Sunday, April 23, 2023

Singer-songwriter Noah Gabriel celebrates release of 13th album with a little help from his friends

Noah Gabriel, left, and Ryan Carney, right, perform April 21 at The Venue in Aurora.


I am honored to have known Noah Gabriel for much of his musical career.

I think one of the things that I like best about his music is that he is adventurous, both musically and lyrically. He is not the type of musician who writes the same song over and over again.

In addition, he writes about topics that everyone can relate to in one way or another. His latest album, “One Wing Shy,” is full of captivating songs. And as Gabriel himself will tell you, it is the most introspective album of his career.

Gabriel and a few of his musical friends played songs from “One Wing Shy” – his 13th album of his career – along with selected songs from other albums during a CD release party on April 21 at The Venue in Aurora.

It was a night celebrating the power that music has to bring a group of people together.

Noah Gabriel and friends perform Gabriel's song "One Wing Shy" April 21 at The Venue in Aurora. The song is the title track off Gabriel's new album, "One Wing Shy."

Noah Gabriel and friends perform Gabriel's song "Heartsick Maladies" April 21 at The Venue in Aurora. The song is off Gabriel's new album, "One Wing Shy."

Noah Gabriel and friends perform Gabriel's song "Bone Driven" April 21 at The Venue in Aurora. The song is off Gabriel's new album, "One Wing Shy."

Singer-songwriter Noah Gabriel, joined by Ryan Carney on cello and Chris Palmerin on percussion, perform Tears for Fears' song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" April 21 at The Venue in Aurora.

 Noah Gabriel and friends perform Gabriel's song "Maybe We Were Wrong" April 21 at The Venue in Aurora.
Noah Gabriel on guitar, Chad Watson on bass and drummer Justin O'Connell – Noah's Arcade – perform their song "East of Midnight" April 21 at The Venue in Aurora as part of a CD release party for Gabriel's latest album, "One Wing Shy."

For other videos from the night, go to:

Sunday, April 16, 2023

GayC/DC bringing its spin on iconic Australian band to Chicago

Photo credit: Dusti Cunningham 


Los Angeles band GayC/DC is putting a different spin on the music of the iconic Australian band AC/DC.

GayC/DC is the world’s first and only all-gay AC/DC tribute band. The band was founded by Chris Freeman, bass player from iconic queer punk band Pansy Division, and drummer Brian Welch.

The band is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year and will perform at 8 p.m. April 21 at LiveWire Lounge, 3394 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago. Tickets are available at

I had the chance to talk to Freeman and Welch about the band.

Q – I know the tour kicks off in Chicago. Ae you happy about the tour kicking off in Chicago?

Welch – Definitely. I have some friends in Chicago and I’m very excited to have them to see this band.

It’s going to be very fun.

Freeman – As do I. And I’m very excited for them to come see the band that they’ve been wanting to see for 10 years.

This is our 10th year. One of the places we talked about playing when we first got together and started to see that this band had legs was Chicago.

It’s such a great rock town.

Q – As both of you mentioned, this is the band’s 10th year. Has the band exceeded expectations?

Freeman – There is no way we could have predicted this. We had a band before that was an all-gay tribute to the Go-Gos called the Gay-Gay’s.

We really only played regionally. We played some shows like in San Francisco and San Diego.

With GayC/DC, we’re trying to get over to Europe as well. So there’s a lot more that this band can do.

I’m very pleased about that. I didn’t see that coming at all.

Q – As far as you Brian, what have you enjoyed about being in this band?

Welch – Well, this band has had a very interesting projectory. We agreed right away we didn’t want to look like AC/DC, we wanted to be something completely different.

We wanted to be a show. Not that AC/DC isn’t a show, they are. And let me be the one that says that AC/DC runs in all of our DNA.

We absolutely love this band. But as gay kids growing up, we wished some of the lyrics had pertained to us, that we could have really related to.

We rehearsed for somewhere between seven and nine months. We wanted to get ready. We had to find other members.

We really had to make this band be what we knew it could be. We’ve seen this interesting projectory of sort of what this band has done and what this band has become.

And we realize now that we’ve got some clout and some responsibility. Because we need to be out there.

We need to be upfront. We need our name on the marquee.

We need to show that we’re not backing down, the LGBTQ community is not backing down. And I’m honored to be in a band with Chris, because he’s in one of the bands that was very influential for me to come out, the Pansy Division.

And they broke down a lot of doors. We wouldn’t be able to do this without Chris and Pansy Division. So I see everything that we’ve done has happened because it’s supposed to and every step we’ve taken is a step we were supposed to take to end up right here.

Freeman – And just to add on to what Brian said about when we were thinking about what we are going to do with this thing, I kind of envisioned it like what if AC/DC started out as a gay band.

Q – There are a lot of cultural wars across the country these days. Do you think GayC/DC helps to unify people, because you can say to people, ‘Well, at least we have this music in common.’

Welch – I say yes, because when we’ve played cities that we’ve never been in before, we get people – and we guess the majority of them are straight – but they’re singing along.

And you’ll have this guy up front with his girlfriend and he’s kind of stepping back a little because we have props and costume changes. It’s definitely not a PG-13 show.

But by the fourth or fifth song, he’s right up front pounding his fists in the air, singing along and having a great time. We knock down those walls.

Freeman – And people who don’t even like AC/DC have come up and said, ‘I don’t even like AC/DC, but now I do.’

Q – Chris, I know you are coming back to Chicago on June 17 with the Pansy Division. Brian was talking about how you guys opened a lot of doors. When the Pansy Division first formed, was that your intent, to open doors?

Freeman – Our intent when we started was just to have a laugh. I joined in November 1991 and guitarist/singe Jon Ginoli had sort of been gestating the idea for almost a year. And he recorded most of the first album in that year.

And then when I joined, within a year we had our first record out. Then we went on tour with Green Day.

We were hoping that they’d be a lot more bands after us that would have jumped through that window of opportunity, but they didn’t. So we just kept at it.

I think we kind of did our job and now you’ve got gay artists from the get-go.

Q – I know that in a previous interview, Brian, you talked about how you would like people who see you guys on stage to be inspired to be who they think they should be.

Welch – Yes, especially right now in the political climate and cultural climate that we’ve seen. You’ve seen pushback on both sides.

I think it’s important for us to be visible for anyone who is maybe growing up and feeling like they’re unaccepted for who they are. We hope that people who come to see us are inspired either for themselves or for their little brother or little sister.

If we reach that one kid, it’s all worth it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Bear Williams Band to perform at SPACE, Chicago Blues Fest

Photo by Eric Schelkopf


The Bear Williams Band is a band that delivers the blues in the most passionate way it can.

Led by Chicago native Bear Williams (aka Larry Kimpel), the Bear Williams Band will play April 17 at Evanston SPACE, 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $12, available at

They also will play from 2:40 to 3:30 p.m. June 11 as part of the 39th annual Chicago Blues Fest. The Bear Williams Band will perform on Rosa’s Lounge Stage at Millennium Park.

I had the chance to talk to him about the upcoming shows after seeing the band play at The Venue in Aurora.

Q – Great talking to you. I know that you performed some new songs when you played at The Venue in Aurora in February, including the song "Train to Chi-Town.” How were you inspired to write the song? Were you inspired to write it because you were on a train to Chi-Town?

No. Sometimes I write songs that are not biographical, they’re more scenario based. 


This one was sort of a love letter to the city. But also, my mom and father as young children came up from the South on the train to Chi-Town. And so I kind of morphed it all together and wrote a song about an adult man coming to Chi-Town to meet his lady.

It kind of turned into a love song about that as well as the city itself.

Q – How long has the Bear Williams Band been together?

Since 2017. We did our first show at Buddy Guy’s Legends in October 2017 and we’ve been at it ever since.

Q – I know you are also the bass player and musical director for the R&B group Maze featuring Frankie Beverly, which will be performing at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in May, right?

Yes. We’ve played there many, many times, but this will be the first time since the pandemic started, I think. So everybody is excited about that.

Q – Of course, some people might wonder how you got interested in the blues, given that Maze performs a totally different genre of music.

When I was attending high school here in Chicago, my band director, George Hunter, always impressed upon us the importance of listening to everything. He would bring in rock music, he would bring in jazz, he’d bring in reggae and he would bring in pop.

And so my ears got ears got really, really big in terms of different genres. And so I started learning all kinds of stuff.

When I started playing the blues, I was still in Los Angeles around probably 2013 or 2014, somewhere around there. Because I was from Chicago, I thought I should start diving into this music that I really didn’t dive into when I was in town. I was much more on the jazz side of things when I lived here.

My first touring job was with The Staple Singers and then my next big touring job after that was with Anita Baker. Blues was the only stone I hadn’t overturned really. I started diving into the old artists and their histories.

And I found that I really loved the genre, probably more so than any other genre I’ve ever played, which is kind of funny, having not done it for a lot of years.

I think what I love about the blues is that it’s so, and it may sound cliche, honest and so simplistic and so raw. I think that’s what it is.

It just lays it right out there for you. It’s much like traditional country and western to me, where the stories are just very, very pure and the music is very honest.

That’s why I started doing it and fell in love with it. And I’ve been doing it ever since.

I’ll always go back and forth with different genres. I still do session work for people. I just did a remote session for a good friend of mine in Germany. He’s a jazz keyboard player.

I’ll always do those kinds of things. But my first love is pretty much the blues.

Q – And you can also make up songs on the spot like you did at The Venue. 


Right, right. That was funny because I had just gotten that idea, maybe a couple of days before the show.

And it just fit perfect. People liked it.

Q – I guess it’s a way to interact more with the audience, to have them connect with you.

Yeah, it is. And it challenges you too.

Q – I was reading about when you were 12, your brother gave you a six-string acoustic guitar and then you really got interested in the bass after you had listened to Curtis Mayfield.

Yeah, my brother gave me the guitar and then probably a couple of months later, my sister bought me the “Super Fly” soundtrack. And I was trying to pick the stuff out of the guitar, but the bass parts were so mesmerizing, I guess, that I just started trying to follow the bass.

Later on, going into high school and having an actual mentor on bass guitar, taught me things and influenced me and gave me other players to listen to. So it grew from there.

The late Thomas "Tiaz" Palmer was my bass mentor. He was a Chicago session player who also toured with Herbie Hancock, Ramsey Lewis and others. 

My brother, Maurice, gave me the guitar, my sister, Diane, gave me the record and then my other sister, Mary, allowed my band at the time to play in her basement. So they were all instrumental in my career.

Q – Just like the Sly and the Family Stone song, it’s a “Family Affair.”

Yeah, exactly. They all had a hand in it.

Q – Seeing you perform at The Venue in Aurora, I know you also play guitar in your shows as well as the bass.

I find it satisfying to come back to it, knowing that’s kind of where I started and then I switched to the bass. Now I’m able to switch between the two.

Q – When you first played at Chicago Blues Fest, was that a sign that you are now part of the blues scene?

Yeah, it’s definitely an honor to be a part of it. It really does speak volumes for what you are doing. 

You’ve made somebody smile, so that’s the cool thing about it.

Q – Of course, this is Buddy Guy’s last tour, so he says. He is 86 years old.

You are 63 years old. Do you see yourself still playing at age 86 and do you see yourself as helping carry on Chicago blues?

Yeah, I think so. I don’t see myself stopping just to stop.

As long as I am able to do it at a high level, I will certainly continue. My wife, Dee, who is my business partner and manager, would echo that same thing.

I think we’ve got a lot of good years left, God willing. We’ll do it as long as we can do it, absolutely.

Q – I know you teach music lessons as well. What do you try to convey to your students in a music lesson?

I teach bass guitar and I have students as young as 10 years old on up to the 70s. I pretty much teach everybody the same things.

We start with the fundamentals and then we go into the theory and history of music and my experiences.

Each lesson is customized  for each student. I just kind of convey the same things I was talking to you about – musicianship, professionalism, timing and all the things you need to know to be a well-rounded musician.

Q – So I guess you would be honored if one of your students landed a record deal.

That would be awesome, yeah. That would be great. I’ve had a couple of students land gigs with bands and that’s always gratifying.

It always makes me feel good that I’m helping to guide them.

Q – Why do you like teaching?

It allows me, in some ways, to give back. It also allows me in a way to relearn what I’ve already learned.

So it’s good on both sides. The main thing I enjoy about it is seeing people improve.

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Chicago area musician Shawn Maxwell to perform at The Venue in Aurora April 14 as part of CD release party



Chicago area composer and saxophonist Shawn Maxwell is constantly looking at music through a new lens.

That is certainly the case with his latest album, “Story at Eleven,” which follows a different path than his previous 10 albums. Maxwell and his band will perform at 7:30 p.m. April 14 at The Venue in Aurora as part of a CD release party.

Doors open at 7 p.m. The Plainfield North High School Jazz Band will open for Maxwell.

Tickets are available at The Venue is located at 21 S. Broadway Ave. in downtown Aurora.

Maxwell will also perform at McBride’s On 52 in Joliet on April 23 and at the PM Music Center in Aurora on April 28. More information is available at his website,

I had the chance to talk to Maxwell about his new album.

Q – I know that Plainfield North High School Jazz Band will be opening for you at your CD release party at The Venue. As an educator, what are some of the things that you try to pass on to young musicians?

As an educator, I’m always trying to make things fun while also emphasizing basics and not moving too fast or overteaching. I feel a good amount of educators, not just in music, assume that students know things that they don’t.

Whether it is junior high, high school or college level, I like to break things down and start from the very beginning. Most students react to that method better and feel more comfortable.

The big thing though is fun. Yes, there are a lot of things you need to think about while playing music but if you aren’t having fun, well, you’re doing it wrong. So focusing on basics and getting the students to relax and have fun are two important things for me.


Q – Given that this is your 11th album, it makes sense that you would call it “Story at Eleven.” As far as the approach you took in making this album, what were your goals for the album?

My previous three albums were comprised of shorter tunes. Each were anywhere from two to five minutes.

I wanted to have this album with just four tunes that are much longer in length and connected together. On this album we do have four tunes, all around ten minutes long.

I see this as very similar to a classical piece of music where we’ll have different sections of the piece that are each longer and can stand on their own, but still connect together to tell a story.

While we aren’t playing classical music, we are using that same method. We also wanted a more “live performance feel” to this.

When we perform at a club, festival or anywhere else, we are in the room with an audience and feeding off of them. While we did not have an audience in studio with us, we did make sure that we were all in the same big room.

No headphones were used and we just played like we would on a live gig. I think it makes the playing and improvisation just that much cooler and intimate.


Q – How do you think it compares to your previous efforts? What would you like your listeners to take away from the album?

This album definitely has the Shawn Maxwell vibe to it. I’m proud to have found a voice that I feel is unique.

So there are a lot of my previous albums mixed in here. I feel with the length of the tunes and the layout of the concept that we all really get to stretch out and flesh out ideas.

Again, on a live performance we do that all the time but a lot of times when recording an album you do shorter tracks and take away from that. So I feel listeners will hear good things that they liked before but will get the “I’m in the room, listening live” kind of feel when hearing where we go with things.

Q – It does seem that you have embraced so many different styles in your different projects, including Shawn Maxwell’s Alliance and Shawn Maxwell’s New Tomorrow. Would you say that you are the type of musician that constantly needs a new challenge?

I’m constantly competing with myself. The mission is to keep improving on what I have done while trying to change things up here and there so I’m not doing the same thing.

If I just keep doing the same thing, well, that’s boring. And how do I grow as a musician if I do that?

I both need and want the pressure on myself to create something new, tell a different story and to try to do it in my own voice. That keeps me going as a musician and human being.

Otherwise, I feel like I’m just going through the motions.  

Q – How would you say you fit into the Chicago music scene?

That’s a hard thing for me to answer. I know I’d like to be thought of as someone who has found his own voice; a composer who is always pushing and constantly working at improving and sometimes changing things up.

I am heavily influenced by the jazz genre but don’t want to be just that. I grew up listening to rock, funk, blues, classical, rap and many other styles of music. They are a part of me so, while I am labeled a jazz musician, that isn’t all that I am.  

Q – I know that in addition to being a musician and an educator, you are a runner. Do you ever get an idea for a musical composition while you are running?

All the time! There are many different reasons that I continue to run, but the best reason is getting my head clear.

I think through things and flesh out ideas. It helps pass the time and, especially if it’s a long run, well, I have plenty of time. Ha!

Q – Are you already thinking about your next album or project?

Oh, yeah. We actually recorded the next album a few months ago.

It is scheduled for a mid-September release so hopefully I can talk to you more about that in a few months. The goal moving forward is to write and put out a few albums a year.

So right now, the 12th album is already recorded. Albums 13 and 14 will move into the studio soon. 

Sunday, April 2, 2023

Chicago cellist Ian Maksin will perform in Chicago April 2 as part of his Cello For Peace tour to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine

Photo by Eric Schelkopf


Russian-born Chicago-based cellist and composer Ian Maksin and the Zaria band performed April 1 at 116 Gallery in St. Charles as part of his Cello For Peace tour to support humanitarian efforts in Ukraine. A portion of the proceeds from ticket, merchandise and art sales benefit For Wellbeing, a charitable medical relief organization in Ukraine and also Doctors Without Borders Turkey earthquake relief fund.

They will perform April 2 at Artifact Events in Chicago. More information is available at