Thursday, May 26, 2011

Head East, Cryan' Shames, Jimmie Van Zant Band head up benefit concert this weekend in Sandwich

Looking to take in some classic rock this holiday weekend?

Well, you will have plenty of classic rock bands to choose from at Troop Stock, being held Saturday and Sunday at Mongo's On Main, 4692 E. 29th Road (Main Street), Sandwich.

Among those bands set to appear are Dirty Dan Buck & The Cool Rockin Daddies, Hot Rocks, Evolution, Infinity, Buckshot Bullies, C-Factor, Cryan' Shames, Road Angel, Head East and the Jimmie Van Zant Band.

Tickets are $30, and more information is available at

Proceeds from the weekend concert will benefit military families. As an added bonus, those who come out will get to hang with former Chicago Bear Steve McMichael, who happens to own Mongo's On Main.

What more convincing do you need?

Paul McCartney to play at Wrigley Field this summer?

Paul McCartney performs the Beatles' classic B...Image via Wikipedia

I still have great memories of seeing Paul McCartney performing at Soldier Field in Chicago several years back.

Now there are rumors swirling about that McCartney will perform July 31 and Aug. 1 in Wrigley Field. If he does, it would be the first time McCartney takes the stage at a Chicago baseball stadium since The Beatles played at Comiskey Park in 1965.

We can only hope that he loves Wrigley Field, yeah, yeah, yeah.
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Guy Fieri to serve up cooking show Saturday at Horseshoe Casino

Celebrity chef and TV personality Guy Fieri will give a live cooking show at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, May 28, at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive, in Hammond, Ind.

The show will feature interactive cooking stations, secret tips and dishes from his new cook book "Guy Fieri Food," as well as behind-the-scenes stories from the road.

Tickets range from $39.50 to $250, available at

Prior to the show, Fieri will be at Meijer's, 10138 Indianapolis Boulevard in Highland, Indiana, from 1 to 2 p.m. for a book signing.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Who singer Roger Daltrey to take "Tommy" on the road, will perform at Horseshoe Casino in October

Although The Who never played "Tommy" from beginning to end, Who lead singer Roger Daltrey will when he performs the iconic album along with other Who classics Oct. 7 at The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, 777 Casino Center Drive in Hammond, Ind.

In a press release, Daltrey described the show and visuals as a "show for today's audience from a different perspective."

" 'Tommy,'  an album that tells a story about a 'deaf, dumb, and blind boy' who becomes the leader of a messianic movement, will always be seen as a turning point for the band,” Daltrey said in the release. “Within it, I found the new voice of The Who and the band found its stride in making that music, adjusting it, using all that knowledge that we had from jazz and the blues into making it work in a rock way.”

The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets range in price from $49.50 to $250, available at

Billboard winners Neon Trees to perform in Chicago next month

 The band that took home the "Top Alternative Song" award at Sunday's Billboard Awards ceremony will perform June 8 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Ave., Chicago.

Utah band Neon Trees won the award for its single "Animal," beating out Linkin Park, Florence and the Machine and Mumford & Sons.
The show starts at 6 p.m., and tickets are $16 in advance, $18 at the door, available at

Monday, May 23, 2011

Chicago music legend Andre Williams to perform at Millennium Park


Chicago singer-songwriter-producer Andre Williams is a musician for the ages.

Over the years, Williams has worked with everyone from Stevie Wonder to Ike Turner to Parliament/Funkadelic.

At age 74, he continues to blaze a trail. Last year, Williams released "That's All I Need" on Chicago-based Bloodshot Records featuring several current Detroit bands like the Sights and Electric Six along with legendary guitarist Dennis Coffey, a member of Motown house band the Funk Brothers.

Williams will provide a musical lift to the Memorial Day holiday when he performs a free show at 6:30 p.m. May 30 at Millennium Park in Chicago. Justin Townes Earle also is on the bill.

He is the man behind "Shake A Tail Feather"" and his songs have also been embraced by today's generations of musicians. His song "Bacon Fat" was covered by punk band the Cramps.

I had the honor of talking to Williams about his illustrious career.

Q - Which do you like better, performing at festivals or in clubs?

Well, I like the outside shows because generally there's more people at them. But the inside shows are a little more intimate.

Q - What should people expect at the Millennium Park show? Are you going to be doing songs from your whole career?

I know we are going to do two or three songs from the old rock 'n' roll, rhythm and blues stuff. Then we're going to do a few from the real raw rock stuff, and then maybe a couple from the recent stuff.

Q - So you like to mix it up for people?

Oh yeah. First of all, I never claimed to be a fantastic singer or vocalist. My strategy is just to be a good entertainer.

And in order to do that, I have to do a little of it all.

Q - You went back to Detroit to make the album "That's All I Need." How was that experience?

It was fantastic. Especially with Dennis. He brought back some of the memories of Motown for me.

Q - The Motown scene created such great music. Was it a better music scene than today?

That's a very good question. I wouldn't call it better. I would say the scene today is just as good, but it doesn't have as much glue.

The hit songs nowadays don't hang around very long. It doesn't give you a chance to really tour the songs out.

Before, in the rhythm and blues days, you could go two years and still be hot with the same song. But now, if you get a hit and don't jump right on it, in six months, you're almost like a brand new artist.

Q - The songs from that time seem to have a lasting appeal.

There you go. They were more wordy, and the stories had more depth. Now the stories are quick. It's that quick knock out punch.

Q - You wrote the song "Shake A Tail Feather." A lot of artists have covered the song, including Ray Charles and Ike and Tina Turner. Do you have a favorite cover?

I think I like Ike and Tina's the best. 

Q - What do you think they brought to it?

Energy, where Ray Charles brought more feeling to it. It had pain it it. But on Ike and Tina Turner's album, it had the "OK, let's get it on feeling."

Q - What was your inspiration in writing that song?

OK, since you asked that question, I knew there had to be a way to say, "Come on, and shake your ass." 

At that time, there was a lot of censorship. So I had to say, "Shake your tail," and then I put the feather in it to clean it up.

Q - Yeah, I like Ike and Tina's version because it makes you want to get up and dance.

Yes, exactly. And Ray Charles' version makes you want to listen.

Q - In 1998, you came out with the album, "Silky." Some people called it the world's sleaziest album ever. What do you think of that description?

"Silky" came out during a period in my life where I was doing everything wrong. Whatever you could figure that was wrong, Andre was doing it. 

It wasn't hard to make "Silky" because I was in that sleazy way of life. I was doing everything sick, dirty, unacceptable. 

But sometimes that type of situation sells. It wasn't because I was trying to figure out the market. It was just that I was being Andre, and I was in a real dirty stage in my life.

Q - You made that album with members of garage punk bands Demolition Doll Rods and the Dirtbombs. It seems like everyone wants to work with you, from all these different genres of music. Why do you think that is?

Well, that's another good question. I think it's because I try to bring something to the table that all musicians want to put in their medicine bag.

When you're traveling, you want to make sure you've got the aspirins, or make sure you've got the comb or the brush. That's what it is.

It's needed to complete the entire makeup of an artist. I think that's what they appreciate. Some of the people have to struggle to get it, and some get lucky enough to get the experience from Andre, who has already been doing it.

Q - You've worked with so many people, including Parliament/Funkadelic, Stevie Wonder and Ike Turner, of course. Have you had any favorite projects or favorite people you've worked with?

I've tried not to put any one of those artists better than the other one. I've have always seen all of those artists as artists who really wanted to succeed.

You can tell in a artist if he's there for the play or there for the pay. So when I see an artist who is there for the stay, that's when things work for Andre.

Q - When you first started out, you wrote "Bacon Fat," which hit #9 on the Billboard R&B charts in 1957 and then they sold the song to Epic Records. Did you think the song would have been such a hit, that people would connect to it so much?

Well, I didn't know. But I knew that somewhere in the scheme of things, that there was a market for Andre Williams.

I knew I couldn't be Jackie Wilson. I knew I couldn't be Smokey Robinson. I had to just tell it, instead of trying to sing it. And it worked.

Q - Why do you think it does work?

Because people want to know the truth. If you can entertain them and lay it out there, it's more digestible.

Q - You're 74 years young.

Seventy-four. I never would have believed it. I didn't think I would see that number. No way.

Q - Do you have any life lessons?

My advice is don't be afraid to try. If you can see it, you can reach it.

But if you are too scared to try, it's not going to happen. Don't be afraid to get up out of the bed.

Some people won't get up at the moment because they know what's going to happen, or at least they think they know. So they say, "I might as well stay in bed because nothing is going to happen good anyway."

That's the wrong way. Get up, make up your bed, put on your shoes and start walking.

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Thursday, May 19, 2011

Chicago singer Jennifer Hall bringing honesty, energy to music scene


With her vocal prowess inviting comparisons to Adele and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine, 23-year-old singer-songwriter Jennifer Hall of Chicago is someone bound to make a big mark.

To get a taste of her music, go to

Hall just finished her first full-length album, "In This," and will perform Tuesday, May 24, as part of Songcircle: Chicago Showcase at Schubas, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

Other Chicago musicians on the bill include Sad Brad Smith, Ani Saraiya, Emmi Chen (of Ornery Little Darlings), and Musikanto. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to the former Des Plaines resident about her new album and how she juggles making music with being a nanny.

Q - It seems like you've been pretty busy in the past few months.

Well, I sort of did things out of order. I was lucky enough to meet some great musicians and had some songs ready to go and had access to a studio.

I had everything in place where I could record an album. From a creative standpoint, that was the right decision. So we went ahead and made a record, myself and my band members, starting about a year and half ago.

We recorded the album, and then we played at Schubas in January. We were formerly known as Nights, but for now, I'm just going by my name. 

We recorded the album first, and then tried to promote ourselves well, and to share what we have being doing.

Q - I think your music is very mature considering that you only 23 years old.

Well, thank you. I've always heard that I have an old soul.

Q - Has the album been released yet?

No. That's the struggle with being an artist for me. Creatively speaking, I was very eager to record, but I didn't have the business end of things worked out. I think that will get worked out in the next couple of months. We will decide whether to try to do a self-release, or try to work something else out.

We've been lucky enough to get a pretty positive response so far, so we are hoping to share the music.

Q - What did you want to achieve with the album?

All the songs relate to one another nicely. It's very much an album. It is intended to be digested as a whole, as a set of ideas specific to a time and a person, obviously me.

The goal always has been, for me personally and the members of the band, about being honest and serving the song. 

We're not trying to sound like any certain artist or to follow a certain trend, or do what we think is popular.

Just serving the song is a good way to go, trying to be in tune with what it needs as opposed to what you may have envisioned in the past.

Q - Listening to the songs on the album, there's lot of different moods. "When We Were Good" has a real dark edge it.

All of these songs are obviously linked to personal experiences. I think I have definitely had a good amount of experience with difficult life circumstances, things happening, relationships, whatever.

I consider myself a fairly thoughtful person. 

Q - It seems like that song would be fun to perform. It's a song the band really clicks on.

Yes, it is. We will be doing that one at Schubas on May 24. It is fun every time we play it. And I feel there is a lot of growth and movement in the song. It is a good one to wail on.

Q - It seems like you didn't want to make a one note album.

We went in not really thinking in terms of genres. We were just trying to lay down each part, tracking each instrument with an idea of what the song felt like, what it needed and wanted.

It does touch on a lot of different moods and genres. I'm kind of OK with that. An album to me can be as different as a person.

A person just doesn't feel one way. People aren't always happy. I try to think of an album as a diverse person, as opposed to one night of the week or one emotion.

Q - There is a strong jazz genre in your music.

I regularly listen to Billie Holiday, and I love Ella Fitzgerald. Billie Holiday is incredibly inspiring.

Q - You recently became a blond.

I did. I went through a bit of  a rough breakup, to say the least. I just wanted a change and to try something new. I've had friends who said they hardly recognize me, but they said it looks great.

Q - Are you able to do this full time?

I am a nanny during the day. I work with some really awesome kids. And somehow it seems like there has always been a creative bug in the families I've worked for.

Q - Are you giving them music lessons?

I've been able to share a love for music, or art. I worked with a little boy who really enjoyed playing guitar and he loved to sing. I worked with a little girl who was very creative, very outspoken. She loves to dance and loves drawing.

It really is a fitting thing for me right now. I lucked out immensely.

Q - Do you want to do music full time?

Yes. I always knew that music was something I was going to do. There are other things I enjoy. I love teaching. I love working with kids.

But I'm incredibly passionate about music and making music, and hope to do it for an extended period of time.

Q - How did your band come together?

Right now, the band is Noam Wallenberg on guitar and Alex Sheyn on bass. I met Noam on Craigslist, if you can believe it. I put up an ad for a guitarist, and 30 responses later, here's Noam responding.

He was still in school. He's only about to turn 22. He's pretty talented.

Noam was good friends with Alex. He's only a couple months older than Noam.

Q - It's amazing that the band is so tight for being such a young band.

It's a combination of luck and just them being really good guys.

Q - What are your short-term and long-term goals?

Not to sound too simplistic, but my short-term goals are to play a lot and write a lot, and my long-term goals are to play a lot and write a lot.

We want to get out there as much as possible, and share what we have been working on for the last two years. 

We want to meet a lot of other Chicago bands. I think the city is wonderful for music. I've met nothing but really great talented people here.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Actress Alicia Witt looking to break into music business, will perform this month at SPACE in Evanston

 Photo credit: Richard Agudelo


Actress Alicia Witt has become a familiar face through her roles on such TV shows as "Friday Night Lights," "Law And Order," and "Cybill," and through films like "88 Minutes," "Two Weeks Notice" and "Mr. Holland's Opus."

Now she wants to become a familiar face in the music world as well. The classically-trained pianist just signed a deal with Newark, NJ-based entertainment services company Rock Ridge Music to manage her music career, and recently released an EP on iTunes along with the single "Me Or New York."

Witt will perform at 8 p.m. May 29 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245 Chicago Ave., 

Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 a the door, available at

I had the chance to talk to Witt about her growing music career and how she looks to balance making music with acting.

Q - What goals did you have in sitting down and making the EP?

I wanted to do music for so long, and to finally record some stuff, was an incredible experience.

I'm working on a full-length album. But I have so many songs, so it's just about choosing the ones I want to record. Hearing what different producers bring to the things that I've written is such a great experience.

I want to keep the songs truthful to what I intended, but at the same time allow them to become a whole different thing through the ears of someone who didn't create them in the first place.

Q - I was looking through your bio. You started playing piano when you were 7, and you listened to '30s and '40s show tunes. I kind of hear that in your music, that big sound. Is that what you were going for?

I don't think I was going for anything specific. There are people who I love that are making music today, like Sara Bareilles, Pink, and Ben Folds, all kinds of artists today that I think are also drawing from a very melodic base.

I just generally love songs that mean something. It can be any genre, really. I like to know what the words are, and I like to know what the story is.

I love music that takes you somewhere, even if  it's just outside of your head for a moment. And that's what I think I related to when I heard all those great songs from the '30s and '40s when I was growing up.

But that not all I liked. I also loved Billy Joel and Elton John and Paul Simon. I thought Barry Manilow had some incredible songs, and they were a big part of my growing up as well.

Q - It seems like you have tried to incorporate music in the different acting projects you've had over the years. How was singing with Randy Newman in "Ally McBeal?"

It's hard to describe how awesome that was. I've always been a bit obsessed with his music. And to get to sings his songs in the show was a dream. I would love to have the chance to work with him again.

He was so sweet and humble. At a certain point, they were setting up a shot. We had a few minutes where we weren't going to be needed.

About 10 minutes went by, and nobody else was around. There was a pause in the conversation, and he looked around and said to me, "Do you think it would be OK if I went to the restroom?"

Q - Wow, like he had to ask.

Yeah, he looked around to make sure he wouldn't be holding anybody up. I said, "Yeah, I think you can go. I think they will wait for you." He was so sweet and so talented. I really look forward to the part of the Academy Awards every year when he sits down and plays.

Q - Of course, you have a lot going on. You recently signed with Rock Ridge Music. What made you want to sign with them?

I had a really good feeling about them. There's so much that an indie artist has to do to get their music heard. There's a limit to how much I can do.

From the first time I talked to them on the phone, it just felt right. I got this sense that they really understood what I was going for and that they were as passionate about what I want to do as I am.

This is an exciting new chapter. And what is amazing about Rock Ridge is that they basically do everything. They are going to be instrumental in introducing me to songwriters and producers. It's just a full team of people who are passionate about music, and I couldn't ask for anything more.

Q - Of course, you are working on your full-length album. What should people expect from the album? Are you building on what you did with your EP?

I like a lot of different genres of music. I think there's going to be a variety. It's definitely going to be a collection of tracks that are produced by different people.

One of the new tracks that will be on the new album is "Me Or New York." It's something that I only released a few weeks ago, and it's on iTunes now.

Q - You do have a busy acting schedule. You currently are working on "Cowgirls N' Angels." How has that been going?

It's been going great. We're shooting in Stillwater, Oklahoma. There's something great about being on location in some place remote where no one from the cast and crew lives ordinarily.

We end up having a real community of friends for that brief period of time. Last night, I went out for some local music, and it was really fun. It was a different feeling to be in a smaller town, and I like the fact that when you are in a place for a month or so, you get to feel in a way how it would feel to live there.

I'm lucky to have pseudo-lived in a lot of different places. It's one of my favorite things about doing this for a living.

Q - Speaking of that, you've done so much in your career, you've been in so many different roles. Do you have any favorite roles or projects?

Oh, a lot of them. One of my favorites, which I haven't seen yet in its entirety, is a movie called "The Boarding House" with Nick Stahl.

It was filmed last year in New York, and it will hopefully be coming out later this year. It's a very small love story about these people who are so afraid in their own ways.

They both really want something to happen for each other, but they're just kind of stuck. It's some of my favorite character work so far. I'm really excited about that one.

I loved making "88 Minutes," because I got to work with Al Pacino.

Q - Was it sad wrapping up "Friday Night Lights?"

It was incredibly sad. I'm in the series finale, which I was so grateful, because I didn't really know if I'd be in it.

The way they worked on that show was that you really didn't find out until a few days before you left for Austin if you were going to be in the next episode or not. So the whole time I was doing Season 4, I didn't really know how many episodes I was going to be in.

I ended up being in most of them that year, but I had no idea if I was going to be back in Season 5. And when I heard I wasn't going to be in Season 5 at all, I felt kind of sad, because I wanted to get to say goodbye to Cheryl.

I loved that character so much. She's so different from me, and yet I really identified with her at some level. I felt like if I had been born in a different place and my life had taken a different turn, I could have been Cheryl. Who's to say?

So I was so thrilled when I found out at the very last minute that I was going to be in the last episode. I got to be there and be a part of the ending of what I think was one of the best shows on television in recent years.

Q - It also seemed to be a good jumping off point for some of the actors and actresses in that series.

Speaking of which, it's crazy but true, Madison Burge, who I of course worked with in "Friday Night Lights," is in "Cowgirls N' Angels" as well.

When she called me to tell me she was going to be doing this movie, I couldn't believe it. I actually went to hear live music with her last night.

Q - As far as balancing music and acting, do you always see the need for having both in your life?

I really do. I can't imagine one without the other. The music is somewhat more of a new thrill. 

I can't imagine a world where I was only primarily acting, and I also can't imagine a world where I am only doing music, because I love slipping into characters and having these adventures.

Ultimately, I would like to do them both equally, and I would love to go on tours and have this be as big a part of my life as picking up and going to Stillwater for a month.

When I first started playing gigs, it was definitely really scary, but I knew the worst that could happen was nothing. And the fact that people come to the shows and listen and know the songs is beyond a thrill.
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Friday, May 13, 2011

Ronnie Baker Brooks infusing new energy into Chicago blues, featured on new tribute album


You can't  make an album about Chicago blues without including Ronnie Baker Brooks.

Brooks is part of Chicago blues royalty, the son of legend Lonnie Brooks. He played in his father's band for several years before leaving to carve out his own music career.

He is one of a star-studded cast of musicians featured on "Chicago Blues: A Living History The (R)evolution Continues," which will be released on June 7. The double-disc album is the follow up to 2009's Grammy-nominated self-titled CD, "Chicago Blues: A Living History."

Produced by Larry Skoller and backed by The Living History Band (Billy Flynn-guitar, Matthew Skoller-harmonica, Kenny "Beady Eyes" Smith-drums, Felton Crews-bass and Johnny Iguana-keyboards), the album represents a continuing tribute to Chicago blues.

Special guests on the album include Ronnie Baker Brooks, Buddy Guy, James Cotton, Magic Slim, Zora Young and Mike Avery. The album also features the talents of Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Lurrie Bell and Carlos Johnson.

I had the chance to talk to him about how he became part of the project.

Q - How did you enjoy being part of the project?

I really enjoyed it, man. When I heard the first one, I thought it was a great idea, and I said, "Man, I should have been a part of that."

When they were putting the second one together, Matt Skoller, Larry's brother, told me that they wanted to get me on the new one. Larry called, and got me a part in it.

I'm honored to be a part of a record like that. It's a great concept.

Q - On the album, you cover one of your dad's song ("Don't Take Advantage of Me") and remake one of your songs ("Make These Blues Survive"). How did that work out as far as song choice?

It was kind of up to those guys. They initially came to me with some other artists, and then the thought came to do one of my dad's songs.

I never really thought about recording any of my dad's stuff. I figured if I could bring nothing to those songs, why do it?

So I was really intimidated by it. But they talked me into doing it. And I'm happy they did. I got the approval from my father first.

It was a mountain for me to get over as far as my career goes. I always looked at my father's stuff as untouchable, as an artist. Doing this was like paying tribute to my father.

Q - What did you want to inject in the song? How did you want to make it your own?

I didn't make many changes. That song is so dominant, you've got to almost leave it like it is. We added a little more energy to it. It was almost like an updated version of it.

Q - Do you see yourself as a bridge between audiences who grew up listening to your dad and your own audiences? How do you see yourself?

You hit it right on the head. I always try to be a bridge. I latch on to what my dad, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Junior Wells, Luther Allison, all those guys, what they laid down.

What I try to do is keep that authenticity in today's sound. I try to stay true to the music and true to myself, because I love that stuff too and I love what is going on today.

Hopefully I can be that bridge for the younger generation to come on over and listen, and also get the approval of the older generation, to come on over and listen to what the younger cats are doing.

Q - Do you see people like Jonny Lang bringing younger people to the blues?

Yeah, Jonny's done that, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has done that, along with Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks. They've all done that and are still doing it. Their crowds getting older with them, and my crowds get older with me.

But Jonny and them have gotten into the mainstream a little more than I have, and of course they brought some of those young audiences into the blues. And we need that. And we also need the ones that are keeping it alive playing to the generation before me.

Q - And of course we keep losing the great ones. Pinetop Perkins recently passed away, along with Lacy Gibson.

It's sad to hear all that, but you know, it's a part of life. Buddy Guy has a song out now that says, "Everybody's Got To Go." It's so true.

That dash in between when you were born and when you die is what you want people to remember. Not the day you died, not the day you were born, but what you did while you were here. Pinetop laid down some serious stuff for us to follow.

That's why it's an honor to play on this record and showcase it on this record with people like James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Billy Branch, Magic Slim, all these great blues musicians.

Q - This isn't the first time you've rubbed shoulders with some living legends. You were also on "The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Revue" CD with the likes of Magic Dick. How was that experience?

That was cool. It started out being the cruise, the blues cruise. We would jam on the boat sometimes until 5 or 6 a.m. Tommy Castro was smart enough to take that concept onto land.

It was a great idea, and I wanted to be a part of it. We recorded every night, and we took the best that we had and put it on a CD. It was a fun gig every night.

Q - Growing up, did you listen to the J. Geils Band at all?

Yeah, I watched them on MTV back in the day. Every day, I would be picking Magic Dick's brain about what was going on back in the day. He would tell me a lot of great stories about the J. Geils Band. I would be picking his brain about the whole thing.

Q - It's been a while since you've had a new album out. "The Torch" came out in 2006. Are you working on anything new?

I'm always working on something new. I've been writing for years. I produced Eddy Clearwater's last album, "West Side Strut."

I just produced this group from Holland called The Juke Joints. They have a CD called "Going To Chicago" that I produced.

I think it is time for me to start focusing on myself. That's what I have been doing, just trying to get songs together.

Q - How do you like the producer role?

I enjoy it. I really do. I enjoy being in the studio, creating stuff and watching it come to life and then playing it live. When I was on Eddy's record, it was one of the best times of my life.

It reminded me of when I was a kid with my father. I used to be in the room with him and he would show me how to play.

I would spend the night at Eddy's house, and we would spend the whole night playing songs, listening to songs and writing songs. Those creative juices were just flowing. I get as much excited from that as playing live.

Q - What's the biggest thing your father taught you?

To be a man, and to treat people the way you want to be treated.

And then secondly, he gave me a platform on how to do what I am doing today.

I started out picking up equipment, loading the van, driving the van, booking hotels, tuning guitars, carrying luggage, everything.

He said to me, "If you want to go out here and do this, I want you to prove it to me. You are going to work just as hard as anybody in this band or harder, because you are going to have to prove that you want to be here."

Without knowing, he prepared me for what I am doing today.

Q - It seems like there was a renewed interest in the blues in '90s, but maybe it's taken a back seat these days. It's always been a struggle to keep the blues out in the forefront.

Yeah, we have a small pool of people who support it, as opposed to the other genres of music. That's kind of frustrating. You see the blues featured in a movie or a commercial and you get a little hope, and the next thing you know, it's gone.

Like with the movie "Cadillac Records." There was a little buzz going. I thought it was going to be like the "Blues Brothers," and ignite the blues a little bit.

I think it brought some more attention to it. But the blues will never die, because it's the truth.

And as long as we continue keeping it true, it will never die.

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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Rutle Neil Innes bringing his humor to Martyrs' in Chicago in May


You might know him from his songs, "Knights of the Round Table" or "Brave Sir Robin," which he wrote for the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

Or you might know him as the character Ron Nasty, a member of the Beatles satirical band, The Rutles.

Now Neil Innes is in a one-man show, "Short Stories and Tall Songs," which comes May 21 to Martyrs, 3855 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 7 p.m., and tickets are $12, available at

I had the chance to talk to Innes about a variety of topics, including his life as a Rutle and his connection with modern rock band Death Cab for Cutie.

Q - How long have you been thinking of doing a show like this?

Well, I did it a little bit last year, and it's kind of evolved. You can't write a whole script out, memorize it and do it. It has to evolve. So really, it should be called, "Another Chance To Get It Right."

You don't know what people are going to say sometimes. Every show is kind of different, in a way. We attempt to speak to the theme.

Q - Which is what?

Well, "A People's Guide To World Domination."

Q - Are you trying to cover your whole life in the show?

No, not really. Human existence, yes, because that's what world actually means, if you look it up in the dictionary.

That's the fun of it. Here we are, we go on around grunting these synchronized things, thinking we understand each other, but the world is quite complex, because human beings are quite complex.

And really, everybody is in their own world, you know what I mean?

Q - You've done so many projects over the years. Do you have any favorites?

It was amazing to be in the Bonzos. But what really gave me the most fun was The Rutles. It wasn't planned. It happened. And there's something clean and nice about that.

If The Beatles hadn't gotten so stupidly famous, you wouldn't have had someone in the late '70s offering them $20 million each to get back on stage.

And you wouldn't have had Lorne Michaels of "Saturday Night Live" getting George Harrison on there, waving $3,000 in cash under his nose, which is the musician union's rate for performing.

"Here you are George, all this can be yours, just get the boys back together." It was getting silly. And so something sillier had to be done.

And then Lorne said, "Well, we've got Eric Idle coming to host the show, only because he said he could get The Beatles back together for $300."

And he doesn't have The Beatles, he has The Rutles. 

Q - I understand that John Lennon really loved "All You Need Is Cash," but that he was worried about the song "Get Up and Go" because it was too much like "Get Back."

He was kind enough to say, "Hey, this is great, but I would watch it if I were you." He was worried on our behalf, that the publishers might think that was a bit close. So we left it off the album.

Q - How did you prepare for the role of Ron Nasty?

Most of it was sort of made up on the spot. We knew what scenes we were doing, but for some of them, the dialogue was completely ad libbed.

Q - Did that make the project fun?

Absolutely. It was hard, bloody work, but it was really good fun.

Q - And of course, the song "Death Cab for Cutie" kind of took on a new life with the band deciding to name themselves after the song. Do you see that as a honor?

Oh, absolutely. And also, they have a very good eye for a title. We used to go to the street markets looking for 78s, and among the records, there were some American true crime magazines. On the cover of one was the phrase, "Death Cab for Cutie."

Also on the front page was another story entitled, "It was a great party until somebody found a hammer." We actually did make a version of "It was a great party until somebody found a hammer," but it wasn't quite as catchy."

Q - What's the inspiration for your songs?

It's just something that happens. It's like a bit of a grit in an oyster. You think maybe it might turn into a pearl, it might not. But something happens, and then I get an idea.

And if the idea is still there after a few days, I sort of play with a bit. Sometimes they happen very quickly, like "I'm The Urban Spaceman," I wrote in an afternoon.

The Urban Spaceman is like those people you see in TV commercials, where everything is perfect, with their smiley faces and shiny things. But they don't exist. They are so powerful in a way. And that's what I made the song about.

Q - Why do you think the humor of Monty Python has held up over the years?

I think that all great comedy is timeless. You look at Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy and Charlie Chaplin.

You can bring people to tears, both in sadness and laughter. Basically all great comedy is on a human scale, so anybody can relate to it, and at any age as well.

My grandson roared with laughter at the bit with Laurel and Hardy where Stanley is in the car, and he's got a rope around Ollie, and he pulls him out of a first floor window with lots of bricks and what not.

And Ollie hits him over the head with a brick. And almost half a minute later, Stan rubs his head and goes "Ouch." 

Q - So you think it's the fact that it's just great comedy?

It's more about shared experience. It's closer to truth than anything. That's why great humor has this kind of reach that crosses generations and time. It just kind of sums up the human condition.

Q - How would you like to be remembered?

How about in bronze? No, no, I have no idea. I don't think about it. I've never thought about it.

I would like the world Rutle to appear. It's not my word, actually. It's Eric's word. I hated the word. I thought it had to have two T's in it.

But now that it's out there, I would like it to be in the dictionary as a verb, to rutle, meaning to copy or emulate someone you admire, especially in the music business.

The Beatles rutled Eddie Cochran and Gene Vincent and Elvis. Mozart probably rutled the first person who ever played harpsichord. 

That's what human beings do. They rutle. Mostly they copy the bad things, but sometimes they copy the good things. That's what makes The Rutles the biggest band in the world.

Q - So will The Rutles get back together?

They won't come back. That was a one off joke. It's nice that's all over the world, you have Rutles appreciation groups and Rutles bands playing Rutles songs.

As a songwriter, that's enough, that people remember your work and want to play it.
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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Matisyahu, Toots and the Maytals to play July 14 at Congress Theater in Chicago

It's likely to be the most diverse concert bill ever. 

Matisyahu, Toots and the Maytals and Lukas Nelson will take the stage July 14 at Congress Theater in Chicago. Tickets will go on sale at noon Friday at or

Matisyahu was born in West Chester, Penn., as Matthew Miller. His family eventually settled in White Plains, New York. He spent some time as a young man as a self-professed "Phish-head," taking hallucinogens and following the rock band Phish on tour.

In the fall of 1995, Matisyahu took part in a two month-long program that offers students first-hand exploration of Jewish heritage at the Alexander Muss High School in Hod Hasharon, Israel. His experiences there significantly affected his feelings towards Judaism eventually leading to his decision to adopt Orthodox Judaism, becoming a Baal Teshuva around 2001. 

Soon after his adoption of Hasidism, he recorded his first album. He counts Bob Marley, Phish, God Street Wine and Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach among his musical inspirations.

Toots and the Maytals are key figures in reggae music. The Maytals were comprised of leader Frederick "Toots" Hibbert, Nathaniel "Jerry" Matthias, and Raleigh Gordon, all natives of Kingston, the Maytals are said to have been the first group to use the word "reggae" in a song title with their Leslie Kong-produced "Do the Reggay."

Formed in the early '60s when ska was hot, the Maytals had a reputation for having strong, well-blended voices and a seldom-rivaled passion for their music.

Lukas Nelson is the son of music legend Willie Nelson. He fronts the Southern-folk-rock group Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real, whose full-length debut CD, "Promise of the Real," was released in December 2010.

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