Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Acclaimed Chicago band The Claudettes will bring their garage cabaret sound to The Venue in Aurora



With a new album in tow, acclaimed Chicago band The Claudettes will bring their garage cabaret sound Friday night to The Venue in downtown Aurora.

Also on the bill is Chicago band Daisychain. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $15-$20, available at

I had the chance to talk to founder Johnny Iguana about the band and its latest album, “The Claudettes Go Out!” Iguana, 2021 Blues Music Award nominee for piano player of the year and 2022 Living Blues Award nominee for most outstanding musician (keyboard), first gained attention for being the pianist for the legendary Junior Wells. 


Q – You are an in demand musician. Do you feel honored to be in demand?

There's a few things. Number one, I got hired by Junior Wells when I was 23 and I moved out to Chicago. He was a hero of mine and a hero to many and that got me better known than I would have been if I had a more linear rise within the music business.

I went from playing in a band in Philadelphia and New York to all of a sudden touring the world with one of the greatest living blues heroes. And so then I got introduced to a lot of people and got to tour with Otis Rush, who was another favorite of mine when I was a teenager.

I got in my first blues band when I was just old enough to drive. We would play three sets a night, all white kids in a black part of Philadelphia.

We were too fast and too loud, but people recognized our enthusiasm and our love for the music. 

I do get a lot of good compliments from good musicians and I think what they're appreciating in me is just how many hours I put into it and how much I've learned along the way.

Q – So as far as the name of the band's latest album, I would imagine it's a reference to everything being locked down when the pandemic first hit, including music venues. Do you view this record as being the best thing to come out of the pandemic?

The album title seems to suggest the lost pleasure of being able to go out over these last few years when we were all staying in. And so I rented a party bus and we took a photo shoot dressed up and going out on the town.

So there's that on the surface. But to be honest, it's really hard to keep a band together.

Bands are really ships passing in the night. The four of us have probably been together for five years now.

And I think that's kind of an amazing achievement. So with the title “The Claudettes Go Out!", I almost printed on the disc itself or on the back, "with a bang."

I just felt like it's very possible that this will be our last album, this will be our final statement. I wrote it kind of as a note to myself.

I felt like this album was a really special, really great album with a lot of emotion in it. It was kind of done in two stages, where we did it piecemeal, COVID style,  recording parts separately and assembling them and then the other half we were able to play in the studio together.

And yet the tracks mix and match really great I was worried about the cohesiveness of it, but I think the tracks play great together.

Q – You have said the album is the band's best effort to date. Why do you think it is the band's best effort?

I think it's a stunner because of the craftsmanship of the songs, the performances and the emotion in it.

The delivery of emotions and ideas to the listener is really clean and effective on this record.

Q –  In forming The Claudettes in 2010 with drummer Michael Caskey, what were your goals? What do you think Berit Ulseth has added since you asked her to join the band in 2016?

Initially, I was inspired by these '60s recordings by Otis Spann and S.P. Leary that were just piano and drums. Michael and I listen to a lot of jazz and soul and R&B and I grew up playing punk music and I kind of wanted all of that in there.

The first recordings we made, I kind of called it cosmic cartoon music and I thought it kind of sounded like old bluesy, vaudeville, burlesque kind of a sound.

And then I met Berit at a time where she was singing backup in a band but someone had told me that she was a really special singer. And she hadn't really been the lead singer of a band.

She came over to my house and did some demos and right away I heard it and said, 'Oh, there's something here.' 

She had to step up into the spotlight. It's different than singing backup.

Over time, she's gone from reluctantly getting up there to I think really owning the stage.


Thursday, November 10, 2022

Aurora native Noah Gabriel to celebrate 20 years of making music with a little help from his musical friends




Noah Gabriel’s emotionally driven songs add to the vibrancy of the Fox Valley music scene.

The Aurora native will celebrate 20 years of making music by performing at The Venue in Aurora Friday night. The show will feature The Noah Gabriel Band, Noah's Arcade, Dave Ramont, Dave Nelson and his latest collaboration with Ryan Carney and Chris Palmerin.

His artwork will also be on display, including portraits of artists featured on the Bluebird Records label who made recordings in the Sky Club situated on the top floor of the Leland Hotel in downtown Aurora.

Doors open at 7 p.m. and the show starts at 8 p.m. The Venue is located at 21 S. Broadway Ave. in downtown Aurora.

General admission tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance to talk to Gabriel about the upcoming show.

Q – It makes sense that you’re going to be playing your 20th anniversary show at The Venue for many reasons. Of course, Aurora is your hometown and you also played at the grand opening show of The Venue in 2019.

So how does it feel to do your 20th anniversary show at The Venue?

I’m excited. It’s a beautiful stage and the room sounds great.

They’ve made a point of keeping that room as a listening environment, which is nice. People go there for music and they are there to sit down and listen.

It’s not just music for the background.

Q – And I understand that one of the first shows you took in after you first started playing the guitar was Aurora’s Blues Fest. How old were you?

Oh, I had to be 12 or 13. It might have been the first year they were doing it. It was definitely at the very beginning of the Blues Fest.

We didn’t have a lot of money to go to a lot of big concerts, so having that event for free so close by was awesome.

Q – Do you remember who you saw?

I remember Shirley King, B.B. King’s daughter, was one of the featured performers. And I was lucky enough to meet her just a couple of years ago.

Q – Do you think that the fact you saw Blues Fest at such an early age at an influence on your artwork and/or your music?

Definitely the music. I grew up on popular radio and stuff like that, so seeing Blues Fest and watching guys really play the guitar was awesome.

And right around that time is when Jonny Lang was coming out and Kenny Wayne Shepherd. There were all these guys a couple of years older than me that were burgeoning stars on the blues scene.

It definitely inspired me. I picked up my first Jonny Lang CD at the blues festival at the Kiss the Sky tent.

I went home and I listened to that so many times.

And then the artwork thing, before I even touched a guitar, I always wanted to be an artist. I used to do a lot of pencil sketches and stuff like that. 

Before I was dragging a guitar around with me everywhere, I always had a sketchbook and a pencil and I was just drawing everywhere. And it has grown since then.

I’m still trying to figure out what I’m doing with it, but it’s another great way to get out some of the things in my head. Art is always like for me a meditation. You start doing stuff like that, you disappear and become part of the creation.

It’s a good way to clear the head.

Q – Are you going to be playing songs from all your albums during the show?

I wish that I could. With a two-hour show limit and the fact that I can only gather so many people to squish into that time slot, I think we’re doing a good job representing the music from all the different albums and eras, if you can call it that.

I’m hoping to play at least the title track from my first album, “In Aurora,” somewhere in the show, probably as a solo piece, just to kind of all bring it back to that.

My hope is that the show goes well. I’ll be doing a similar show with some different people not too far down the line.

I like doing stuff like this. I spend most of my time doing solo gigs or duo gigs.


I want to do something different and give people a show that they’re not used to seeing.

Q – Now, you also teach guitar lessons at Music Matters in Batavia and as I understand, you are still striving to become a better guitarist.

Oh, yeah. I’m always trying to become a better guitarist and a better songwriter.

To me, if you’re not trying to get better and do something different, what’s the point? I don’t think there is an end goal, per se, when it comes to art and stuff like that.

Whatever I do, hopefully someone else sees it, hopefully they take the baton where I drop it and run even further down the line. I’m always trying to figure out how I can better myself and push myself to do different things.

If you’re comfortable in your art, you should try and do something different. I feel like these things have been gifted to me and I need to do something good with them and push to do my best with them.

That’s all I’m trying to do. I’m trying to figure out my life and the world around me and art is the vehicle with which I navigate those roads.