Saturday, July 30, 2016

Dale Watson and Reverend Horton Heat present intimate evening of Tall Tales and Short Songs

Photo by Roman Sobus

Honky Tonk hero Dale Watson and Roots Rocker Reverend Horton Heat (a.k.a. Jim Heath) transformed City Winery’s sleek nightclub into a Texas bar room for a sold out show on July 20 on a hot summer night.

It seemed a monumental task since both artists were minus their bands and performed solo. Nonetheless Watson and Heath proved up to the task and put on a show that was wildly entertaining and lived up to its promise of “Tall Tales and Short Songs.”

The atmosphere of twangy retro roots music (Watson coined the term “Ameripolitan”) brought to mind the late, great Chicagoan Steve Goodman and his take on how to write the perfect country song, which is exemplified in his classic “You Never Even Call Me By My Name,” famously covered by outlaw country artist David Allen Coe: “I was drunk the day my mom got out of prison…”

Goodman noted that country songs mainly consisted of these subjects: trains, trucks, prison, mom, pet dog and drinking. Watson’s and Heath’s sets fulfilled Goodman’s standards, especially the drinking songs.

Their closing duet of Merle Haggard’s “Mama Tried” covered most of the bases alone. Trucks didn’t make an appearance on this night, but Watson is known for playing some badass truckin’ songs with his band.

The affable, humorous Watson opened the show, dressed in a black leather vest and tank top to display his many tattoos, plus jeans and boots. You will not find Watson covering his white pompadour with a cowboy hat.

Photo by Roman Sobus
When it comes to both kinds of music -- country AND western as well as rockabilly-- this guitarist-singer-songwriter is decidedly old school and rejects the pretentious pop music masquerading as country that Nashville continues to churn out. Later in the evening, Watson and Heath performed as a duo and served up Watson’s indictment of the country music industry with “Country My Ass,” a favorite of George Jones.

In fact, Watson sings in a deep, resonant baritone that sounds uncannily like the late great legend Jones; and also like Johnny Cash when he sings down low.

Watson asked for requests from the sold-out audience and he granted many of  them, both covers and originals. On this night, Watson sat on a stool, playing an acoustic guitar, rather than his trademark Telecaster, decorated with all manner of silver coins.

The covers included a couple of Merle Haggard’s songs, plus an audience singalong on Tom T.Hall’s bluegrass hit from the ‘60s, “Fox on the Run.”

The audience rejoiced in Watson’s originals: “I Lie When I Drink (And I Drink a Lot),” “My Baby Makes Me Gravy,” “Holes in the Wall,” and “Where Do You Want It” (a semi-apocryphal song about outlaw country artist Billy Joe Shaver’s back alley brawl and arrest).

Best of all was a trip down the yellow brick road to visit the Honky Tonk Wizard of Oz with “Whiskey, Tequila and Beer – Oh My!” which was a fun, and funny, sing-along.

Watson got us laughing as he shilled for Lone Star Beer in between songs. He sipped from his longneck, accompanied by cheesy recorded music on his phone, and sang the praises of his favorite Texas beer, declaring: “The only beer that whitens your teeth!” And: “The only beer that creates brain cells! Einstein drank it.”

Raconteur Watson recalled Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity: “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result that never happens.”

“Well, I’ve been married four times,” Watson said, adding “which is why I wrote this next song.” He then performed the title track of his most recent studio album “Call Me Insane.”

Watson mentioned the release of a new live album, due to drop in August, "Live At The Big T Roadhouse, Chicken S#!+ Bingo Sunday,"  on Red House Records. He didn’t go into detail about how the game is played but this reporter has the scoop on the poop. 

In a nutshell: Watson owns The Big T Roadhouse in St. Hedwig, Texas (outside of San Antonio). On any given Sunday that Watson and his band, The Lonestars, are in town, Big T’s hosts the Chicken Shit Bingo game in which a caged hen struts across a plywood board divided into numbered squares. 

Patrons purchase $2 tickets (which  includes free all-you-can-eat hot dogs) and cheer for the bird to poop on their chosen number to win cash prizes, while listening to the band (guitar, pedal steel, standup bass and drums) play honky tonk, outlaw country, authentic country, rockabilly and Texas swing.

This reporter acquired an advance copy of the CD, which – in addition to some great “Ameripolitan” music -- includes all of Watson’s hilarious game show host banter, jokes, audience participation and Lone Star beer commercials. The bingo game also has a “Let’s Make A Deal” aspect to it that involves Dale’s jean pockets, which we won’t reveal here.

Watson’s City Winery set may not have been as wild and crazy as Chicken Shit Bingo Night, but it was pretty darn fun just the same.

We have never seen Reverend Horton Heat, but his raucous psychobilly shows with his band are the stuff of legend. He has been described as: “a rock’n’roll shaman channeling Screamin’ Jay Hawkins through Buddy Holly, surrounded by tattooed rockabilly chicks in poodle skirts and cowboy boots.”

We knew that seeing him solo would be a much tamer experience.

Jim Heath (his real name) came onstage equipped with a stunning custom Gretsch guitar emblazoned with his name. He was ready to follow Watson’s lead to unleash a stable full of tall tales – funny, strange, eerie and outrageous stories -- along with a buffet of covers from the '50s to '60s, and originals that sound like they are from that era as well.

Photo by Roman Sobus
Without his hard driving trio to move the crazed rock ’n’ rollers to the dance floor, Heath had to rely on his wit and immense guitar skills to wow the faithful, who remained politely seated.

He furiously played his six-string hollow bodied signature Gretsch 6120RHH on rowdy rock’n’roll, surf rock and rockabilly songs like “School of Rock,” “Red Rocket of Love” and “Big Little Baby.” He even played a Jerry Lee Lewis style original on which the Killer’s piano pounding was translated to the guitar -- a pretty neat trick. He got the joint rockin’ in their seats.

Heath’s guitar needed constant tuning, so he had plenty of time between songs to give us the back story on why he wrote them. “Where Hell Did You Go With My Toothbrush?” is a song about his first wife leaving him.

It was a perfect “tears in my  beer” country song with lines like “She took the last bar of soap/ And didn’t even leave me a towel to dry my tears.” She even took his best friend, Smokey, his dog. (Steve Goodman would approve of this one.)

He told a story about his college days with roommate David Livingston and another classic country song they wrote together: “Liquor, Wine and Beer.” Heath showed his musical diversity and his nimble guitar skills with some finely arranged covers. He played jazzy swing on Nat King Cole’s “Straighten Up and Fly Right” along with a splendid version of the classic “Harlem Nocturne.”

He introduced the next instrumental number, saying it was a Henry Mancini song from the 1930s. However, it sounded a lot like Link Wray’s “Rumble” from 1958, which also was used for a theme song on a Chicago TV show called “Creature Features.”

Heath told stories about Johnny Cash dropping M80s down toilets in hotel rooms, a haunted hotel room he once stayed at in Chicago, playing golf with Willie Nelson, and his comedian neighbor who went on to write for the Beavis and Butthead spin-off cartoon, “King of the Hill.” (Heath even did a dead-on impersonation of Boomhauer).

Watson came back out to join Heath in some humorous banter as they requested each other’s favorite songs. Watson urged his buddy to sing “Bales of Cocaine,” a humorous tale that sprang from a fevered dream Heath had in his younger days, while sweating in the hot Texas sun doing farm work.

Watson sang the afore-mentioned “Country My Ass” and talked about meeting  his idol George Jones. The duo had us singing along on real country classics: “Mama Tried” by Merle Haggard and Roger Miller’s “King of the Road.”

The compadres also quizzed each other about famous sideman, asking trivia questions about legendary guitarists James Burton and Roy Buchanan.

Seeing this stripped down version of these two artists without their bands exceeded expectations. Equipped with only their guitars, singing voices, raconteur wit and humor, and larger than life personas, Dale Watson and Jim Heath shared their  unique stories and songs. They kept our attention as they captured our imaginations, made us laugh and entertained us with a nice variety of American music for nearly 2 ½ hours nonstop.

I left City Winery Chicago convinced that I need to find whatever church or tent show that the good Reverend Heat is preachin’ in next and attend a service. And then I’ll scoot over to Big T’s for Dale Watson and his Lonestars on Chicken Shit Bingo Sunday.

Linda Cain champions the Chicago blues scene through her website,

Chicago singer-songwriter Kelley Ahlstrom raising money to record solo album

Photo by Emily Sperl

After starting a band and appearing on the TV show "The Glee Project," Chicago singer-songwriter Kelley Ahlstrom is ready to move on to the next chapter in her music career - releasing a solo album.

Ahlstrom is raising money to record the album through her GoFundMe page. As part of the fundraising campaign, she will perform July 31 at Uncommon Ground Lakeview, 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Zoie Moser also is on the bill. The show starts 8 p.m., and tickets are $7.

I had the chance to talk to Kelley about her solo album.

Q - Great talking to you. I know that you have started a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for your solo album. Do you think if that people contribute to the making of the album, they will become more connected to what you are doing?

When people contribute at least $10, they will get a download of the album once it comes out, so I definitely think that they will be more connected to what I am doing because they will have my music as a result which exemplifies exactly what I’m trying to do as an artist and what I’m trying to contribute to this world in my life. 

And what I’m trying to contribute to this world is bringing humanity closer to realizing its full potential through the use of my music. I don’t want to add to the static of this world that cares more about money than the well-being of people.
I want to add to self reflection, emotional and spiritual growth of the individual and inspire people to live their lives out in the best way they can for themselves while coexisting with others. Once people contribute, they can get updates from time to time about how the project is doing and how I’m putting the donations to use which I hope will begin creating a community feeling between me those who are following the project.  

Q - You roam through a lot of musical genres on your demos. Is that a reflection of your diverse musical interests? In sitting down to make the album, what are your goals? 

I definitely have experimented with a lot of different sounds in the past. I think this is a reflection of my diverse musical interests.

There is literally no genre that I can honestly say I don’t like and I’ve heard some pretty crazy genres. But life can get pretty crazy and to me, music serves as a reflection of the ups, downs and in betweens of life.

In making this new solo album, I’m going for a pop/rock sound with experimental elements. For instance, there are going to be tracks with unique and full vocal arrangements similar to that of my track already on Soundcloud and YouTube,  “Annie."

I really want this album to be completely, authentically me and my music. 

Q - You were on the "The Glee Project." What made you want to go on the show and what did you get out of the experience? 

"The Glee Project" was definitely an eye opening experience for me. Before that experience, I knew I wanted to pursue music, but I didn’t know why other than the fact that I like music.

My participation on the show made me start to see a more clear image of why I want to do music and how I really want to use my music to contribute to this world. At the risk of sounding negative on the topic of reality television, I have to say that going on the show made me realize that a great deal of being accepted onto a show like that ("American Idol" type shows), has to do with how much of a gimmick you have going.

I can respect that for others, but personally, I find that to be a bit dishonest in a way and not really how I want to focus my time. I’d rather focus on exploring music, art and the developing the qualities I have as an artist and person and inspire others to explore too.

I think art and music are such fundamental aspects of the human experience and are unfortunately often the two aspects that tend to take a back seat in life for many people. After all, the first programs in schools to get cut are usually art and music.

Generally speaking, I think that sets people back because critical thinking, emotional and spiritual health are very important too and are all things that can come from exposing yourself to different art forms.  

Q - You started the band Dirty Darlings. Was it the right time to do a solo album? Is the band on hiatus?

I did start the band Dirty Darlings. In fact, it was the first band I had every even been in. So I learned so much from that experience.

I learned how to run a successful band, how to work with other musicians and how to pick people to work with that have the same goals as you. Unfortunately, Dirty Darlings has broken up as a band simply because we realized we did not have the same goals.

The guitarist, James Bourland, and I wanted to take the band as far as it could go and other members were more casual about the progress, which is totally cool. But all members really should be on the same page to make the most successful and fun band situation occur.

So after we broke up, I had the idea of basing my musical journey more on my solo project. The album will have a full band and I will be performing with a full band once the album is released.

But it will all be based on my original music and my solo work. 

Q - How did music prove to be an outlet in your struggle with scoliosis?

My struggle with scoliosis has been a long and difficult one indeed. To understand how music helped me through it, you must understand just how bad it was.

I was actually diagnosed when I was 12 years old, but was told to do nothing about it by my doctor (cough cough, bad advise!) Three years later, I started getting this horrible, horrible pelvic pain that felt very comparable to a urinary tract infection.

For anyone who’s ever had that, you know it’s the worst feeling ever! But it wasn’t a UTI and because it wasn’t a pain directly in my back, it took doctors and myself 8 years to make the correlation of my scoliosis causing my pelvic pain.

This pain lasted all day, everyday and all night, every night by the way. So I went eight years without any answer as to what was going on and without any sort of relief at all.

They didn’t even give me pain medications. In retrospect, I actually think the doctors I was dealing with were severely mistreating and overlooking me.

So it was a really, really difficult time that I wasn’t sure I was going to make it through. The only thing I could do was write music.

Writing gave me purpose through a hopeless situation. It also made me feel more relaxed and positive. So it was definitely a form of therapy for me through that insanely bad time.

In fact, I only recently discovered the correlation three months ago and and will now finally be receiving the proper treatment I’ve needed through my teenage and young adult life.

And I have to say playing music and everything else in life is so much better when your body feels less like a prison and more like a home.     

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

I think there is certainly a gritty aspect to the Chicago music scene in a good way. From Double Door to Reggies to Uncommon Ground to Moe’s Tavern, there’s a huge indie music scene.

I think for many bands, you can tell that they’re just rocking out and having a good time. It’s about good, honest music and not just putting in a synth sound here or writing in only one song form because Rihanna did it and made money off of it, for example.

It’s much more authentic feeling and I think that’s great. I do think, however, that artists have to be careful of scammer production companies when playing gigs.

I’ve definitely had my fair share of gigs where a production company essentially gives you a deal where you bring a bunch of people and they keep all the ticket money and all the money that the bar might have shared with the musicians. So what ends up happening is the musicians work really hard, pack a place, put on a great show and then somebody else takes all the money from that.

Of course, not all production companies are scammers but it’s certainly something to look out for. I think a lot of bands and artists starting out go with the “I’m just happy to be playing here” card rather than the “Hey, I made this night a successful one, give me my fair share” card.

This effects everyone in the scene because it makes the idea of musicians not seeing any of the money they made the norm.  

Q - I know you have a five-year and 10-year business plan. What are some of your goals?

Once the record comes out, I plan to go into the college tour circuit. This not only gives bands the opportunity to actually make money but can be a good way to build a fan base.

When playing gigs at colleges, I’m going to compliment it with bar gigs and radio appearances to help build more fans as well. From there, I hope to eventually gain enough fans to support me and my band full time and do a nationwide tour. 

I certainly hope to play music festivals and really any gig that will be worth my time.

Q - I understand you also teach piano. What are some of the main things that you try to convey to your students?

Teaching piano is something I do on the side currently to support myself financially. It’s definitely the most fun job I’ve had in life so far.

Many of the students I teach are very, very young. Many as young as 5 years old. So I find it’s difficult to try and teach them music theory and technical things.

Rather, I try to show them how fun and cool playing music can be. It’s so important to foster an interest first. Some parents come in with their 5-year-old and say, "I want him to play like Beethoven.  I want him to be a child prodigy."

What they don’t realize when they say this is that is a huge expectation for someone who’s never touched a piano before. Especially when you consider all of the distractions now a days with phones filled up with apps (yes, some of my 5 year old students have phones already), it can feel almost impossible.

But on top of that, you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make em’ drink. It’s possible for a 5- year-old to be a piano prodigy.....if it’s their idea and they are actually interested in piano.

But when you force your kid into it, what you’re really doing, is ruining music for them because it will seem like more of a chore to them. This is when you get the adults that say "oh, I hated piano when I was a kid.  I’m so bad at it.  I just didn’t get it."

It’s usually not that they are particularly bad at piano which is a skill that can be learned by anyone who is willing to dedicate the time and patience. It’s usually that they were forced into it and first impressions are just so powerful.

So before trying to turn kids into a prodigy who understands the ins and outs of music theory and technique, I try to get them interested and the rest will follow.  

Thursday, July 28, 2016

South Indian Veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan to present series of Chicago concerts


Through music, South Indian Veena player Saraswathi Ranganathan hopes she can help bring peace.

She has organized a short series of concerts in conjunction with the Chicago Park District. Other featured performers will include Carlo Basile (Las Guitarras de Espana), Kinan Abou-Afach from Syria on cello, Ronnie Malley from Palestine on Oudh, Bob Garrett (Sting’s The Last Ship) on Turkish frame drum/Cahon and dancers Kinnari Vora and Marissa Tapia.

Ensemble of Ragas presents "RAGA MAQAM: Project MiddleEast for a Kinder World", a concert that integrates Raga with Maqam, a musical exploration of history and a blending of cultures. There will be shows at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 3,; at Chicago Women’s Park and Gardens at 6:30 p.m. Aug. 4,;  and at 3 p.m. Aug. 6 at Walsh Park Playground, 1722 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago

I had the chance to talk to Ranganathan about the music series.

Q - Great talking to you again. What is the idea behind RAGA MAQAM?

What happens when artists from Syria, Palestine, India, America and Peru meet? Raga Maqam!!

While society is getting lost more and more in battles and bullets, we would like to connect the audience to the vibrant musical landscape of parts of the Middle East as it relates to India so to rediscover and rekindle the wonderful threads of joy, love, artistry, and kindness that have been so inherent in these cultures.

Yes! There is hope. It’s a small endeavor to make people aware of the beautiful music and dance of Palestine, Syria and Turkey and at the same time blend it with Indian ragas and some Andalusian-flamenco rhythms for a new distinctive ragascape!

Q - With everything that has been happening in the world lately, are you are hoping that these concerts will help bring people together?

My goal of creating the band Surabhi and presenting different musical concepts every year is to bring diverse people together. How? I collaborate with these wonderful, accomplished musicians from multicultural backgrounds.

We create and present original works that reflect the music and dance representing our varied cultures, exploring commonalities, and embracing differences. Our audience is treated to a visually delightful array of some ancient instruments.

They get to understand related cultures and ancient musical concepts in a refreshingly artistic setting. Our idea is that they go back home with a piece of love.

Most of our performances attract a very diverse audience. Because we play on the same stage we attract an audience that is eager to explore new sounds plus those who are able to appreciate improvisational Raga music, rumba and Tabla beats, Arabian and Indian dances.
Q - How did the musical lineup come together? Have you worked with all these musicians before?

I have been working with Carlo Basile, the wonderful flamenco guitarist, for about 12 years now. I met Ronnie Malley, Chicago’s multi-talented Oudh artist, on the set of "Walt Disney’s Jungle Book" as a fellow-orchestra member at Goodman Theater!

Kinan Abou-Afach was introduced to me by Carlo about 10 years ago, and Kinan, with Syrian influences in his music, makes his cello weep! I have worked with Dhananjay Kunte on Tabla and Bob Garrett on world percussion – and they are fantastic!

Kinnari Vora and Marisela Tapia are our Indian and Peruvian dancers, who have created some exciting new choreography for our music! It’s a great line-up!
Q - I know that you've previously worked with Carlo, and that he is a fellow teacher in the Ensemble of Ragas. What do you think he brings to this project?

Carlo and I get together quite often to explore various ragas and rhythms from both of our musical systems. I try to learn rumba beats while he learns new ragas.

So it’s been a complementary partnership. He comes up with a cool groove. I compose melody for it.

We jam together and pretty soon we have a neat compositional idea. Sometimes it’s crazy - we tried to play Bach-Raga and Rumba-Taal. It’s fun!

Q - What other projects are you working on? Do you have any dream projects?

If you had asked me this a little over a year ago, I would have probably said tour the world or something like that. But now, at this juncture, in this political scenario, I would like to present our work from community to community, from city to city across the U.S.

To plant seeds of love; help rekindle that spark of warmth and laughter; joyful music and shared spirit. Life is a celebration. Bring it home.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Blues-rock guitarist Mark May releases new CD, will perform two shows in Chicago

Photo by Wendy Turner

Over the years, blues-rock guitarist Mark May has picked up his share of accolades.

Legendary musician Dicky Betts has called May "one of the best blues-rock artists to come along with years." May played with Betts, including being a member of his band Great Southern.

On May 20, May released his sixth album, "Blues Heaven." In support of the album, he will perform July 29 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, and July 31 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.

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

Q - I see that "Blues Heaven" recently reached number 13 on the "Roots Rock Report," and the album's opening track "Boom Boom," reached number 20 on the charts. 

Yeah, it's going good so far. We're also getting some good reviews. I'm really happy.

Q - I understand that you believe the CD is the most truthful album that you've made to date. 

I just try to write stuff mainly about my experiences. I try to open up to people and let them inside.

And sometimes I write about other subjects that aren't about be necessarily. For this album, I think I wrote a lot of stories about my life.

Q - When you sat down to make the album, was one of your goals to make it more personal? Did you have any other goals for the album?

It just kind of turned out that way. As you go through life, you have more experiences, but I think early on in my career, I think I was maybe afraid to open up.

But now I think it's a good outlet and it's a good way to let your fans in and for them to get closer to you. People like to get inside an artist's life.

Q - I know you were drawn to the blues after your aunt lent you a copy of B.B. King's 1971 album, "Live in Cook County Jail." You were only 11 years old at the time. What struck you about the album?

I put it on, and I really liked the singing and guitar playing. And it was real soulful.

I just kind of latched onto it. I remember my aunt telling me, "When you can sing and play guitar like that, I'll come to see you play."

So she let me borrow the album, and I took it home. I started trying to do my version of him back then. I didn't go into just playing blues during that time period. I was really influenced by my brother, who was a rock musician.

He turned me on to people like Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and all that kind of stuff. I was kind of into that stuff, and my mom was a country and bluegrass musician, so I kind of had a couple different forms of music that I was exposed to at an early age.

And that's probably why I like Hendrix today, because he's so bluesy for a rock artist. But later on, when I got to Texas, I just kind of got drawn more into blues.

And I friend of mine gave me an Albert Collins' album. And I really liked it because he had kind of a fat rockin' Telecaster tone with overdrive on it, you know.

And then he had a lot of cool, upbeat songs with a lot of funny stuff in them. He had a lot of charisma.

I got drawn into doing the blues thing because it really touched my heart. I gradually started doing my blues songs as much as I could at the gigs I was playing at, which a lot of times were country gigs or something.

Q - I know one of your big supporters over the years has been Dickey Betts, and of course, you played with him. 

I met him through some friends of mine. He listened to one of my CDs, and it turned out he really liked it.

He came to see us play the next time we came through Florida, and asked us if we wanted to do a few dates opening for the Allman Brothers Band because he really liked us. So we ended up doing about 15 dates with the Allman Brothers.

Later on, when he split up with the Allman Brothers, he hired me to play in his band for a couple of years. That was really cool.

Q - What did you learn by playing with him?

A couple different things. He wasn't afraid to improvise on songs on a nightly basis, which is a little scary if you haven't done it before.

One of the main things that he would do is put together powerful parts, with two or three instruments playing the same part to create this big sound that people react to. I tried to take from that and put some of that in my music.

He brings excitement and dynamics to a song. 

Q - I know you have a horn section (The Soul Satyr Horns) on the album. What do you think that does to the album? 

Well, I've never worked with a horn section before, and these guys approached me. They were in another band and we played at the same festival.

It gives me a big, fat sound which I never had before. A lot of the stuff they play adds a lot of soul to the music, like their name implies.

The people who already have seen us like the addition. It's a different sound. There are not a ton of horn bands out there on the blues circuit right now.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Localpalooza to raise money for ALS research


Prior to Lollapalooza taking over Grant Park later this month, a group of Chicago musicians will get together for Localpalooza Chicago, a benefit for The Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation for ALS Research.

Burnside & Hooker, Draft Week, Jennifer Hall, Simpleton & Cityfolk, The Fox & The Hounds, Sayers and The New Switcheroo will perform July 24 at Schubas Tavern, 3159 N. Southport Ave., Chicago. 

Localpalooza Chicago starts at 4 p.m., and there is a suggested donation of $10. More information is available by going to

 I had the chance to talk to Burnside & Hooker guitarist Michael Vogus, who organized the event:

Q - Great talking to you again. I understand that you were inspired to organize Localpalooza Chicago after seeing Patrick's teammates rally around him. Has the benefit come together as you envisioned?

I think for the most part things have come together as we planned. We tried to get this show off the ground last year and ran into some hurdles, but this year has been much smoother sailing.

Our goal is to make this an annual event and continue to grow it as big as we possibly can. 

Q - It looks like the benefit will feature a diverse lineup. How did the lineup come together? Did you reach out to bands to participate?

I did. Initially I had about 15-20 bands that I was targeting for the event knowing it would be tough to schedule bands during the busy festival season, but I don't think I had anyone say "no" to the event. Every band was really excited about the show, and all of the bands on the bill are amazing.

It really is a diverse and talented lineup, and I've been a fan of all of the bands on the bill for a while. It's great that we're all able to play together on the same night. 

Q - I understand that you hope the benefit will raise at least $7,500 for The Patrick Grange Memorial Foundation for ALS Research. Would you like the benefit to also raise awareness about ALS? 

Of course as awareness leads to dollars, so the more people we can engage and educate on ALS and Patrick's story, the more money we'll be able to drive to the foundation. 

Q - Can we expect any surprises at the benefit? Will some of the bands join each other on stage?

You can find out what surprises are in store by donating $10 and getting your ticket to the show! 

Q - Your band, Burnside & Hooker, will be playing as part of the benefit. What is happening with the band these days?

2016 has been a year where we decided to "catch our breath" a bit and focus on new material. We've been going pretty hard since 2013.

We released two albums and played a ton of shows and festivals, so our focus this year was to pull back a little and get our new material organized and ready to record at some point towards the end of the year. I can't guarantee that we'll have a full album released next year, but we will absolutely have something new released sooner than later.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Hollywood Vampires takes RiverEdge Park by storm

Photo by Thomas J. King

Individually, the members of Hollywood Vampires - actor Johnny Depp, singer Alice Cooper and Aerosmith guitarist Joe Perry - long ago solidified their ability to capture and entertain an audience.

Collectively, the three of them took their skills at entertaining to a whole new level during Hollywood Vampires' show on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

The show was a loving tribute to some of the band's musical heroes, including David Bowie. They praised the artist, who died earlier this year, the best way they could - by turning in raucous versions "Rebel Rebel" and Suffragette City."

There was no let up in the energy level, as the band turned in equally ferocious versions of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's "Manic Depression" and The Doors' "Five to One/Break On Through (to the Other Side)."

Perry took over from Cooper on lead vocals as he stormed through the Fleetwood Mac song "Stop Messin' Around," a song that Aerosmith had covered.

Hollywood Vampires' name is a nod to the The Hollywood Vampires, a celebrity drinking club formed by Cooper in the 1970s whose members included the late John Lennon and Keith Moon. Cooper pays tribute to his late drinking buddies on the song "My Dead Drunk Friends."

The band only got more energetic as the night went on, culminating in a fierce version of Cooper's trademark anthem, "School's Out."

A great night of music, indeed.

Hollywood Vampires performed "School's Out" on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

Hollywood Vampires performed "Sweet Emotion" on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.


Hollywood Vampires performed "Five To One / Break On Through (To The Other Side)" on July 7 at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Chicago band Menacerno releases debut EP, will perform at Metro


Chicago band Menacerno is a band that grabs your attention from the very first listen.

The band will likely gain even more fans with the release of its debut EP, "In No Place." To celebrate the release of "In No Place," Menacerno will perform July 9 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Red Jr., Hard Kiss and Hyperlane also are part of the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are available by going to

I had the chance to talk to lead vocalist Maggie O'Keefe about the upcoming show.

Q - Great talking to you. "In No Place" is your debut EP. In sitting down to make the record, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? Is there a story behind the album's title?

At the time of the recording, we'd written close to a dozen songs. The EP contains both the first song we wrote together and the most recent.

Our goal, then, was to showcase the full spectrum of our sound. Each member of the band has different musical tastes and influences and each of these songs signifies a personal favorite.

The album title is the final track of the EP. In a thematic sense, the lyrics, co-written by myself and Adam Ziemkiewicz (we also happen to love each other), stem from the personal (in)experience and seeming search for identity that I went through during my early 20s.

The album's name, "In No Place," speaks to my attempt to understand and maintain connections between myself and the world around me. I guess I never felt like I had a place to call "home" and so I was floating along, landing every once in a while to make a new friend or a new mistake.

Collectively, these five songs are the tale of those moments. 

Q - How did the band come together?

Pete, Brian and Matt are the original members of Menacerno. They were playing together for over a year until they decided to look for a singer.

They turned to the Internet to find Joe (bassist) and me (vocalist). For my part, I came into the audition with "Up In Arms" fully written. Almost all the words sung today were what I auditioned with, except for a few when I lost the original lyrics only to be found month's later underneath my bed.

A few days later, they asked me to join them. The band's name grew out of the desire to be original.

Q - Your two guitarists, Pete Neumer and Brian Matson, have known each other since they were 9 years old. Has that helped to strengthen the band's chemistry? What do you think each member brings to the table?

Pete and Brian are the core composers for the band. Either one of them will come in with a riff or chord progression and we build upon that.

They don't speak in music theory, their instruments speak for them. Their long history benefits the songwriting process - complimenting each other not through words but through melodic lines of music.

It is that much easier to write a song as a band because of the ease with which they compliment one another. I know any fragment we work on will become a song when either one of them can hear the melodic line the first few times we go over a section.

Our chemistry stems from this songwriting process. Pete creates the head-nodding music which makes the songs memorable.

Joe has this way on stage that draws your focus. Matt keeps us together - we've never had a single show where we were not connected and that's because he keeps us together rhythmically. Brian writes songs from the heart, usually heart wrenching (Gemini is a good reference) whether he believes that or not.

And I, well, um... I am the ring leader. I book the shows, the accountant, get the John Hancock's like a leader of a band.

We talk everyday (almost) through email, text or in-person, but we all live our individual lives and include each other where we see fit. Rarely do we disagree, sometimes we hug and mostly we create.

Q - Is the songwriting process a collaborative effort? Does the band enjoy being in the studio as much as being on stage?

We're very open to hearing each other's sounds and build upon them. Even if a song is written and never played, it's important for us to finish a song we have started.

We have what we call "art school" in place where we can constructively talk to each other about how to make a part better, never putting each other down or directly writing a part for someone.

The studio is the place where we can really push each other to be better musicians. This EP really set the tone for our future shows and working together as a band.

Ben Arguelles of DZ Records, who recorded our EP, said we were the nicest bandmates he has ever worked with. We really encouraged one another when it came to recording our individual parts, because it really can be a grueling process.

I think it's safe to say that Matt and I are ones that can really come down on ourselves when we don't get our parts right. Luckily, we had Pete, Brian and Joe to say, "It's okay, try again."

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

The Chicago music scene is vast and diverse, but it lacks women-fronted musicians. They're out there, but the shows we've played, I am one of the only women on the bill, especially with lead vocals.

I'd personally like to play with more women-led bands in the future.

The shows are out there because the Chicago music community is so tight-knit. I can email any venue in the hopes to jump on a bill with a touring band.

Even if it's a "no," they still get back to me without an attitude. The promoters actually care about what goes up on their stages. I have a lot of respect for that.

In terms of fitting in, we're playing rock and roll, but can't seem to find our specific sound anywhere, which is great yet has made it difficult to book cohesive shows. That being said, I constantly hear positive reactions from people who came to see the other bands on the lineup.

Playing shows isn't about who's the best, it's a learning experience. If I find myself enjoying a band that is on the bill with us, I will watch and connect with the band, find ways to play with them again, push them to people in my circles and hopefully find them shows that we are not fit for or can't play.

It's a community, not a race.

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

Short term - Play more shows with bands we like and learn from and/or open for national acts.

Long term - Have fun together and push ourselves the furthest we can go!