Monday, August 24, 2015

Chicago blues/roots musician Voo Davis adding electricity to music scene


With his latest album, "Midnight Mist," Chicago blues/roots singer-songwriter Voo Davis further cements why he is one of most creative and energetic musicians on the scene today.
Davis, who toured with former Koko Taylor guitarist and Blues Music award-winner Eddie King, will perform Aug. 28 at Two Brothers Roundhouse, 205 N. Broadway Ave., Aurora. The show starts at 9 p.m. and there is no cover.

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

Q - Great talking to you. Your latest release, "Midnight Mist," is receiving a lot of critical acclaim. How do you think this album stands apart from your two previous efforts?
I feel "Midnight Mist" is a bit of a mix between both albums. It's more mature than the last two albums and it was recorded smarter than the previous albums.

I guess the critical success is due to the fact that not one song is like another and in a day and age where entire albums sound the same, "Midnight Mist" doesn't have two songs that sound the same without sounding strange or like something doesn't belong.
Q - I understand that the album was recorded in three days. Do you think the fact that it was recorded in a short amount of time gives the record more of a live feeling? How did the recording process go?
I used Ben Mumphrey as a sound engineer, who has a great resume working with live punk, blues, rock, New Orleans music, and other genres. Ben said to me once, "If you do it five or ten more times, is it really gonna get better?"

And the correct answer to that is no. As least not for me. 

So I don't feel it's got a "live" quality to it, however it's definitely got an aged quality to it. It sounds like something from the '70s in terms of sound quality, which in my opinion is much improved over the super polished computer made music we're given today.

I don't like to go back and fix a bunch of errors... If the tempo is right and we are all hitting the changes, what's there to fix??

I mean we were adding songs at the end too... we had plenty of time. If I can't made an album at studio in the country in three days, then I can't make an album.
Q - You directed and edited the video for the song "Riverside Blues" yourself. Was that something you were comfortable doing? What was it like filming the video in and around Clarksdale, which of course has been home to many blues musicians?
It wasn't something I was comfortable with but I had talked to a couple of production teams about concepts and filming, one in New Orleans and one in Chicago, and while they were shaking their heads yes, they were always dragging their feet, not getting back to me or just not doing things they said they were going to do.

So as a last ditch effort, I called a friend of mine who's a photographer, Ben Rinenbach, and asked him if he'd like to make a video. He said that he had no experience making a video. 

Well I've seen his photos and knew he had a great eye for angles, which is what a video is really, and he agreed. We drove down to Clarksdale, stayed in the back of Ground Zero Blues Club, and shot a video.

It was a long day, but I feel we are both very proud of how the video represented the song.
Q - How did you get your nickname, Voo? Who are your biggest musical influences and what impact do you think they have had on your music?
Voo came from when I would do Hendrix songs, people in the audience would start yelling "VOO" then they just started calling me it. And when Eddie King picked up on it, that was that, I was Voo."
Q - What were the biggest things you learned touring with Eddie King?
1. Being on time is important
2. Dynamics in a show is important
3. You're always on stage

 4. Don't get messed up on stage, the show will suffer
5. Don't take shit from people who don't have the common good of the band... and if they are in the band, remove them.
Brutal stuff, but a band that works for the common good, always kill it, guys that drink too much, don't know the set, and are on their phones in between songs never seem to work out to long.
Q - What do you think of the Chicago music scene and how do you think you fit into it?
I don't think I do fit into the Chicago scene.  Like Luther Allison said, "I had to leave Chicago to be noticed by Chicago."

The musicians in Chicago are great, but the culture of music in Chicago has been strangled. If you look in the South and Southeast, they want to hear your music, they want to hear new original songs, and people that are a bit different.

And the clubs pay for this, as do the people.

In Chicago, the clubs either want cover songs all night, bands to play for free, or blues bands that play the same 25 songs regardless of what club you're walking into.

I'm not interested in that, and I'm glad that I had the good sense on my first album to not fall into that trap. It was always important to me to try and find my sound, if it's not embraced in my home town, I will go where it is.

I have many friends that play in Chicago five to six nights a week to an empty or near empty room. I'd rather tour out and play Chicago every three to four months for a crowd than to play for nobody every night of the week.

But Chicago has a music culture problem starting with clubs and festivals that aren't cultivating original music, and SOME musicians that aren't willing to grind it out with original material.

So I guess I would say that I'm kind of a musical misfit in Chicago.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Chicago band Sugarcreek Road releases new album, will play at Old Town School of Folk Music


Between teaching voice and piano lessons, touring nationally with "Jersey Boys" and being a mother, Chicago musician Kara Kesselring also finds the time to make music with her band, Sugarcreek Road.

Kesselring and her band will celebrate the release of "Hurry Up & Relax" with a show Aug. 20 at The Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $12, available by going to Old Town's website,

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

Q - Congratulations on the release of the new album. What were your goals for the album and what would you like people to come away with from the album?

"Hurry Up & Relax" is a collection of songs that feel like a mash up of country/folk with a tinge of jazz/pop. Hence, the hurry up juxtaposed with the relaxation.

I’m always laughing at myself as I tear down the road to get to a massage. I am constantly needing to hurry up so I can relax.

This has always been a tricky balance in life for me.

Q - Your have a background in jazz. What made you want to form Sugarcreek Road, which is a blend of genres such as country, folk and bluegrass?

I’ve been writing my own music for years and I felt like I had a great collection of songs. Some of the songs I’ve written come out as jazz standards but many of them are in an Americana genre.

I perform many of them in my band Sugarcreek Road which began as a way to perform bluegrass, folk and gospel music from my childhood. As we started to workshop my songs in the band, SCR gave me a chance to play my songs live. After taking the songs to Chris Cash, who engineered, produced, and performed on "Hurry Up & Relax," the songs took on another life.  

I grew up on a family farm in southeast Iowa and many of the songs are stories about growing up there.  After moving to Chicago, some of my songs are about growing older, wiser and growing as a person without forgetting where I came from.

Q - You also have an interest in musicals, and toured with nationally with "Jersey Boys." How is that experience different from being in a band? Do you need both in your life?

I am always searching for ways to make people happy through music and constantly learning and challenging myself in different ways. I love that my job is to ultimately touch people in different ways and bring joy to their lives.

I feel like I can do this through musical theater, teaching, performing for weddings, funerals, songwriting, etc.  

"Jersey Boys" has been a remarkable experience and I am grateful for the opportunity to work on such a successful show with great songs and packed theaters each night. I also have a love for traveling, so I’ve been able to see the world by doing what I love.  

Q - You also have a family. How do you juggle being a mother with all your different projects?

The tricky part of living a circus life is the balance. My husband and bassist in Sugarcreek Road, Patrick Williams, understands the nature of this business more than anyone. He is incredibly supportive and we are both very involved with our 7 year old daughter, Iris. Last year while touring with Jersey Boys, we decided to home-school her and bring her on the road.

Q - You also teach voice and piano from your home. What do you try to instill in your students?

I love teaching and I think I’m patient and kind. With children, I try to make practicing exciting with incentive programs and goal-oriented master classes and recitals.

I try to provide a good diet of music exercises, appropriate repertoire, theory, and ear training. In addition, we make up songs, or learn songs off the radio.

I think kids are very proud of their accomplishments if they can play a song proficiently for family or friends. I also feel that learning an instrument is a great discipline but ultimately, it must make them happy.

Music should never be a chore or full of pressure.  

Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

When I was in high school, I wrote a paper about my dream job of being a back-up singer for Lyle Lovett. That dream still stands.

He was such a huge influence for me as a songwriter. I really love being in supportive, collaborative roles and I feel like I’m a great harmony singer and team player.

I’m a huge fan of the group The Wailin’ Jennys and would love to work with them. I also would love to work on the new Sara Bareilles musical, “ Waitress,” which is based on such a moving film for me.

Not to mention she is one of the best piano player/singer/songwriters in the biz! Hopefully she won’t need too much therapy when she’s older!

I guess she’ll be able to write her own songs or life stories. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Chicago band Fischer's Flicker takes listeners on a musical adventure with new album


With the release of its latest album, "Fornever and Never," Chicago band Fischer's Flicker shows why it is one of the most adventurous bands on the local music scene.

Fischer's Flicker will celebrate the release of "Fornever and Never" with a show Aug. 15 at The Abbey, 3420 W. Grace St., Chicago. Baby Money and The Reverent Few also are on the bill.

The music starts at 7 p.m. and tickets are $7, available by going to

I had the chance to talk to frontman Scott Fischer about the new album.

Q - Great talking to you. Of course, you have a new album, "Fornever And Never." Do you see the album as a continuation of what you tried to create on your last album?

Q - Not really.  I experienced some serious changes in my life and this album (along with our next one that is quickly coming around the corner), is mostly a result of those blows. Songwriting has always been a great way for me to come to terms with events in my life. 

There have even been plenty of instances where the songs didn't really mean something to me while they were being written but, in a prophetic sort of way, had a stark truth to them once the metaphoric dam had burst.

Q - The album's name seems to be a play on the phrase "forever and ever." Is there a meaning behind the album's name?

Yes, I've always been a sucker for wordplay and have used them for album titles throughout the years ("Katmandon't," "Famous Last Worlds," "Carpe P.M.: Honor Comes Only After Humility"), so this title certainly follows with that progression.

This one, however, digs a little deeper in that it's a bit of a promise I made to myself. It stems from the title track "Fornever" and the mantra line is: "Fornever repeat this again."

I was tired of making cyclical patterns in my life, so it was a message to myself more than anything.

Q - Are there any songs on the new album that you are really looking forward to playing live? What would you like people to take away from the album?

Yes, although we've played "Fornever" (the title track) live before, it was never actually completely written until it was fully actualized in the studio so I really look forward to playing the new, complete version that we've been rehearsing. It's definitely a "showcase" piece that moves around in to many different musical parts and the band has been very enthusiastic about it lately.

I feel that I've made some some strides in writing in very different styles. While it can be confusing to some, I feel that there's something for everyone on this album. 

However, even though this isn't a concept album, it definitely has a "journeyman's" feel to it throughout - like a long trek down the rabbit hole!

Q - It seems as though the late Frank Zappa has had a big influence on your music. When did you get introduced to his music and how do you think he has impacted your music?

You know, I absolutely love Frank Zappa, but I don't really hear him in my own music.  Unfortunately, I didn't get into Frank until I saw his obituary on the front cover of "Rolling Stone."

I thought, "Who is this weird guy?" and rented a copy of "Baby Snakes" at Blockbuster on VHS (remember those days?)  I kept going back to the record store and picking up a couple of his albums every week until I had the whole collection. 

I never experienced (and still haven't), someone who had such a grasp on mastering so many different styles of music.  I feel like he's the Vincent van Gogh of music - not fully appreciated during his time and I'm hopeful that someday the rest of the world will "get it."

Q - How do you think your music has evolved over the years? How do you think your current band stacks up to your previous bands? 

I feel, personally, that my songwriting was more derivative in nature in my younger days. Over the years, I believe that I've done a better job of finding my own style and, even more recently, found a way to write in a way that others can relate to.

I still certainly have very personal songs that don't take that approach, but I've found a better way of tackling lyrics in a way that others can find their own meaning to as well. Peter Gabriel would be a great example of an artist that had a similar, transitional maturity in his writing as well.

This is actually the "full circle" band: nearly all of the members of this lineup have played in the band over the years and "found" their way back! Someone made a comment to me after our last show that they were really blown away how "in-tune" we were with one another on stage.

They were impressed with how well we were able to communicate with each other musically without having to say anything. I feel that that's a direct reward for having played with each other in different outfits together over the years.

I also love how the guys in this lineup are constantly trying to better themselves as musicians.  I take pride in seeing them become proud of what we've accomplished in a song rather than frustrated or "put out" that they had to pull together the 10-minute opus.

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

While the band names are constantly changing, it's smaller than you think. I have plenty of local musician friends that are always playing out, so it's nice to see these little pockets of activity continuing.

How do we fit in it?  That part is a little more difficult, I suppose.

I'd say we're a bit "weirder" to associate with more of the mainstream bands and we're a bit too "hooky" to be associated with the eclectic acts. But overall, it's great to share the stage with a lot of friends over the years and not fear the fact that their band is "too heavy" to share a bill with us or that another is "too folky," etc.

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

Hmmm.... short-term is to put on a helluva CD release show this weekend and then go right back into the studio to cut the final tracks for the next album. We're looking to release the next album (currently entitled "Mother of a Ship") within the next 12 months, so there's a lot of work ahead in that regard!  

We also have an ambitious video being planned for the song "Emoticons" from this album that will require lots of planning and dedication. Long-term?  Ha - I have so much resting on my "short-term" plate right now that it's difficult for me to see the meals that lie further down the pasture.

Good thing I've got a voracious appetite! 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Israel's Lazer Lloyd releases new CD, coming to Chicago


After giving up a contract with Atlantic Records and moving to Israel, Lazer Lloyd has been "Rockin' in the Holy Land."

The song is from his new self-titled album, released June 9 on Chicago-based label LL Records. The album also features Kenny Coleman from The Chicago Blues Kings and the album's cover art was done by Chicago-based artist Markus Greiner.

The album's release follows the critically-acclaimed 2013 stripped-down acoustic solo album, "Lost on the Highway," and his 2012 electric CD, "My Own Blues," chosen by the Israeli Blues Society’s for best 2012 blues album.

On his recent tours in the U.S., Lloyd and Coleman have been presenting special performances for inner city kids of all ages in schools and after school programs with stories about overcoming challenges. Earlier this year, they gave a performance for the By the Hand Club for Kids in Englewood.

Lloyd will perform at 7 p.m. Aug. 4 at Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago. He will return to the area on Oct. 26, when he performs at Evergreen Park High School for a benefit for the school's music department, and will perform Nov. 4 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 South Wabash Ave., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to Lloyd about the new CD.

Q: Congratulations on the success of your new self-titled album. The album seems to be extremely autobiographical. Would you say the record is more personal than your previous efforts?

Lazer Lloyd: Well, many of my songs are about my life experiences and that's really the blues. This album covers it in the wider spectrum and I've passed the 30 year mark on the stage so I felt it had been time to do some more of that on a deeper level.

Q: Of course, the album was released on the Chicago-based Lots of Love Records label and the album's cover art was created by Chicago-based artist Markus Greiner. How did you hook up with him? What is it like having a label based in Chicago, the blues capital of the world?

LL: The truth is Chicago came after me and it was just destined that way. I was doing a show actually as a side man in Chicago a few years back when someone from the record company saw me play and was blown away.

They had gone to high school with Marcus. I was not happy with the previous graphic attempts because in my opinion it's as equally important as the music today, so they kept looking until they got to him and he is amazing.

Q: Earlier this year, you and Kenny Coleman from The Chicago Blues Kings - who I know plays on the new album - gave a performance for the By the Hand Club for Kids in Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood. I know you do performances like that for schools and the like on a regular basis. What do you hope the students get out of your performances and what do you get out of the experience?

LL: When you meet with young people, it's like going out to the forest into nature; it's untouched and you can still feel the pureness of life, you can still believe that the world is a good place and will be better through their inspiration.

I try to open up and share with them how it has been for myself and my people surviving after very challenging experiences while still having love and a true belief in the unity and goodness of the world. I want them to feel the beauty of the music inside; that it can touch other sides of your heart besides the very aggressive music that they are bombarded with on a daily basis.

Q: How did you go about choosing the musicians for the album, including Kenny on drums? What do you think he brings to the table?

LL: It was really a miracle story how we connected with Kenny. My manager was speaking with someone she had maintained contact with and one day this person just told her that she had started working for this blues record company.

From the first time Kenny heard my music he felt it was a great thing and from the first time we met we fell in love as real brothers. Besides the music, we both share a deep spiritual connection and obviously his story is more apparent than mine, but both of us have gone through serious challenges in life and have chosen not to buckle, yet to help strengthen others.

When we are playing together, I don't know how he knows when I'm going to stop and when I'm doing things on the stage, but he has an extra sense that I've never seen. Kenny is truly an amazing musician and person.

Q: On the song "Rockin' in the Holy Land" off your new album, you talk about how you began playing in Israel in the first place. What do you think about being given the title "Israel's King of the Blues?" What is Israel's blues scene like and how have you tried to nurture it?

LL: I really don't like the title because for sure I would never call myself the king and I don't consider myself only from Israel or as representing that - I'm just Lazer. I just happen to be here and connect to many things spiritually that are here and the people, but I connect to many things spiritually around the world and learn and am inspired by many people around the world; but that's the way the newspapers and media started doing it, so certain things you just have to roll with it.

Humility is the name of the game and what we are striving for and what you see in the real blues people, but I can't complain too much because it stands out and has let myself be heard I guess. 

The blues in Israel is really starting to be something serious; many Israeli artists had included elements of it into the music but now you have the blues being mixed with different Middle East sounds.

I like to do that for a little bit in concert, too. People are now understanding - after all the noise and electronics and aggressive arrogant music that has plagued the last 25 years - that with simplicity and heart you don't need all those masks to feel something.

Q: I understand that you walked away from an Atlantic Records deal in choosing to go to Israel. Do you have any regrets about the decision you made?

LL: Well we need to set the record straight and people in the press like to tell it as they would think it makes the best story. I had a showcase with Atlantic Records and they were interested in me and had me make more demos; I was meeting with Toby Moffett from the A&R department and we were deciding whether to have me go down to Nashville to be produced by Gary Tallent, the bass player from the E- Street Band (Bruce Springsteen) who was now producing.

We were in discussion of where we should break the project from but I was not yet signed, I was in the process. That's when I had this strange turn of fate where I ended up in Israel. 

I'm pretty sure I would've been dead by now because I was really pushing it hard in all the areas that blues rock musicians push it and probably I would have been seriously ill from one of those areas without further detail needed. Life is surfing and you never look at the wave you could've caught; your only focus is on the next wave you can catch, no regrets.

Q: As I understand, you attended a Master Class taught by B.B. King while you were earning a degree in music from Skidmore College. What did you learn from him and how did his death affect you?

LL: I saw on TV a master class by B.B. King in the middle of college while I was heavily into my 12-hour practicing sessions learning every Wes Montgomery and Lightning Hopkins song possible. He told the story of the importance of being a good person to be a good musician, and that changed my life.

I started getting into Buddha and started spending more time investigating exactly what it means to be a good person even though I felt I was not a bad guy, but the fine details of what it really means to be a human, so I started to search out more.

B.B. for me was the essence of the blues, of really giving over the powerful emotion while at the same time being extremely humble and light on his feet to make people happy on and off the stage, which for me is extremely important.

I have met some disappointing famous musicians who are very different on and off the stage. So many players today are playing so many notes so fast, but B.B., with just a few notes, said it so much deeper and real.

Yet if you understand how great a musician he really was - and his playing was not simple at all - and there are many recordings of things that he did that no one is able to reproduce. 

And it's not simply just the way he makes his tremolo melodic; he was very, very advanced, but would only do it if it would really fit what was needed; he would never do anything just to show off.

He knew how to be a great guitarist, which was really his greatness and that was the same thing with his personality. 

His death has me searching to see if there's anything real left and it is not easy to find, even though there is a lot of talent. It's hard to hear music where there is no ego involved.

I met this great player and person who had backed up Lightning Hopkins for many years, his name is Bernie Pearl out in California. Also this guy Ronnie Stewart, who is a great blues musician and historian and has taken me under his wing and showed me some real old blues cats who have the same flavor and showed me the culture inside in a good way.

Q: The phrase "Keep the Blues Alive" is a currently popular adage. What do you see as the future of the blues across the U.S. and the world?

LL: I see the blues is spreading quickly and many are turning to it for some truth in soul-searching. Everyone has their own opinion about what the real blues is; I think with all the showing off and other plastic stuff going on within the scene, there is still plenty of real stuff happening if people want to find it.