Friday, September 29, 2023

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


"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.

– 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,

Saturday, September 23, 2023

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




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

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 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


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


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,

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.