Thursday, December 30, 2010

Musician Kelly Hogan wrapping up a busy year


To say that Kelly Hogan is in demand is an understatement.

The former Chicagoan and Georgia native seems to be everywhere these days, including touring with Jakob Dylan earlier this year and appearing on Mavis Staples' new album, "You Are Not Alone."

One of her pet projects is The Flat Five, which will perform at 8 p.m. Jan. 7 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston,

Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 the day of the show, available at

I had the chance to talk to Hogan about her busy year.

Q - You moved to Evansville, a small town in Wisconsin. How is that going? Have you adjusted to life there?

It's like going from Chicago to Mayberry. When I get home from touring, it's quieter and I don't have to dodge gunfire from 15-year-old idiots on my street corner. If I am killed in some gang gunfire, tell people I was pissed. It's the wrong way to go.

Q - You've had such a busy year. You've had so many projects this year, from singing backup vocals on Mavis Staples' new album to touring with Jakob Dylan. What has your favorite project been?

That Mavis thing is pretty mind blowing. Jeff Tweedy (who produced the album) knew who I was and we've known each other for a long time. I've been a huge fan of hers for a long time. She's an amazing force of nature.

Q - Of course you did both projects with Nora O'Connor. Why do you think you're a good fit with Nora?

We just fit together really well. And she's a really good friend of mine. We don't have to verbalize. We just sort of fall in. It just like this unspoken thing.

We both can do high parts and low parts. We switch around all the time.

Q - And of course you are both in The Flat Five. That is a big pet project of yours, I understand.

I just wanted a band with more harmony. I'm a harmony junkie. When you sing harmonies, it's like this physical sensation.

Singing harmony or backup is completely different than fronting a band. We call ourselves the noble sidemen. Singing harmony is 90 percent listening and 10 percent output.

Q - What are you trying to do with the band?

We kind of just do The Flat Five for us. We kind of don't care. We just challenge ourselves musically.

It's fun to arrange. Our favorite thing is rehearsing. We always go to Nora's house and make a big pot of soup and drink wine. We rehearse for six hours at a time. It's super fun.

We just do any song we feel like. We recently learned the "Price Is Right" theme. I am not kidding.We just do it for musicianship and it's for fun. We just love it.

Q - And you're not worried that you are perhaps known more these days for being a backup singer?

That's all good. It's really a good way for me personally to be a better musician, singing with different people and different styles and different situations. I'm always trying to kind of scare myself all the time.

Q - You've worked a lot with Neko Case. Why do you think you and Neko get along so well?

Because we're both dirty, dirty women. And we like dogs more than anything in the world, dogs and music. We hit it off right away.

Q - I'm sure your fans would like for you to come out with a new album sometime soon. Are you working on new material? What should people expect?

I will be this winter. I try to play make out music, try to bring people closer together. I have folks who have contributed songs.

It's almost like I've been calling in markers. I've worked with all these different people, so I'm sort of calling in markers, like, hey dude, will you write me a song?

Q - Like who?

I don't want to talk too much about it, because I'll get in trouble with my manager. And also I just don't want to talk about it too much because I've got so much work to do this winter. I don't want to jinx it.

Q - Some people might be surprised that there are so many alternative country artists living in the Chicago area.

Country is not a region per se. Look at the popularity of so-called radio country music for the past 10 or 20 years. It's huge. It's more like a class thing.

When I first was considering moving from Atlanta, where I lived my whole life, to Chicago, I sort of had to scope it out.

Somebody sent me to Carol's Pub on the north side. I don't know if you've ever been there, but boy, is it filled with hillbillies. And then I said, alright, I can live in this town.

When I first moved to Chicago, there was a bar named Hillbilly Heaven over by The Green Mill. I thought, well, shoot, if I get homesick, I'll just come over here and have a can of beer.

Where I live now in Wisconsin, I call it the southern north or the northern south. There's a Piggly Wiggly grocery store and tractors. It's just like the little town my mom lives in, in Georgia.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Backyard Tire Fire blazing a trail beyond Chicago music scene


Bloomington-based Backyard Tire Fire continues to expand its musical horizons.

The band,,  is headed by former St. Charles resident Ed Anderson, a 1990 St. Charles High School graduate. The band's lineup also includes his brother, Matt, on bass, and Tim Kramp on drums.

Backyard Tire Fire's latest album, "Good to Be," has been getting play on Chicago radio station WXRT and was produced by Steve Berlin, who has worked with the likes of R.E.M. and Sheryl Crow and is best known for being a member of the band Los Lobos.

Anderson will return home when the band performs New Year's Eve at Chord On Blues, 106 S. First Ave., St. Charles,

Also on the bill is Alberts Folk Revival. The show starts at 9 p.m., with doors opening at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $20. 

I had the chance to interview Ed Anderson about the band's current activities, which included sharing the stage recently with Los Lobos.

Q - Your new CD has been getting airplay on WXRT. Was that a goal of the band, to get heard on Chicago radio? Has your fan base expanded as a result?

Definitely. I grew up listening to XRT, so getting into rotation on such a respected station in such a great city has been satisfying to say the least. 

I've met quite a few folks at Chicago or suburban shows that say they heard us on XRT and came to check us out, so it's certainly helping our cause.

Q - Steve Berlin produced "Good to Be" and of course you guys recently opened for Los Lobos at the Vic Theatre. Have you guys developed a good working relationship with Los Lobos? What are the chances of Backyard Tire Fire ever collaborating with Los Lobos in the studio?

Those guys have been really good to us. We've done several shows with them over the past year, including their record release show in NYC. Not sure if we'll ever get in the studio with all of them, but we would love to get the chance to make another record with Steve for sure.

Q - What were the band's goals in sitting down to make the album?

The goal is always to make a great record; to give the songs what they deserve. I think I was also thinking about a single. Something that could break through and get us on the radio across the country. And the title track "Good to Be" did just that. We were in over 60 rotations through the U.S.

Q - What's it like being in a band with your brother? Are there more advantages than disadvantages to the situation?

It's been good. And bad at times. We're very different people and probably talked more and got along better before we worked together. When there are things going on at home and we're on the road, it sure is nice to have a family member out there to help you through.

Q - How would you say the band fits in the Chicago area music scene? Is the Chicago area still a good place to make music?

Chicago is the greatest city in the US. And I think I've played in most of them. Chicago is overflowing with art, music, food, sports, culture, hard working folks, etc. 

I think of us as the Central Illinois boys that come up every few months to play our rock & roll songs, and then we slither back down to our inexpensive lives in the middle of the state. Having XRT on our side has certainly helped legitimize what we do in the Chicago area and beyond.

Q - Backyard Tire Fire has its own Wikipedia entry, a lengthy one, I might add. Is that a sign that the band has made it?

I'm pretty sure that anybody can have a Wikipedia entry, so I don't think so. I'm not really sure what it means to “make it.”

Q - It seems like it is easier these days for bands to get their music out. How has Backyard Tire Fire taken advantage of the technology that is out there?

You know, the usual stuff like itunes, Facebook, blogs, etc. I kinda miss the pre-cell phone, computer, technological overload days. I liked when people went to record stores and bought albums and went home and put them on their turntables.

Q - You released "Good to Be" on your own label. Do you see signing other bands to the label someday?

Not sure really. If the situation presented itself and made sense, why not?

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

Gonna slow things down a bit next year, get the finances back in order and take it from there!
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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Chicago blues singer Shemekia Copeland to ring in new year in Evanston


It only seems fitting that Grammy-nominated blues singer and New York transplant Shemekia Copeland has made Chicago her home for the past seven years.

Copeland's ties to the city are strong. She made four albums with Chicago-based Alligator Records, and now Alligator has released "Deluxe Edition," which features 16 tracks from her days with Alligator.

The 31-year-old Copeland will perform a New Year's Eve show at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston.

The show starts at 10 p.m., and general admission tickets are $40, available at

I had the opportunity to interview Copeland about a variety of topics, including the influence her father, the late Texas blues guitar legend Johnny Clyde Copeland has had on her, and how she sees herself fitting into the blues scene.

Q - How do you like living in Chicago?

I love it. I think the people are friendly, and there is so much great music around.

And Chicago has all the arts and culture. But it's a whole lot cleaner and not as many people as in New York. It's not like walking along Michigan Avenue, where you can actually walk along Michigan Avenue and observe and look and see, and walk with a certain amount of space around you.

Q - It seems like you are always getting new honors. In November, you were named best female blues artist at the 2010 Blues Blast Magazine Music Awards, and in July you were named female blues arts of the year by Living Blues Magazine. Do these honors still surprise you?

You know, I look at it this way. God has blessed me to have a job doing what I love, and I feel honored every day that I have that.

A lot of people go to work every day and they hate their gig. But I love mine, so I feel honored all the time.

It's just a little icing on the cake for me that people appreciate me.

Q - Unfortunately, blues legend Koko Taylor passed away last year. A lot of people said that you would inherit her title as Queen of the Blues. Do you accept that title?

Not really, because in my mind and heart, Koko will always be the Queen of the Blues.

I'm honored that people would say that I have the goods. But she will always be the Queen of the Blues as far as I am concerned.

Q - Would you consider her a musical influence?

Absolutely. Not only that, she was also a personal influence, because she was such a great lady.

She was so sweet to me. She would call me just to see how was I doing. And when she didn't believe me when I told her how I was doing, she'd call my mom to make sure I was telling her the truth.

Q - Alligator Records just released "Deluxe Edition," which features tracks from your Alligator albums over the years. Are you happy with the tracks they chose for the album?

Yes. I've never done a song I didn't want to do in the first place, so anything they would have picked, I would have said, "That's cool."

Q - Of course, last year you released "Never Going Back," your debut on the Telarc label. Are you working on any new music? What should people expect from the new CD?

Well, I haven't started working on anything yet. You can have ideas in your mind, but things kind of start taking shape when you start working on it. I think it will be definitely in the same vein as what I was trying to do with "Never Going Back."

Q - What were your main goals for that album?

I wanted to be more honest with my feelings and thoughts about what was going on in the world.

I'm at the age for that now. When I was just getting started, nobody wanted to hear a teenager spew their opinions about what they think it going on in the world, because they don't know shit.

Q - Do you think your dad is still an influence on you?

Absolutely. I listen to him all the time just to get inspired. It's all about how you were raised.

All the lessons I learned from him about being a musician and work ethic and all of that was great, but he was a really great father too.

Q - He brought you on stage at the Cotton Club in Harlem to sing when you were just eight. Do you have any memories of that day?

I remember that plain as day. I was scared to death. That you don't forget.

Q - Your live shows always draw rave reviews. What do you like about being in front of an audience?

I like communicating with the people, and being there with the people. That's my favorite part.

Q - A few years back, there was a surge of interest in the blues, but it seems like now it's hard to get people to listen to the blues. What do you think it is going to take? Is it going to take younger people like you to bring people to the blues?

I've stopped trying to figure it out. I had all these unrealistic ideas that I was going to change this music and make it as big as country music.

My goals changed a long time ago. I know in my heart of hearts that as long as I'm doing it, the blues will always be around.

I don't know what it's going to take. Everybody is always waiting for the next guitar player savior to come and save the blues.

Q - Do you find it strange too that you are likely to see more Caucasions at a blues club than African-Americans? Does that frustrate you at all?

No, it doesn't frustrate me. I love anybody who comes out and supports me and supports the music.

I get frustrated with people who don't really care about the music. Like every year, there's some artist in a different genre that is not doing well in their genre, so they decide they want to make a blues record.

And then it gets nominated for a Grammy in the blues category, and people who deserve to be in it don't get nominated. They don't get recognized, because it's all about name recognition.

But at this point in my life, I try not to let anybody frustrate me or anything, because otherwise you will be frustrated all the time.

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Chicago record label giving away music this holiday season

Chicago-based Grape Juice Records wants to give the gift of music this holiday season.

From now until Jan. 1, music lovers can download a compilation of the label's artists at:

The label features a wide variety of musical stripes, from folk to straight ahead rock 'n' roll, so you are bound to find something that interests you.

So treat yourself to some free music today.