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Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Romantics bringing high energy show to Elgin next month


By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 
"What I Like About You" - the signature song of Detroit band The Romantics - sounds as fresh as it did when it was released in 1980.

The Romantics will perform on July 3 at Festival Park in Elgin as part of the Grand Victoria Casino Summer Concert Series. Festival Park is located adjacent to Grand Victoria Casino.

Loverboy and Rick Springfield also are on the bill. The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets range from $30 to $75, available at Grand Victoria Casino's website at www.grandvictoriacasino.com.

I had the chance to talk to Mike Skill, original lead guitarist for The Romantics, about the upcoming show.

Q - I know that you guys will be a performing a lot of this summer with Rick Springfield this year. Do you think you are a good fit together?

Yeah. We came down from the Detroit side of new wave and rock 'n' roll, and the whole English punk thing.

We had that whole Detroit attitude and Detroit energy. Rick Springfield is a little more Top 40, and our tunes became Top 40. That was the changing face of radio, I think.


And he was an actor on a TV show for a while. He's actually a good rock 'n' roller. 

It's just different than what we do. There's a little bit different flavor in each of us. It works well. There's a lot of good songs that people know.

Q - And its seems like that would be a show that would be pretty energetic. You guys all bring your own energy.

A lot of people think we're just going to stand there and play pop music. That's not it at all.

It's real high energy, Detroit style attack.

Q - So will you be playing a mix of old and new songs at the Elgin show?

That's right. We will be playing mainly from the first and second record, and then some new songs we have recorded.

We do a version of Eric Burdon's "We Gotta To Get Out Of This Place" that's really good.

Q - And of course you have a new album coming out this summer, "Up From The Rubble." When is that set to be released?

We've been releasing bits and pieces of it. So far, three songs have come out off it. Earlier in the year, a song called "Coming Back Home" came out. And we just put out two cover tunes from it.

We put our spin on some cover tunes and revved them up. And we threw some originals in there. I'm hoping to get it out by July.

Q - There seems like there might be a story behind the album's name.

It kind of refers to pulling songs out of a pile, you know, a bunch of stuff laying out. Or you can also tie it to Detroit coming back from its hardships.

And it also refers to a band that keeps going. 

Q - It's your first album since 2003's "61/49." What made you want to release something now?

The time was right to do something, and it fell into place. That's pretty much it.

The tour is happening, so we wanted to put something out. 

Q - I understand that Detroit band MC5 influenced the band and you guys ended up opening for the New MC5 on Valentine's in 1977. What was that experience like?

That was the very first show we ever did. We got really noticed because we were all over the stage. We had a lot of attitude and energy, short songs, and straight ahead rock 'n' roll.

We kind of took the torch. Radio stations were asking about us, promoters were asking about us. 


That next week, we had a record coming out, and we opened up for Mink DeVille at the same club. We weren't trying to be MC5 or The Stooges, it was the attitude and energy, and using it in the next generation way.

We followed our hearts, and we're still doing it.

Q - Why do you think your song "What I Like About You" is so timeless?

We wanted to get back to the basics. It stood out because it was short, straight ahead, and it rocked.

It stood out - the attitude and the video for it. And it was picked up in commercials and movies, and it keeps going.


It's something that we didn't hype. It just happened. It was very organic.

It has a life of its own. It's kind of everybody's song now - not just ours. 

Q - Are there any artists today that you appreciate what they are doing?

Of course, The Black Keys are the new pop and the Gore Gore Girls out of Detroit are doing some good stuff, along with a young band out of Portland, Oregon - Summer Cannibals.

Q - Are you seeing a younger generation of fans? Are parents bringing their kids to your shows?

Yeah, that happens. We are getting rock 'n' roll families, people who were into us into the '80s and stuff and they're coming and they also bring their kids.

Or just kids are showing up. It's really wide open. Your have punk rockers who are grown up now and showing their kids their Fear records.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Blues on the Fox's 20th anniversary show provides lasting memories

Tedeschi Trucks Band provided many musical highlights at Blues on the Fox festival.
Larry McCray brought some muscular vocals and guitar to the festival.
By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Anniversary shows don't always live up to the hype.

But in the case of the 20th anniversary of the Blues on the Fox festival, the festival not only met expectations, it exceeded them.

The festival's second day on June 18 started out in sweltering fashion with the band Leland, which pays tribute to Sony Boy Williamson, Henry Townsend and other notable Bluebird artists that made recordings at the Leland Hotel in downtown Aurora.

Under the direction of Cornmeal and Magic Box guitarist Scott Tipping, the band made the songs uniquely their own. The band created even more heat when Mae Koen and Mick Ducker - two powerful singers - stepped on stage.

The muscular blues of Larry McCray gave way to Los Lobos, a band which incorporates the blues into its music. Along with playing fan favorites like "Kiko and the Lavender Moon," Los Lobos paid homage to the blues by tearing off a sweltering version of "Crossroads."

The set by Tedeschi Trucks Band contained a little bit of everything, including dueling guitars and a drum-off. Even before the band came back on stage to do one last number - "Let's Go Get Stoned" - the crowd's emotions were already drifting high into the atmosphere.


Los Lobos added to the heat of the sweltering day.
Mae Koen wowed the crowd with her powerful vocals.


Mick Ducker's soulful vocals soared above the crowd.

 
Los Lobos added plenty of heat to the day's sweltering temperatures.

Larry McCray energized the crowd during his June 18 performance at Blues on the Fox.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Chicago's King Mixer releases new album, will perform at Martyrs'



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Legendary Chicago musician Cliff Johnson - of Off Broadway fame - is just one of the many musicians who drop by on "Hang On," the latest album of King Mixer's Eric Howell.

To celebrate the release of the new album, King Mixer will perform June 18 at Martyrs', 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. Phil Angotti and The Bigger Empty also are on the bill.

The show starts at 9 p.m. and tickets are $10, available by going to Martyrs' website at martyrslive.com.

I had the chance to talk to King Mixer about the album.


Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you will be performing at Martyrs' to celebrate the release of "Hang On." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

KM: I suppose, being an independent artist, it's a goal to make art your own way, on your own terms. But this can also mean you're living in a world of nebulous deadlines. Elastic deadlines. Making an album can take a long time, and it's helpful to have a hard deadline in place before you get into recording, even if that deadline does end up getting pushed back a bit.

https://musicclout.com/contents/userprofile.aspx?u=c590e987-3dc1-419f-b8e9-b95eb73d1e12

Limitation is good for creativity. Especially if you think you've truly got the goods, it can test that theory. Less can be more, etc. At the outset of this album, what would eventually become "Hang On," it was basically time to get moving, time to put something new out.

I released my first album, which was "Eric Howell's Greatest Hitch! Vol One" - back in 2009. I woke up one day realizing I'm only a few years off from the 10-year anniversary of the first record, and I hadn't even put out a second record yet! Pathetic. 

Time to get moving. I wanted to basically make a record that would be fun to play live, fun to listen to, that would keep people's interest from start to finish, and for several months before starting the album I had a handful of, for me, really different melodies and song ideas running through my head.

Nothing like "Greatest Hitch!" at all. And I had been playing with some great musicians in sort of corporate bread n butter type gigs, jobbing gigs (which is SO not my thing), and from those gigs I met some terrific guys, some great players, and I thought, "Now is the time to make a new record, while I have these guys in my circle of musician contacts," etc.

And it turned out that my producer, Christian Cullen, he knew most of these great players I was bringing into the fold and so it was just a sort of perfect time, a perfect storm for making a new record while this collective was running hot. I am certain that everyone involved in the project feels we made a much better album than the little indie record we initially thought we
were making.

In terms of scope, it started out as "American Graffiti" and ended up "Star Wars," no question. 

Q - I understand that you crowdfunded the making of "Hang On" and surpassed your goal. Are you honored that so many people would want to fund the project? Do you feel like the CD is now even more connected to your fans? 

KM: For sure, absolutely. I was initially hesitant to use the crowdfunding method, I resisted it for years.

I'm from the "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" generation, man. I've been homeless rather than accept a hand out.

But I was again at that point where it was time to make a record and my resources for doing so were almost nil. I make just enough as a full time musician to just, you know, LIVE.

There's never enough money to make your grand masterpiece. So through the advice of a dear friend, I decided to use GoFundMe to attempt a crowdfunded record.

Crowdfunding is NOT a handout, the concept operates on the premise of "mutually beneficial reward." Still, I was hesitant because other platforms like Kickstarter and Pledge Music, though hugely successful, insist that your campaign is globally public, as opposed to perhaps selecting a specific demographic of friends, family and fans through social media and keeping it sort of between you and them, which is what I was interested in doing my first time into the crowdfunding thing. 

And GoFundMe let's you do that, if you're sort of wading into the crowdfunding waters like I was it's great. Plus, with those other platforms you have a certain amount of days to reach your desired financial goal and if you don't reach the projected
goal by the imposed deadline, that's it.


All the money you managed to raise through that platform is returned to the people who tried to help you and you get nothing and your project doesn't get made.

And then you have to soldier on, perhaps with the very public stigma attached to you that "Oh, he couldn't reach his goal, not enough people cared, so why should I care?" from your audience, etc. Kinda like being dropped from your record label back in the day.

I didn't wanna deal with that possibility. It had been five years since I had released anything. I didn't know if anyone still cared.  So I chose GoFundMe because you can leave your campaign open-ended, there's no hard deadline to meet your financial goal.

And as it turned out, I raised 10k in about 48 hours. I was flabbergasted. Just knocked to the floor. I was on cloud nine for days, knowing that people still care about my music and wanted to hear more of what I would create.

It makes a huge difference in one's attitude going into a project like this to already know you have advance orders on the record, before you've even begun tracking. That's a huge shot in the arm, creatively. Of course, I burned through that money extremely fast, paying for studio time and musicians and pizzas and baby sitters and engineer's rates.

The musicians on the record are top shelf but it's not like we'd been touring together playing these new songs for months orbanything. A lot of the songs were created in the studio, building on just the basic tracks and experimenting with a myriad of ideas to see what would stick. We didn't have the songs totally down pat.

I generally don't work like that in the studio, I've always tried to beat the clock but with Christian producing, experimenting with sounds seemed like the best way to ensure I didn't just make a repeat of my first album.

That's an expensive experiment, though. More than a few blind alleys were doubled back on.  I ended up putting another 10k of my own money into the record as well, before it was even finished.

But the GoFundMe campaign remained open throughout the recording process and I would post video updates every few weeks, and more money started flowing in. Eventually I met and surpassed my second fundraising goal.

So yes, without a doubt, I am forever grateful and extremely motivated by the direct connection I've maintained with my fans throughout all this. Of course, there's various tiers and rewards given to whomever pledges towards the project. But I must say, it's vastly different playing a house party or giving a guitar lesson to people who directly supported the creation of your art, rather than just playing to get paid so you can eat.

The campaign is still up, just so everyone can see the magnificent results, but I'm done asking people for help in that regard. I feel extremely lucky to have the backing of friends and fans who not only believe in my music, but they've also been very patient with the whole process.

You can't ask for more than that. The record is about to launch, and I plan to show my gratitude with a great live show. The payback is the live show now, sink or swim.

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

KM: Yeah, everyone was saying it during recording...LOL. A missed cue, an aborted take, trying to find the right guitar tone, or waiting for Logic or Pro Tools to reboot it was always, "hang on." Those two words came back a LOT.

Then over time, it became like a mantra for that inner voice inside..we all have that nagging voice inside telling you it's not good enough, it's a pipe dream, it isn't going to work. And you shut that voice out, but it can be very taxing just trying to hold it together.

Trying not to cave under the pressures of day to day living. That seems to be a running theme on the record. Things fall apart. Keep it together.

All of this eventually ends, you and me and everything. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. Every day we're aging.

How does one handle that rather unforgiving information? When you're young, this is an impossible concept to grasp.

I believe we're designed NOT to grasp it, fully, in youth, lest we give up and not live up to our fullest potential into old age. It's only later that we begin to understand it, within ourselves. It's deeply personal.

Why should a young person fully understand it? That would be tragic. The understanding comes with age and experience, I think that's part of the pact.  You lose a few friends to drugs and alcohol or one day it's a text, bluntly stating that someone you've had a sacred relationship with has succumbed to cancer. Relentlessly unforgiving information.



And it's not a TV show, it's YOU. It's your life. And yet life goes on. We have to hang on, to fulfill our destiny. And yet is it so much to ask to just...get a break every so often? Can't any of my genius ideas make me rich so I can invite all my friends onto a yacht for a weekend? Or have I missed the boat?

There's a tendency to give up, to give in, once you know you can no longer hide behind your adolescent allusions. Where do you go when your certainty about things proves false? The old stand byes cease to work anymore.

Now what? And yet, life is ongoing. Just as it was when you were 10. There's still as much beauty and wonder as there ever was, and we just need to keep at it more as you get older, to find it. To rediscover it, while everything is seemingly conspiring against you doing just that.

You have to hang on, to find it again. These are themes within the new record. The song "Zookeepers" with the line, "Does anybody else out there see the world as a beautiful parasite...where life eats life?" or in "Gravity" : "It's coming at you all of the time, the wants and the needs of a mind...in particles and waves of light..invisible to the naked eye."

In the final song on the record, "Days That Used To Be" it says, "All those things that you believed you're wishing now you could retrieve, there's no guarantees, delete your head, reboot your heart."

That's where nearly all of the songs on this record ending up going in some fashion: "Keep it together, it's the changing of the guard, you'll be alright..roll with it...just...hang on."

Q - Cliff Johnson, of the Chicago-area band Off Broadway, is one of the guest artists on the CD. How did you connect with him and what do you think he brought to the table? Did the band have an impact musically on you? 

KM: Cliff is a wise sage, man. He has seen it ALL. I didn't know him when we made the record.  I dug out an old song I wrote when I was 16 years old called 'Don't Chu Think' and with Christian producing, we brought the song back from the dead.

Off Broadway was a huge influence on my singing. Huge. When I was in junior high, you couldn't get away from their record "On." It was Cheap Trick with "I Want You To Want Me," The Knack with "My Sharona" and Off Broadway, "Stay In Time."

On the radio, all the time. It sounded so Beatley, so John Lennon like on my AM clock radio.

But unlike those other songs, "Stay In Time" wasn't about a girl, didn't allude to anything sexual. "Stay In Time" seemed to be addressing, "Hey man, live in the now, not in the past, don't get stuck, don't spend your time ruminating in your 'sad dream' that is denying your own ability to love. "What a sad thing."



That is some heavy shit for a power pop record in 1978! And it somehow got on the radio! I think that first record, "On," sold something like 100,000 copies in Chicago alone. And somehow Atlantic Records blundered horribly and didn't put any overseas tours together for the band and so they remained local heroes.

Meanwhile, Cheap Trick is at Budukon and breaking world wide. I saw Off Broadway play College of DuPage in like, 1980 or '79. I couldn't even drive yet, but they blew my mind they were so good. The guitarist was like Elliot Easton from The Cars.

He was playing these crazy fast leads that threatened to derail but never did, beautifully crafted over these simple Buddy Holly staccato chords. So I loved Off Broadway and wrote my own version of an Off Broadway song with "Don't Chu Think," in my little bedroom, freshman year in high school.

Flash forward a lifetime later I'm explaining all this to my producer, and he goes, "Do you know Cliff?" - I'm like "No, I'm just way into Off Broadway" and Christian says, "Well I do. I know him. I wonder if we could get him to sing on this."

Phone calls were made, demos were emailed, and two weeks later, I'm meeting Cliff for the first time and we're in the studio tracking vocals on a song I wrote when I was a kid, pretending to BE HIM. Life is beautiful. And Cliff is a sweet dude.

He's a pal. And more than a little crazy LOL

Q - A number of other guest musicians also appear on the album. How did you about picking the musicians on the album and did the recording process go smoothly?
 


KM: Like I said, there were a number of just fantastic musicians I was playing money gigs with for a year or two, prior to King Mixer forming. Guys like Matt Nelson on keys, who is just a savant, Nick Kitsos, who drummed for The BoDeans for years, Grant Tye who plays guitar for Robbie Fulks' band and a number of other great bands in Chicago.. I met all these guys through playing with Nick Kitsos in his band for a couple years.

I was a side man for Nick and then I stole all his guys! LOL kidding. Kinda. But with guys like this, their talents put them very much in demand and they are always juggling projects so being a proper band, a four legged table where all the costs and the artistic glory is divided equally, is just out of the question.

King Mixer is more of a collective in that sense, not a band. It's healthier this way, we've all been in true bands and it's like being in love for the first time, it's great, it's scary and you live for it and barely get out alive. And it only happens once.

And we've done all that when we were younger so being called into a collective where there's a great deal of mutual respect for what we've done and who we are now is...more on balance with where we are in life now, I'd say.

And it allows me, as the show runner, to tap various musicians for both the live shows and recordings. I have been a fan of The Smoking Popes for many years, and I reached out blindly to Mike Felumlee, the Popes drummer, and asked if he'd play drums on a few songs for my record. In situations like this, Facebook and the Internet is a very handy thing.



It cuts through all the B.S. and gives you direct access to a lot of people you'd otherwise have to spend years hanging out in clubs and bars to meet. So, same as with Cliff Johnson, I emailed Mike my demos and we met for the first time a few weeks later, rehearsed once, and boom, we're tracking. 

And it turns out, he's been fronting his own band, The Bigger Empty, for years, and playing guitar in that band, not drumming at all. He told me, "I haven't touched my drums in six years," just before we began rehearsal.

I was like, 'Ohhh..." this could be terribly awkward...LOL. But within seconds of playing, Mike's hitting the skins so hard I had to turn my amp up so loud to keep up, I was almost hallucinating. It felt like we were in a stadium with legions of kids pogoing to my songs, and I understood where the secret weapon lies in the power of The Smoking Popes.

Mike is opening our Martyrs show with The Bigger Empty and the bass player in The Bigger Empty, Reuben Baird, mixed the King Mixer record with me. So having them start the show is a great way to kick off the record release party. 

Q - Will the night be even more special because Phil Angotti will be opening for you? What makes him a good musical fit? Will he be joining you on stage? 

KM:  Phil is one of our city's true treasures. We've been pals for many years now and have a mutual fascination with all things Beatles. We've even played Liverpool together and played The Cavern Club.

We sang together on a tour of John Lennon's boyhood home, in the front hallway, just like John and Paul did when they were first starting to write songs together. And so we had to sing together in that very same spot. Cuz we're nerds, LOL.


But Phil has like 100 albums out, he's a terrific songwriter in his own right and he's a wicked, visceral guitar player and I'm sure all of this will be on full display when he takes the stage at Martyrs with us. Plus, June 18 is Paul McCartney's 74th birthday, so I'm inviting Phil back on stage during King Mixer's set for sure.

We've got some special surprises for the 'Beatle People' in the works! 

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

KM: I don't think of the Chicago music scene. And I can't think of any scene I've ever fit into, honestly, musically or otherwise.

It's kind of like what people say about being the life of any party: you make your own fun. Don't expect anyone else to bring the "it" factor into your life. YOU bring "it". Or don't.

But no, I just finished making my best record on the good faith of about a hundred people who gladly pledged their hard earned money for me to do this. That is the scene I fit into and I intend to shower that scene with great songs and just...let it do whatever it does, with love in my heart for all who enter the grounds.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The band Leland to pay tribute to Aurora's blues history during Blues on the Fox festival


Friday, June 17 | Gates Open: 6 p.m.

 MARCIA BALL: 7 P.M.
THE ROBERT CRAY BAND: 9 P.M.

Saturday, June 18 | Gates Open: 2 p.m.

LELAND: 3 P.M.
LARRY MCCRAY: 5 P.M.
LOS LOBOS: 7 P.M.
TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND: 9 P.M.

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Although Chicago is known as the blues capital of the world, Aurora has also contributed significantly to the history of blues music.

In 1937 and 1938, Sonny Boy Williamson, Henry Townsend and other notable Bluebird artists made recordings at the Leland Hotel in downtown Aurora. 

In tribute to those sessions, Cornmeal and Magic Box guitarist Scott Tipping decided to re-record the songs with other area musicians.

Leland will perform at 3 p.m. June 18 as part of the two-day Blues on the Fox festival at RiverEdgePark, 360 N. Broadway St., Aurora alongside other acts like Marcia Ball, The Robert Cray Band, Larry McCray, Los Lobos and the Tedeschi Trucks Band. Tickets are available at www. riveredgeaurora.com. 

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



Q - Great talking to you. Of course, Leland is named after the historic blues sessions that took place between 1937 and 1938 on the top floor of the Leland Hotel in Aurora. I've listened to some of the sessions, and besides the outstanding musicianship, there is so much life to the music. What attracted you to the music in the first place?

I first became attracted to it the first time I listened to Tampa Red. I loved the purity in his voice. 

Honestly, I had no idea where the music came from at that time, I was a teenager.  As the story was told to me, it became more and more fascinating to check out how much music had come from The Leland.

Q - So for people who come out to hear the band on June 18, what should they expect? Are you doing a faithful note by note rendition, or are you trying to put your own stamp on the songs?

We are not doing things note for note. I think all of us felt like that would do a disservice to this music.

But, we also aren't trying to make the songs something they are not. Our focus is bringing them to the electric world a bit, but more like old-school Chess records or something.  

Q - Who else is in your band and what do you think they bring to the table?

The band consists of myself, Matt Thompson on bass, Chuck Lacy on drums and Scott Stevenson on keyboards. We have a couple of great guest musicians that day - Dave Nelson on slide guitar and Rick Sherry on harp.

We also have some featured singers, Mick Ducker and Mae Koen.  I think the whole ensemble is going to bring a celebration to this music. We are taking it out to have a party.  

Q - You have been working on a Leland tribute project with Fox Valley Music Foundation Executive Director Steve Warrenfeltz. I know Robbie Fulks re-recorded "Texas Tommy," originally performed by Yank Rachell & Sonny Boy Williamson, for the tribute project. Who else is on the album and what is the status of the project?

Steve Warrenfeltz was the person who called me about producing the project. He is a huge fan of the music that came out of The Leland. He has been fantastic to work with in every step of the way.

Yes, Robbie cut a few tracks for us. We have some really great artists on the project: The Steepwater Band, Chicago Farmer, Nora O'Connor, Mae Koen and Mick Ducker.

Keep in mind, these are just the people who fronted tracks. We've also had enormous talent on the instrumentation side of things.

It's been an amazing experience. The status right now is, CDs are in hand and will be available at Blues On The Fox along with some other merchandise.

But the purpose of the project has always been to have it on vinyl.  The actual double LP will be ready in fall and we will have a very special full-on release party for The Leland Bluebird Sessions at that time. 

Q - What do you think of the lineup for Blues on the Fox? Are there any acts you are particularly excited to see?
The line-up consists of some of my favorite artists on the planet. I'm a huge Larry McCray fan.
I first heard Larry years and years ago opening for Buddy Guy. Lobos is my favorite band, end of story.
I've been fortunate to play some shows with them and think they are all fantastic people too. I've only seen Tedeschi Trucks band once at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival.
It was a short but brilliant set. I am super excited to get to see them again.
It's an absolutely amazing bill.  I am so damn proud to be a part of it.