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Monday, July 18, 2016

Blues-rock guitarist Mark May releases new CD, will perform two shows in Chicago

Photo by Wendy Turner

Over the years, blues-rock guitarist Mark May has picked up his share of accolades.

Legendary musician Dicky Betts has called May "one of the best blues-rock artists to come along with years." May played with Betts, including being a member of his band Great Southern.

On May 20, May released his sixth album, "Blues Heaven." In support of the album, he will perform July 29 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, and July 31 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.

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

Q - I see that "Blues Heaven" recently reached number 13 on the "Roots Rock Report," and the album's opening track "Boom Boom," reached number 20 on the charts. 

Yeah, it's going good so far. We're also getting some good reviews. I'm really happy.

Q - I understand that you believe the CD is the most truthful album that you've made to date. 

I just try to write stuff mainly about my experiences. I try to open up to people and let them inside.

And sometimes I write about other subjects that aren't about be necessarily. For this album, I think I wrote a lot of stories about my life.

Q - When you sat down to make the album, was one of your goals to make it more personal? Did you have any other goals for the album?

It just kind of turned out that way. As you go through life, you have more experiences, but I think early on in my career, I think I was maybe afraid to open up.

But now I think it's a good outlet and it's a good way to let your fans in and for them to get closer to you. People like to get inside an artist's life.

Q - I know you were drawn to the blues after your aunt lent you a copy of B.B. King's 1971 album, "Live in Cook County Jail." You were only 11 years old at the time. What struck you about the album?

I put it on, and I really liked the singing and guitar playing. And it was real soulful.

I just kind of latched onto it. I remember my aunt telling me, "When you can sing and play guitar like that, I'll come to see you play."

So she let me borrow the album, and I took it home. I started trying to do my version of him back then. I didn't go into just playing blues during that time period. I was really influenced by my brother, who was a rock musician.

He turned me on to people like Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and all that kind of stuff. I was kind of into that stuff, and my mom was a country and bluegrass musician, so I kind of had a couple different forms of music that I was exposed to at an early age.

And that's probably why I like Hendrix today, because he's so bluesy for a rock artist. But later on, when I got to Texas, I just kind of got drawn more into blues.

And I friend of mine gave me an Albert Collins' album. And I really liked it because he had kind of a fat rockin' Telecaster tone with overdrive on it, you know.

And then he had a lot of cool, upbeat songs with a lot of funny stuff in them. He had a lot of charisma.

I got drawn into doing the blues thing because it really touched my heart. I gradually started doing my blues songs as much as I could at the gigs I was playing at, which a lot of times were country gigs or something.

Q - I know one of your big supporters over the years has been Dickey Betts, and of course, you played with him. 

I met him through some friends of mine. He listened to one of my CDs, and it turned out he really liked it.

He came to see us play the next time we came through Florida, and asked us if we wanted to do a few dates opening for the Allman Brothers Band because he really liked us. So we ended up doing about 15 dates with the Allman Brothers.

Later on, when he split up with the Allman Brothers, he hired me to play in his band for a couple of years. That was really cool.

Q - What did you learn by playing with him?

A couple different things. He wasn't afraid to improvise on songs on a nightly basis, which is a little scary if you haven't done it before.

One of the main things that he would do is put together powerful parts, with two or three instruments playing the same part to create this big sound that people react to. I tried to take from that and put some of that in my music.

He brings excitement and dynamics to a song. 

Q - I know you have a horn section (The Soul Satyr Horns) on the album. What do you think that does to the album? 

Well, I've never worked with a horn section before, and these guys approached me. They were in another band and we played at the same festival.

It gives me a big, fat sound which I never had before. A lot of the stuff they play adds a lot of soul to the music, like their name implies.

The people who already have seen us like the addition. It's a different sound. There are not a ton of horn bands out there on the blues circuit right now.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Localpalooza to raise money for ALS research


Prior to Lollapalooza taking over Grant Park later this month, a group of Chicago musicians will get together for Localpalooza Chicago, a benefit for The Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation for ALS Research.

Burnside & Hooker, Draft Week, Jennifer Hall, Simpleton & Cityfolk, The Fox & The Hounds, Sayers and The New Switcheroo will perform July 24 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. 

Localpalooza Chicago starts at 4 p.m., and there is a suggested donation of $10. More information is available by going to

 I had the chance to talk to Burnside & Hooker guitarist Michael Vogus, who organized the event:

Q - Great talking to you again. I understand that you were inspired to organize Localpalooza Chicago after seeing Patrick's teammates rally around him. Has the benefit come together as you envisioned?

I think for the most part things have come together as we planned. We tried to get this show off the ground last year and ran into some hurdles, but this year has been much smoother sailing.

Our goal is to make this an annual event and continue to grow it as big as we possibly can. 

Q - It looks like the benefit will feature a diverse lineup. How did the lineup come together? Did you reach out to bands to participate?

I did. Initially I had about 15-20 bands that I was targeting for the event knowing it would be tough to schedule bands during the busy festival season, but I don't think I had anyone say "no" to the event. Every band was really excited about the show, and all of the bands on the bill are amazing.

It really is a diverse and talented lineup, and I've been a fan of all of the bands on the bill for a while. It's great that we're all able to play together on the same night. 

Q - I understand that you hope the benefit will raise at least $7,500 for The Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation for ALS Research. Would you like the benefit to also raise awareness about ALS? 

Of course as awareness leads to dollars, so the more people we can engage and educate on ALS and Patrick's story, the more money we'll be able to drive to the foundation. 

Q - Can we expect any surprises at the benefit? Will some of the bands join each other on stage?

You can find out what surprises are in store by donating $10 and getting your ticket to the show! 

Q - Your band, Burnside & Hooker, will be playing as part of the benefit. What is happening with the band these days?

2016 has been a year where we decided to "catch our breath" a bit and focus on new material. We've been going pretty hard since 2013.

We released two albums and played a ton of shows and festivals, so our focus this year was to pull back a little and get our new material organized and ready to record at some point towards the end of the year. I can't guarantee that we'll have a full album released next year, but we will absolutely have something new released sooner than later.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hollywood Vampires takes RiverEdge Park by storm

Photo by Thomas J. King

Individually, the members of Hollywood Vampires - actor Johnny Depp, singer Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry - long ago solidified their ability to capture and entertain an audience.

Collectively, the three of them took their skills at entertaining to a whole new level during Hollywood Vampires' show on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

The show was a loving tribute to some of the band's musical heroes, including David Bowie. They praised the artist, who died earlier this year, the best way they could - by turning in raucous versions "Rebel Rebel" and Suffragette City."

There was no let up in the energy level, as the band turned in equally ferocious versions of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Manic Depression" and The Doors' "Five to One/Break On Through (to the Other Side)."

Perry took over from Cooper on lead vocals as he stormed through the Fleetwood Mac song "Stop Messin' Around," a song that Aerosmith had covered.

Hollywood Vampires' name is a nod to the The Hollywood Vampires, a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 1970s whose members included the late John Lennon and Keith Moon. Cooper pays tribute to his late drinking buddies on the song "My Dead Drunk Friends."

The band only got more energetic as the night went on, culminating in a fierce version of Cooper's trademark anthem, "School's Out."

A great night of music, indeed.

Hollywood Vampires performed "School's Out" on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

Hollywood Vampires performed "Sweet Emotion" on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.


Hollywood Vampires performed "Five To One / Break On Through (To The Other Side)" on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Chicago band Menacerno releases debut EP, will perform at Metro


Chicago band Menacerno is a band that grabs your attention from the very first listen.

The band will likely gain even more fans with the release of its debut EP, "In No Place." To celebrate the release of "In No Place," Menacerno will perform July 9 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Red Jr., Hard Kiss and Hyperlane also are part of the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are available by going to

I had the chance to talk to lead vocalist Maggie O'Keefe about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. "In No Place" is your debut EP. In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the album's title?

At the time of the recording, we'd written close to a dozen songs. The EP contains both the first song we wrote together and the most recent.

Our goal, then, was to showcase the full spectrum of our sound. Each member of the band has different musical tastes and influences and each of these songs signifies a personal favorite.

The album title is the final track of the EP. In a thematic sense, the lyrics, co-written by myself and Adam Ziemkiewicz (we also happen to love each other), stem from the personal (in)experience and seeming search for identity that I went through during my early 20s.

The album's name, "In No Place," speaks to my attempt to understand and maintain connections between myself and the world around me. I guess I never felt like I had a place to call "home" and so I was floating along, landing every once in a while to make a new friend or a new mistake.

Collectively, these five songs are the tale of those moments. 

Q - How did the band come together?

Pete, Brian and Matt are the original members of Menacerno. They were playing together for over a year until they decided to look for a singer.

They turned to the Internet to find Joe (bassist) and me (vocalist). For my part, I came into the audition with "Up In Arms" fully written. Almost all the words sung today were what I auditioned with, except for a few when I lost the original lyrics only to be found month's later underneath my bed.

A few days later, they asked me to join them. The band's name grew out of the desire to be original.

Q - Your two guitarists, Pete Neumer and Brian Matson, have known each other since they were 9 years old. Has that helped to strengthen the band's chemistry? What do you think each member brings to the table?

Pete and Brian are the core composers for the band. Either one of them will come in with a riff or chord progression and we build upon that.

They don't speak in music theory, their instruments speak for them. Their long history benefits the songwriting process - complimenting each other not through words but through melodic lines of music.

It is that much easier to write a song as a band because of the ease with which they compliment one another. I know any fragment we work on will become a song when either one of them can hear the melodic line the first few times we go over a section.

Our chemistry stems from this songwriting process. Pete creates the head-nodding music which makes the songs memorable.

Joe has this way on stage that draws your focus. Matt keeps us together - we've never had a single show where we were not connected and that's because he keeps us together rhythmically. Brian writes songs from the heart, usually heart wrenching (Gemini is a good reference) whether he believes that or not.

And I, well, um... I am the ring leader. I book the shows, the accountant, get the John Hancock's like a leader of a band.

We talk everyday (almost) through email, text or in-person, but we all live our individual lives and include each other where we see fit. Rarely do we disagree, sometimes we hug and mostly we create.

Q - Is the songwriting process a collaborative effort? Does the band enjoy being in the studio as much as being on stage?

We're very open to hearing each other's sounds and build upon them. Even if a song is written and never played, it's important for us to finish a song we have started.

We have what we call "art school" in place where we can constructively talk to each other about how to make a part better, never putting each other down or directly writing a part for someone.

The studio is the place where we can really push each other to be better musicians. This EP really set the tone for our future shows and working together as a band.

Ben Arguelles of DZ Records, who recorded our EP, said we were the nicest bandmates he has ever worked with. We really encouraged one another when it came to recording our individual parts, because it really can be a grueling process.

I think it's safe to say that Matt and I are ones that can really come down on ourselves when we don't get our parts right. Luckily, we had Pete, Brian and Joe to say, "It's okay, try again."

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

The Chicago music scene is vast and diverse, but it lacks women-fronted musicians. They're out there, but the shows we've played, I am one of the only women on the bill, especially with lead vocals.

I'd personally like to play with more women-led bands in the future.

The shows are out there because the Chicago music community is so tight-knit. I can email any venue in the hopes to jump on a bill with a touring band.

Even if it's a "no," they still get back to me without an attitude. The promoters actually care about what goes up on their stages. I have a lot of respect for that.

In terms of fitting in, we're playing rock and roll, but can't seem to find our specific sound anywhere, which is great yet has made it difficult to book cohesive shows. That being said, I constantly hear positive reactions from people who came to see the other bands on the lineup.

Playing shows isn't about who's the best, it's a learning experience. If I find myself enjoying a band that is on the bill with us, I will watch and connect with the band, find ways to play with them again, push them to people in my circles and hopefully find them shows that we are not fit for or can't play.

It's a community, not a race.

Q - What are the band's short-term and long-term goals?

Short term - Play more shows with bands we like and learn from and/or open for national acts.

Long term - Have fun together and push ourselves the furthest we can go!