedian neighbor who went on to write for the Beavis and Butthead spin-off cartoon, “King of the Hill.” (Heath even did a dead-on impersonation of Boomhauer).
 

Watson came back out to join Heath in some humorous banter as they requested each other’s favorite songs. Watson urged his buddy to sing “Bales of Cocaine,” a humorous tale that sprang from a fevered dream Heath had in his younger days, while sweating in the hot Texas sun doing farm work.
 

Watson sang the afore-mentioned “Country My Ass” and talked about meeting  his idol George Jones. The duo had us singing along on real country classics: “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”
 

The compadres also quizzed each other about famous sideman, asking trivia questions about legendary guitarists James Burton and Roy Buchanan.
 

Seeing this stripped down version of these two artists without their bands exceeded expectations. Equipped with only their guitars, singing voices, raconteur wit and humor, and larger than life personas, Dale Watson and Jim Heath shared their  unique stories and songs. They kept our attention as they captured our imaginations, made us laugh and entertained us with a nice variety of American music for nearly 2 ½ hours nonstop.
 

I left City Winery Chicago convinced that I need to find whatever church or tent show that the good Reverend Heat is preachin’ in next and attend a service. And then I’ll scoot over to Big T’s for Dale Watson and his Lonestars on Chicken Shit Bingo Sunday.

Linda Cain champions the Chicago blues scene through her website, chicagobluesguide.com.