Monday, January 16, 2012

Gutbucket is Back

Ten Years in the Making The Original Gutbucket is Back Dave Kellan, Brett Mitchell, Jake Krull

I’ve known Dave Kellan since Hector was a pup. First time we talked on the phone he was a 19 year old upstart practicing a deep cigarette voice and sounding like he was rode hard and put up wet. I hired him on the spot. But when I finally met him during his first show @ White’s imagine my surprise when I see this skinny young upstart with a moist face, a smooth smile and smelling like milk. Damn. But he won us all over that night. All I heard was “This kid can play.” Sure enough. This was the beginning of my affection for all things Gutbucket. I remember Kellan celebrating his 21st birthday @ White’s – eleven years ago. I bought him a shot and dared him not to drink it. I was mean that way. After a few years passed Kellan hosted a regular Wednesday Night jam that featured some of the best musicians on the planet. We recorded several of then performances – pure magic. I was able to talk with Dave recently as he was driving back to Saginaw with Mitchell and Krull. It was a great interview…

The Gutbucket CD is ten years in the making. What took so long?

The geographical distance was a big factor especially after I moved to New York 5 years ago. We essentially went our separate ways in 2002 when we pursued different forms of music. It’s funny that after all the changes we went through, 10 years later we are still doing the same groove. It was a natural progression. I started coming home for the holidays or during the summer and we’d jam or do a few shows. The passion was still there and it all came together so we contacted Andy Reed and got him involved. I had already put together PK (Paula Kellan) studios as a tribute to my mother. She passed away 7 years ago

What did you want to convey with the more blues-based material?

Well, we are a blues band, that’s what we always wanted since our high school days. I was influenced by Jimi Hendrix and his use of sound. I heard an interview with Hendrix’s drummer Buddy Miles and he talked about the Gutbucket style. We really see ourselves as a blues-based band with all those early influences like Hendrix, and Stevie ray Vaughn

You've picked up some jazz riffs as well. Do you see it as a natural progression in your craft?

I’ve seen so many world class jazz players in New York – it’s like the Mecca for Jazz musicians. I would sit close to the station and watch their hands and their fingering techniques – John Scofield was one influence. Bryan Rombalski is a big influence

What was it like to perform with your old mates again?

It’s all about friendship. We’ve actually been playing together on a fairly regular basis for the past three years or so. I’ve played with Jake since we were 14 years old. We had a cool Nirvana inspired punk band in high school called Everslacking. As juniors and seniors we gravitated away from punk and got into the blues. We would go out to see Larry McCray and Matt Besey. They inspired us. It’s great to have Brett back. He’s a great drummer with good instincts plus he is an excellent songwriter. He contributed several tracks to our new disc. After all is said and done, we grew up together – it’s natural.

You recorded at PK studios in Woodside, New York and Reed studios in Bay City. What was the advantage in recording at both studios? What was it like working with Andy Reed?

Andy is a mellow guy, nothing ruffles his feathers. He has a great ear for sound and he works fast. He gives concise instructions and advice – I could tell he had a lot of experience. He just set everything up and we went for it. We did everything live. The CD has a great natural sound – it’s really like hearing our stage show.

It's been a few years since I've last seen you perform. How would you rate your guitar playing now? In what way have you evolved? any New York influences?

It has been a few years since you've seen me. I am definitely more comfortable now than I ever was taking risks harmonically speaking with the instrument. I think my chops are a bit more refined and I'd like to think that when I make a mistake it just opens up another door to be more creative. I read the book "The Music Lesson" by Victor Wooten and it changed my life. Not to say that I'm making that many mistakes, but it’s fun to have the freedom not to care if you're in the groove improvisationally speaking. New York has obviously changed me because I am now surrounded by world class musicians that I have the opportunity to hear any time and in some cases now play with. It is an incredible city to live in and I continually embrace the culture. If you are bored in New York you have issues. At this point in my life I can't see myself living anywhere else You've always had a unique soulful syncopated vocal style, often singing in unison with the notes you are playing. How was it that you discovered that style? How would you rate your singing?

The Band of Gypsies influenced me to sing in unison with the guitar. Hendrix and Buddy Miles changed history by the simplicity of a pentatonic phrase being repeated in a soulful unison manner. I noticed that it really thickened the groove when in a trio situation. The vibrations of the string and voice can have a very strong impact of the note being played. George Benson's "Masquerade" also blew me away. The album Breezing' is also a huge inspiration as far as listening to Benson's amazing legato technique.

You are more thematically concise with the lyrics on this disc. What inspired you?

These songs are all over ten years old. I was really in a spiritual place back when I was 20 and I was heavily influenced by Hendrix at that time, and always will be. Also, Robert Johnson was painting pictures with his lyrics and I was trying to incorporate both, to somehow create a visual aspect to my music.

Do you remember the first time you played Whites? It was an older crowd - you were 19 years old. You won them over. Was it at this point that you realized you had something special going on?

When I played at your bar, we loved the crowd’s reaction and could feel the energy in the room. We were getting similar reactions back in Midland but it was cool to feel inspired in a real music bar with a crowd we were unfamiliar with. In my Mother's living room (who was my biggest fan), Brett, Jake and I knew we were getting good and we just needed to get in front of an audience. We were hungry to play for an appreciative music loving crowd. Your bar was that crowd.

How long have you lived in New York. Can you contrast the scene in NY with Saginaw in terms of original music and opportunities to perform?

Come August, I will have been a resident in New York for 5 years. Man, time flies. Exponentially speaking New York has limitless possibilities as far as venues to both play at and meet and hear other artists perform. It seems like one gig eventually leads me to another. It's kind of a mecca for the cultural renaissance of art and music. It's funny to think that in a two week span I went to see Sting, Chick Corea and John Scofield on the nights I wasn't playing. If you are a jazz fan, New York is your city.

Saginaw, being the historical city that it is, still has an old soul and I still feel it is a breeding ground for talent to blossom. I mean come on, Stevie Wonder is no slouch. You also have to factor in that Motown is not far from Saginaw and that seems to be in everyone’s musical subconscious. When hosting the jam sessions at Whites Bar I learned a lot from guys like Bruce Crawley, Mark Miller, Matt Besey, and countless others who were either living there or passing through. Working with Noel Howland also was a huge influence. If Michigan can get out of its economic slump soon I see Saginaw being on the forefront of its own renaissance.

Gutbucket opens the disc with Everything to Me, a Funk Brothers-inspired blues workout. It has a jazzy groove with an economy of expression and enough space between the notes that gives the music an unexpected punch. It has a guitar riff that is reminiscent of Peter Green’s Oh Well. Kellan sketches out an extended jam near the coda with a brief chord progression that channels Radar Love

Down in the Delta is an up-tempo blues with heavy syncopated beats. Kellan sings in unison to each note in the verses giving the lyrics an emotional valence that resonates like an electrical shock. Gutbucket pays homage to the black artists that inspired them to play the blues and go ”down to the Delta and get a gutbucket mop.”

Find your Soul is a spectacular tour de Force for Gutbucket. Kellan’s soulful singing is simply brilliant and the rhythm section of Krull and Mitchell carve out a rock solid framework for Kellan to stretch out and show his stuff. He’s all over the map with powerful yet nuanced vocals and nimble guitar work. He can punch out more notes in 12 bars than most cats pick in an entire set

St Mary’s River is a mid-tempo tone poem with some gorgeous country blues licks. Kellan delivers tasty full bodied notes that carry the message forward. Kellan’s guitar work is exquisite – perfect tone, phrasing and execution. His guitar is like another voice being heard. He’s smooth as silk and twice as soulful

Kellan hits the e-string with a vengeance on the fourth track, Gutbucket. Like the title suggests this is the bands calling card, straight up 12 bar blues with an echoed call and response between Kellan and Mitchell. As a drummer, Mitchell’s a bull, tough and durable. He pounds the skins like a heated up teen, holding his own and loving it. He’s not tricky, jazzed up or complex, he’s just rock solid – along with Jake Krull, the rhythm section gives Kellan plenty of space to stretch out with his trademark funky grooves, electrifying speeded up guitar workouts. Kellan is an expert in singing with each note he picks, hits, bends or stretches.

Cinema is a hard-edged funked up groove that is the perfect platform for the message in the lyrics. Gutbucket is giving the sermon. We are the flock. They are rocking their asses off on this track

No relief is a punk rock at its speeded up best. This is a tribute to their high school band Everslacking and they take no prisoners. Mitchell pounds out a frantic 4/4 beat like a heat seeking missile looking for a place to land. The frantic vocal performance is perfect. Gravitational insecurity sets in and the song ends like a crash. In the context of a disc that reveres 12-bar blues, Gutbucket sure took a chance. It was reassuring to me that these three great musicians could add-in an early influence even if it doesn’t seem to fit the format. It was a refreshing and honest.

.End of the Tunnel has a raucous rock & roll intro that segues into another Kellan funk fest. The band is tight as a vise, the timing is impeccable and they stop and start on a dime. Lyrically dark, Tunnel seems to be speaking to the general malaise in our country, our world. It’s a powerful statement

Sea of Jealousy is down home John Lee Hooker 12 bar blues. You just need to pound your foot in time, keeping it simple with sophisticated notions. Kellan’s guitar is ringing with an ancient sound like Robert Johnson at the crossroads. It feels like a clarion call to calm the fight, the inner turmoil.

FIAA is an acronym for Funk is all around. Kellan unleashes a supernaturally charged guitar trill that takes you into another dimension, a twilight zone of pyrotechnical sound, music and rhythm. The big beat nearly explodes in the grooves until Gutbucket transforms it with a stylish syncopated beat. The quiet chemistry between Krull and Mitchell is perfect foil for Kellan’s excursions. Their musical economy is brilliant. This is great stuff. I hope to hear more following this unexpected resurrection of one of my favorite bands


Bo White

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Dennis Tufano - The Voice of the Buckinghams

Dennis Tufano
The Voice of
The Buckinghams

The Buckinghams may be just a footnote to the history of Rock & Roll but in 1967 they stormed the Top 40 Charts with a vengeance. The first hit was a teen pop R & B breakup song entitled Kind of a Drag. Before the end of the year they had four more hits in quick succession- Don’t You Care, Mercy, Mercy, Mercy, Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song) and Susan. Dennis Tufano’s cool as silk tenor provided the perfect vehicle to cause the girls to swoon and the guys to pick up a microphone. They were influential like other pop bands that created great music yet remained somewhat anonymous despite their hits. These now obscure bands were often the backbone of top forty radio when the Beatles or Stones took a break, bands like Orpheus, The Cryan Shames, the Shadows of Night, Question Mark & the Mysterians, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, The Gentrys, New Colony Six, The Blues Magoos and many more – just google sixties/seventies rock and you’ll find a list that stretches out for miles.
Dennis Tufano is part of a tribe of great musicians and singers that break all the rules by continuing to work their craft into their mid-to-late sixties. They are our traveling minstrels. We need them.

Dennis Tufano is performing all the hits and more @ Nouvel High School on Sunday January 22nd, 2012. Tickets are $18. Show time is 2pm. The proceeds support Saginaw County Crimestoppers. For tickets call 1-800-205-7174 or 989-667-0073. The following is a conversation with Dennis Tufano via the magic of telephone. It was a lot of fun!

Dennis, let’s start with the Buckinghams first LP on USA Records. I have a used copy of it and I love it – Kind of a Drag was the big hit. Can you talk about those early sessions?
We went into Chess Records at 2120 S.Michigan Avenue, a legendary studio where all the blues greats hung out and recorded. It became very popular after the Rolling Stones recorded there. When they went there it was like Mecca to them. Ron Malo was the engineer and he recorded a Stones instrumental entitled 2120 S.Michigan Avenue.
We went down there because it was the hot place to be in Chicago at the time – 1965-66 and USA Records had their offices right next door and it was kind of a little music scene within a one block area. Chess was a small little funky studio with a great warm sound and Ron Malo was an extraordinary engineer. He did the Stones there as well as the Yardbirds, and then we did it. It was amazing to watch him work. In those days we had only 8 tracks and it was like a reel-to-reel recorder with only a half inch of eight tracks
So there was not a lot of signal there. It was amazing the sound he was able to get by combining all of the tracks and making everything right. It was a great experience.

The Buckinghams had a nice warm soulful sound
That’s because Dan Bellec and Carl Bonafede. Carl was our first manager in Chicago and Dan was a big bandleader in a heavy fifties jazz scene-guy. He’s the one who played saxophone on the hits and Frank Tesinski played trombone. They were on Kind of a Drag, I’ll Go Crazy - the whole first album. We performed for a year and a half before we ever recorded. We really just brought our live sound into the studio. It made a big difference because we knew how we sounded live. We wanted to make everything clear so we could always hear each instrument

How did you recreate your sound on stage? I don’t recall that you took a horn section during your tours
No, we didn’t. When we started to tour we had Marty Grebes play keyboards and sax. He’s an incredible musician. He left the Buckinghams in 1970 and he joined up with Leon Russell for six years, Bonnie Rait for seven years and then Eric Clapton. He did amazing things. With the Buckinghams he was a great B3 organ player and he would play the keys and the sax at the same time. He’d do voicings on the organ with the sax that filled out our horn sound. So for the 3 & 1/2 years we toured we could recreate our sound without having to carry a horn section

What was a typical setlist at the time?
Well, we did all the hits as well as funky things like I’ll Go Crazy, In the Midnight Hour, Come on Home from our first album. We did Walking the Dog – our drummer John Poulos sang that one. He get up and sing and I would go back on the kit ad play the drums. We had a real R&B kind of base to our music – that city sound.

I always thought of you as a great singer, your trade off duet vocals on Mercy, Mercy, Mercy were soulful and salacious. Who sang it with you?
It was Marty Grebes. He was really soulful - our version of Ray Charles. We were doing our first Columbia album and when we got back to LA to record there was a demo from Johnny “Guitar” Watson. It was Mercy, Mercy, Mercy with lyrics. He and Larry Williams had just recorded it. So we listened to the demo and Marty and I just looked at each other and knew we had to record it. It was initially just an album cut, it was never intended to be released as a single. But Columbia pulled it and put it out. It was a big hit – Top 5. To this day when I do the song people go crazy – it’s really a good song. The lyrics are great.

Do you have a favorite Buckinghams song?
My all time favorite is Don’t You Care because it was our follow up to Kind of a Drag. It had a jazz R&B feel to it and it was a nice range vocally to go to. It was just a comfortable song to sing and the arrangement was good, John Poulos drum riff set the song up perfectly. So Don’t You Care comes in first then Mercy, Mercy, Mercy…Kind of a Drag. I really enjoyed most of the songs I’ve done with the Buckinghams.

Can you talk about your relationship with James William Guercio when Kind of a Drag took off?
As a producer he was really good. We did Kind of a Drag without him and when brought him Kind of Drag it was already #1 with a bullet. We had just been dropped by USA - this was the last side we were contracted to and they didn’t like it. They thought it was too slow, it wasn’t a hit. They held it for a whole year. Then they had to release it because it was the contractual ending. So they released it and released us. Radio picked up on it and it took off. In November 1966 it was released and by February 1967 it was #1 with a bullet
We needed a manager so we signed with Guercio.. But we soon discovered he had his own agenda. We started to find out that his agenda was moving himself up by stepping on other people’s backs. He signed us to Columbia and he produced some good records for us. During that time we were constantly touring - for a 1 ½ years. We made good money on the road but when we met with our accountant we learned that the money was gone. It ended up in court. From 69-70 we were in court over this. It is one of the reasons that the band stopped. We dissolved Buckinghams Inc. in 1970

Did you make any money from Kind of a Drag or any other of your hit records?
Well, we thought we were … the artist royalty is a very small percentage of the money coming in. Publishing is where the money is but we didn’t write the hits so we weren’t involved with the publishing. The artist royalty is very small, to this day it’s maybe $600 a year for each band member because it is based on sales. We were victimized in the late sixties. Everybody got screwed. There are probably just a handful of acts that went unscathed. It seems like it was part of the time period. We were all nineteen, basically and we didn’t have a business sense. I have no regrets. We made some mistakes, we learned a tough lesson.

You were the original lead singer of the Buckinghams and you sang on all the hits – Kind of a Drag, Susan, Don’t You Care , Hey Baby (They’re Playing Our Song) but there is some confusion about Carl Gimmerese being the lead singer
I was the lead singer on all of the records. But there are several You Tube videos featuring Carl Gimmerese as the Buckinghams lead singer – Carl often tours as the Buckinghams so I can understand the confusion. Actually Carl only sang on one cut from our first LP entitled You Make Me Feel Good, a song written by the Zombies.

In 1967 you played over 300 dates? How were you able to hold up to that kind of grueling pace?
In 1967 I was 21 years old. We had hit records, it was easy and we were carried along by the wave of popularity of the band. It was non-stop back then we couldn’t turn around without getting on another tour, play colleges and then jumping on a Gene Pitney Tour with six or seven other acts. It was constant work, we were flying every other day and then sometimes we would fly and stop, drive out of a hub for two or three gigs and then fly again.

Did you become close to any of the bands you toured or performed with in the sixties/seventies? Do you still stay in touch?
The one’s I’ve kept in touch with, I’ve tried to stay in touch with but everybody got kind of scattered after the seventies. Some of the people that I’m still in touch with are Bobby Miranda, the lead singer of the Happenings and Paul, Bob and Susan of the Cowsills. We work with them a lot. I also keep in touch with the Easybeats of Friday on My Mind fame. Great band. They were on the Gene Pitney tour with the Buckinghams and we became good friends. They were expatriate Australians that moved to England – like the Bee Gees. Steve Young went on to produce his brother Angus in AC/DC. We were in awe of them, they were so together as a band. I keep in touch with Tommy James through email. Mostly it is the Chicago musicians I stay in touch with – Jimmy Sohns, the singer of the Shadows of Knight, Ronnie Rice of the New Colony Six, Jimmy Pilster and Tom Doody from the Cryan Shames. We used to be very competitive but nowadays 40 years later we laugh about it.

The 1980’s tour with Olivia Newton John sounded like fun. What was it like for you?
It was pretty exciting, a left field kind of thing. I had been working with Tom Scott when he became the musical director for Olivia’s tour and at the time I was mostly acting and developing a screenplay with another guy. I got a call from Tom and he said they’ve been in rehearsals for eight days but the male singer they got was not working out on the duets with Olivia. Tom said that the singer didn’t know how to relate to her - he just wanted to sing. She was a little upset and Tom knew I could sing and act at the same time. So I came down to audition. The show was supposed to hit the road in ten days so time was tight. I auditioned with the song Suddenly from the film Xanadu. At the end of the audition her choreographer/director Kenny Ortega told me I got the job, that he saw the chemistry. Olivia is one of the nicest persons I ever met, very professional. We did a little jitterbug dance during the song You’re The One That I Want from Grease. There is a DVD of the concert

How did you end up collaborating with Elton John’s lyricist Bernie Taupin?
In the mid-seventies I was hanging out at Lou Adler’s bar on Sunset Boulevard having a good time, listening to music and stuff. This girl came in that I knew from Chicago. She was dating Bernie at the time and she introduced us. So we started to hang out and talk about making music. I took some demos over to Bernie and he gave me set of lyrics for a song, two pages long with no repeats – he’s the rock & roll poet. Bernie writes a lot of stuff. His stories are very vivid and tight. The song was entitled The Whores of Paris. I came back with the music and I played three minutes of music. Bernie was lying on the floor, head down, eyes closed. After it played he looked up and said, “That’s it, that’s what I hear in my head." Anyway we completed it. It was a great little album called He Who Rides the Tiger. Elton John actually sang back up on the album and I had the pleasure of asking Elton to do another take. Whew.

I’m a huge Bobby Darin Fan from Splish, Splash, Multiplication, If a Man Answers to Mack the Knife as well as Simple Song of Freedom, If I Were a Carpenter, Amy etc I believe he was a misunderstood genius. How is it that you decided to develop a tribute to Bobby Darin?
I started out with a 110 songs that I wanted to do - it’s amazing that he recorded over 300 songs. As a singer I was looking for something to do, you can’t just walk into a club and sit in. You have to pick your moments to find work – to find another way to enjoy singing. I found the whole repertoire of Bobby Darin to be incredible. He did rock and roll, folk, blues, country, standards. What he did in 37 short years was just amazing – he even had his own record company. He was my inspiration to start singing in the first place. The Darin Tribute is an expensive show to put on. Besides my band, I use a minimum of three horns and two background singers. You can find a few clips of the show on You Tube.

What is your fondest moment of your career?
There’s so many of them – each collaboration I’ve had, carries the essence of some treasured moment in it - Tom Scott, Bernie and Olivia. But the biggest fondest moment was the look on my parents face when Kind of a Drag went to #1. Those early days with the Buckinghams when my parents were so supportive, seeing the look on their faces when our records hit – those were fond moments. My parents were always very happy with what I did in my entertainment career. For me the fondest moment is to have that blessing from my parents.

Any last comments?
I’m just very grateful to still out there singing and performing for people. You know after my thirties I thought it wasn’t feasible for a man in his sixties to be out there performing. But what I realize now is that we are going out there performing with people like Gary Lewis, Bobby Miranda {the Happenings), Eddie Brigati (the Rascals), the Cowsills and everybody acts like they are 30 years old. And they sound great. It is amazing to me because it feels so good. It’s a process. I take care of my instrument so my voice is in good shape. I work out every day. The fact that I can still go out and sing for everybody surprises me. I thought I’d be in a boat in Lake Michigan. Instead I’m up on the stage sweating into the mic – which I love to do. It’s odd, years can go by and you don’t become a millionaire and you wonder if what you did you made an impact on people. I go out on tour now and people come up to me and talk about how my music created a timeline in their life. They tell me these great stories that involved my music and what it meant to them. After the shows, Vietnam Vets have come up to me and thanked me for the music. I thought it should be me thanking them. Back in the day when we were doing it, I never had the chance to talk and get to know the audience. Back then we had no stories to tell. Now we do and after the show I can walk through the audience and make real connections.

Bo White