Saturday, November 18, 2023

Musicians come together to support Chicago saxophonist Mars Williams


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Innovative saxophonist Mars Williams brought a new sound to the Chicago music scene with his band Liquid Soul.

Now his fellow bandmates along with guest musicians will come together as part of a benefit concert for Williams, who recently passed away after battling a rare form of cancer known as ampullary cancer.

Music For Mars will take place at 8 p.m. Nov. 25 at Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., Chicago. The show will feature Liquid Soul (Williams will be there in spirit) as well as the Joe Marcinek Band and Jesse De La Pena.

The show will also feature guest musicians Jeff Coffin of the Dave Matthews Band and Chicago musician Ike Reilly. Tickets are available at metrochicago.com.

Proceeds will benefit the Mars Williams Medical Treatment Cancer Fund.

I had the chance to talk to Liquid Soul trumpet player Ron Haynes and keyboard player Frankie Hill about the show.

Q – It is great that so many of the people that Mars has worked with over the years have agreed to be part of the fundraising concert. Did everyone jump at the opportunity to be part of this concert?
 
Yes! Musicians from all eras of Liquid Soul jumped on board as did some special guests who have played with Mars in other bands.
 
 
 Q – How is Mars doing these days? Is he still receiving chemotherapy treatments?
 
Mars stopped chemo before doing the Psychedelic Furs tour this fall. They were not getting positive results from what I understand anyway.
 
He is not well at this time. We are hoping that he hangs in there for as long as possible. I know he has so many other projects he still wants to finish. 

Q – What are the goals for the concert? How are ticket sales going?
 
The goal is to bring everyone together as a tribute to Mars and to raise funds for him and his family to deal his cancer treatment and his current health needs. Ticket sales are strong but we are still getting the word out and will continue to do so right up until the doors open at Metro on Nov 25. 

Q – Liquid Soul was a big part of the Chicago music scene in the '90s. Why do you think the band made so much of an impact and did it surprise you? 
 

When the band broke through in the mid-90s, we were combining hip hop and jazz but not just with loops; there were live players and we had a killer horn section let by Mars Williams, plus the free-style rap genius of Dirty MF. 
 
This took the jazz/hip-hop combo to another level. Miles Copeland, Sting's manager at the time, heard the band and wanted us for his new ARK 21 label, his follow up to IRS Records. 
 
Q – Mars has been a musician who is in high demand. Besides leading the group Liquid Soul, he has played with bands like The Waitresses and The Psychedelic Furs. What has made him such an in-demand musician? 
 

Mars plays monster sax solos and big, fat melodies! Plus he has superior jazz chops. Just listen to the Furs, Waitresses, and Liquid Soul records!

 

 

 


 

 

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

Acclaimed musician Bruce Cockburn talks about new album, career ahead of shows in Chicago


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

 

His introspective and passionate songwriting has won Bruce Cockburn acclaim from music lovers across the world.

As he shows on his latest album, "O Sun O Moon," the 78-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter and guitarist still has plenty to say. Cockburn will likely perform many of his new songs when he plays Nov. 3 and 4 at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 North Lincoln Ave., Chicago, as part of a nationwide solo tour.

The shows start at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at Old Town's website, oldtownschool.org. I had the privilege of interviewing Cockburn about the album and his career.

 

It certainly is. I've had great respect for Ruth and the rest of her gang for years and we've had the occasional opportunity to perform together, which was great.

I take all that stuff with a grain of salt. It is an honor and it feels really good to have people want to sign up for something like that and then perform the songs.

But I don't do what I do to get that sort of stuff. But it certainly is a nice thing.

Q – Have you had musicians come up to you and say that they became a musician because of you?

I don't think I've heard those exact words, but certainly I've heard from people who have said that I had an effect on what they did. That's mostly a third person kind of thing, like it will show up in an article somewhere.

Q – Your song “Lovers in a Dangerous Time” came out in 1984 during the Cold War. Do you think we live in more dangerous times these days or equally as dangerous?

Well, it's hard to make that call. I don't think that the world has ever been free of the kinds of dangers that we see around us, other than the environmental one.

I guess the world has seen climate change before, but not in a way that we're seeing it now and not with the effects on us that we're seeing now, or potential effects. So that's different.

But otherwise, war and mayhem have always been with us as a species. But one thing I think we really have to think hard about is charity and compassion and fairness. 

We have to try to resist the temptation to be drawn into positions of rage and hate.

 

Q – You address some of the problems that society is facing today in your song “Orders” off your latest album. In a previous interview, you talked about the song’s meaning and about the importance of loving each other. Do you see the song as a reminder of that?

When the idea for the song came to me, it seemed like this was something that really needed to be said right now. That and the song "Us All" were ideas that wanted me to put them in songs and put them out there.

That's how it felt.

Q – Is the song “On A Roll” a celebration of what one can accomplish at any age?

I wasn't really thinking about it in term of accomplishments, other than survival. But I suppose that's a kind of accomplishment.

I think of that song as a very personal one and I think other people can relate to it in their own personal way. I mean, anybody who's over a certain age will get that song.

Q – Do you think a song like “To Keep the World We Know” can help convince people that climate change is real?

I doubt it. It might, I guess.

I wouldn't rule it out. But I don't think that's the expected effect of a song like that.

For me, I don't think songs by themselves have that power. If people are sort of sitting and wondering about it or giving it some thought and a song like that comes along, it can push them in the right direction.

But if they're resistant to the idea of climate change, then they're just not going to like the song.

Q – In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

The intention is to make the best album that we can. When I say we, I mean me and in this case, Colin Linden, who produced "O Sun O Moon," and whoever is playing on the album. Everybody wants it to be good.

And that's the goal. I make an album when I have enough songs to make an album.

Q – Do you think that a solo tour like the one that you are on allows you to better connect with the audience? I watched a video from your Oct. 11 show at FirstOntario Concert Hall where you ended your show with a new song, “Us All.” It seems like the audience was listening intently to the song.

 

It's been really great, the acceptance of the new stuff. The show is peppered with songs from the new album and people are responding really well to them.

So I'm happy about that. It seemed like just an obvious song to close the show with. 

We spent 2 1/2 hours in this room together and that's a microcosm of the rest of us as well.

Q – On a solo tour, it's just pretty much you and your guitars. Do you think that connects you better with the audience because they are only concentrating on you and your guitars and your songs?

I think so. There are people I hear from who prefer the band shows. They like the energy and stuff like that.

There's elements of a performance that take away from the focus on the song. In the solo situation, it's all on the song.

The attention is on the song and the lyrics. And that's a good thing, in my book.

Q – You've done so much in your life. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

Well, the one thing I may or may not ever get around to doing that I would like to do is an album of other people's songs. And I have a small list of those that I might want to record someday.

What I look for is the next idea. It's more about waiting for an idea.

I like touring. It's what I've always done and it's where the songs really become their true selves.

I like doing it, but at this point in my life, it requires more focused energy to get that show done than it used to. I don't have the energy for other stuff very much while I'm doing this or the time, for that matter.

I've got a busy life apart from this. 

It's just a question of waiting. I don't really make plans and I never have.

Q – Because you also have an 11-year-old child, right? That must keep you busy as well, I would imagine.

He's about to turn 12. Yeah, it does. It's part of a generalized life picture that is busy.

 







Saturday, October 28, 2023

Alternative rock band Bluphoria to bring its energetic sound to Subterranean in Chicago

Photo by Jena Yannone


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

It's not surprising that Mark Needham – known for his work with bands like Fleetwood Mac, Mt. Joy and The Killers – would want to produce the self-titled debut album of Nashville-based band Bluphoria.

The band's wildly energetic sound and soulful vocals of frontman Reign LaFreniere are bringing something new to the music scene. As part of a nationwide tour with singer/songwriter Noah Vonne, Bluphoria will perform Nov. 4 at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago.

The show starts at 6:30 p.m. and general admission tickets are $15, available at ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to LaFreniere about the album and upcoming show.

 

Q – Of course, your self-titled debut album was produced by Mark Needham, who has worked with the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Mt. Joy, The Killers and The 1975. What do you think he brought to the table?

Mark had so much experience that was just super helpful for us when we went into the studio. He really just gave us the confidence to try everything.


That was just a big help with our process and just making the songs the best they could be.

Q – To have somebody who has been involved with so many notable bands, was that an honor to have him involved with this project?

Yeah. It was honestly surreal.

Getting to hear some of his stories as well, really just enriched our whole studio process and honestly made us feel pretty good about where we were. He told us about how The Killers were really new too when he worked with them.

Things like that really made us feel more confident about the album we were making.

Q – Did you have any specific goals when you sat down to make the album and did you accomplish them?

We wanted to make an album that was simultaneously dancy and a good road trip album and just something we could be completely proud of in the future as well.

I feel like we accomplished that. I feel like our songs are pretty strong and I'm proud of how they turned out.

Q – I know the band formed right before the start of the pandemic. That must have been pretty interesting.

The second the pandemic hit, we were able to sit down and really write songs and not necessarily write them for a crowd, but write them for ourselves. So the pandemic helped in that sense.

It did take away the live shows though, which was a bummer. 

Q – I understand an intern from EDGEOUT Records was at one of your house shows which ultimately led to the band signing to EDGEOUT / UME / UMG in January of 2021.

Apparently he had been to a couple of our house shows. He reached out to me one night and that's how it started.

He explained that he loved the music and that it was perfect for this label. He offered a great opportunity that I don't regret.

Q – I know the band was formed in 2019 after you moved to Eugene, Oregon to study film at the University of Oregon. And I understand you met two of your current bandmates at the University of Oregon.

As far as not pursuing a career in film, was this a good backup plan?

I still love film and being in that world. Right now, I feel as though music is my calling at the moment.

And luckily, the two kind of go hand in hand. So I intend to explore that.

But yeah, I met two of my bandmates at the University of Oregon. Dani Janae lived in Oregon as well and she interviewed me for a podcast and that's actually how we met.

It's been great. 

Q – I imagine the Nashville music scene is different than the scene in Oregon. What made you want to move to Nashville?

Well, we recorded our album here. And we met a lot of the community while we were out here and we just felt it was a great next step for our professional careers.

I wanted to be surrounded by musicians that inspire me. The industry is here and the local scene is here and there's not like this weird fight between the two of them.

They kind of go hand in hand. Everyone helps each other out.

It's just a very welcoming place. That's mainly why I came out here.

Q – Is it living up to what you envisioned as far as the music scene?

Yeah, definitely. One-hundred percent.

Q – I know that Bob Marley and Sam Cooke are a few of your musical influences. How did they influence your music?

I think a lot of their influence comes from just the tone and the timelessness of their music. I love that aspect about them.

And also just their life stories as well. It's inspiring in the sense that both those people went through so much and created such beautiful work.

Whenever I'm feeling down, I remember them and it drives me. There's a juxtaposition between the two.

Sam Cooke made the music that needed to be made at that time. And Bob Marley did the same, but with more political tinge than Sam did.

But there's still a level of defiance in Sam Cooke's work that is just inspiring. For the most part, he made the music that he wanted to make.

And I'm a big proponent of just writing what comes to your heart. That's what I find inspiring about those two guys.

Q – Do you think they continue to influence your music?

Definitely. I listen to both those guys every day, pretty much.

And I hope that someday I can write as well as Sam Cooke or Bob Marley. We'll see.

Q – I'm sure you've heard your vocals described as soulful. Is that how you view your vocals?

I'd say so. I feel like it just comes mostly from my background.

My mom is a great singer. She's got a very soulful voice.

I sang in church choirs back in the day and I've been listening to soul my whole life. So I just feel like it comes naturally.

Q – It is a timeless genre, maybe because of all the emotions that are expressed in soul music. It's so honest and true.

Q – There does seem like there is a meaning behind the band's name.

It's a juxtaposition, where the music itself sounds happy and upbeat, but the lyrics have a little tinge of sadness or vice versa. We kind of describe it as being depressed at a party.

Q – And as far as your guitar playing, it seems like you are influenced by Lenny Kravitz.

I'm very influenced by Hendrix and Lenny of course and Gary Clark Jr., that whole sector of guitar playing. 

I like how messy it is and it translates soulfully. The same way I sing, I want to play as soulfully as possible.

Q – Would you like to tour with Gary Clark Jr. someday? That seems like that would be a good bill.

I would love to tour with that guy. He's great.

Q – Do you have any goals with this tour? What would you like to accomplish?

I just want to have a good time and get our name out there. I'm excited to be playing music as much as possible and hopefully get some notoriety so we can tour with Gary Clark Jr. or somebody like that.







Sunday, October 22, 2023

Soft Machine guitarist John Etheridge talks about band's new album ahead of Chicago show


 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

 

After first forming in 1966, legendary UK band Soft Machine continues to explore new musical horizons, as evident on its latest album, “Other Doors.”

The band will perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 24 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago. Also on the bill is Chicago band Marbin.

Tickets are $40, available at ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Soft Machine longtime guitarist John Etheridge about the new album and upcoming show.

Q – Great talking to you again. We last spoke in 2018 about the band's latest album at the time, "Hidden Details."

In June, the band released the album "Other Doors." Do you think you are opening other doors with your latest album?

Yeah, yeah, I hope we're opening other doors. I think "Other Doors" is a really good title for anything that is connected with a project like Soft Machine. With the Soft Machine, you're not necessarily going through the main door.

 

You're going through some side doors, you're going through a door in the roof, you're going through a door up in the underground passage. Soft Machine is the conjunction of what you might call mainstream music making with a kind of what you might call obliqueness.

Now, we're not completely oblique and we're not completely mainstream. It's the two things.

That's why "Other Doors" is a good title I think. The title of this album does mean something to me.

It's a very special band. When you put on your Soft Machine hat, as it were, you have a feeling about music making.

Q – You joined Soft Machine in 1975. What did you try to bring to the band when you first joined and what do you think you're bringing to the band these days?

Initially, my job was to promote the album "Bundles," which featured guitarist Allan Holdsworth, and play something following what he had done. He left the band suddenly.


It was very keyboard heavy, so that all I ever played were solos. And then when we reformed in 2004, my contribution was much more fundamental. 

The reformation was comprised of Elton Dean, Hugh Hopper, John Marshall and myself. There were no keyboards.

And that was very, very special for Soft Machine to not have keyboards. It gave me a huge amount of freedom, harmonically, to play all sorts of things.

Over the years that we've been reformed, I've developed I would say a much more kind of creative style in the band. Because we're not keyboard based any more, it will sound original, it will sound new.

We do some of the old tunes and they don't sound anything like they did, which is good. That's very important.

If we play the old music, it's because we can bring something of ourselves to it. Otherwise I wouldn't be interested.

I'm not interested in being a tribute band at all. We're not a tribute to ourselves because we're playing 50 percent new music.

It really is a creative enterprise and I'm really proud of it and I enjoy it a lot. 

Q – You talked about the band still being creative. Is that why you've stayed with the band for so long?

Yes. I played with French violinist St├ęphane Grappelli for a long time.

And that was brilliant. That finished in the early '80s.

For about 20 years, I was running my own groups, being the leader. One of the beautiful things about Soft Machine is that it's a melding of people together.

If you mention to me the guitar players, for instance, that you really enjoyed, they'll be people who somehow connected to something that connects to you when you listen. There are loads of players throughout my life I've enjoyed.

You have to be humble. Anybody who's any good is humble.

Because they know it's a delicate and beautiful thing that's sort of fragile. It's something to be thankful for if things are going well.

Q –What would you like people to get out of your music?

The point of playing music is that you've got to create in the room a kind of circle of energy so that the people in the room are taken on a journey somewhere.

If somebody is listening to music, they want to receive some indication that it's going to take them on a journey.





 

 

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Sideshow Villains to mix music with dance, circus and cabaret acts when it performs Oct. 22 in Chicago

 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF


Chicago band Sideshow Villains believes in giving their fans more of an experience than they would get from your average concert.

Accompanying the band when it performs Oct. 22 at Alhambra Palace, 1240 W. Randolph St. in Chicago, will be dance, circus and cabaret acts. The Deviant Cabaret show starts at 6 p.m. and tickets are available at sideshowvillains.com.

Sideshow Villains recently released the EP "Claws for Breakfast." I had the chance to talk to band leader Dante Ingram about the EP and the upcoming show.

Q – Great talking to you. Of course, your group Sideshow Villains released "Claws for Breakfast" earlier this year. In sitting down to make the EP, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them? 

 

Several of the songs were started years ago and one of the main goals was just to get them released into the world. I also wanted to create an EP of songs with a cohesive theme – this one being criminality.

 
I think we accomplished that, even if stylistically it is fairly diverse.
 
Q – It seems like the upcoming show at Alhambra Palace will be more of an experience than your average concert. There will be plenty to see and hear. Will this show be a template for upcoming Sideshow Villains concerts?
 
Yes, that is the plan. We would rather do fewer bigger shows than frequent small ones.
 
Some of the musicians I work with are on the West Coast. This is a blueprint of what we could potentially do out there as well.
 
Q – I know that Mark "The Knife" Faje will be part of the show and that you previously have been his assistant in his knife throwing act at a freak show. What made you want to join the Psycho Circus freak show and what did you get out of the experience?
 
I was young and wanted to escape my life at the time so I literally ran away with the circus. Mark and I have been friends since high school, so it was an easy escape route.
 
I had a blast on the road with him; the freak show, and 13 MG – the band we were touring with. Mark and I continued to perform together for almost 10 years.
 
He was generous enough to include me when he was on David Letterman and the Discovery Channel's "More Than Human" show.  
 
Q – Aerial artists will also be part of the show and that is something you have done. What do you enjoy about being an aerialist? How will you be showing off your skills at the Alhambra Palace?
 
Aerial arts are incredibly meditative. Once you have the strength to get yourself up in the air, it isn't an option to think of anything apart from the movement.
 
I love that about it. I'll be performing on silks with my 5' skeleton puppet, Frank. 
 
Q – Do you have any dream projects or collaborations? 
 
Yes! I'd love to expand the skeleton piece in the show and work with a composer to create new music – ideally accordion and strings played live during the act. In a perfect world, I'll be able to perform that and another piece I have in the works in the Chicago International Puppetry Festival in 2025.

Friday, September 29, 2023

St. Charles singer-songwriter Ray Johnson continuing musical journey with latest album, "Appealing To Angels"


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

"Coffee And Trust" and "Ocean Blue," the first two singles off Ray Johnson's latest album, "Appealing To Angels," are earning rave reviews in part because of Johnson's deeply introspective lyrics.

On the album, the St. Charles singer-songwriter teams up with Dave Bieritz from his former band Saldo Kreek, which dissolved in 2002. They resumed their musical partnership in 2019 and have released three albums together – "Groove," "2020" and "Appealing To Angels."

Johnson has his own publishing company, Soon To Be Famous Publishing LLC, and is responsible for all distribution and promotion of his work. He makes music out of his home studio in St. Charles.

I had the pleasure of talking to Johnson about his latest project and his musical vision.

Q “Coffee And Toast,” the first single from “Appealing To Angels,” has received a lot of good press, which must make you happy. 


It does, very much so. “Coffee And Toast” is one of those songs that is starting to show the writing style moving from that poppy three and a half minute song to something more orchestrated and with more depth to the song.

The music is really taking on a life of its own. And that’s really, really exciting.

Q – Do you think “Coffee And Toast” has a visual element to it, that people can visualize something listening to the song?

Yes. The music moves you.

It leaves everything wide open to interpretation. You can find your own little space in it.

With the lyrics I’m writing now, they’ve become much more astute. They're becoming more something that everyone can relate to.

Q – Would you say that musically, you are on top of your game these days? It seems like you have tried to progress in your songwriting. I was just wondering if you feel more comfortable as a songwriter these days.

 

I feel like I am completely in step with what I’m doing and how to reach it inside of me and tap into it and bring it out and work with it like clay.

Q – What do you think changed? Are you just feeling more comfortable in your own skin?

Yeah, I definitely feel more comfortable in my skin. But I also feel that I have more direction.

I actually feel that I have more of a purpose with my music than I ever have.

Q – How long have you been writing songs?

I wrote my first song when I was 16 and I’ve got a 45 RPM vinyl record to prove it. I actually cut a 45 my sophomore year at Geneva High School.

Q – Are you looking to take these new songs on the road?

The short answer is, probably not. I haven’t performed since 2001.

Neither Dave nor I really have a desire to perform live, although we haven’t ruled it out. And we may very well do it, but it’s just not as easy to go about it as it used to be.

It would be an undertaking all on its own to do it. We probably would enjoy it a lot.

If the time is right to do something like that, I’m sure we won’t miss the boat on it.

Q
– Are you working on new material?

We’re close to halfway through our fourth release. We’re hoping to have it finished by the end of the year.

More information about Johnson's music can be found on his website, ray-johnson.com.


Saturday, September 23, 2023

Chicago singer-songwriter Ron Lazzeretti to perform at FitzGerald's Sidebar to celebrate release of new CD


 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

 

When Chicago singer-songwriter Ron Lazzeretti isn't writing songs, he is making movies or writing and directing commercials.

Suffice to say, Lazzeretti is multi-talented. His latest CD, "Fat Head, Sunday Paper" will be released on Sept. 29.

To celebrate the release of the CD, Lazzeretti will perform a free show at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 30 at FitzGerald's Sidebar, 6615 Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. To RSVP, go to https://www.fitzgeraldsnightclub.com/shows/list/?twpage=1.

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

 

QGreat talking to you. I know that you will be performing at FitzGerald's Sidebar on Sept. 30 as part of a CD release party for "Fat Head, Sunday Paper." Of course, you have been playing at FitzGerald's for years and currently host a Songwriter Circle there.

What do you like about playing at FitzGerald's? Is it an honor to perform at such an esteemed music venue that has meant so much to so many people over the years?

It's hard to express just how rare and sacred FitzGerald's is. I've been going there for 30 years.
 
I always say that if I knew FitzGerald's was there when we moved to Oak Park, I would have moved there to be near it. But I had no idea.
 
Then one day, I walked through that door and a whole world opened up for me. It's like this amazing road house dropped from the sky and landed in Berwyn, Illinois. 
 
And, Bill Fitzgerald and his wife, Kate, and the Fitzgerald Family built this...you know, they built Bill's dream. He loves music.
 
He told me that when he was a kid, he had a cordless, battery operated record player. And he would assemble his friends down on the street or up in a treehouse fort and play music for them.
 
It's essentially the early model of what came to be his professional career. He had a calling.
 
And any chance I've had to play there, it just never gets old. And now Will Duncan has taken over and it’s wonderful because he came in knowing the power of the place.
 
Anyone who has ever been there can tell you, it's a very special place born of someone’s passion; nothing cynical about it.
 
And it extends to other places in the area like the Rob Pierce's Friendly Music Community. Or The Outta Space. It's really a vital scene. Sometimes I think it's the best kept secret in the Midwest.

Q – It seems like there is a meaning behind the album's name. Is there? In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?
 
My main goal was to make a record, not just a pile of songs. I like a record, a complete piece; like a novel or a book of short stories.
 
You hear that vinyl records are making a comeback. I'm not sure about that. But anything that encourages people to listen to a record from top to bottom and think of it as a whole, I'm all for that.
 

 
I'm not comparing what I've done in two records to the classics. But to illustrate what I mean, "Pet Sounds" is a record. "Blood On The Tracks" is a record. "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot"...a record.
 
I can cherry pick songs for mixes or whatever but I have a place in my heart for an album. So I was aiming for that kind of integrated piece.
 
As for what it means, it's purposely a little vague: "Fat Head, Sunday Paper."
 
But it's safe to say that there's a bit of a "morning after hangover" thing. That Sunday vibe you feel in the air with regard to a lot of things; that sense that maybe the party is over. 
 
It’s not that all hope is lost but it is a bit of a wake-up call. 

Q – I understand you share a birthday with Bob Dylan. How much of an influence has he had on you and your music?
 

Well, the Dylan birthday thing is just something that tickles me because clearly it means nothing, but it is one of those things that sounds like something. But I can’t deny that he has had a tremendous influence on me; me and zillions more like me.

This is a guy who had tremendous influence on the Beatles, so what more do we need to know? I admire him because he has such creative integrity, does what he wants and does it with conviction.

And he’s aged just the way I hoped; kind of a crotchety old bluesman. And he’s funny. He cracks me up.

Anyway, I  also share a birthday with David Hasselhoff. And Britney Spears. So I travel with a pretty interesting crowd.

Q It seems like you are always working on something, whether that is making music, making movies or writing and directing commercials. Do you view each one as providing a different creative outlet?

I’m more and more aware of how much overlap there is in the work that I do; how everything feeds on itself. Commercials taught me about film. Independent film taught me storytelling.
 
Some musicians I’ve worked with provided music scores. Others proved to be wonderful actors.
 

If creativity and curiosity are in your DNA, there’s no telling what you can do. So we try to stretch and see what we’re really made of. 
 
Q – What projects do you have coming up and do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
 
I have two thoughts bouncing around. One is a film idea and one is the next record, which has already been percolating in my head.
 
It’ll have a different, more stripped-down sound. I’m excited about it.
 
Then again, first I have to learn to enjoy the moment. That’s what my wife tells me. And she’s usually right.
 

 

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Musician Jim Green to bring his innovative guitar playing to St. Charles Public Library Oct. 1


By ERIC SCHELKOPF


Jim Green entertained Fox Valley audiences for years with his innovative guitar playing.

Green recently moved to Colorado, but is back in the area as part of his "Tethered To A Dream" tour. As part of the tour, he will perform at 2 p.m. Oct. 1 at the St. Charles Public Library, One South Sixth Ave.,
St. Charles.

I had the chance to talk to Green about the tour.

Q – Great to talk to you again. The upcoming show at the St. Charles Public Library is part of your "Tethered to a Dream" tour. You recently released the song “Tethered to a Dream.” What was the inspiration for the song?

Since I was in high school back in the '80s, I knew I wanted to play guitar as a career. 2003 is when I could finally say I was supporting myself with my music.

Fast forward to today, I’ve had some reasonable successes such as getting signed to a record label and opening for some well-known artists. Throughout that time, I had my fair share of doubts, but I’m happy to say it is all working out.

To engage in some other line of work would feel dispiriting to me. Hence the song title and inspiration, “Tethered to a Dream."

 


Q – Is there anything in particular you will be showcasing at the library show?

Located on the second floor of the library is the Carnegie Community Room, where I will be playing. My first thought is, I’m just excited to play that room again because of the great acoustics in there.

Unfortunately, I don’t think most people in and around St. Charles have even experienced a concert in that room and I hope if they are reading this they feel encourage to join me there that Sunday afternoon. Other than that, I’ll be playing a mix of moods and tempos, including what I am mostly known for, percussive guitar.

This style incorporates unusual and innovative guitar techniques that have been described as visually entertaining as well as musically.

Q – You recently moved out of the area and moved to Colorado. What made you want to do that and how has life in Colorado been so far?

I learned of a CO transplant saying I like that goes like this, “I’m not from Colorado, but I got here as soon as I could.”

I’ve always wanted to live near mountains. I’m really into running, biking, just being outdoors, and the landscape there enhances all those activities.

After eight months, I’m still looking for my tribe and musically slowly building a name for myself. I think it’s going well overall.

I’ve been lucky enough to play a couple gigs at the legendary Broadmoor Hotel and Resort. I know the more I play out, the more chances to meet people and make friends.

Q – I know that you are on Sky Valley Records, which is a small, independent record label dedicated to instrumental guitar music. It makes sense to be on the label.

Is being on the label bringing even more exposure to your music?

I’ve been very fortunate in the beginning with being able to sell a good number of CDs at my shows. With the introduction of free streaming, that has seen a significant drop.

Last year, I finally started promoting and directing people to my music on those streaming platforms. My stream count had risen quite a bit verses doing nothing of course, but the record label has connections with a lot of different playlist curators and has brought that count higher than I ever could on my own. 

Previously I was only reaching those who were at my gigs. The label has helped me reach a larger world-wide audience. 

I admit many of them are passive listeners to a playlist but my growing follower count is good evidence that the songs are catching some ears. 

 

Q – Of course, you are known for your finger-style approach to playing the guitar. How did you develop the style in the first place and how do you think it has changed over the years?

Some of my playing is very unorthodox, with my left fretting hand over the top of the guitar neck instead of underneath. So when asked that question my usual joking response is, “A year of trying to get my hands to work together and a lot of swearing.”

Mine and everyone else’s technique is built on the backs of past artists. I always admired the late great Michael Hedges for his innovative approach to fingerstyle guitar.

He was doing things on the guitar in the late '80s that are still mind blowing today. I wasn’t even playing fingerstyle then, but his influence was sort of baked in.

In the late '90s, I was thumbing through a catalog of guitar instructional videos. The one that caught my eye was Preston Reed’s, "Expanding the Realm of Acoustic Playing." 

That sounded really interesting to me so, I ordered the VHS tape, watched it and his percussive way of playing really spoke to me. I learned a lot from him and also watching Flamenco guitarists and studying their techniques to apply to my music.

This style of playing started with Hedges and Reed, growing to a small band of us gigging around to morphing into the creation of a new genre of music called Math Rock.

Q – You also recently released the song "Phronesis," which you have said is one of your best written and recorded solo guitar songs. In sitting down and writing the song, what goals did you have?

I normally don’t have any goals or expectations in writing a song. It’s too much pressure.

What I do have is connected detachment. I just try to listen and act on a musical idea when it happens, while wearing two hats, explorer and scientist.

I tend to use a different guitar tuning for every new song. By retuning the pitch of some or all the guitar strings changes the musical landscape to something unfamiliar, something to explore.

When I find a musical idea I like, I put on my scientist hat and I test, listen, adjust and test again. The tune will eventually reveal itself and what it’s about. I just trust the process and build on the results.

Q – Your music evokes a lot of imagery. And it seems like your love for nature is just as great as your love for music. I just watched the video for your song "We Leave at Dawn," which I know you wrote and recorded a few days before moving from Illinois to Colorado. Is that love for nature strengthened by the fact that when you aren't making music, you are hiking or biking?


The closer we are to nature, the more we realize there is no separation from us and it. There’s certainly no lack of inspiration nature provides musically.

If I’m doing some outdoor activity, I sometimes hear music in my head. If I’m creating music sometimes I visualize something like tall grasses, the smell of autumn, or the rustling of leaves from a cottonwood tree. 

It might be something else for someone else but, hiking, biking and being outdoors serves my spirit and in turn serves my artist output.

Q – What would you like people to get out of your music?

That’s a simple question but hard for me to answer somehow. Whenever music is heard by someone, it’s going through their personal filter of past experiences and how it’s perceived can be so different from maybe how I felt writing it. 

That’s what makes us all so unique and it’s a beautiful thing.

I’ll answer this with two words – emotional depth.


Monday, September 4, 2023

Chicago musician Brian Krumm releases first solo album, will perform at Uncommon Ground for CD release party


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Chicago musician Brian Krumm’s first solo album was born out of the pandemic.

Krumm fronts the band The Great Crusaders. He wrote the songs on his debut solo album, "Just Fade Away,” during the 2020 shutdown.

The album was released on June 2 on Chicago independent record label Pravda Records. Krumm and His Barfly Friends will hold an acoustic CD release show at 8 p.m. Sept. 9 at Uncommon Ground, 3800 N. Clark St., Chicago.

Tickets are available at Uncommon Ground’s website, uncommonground.com.

I had the chance to talk to Krumm about his new project, Brian Krumm and His Barfly Friends.


Q – Great to talk to you. Are you happy that “Just Fade Away” is being released on Pravda Records, which is one of Chicago’s longest running independent record labels?

Yeah, absolutely. I’ve known Kenn Goodman for years and he actually has helped out The Great Crusades, my other band, in the past.

He got us placed on some very high profile TV shows, including the season finale of “True Blood,” which was amazing. And I think Pravda is just on to something these days.

The artists that they’re putting out are all putting out amazing records. I know that they just signed Nathan Graham who is a great singer/songwriter and is based in Chicago.

 

They are really paying attention to people who are making great music. I have been admiring Pravda for quite some time.


Q – Of course, the album is called “Just Fade Away.” I know you started writing songs for the album during the pandemic shutdown. Does the album’s title refer to you wishing the pandemic would just fade away?

It probably has a bunch of different meanings. During the lockdown, I gave myself an hour to try to write a song at 5 p.m. every day along with a shot of whiskey, truth be told.

Like everybody else, we were all confused about whether we could go inside or if we could see other people. My wife actually came up with the idea. She suggested that rather than me moping and pacing around, that I should try to write a batch of songs.

And after 25 days, I had 25 songs.

Some people thought the album’s title was a nod to Buddy Holly’s song “Not Fade Away.” I just thought “Just Fade Away” fit for that collection of songs and it also worked with the artwork my friend came up with.

It didn’t really having anything to do with wanting the pandemic to go away. But that’s what we were all feeling and hoping for.

It took a lot longer than anybody thought it was going to take. And it’s still not completely gone.

Q – How did you go about choosing the 11 songs that are on “Just Fade Away?”

I just started sending Christian Moder, who’s my lifelong friend, the tunes, which I just recorded on my iPhone.

I just sent him these recordings pretty much every day after I finished one and we just worked on the ones that started naturally coming together. There’s still another batch of songs that are waiting to be worked on, but these were the first ones that we got to and these were the ones that felt most natural to work on.

Q – But you said the rest of them might be released at some time?

Yeah. It’s going to be a similar process for what we did for this initial first record.

Q – Were you surprised that you actually wrote 25 songs in 25 days?

Yeah, I was very surprised. The Great Crusades have been putting out records since 1997, so I’ve been doing that for more than 20 years.

This process, where there was no preconceived notions about what the end result was going to be, was super refreshing to me, to just have that blank slate.

I did surprise myself. After I wrote the first five, I said to myself, ‘Wow, I guess I do have some more things to say, some more stories to tell, some more memories to sort of mine and make them into songs.’

So it was pretty cool. I was happy with the end result and still want to write more.

That was the one positive thing that came out of the pandemic.







Thursday, August 24, 2023

Tu-Ner to bring its adventurous sound to Reggies in Chicago

 Band photo by Julia Hensley
 

 

By ERIC SCHELKOPF


Trey Gunn is the type of musician who is always up for a new challenge.

Gunn and Pat Mastelotto, known for their work in King Crimson, are members of the band Tu-Ner alongside touch guitarist Markus Reuter. The band will perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 26 at Reggies, 2105 S. State St., Chicago.

Sammy Boller and Greg Howe are also on the bill. Tickets range from $25 to $35, available at ticketweb.com.

Tu-Ner is touring in support of its debut double album, "T-1 Contact Information," which was released on Aug. 14 on Gunn's record label, 7D Media. I had the chance to talk to Gunn about the project and tour.


Q – “T-1 Contact Information” came out on Aug. 14, the same day the tour began. How has the tour been going?

Yeah, that's correct. We had a couple of kind of warm up gigs. We participated in this King Crimson "Three of a Perfect Pair" camp up in Woodstock the week before that. 

We were up there with 120 musicians doing workshops and stuff. And then we do kind of an informal concert there and joined Adrian Belew and Tony Levin to do a big show at Bearsville two days earlier.

Q – How did that go this year?

It was great. This is my third year and it was completely sold out. There were 120 people playing and singing and doing all sorts of stuff all day and all night long.

These are all musicians and actually they spend the good part of the year rehearsing for it.

Q – This is the most recent incarnation of Tu-Ner. What do you enjoy about working with Pat and Markus?

Well, I've been playing with Pat for 30 some years now. It's just a very playful experience playing with Pat.

We're constantly teasing each other and trying to throw each other off and having fun on stage. I've known Marcus almost that long, but we haven't played together as much.

 

We did some duo concerts out in Seattle a couple of years ago and have done a lot of recording together.

Q – The album was recently released on 7D Media, a record label that you founded in 2006. In starting the label, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

I've been running that label for a long time. I kind of started it with just my own releases and it has grown and grown.

It's not easy being a small label, but it works. And I'm seeing now the Tu-Ner record has been number one on the prog and experimental charts on Bandcamp for like a month now.

Q – Obviously that shows that people are interested in hearing this album. Does that make you happy that it is doing so well?

Yeah, it makes us very happy. And the record is very strange and unusual, so that makes us even more happy.

Q – So obviously there are people that want to listen to that type of music. There's a lot of artists out there that kind of copy each other, so I guess people appreciate something that's kind of different.

Yeah, this is not copying anything. It's very, very weird music.

And it's like that live too. We keep surprising each other. 

Last night, we were in Buffalo. About half the show is improvised and Pat surprised us by going in a completely different direction last night.

Q – Is that kind of a thrill to go off in your own direction, so much that you're even surprising your fellow band members?

 

Absolutely, absolutely. I mean, that's real creative play when something happens that no one planned.

Q – I understand you first met Robert Fripp when he was teaching guitar in the 1980s. Did you ever imagine at that time that you would someday work with him?

No, no at all. I had no idea what to expect.

I was surprised when he asked me to work with him the first time and every time he's asked me to do a project with him, I've always been surprised.

Q – I'm sure there's a long list, but what kinds of things has he taught you?

Basically how to work as a musician. I'm not talking about professionally, but how to practice and how to play and how to pour your work into it.

No matter how much you prep, when you go on stage, it's completely different than practicing or prepping. It's a completely different experience.

Robert is very, very good about being open to what happens on stage.

Q – I know your primary instrument these days is a Warr guitar. What do you like about the instrument?

It's a tapped guitar, so it's completely all fingers of both hands tapping on the strings on the fretboard.

And it has five bass strings and five guitar strings. So it's kind of like playing the inside of a piano.

It lets me do pretty much anything you can do with any stringed instrument. I can do it all, so that's why I love it.

Q – Besides working with Robert Fripp, you’ve worked with many other musicians over the years, including John Paul Jones, Vernon Reid and Eric Johnson. Is it flattering to be such an in-demand musician? 

Well, I guess I would say it's flattering to have been able to play with those guys. I feel like I played at their level, so that was great.

Q – Do you learn new things by playing with different musicians?

Everyone you play with is completely unique. You have to be on your toes and be ready to learn how you're going to blend with that particular musician. Every relationship is unique.

If there is a different guitar player that night, everything changes. And you have to adapt.


Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Chicago singer-songwriter Nathan Graham returning to The Venue in Aurora


By ERIC SCHELKOPF


His soulful vocals and introspective lyrics grab your attention right away.

After playing last August at The Venue's Americana Music Fest, Chicago singer-songwriter Nathan Graham will return to The Venue on Aug. 19 as part of a show with Alice Wallace, who in 2017 was named the female vocalist of the
 year at the California Country Awards.

The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at The Venue's website, themusicvenue.org. The Venue is located at 21 S. Broadway Ave. in downtown Aurora.

Graham's debut album, "Saint of Second Chances," is set for release on Oct. 20 on Chicago-based Pravda Records. He performed several of the songs off the album during his show last August.

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

Q – Of course, your debut album is being released on Pravda Records, which is one of Chicago's longest running independent record labels. Are you pretty happy about that?

I am, yeah. We tried to do everything in Chicago.

Everything was kind of done with Chicago artists, photographers, and the people who did the mixing and mastering and all that stuff. You don't see a lot of Americana records or even records period being made in Chicago any more, let alone being promoted by a Chicago-based label.

We can still make records here in Chicago. You don't have to outsource to Nashville or Austin.

Q – It does seem like everyone likes to assign a genre to an artist. Is it hard for you to describe your music to people? It's not like totally blues, it's not totally soul and it's not totally Americana. It's kind of like a combination of all three.

Yeah, that's the thing. When I listen to Joe Cocker or Nathaniel Rateliff, I think that's kind of the true Americana. Because I think it's a blending of all that music.

 

My opinion of Americana music is that it connects blues, gospel, rock and country. I think that this album does that in kind of a really cool way. 

And I'm proud of that. I think I would describe it as Americana and soul music. That's really what it is.

Q –  And it seems like there is a meaning behind the album's title. Is there?

It's really about those times in your life when you kind of screwed up. And your friends still ride with you.

They tell you that it's alright, that you're going to bump your head a lot of times in life and do things that you aren't necessarily proud of, but that there's a way back. There's a way back to yourself, there's a way back to loving yourself and other people and allow people to love you.

That's kind of what it's about.

Q – It seems like you really want to connect with people through your songs and through shared experiences. Is that what you're hoping your music does, to show people that you're not in this alone?

I think that's why people listen to music and consume art and go see movies and plays and things like that.

We all have happy joyous times and we all have really low times. And it's nice to know that you're not the only person going through this. 

All the music that I've ever listened to has definitely made me feel less alone.

Q – What was you vision for the album and did the finished product fulfill your vision?

Yeah, it did actually. One of my favorite albums is Joe Cocker's "Mad Dogs & Englishmen." 

I love that album so much. It's kind of like that whole album tells a story. 

You can hear all the instruments and everything has its place. And all the voices have their place and nothing really gets lost.

It kind of exceeded my expectations. I thought it was going to sound one way and it came out sounding way better than I ever imagined.

Q – I was reading a little about your background and I understand you started out backing blues singers at Buddy Guy’s Legends and Kingston Mines. Who did you you perform with and what did the experience teach you?

It taught me that less is more a lot of times. When I first started playing music, I loved pedals and effects.


I had this giant pedal board. And I remember being at a club and I'm watching these legends of blues music and they're expressing so much more out of so little.

They have their guitar and their voice. Sometimes they would just have an acoustic guitar and their voice.

Same thing with songwriting. They would take a simple concept and they would make you feel so good or connect you to them with their story.

And it showed me how to perform and hold a crowd's attention. They pulled the audience into the performance.

Q – Who are some of the people you performed with?

Carl Weathersby and Fernando Jones. I did a small set with Buddy Guy.

In college, I got to play some songs with Koko Taylor, which was amazing.



Sunday, August 6, 2023

Talented musicians team up as part of second annual Rita's Roast fundraiser


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Those who would like to hear some incredibly talented musicians and support a great cause at the same time would do well to attend Rita's Roast second annual family fun festival fundraiser.

The event will take place from 1 to 8 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Aurora Athletic Club, 550 Clearwater Drive, North Aurora. Tickets are $15 for those ages 5 to 11 and $25 for those 12 years old and older.

Those 4 years old and under are free. The day will feature the duo of Noah Gabriel and Ryan Carney from 1 to 2 p.m., Dave Glynn from 2 to 3 p.m. and Double Shot from 5 to 8 p.m.

 

Having personally heard most of these musicians in a live setting, trust me when I tell you that the day will offer plenty of musical treats.

 

And the cause is a worthy one as well. RITAS stands for Restoring Inmates to America's Society.

The mission of the Aurora-based nonprofit organization is to help ex convicts reintegrate back into society as productive citizens as well as offer support to their families.

The event will also feature food provided by Bearded BBQ, a beanbag tournament, kids games, balloon animals and a cash bar. To purchase tickets, go to ritasministry.org or call RITAS Ministry at (630) 966-0252.