Saturday, May 26, 2012

This is a photo of me with Dick Wagner and Pete Woodman @ Tittabawassee Park in Freeland. It was a glorious day; the weather was warm but the music was hot. This was a Michigan rock reunion featuring Dick Wagner, Donny Hartman, Pete Woodman, and the Cherry Slush. The Slush performed their hits I Cannot Stop You and Day Don't Come. Hartman sang Donny's Blues like his soul was on fire and this marked the first time I heard Wagner perform his 1967 psychedelic masterpiece Sunshine. I was in day-glo heaven. Take me back, brother and we'll party like its 2002.
A once upon a time hallelujah moment that can never be replicated
and the Cherry Slush. The Slush performed their hits I Cannot Stop You and Day Don't Come. Hartman sang Donny's Blues like his soul was on fire and this marked the first time I heard Wagner perform his 1967 psychedelic masterpiece Sunshine. I was in day-glo heaven. Take me back, brother and we'll party like it's 2002.
A one time hallelujah moment that will never be replicated

White’s Bar The 75th Anniversary Summer Concert Series

Savage Grace Reunion Saturday June 16th

Al Jacquez has reformed Savage Grace for an extended summer tour in 2012. The band is considered one of the most progressive Michigan rock bands from 1969-72. They incorporate blues and jazz with equal facility and Jacquez is considered to be one of the great vocalists of the era. They released three albums to great critical acclaim and are known to put on a superlative show that features their best known works including Come On Down, All Along the Watchtower, Lady Rain, Ivy, Roll River Roll and Turn Your Head - opening the show in none other than Frost legend Donny Hartman. Get ready to rock! 5pm-2am. $15 tickets available @ White’s Bar, Records & Tapes Galore, Red Eye Café and through etix

Saturday June 30th Summer Fest A-Go-Go

The Banana Convention goes all out to create one of the best Outdoor festivals in mid-Michigan.

This is a pure rocking good time with 11 bands including Big Brother Smokes, Holy Gun, Doogie, Killer Kong, Brody & the Busch Rd Trio, Desiring Dead Flesh, Wilson, Parent the Seas, American Underdog, Your Mom and Live Pro Wrestling! 2pm-2am. $5 admission @ the door

July 14th Dick Wagner returns with his very own Rock & Roll Barbecue

The band is red hot and the 30 song set list will cover every era of Wagner’s illustrious career from the Bossmen, the Frost and Ursa Major to Lou Reed and Alice Cooper. Ex-Bossmen drummer Pete Woodman will open the show with his HIPs band featuring Suzie Woodman. Tickets are $20 and are available @ White’s Bar, Records & Tapes Galore, Red Eye café and etix

July 28th Chris Redburn Presents

The Best in Rock, Blues and Hip Hop. There will be bands and Deejays and lots of surprises. $5 admission @ the door

August 11th Picasso Productions Presents the Back to School Punk Fest

featuring Michale Graves (formerly of the Misfits and the Marky Ramone Band with Special Guests - Sinister Footwear, Johnny Mohawk And The Assassins, The Mongrels, The Tosspints, 40oz Of Spite, Purple Nightmare, The Kincaids, Murder Party, Explicit Bombers and more TBA.... Also DJ Snakes spins discs between sets $10 tickets available @ White’s Bar, Records & Tapes Galore, Red Eye Café and through etix

August 25th Chris Palmer Presents: The Crispy Fest

 Tension Head, Know Lyfe, Sin Theorem, Spork (Formerly Silverspork), The Ruiners, Crash Dollz, Narc Out The Reds, The Kincaids, Dead Evolution, I Took The Fall, Sizzlechop, Killer Kong, The Fischer Bodies Burlesque dancers and the always delightful Jagerettes & much more. $7 admission

Crash Dollz
Severe Head Drama
Spit Shine Johnny
Last Born Legend
The Stick Arounds
Narc Out The Reds
The KincaidsThe Ruiners
Crash Dollz
Severe Head Drama
Spit Shine Johnny
Last Born Legend
The Stick Arounds
Narc Out The Reds

The Ruiners
Crash Dollz
Severe Head Drama
Spit Shine Johnny
Last Born Legend
The Stick Arounds
Narc Out The Reds
The Kincaids
Dead Evolution, Severing The Need, Mare Crisium, I Took The Fall,
Killer Kong, Archana, Sizzle Chop, Major Disappointment, Direwood, Desiring Dead Flesh, Elephant Ryderz and Bloodshot Sunday!! Also performing throughout the day will The Fischer Bodies Burlesque Dancers and a special Appearance by the always

This is a photo of Bill Kirchen @ White’s Bar around 10 years ago

I was all twisted up like a pretzel with excitement and a little bit of apprehension about Bill Kirchen’s upcoming show. First of all it’s on a Thursday, a weekday that used to be hot and is now totally unpredictable. And local press didn’t seem too interested; in fact they ignored the show. I wondered if anyone would remember Kirchen and all his glorious work with Emmylou Harris, Nick Lowe, Doug Sahm, Elvis Costello et al, let alone his groundbreaking performances with his first famous band Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen…

Seemed to me our memories can work against great artists that aren’t part of the star makin’ machine of rock n’ roll legends and hall of famers. Kirchen fits in that former not-the-star group of musicians who are recognized in music circles yet reside somewhere this side of mass popularity and mild acclaim. I guess Kirchen isn’t a brand like Seger or Kid Rock. I gotta admit that I didn’t know much about Kirchen except for his Commander Cody days. I read a glowing article about Bill in Blue Suede News, a great quarterly magazine for anyone who loves American music.

I remember attending a Commander Cody show in the early-to-mid seventies and was absolutely blown away by them. They fiddled and rocked and did a cool countrified boogie. They were more like the Flying Burrito Brothers than say, the Eagles, more authentic and more anchored to the counter-culture. But I really didn’t know much about all that other wonderful music he created in the ensuing 25 years or so.

Bill and I had the chance to phone talk several times before the show, and that was it for me. I was taken by his droll sense of humor and his acrid social commentary; we connected. I thought we were brothers-in-arms; at least we shared an ironic point of view about life. Kirchen is a rootsy real deal musician that’s been around the piss-pot and can laugh at his own follies and foibles. I just loved the idea of Bill Kirchen, the man as a concept, as a way of being. It was pretty far out; maybe I could learn something from him. Yeah, he could be my teacher and spiritual guide. And as sure as I sitting here, grousing about life in general and thumbing my nose at every false bourgeois impulse that courses through my body, I’m ready for a conversion.

Kirchen is a true road warrior, he’s performed on stages large and small across the U.S. of A and Europe for all of his adult life. Kirchen told me he’s performed more than he’s recorded and yet he has an impressive catalog of music and a Grammy nomination under his belt. Like any traveling minstrel, he comes to town with only the basics - his classic hot-rod-lincoln Fender Telecaster, effects pedal, a pick and his trusty microphone. He’s originally from Ann Arbor and, by his own admission, is a true corn-fed blue blood Michigander at heart.  Kirchen is tall and lean, dressed in jeans and flannel, exuding a laid-back down home vibe. He opens with a rootsy, country style instrumental, separating bass notes from treble notes, adding in the bass runs that lead up to his remarkably fluid chording – a classic!

He sure set the tone for what was to come, countrified trucker songs that seemed to be uniquely Americana – though in my hitchin’ days I never did meet a hillbilly druck-drivin’ man I could possibly relate to, either I was a bit too odd or they were a bit too strung out and in a bag. So, I’m not sure why I like these songs so much, maybe because it’s not just about driving; it’s more about living and not fitting in and being alone and lonely and feeling that nothing is really adding up.  It’s when Kirchen twists that effects knob and sings, “Here I sit with a broken heart, took three bennies and my truck won’t start”,  that I can get into that dark metaphor and whine and moan right along with his old beat-up telecaster. Kirchen’s “Hazardous Cargo Trilogy” (Dexedrine, Marijuana and Booze) was a gas with one of my all time favorite stoner weepers, “Down To Seeds and Stems”.

Kirchen played his ass off up with each finger keeping real busy, up and down the neck from the bass string to the E string, accentuating each note with such clarity it made me want to just sit with it for awhile.  He sang a couple of sweet finger pickin’ songs he did with Nick Lowe including “Castles in the Sand” and “Hammer of the Honky Tonk God” and a very cool “Rockabilly Funeral”, a dead-on toe tapping, belly rubbing laugh fest. Kirchen’s singin’ surprised me …he has a great voice that recalls a latter day – say late 80’s or early 90’s – Dick Wagner (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed). But it’s his pickin’ and grinnin’ that really sets him apart from the usual suspects. He ain’t no Van Halen or Hendrix, none of that flashy louder than God rock star sass; instead Kirchen is a master of country rhythms and warm tones.

His tribute to Buck Owens and Don Rich as well as his Grammy nominated “Poultry in Motion” and his take on Santo & Johnny’s Sleep Walk” illustrate his ease in conveying an incredible array of sound images. The highlight of the show was “Hot Rod Lincoln”, Kirchen’s big hit with Commander Cody & the Lost Planet Airmen. His execution was brilliant and the middle section contained an extended tribute to all of his heroes from country to rockers; from the Fab Four to the pre-Fab Four; He jimmy-jammed on Howling Wolf, Hendrix, Deep Purple, Eddie Cochran, The Yardbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Cream and on and on.

 I loved it all like a hot bath and a massage and getting’ just a little bit naughty.The show was not without a few hitches. Although Bill is a true professional, he got angry with a few young lovelies who were strutting their stuff, laughing a little too hard and talking a little too loud. Bill stopped the show and told them to be quiet. He was noticeably angry. They laughed and stomped out. It was an uncomfortable moment.

After the show, I gave Bill his guarantee and we talked about a possible future show. I was hoping he could bring Nick Lowe to White’s; Bill was doubtful. He acknowledged that Lowe was a master but that he is essentially unknown in the heartland. They performed together throughout the mid-west a few years back to sparse crowds and small paychecks. He left abruptly. I lost a friend.

Behind the scenes @ the Frost 30 Year Reunion Concert.  My partner Scott Seeburger and I sat in on a rehearsal a few days before the concert. We listened intently, in awe of this great band. The Frost sounded great as if the ensuing 30 years did not alter their incredible craft. Donny was in great voice, Wagner was rockin’ his ass off and Bobby Rigg pounded the kit like a kid with an intractable erection. The band was in the process of paring down the set list. Sweet lady Love was jettisoned early on – that hurt. I loved that song. It appeared to my ear that Donny’s vocals were in the best shape – just listen to In the Middle of the Night and This Band Can Rock. He nailed it.  He did Donny’s Blues like a young man possessed by a voodoo gris gris that wouldn’t quit. Rigg was singing harmonies and he sounded great. I talked with bassist Gordy Garris a few weeks before and he wished the Frost the best and he held no grudges. Gordy is just a sweet man. Tom Randall signed on to do the bass and he did an admirable job. Near the end of the rehearsal Scott and I approached the band about doing our favorite Frost song – a stone masterpiece entitled Sunshine from 1967. Didn’t happen.

Tracii Guns

The League of Gentlemen

Meet LA Guns

Tracii Guns is a rock & roll survivor. He’s toured the world and left his name like a signature with Guns & Roses and LA Guns. He manned up, wished them well and never looked back.  Last year two versions of LA Guns were touring at the same time. Tracii did what he needed to do; walked away from the fray and fashioned a new vehicle for his creative juices to flow. The League of Gentlemen was born. Tracii is recognized as a virtuoso guitar player with a fine tuned craft and an astonishing eclecticism.

Tracii will be performing @ the Hamilton Street Pub on Saturday June 2nd. Tickets are $8 adv: $10 door. The Doors open @ 3pm. Special Musical Guests include Crash Dollz, Sizzlechop, Harlet, and Fearing gthe End. Advanced tickets are available @ the Hamilton Street Pub, The Vault and White’s Bar.

Tracii, you’ve had a great career most musicians only dream of. How have you been able to do it for so long and keep the dream alive?

Well, I think I might have a different perspective than a lot of other guys. You know I’ve been playing my whole life, and it’s kind of, you know, the puzzle that you just keep building. It’s not really, I don’t really have a destination or anything like that. It’s just you constantly create and be creative with other people and, you know, give people something new to listen to every now and then. That’s kind of the whole reason I did it in the first place and it’s the reason I still do it. You know, I don’t have, I’m not a real goal-oriented kind of musician.

I listened to your guitar work. I think you’re a great guitarist. You can do country, acoustic, and you can rock & roll and rip it up with equal facility - you can really hit the mark.

That’s the thing, you know, being my age I grew up mostly in the ‘70s, and those were most of my formative musical years so you know anything from like the ‘30s like straight through 1980, you know all that stuff goes into my playing, whether it’s country or mellow or the blues. I mean all these things you hear when you’re growing up, it just kind of gets inside your soul and you got to let them out. If you’re a musician, that’s kind of the way you filter through music. You know it’s hard to just listen to music when you’re a musician. You’re always like, “Oh, what’s that guy doing? How did he do that?” You know that’s kind of how my brain works.

I’ve heard that from other guitarists. It makes a whole lot of sense when you see how they do an inverted chord or like Keith Richards when he discovered an open tuning technique. He did this crazy 5 string open G stuff that started with Honky Tonk Woman and suddenly he had this great new sound.

Yes, like Satisfaction, you know, you kind of always take things for granted when you’re just listening to great songs, but that riff...ahh, ahh, ah ah ah. It’s incredible. I can only imagine what people in their 30s and 40s thought of that sound when it first came out. It was so rebellious. Now it’s nothing’, you know, but then, I mean probably you could only describe it as anarchistic.

Oh absolutely. I didn’t even know it was a guitar when I first heard it.

Yeah. You know, and that’s really what it’s all about. You kind of let these things flow through you and if you’re lucky, you might come up with some stuff that’s really different and people notice it and they love it and they pick up an instrument because you influenced them or, you know, inspired them somehow.

 You really get some incredible sounds from the guitar. I was thinking about the intro to Don’t Call Me Crazy and that beautiful acoustic piece in Ballad of Jayne and Little Soldier. You have so much with you, all that knowledge.

I think that’s the thing. When you talk about guys like Chuck Berry, then you talk about guys like Hendrix, and you talk about Jimmy Page and guys like that, you know they had a kind of smaller encyclopedia to draw from so they could get to the conclusion a lot quicker. Being 15 to 20 years younger than those guys I had a lot more music to pull from. I think it takes somebody that’s writing and creating and willing to keep on developing so that you keep drawing from this never-ending well of music and ideas and things like that. So I think it’s possible to have a longer influential career because you have so much more to offer. My favorite guitarists stopped just improvising on the blues and took it somewhere else. A guy like me has the benefit of all that heavy metal that goes along with the blues and obviously stuff like Pink Floyd. Man, there’s so much great stuff to draw from. I just keep making these musical puzzles and then play them in front of people.

Did you have a teacher or a mentor?

I had one guitar lesson when I was like 11, I think. This guy, I’ll never forget his name. He had a really weird name. His name was Gunnars Knubis.

That’s a weird name for sure

Yeah, he was from another planet I think…my mom was taking pedal steel lessons there. So she said, “Do you want lessons?” I said, “Not really, but I’ll try it.”  I was a real Page-head when I was 10, 11 years old. This guy didn’t want to have nothin’ to do with Jimmy Page. He just wanted to teach me all the Clapton stuff, and at that time the Clapton stuff just did not grab me. He wanted me to play like After Midnight and stuff like that. I wanted to know the solo Communication Breakdown and Good Times. I wanted all the mystery. I wanted to know where all these sounds came from. I loved Rush, too, and he’d never even really heard of Rush. So that was my one lesson. After that in junior high school the guitar ensemble all the way for three years. That was a real lesson, definitely, learning how to play with other people in a group. You know that was real beneficial. Then after Hollywood Vampires, our third record, I went to Valley College, the music program there, and brushed up on some theory and stuff like that. So you know I’m schooled to a point. Most of my rock and roll guitar playing is improvised from stuff I picked up off live records, like Frampton Comes Alive and Ted Nugent Double Live Gonzo, you know stuff like that in the mid-70s when I was really learning my stuff.

There was a lot of great stuff then too. You’re currently touring with a new band. I want to go into this new formation

It’s the League of Gentlemen and we do mostly brand-new material. We do seven of the L.A. Guns classics and then we do some materials from some of the other bands I’ve been in over the years. You know, so it’s a big. There’s some music, and you know, kind of like a big pimple in each city and then we get there and we pop the pimple and all the different stuff comes out.

Can you describe the creative, because I was listening to Hollywood Vampires and Cocked and Loaded and this great stuff. Can you describe what the creative process was to create such landmark albums?

I think it all starts, kind of in a way, either sitting on the couch watching TV with the guitar in your hand. Back then in particular we had these little tape recorders and stuff and we would play around with these little ideas that you have and then you build upon them and you take multiple ideas and you put them together and kind of string something that makes sense together. The way I’ve always done it is I try to create a real solid foundation of music so that if someone were only to hear the music, the music would appeal to them first and then I’d hand it to whoever is singing or writing lyrics and say, “Here’s a fine piece of music see what you can do with it.  I’ve never attempted to be any type of lyricist or poet. That’s really not my bag. I would record all my ideas on four track or just a regular tape recorder and I’d get into a rehearsal and teach the band everything and then the band would have their ideas, the singers would have their ideas, and ideas were flying around from everywhere. We just started jamming on the stuff especially rock and roll. You know you just start jamming on the stuff and if it feels good, then you know that you’re heading in a good direction.

I want to back up just a second. Who is in the band right now with you?

Right now I’ve got Doni Gray, he’s playing drums and he was in Izzy and the Ju Ju Hounds, and he was in a band called Burning Tree. That’s how I know him with Marc Ford who also happened to be with the Black Crowes later on. So he’s like a real soul, blues, Mitch Mitchell kind of guy. Then there’s a guy named Scott Foster Harris. He’s from Texas. We actually started working on this project about three years ago. He’s just a real kind of throw-back to the early ‘70s, kind of Robert Plant looking guy. Really into psychedelic music, really into the blues and country and stuff. We do the bulk of the writing with Doni. Then my friend, Craig, we call him Patches. He’s a bass player. He’s a teacher… of everything. Then we have an organ player, a guy named John Bird who has played with everybody out there. He’s actually a couple of months younger than me, so we have a wide range of ages.

I don’t want to bring up too much of the past that you may not want to talk about, but I was wondering if you feel like commenting on the early days of Guns N’ Roses, another band that uses your name.

 You know that was another great time and another great launching pad for everybody. Again that was a situation, a bunch of guys that were friends and we had amazing creative energy together, and we were young. When you’re that young, your ideas come fast and often and with a lot of ownership, you know. There’s a volatile situation once you really started going, with everybody growing in different directions obviously, and Axl now with a complete new line-up of guys. You know, it’s turned into his thing. Like I said, it would be scary for any of these guys to be in the same band for that long. The difference is with Guns N’ Roses, those cats, man, they’re leaving billions of dollars on the table for a 10-year period. I guess in the end money’s not that important. You can’t take it with you. Axl doesn’t have any kids, so he aint’ gonna leave it to anybody, so, you know, he can just do what he wants and let his creative juices flow. That was a great experience in the end. I’m very proud of all the ups and downs.

Do you still talk to some of the old mates from Guns N’ Roses?

Uh, not very often. I see Dobson and Slash. I saw Izzy for the first time in years a couple of years ago. It’s just like you saw each other yesterday. They say, “Man, what’s going on?” you know. They’re all good guys and everybody’s been through their thing and everybody’s human.  I haven’t talked to Axl since, shit like 1989, but I don’t think anybody has.

You’ve been in several bands. I was thinking about Contraband and Brides of Destruction, Poison. What was most satisfying for you in terms of creativity or even something more emotional like brotherhood and friendship? 

Well, I think there are a lot of different angles. Probably the greatest family I’ve been in is these guys I’m with now just because we’re all on the same musical level, you know, so this is a real highlight for me right now. I think as far as live performance, I think Brides of Destruction by far. It was the most focused metal-type band I’d ever been in, and a lot of that had to do with Nikki being very focused and keeping me from straying and going into blues and la-la land all the time. We were able to really put a very appealing metal show together. We looked great, the songs were great, we sounded great live, so that had certain highlights. I think the early, early Guns, you know, the first five years after our first record came out that whole experience was quite, quite a ride. That’s fine when I was 21, you know, I thought my career was over when I was 26, so that was 20 years ago. Then those five years were pretty amazing, you know, just the traveling the world for the first time, playing  and having millions of people love ya and know that it’s you and coming up to me, “Hey, I played guitar because of you” when I was 22, you know.

The LP Rips the Covers off, you did did all these covers. You’re so eclectic, AC/DC, Kevin Rudolf, Blue Oyster Cult, the Beach Boys. What prompted you to do that?

I think you don’t become the player you are without learning other people’s music, you know what I mean. I just think that over years you have ideas about how you want to do things, so for me personally I do cover stuff to see if I can recreate it and amplify on it and things like that.

What do you consider the highlight of your career?

That’s a good question. Well I think playing the Download Festival with Brides of Destruction in England in 2004. I mean that was incredible because…It wasn’t a huge crowd. It was like 15,000 or something. We were playing in one of the smaller tents. We weren’t on the main stage, but we were on the stage with Slayer and it was very cool. We did our whole Brides of Destruction set, did the L.A. Guns set. I mean that’s pretty satisfying. That’s the only band that I really feel I could do that with, even at this point, because it was so focused. The chemistry was so right. We played loud and heavy and fast, and that was the highlight for that kind of thing. I’m sure there are other things, but that gig always sticks out, that one particular one, especially that much later in my life.

Do you have any last thoughts or anything you want to say to be published to your fans?

I can’t wait to get back to the Hamilton Street Pub. It’s a great place to play and I met some cool people there like Chris Palmer…he’s a good guy and when you come into a League of Gentlemen show you’ve got to come in with an open mind. You’re not going to see L.A. Guns. You’re going to see our guys on stage really pouring their soul out on the stage. At times it’s a lot mellower than L.A. Guns but at other times it’s a lot more frantic. It’s a live band so you know people coming to the show shouldn’t have any preconceived idea of what they’re about to see because we mix it up. I guarantee you it’s a great band.

This is a photo of the nucleus of The Playboys, Saginaw’s first great rock & roll band; From Left to Right - Warren Keith, shirtless Pete Woodman and Butch White. White was one of the most influential players in the emerging rock scene in mid-Michigan and a Truman-like curmudgeon with a show-me attitude. He doubted the authenticity of the Four Seasons until he heard them play @ the Horseshoe Bar in the early sixties. Butch played everything from rock & roll to Polka and was part of the Medallions, a loose aggregation of Saginaw musicians also performed at the Horseshoe. A few years later a few members of the Medallions moved to South Carolina and took part in recording a song entitled Double Shot (Of My Baby’s Love) – a big hit for the Swingin’ Medallions in 1966!

This is a photo of Sal Valentino and me during the 70th Anniversary celebration of White’s Bar on Saturday July 21st, 2007. I was totally thrilled to meet the “voice” of the Beau Brummels. I found myself giving Sal several big hugs with an awe shucks star struck type of hero worship that was just a bit over the top. Sal took it all in stride. It all began after I bought a few CD’s from his website. He also sent me a promo photo with an inscription made out to me. It’s on the wall at White’s to this day.  We began planning his concert in mid-April. It almost didn’t happen. I just couldn’t find a band willing to devote the effort to learn the songs – some were quite complex instrumentally. Ron Elliott the primary songwriter and lyricist for the Beau Brummels was an exquisite finger pickin’ guitarist with few rivals. In the late sixties guitarists were playing loud and heavy blues-based rock; Elliot was creating intricate country folk  stylings that had session men like Glen Campbell, Jerry Reed. The 1968 stoned masterpiece Bradley’s Barn was the culmination of the Beau Brummels artistry. At my insistent pain-in-the-ass pleading Sal agreed to perform a few songs from my all-time favorite LP. But my problems had only just begun. I was still looking for a band, my first choice the mighty Maybe August declined. The Gentlemen Callers also declined citing the complex signature changes and the difficult acoustic guitar work. Finally Barbarossa a talented new band fresh from high school agreed to take the assignment. I dodged a bullet. On May 21st  Sal sent me 4 copies of a 2 CD set list of twenty songs to be given to the band with one copy for me. The band would learn the songs from listening to the CDs. That was all well and good but Barbarossa was unable to devote sufficient time for rehearsal. They weren’t quite ready to perform this complex music that wasn’t quite rock & roll nor was it folk or country. It was a cool hybrid that was unlike most of the music released in the new millennium. I was a bit worried so I called Bob Hauser a local country/folk veteran who could sing like a dove and play anything under the sun. Bob was available and he began learning the songs and separating out the parts for each instrument – guitar, keyboards, bass, drums etc.  The first rehearsal with Sal occurred a week or so before the show. The band showed signs of progress and would continue to rehearse with Hauser in the upcoming week. It was a go. The show was spectacular – Sal did the Beau Brummel hits Laugh Laugh, Just A little, and Tell Me Why. He successfully reinterpreted the Dylan classics Isis and Everything is Broken and he dedicated An Added Attraction (Come and See Me) to me. It was a thrill of a lifetime for me. Sal and I would make occasional contact in the ensuing 5 years.  A few years ago he called and left a message wishing me well. He said he just wanted to hear my voice. Wow.

Elaine ‘Spanky’ McFarlane, the voice of the seminal folk rock band Spanky & Our Gang performed a concert @ White’s Bar during Thanksgiving weekend in 2003 with fellow Mamas & Papas alumnus Laurie Seaman Lewis. It was a bit impromptu yet planned. Laurie was well known in Saginaw by sixties rock & roll enthusiasts as the lead singer for Pitche Blende, a band lead by the extraordinary guitar wizardry of Dennis Malenfant. The band rocked especially when Laurie and her sister Ginny (bass guitar and vocals) leapt out front and center to the edge of the stage. They were simply stunning…beautiful. They had the young men in the audience salivating like a dog with a bone. They were the visual and spiritual center of the band. But in 2003 the stars were aligned and the aspects were right. Laurie was coming home to visit her family for the Thanksgiving Holiday; Spanky was coming back to Pontiac to visit her old band mate Nigel Pickering. Laurie proposed doing a mini-concert featuring songs that they performed together when Laurie joined Spanky, John Phillips, Denny Doherty and Scott McKenzie (he had a flower power hit with San Francisco) of the new Mamas & Papas (1986 and 1991-1993). I was beside myself. I was a big fan of both these talented ladies – it was a dream come true! Laurie sent the sheet music for most of the songs and I got them to Bruce Crawley (soundman) to help teach the pick-up band the songs. Other band members included Ginny Seaman (bass), Tom Dolson (drums), and Matt Besey (guitar) – a true Saginaw super group. It was a great set list that covered songs from Spanky’s early folk blues days with The New Wine singers to her incredible journey through the sixties and her later involvement with the Mamas & Papas. Spanky was in great voice that night, her powerful contralto could still soar through the stratosphere like an Eagle signaling her arrival. Laurie Lewis took the high parts, her voice was powerful and she never lost pitch – a great singer. The set list included Band Jam, California Dreaming, Sunday Will Never Be the Same, Lazy Days, 500 Miles, Wayfaring Stranger, Bring it On Home, Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues, Prescription for the Blues, Buddy Can You Spare Me a Dime. It was a glorious night; a treasure of memories.

Kim Wilson played White’s twice around 2002. Kim is the singer and harp player for the Fabulous Thunderbirds and he came my way through Detroit blues rocker Doug Deming. Doug is a true believer and a genuine guy who walks with integrity. At White’s Wilson stuck to the blues. His set list consisted of several songs from his phenomenal LPs Looking’ For Trouble – F-Fat, Love Attack, JR’s Jump, and Love My Baby and songs from Tiger Man –Boogie All Night, Hunch Rhythm and the Hustle is On. Wilson was truly spectacular. I’ve never heard anyone play the harp like Wilson – perfect tone and nuanced execution. He sustained a note for like 3 minutes. I wondered how on earth he could do that without losing pitch. There was a sub-plot to all this that had to do with Wison’s girlfriend. She had been married to Greg “Fingers” Taylor a great musician who had played piano and harp for Jimmy Buffett. Taylor had performed @ White’s on several occasions with Doug Demming in the past few years. I really liked Fingers, even have his Greatest Hits CD. It is pure magic. Anyway, the lady was simply stunning – beautiful. She was friendly and easy to talk to. But during the show she and a customer struck up a conversation, a loud laugh fest that shifted the crowd’s attention to them. Kim was noticeably flustered; his complexion turned a brighter shade of red. He was pissed but following a sudden break, Wilson’s wayward lover quieted down and the show ended with a crescendo of glorious music. I never saw Kim Wilson again. I miss him. He is truly a great artist!

This is a photo of me with Mose Allison. The show was arranged by bassist extraordinaire Bruce Crawley. I had learned of Mose through my love of the Who. I was a fan of the Who’s early catalog of hits such as I Can’t Explain, I Can See for Miles, Call Me Lightening and the LP’s Tommy and Who’s Next. But it was The Who’s Live at Leeds LP that brought Young Man’s Blues into my consciousness. I loved the song, it seemed to speak directly to me. I saw it as a Mose Allison masterpiece. So, Crawley hooked me up with Mose; got his phone number and I gave him a call. We arranged a date that would not interfere with a gig he was doing in Flint the same month. There was this acknowledged courtesy of only booking a piggy back show with permission from the venue or promoter. The Flint venue agreed to permit the gig at White’s Bar as we were rather intimate (less than 100 seating). I was excited. Only thing is, I thought Mose was a black man. When he arrived I thought he was the manager, I asked about Mose and he said, “I’m Mose.” Oops. The Brush/Lopez Trio and knocked it out smooth and in the pocket – great band. I loved the song Jack - Brush’s tribute to Jack Bruske.  Mose took the stage and started out with an instrumental filled with stops and starts and tempo changes called Excursion and Interlude, so far so good. He had a cool sloppy piano technique - rolling at breakneck speed and taking no prisoners. He played a ton of songs from his vast catalog including Kidding in the Square, Parchman Farm, You Call it Jogging (But I Call it Running Around), Ever Since the World Ended, I Ain’t Got Nothing But the Blues,  Trouble in Mind and Monster ID. His lyrics run deep with irony and irreverence. He’s a stoned philosopher and teller of truths. I loved his style. He was already an elderly man and he would speak up and tell the truth without rancor or hostility. Case in point; I was taking several photos with my cheap drug store throwaway when Mose stopped the music looked me straight in the eye and said, “stop it, I’m not a model.” I shrugged all red faced and embarrassed but Mose made it right by having us do a photo together. Sweet genius. The Kinks leader Ray Davies once said that Mose was the missing link between blues and jazz and Van Morrison did an entire album of Mose Allison’s songs. After the show Mose and the band  sat quietly in the storage room at White’s -  the bassist and drummer never made eye contact. Mose looked tired. He accepted his pay, looked at it for a moment and put it in his pocket. Sometimes intimacy can be too much to ask.

Chad Cunningham

The Creation of a Benevolent Fortress

Bullfrog Records

Chad Cunningham is a man of purpose and honor. He grew up in an artistic family and music became the food of love, a second language for a young boy who idolized his rock & roll father.  It isn’t any wonder that Chad followed in his father’s footsteps. They were inseparable – father and son. Chad learned plenty from his father, not just about beautiful sounds or syncopated rhythms but creating a life worth living and walking a straight line with integrity. The pursuit of excellence is as natural for Cunningham as taking a deep belly breath fresh air and exhaling with a smile. Impossible expectations became a love without an ending. Bullfrog Records was born…

Chad, what led to your interest in music?

My interest in music…hmm - my dad played drums behind Sonny and Cher back in the day. He was always in a band, and I grew up with music. He played in Battle of the Bands, he was in the Delrays and the Fall-Outs way back in the day. He played against Ted Nugent, played with Bob Seger and all those guys, and I always kind of grew up with music in the house. My dad playing in the bands, so I guess that’s where it comes up from.

I heard about your father, and I think you take after him. What did you learn from your dad?

What did I learn from my dad? I’ve just always been around it. I guess I don’t know how to answer. He’s just always influenced us, you know, with music. My dad’s my best friend and we hang out together, so yeah I guess everything we do is kind of together.

When did you form Bullfrog Records?

Bullfrog Records would have formed in 1997. There was a band called Lucid Young. Really how it kind of all started was I recorded a record from a band, Question Mark and the Mysterians. There was a record label that hired me to record it called Collectible Records, and we did Question Mark and the Mysterians album which is still in stores today. It has 96 tears on it, of course, and other popular songs because their song recording rights were up and so they needed it re-recorded, so we re-recorded it. When I got done with that, Bobby Balderama wanted to do a solo blues project, and so that’s kind of how the label started. Then another band called Lucid Jones and a band called the Haskells which Andy Reed was a part of. Then the label really faded, I want to say in 2000 when everybody was downloading music illegally.

We couldn’t find a good way to sell records and do stuff, I kind of walked away from it just a little bit and got back into just promoting shows and doing the live shows in the Tri-City area. Then probably two years ago, Bobby Balderama came to me and said, “You’ve got to sign this band.” I said, “I’m done signing bands.” He said, “Well, I just want you to listen to it.” Out of respect to him, I listened to it and again, it was the band “Finding Clyde.”  Later that week one of their songs “Thoughts of You” came up on my IPod. I said, “Wow, that’s a great song,” and I couldn’t figure out what artist it was from, and so we looked, and sure enough, it was Finding Clyde. I called Bobby and said, “I want to talk with those guys.” He got us together, and I’ve been working with them now for two years, so that’s kind of the long and short of Bullfrog, I guess.

Finding Clyde is really hittin’ it big. They’re really living the life. How was the process of breaking them out into a more national scene?

Yeah, that was a royal pain in the butt. It’s a very hard process. It’s endless miles, calls, and travel and going to see everybody, and make them aware, and you know, just a lotta, lotta, lotta work. But it’s been good; I mean the Active Rock has embraced them. They went to 39 on the single called, “Let Me Be.”  Nikki Sixx from Motley Crue picked them as the pick of the week and said their song was better than Gus Mac, and there’s a little rivalry, which is fun. Now they’re getting ready to release their next song. Their album went out to college radio three weeks ago, and they’ve got 57 stations already spinning it after two and a half weeks. Their next song, “Get Higher,” which is the next single, gets released the end of this month. I’m really excited for those guys.  You don’t just call the radio station and they start playing your record.

Does your knowledge of music help you pick the right artists for you, for Bullfrog Records?

Well, again, is there a process to picking that? I don’t know. You know this guy’s a producer, that guy’s a musician. You know the next person could be a school teacher. I think that everybody has ears and you know what you like and you know what you don’t like. I guess kind of how I pick things is my own personal taste and what I think. It’s just something I think other people would like and we should work on getting it out to more people. That’s kind of really what I go by, not the fact that maybe’s it’s the best musicianship or the best guitar player or the best drummer. I don’t think that’s always what wins. I think it’s probably the chemistry of the band and how they gel together - what do the songs sound like? What are their writing skills? That kind of stuff, and “is the song catchy, is it something that people are going to want to sing, the meaning of the song, and all that type of stuff. I think that’s more important than, “Wow, that guy really knows scales on a guitar.”

That’s what I do too. You’ve been in the game a while now. What’s different for you now?

You know, that’s a great question because what’s different for me now is the fact that I can get distribution. The hard thing about having a record label like 10 to 15 years ago was that you needed the record to be in Harmony House and FIE, Meijer’s, Target, and you don’t any more. You need to have it on-line, on Amazon and ITunes, Spotify, you know on all the digital things, and that’s easy for me to do.  With the record label that we have, I’m able to get all the distribution, and that’s the only part we were missing because we can do the promotions ourself, we can do the touring ourself. It was just a matter of we couldn’t do distribution. It really makes for our label to be on an equal playing field to the majors. You know, there’s nothing that a major has over us except for a lot more people that they have to answer to and a lot more red tape to go through, which we don’t have. If we decide we want to do something, we do it. We don’t have to run it through 20 vice-presidents and a president.

 A lot has been made of, and you’ve heard this before, and I’ve heard it for years. I’ve heard it since the ‘70s really, the death of rock and roll. Much has been made of the death of rock and roll, at least the most popular genre. Do you see rock music becoming secondary, a secondary genre like blues is now and jazz?

I see it becoming secondary with the media, I see it becoming secondary with Billboard, and I see it becoming secondary with articles from the media, but are you telling me when you look at a band like the Foo Fighters who were the only real band to play at the Grammys. The rest is all pre-produced garbage. You got Katy Perry out there with a bunch of dancers lip-syncing, and if anybody thinks that’s real, they’re just getting faked out. So what are you buying into? I don’t understand why the public continues to let it go on and buys their records and stuff when it’s all just fake garbage. There is still a huge, to me, audience for real live rock and roll. I mean when you go to these shows, they’re packed. You can’t take a band like the Foo Fighters and deny it. They’re selling out huge arenas all around the country. There’s a thirst for this, but for some reason, Top 40 radio is hesitant to play local artists.

What’s your take on the new digital sounds created in the studio

So, I mean it’s a matter of, you go in the studio, and they’re not playin’ with live musicians all the time and they’re just producing a record, and coming out with electronic drums or vocal correcting software. It’s not real. Back in the day you had to play, and it had to be real and authentic. I think there’s still an audience out there who really respects that. I think most people do. Again, it just gets me upset to see all of this what I call fake stuff. Everybody lip syncs and they put on a show. You know, if you want to go to a show, go to a show, but if you want to see a band play, you should see a band play. The whole thing about that is they can do what the record does live without all this help and play into a CD. I just don’t understand it.

I was thinking about Greg Shaw. He had Bomp! Records, and I got to know him a little bit, years ago because he passed away, but Greg  produced the Flamin’ Groovies and Nick Lowe.  I talked to him in the ‘90s, he felt that rock and roll was not the most popular genre anymore but there’ll always be fans that love rock and roll and it will continue to flourish in small pockets across the country. Do you see that from your perch?

We see that. When we went out to Spokane, Washington and played…it so ld out and most people are there to rock. I mean they love it, Flint, Michigan loves it, and Madison, Wisconsin loves it. There’s definitely still those places. I mean, Kevin at the Machine Shop down in Flint. What an awesome place and what an awesome venue and what an awesome concept. If we could get that thing franchised throughout the rest of the country, I think it would work. I mean, he’s just got a great, great thing going down there. You can’t tell me that Flint, Michigan’s not ready to see a live band rock and offering, you know, some produced dancers to the stage.

What was it like working with Chuck Alkazian? It sounds like he’s a friend of yours, and he’s a pretty big-name producer, isn’t he?

Yeah, I mean Chuck’s done a bunch of stuff. Saving Abel, Ted Nugent, shoot I’m drawing a blank, but I know a bunch more. He’s done Trust Company. He’s done a bunch of stuff down there. I’ve known Chuck for, I don’t know, 10 or 15 years. He’s been a great guy. He’s come a long way. He’s really got his sound figured out and his studio figured out, and he’s easy to work with, he’s creative. I think he helps the process instead of hurting it. I think he gets the most out of every band that he can.

 Tension Head recently signed with your record label, is hard rock metal genre new  to you?

Yeah, I’ve never worked with anything quite as hard as Tension Head is. You know, I like it. The energy that they bring is unbelievable. The only heck of it is, it’s a little harder to find a way to get it out. I’m working on that right now. How do we get this out to the public because it’s not as easily played on the airwaves, although I think the rock stations are going to love the song. It’s got a great hook which is not really common in metal type of music.

I was told that you helped write it. What did you contribute?

You know just trying to get a little more of the structure to it. Really Tension Head had most of it done when I got it. I just put a little structure in it. We put a bridge in there, just kind of the way it flows a little bit. Yeah, maybe put a little bit of salt and pepper in it, but they made the dinner.

Do you see yourself branching out further now, like to different forms of music, whether it’s jazz or…

You know, ultimately I’m open to hear anything, but really my focus will be on these two bands. I’m not looking to expand our roster as of yet. You know it’s not a huge staff. It’s me and a couple of interns, and it just doesn’t pay to get too spread out where we can’t service the people we need to. At this point I’m happy with Finding Clyde and Tension Head and not really looking to expand the roster.

By all accounts you are a very busy and dedicated to your artists. What kind of energy that takes and how do you recharge?

Well, like music to me is like what I would do for a hobby, so somebody that would work a regular job has a hobby of going fishing or something. Music is my hobby, so what I have downtown, that’s what I want to do. You know, that’s all I think about

Well thanks, Chad is there anything that I didn’t ask, anything that you want to say that I didn’t prompt?

Well, I think that’s it. Really, Bo, the bottom line is that I’m pretty humble. I don’t like to focus on me. I like the fact that you’re asking me questions. I’m not looking to slap myself on the back by any means. All I really want, a dream of mine would be for a band to have a number one record. You know, I’m going to do everything I can to help somebody do it. I couldn’t do it with my own band. I think I I’m better as a promoter, a label, and a guy behind the scenes kind of help. If I can help make somebody’s dream come true, that would make my dream come true.

You know, Chad, you’re way too humble because you’re known to be the major player in the scene.

I’ve just been very blessed and had a lot of stuff happen right. I mean, the shows that we’ve done in the tri-cities, the live shows have just worked real well, you know, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Poison, Ted Nugent, and all the stuff we’ve brought in, and those have all worked well. We’ve had some good luck with the band. Like with the playing cards, we’ve cut a lot of lucky breaks. The guys have toured the whole country and just keep getting bigger and bigger, and you know I’d just love to get to the next level…I was looking into the guy from Cold Play who was getting interviewed. They asked him if he ever thought about quitting. He said, “Every day.” They said, “Why would you think that?” He said, “Because I question my music and question this.” The guy said, “But you’re selling millions of records. Why would you question it?” I think you’re never happy with the level you’re at. I think you always want to try to get to the next rung, and if you’re not, maybe you’re dead. So for us, everything’s been really good, but in my opinion when I look at what I’ve done, it’s not enough, and I want to do more…


This is photo from 2006; L-R Andy Reed, Bo White, Jason Reed and David Mead. This was his second performance at White’s – a Reed Brothers production. I just contributed a few bucks. David is one of many middle class musicians who passed through White’s through the years. It was only a chance encounter that brought patrons through the hallowed and terribly stained arches of this little juke joint… Mead, Larry McCray, Rusty Zinn, The Sights, Junior Watson, Dr. Slide, Jim McCarty, Johnny Bassett, JoCaine, and Alberta Adams, just to name a few.  By and large they all busted their humps, played great and picked up a few bucks. It was never enough money. They deserved more. With a few notable exceptions I never really got to know these musical gypsy vagabonds. But I loved them just the same. They inspired me and led me down the eight fold path - to make a living in a righteous way, to seek truth. Mead was more accessible than many. I remember sitting with him at the corner of the bar by the front window. He talked about his recent marriage to artist Natalie Cox, recording in New York and his preference for touring as a solo artist. He gave me a copy of his new CD Tangerine. I could tell he was digging the new pop emphasis in his songwriting. Mead played many of the songs from Tangerine including Chatterbox, Hunting Season, Hallelujah I Was Wrong, and Hard To Remember. Meade has a smooth tenor reminiscent of a young Bruce Johnston (Beach Boys). One of my personal highlights was Meade singing God Only Knows. It is superb. Most of all I liked David Meade’s integrity. He and the Reed Brothers were a perfect match.

Keef Courage is a breath of fresh in a music scene that is reeling from changing tastes and aging cool. There is nothing new under the sun yet these hip hop rockers bring a fresh spirit and perspective informed by a love for sounds and rhythms. They seem to channel the energy of Eminem while embracing the pastoral scenes created by Atmosphere

Jay Freer was able to sit down to talk about the Review Awards:

“We were very excited when we found out we won the Best Performance award. Jess Williams and I do the vocals and DJ Goob on the turntables. Our sound is an original mixture of hip-hop and electronic music. There is no one style we stick with, as we are constantly trying to expand our sound.”

Keef Courage was formed in Midland, MI in 2003 and from the start they carved out their individual musical contributions

“Jesse and Jay write all the lyrics. We select the instrumental or song we have and then decide on a direction that we want to go in. We then write it all down and record it.

Jess plays the guitar and some keys. He also produces and sequences most of the instrumentals used in our projects.”

Review:  “In Between Suns” was a sonic masterpiece, who produced the disc?

All three members of KC have a hand in the recording and mixing process. Jay and DJ Goob are certified Recording Engineers and have operated a Recording Studio in Midland in the past.

How did you get that crisp sound?

A lot of practice and using Pro Tools have helped our sound develop into high quality projects.

What’s next for Keef Courage?

Keef Courage is always in the studio working on new music. We are really going to be getting into doing more videos and expanding our digital media and our Internet presence.

The songs have passion that reminds me of Eminem (Last Tango, Music Box, In Between Suns) as well as sepia toned scenes of Atmosphere rapping about family love and back yard barbecues (When it’s Like). This disc has a deep lyricism – it’s an incredible musical statement. Do you view this disc as a culmination of your collective vision - a masterpiece?

It took us a lot of time to narrow the songs down to what we believed was the experience of “In Between Suns”. We try to write our songs so that each one has content and that it makes sense. This was our fourth full length album and we look forward to creating more music and expanding our sound.

Cream Always Rises to the Top

The Banana Convention Ascends

The BC5 have just gotten better over the years and you've honed your craft to critical acclaim. A case

in point is the LEAP LP – as well as your hard rockin' live show. Are you where you want to be musically and artistically?

SEAN: Musically and artistically we are still maturing and that's the key to making it all happen. We have been together for almost a decade now and if we still sounded like the 60's bubble gum act I think we would have imploded. We are never where we want to be because we set a high standard for ourselves. We are always working hard and making new things happen. That is where we want to be.

MONTE: I’d say anybody who is a musician, or does any sort of artistic expression, should never say they are where they want to be. If you’re where you want to be, what is there to reach for and try to achieve anymore?

Shar you got a well-deserved award for Best female vocalist. You are a stunning lead singer, you can belt

it out or sing is soft and sweet. You are the best singer on the scene. You've come into your own. How

does it feel?

Thanks. I am humbled by the award because there are a lot of other hard working and talented people that deserve recognition.

What's Banana Convention got up their sleeve for the future?

We have two big projects. One is the documentary of us on the road is coming together and then a special show in June. It is going to be a big stage production in Bay City at the Masonic Temple. Those are the only details I can give right now on that. Also we have some interesting show ideas to still flush out so we always have something in motion.

New recordings?

SEAN: We have a couple songs that need to be tracked and the idea of a new album by winter should be in the cards. We all have songs right now. We all have a lot of ideas; more than we normally have. So not to record is foolish. LEAP was the tip of the iceberg I feel. Since we finished it we are all in the creative juice music making mode.

MONTE: We certainly do have enough new original songs for another full length album right now, but we didn’t just want to get to 14 new songs and then just put them on an album. We want to have, say, 30 new songs and then choose from those which deserve to go on the new album to make sure it’s the best product we can put out there.

More extensive touring?

Right now we are getting new material going and have been thinking about freshening up our live show. If we get in the studio this summer I say we hit the road late fall so we don't have to do the whole "Michigan" Winter thing. haha

Monte I heard that your brother is filming a documentary of BC. Is this true?

Sort of, but not quite. The documentary is not just about us, but more about the current state of the independent music scene and how hard it is to Do It Yourself in today’s climate. We are one of the bands the documentary follows to showcase the struggle and they followed us during our West Coast Tour last summer. The doc will include some high up music industry corporate suit types talking about their end of the spectrum while we’re on the road living it from our end. It should be a really interesting story when it’s all said and done. It likely will be out sometime next year.

Why is Sean Drsydale considered the sexiest bass player of the Great Lakes Bay Region...(you know

how bass players are)

I don't really think of my self as a sexy or sexiest bass player. I make white paper look tan, have the red hair and am 5'8" on a good day. I appreciate the ego rub but just being a good bass player is fine by me.

Any last words

MONTE: Just thanks to everybody who’s been continuing to come out and show their love and support to us the last 8 years. We’ve grown and evolved so much, as musicians, as writers, as performers, and as people. We have more in us, that’s for sure, and just hope everybody stays interested and keeps coming out to watch us.

SHAR: We’ve been working at this for a long time and I’m excited about where it’s heading from here. We have a lot of room to grow and expand and I hope everybody will come on that ride with us.

SEAN: There are a lot of new and exciting changes for the TBC. Recording is a must and moving forward is the always. I just want people to hear the EP and come see us live. The only people who don't know what we sound like, it seems, are people in the local area. We are not a bubble gum band anymore. I get asked that all the time. Or the “I haven't heard you in years”. If that is the case check us out. You are only as strong as your foundation of where you come from. We are a rock band that will melt your angst and put you in a good mood. TBC - Its okay to like it!