Sunday, October 15, 2017

Chicago band The Obleeks releases debut album, will perform Oct. 23 at Schubas


You can call The Obleeks' debut album a happy accident.

The Chicago power-pop band didn't set out to record an album when it contacted Amos Pitsch of the Wisconsin band Tenement to record a few songs. Pitsch ended up recording, mixing and recording the album at his Crutch of Memory studio in Appleton, Wis. He also also designed the cover and all of the artwork for the album.

To celebrate the release of the new self-titled album, The Obleeks will perform Oct. 23 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Also on the bill are Terriers and Dan Durley. The free show starts at 8 p.m.

The band is comprised of brothers Andy and Lee Ketch along with Nick Harris. I had the chance to talk to the Andy and Lee about the new album.


Q – Great talking to you. In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

Andy – This album came about very strange way. There was never a moment when we decided that we were going to record an album.

It came about very incidentally. Originally, we contacted Amos to record a few songs to test if we wanted to record at Crutch of Memory for an album with a different band the three of us are in, Mooner.

On talking about it more, we realized the Crutch of Memory sound wasn’t quite right for Mooner, but since Amos had agreed, we decided to record four songs for The Obleeks over a weekend, not sure what we were going to do with them.

They turned out really well, and so a couple of months later we went back up to Appleton to record five more songs.

The only thing we had in mind for the record was that we wanted to record in a way we never have before. When we would go up there, we would record basics for two songs the first day, basics for another two or three songs the second day, and then all of the vocals/overdubs on the third day.

I have been personally inspired by albums like "In the City" by The Jam, and "L.A.M.F." by The Heartbreakers, and always wanted to make a record like that – very stripped down and recorded as fast as possible. I think we all saw this as our opportunity to do that, in a way.

Q – How did you hook up with Good Land Records? How do you think you fit in with the other artists on the label? It seems like the majority of the acts on the label can be described as power pop bands.

Andy – Amos got us in contact with them! We have never, ever had any luck with labels, but he finally broke us through into the big time.

We’ve always been a fan of a lot of their artists (Dwight Twilley, Midnight Reruns, Tim Schweiger). We had a chance to play with Tim when we went up to Green Bay last year, and had a great time.

We are very lucky to have a relationship with some bands in Milwaukee and throughout Wisconsin, and actually are pretty envious of what they have going on up there. I would say we fit right in without doing anything special.

Q – What was it like working with your brother on the album? Do you a share a musical kinship?

Andy – I loved it. As Lee’s younger brother, he greatly influenced my musical tastes growing up (introducing me to Wilco, Big Star, etc.), and so we end up thinking about music in similar ways.

My favorite thing about sharing a foundation is that we both have built off of it in different ways – I gravitate more toward the punk side of things, while Lee is more interested in songwriting and production, which I think are the essences of power-pop.

I think the result is a record which stays in the realm of power-pop, but has enough variations within that genre that (I hope) the listener can appreciate.

Also, Nick Harris, the bassist/songwriter/singer, was indispensable for the album. He brought a lot of the poppiest stuff to the record (and the best song), and was very much an integral part to the whole process.

This was very much a surprise, because Lee and I are very much nepotistic when it comes to music, and we both were very happy to find we could share a kind of deep music kinship with someone outside of the family (but we have since married him into the family for the sake of nepotism).

Lee – It was great. Whenever Andy wouldn’t play a drum fill, I would just noogie him into submission. Less luck with Nick.

Q – Will you be touring to support the new album? Is there a meaning behind the band's name?

Andy – Uh, we hope so. We very much want to go up to Wisconsin, Ohio, and Nashville, but no concrete plans as of yet.

It looks like it will be mainly long-weekend mini-tours for us.

Nope, but I suspect Lee wanted to sneak his name in there somehow.

Q – Do you see The Obleeks as being a one-time project or would you like to make more records with the band as well as tour?

Andy – We absolutely want to keep making more records and play more shows. It is a great outlet for us.

But, like every other band out there, we’re just fitting it into our schedules with work and what not.

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see The Obleeks fitting into it?

Andy – We love it. This album wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for the DIY scene here. We had a lot of encouragement from them, and playing our first shows at places like Club Soda and Auxiliary helped us feel much better about what we were doing.

Lee – Our first show was at a show space called the Auxiliary in Avondale. The music room is heavily carpeted. Right after we went on a crust punk band called The Fuckers played and their fans poured dozens of beers onto the carpet, making for a very squishy show.

Andy – The Fuckers were great and scared me a lot.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Chicago musician Dan Rico injecting freshness, energy into local music scene


On his new single "Flesh and Bone," Chicago musician Dan Rico updates the rawness and energy of '70s glam rock for a new generation.

Rico will celebrate the release of the single with a show on Oct. 14 at the Cafe Mustache, 2313 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Shenandoah Davis also is on the bill, and the music starts at 9 p.m.

I had the chance to talk to Rico about the new single and how he sees himself fitting into the Chicago music scene.

Q – Great talking to you. You have a new single, "Flesh and Bone." In sitting down to make the song, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the song's name?

The main riff and most of the lyrics to “Flesh and Bone” I’d been sitting on for a number of years. I actually have an older recording of this song that almost went on my first album, "Endless Love," that’s a little sludgier and more intense.

I’m a huge T-Rex fan and eventually just decided to embrace the T-Rexness of this track and try to reproduce some of the tropes I love about their songs.

I think there’s a very fine line between rip-off and homage, and I’m very interested in the history of rock music and recycling/redefining old ideas the way you see commonly with sampling in hip hop, etc. This particular track is one of my first endeavors into this field, with more to come. 

The title itself, “Flesh and Bone,” takes the attitude that though the narrator may be hurt or slighted by a romantic encounter, experiences of pain confirm our very humanity. And it’s good to be human. 

Q – How did you hook up with Shit in Can Records and how do you yourself fitting on the label?

Shit in Can found me on a music blog and contacted me about releasing some music. I think the punk roots of the music put me in their wheelhouse, and the songwriting got me on the roster.

Q – I understand that your two favorite producers are Prince and David Bowie. What did you learn from them? How have you been influenced by their music?  

Both were just filled with ideas. On the one hand there’s the idea that you should be able to dance to guitar music. They really embrace the dance qualities of rock and pop music. 

Prince specifically has some really cool guitar solos and isn’t afraid to take some of the arrangements to the extreme. David Bowie had a unique take on background vocals and arrangements that I found really accessible as a rock producer.

Q - There is a freshness and energy to glam rock and garage rock that other genres lack. What drew you to the genres and how have you tried to incorporate them in your music?

I like that glam rock is theatrical. In a sort of post-grunge-indie era when bands are still wearing t-shirts and flannel to perform, I like the imaginative costumes and grandiose bandstand stage set-ups; the idea that rock musicians can be larger than life.

Now that the (rock) genre is so oversaturated and in decline in mainstream popularity, I think it’s beneficial as an artist to celebrate its finer points and what originally made it so impressive and charming. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you see yourself fitting into it?

The Chicago music scene has thousands of artists and bands. Many of these can be stratified geographically into different scenes.

I operate in a part of the city called Logan Square and play there frequently. In Logan, there’s a big rock/garage scene and I definitely grew up in and fall within that category. 

Like the city of Chicago itself, the sad truth is that the music scene has a strong racial segregation. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time in southern cities like New Orleans and Atlanta that I realized how different Chicago is in this way.

Once you begin to notice that almost all the audience for any rock show is white it’s hard to un-notice. A lot of people have a “that’s just the way it is” attitude.

My hope in the future is to evolve beyond these barriers, to create music that all different people - white, black, brown, yellow, young, old, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, atheist - can enjoy and get down to.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Paramount Theatre produces electrifying version of "Million Dollar Quartet," show runs through Oct. 29

Photo by Liz Lauren

Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Broadway Series opener "Million Dollar Quartet" stars, from left, Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley and Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins. The show will run through Oct. 29 at the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora.


There aren't many musical moments bigger than the one that occurred on Dec. 4, 1956, when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley – who were all in their early 20s at the time – came together for a jam session at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee.

The Paramount Theatre, located at 23 East Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, recreates that night in electrifying fashion in its joyful version of "Million Dollar Quartet," which runs through Oct. 29. Thanks to an immensely talented cast, it doesn't take long for the audience to be pulled into the magic that is being made on stage. 

The audience is made to feel like they are part of that moment through the interaction the cast members have with the audience. Standout performances abound, including that of Gavin Rohrer, who is making his Paramount debut in the role of Lewis. He brought the energy early with a unrestrained version of "Wild One."


Rohrer is dazzling behind the piano and and is just as impressive in imitating Lewis' frantic stage antics. Kavan Hashemian's dead-on performance as Presley shows he studied Presley's concert footage in order to give a performance as authentic as possible. Not surprisingly, he was named "The World's #1 Rock 'N Roll Elvis by the BBC in a television competition filmed in London.

But standing taller than even their performances is Bill Scott Sheets' take on Cash. He embodies the sound and spirit of Cash, right down to his rich bass-baritone voice.


Apart from the music, it is the interaction between the characters that makes this production so entertaining. Because most of us have only seen these musicians perform on their own, it is interesting to see how they got along with each other (or didn't, in some cases.)

The Paramount Theatre produces another win with its version of "Million Dollar Quartet." Tickets are available by calling the Paramount at 630-896-6666 or visiting its website,

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chicago musician Chip Ratliff takes funk, soul to new heights on new album, "Resilient"


Chicago musician Chip Ratliff is dedicated to taking funk and soul to new heights. He takes another step in that direction on his new album "Resilient," his first full-length album in more than 10 years. 

He will celebrate the release of the album by performing at 7 p.m. Aug. 26 at Shorefront Legacy Center, 2214 Ridge Ave., Evanston. There is a $20 donation.

I had the chance to talk to him about the new album:
Q – Great talking to you. "Resilient" is your first full-length album release in more than 10 years. Have you been writing these songs for a while? Was this just the right time to release a new CD?

Thank you for having me! A lot of the tunes on “Resilient” are songs that have been in the hopper for a while. A couple are brand new.

For instance, the dance tune “DirtyBlu” was actually the first song I wrote after Prince’s death. It was the first groove I played when I picked up my bass.

After going through a lot of challenges the past few years, I really felt that it was time to share my gifts and make sure I leave some kind of legacy. I really felt it was time to put something out that reflected my love of funk and my blues roots. 

Q – Do you see the album as a natural progression from your last album, "Electric Chittlin' Stew"?

Not so much a natural progression from the last album, but more of a natural progression for me personally and as an artist.  When I did “Electric Chittlin’ Stew” I felt the need to be everything to everybody, which is why it has such a broad range of material: funk, R&B, rock, Santana style Latin-rock… a little bit of everything, like a stew! “Resilient,” on the other hand, is more of me having a great time being me! I wanted to put together an album that if you came out to a Chip Ratliff show, this is what you would hear.

Q – What would you like people to get out of the album? I understand that the album's title refers to overcoming any obstacles and challenges in one's way. Have you had to do that in your own musical career?

I’m hoping that it not only entertains, but also inspires. [I hope that it] inspires people to keep moving forward, regardless of the obstacles that are in front of them.

The title “Resilient” actually comes from something one of my doctor’s said to me on a follow up visit. He said, “Mr. Ratliff, you are one of the most resilient patients I have ever seen!”

It is a testament to God and the strength that he gives me. As I say in the title track, “The Creator is brilliant…through Him, I am resilient!”

Q - You come from a musically rich family, including being the cousin of Chicago blues singer and guitarist Lefty Dizz (I watched a YouTube video of one of his shows at the Checkerboard Lounge and he put on quite an energetic show), along with the fact that your grandfather, Herman Ratliff Sr., played guitar in Memphis clubs with legends B.B. King and Muddy Waters in the 1940s. Was it inevitable that you would become a musician? What kind of support did you get from your family?

Yeah, entertainment is definitely in my DNA! I’ve actually been entertaining all my life, in one way or another.

I was the kid who would get up at the drop of a dime and do my spot-on Michael Jackson or Elvis (yes…I was an Elvis fanatic!) impersonation for the entire family...or whoever wanted to watch! I actually call myself the first Michael Jackson impersonator!

But as for my family, yes, music and entertainers were all around me. My uncle Fernando (Jones) and I would play our instruments (me on bass, him on guitar) in his mom’s (my grandmother’s) living room all day on Sunday afternoons!

His brother, my other uncle Greg, would teach us songs that he liked. Then we would play them all afternoon!

The only reason that no one stopped us was because we sounded pretty good! So, yeah, it was pretty inevitable. 

Q - You shared the stage with Lefty, along with your uncle, Fernando Jones, Buddy Guy, Willie Dixon and others. What did you learn from playing with musicians of this caliber? What advice did they give you?

Playing with those guys allowed me to sit at the feet of some of the greatest musicians and performers of all time and learn! I learned about showmanship, timing and, most of all, TO BE YOURSELF!

One of the best pieces of advice I got was from Fernando. He said, in so many words, that the way you make people remember you is to be yourself. Be genuine.

Q - I understand you wrote your first song when you were 5, a duet with Jones (who was 6 at the time) called "Get Out Of Here." Does writing songs come easy for you?

One thing I’ve found is that you constantly have to keep practicing and honing your craft. I always say that songwriters “tune in” to the gazillions of songs that are out there in the air.

Not everyone can hear them…but they’re there. Now…I don’t mean to be all deep, but the more you stay in tune, the less difficult it becomes to channel the songs.
Q – You are president of the board of directors for Shorefront. Is it an honor to be associated with such an organization?

It is an amazing honor to be the President of the Shorefront. Shorefront is a non-profit organization that collects, preserves, and educates about Black history on Chicago’s suburban Northshore.

I have learned so much about Black history in general, and the importance of preserving heritage and using it as a foundation to move our community into the future.

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

The Chicago music scene is not as open to new, original music as I and others would like for it to be. Even with that said, it is a major city, and it affords opportunities to create your own opportunities.

That’s what I’m trying to do…not just sit and wait for things to happen. Make them happen! Create opportunities for myself and others!

Q – What is on your plate for the rest of the year?

Well, more live performances to celebrate the release of the new album. I’m looking to get my music heard by as many people, not only locally but nationally and internationally, [as possible].

I’m also looking to my move forward with the “Practice Your Purpose™” initiative. The mission is to inspire the global audience to find and practice their purpose on a daily basis. 

Leave your legacy!