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Friday, May 31, 2013

Spotlight shining brightly for Chicago blues musician Liz Mandeville

Chicago Blues Hall of Fame inductees, Liz Mandeville, left, and Buddy Guy, right.

By ERIC SCHELKOPF
 

Blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, record label owner, author, speaker, painter - Liz Mandeville is a true renaissance woman and a fervent promoter of the blues.

So it is not surprising that Mandeville, www.lizmandeville.com, was recently inducted in the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. The power that she creates on stage will be in full display when Mandeville and the Blue Points perform from noon to 1 p.m. June 8 on the Front Porch Stage at the Chicago Blues Festival in Grant Park in Chicago. A full festival schedule is at www.cityofchicago.org.

I had the chance to talk to Mandeville about her recent honor.


Q - Congratulations on being inducted in the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame. How does it feel being inducted, especially at the same time as blues legends like Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy?

Thank you! I was surprised and deeply honored to be inducted. Muddy Waters is probably the biggest influence on me.


His was the first blues record I ever bought. His vocal interpretation, the way he inflected and colored his words and the licks he sang were what informed me as a blues singer. Willie Dixon wrote a lot of the material my idols, Muddy, Koko Taylor and other Chess Recording artists recorded.

He also influenced me as to what was a blues song and how do you write one that’s really authentic. Buddy Guy, it goes without saying, is my hero, a living legend. 




I’m so proud to be in regular rotation at his club. His songs “Bluebird On My Shoulder” inspired several of my own compositions and my vocal on “Juice Head Man” is a direct nod to that song. He’s a great interpreter and an amazing musician.

Q- Who do you see being inducted 20 years from now?

I could not begin to guess.

Q - Speaking of blues legends, the late Willie "Big Eyes" Smith urged you to start your own music label and the last recordings of Smith on both harp and drum are captured on "Clarksdale," your first CD on your music label, Blue Kitty Music. How was it working with Smith on that CD and how did he influence you over the years?

Willie Smith was always very professional. He was “on time and in the pocket”, the greatest compliment you can pay a blues drummer! He was a pleasure to work with throughout my knowing him. 



From ’94- ’99 I had a regular weekly gig at Blue Chicago with Aron Burton’s Band, young Kenny Smith was our drummer but he was still in high school. So when he couldn’t make the gig he sent his dad and that’s how I started playing with Willie Smith!

But that’s not how I met him. Back in the early 90’s my first husband, Willie Greeson, left my band to play with the Legendary Blues Band. That was the Muddy Waters Band without Muddy.

Calvin “Fuzz” Jones on bass, Pinetop Perkins on keys, Madison Slim on harp and Willie Smith, who played drums, was the band leader. It was my then husband’s dream job for which he’d left his home in Dalton, Georgia,  and played all those dates on the road with me in our band.

The timing couldn’t have been worse! When he got the call to play with the LBB, I’d just sunk every dime I had in the world into a recording project, and booked us for a tour to tighten up the originals we’d recorded and our overall show.

I’d also booked a showcase date at Legends to end the tour and invited every important person in the blues world to try to get us a label deal and they all showed! But, although I did all the writing and booking, Willie Greeson had been the band leader in our group, so when he left at this critical moment the whole band flew apart and I was left with nothing.

I had to put a band of hired guns together to honor the contracts I’d negotiated (something I’d never done on my own), figure out what keys I did the songs in, and since I had no experience leading a band,  I could only get the guys to play the cover tunes.

It was a terrible career setback. Obviously I didn’t get the Rounder or Alligator deal, they weren’t interested in a white girl singing cover tunes.

But I met Willie Smith when I’d go to drop my Willie off at his place for their tours. I met the whole family then and ended up playing gigs with a then teenaged Kenny Smith, Willie’s son and an estimable drummer in his own right.

Then, over the next year, one by one the other Legendary’s left the band to pursue solo careers. Willie Smith found it very hard to book a Legendary Blues Band with only one legend in it, HIM!

His agent split and he got a new guy who was enthusiastic but had no connections. I sat down with him and gave him every lead I had in the U.S. and Canada. He never forgot that I’d done that.

I guess that’s why after all these years he decided to help me.




I’d gone to Rosa’s Lounge to celebrate the Joined At the Hip Grammy win. I said to Willie, “Man I been wanting to make a record with you since ’98!” and he’s like “What? 1998?” and I said “Yeah! I wanted to make a disc with you and Willie Kent and George Baze and Allen Batts” and he said, “Well, Allen moved to Arkansas and those other cats is dead!” “I know!” I said, but I still want to make that record!” and he said, “Book the time, Lizzie, book the time! And we ain't givin this record to none of them labels! You’re starting your own label and I’m gonna help you.”

So that’s how Blue Kitty Music got started, right there at Rosa’s Lounge that fateful February night. I did book the time and we were in the studio two weeks later laying down the first five tracks.

That’s Willie Smith’s voice you hear at the beginning of "Clarksdale" on the track “Roadside Produce Stand." He and Darryl and I were working out an arrangement in the studio and we’d been joking around and it got on tape.

I decided to lead off the CD with it so that Willie’s voice, his exuberance and his spirit would live on. I had no idea when we recorded those tracks he’d be dead before the year was out.

He was SO alive, in his 70’s yet fit, youthful and handsome. I asked him, ‘Should I call you about the next session?” and he said “Just text me.”

Q - You are a prolific writer, writing all of your songs for your CDs. Do you ever find it hard to find inspiration? What do you like writing about?

I’ve been writing original songs since I can remember. I used to climb up on our neighbors' piano and play by ear till my grandma heard me and got us a piano.

I remember one time my mom was getting her hair done at Marshall Fields and they had a toy department outside the beauty salon. I was waiting for my mother, she’d told me, “Play with the toys and don’t get in trouble!”

They had this little four octave piano there so I sat down and started playing songs and singing all by ear. I actually drew a crowd and people were clapping, but when my mother came out of the salon she was not at all happy.

She gave me a whipping like I’d never had. I guess I wasn’t supposed to draw attention to myself, it was a week before I could sit down!

I thought I’d gotten some writers block while I was laid up after surgery in 2010, but then my friend came from Holland to visit and started asking me, “What have you written? Where are your new songs?” and I was like, “Well, I've been laying around not doing anything much” but he wouldn’t let it go and finally I said, “Well I wrote some songs but they’re not much…” and he insisted on hearing some of them so I played him one.

It turned out to be the song Eddie Shaw blows on "Clarksdale, "  “Sweet Potatoe Pie” so I guess my idea of writers block is other people’s idea of prolific!

I get a lot of ideas when I’m out walking my dog, or trying to drive (I have more scribbled songs on deposit tickets in the back of my checkbook! I never seem to have paper when I’m driving). In fact, the title track of my fourth Earwig CD, "Red Top," was written on the highway while I was driving past Red Top, Georgia.

I also get lots of great lyrics while taking a shower, which can be very frustrating while I’m dripping all over the floor looking for a pen! I draw inspiration from everywhere, reading a book, looking at a piece of art, hearing someone tell me a story.

Right now, I’m working on some songs for Shirley Johnson’s next project. I went to her show and watched her sing, then she sat down with me and we talked and the next day one of her anecdotes had morphed itself into a song! 

Q - Your song "Scratch the Kitty" held the number one spot for 22 weeks on the Cashbox Charts in 2010. Did you ever think that song would have such an impact? What do you think it was about that song that connected so well?

 


That song was inspired by an anecdote my brother in law, Alvin Holmes, told my husband. They’d been sitting around playing video games all afternoon and out of the blue Alvin looks over and says to my husband, “Carl, sometimes you have to scratch the kitty.”

Then he turns back to the game without another word. My husband comes home a few hours later and says to me, “Alvin said the strangest thing to me today.” And he related the whole episode and I said “Wait a minute…” and the whole song just came like that!

I’d always loved the theatre, I love word play and double entendre. I can’t stand a song that’s too blatant or obvious, but when I wrote that song I actually used my cat Frankie as a model.

My Frankie was one of those yellow tabby cats and one time a young girl was canvassing for Greenpeace and I asked her in because it was raining and I felt sorry for her. She had an English accent and she saw my cat and exclaimed “How precious! A Ginger Tabby!”

I never forgot that turn of phrase, so I used It in the song. I think people liked it because it’s entirely innocent and could be sung for children or a nanny, but if you’re a dirty minded so and so it’s as filthy as you want to make it. People like that!

Q - Your dad sang and played folk songs. Did he push you to become a musician? What drew you to the blues in the first place?

My dad was an artist and a cowboy and a dreamer, he never pushed me to do anything but be myself. He never gave me unsolicited advice, so when he talked, I listened.

He did record some of my original tunes when I was in high school and sent them off to Nashville, but they weren’t interested. I miss my dad every day!

No, the blues was stalking me all my life. I was in love with this hippie guy named Eric Burnhart. If Eric had said, “I have two tickets to hell, would you like to go?” I would have said, “What time should I be ready?”

Well, Eric took me to see Luther Allison live in a club in Oshkosh, Wis., and after the first note from Luther’s guitar I was so hooked it was sick.

I moved to Chicago shortly after, wandered into the first Kingston Mines and met my long term mentor, Aron Burton, who always gave me very good sound advice.

Not long after that I met Willie Greeson, who was so addicted to the blues he’d traveled halfway across the country to make it his life’s work and he played me Jimmy Reed until I got hooked too.

That was that.

Q - Even though rock derives so much from the blues, it seems that the blues continues to take a back seat to rock. What will it take to get more people interested in blues music? 

Blues music must be on TV. It must have its own station like VH1 or MTV.

It must have travel series and performance shows and concerts to get over. I was very hopeful that the movie "Cadillac Records" would turn on this generation like the Blues Brothers turned on a generation and Stevie Ray Vaughan turned on another, but it just didn’t ignite.

Oh well, if they had a reality TV camera following some of my people around, they’d start to say “Snookie who?” Believe me, we started it!



Q - You are also a painter. I understand that you view the visual arts as "food for the soul." Do you draw inspiration for your paintings from the same place as you do your songs? Do you need both music and art in your life? 

Back in the day a guy named Albert Brooks made a movie called “The Muse” that starred him and Michelle Pfeiffer. See that movie and you’ll understand what it takes to be me!

My writing muse demands books, magazines, movies, plays, afternoons at great museums of the world, she wants to travel, she wants to spa, she wants to be entertained both by other writers, by other musicians, she wants to be read to by the original author, she needs me to do things to help other people or she won’t produce!

For a few years she needed to go to Paris every year, then one year it wasn’t enough. For the past few years it’s been Clarksdale, Miss., that has given her joy.

This has also been a great joy for me and I’ve made some wonderful friends all over the world thanks to her constant need for sensory input. Sometimes I can just take her to the Art Institute of Chicago for an afternoon, but sometimes she needs to go shopping at some extravagant little shop or on the Internet. It’s expensive!!

I need art, sculpture, paintings, I need books and lots of them, I need more than 300 channels of TV, and great food. I need stimulating conversation. I understand that all other people need is sex, that must be nice, and a lot less trouble.

Recently, I’ve discovered computer art and also started making jewelry as well as painting. I like to paint scenes from the blues life and views from the van, so my paintings are either very colorful and filled with people or they’re landscapes rushing by.

My dad was really helpful in my early artistic life. He bought me a set of acrylic paints which I took on the road with me to help pass the time while touring.

I realized awhile back that I’ve been painting for sport for as long as I’ve been a musician for hire. I’m fortunate to have such pastimes that give me so much pleasure of expression.

If I hit that lottery I’d like to make an endowment to put art and music teachers into all the Chicago Public Schools. I think that  our culture suffers from lack of cultural education.

People need an understanding of art and music to be whole. We’re missing that.
 

Q - What goals do you have for Blue Kitty Music? Would you like to sign other artists to your label?

I’ve recently talked to a few artists about doing a compilation CD that would feature several of my favorite underappreciated people. I’d like to put out at least one disc a year and have four artists doing three songs each, or vice versa.

Then I’d like to mount a tour with these people featured on a series of concerts.  It’s a lot of work and planning and I do it all myself out of my own pocket,  so it all takes longer than I’d like, but yes, there will be more Blue Kitty Projects with other artists!

Writing for Shirley Johnson kind of opened my ears to hearing other voices from my pen. It’s wonderful to hear someone singing something you’ve written!

I love collaborating with other artists, trying new things, as long as we’re all having fun doing it. Life should be fun and art should make you joyful.

Life is too full of sadness and disappointment to be seeking other than to spread pleasure. My own experiences both in my childhood and early career were so difficult to overcome that I decided along the way that I only want to work with people I like, promote people who are good at heart and do things to make people laugh and feel better.

Even a song that I write that makes you cry in the end had let you release some pain, so it’s all good.

Last  year I’d planned to do a Blue Kitty Christmas CD, but only got one track finished. That track featured my Dutch friend (the one who made me get on with it and record "Sweet Potatoe Pie") Peter Struijk on slide, Rockin Johnny Burgin on guitar and Martin Lange on harp. 




We used it to raise money for the Red Cross Hurricane Sandy Relief. I’m planning another track for this year, also for the Red Cross. Who knows, in a few years we’ll have a whole disc!

I’m also working on remixing some of my material with some young, talented DJ’s and producers. I am not one of the crowd that loudly proclaims the death of the blues while holding a foot to its throat when it’ s trying to evolve! Art will change, music will change, it’s change or die, isn’t it? One of my favorite movie quotes is Clint Eastwood from "Heartbreak Ridge," as the tough Marine, Thomas “Gunny” Highway, says “Improvise, adapt and overcome!”

That is my motto and should be the motto of every living blues artist that wants this music to continue. Even Willie Smith said, “I ain't trying to play the same stuff I was in the 1950’s. I ain't the same guy I was then, the music ain't the same. It couldn’t be the same if it wanted to be!”

Now, out of all the self proclaimed carriers of the blues torch I think Willie Smith is the guy I’m a be listening to!

Q - You've done so many things. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?


When I was 20-something, I took classes at The School of Metaphysics. I don’t think it exists anymore, but one of the assignments was “write a list of all the things you want to accomplish.”

So I wrote down travel to Europe, get a college degree, learn to speak French, have a world class band, make a CD, own a building, be able to cook gourmet food, have friends on more than one continent, be respected by my musical peers, have a good touring vehicle, write award winning songs, make money from my music…”

There were about 20 things I wanted to do. Well, I guess I have to write a new list, because I did all those things and more. I’m always surprised to think I’ve done so many things, in fact, unless I’m looking at a list of things I’ve accomplished, it doesn’t seem to me like I’ve really done much!


I have yet to win a Nobel Prize or to be asked to perform for the President or the Queen, I’ve never played Carnegie Hall or even the Pabst Theatre In Milwaukee where I grew up. Although I’ve won songwriting contests and been inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame, I have yet to be nominated for a Blues Music Award!

I’d love to play Milwaukee Summerfest, (I’d like a good agent so I wouldn’t have to also do the booking for everything!) I’d like to return to Europe to play music with my friends there. I’d love to play in the Orient and Australia sometime before the flight is too daunting to imagine.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Chicago band The Differents serving up sweetly melodic songs on new CD



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Some things are just worth the wait.

Chicago band The Differents has just released its warmly melodic third album, "Christley Block." The album was originally recorded between 1999 and early 2002.


The Differents, comprised of Chris Meziere on bass, Dan Garrity on drums and Lou Hallwas on vocals/guitar, will perform June 14 at the Beat Kitchen, 2100 W. Belmont Ave., Chicago, at a CD release party for "Christley Block."

The Phil Angotti Band,  The Safes and The Handcuffs also are on the bill. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $8, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to The Differents frontman Lou Hallwas about the band's current activities.


Q - Great to talk to you. "Christley Block" was originally recorded between 1999 and early 2002. What made you want to release it at this time? How do you think the songs have stood up?

Thanks Eric, for chatting to me about the tunes! I basically want the music out there. I had a good long break from The Differents, and with time away, I really appreciate and am thankful for the time and people who played in the band.

The recordings we made weren't really made available to too many people. The funds weren't there. The Internet was dial-up.

Specifically though, with "Christley Block," as is often the case with most bands or musicians, the harshest critic you'll ever have is sitting there on your shoulder. Folks like us don't tend to put their most natural stuff/demos out there.

We sometimes seem to be too sensitive to what's coming out naturally. So, I'm basically tired of folks like me, and I really love what Chris Lordots got of us on tape at that time.

Sure, we can re-record, but why? It's all right there. It's how we sound. Dan Garrity and I sound like that together NOW! We're writing new songs now and letting things happen naturally.

These songs I think have aged well. They're simple, they're to the point and arranged accordingly.

I love them still. Anyone else may have overdubbed til the cows got jobs.
   

Q - I understand that Christley Block was the name of the building that you used to live in, and that some of the songs reference your days at Taft High School in Chicago. Is this one of the more personal albums that you have made?


Yes, the building is in Edison Park. I grew up in that area for the most part, and lived there in this building with our bass player, Chris Meziere and his wife, Traci.

It was a gas to be out on my own, room mates aside, for the first time. I found out a lot of things, as one does with first time anythings. I was nostalgic for the past.

The simplicity and the idealism, because this was a totally new experience for me. What I was writing was reflective of this.

A lot of creative things were going on in that apartment. Lots of songs were written. Chris is a song writer too.

We had people over all the time. So, it wasn't so much an album then. We recorded the songs with Chris Lordots, who also went to Taft with us, and is my closest friend to this day.

We recorded them as we got more familiar with them. This was all happening at the same time. The lyrics took longest, but these were experiences I knew were important.

They were humbling. I appreciated my parents more. The people in my life more. I think I insisted on going as personal as I could lyrically. My own voice.

Q - Is there a story behind The Differents' name?

The band formed in late 1992. Babies. The word "different" was showing up a lot, or I noticed it a lot.

In songs....Joe Jackson's "Right and Wrong"....he says that..."Right and Wrong, do you know the difference?"  It sounds like he's saying Different with an "s" at the end. Rob Schneider's comedic bit on Priscilla Presley's autobiography. Quoting Elvis as saying to her, "I'll treat you just like my sister, but different," cracked me up.

It seemed youthful, naive and boastful. None of the things I am now. It also seemed MOD. Also, asking for the band name to be continually misspelled by others. Ha.


Q - Now that "Christley Block" is out, The Differents will be working on its fourth CD. What are you goals for the album? When will it be released?

The goal is to have fun. Enjoy it. Write together or separately, whatever serves our little jazz band. We've got five or six songs so far.

However, it comes out is what I love about doing music. Let it happen. If we do three or four instrumentals, that's fine. It's music.

We're making it together. We'll record it when it's swinging... with Chris Lordots or ourselves.


Q - Your other band, Penthouse Sweets, also is working on a new album. How are you balancing your time in both bands? Does one band take priority over the other? Do you need both bands in your life?

I enjoy the gifts I get and give in both bands immensely! Love is not possessive!

The musical possibilities are endless when you play with a lot of people. It's completely intoxicating when things are working and the folks you're playing with listen to the whole rather than just themselves.


I play in a third band also, a country/swing outfit, Decoy Prayer Meeting. I find the time because it's what I love to do.

Q - Where do you see both The Differents and Penthouse Sweets fitting into the Chicago music scene? What do you think distinguishes the music scene in Chicago?

I don't know if we do, or how we would do it if we thought in those terms. I think we all just care about the whole of the song, and how to serve it.

Have fun with it, but come back to the simplest thing, its truest essence.

Writing and then playing a great song extremely well is still the point and biggest turn on. That's the whole of it I think for everyone in band.

Having a great time! There's no dance moves to work out. There's no light show. That's a non priority.

The human relation and communication is what I dig the most. The thing about the Chicago music scene is, there's nothing new under the sun, except, there's always something new under the sun.

There's a lot of talented people here, and I like a lot of the music they're making! We're playing with three of my favorites at The Beat Kitchen on June 14, Phil Angotti, The Safes and The Handcuffs.

This bill was no accident.

Q - What else is on the horizon for The Differents and Penthouse Sweets?

The horizon will be what we paint together. Do you like the corn?

When people make something together, a sound, a statement, art, they're basically saying: "I'm alive.

What the hell is going on? How long do we got? Is this a drag? No! Let's keep doing things that aren't a drag, let's hang around and be around people that aren't a drag."

For me, nothing does this better than playing music. Nothing. As long as it's fun, it shall continue to be done!

Thank you Frankie O'Malley for turning me on to that mantra.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

"Quantum Leap" head writer coming to Chicago as part of Ray Bradbury Festival




By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Ray Bradbury's influence was far and wide.

From June 7-9, Otherworld Theatre will present The Ray Bradbury Festival at Strawdog Theatre's Hudgens Hall, 3829 N. Broadway St., Chicago. More information is at www.OtherWorldTheatre.org.

Deborah Pratt, the co-executive producer and head writer of the beloved show "Quantum Leap," will be part of a panel discussion on "Ray Bradbury: The Man and the Legacy." She will also be speaking at 11 a.m. June 1 in Room 7 at the Whole Life Expo at the Schaumburg Convention Center, 1551 North Thoreau Drive, Schaumburg. More information is at www.wholelifeexpo.com.

I had the chance to talk to Pratt about Bradbury and how he shaped her career.



Q - Great to talk to you. You will be part of a panel discussion on Ray Bradbury. What kind of impact did Ray Bradbury have on you and your career? What do you think his legacy is?
He fired my readers' imagination.  His writing and choice of words always made me feel I was right there in the word he’d created for me.
The characters were my friend or my enemy. The danger was real and the people on the page I cared about, needed me to keep reading to make sure they were okay.
It’s a quality I strive for whenever I put thoughts onto a page/screen. I ask the Socratic questions of  “who, what, where, when and why” and seek the answers in the characters and in the world I’m creating.
How can I make this world as real as textured as I can so the reader discovers too late they have been drawn inside so deep, they never want to come out.
Q - What do you think a science fiction novel should accomplish?
An odyssey of the mind.  I consider myself a fantasy writer first, something Mr. Bradbury often said, (Well, other than “Fahrenheit 451.”) I think the writer should take the reader into the created world of place, time, people and things.
Make us feel, care and visualize with every word; ever blade of grass, taste, sight, sound and feeling externally and internally.

Q - What do you try to accomplish through your books?
All of the above and perhaps the inspiration to have the reader ask themselves the question “What if?”  I think Ray did that brilliantly is “Fahrenheit 451." He took a possible future world and played it out asking, what would you do if you found yourself here? 

He allowed the mind of the reader to make the leap of what life in a repressed society would be like and question themselves morally. I think the Vision Quest  begs the question morally as well as spiritually.

Q - Of course, you were the co-executive producer and lead writer of "Quantum Leap," a show that is still beloved to this day. Did you think when you were working on the show that it would have such an impact?
I don’t believe anyone creates and writes with that thought in mind. You do the best writing with the most truth, heart and feeling you can and hope that someone out there is moved by what you have offered.
Q - What were your goals for the show?
To stay on the air. They moved us six times in the five years we were on.  
To do the best show we could produce in the time and with the money we had. To have a great time and enjoy the wonderful people we were blessed to work with.
Q - What do you think Scott Bakula and Dean Stockwell brought to their roles?
Everything: charm, humor, pathos, warmth, humanity and drama. Scott was a hunk/hottie, the ladies loved and the men wanted for their best friend.
He could do anything we asked and more and Dean was a seasoned performer who always gave a 100 percent - and he was seriously cute and amazingly kind and nice. They both were.
Q - Do you think the show would have been as popular without them?
Not at all. They had great chemistry and made my work as a writer and a producer a blessing to go to work every day.  
We had a great staff and an amazing crew and when it all came together we were a wonderful show. Many people say we changed TV and by doing so changed, not just the U.S., but the world. Thanks to syndication, "Quantum Leap" is finding new audiences every day and its legacy lives on.


Q - One of the episodes that you wrote, "The Color of Truth," received a Lillian Gish award. What was your inspiration in writing the episode? Do you consider it one of your favorite episodes of the show?
I was reading through several "LIFE" magazines from the early '50s, and found a story about an elderly black man who worked for an elderly white woman in the segregated south.  
He would cook and clean and drive her around their small southern town and every day he would make her lunch and everyday they would eat at separate tables. I looked at the picture of them at their separate tables; she in the dining room and he in the kitchen and all I saw was two lonely people trapped by the norms of 1953.  
Norms that dictated this invisible wall that had to be there to keep them from a simple act of human kindness.  So I asked myself, what if a man from today {Sam Becket) was in that position. 
He was from 40 years in the future, long after civil rights had awakened America. He taught her that humanity was more important that the safety of past rules and ritual.  
And when the hospital wouldn’t take the little black girl and Miss Melly made them that moment for me was a salute to …. Who discovered blood plasma and died because a white hospital, who was using his transfusion technology, wouldn’t admit him.
That was the beauty of "Quantum Leap." We could comment on history from a present day perspective and we got to teach someone from the past the lessons of the present. 
I remember the movie “Driving Miss Daisy” came out after “The Color of Truth” aired and as beautiful as the film was and as wonderful as the performances were, I think “The Color of Truth” said and did more to share a very emotional lesson about the power of one person standing up against what’s wrong for what’s right, especially when it goes against everything we are taught.
I think that no matter what we are taught, in our hearts, in our DNA, we know what is right and good.  And it’s those who have the courage to stand up and fight for good will affect change. 

Q - Your daughter, Troian Bellisario, guest starred on "Quantum Leap" and now is on the hit show "Pretty Little Liars." What advice have you given her in her acting career? 
She did an episode I wrote called “Another Mother” and Dean Stockwell, who’d been a child star, told me not to make her work through her childhood. I honored that and let Troian find her way to the stage and screen herself.
I loved her with open arms and answered her questions when she had them. Rehearsed with her when she wanted my direction.
Filmed her when she needed audition tapes and let her know without question, that if she gave a thousand percent each time she stepped in to the lights; on stage or screen or life, she would succeed as long as she believed in herself and trusted without question that I and all who love her, believed her.  
She knows I always have her back.

Q - You've done so many things over the years. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
The "Vision Quest” series is my passion piece.  It’s my sci fi fantasy of an empowered humanity and a better world. I am creating it into a massive, transmedia event including more books, films, TV, persistent worlds and numerous, interactive games.
I believe it’s ahead of its time and its finding its way.
I’m working on a new novel, book two of “Age of Eve." I’m co-writing (my first co-creation since "Quantum Leap"), a trilogy of books with a wonderful writer named Lynn Isenberg called “The Field Paradox."
We are close to finishing the first book and a draft of screenplay.
I am close to directing a small film I wrote called “Heartswear” and that would mean a great deal to me. And as far as dream projects go…I would like to write a one woman show for myself and go back to the stage.
I have always liked working in front of audience. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

The Fabulous Miss Wendy storming across the country with guitar in hand


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

She has opened for Slash and been called a 21st century Joan Jett.

In fiery fashion, The Fabulous Miss Wendy is proving that a female can wield the guitar with as much power as a man. She recently played in Chicago as part of the national Femme Fest 2013 tour.

I had the chance to talk to Wendy, www.thefabulousmisswendy.com, about her current activities.


Q - How has the tour been going?

It has been going absolutely wonderfully. We have been well-received at every single city we have gone to.

Q - Why do you like being part of a festival like this?

I love Femme Fest because it is all about girl power, and the fact that rock 'n' roll isn't a man's world any more.

Q - Do you still find yourself fighting for credibility?

Whenever I tell someone I play guitar and I shred on it, they look at me like I'm from the planet Mars.

It is difficult as a girl to get credibility, because I think a lot of people tend to write off girls as guitar players just right off the bat.

It's the great thing for me, but it is also kind of like my Achilles heel at the same time. It's a mixed bag, and I don't feel like a female guitar player, I feel like a human guitar player.


Q - So it's a novelty?

It kind of is in a way, but I don't think it should be. And in the future, I don't think it will be. The evidence in that is that there are more little girls picking up guitars than little boys.

Q - Because you yourself picked up the guitar at age 10. What attracted you to the guitar?

My older brother very much got me into rock 'n' roll music. He actually tried to teach me how to play when I was 5, but I was just so little, my hands couldn't even get around the guitar.

He played a lot of music for me that I wouldn't have necessarily heard otherwise, like grunge music and punk music, and all kinds of stuff. And he played guitar, and I just wanted to be like my big brother.


Q - And now you have this new album, "No One Can Stop Me!" that is going to be released nationally in July. You raised more than $5,000 through Kickstarter to help fund the record. Was that easy to do?

By the time it was all said and done, it was about $14,000 to make the record. Kickstarter is very, very common these days.

The reason I did Kickstarter was because a lot of people were telling me, "Wendy, you should do Kickstarter." And so I finally decided to listen to everybody's advice.

It's so wonderful. It's kind of bringing the world closer to unity, because it's encouraging cooperative efforts and entrepreneurial endeavours.

I ended up writing a lot of songs for people who gave $100.

Q - Kim Fowley, who managed the group The Runaways in the 1970s, produced the album. What did he bring to the table?

I was so happy to be working with Kim, and I also felt validated that I really did make the best record that I could. I tried so hard to make a good record, and it just felt great that somebody like Kim Fowley thought it was good.

Q - I guess he also called you a 21st century Joan Jett.

Sometimes he also calls me Joan Jett's daughter. It makes me feel great. I just have so much love and respect for Kim.

Q - Do you consider The Runaways or Joan Jett to be inspirations?

I do. They are the originators of girl rock. Nobody really came before them, to speak of. I think Joan Jett is still the queen of female rock 'n' roll.


Q - What did you learn from the experience of opening for Slash?

I learned so much. Slash is such a nice guy.

I remember the first night that I played with Slash, there was probably about 4,000 people in the audience. I dedicated the song "Crazy F..... Up B...." to all the ladies in the audience, and I heard 2,000 girls scream.
And that's when it just me that I was playing in front of 4,000 people.

Q - Did you feel that you had made it?

I felt that I was definitely on the right track. I feel like success is a lifetime process. I don't feel like success is just something that happens one day, or it doesn't.

I think that in order to be successful, you really have to apply yourself as a career artist for your entire life.

You just have to be dedicated, and keep going.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Pioneering band Chrome to perform rare show in Chicago

Photo by Angie Skulls



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Long before there was Sonic Youth or Nine Inch Nails, there was San Francisco experimental band Chrome.

Chrome will perform a rare show May 18 at the Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave., Chicago, as part of the HoZac Blackout Fest. More information is at www.emptybottle.com.

I had the chance to talk to Chrome guitarist Helios Creed, www.helioscreed.com, about the show and Creed's upcoming album of unreleased material, "Half Machine from the Sun, the Lost Chrome Tracks from '79 to '80."



Q - Great to be able to talk to you. Will you be performing any of your unreleased tracks at the May 18 Chicago show? What should people expect from the show?



Hi. Yeah, we are performing some of the Lost Chrome Tracks, which are something like 35 years old, but haven’t been released yet. And we are performing our new single, " Prophecy," from our upcoming album of 2012 and 2013 material. 

"Prophecy" is on our www.Pledgemusic.com/chrome site for pledgers if you want to hear it. Expect a great show, what else!



Q - I understand the "Lost Chrome Tracks" were actually lost. When you heard them again, what were your thoughts? Do you regret not using the material on "Half Machine Lip Moves" and "Red Exposure?"

When I heard them, my thoughts were about how good the songs were and wondering why we didn’t release them.

It took a while to remember all the head trips of why. Yeah sometimes I regret it, but if I did they wouldn’t be able to be released now, so there wouldn’t be anything new from that era to hear now years later.

It's interesting to release all this time later, we’ll see what happens.



Q - In forming Chrome, what were your goals? Did you think you were pioneers at the time?



No, not really, we were trying to make cool music.

Q - Chrome is credited for influencing a number of bands, including Sonic Youth, Nine Inch Nails, Ministry and others. Do you see that as a compliment that so many bands would credit you for influencing them? What do you think about what those bands have created?

If they’ve credited Chrome, that's kind of cool, it's cool to inspire artists to find a new sound of their own, everyone feeds off everyone. I don’t find them very Chromish, though.

Q - After Damon Edge passed away in 1997, you continued with the band. What made you want to continue Chrome?

Because he didn’t do any live shows and I thought people deserved good live shows after supporting the band all these years.

Q - "Angel of the Clouds" was re-released this year. Do you see the album gaining new fans with its re-release?

Hopefully, it did really good in Germany I hope it does really good here.



Q - The music business has changed drastically since you first started. Do you think it's easier or harder to be a musician these days? What advice would you give to an up-and-coming guitarist?

Get a job.

Q - Are there any musicians today that you admire what they are doing? What do you think of the music scene in general these days?

I think its a good music scene, there is a lot of good music out there and a lot of good musicians to go see and support, there will always be that, support your local good bands.

Q - After the album is released in June, what's next for you and Chrome? Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

After the release "Half Machine from the Sun the Lost Tracks from ‘79-80," we will finish our album of new material that is almost done also. Then more live shows, and hopefully a world tour.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Chicago band JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound explores new musical ground on upcoming CD

Photo by Clayton Hauck
By ERIC SCHELKOPF

On its upcoming CD, "Howl," Chicago indie soul band JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound turns personal.

The album, its second for Chicago-based Bloodshot Records and third overall, is darker both musically and lyrically than its previous efforts. But that's just another step in the evolution of the band, which had gained attention for its inventive take on Wilco's "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart," which JC Brooks and The Uptown Sound performed with Jeff Tweedy in 2011 at Wilco's Solid Sound Festival.

"Howl" will be released on May 21, and the band, www.jcbrooksandtheuptownsound, will celebrate its release by performing May 25 at Mayne Stage, 1328 W. Morse Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $28, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to JC Brooks about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you again. You guys just got back from playing in France. How are audiences over there different from those in the states? Have you been able to build a good fan base over there?

Thanks man, right back at ya.  Over there it feels like shows are based more on emotion because the language barrier keeps me from using too much banter.

They appreciate that we've come so far to play for them, and we're excited to be there so it creates this feedback loop of good energy that makes for great shows. This was just our first trip to France, but I feel like we made a bunch of new fans and laid a good foundation for a return trip.



Q - Of course, the band's new album comes out this month. It seems like "Howl" is darker musically and lyrically than your last album, "Want More." In sitting down to make "Howl," what were your goals and do you think you achieved them?

We wanted to make something a lot more personal that speaks to people who feel like they're alone or yearning. I just wrote from the heart - we all did, and I'm very excited about the result.

Q - I understand "Howl" is a song about young love. What are the major themes on the album?

Isolation, despair, loneliness, heartbreak...sounds like a total downer, but we tried to find a way to delve into these ideas without being all 'woe is me' about it.

Q - How did the "Rouse Yourself" campaign go? I understand celebrity guests will be featured in the video. Can you tell me about the concept for the video?

As of right now, it's still going on. Billy has a friend out in L.A. who was willing to help us out because he likes the band but he's a busy guy with a tight schedule so we had to get out out there and shoot some stuff before he was unavailable. I don't want to say too much but it has hints of Scorsese's "The King Of Comedy."

Q - Howard Bilerman, who has worked with such bands as Arcade Fire and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, produced "Howl." How did you hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

We came to work with Howard because we were looking for a producer who would be able to help us flesh out the new sound that we're working with.

After putting out lines to a couple of different guys, Howard seemed like he really understood what we were trying to do. We're working with different themes and new sounds -stylistically and with instrumentation (i.e., synths as opposed to Hammond, etc) but we didn't want to lose the rawness that was sort of the essence of our previous records.

Howard understood that and work with us in a really relaxed way. Based on our demos he had ideas coming into the process, but he did more gentle guiding than being dictatorial about it.

We rewrote stuff that was fun but didn't quite work, and he helped us find a common thread that brought all of the different sounds together.

Q - Who are your biggest musical inspirations and how do you think they play a part in your music?

As far as song writing it changes day to day because I feel like I'm constantly immersed in awesome music. For performance, its a lot of lady musicians - Beyoncé, Janelle Monáe, Patti LaBelle, Tina Turner.

They're all highly emotive, energetic performers who leave it all on the stage. I can't imagine someone going to one of their shows and not feeling like they got their money's worth.



Q - I know that you don't like the term neo soul in describing the band, but there seems to be continued interest in soul music, both on a local and national level. Why do you think soul music has such a long shelf life?

Hey, "neo-soul" is better than "soul-revivalist", lol.  I think that soul music continues to be popular in one form or another because it tends to come from a genuine place, which a lot of music does, but it also usually has a very pleasing groove, so the music pulls you in and you identify with the content at the same time.

It's also a genre associated with expressing strong ideas in tumultuous times

Q - This is your second record for Chicago-based Bloodshot Records. Being a Chicago band, is it extra special to be on a Chicago record label?

Absolutely! We live in a great city with an awesome musical heritage, and I'm glad to keep it all in the family - so to speak.

Q - Do you think you guys grew your fan base after playing at last year's Lollapalooza's festival in Chicago? Was that a privilege, knowing you were playing at a prestigious festival right in your backyard?

I know that we got in front of a lot of people who had never heard of us before, so in that respect, yes. It was super cool to be able to play Lollapalooza because there were a ton of incredible acts on the bill, and it's flattering to be included in their number - plus it was nice to only have to drive 15 minutes to load in.




Q - It frustrated me that radio stations like WXRT continued to only play your Wilco cover, "I Am Trying To Break Your Heart" even though you had a new album out, "Want More." Do you find it frustrating when radio stations overlook your current songs and don't give them a chance?

A little, but it's also a thrill to hear your work getting played on the radio. As much as I wished that any station would explore the album beyond that single, you have to trust that the programming directors know what they're doing. XRT's been super supportive of us, and we get a lot of great feedback from their DJs.

Q - How do you think the band has grown since it formed in 2007? Where do you see the band going from here?

I think that our sound has coalesced into something that is more uniquely us as opposed to a somewhat angular mix of our influences.

I honestly don't know where we're going to go from here, if you asked me a year ago what the next record with sound like I might have had some ideas but I also probably wouldn't have described what "Howl" turned out to be.

It's totally a growth process  - you never know where inspiration or influence is going to come from, and believe me, I'm really shitty at predicting the future :)

Friday, May 3, 2013

Indie roots band The Pines bringing darkly uplifting music to Chicago

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

On its latest album, "Dark So Gold," Minneapolis-based indie roots band The Pines presents songs that are darkly atmospheric but uplifting.

Comprised of Iowa natives David Huckfelt and Benson Ramsey, The Pines, www.thepinesmusic.com, will perform May 18 at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 9 p.m., and tickets are $18, available at www.schubas.com

I had the chance to talk to Ramsey about the band's current activities, which include making a new album.

Q - Great to talk to you again. Of course, you guys are touring in support of your latest album, "Dark So Gold." I understand that you came up with the album's title before you even wrote the songs for the album. How did that happen and do you think that helped in the creative process of making the album?

We did a tour of England the winter before we recorded "Dark So Gold." I think we were in Scotland when the phrase appeared. It was a heavy winter up there and it was very pretty and lonesome.  

We were never for sure it would be the title. It's rare that little ideas as that sticks around for very long, because we try to stay in the moment, whatever that means.  

But I do think it helped the creative process. It was sort of a guiding light. The phrase holds a feeling and I think it resonates through the record. 

Q - In sitting down to make "Dark So Gold," what were your goals and do you think you achieved them? 

The goal for us is always songs, but there is always this other thing that is hard to name that we have been wanting to capture, a landscape. I think "Dark So Gold" brought us closer to that place. 

Q - Your previous album, 2009's "Tremolo," received rave reviews. Did you feel pressure in following up the album? 

"Tremolo" got some great reviews and was a great record for us, there was a little pressure to hold the bar up for us but not as much as the pressure we put on ourselves to create a record that we are proud of. 

I think for us, since we started, we knew it was going to take awhile to be able to make the record we are wanting to make, and each one i think gets us closer. 


What do you see as the main themes on the album?

I think for me if there is a main theme, it's coping with modern times, the space between cities, the light pollution, the way technology seems to be connecting us but underneath is really separating us on a profound level.

I think these songs are meditations on that. 

Q - Even though the both of you are from Iowa, I understand you guys met in Arizona, where you both lived in a Mexican barrio. Was there a strong musical chemistry right from the start?

Our immediate connection were Iowa songwriters like Dave Moore, Joe Price, Greg Brown, Dave Zollo, etc. And blues music. The Delta blues and the Chicago blues were our foundation from the start and still is our foundation. 

Even though our songs might not seem like blues music, the blues is very mush at the core of what we do.

Q - Some people might think of your songs as being dark or bleak. How do you view your songs?

I think there is a light and dark to the songs. I think there is a darkness but it has to be dark to see the stars - with "Dark So Gold," we did try to explore the pretty, peaceful side of dark.

Q - Alex Ramsey is also part of the band. How is that working? Do you ever worry that sibling rivalries will cause a rift in the band?

Having Alex as a full time member has been nothing but great. He adds another dimension, in his playing and just his spirit. 

I'm so blessed to get to work with him. 

Q - The band opened for Loudon Wainwright last year at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. What does the band learn from sharing the stage with musicians of such caliber?

We have opened and shared stages with so many great artist of our time. It is always interesting to see how the guide their ship. There is a lot to be learned from the ones that have been doing it for a long time, from their shows to the way they treat people around them.  

We did a couple of shows with Mavis Staples, and we were just in awe at her spirit and her ability to be fully present and in the moment. The music didn't feel like it was just be performed but being created right there. 

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

In the short term, we are writing and getting ready to record a new record and hope to have it out later this year. 

Our long term goals are to continue to grow as artists.