Sass Jordan hits the sweet spot on “Rebel Moon Blues”

71pCYFFOH4L._SL1200_

My relationship with the music of Sass Jordan began when I was a teenager. Rather than indulge in whatever drivel was being peddled by Top 40 radio in the early ’00s, I sought out artists whose work reflected a deeper understanding of what really matters in the grand scheme of things. Thus, the uncompromising rawness of Jordan’s 1994 album “Rats” became an ideal alternative to the tedium of Coldplay’s “A Rush of Blood to the Head.”

Her voice was a revelation, and, the more I listened, the more I found it  incomprehensible that she wasn’t huge in America. I only discovered “Rats” and then 1992’s “Racine” later on, because I happened to live in a border town that had access to Canadian radio. Here was one of the finest rock singers, male or female, I’d ever heard and the amount of acclaim she received was but a fraction of what the inconsequential pop stars of the day were getting with very little effort.

It is my hope that her new project, “Rebel Moon Blues,” will bring her the respect she deserves beyond just the longtime fans. I spoke with her via telephone recently about the album and how she’s been navigating through these crazy times, so, if her Oct. 10 date in Buffalo goes down as scheduled, it promises to be one hell of a show.

MNOD: With the world in a constant state of flux due to COVID-19, how have you been dealing with the isolation?

SJ: Well, you know, it’s not really that different from what I normally do during a break from the road. I live such an outward life when performing, so, when I go home, I like to collect my thoughts and have time to myself. This is just an extended period of that. If you pay attention to the news or any mainstream media, there’s a constant barrage of information that can make you squirelly after a while. It’s really challenging to know what’s true and what’s not, because we’re living in such a surreal reality.

MNOD: How frustrating has it been to have this stellar new album out and not be able to share it with people in a live setting?

SJ: Not really. What I like about it is that it’s giving people time to get to know the album and become familiar with it. That way, when I do return to the live shows, the songs will be more fun for the audience and they’ll feel like an old shoe that they’re used to. I want to do a live stream soon, but it’s hard to predict when that will be.

MNOD: What inspired you make an entire blues record this time?

SJ: I was asked to do it. I was initially resistant, but then I said ‘Who gives a crap what anyone else thinks?’ Never Mind the Bollocks, as they say in England. The more I looked into it, the more I realized that it’s not all that far removed from what I’ve always done. The style is something I’m extremely close to. “Still Got the Blues” is the song that started the whole thing, because I started discovering all these other songs that never occurred to me before. There were no hard and fast boundaries.

MNOD: How did you decide which songs to cover?

SJ: They just sort of came to me. I would be driving, hear a cool song, and then do some research on YouTube, which of course is a rabbit hole. The more songs that I looked up, the more suggestions it would give me as to other songs I might enjoy, so I followed that. There are eight songs on the record and seven of them arrived almost with a light around them to signal that they were perfect for me.

MNOD: What did you bring to this material as a female voice that is different than the original versions?

SJ: I would say that it’s more about my personality than gender, because anyone singing these songs would bring themselves to the process. The energy is what comes through the most, so the fact that I’m a woman doesn’t affect it that much.

MNOD: “One Way Out” became popularized when The Allman Brothers Band released a live version of it on 1972’s “Eat a Peach.” What did you do to make the song your own?

SJ: I’ve always loved that song, so I think the same answer applies here. I chose it, because I like it. I brought my own personality to the song.

MNOD: “The Key” is the lone original composition on this album, but it’s a knockout. How did this one come together? 

SJ: I wanted to write at least one original song for the album and this one came together so quickly. Derek (Sharp) came up with the chord progression and the words just sort of happened. The whole thing only took about 30 minutes to take shape. A lot of people think that successful songs take a long time, but that’s not always the case.

MNOD: Have you found that your other successes followed that same philosophy?

SJ: 1000% yes. Things that work or become really successful are usually things that come together incredibly quickly. They just sort of happen out of nowhere. For me, I know that, if I spent ages working on something, I would start to second guess myself the longer the process went on, so it’s better to just go with your instinct. The thing about this album is that there were no obstacles or impediments along the way. Everything fell into place for an extraordinary experience.

MNOD: “Am I Wrong” is a track that not a lot of people are familiar with, but I loved your take on it. How did that wind up on the album?

SJ: My guitar player and I have a disagreement as to who discovered it first, because he claims that he suggested it and I believe that I found it on YouTube first. He says that he sent me the link, but, in my reality, I found it while researching.

MNOD: Because of how well this album turned out, would you like to do another blues collection in the future?

SJ: 1000% yes. I love it, because, right now, having the album out there is the best way for me to reach as many people as possible. Sometimes, things happen during the course of an album that you have to figure out or find your way around, but nothing like that happened here. It all came together perfectly. Even the picture on the cover was perfect. It was taken by a Dutch photographer who happened to be taking pictures during a show. I didn’t even know he took it, but then he shared it on Instagram. Normally, I can’t stand pictures of me while performing, because they either get you with your tonsils hanging out or looking like 50,000 tons, but this photo is fantastic. I told my manager about the shot and we agreed that it would be perfect for the cover, so the photographer sold it to us and it worked. With the smoky blue color scheme on the vinyl release, it looks like an old-school blues or jazz record, which I love.

MNOD: Your Buffalo date appears to have been rescheduled for Oct. 10, so hopefully we’ll see you then.

SJ: Yes, I look forward to seeing you and everyone else who wants to come out to the show when all of this craziness is over.

Sass Jordan plays the Showplace Theater on Oct. 10 with special guest Jessie Galante.

See http://www.sassjordan.com or http://www.theshowplacetheater.com for details.

“Rebel Moon Blues” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

 

 

What Happens When Things Fall Apart?

coronavirus14

 

A man who calls his kinsmen to a feast does not do so to save them from starving. They all have food in their own homes. When we gather together in the moonlit village ground it is not because of the moon. Every man can see it in his own compound. We come together because it is good for kinsmen to do so.”
― Chinua Achebe, Things Fall Apart

How we handle ourselves in a crisis tells the rest of the world everything it needs to know about us as people. Times of trouble have a way of bringing all of our ethics, morals, hopes, fears, and latent insecurities to the surface, leaving us with nothing but a “deep, dark, truthful mirror” to gaze into and determine whether or not we’re proud of what we see. While most of us would like to believe that we’re inherently good, the onslaught of positive COVID-19 cases and subsequent shut-down of everything we’ve come to take for granted as a “First World” country have demanded that we prove it.

For some, this is easy, as they just keep on doing what they’ve always done and commit themselves to trying to lift up their fellow citizens at a time when politicians on both sides are still trying like hell to keep everyone divided. For others, this has proven to be more difficult as of late given the amount of hoarding, price gouging, and general disregard for decency that has been widely reported.

Sure, it’s natural for humans to go into self-preservation mode whenever their way of life is being threatened, but there has to be a way to take care of your own without impeding others’ ability to do the same. The fact that companies have to limit purchases to ensure a level playing field is sad not due to the limit itself. It’s sad, because it never occurred to people to impose the limit on their own terms. I’m sure that some hoarders would make the argument that they’re simply taking advantage of preexisting loopholes in the system, but I highly doubt that they would be too happy being on the other end of that scenario.

Beyond the trials of everyday people like you and I, certain celebrities have revealed themselves to be desperate for attention by any means necessary. For example, Gal Gadot recently pieced together a well-intentioned yet tone-deaf video featuring stars singing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but listening to a bunch of millionaires ponder life without possessions when we all know that their conditions while in quarantine are different from the rest of us doesn’t come off well.

Musicians, however, have provided the most earnest form of respite I’ve seen yet, because many of them have begun streaming impromptu concerts via social media in an effort to elevate the spirits of those for whom live music qualifies as an “essential service.” Because someone’s creative drive or innate need to express themselves through art doesn’t just shut off during a work stoppage, the fact that they’ve found a productive way to keep the music alive at a distance should be supported just as any necessary retail establishment would be.

In the past week, I’ve seen Brad Paisley perform before a couch full of stuffed animals, Colin MacDonald of The Trews try to sing in his living room without disturbing his neighbors, and Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms use this time to recapture what it felt like to play before a sparsely occupied bar room. They may not be feeding off the immediate reaction of an audience, but they’re delivering performances worthy of a sold-out crowd simply because that’s what they do as artists committed to the cause.

Who cares if some of their events have been hindered by technological glitches beyond their control (i.e. Garth Brooks)? At this point, anything is better than nothing, so I implore you to continue to support them as much as you can.

Thinking, writing, and obsessing about music has been a significant part of my life for more than a decade. Just like the musicians I interview, my need to express myself through my work doesn’t stop during a moratorium on public gatherings. I’ve simply altered my coverage for the time being in an attempt to keep my audience engaged with what we’re all going through.

Chinua Achebe was right when he said that people don’t come together for any other reason than it is good to do so, because there are intangible benefits to be gained from positive social interaction that can’t be duplicated through a screen. Even a lifelong introvert like me can admit that. How long this quarantine lasts is ultimately up to forces greater than any of us, but we should take care of each other in the meantime so that, when things do get put back together again, the damage isn’t irreparable.

The Quarantine Collection

TP

Western New York has been effectively shut down for a week now, and, if you’re anything like me, you’re committed to doing whatever it takes to satisfy your craving for entertainment. Books, records, movies, shows, etc. Things have gotten so dire that I’ve even considered seeing what all the fuss is about “Game of Thrones” for the very first time, but I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.

Instead, I’ve been diving deep into my record collection and rediscovering albums that I haven’t spun in quite some time for whatever reason, which can be a cathartic experience in times of extreme social distancing.

Because of how uncertain the remainder of WNY’s 2020 concert season is, I’ve put together a list of pop culture items new and old that might make the next couple months a little more bearable.

Movies –

Disappearance at Clifton Hill” – An unsettling, old-school noir that was filmed just over the border at a place we all know.

Parasite” – The Academy named it the Best Picture of 2019 for a reason, so, if you still haven’t seen it, now’s the time.

Candyman” – Before Nia DeCosta and Jordan Peele’s update drops this                              summer, revisit the terror and caustic social commentary of the original.

Music –

Sass Jordan – “Rebel Moon Blues” – The Canadian songstress is back with one of the finest releases of 2020 thus far.

Etta James – “Queen of Soul” – I recently acquired an original copy of this on vinyl, and, in the immortal words of Rick Jeanneret, it’s scary good.

Ozzy Osbourne – “Ordinary Man” – Nothing about Ozzy’s present circumstances would lead one to believe that he’s capable of such vibrant work at this stage, but this one deserves your attention.

Books –

Phil Collins – “Not Dead Yet” –  Vital for fans of both Genesis and solo Phil.

Colson Whitehead – “The Nickel Boys” – I can’t decide what’s more devastating. The novel or the fact that Whitehead’s appearance in Buffalo was nixed due to COVID-19.

Keah Brown – “The Pretty One” –  Supporting a local writer is great, but it’s easy when the book itself is so full of life.

TV –

Twin Peaks” – We’re approaching the 30th anniversary of the two-hour pilot and it’s still unlike anything that’s ever aired on a major network.

How to Get Away With Murder” – As the series draws to a close, let’s go back and acknowledge the ongoing greatness of Viola Davis.

High Fidelity” – Nick Hornby himself has given this project his stamp of approval, which is really the only endorsement needed.

 

 

 

 

 

To go or not to go: The $125,000 Question

MGN_1280x720_00124C00-OPFBH4

“What’s Your Number?” is a dreadful 2011 romantic comedy starring Anna Faris that centers around a thirty-something woman being inspired to re-evaluate her sex life after reading a magazine article about how women who have had 20 or more partners are less likely to be marriage material. In the film, the number in question has to do with sexual partners, but, in the case of myself and everyone else for whom live music is a way of life, our number has to do with how many concerts we’ve been fortunate enough to experience in our lifetime. We wear it like a badge and wait with bated breath for the next year’s crop of performances to be announced so that we can add to the total.

That number appears to be in jeopardy, however, as concerns regarding the spread of COVID-19 have threatened to dismantle an entire industry built on welcoming people of all ages, races, nationalities, sexual orientations etc. together in a public space. Social distancing is becoming the new normal and, while I can’t fault anyone for taking precautions, only time will tell if the hysteria is justified.

Personally, I’ve never been one to panic and engage in the mass consumption of select consumer goods at the behest of the media, but washing your hands and using common sense when traveling are things that anyone can get behind.

Is it a hoax? No, but the danger of politicizing everything in 2020 isn’t a hoax either.

People on all sides of the political spectrum will claim to know how the pandemic should be handled and social media will continue to feed into the negativity. Liberals will believe that everything Trump says on the issue is bullshit while conservatives will try to convince themselves that he has everyone’s best interests at heart despite mounting evidence to the contrary.

If the last four years have proven anything, it’s that those on the Left can be just as mean-spirited and intolerant of alternative viewpoints as anyone, so expecting a sensible scientific solution to emerge from either side when they’re blinded by hatred doesn’t sound promising.

The reality is that people shouldn’t rely on the government to decide what’s best for them and their family. They should take it one day at a time and avoid making decisions in a heightened emotional state.

As of this writing, there are yet to be any documented cases in Erie or Niagara County, so, if John Waite takes the stage as planned at The Riviera Theatre next Saturday night, I’ll be there.

If you won’t, no one should hold it against you for doing what you feel is best.

 

Geoff Tate steers a stellar re-creation of “Rage For Order” and “Empire” at Town Ballroom

 

FB_IMG_1582646559033

Reactions to Geoff Tate’s decision to pair Queensrÿche’s ominous 1986 release “Rage For Order” with its more commercially accessible 1990 smash “Empire” all in one evening differ depending on the source. Some fans with whom I spoke were prepared to revel in the intricacies of “Surgical Strike” and “Neue Regel,” while others couldn’t wait to hear “Silent Lucidity” performed just as they remembered. The one thing everyone inside Town Ballroom this past Sunday could agree on, however, is that Tate and his band captured the essence of both records beautifully.

Vocally, Tate sounded as sharp and committed as ever, which shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone familiar with his work since exiting the band in 2012. He’s considered one of the greatest hard rock/metal vocalists of all time for a reason and seeing him in such an intimate venue afforded the audience an opportunity to experience a master at work. His takes on “I Dream in Infrared” and “I Will Remember” were fraught with emotion from the opening notes, and his stories regarding the inspiration behind many of the album’s deep cuts provided casual listeners with context in the event that they were hearing them for the very first time.

Because dual guitar harmonies were a hallmark of the Queensrÿche sound, it was critical that the musicians Tate surrounded himself with were up to the task. Guitarists Scott Moughton and Kieran Robertson formed a killer tandem whose strength lied in the ability of both parties to trade licks with ease. They nailed the staccato rhythms and overall heaviness of the material so soundly that it was easy to see why a 15 minute intermission was needed before they returned to tackle “Empire.”

When I interviewed Tate in the days leading up to the show, he noted that the contrast of dark and light was what intrigued him most about this pairing, and, after seeing it for myself, I couldn’t agree more. The mindset one needs to be in when delivering songs about government intrusion, tracking devices, and the dangers of artificial intelligence would have to be quite different than the one required to summon the energetic vibe of “Best I Can,” “The Thin Line,” and “Another Rainy Night (Without You),” but the shift didn’t just occur on stage.

The whole crowd felt re-energized coming out of the break, as evidenced by the deafening singalong that accompanied both “Jet City Woman” and “Empire.” Sure, the universal familiarity of these songs was nice to see, but a dramatic rendering of “Della Brown” and one of the finest versions of “Anybody Listening?” I’ve ever heard stood tall as the peaks of the second set. On “Anybody Listening?” especially, Tate’s soaring lead was bolstered by backing vocals that were as strong as anything you’ll hear on the original recording.

An encore of “Last Time in Paris” and “Eyes of a Stranger” brought the house down one final time before the band called it a night, but the echoes of this show lingered long after the lights went up. Tate returned to Western New York for the first time in three years and gave one of the finest performances we’ve seen in 2020 thus far.

Kasim Sulton’s Utopia comes to The Tralf on March 8

Kasim-Sulton-via-FB
Photo via Kasim Sulton’s facebook page

If you weren’t fortunate enough to catch Utopia during its 2018 reunion, bassist Kasim Sulton has you covered. His latest project, Kasim Sulton’s Utopia, is coming to Buffalo on March 8 for an evening of rock, pop, and prog classics played exactly the way you remember.

I caught up with Sulton earlier this week to talk about the tour and why the music of Utopia continues to resonate with audiences 35 years after the last studio album was released. As someone who has only ever seen him with Todd Rundgren’s solo band and Blue Öyster Cult, I can’t wait to see how he leads his own band through this material.

MNOD: What inspired you to organize a tour of the Utopia catalog on your own?

KS: Well, Utopia had been broken up for the longest time and we finally got back together in 2018 for a quick run of shows. I spent years playing with those guys, but you never really know how the reunion will go until you’re in the middle of it. The tour was really well-received and everyone said that Todd, Willie, and I sounded better than ever, so I thought that bringing these songs back out on the road with my own project was a nice way to give back to the fans who had been so loyal to us. I got back into the Todd world in the ’90s and toured with him while also contributing to his solo records, but I never got tired of the question of Utopia getting back together. A lot of what I’ve learned as a musician I learned while being in that band and I wanted to bring these songs out again and do them right.

MNOD: Utopia released 10 studio albums between 1974 and 1985. How do you pick what material you’ll be playing each night?

KS: There are a few songs I’ll be playing on this tour that Utopia didn’t get around to during the reunion, but there’s only so much you can pack into a two-hour show. Todd wanted to celebrate the band’s entire career in 2018, not just the ’76-’85 period when I was in the band. There will also be some songs that have never been played live before such as “Fix Your Gaze” from P.O.V.

MNOD: “Mimi Gets Mad” is a great cut from “P.O.V.” that doesn’t get talked about a lot. Will that find its way into the set?

KS: We’re not playing it on this leg, but there’s always a chance that we’ll add it in later on.

MNOD: When the idea for this tour first arose, how easy was it for you to assemble the band you’ll be playing with?

KS: When I decided to do it, I spoke with the guys to see if they could keep 3-4 weeks open for me in February and March. I have Gil Assayas on keyboards, who took over for Ralph Shuckett on the 2018 Utopia tour, and a great drummer named Andy Ascolese, who has been playing with me for a while. Our guitarist was originally going to be Jesse Gress, but he became ill in December and wasn’t going to be ready for the tour. He won’t be with us this time, but his replacement is Bruce McDaniel, who was in The Ed Palermo Big Band and is a great player.

MNOD: Utopia is considered a groundbreaking project when it comes to production and the use of video technology. What is the legacy of the band for you?

KS: Personally, I’ve talked with a lot of people over the years, and I’m always honored when they say how much the band meant to them. I was only with them for 9 or 10 years, but my contribution to the band has always been appreciated by real musicians. The highest compliment for me is when I talk to guys like Richie Sambora or Paul Gilbert and they tell me how much they loved my work in Utopia.

MNOD: What was it about the chemistry between you guys that worked so well?

KS: That’s the mystery. We’ve all done things outside of Utopia, but there was something about our work together that stands out to people. Having said that, Todd has obviously had a brilliant solo career and was successful in many different areas, so it would be unfair of me to say that the success of Utopia wasn’t duplicated. We all our own talents within the band, and, when we came together, that’s when the magic happened. People often wonder why Daryl Hall was never hugely successful outside of Hall & Oates and the reason is that there was something about that pairing that worked like nothing else could. What they did together was greater than the sum of the parts. My solo music is important and I’m always working on things, but the magic of Utopia was real.

MNOD: When you reunited in 2018, did that chemistry come right back or did it take a little to get into the swing of things?

KS: Yeah, it was a challenge. I think in 1992, we did a short Japanese tour, but even that was 26 years before that. We had to re-learn a bunch of stuff and shake the cobwebs off. After our initial rehearsal, I remember thinking ‘Oh god, what did we do?,’ but playing music is what we’ve all done since our 20s and 30s, so we just had to get back on that bicycle.

MNOD: What was the biggest difference between Utopia and the other bands you’ve played with?

KS: Utopia was a true working democracy. We were all equal partners and had a say in what happened withing the confines of the band. When I played with Joan Jett, it was whatever Joan wanted to do. When I played with Meat Loaf, it was whatever Meat Loaf wanted to do. They made all the decisions, because that was the nature of the group. Utopia was different, because we all contributed to the overall product.

MNOD: Is there an album from Utopia that you believe separates itself from the pack?

KS: I would say that ‘Oblivion’ is my favorite. Songs like ‘Too Much Water,’ ‘Love With a Thinker,’ ‘I Will Wait,’ and Crybaby’ are all excellent. A lot people will say that ‘Adventures in Utopia’ is their favorite, because it was the biggest selling record. But, for me, ‘Oblivion’ is the best.

Kasim Sulton’s Utopia plays The Tralf Music Hall on March 8.

Showtime is 8:00 p.m. See http://www.tralfmusichall.com or http://www.kasimsulton.com for details.

 

Carl Dixon leaves The Riviera Theatre shakin’ all over

Resized_20200221_201240_1517

You wouldn’t know that Carl Dixon recovered from a life-threatening car accident not too long ago, because the way in which he fearlessly tore through The Guess Who songbook last Friday evening was indicative of an artist whose best is yet to come. He’s been given a second chance at performing the music he loves with a group of guys that are as passionate and proficient as any version of his former band out there in 2020, so each show serves as both a celebration of his past and a reminder of what continues to be a productive present.

Because we’re living in an era where multiple incarnations of a band can tour simultaneously without the audience batting an eye, Dixon wasted little time establishing the credibility of his current project. Bassist Bill Wallace, who joined The Guess Who in 1972 and co-wrote “Clap For the Wolfman,” and guitarist Laurie MacKenzie, whose run with The Guess Who overlapped with Dixon’s, did their part to ensure that these songs were infused with the respect they deserve.

“Bus Rider,” “Star Baby,” and “Glamour Boy”  enlivened the crowd early on, the last of which allowed Dixon to stun with his sublime vocal handling of a song that never got the American exposure of the others despite being inspired by David Bowie. What worked about his approach was that he wasn’t trying to be Burton Cummings, he simply sang in his own voice and allowed the intangible sway of the music to come naturally. While he especially shined on other ballads such as “Laughing” and “These Eyes,” he nailed the snarling attitude behind “American Woman” and “No Time”  just as well.

The collective power of the lineup was most pronounced during “No Sugar Tonight” and “Runnin’ Back to Saskatoon,” tunes that rock hard and leave plenty of space for instrumental interplay. Dixon and MacKenzie traded licks in much the same fashion that Kurt Winter and Don McDougall did circa 1972, so their on-stage chemistry was in full bloom.

Other highlights included Bill Wallace delivering an inspired vocal on “Hand Me Down World” and 97 Rock Jock Carl Russo doing his best Wolfman Jack on “Clap For the Wolfman.” Dixon and company closed out the show with the title track from 1970’s “Share the Land,” which, coincidentally, is the same way Burton Cummings chose to conclude his solo set at the Molson Canal Concert Series back in 2011.

Having now interviewed and seen Carl Dixon perform in the span of two weeks has left me convinced that he was never going to let the accident get the best of him. His talent and commitment to the music are too vast to let the inequity of life bring him down, so, if he happens to make his way to our area again soon, don’t miss out.

 

Geoff Tate talks ‘Rage For Order’ and 30 years of ‘Empire’ ahead of Town Ballroom date

Empire-30th-Anniversary-Tour2-cropped-proof

“A young man now in a private chair
I’ve seen the world through a bitter stare
But my dream is still alive
I’m going to be the best I can”

Few opening tracks seared my prepubescent consciousness more than Queensrÿche’s “Best I Can,” the five-minute, 34-second declaration of independence that served as a narrative point of entry to their triple-platinum 1990 album “Empire.” Everything from Chris DeGarmo’s evocative keyboard intro to Geoff Tate’s vocal firestorm hooked me from the moment my parents popped the cassette into our 1979 Pontiac Grand Prix.

You don’t forget moments like that and you don’t forget albums like “Empire.”

I remember reading a review from Entertainment Weekly that attempted to proselytize by noting the dire nature of the lyrics and referring to the band members as “relentless killjoys,” but all it did for me was calcify the disconnect between myself and the trend-hopping mainstream music publications of the era. The world is a scary place and criticizing the band for tackling issues such as poverty, homelessness, and drug trafficking within a progressive metal context makes about as much sense as Trump taking sole credit for the present-day economy.

I caught up with Geoff Tate this week to discuss the album and why Sunday’s show inside Town Ballroom should go a long way towards re-establishing its legacy.  If you’ve been on the fence about going, take $60 out of your income tax return and make it happen.

MNOD: Given how long and successful the run with “Operation: Mindcrime” was, what was the band’s mindset going into the “Empire” sessions?

GT: We wanted to do something different. It had always been our practice to do a story or a concept, but this album was a way to balance our thoughts and write more standalone songs. I remember talking a lot about stripping back the production and simplifying things, which we did, but we also experimented in ways we hadn’t before.

MNOD: How well do you think it holds up today?

GT: I’m enjoying playing the entire thing live, because there a few of the songs that I’ve never played live before. It’s interesting, because I get to revisit them and immerse myself in the experience. It certainly holds up for me.

MNOD: “Della Brown” has always been the song that stood out to me. What was the inspiration behind that character?

GT: There was a homeless woman who lived near me and I would see her every day. I knew her somewhat. The song was inspired by her life and what could’ve happened to lead her to that point.

MNOD: The band also played an MTV Unplugged show as part of the “Building Empires” tour. What are your memories of that experience?

GT: That was a fun presentation. We rehearsed in a big barn in the middle of a field for a few days and the MTV special really stood out, because it was lighthearted and we were able to rework the material for an acoustic setting. It was a cool show.

MNOD: You’ll also be playing “Rage For Order” in its entirety at this show. How did you decide that the pairing would work?

GT: I’ve always wanted to play the whole thing live. It’s a bucket list thing for me. The contrast between the dark and the light really interests me, because Rage is a darker album and Empire is a little more upbeat and lighter in mood. I have to warm up a lot, though, because the songs on Rage are sung in a higher register while Empire is more mid-range and lower register.

MNOD: 2020 also marks the 40th anniversary of you and the rest of the guys from Queensrÿche initially joining together as The Mob. What were your expectations for the band at the time?

GT: Not too high, really. I’ve never been one for expectations, because I prefer to be pleasantly surprised. Our first Queensrÿche EP got a lot of attention and then our ensuing success allowed us to move into a different financial bracket, so we all just kind of threw our hat in the ring.

MNOD: Are there any differences that you notice between playing with the guys from Queensÿche and the band you currently have in place?

GT: The guys I’m playing with now are so enthusiastic. They’re young and energetic and they love playing live. It’s nice to surround yourself with people who care about presenting the music exactly the way people remember it and want to hear it. They have a respect for the music and it makes me happy to see that.

MNOD: Would you consider a reunion with Queensrÿche down the road?

GT: I’m very happy doing what I’m doing now and I really don’t have any desire to jump in that boat. I don’t need to. I would never say never, but it’s unlikely. The current lineup they have is just the original bass player and guitarist now that drummer Scott Rockenfield is no longer with them. If (original guitarist) Chris (DeGarmo) and Scott called me up, I would definitely listen, but Chris has been disconnected from that lifestyle for a long time now. Although, we do still talk occasionally.

MNOD: We last spoke in 2012 when your solo album, “Kings and Thieves,” was about to be released. Have you considered a follow-up in the future?

GT: I have a lot of material ready, but I’m not sure what the best way to release anything is in 2020. I have a lot of options, so I’m still in the research mode to find the best fit for me.

Geoff Tate plays both “Rage For Order” and “Empire” in their entirety on Feb. 23 at Town Ballroom. 

Tickets are $30 and showtime is 7:00 p.m.

See http://www.townballroom.com or http://www.geofftate.com for details.

 

Carl Dixon to sing The Guess Who at The Riviera Theatre

TGW

“It’s a miracle I survived and lived long enough to get to the hospital,” said Carl Dixon when reflecting back on the 2008 car accident that prematurely brought his tenure in The Guess Who to an end. He was in a coma for 10 days and suffered 52 injuries that required him to rethink his approach to life moving forward, but his story was far from over.

With the love and support of family, friends, and a dedicated medical team, Dixon fought his way back to the stage, and, in many ways, is playing and singing better than he ever did before. I had the pleasure of chatting with him this week to promote his upcoming date at The Riviera Theatre and the respect for life with which he speaks is something we should all aspire to.

As a Western New Yorker who grew up obsessed with Canadian radio, I can only hope that Dixon’s musical canon finally gets the respect it deserves.

MNOD: Your latest solo album, “Unbroken,” was released on Nov. 29 of last year. What was the road like to get those songs ready for the studio?

CD: After my previous record, ‘Whole ‘Nother Thing,’ came out in 2017, I was ready to move on to the next project. A German record label actually approached me about releasing ‘Unbroken’ and I had a drummer friend of mine play on the album as well as another guitar player.

MNOD: What was your relationship to the music of The Guess Who before you became a member of the band?

CD: It’s a long history. The first 45rpm I ever owned as a kid had ‘Laughing’ on one side and ‘Undun’ on the other. The first big show I ever attended was The Guess Who at Exhibition Stadium in Toronto when I was about 12 or 13, so I love all those albums. For Canadians, they were our Beatles. I had no idea about Winnipeg as a kid, but we all felt connected to them instantly. They were the first Canadian band to really make an impact on the global stage. They had a lot of songs that were hits in Canada yet never charted in the U.S., so, in the show, we try to mix the set up while still focusing on the most popular songs people remember.

MNOD: How did you assemble the band for the current tour?

CD: The band I’m playing with now actually contains a few of the former members I played with in The Guess Who. Laurie MacKenzie plays with me as well as Bill Wallace on bass, who co-wrote ‘Clap For the Wolfman,’ Lou Pomanti on keyboards, and Mark Santer on drums, who had a group in Toronto with his brother called Santers in the ’80s.

MNOD: Following your accident in 2008, what role did music play in motivating you during your recovery?

CD:  The accident was the reason I couldn’t be in The Guess Who anymore, so I knew I had to return to the life I was living before it happened. It was terrible. I was broken, torn apart, and, by most accounts, shouldn’t have survived. I experienced a miraculous result and used that as motivation to return to playing and performing even better than I did before. There was never a moment where I didn’t envision returning to music, because it was my life.

MNOD: When did you decide that inspirational speaking was something that you wanted to add to your repertoire?

CD: After my recover, I had a lot of gratitude towards everyone that helped me get through the worst experience of my life and I wanted to share what I learned about myself. I speak at mostly corporate events, but, the more I do it, the more I find that what I’m saying really strikes a chord with people. I learn a lot about myself in the process, because it’s a different audience than a live concert. People may know me from my musical background, but that’s not the primary reason they’re listening to me speak. I still get that performance high, but it’s in a different way. I’m not hiding behind a guitar, so the intimacy is very real. I do include some music in my speeches, but, if anyone in the crowd is familiar with my bands, it’s purely happenstance.

MNOD: How did you develop your S.T.A.R.T. philsophy?

CD: That’s really an encapsulation of everything I learned coming out of the accident. Something terrible happened to me and I instantly thought ‘How do I get through this?’ Stop, Think, Accept, Renew, and Thank is the process I went through to get to where I am today. Nobody succeeds alone and I had an incredible medical team behind me. I found inner strength and new friendships along the way that I continue to be thankful for every day.

MNOD: How is your relationship with the guys from Coney Hatch today?

CD: We have a long history together and Andy Curran is still one of my closest friends. We met in 1981 and we’ve been through a lot. The band still plays half a dozen or so shows a year and we were actually just in the studio last week working on some stuff.

MNOD: At this point in your career, is there anything that you still want to accomplish?

CD: Probably having a really super successful song would be nice. I don’t even know if it’s possible to have a million-seller anymore, but having a hit would be great. Aside from that, hitting new territories such as Japan or South America is something I’d love to do.

Carl Dixon sings The Guess Who at The Riviera Theatre on Feb. 21 at 8:00 p.m.

See http://www.carldixon.com or http://www.rivieratheatre.org for details.

For further information regarding Carl’s speaking engagements, visit http://www.carldixonspeaks.com

Carl Dixon’s latest solo release, “Unbroken,” is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor and pay for a physical copy.

Jackson Stokes embraces history to create something new

Stokes Album
Photo Courtesy of Big Hassle PR

The Allman Brothers Band’s “Brothers and Sisters” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Pronounced ‘Lĕh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” are two of the finest rock albums of 1973. As a teenager in the early ’00s, these works were about as cool to bring up in the cafeteria as admitting that you hung out with your parents on the weekend, but I didn’t care. Everything from the singing to the playing to the blatant disregard for conformity spoke to me more deeply than whatever dreck the DJ happened to be spinning at the 2003 Winter Formal.

Fast-forward to 2020, and I find myself encouraged to discover an artist from the next generation whose sound is seasoned with the flavors of the past just enough to give his own voice the foundation it needs to flourish.

Jackson Stokes was 10-years-old when his father told him that Devon Allman, son of the late, great Gregg Allman, was their neighbor and the decision to go knock on the door with guitar in hand would prove to be life-changing. To those of you out there who complain that there isn’t any good music being made anymore, Stokes’ debut album is proof that you’re just not looking hard enough.

If you don’t believe me, then perhaps the man himself can convince you.

MNOD: What was it about Create Records that made it such an appealing home for your first album?

Jackson Stokes: I thought Create Records was a great home, because it was a natural fit after making the record due to the closeness Devon already had with the record. I’m really honored to be the first signing. My favorite part about Create is the mission of it. That is to both be label putting out great new music in the world but bringing new artists up and helping them out. My goal is to be able to do well so that I can give back into helping the next person who needs that push in the industry. I know that Devon and the whole Create team believes that and wants that, that is a powerful thing.

MNOD: How was Devon Allman able to bring out your best during the recording process?

JS: Devon really helped me learn about myself. I think a producer is best when they know you and can teach you about your strengths and weaknesses, but also things about yourself you didn’t know before. We are very honest when we communicate and I learned a lot about how others would perceive my voice and songs, as well as lots of songwriting techniques of trimming the fat of a tune, mixing, and parts fitting into a sonic space. Since the record was made over a decent period of time we both kind of grew with it too, I know I did.

MNOD: Who are some of your influences as a songwriter?

JS: Influences as a songwriter…well I love groove, groove is so important to me. But lately I have learned to love a simple melody even more. I def take a lot of influence from Bill Withers, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye on mixing content with groove, and they are my favorites but I also love classic country songwriting like Hank Williams, Willie Nelson, and current Americana artists like Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton.

MNOD: What role did growing up in St. Louis play in your musical direction?

JS: I take a lot of pride in my hometown and the music scene/culture there. It’s a musical city with a super rich history in blues and soul (Mike Davis, Albert King, Johnnie Johnson, Chuck Berry), I think being around the blues clubs in my early teens and then early twenties shaped me a lot. Getting to watch some of the OG greats do their thing or talking with Gus Thornton about playing with Albert King in a corner of a bar at 3am, all those little moments add up to shape you. I used to take notes in my phone on how Roland Johnson (great STL soul artist) worked a room. Also, I feel a city just soaks in to you to where you can’t shake it off, nor do I want to. I could go in for days about STL but just come to figure it out! I’ll give you a tour.

MNOD: Your sound suggests an old-school influence that a lot of people wouldn’t expect from a younger artist. What type of music did you listen to as a kid?

JS: I grew up on classic rock and blues, cranked on a vinyl player in my room. I first fell in love with Lynyrd Skynyrd and that grew into a full classic rock obsession. My parents had all the old records and refused to buy CD’s saying, “we already got all these records.” Best thing they could have ever done! I have always loved older music, it speaks to me. I love 40s and 50s just blues as well as 30s acoustic blues, anything classic and roots. I always felt like going to the source of a music is the best way to learn it. History is so important! As I’ve grown older and smarter I do realize that there is beautiful music being made all the time, just sometimes it’s harder to find than others, but it’s there.

MNOD: What role did your parents play in encouraging your musical career?

JS: My parents are the people who wouldn’t want to be talked about in an interview and that’s why I love them even more. They have done everything for me, they don’t come to every show, they like for me to get to work and focus on my job, so people don’t see them but they are behind the scenes. They have given me everything in their power to succeed, yes we used hand me down guitars and amps but they found me all of them. My dad hung out until 3am sometimes watching me play (I wasn’t allowed without an adult in the bar) and then go to work the next day. People ask me if I had a musical family and neither parents play a note, but I have a very artistic family, and they had beautiful music all the time growing up around the house. You don’t have to play to know good music. They taught me to work my ass off everyday, be the best man I can be, and have good taste (mom taught me that one), and I am grateful for all they still do.

MNOD: What was the moment in your journey when you realized that music was what you wanted to do with your life?

JS: I fell deeply in love with music and the guitar in high school and my friend and I went to Robert Randolph and the Family Band in STL. Robert always had someone come out of the crowd and play guitar on stage, that night, it happened to be me (I was about 15). We jammed two long songs in front of 2,000 people and the rush was amazing! That was the moment, I didn’t realize it at the time but when I look back on it, that was the first time I felt that feeling and was hooked. Side note: I recently got to play a song again with Robert at the Allman Family Revival at the Beacon theater. Talk about a full circle moment, it was special.

MNOD: When sitting down to write, do you find that the music or the lyrics come more easily to you?

JS: Depends on the song but it’s usually the music. I was mainly a guitar player before a songwriter so that’s where I go first but lately I’ve been focusing on just singing a melody and not letting an instrument inhibit my natural inclination. That can happen sometimes when you are familiar with an instrument. Lately it has been a mix of both, for better or for worse, lyrics usually comes last for me, sometimes the feel of a song dictates the words, scenario, and meaning I use.

MNOD: Now that your first album has been sent out into the world, what has the reaction been like so far?

JS: It has been good! It has done as well as I thought, since this is the first record, the release was really the beginning of people hearing it. I will know more after six months of touring. I am proud of where it has gone and now working hard to just push it out to the world.

MNOD: You’ll be opening for The Allman Betts Band in Buffalo on Feb. 12. What can the audience expect from your live set?

JS: The live show is fun, a little more full throttle! We like to extend solos a bit and put some more live flashes of musicality in there. The cats in the band are amazing musicians so I like to highlight them when we can. We just try to keep the music going forward and evolving, the beauty of a live show is it makes a song alive again every night. With a live show, a song doesn’t have to stop at the recording, it could be different in three months, and as long as you don’t force things and let he changes happen naturally, it can become even more beautiful over time.

Don’t miss Jackson Stokes with the Allman Betts Band and J.D. Simo at Town Ballroom on Feb. 12.

See http://www.townballroom.com or https://www.facebook.com/tylerjacksonstokes/ for further details.

Jackson Stokes’ debut self-titled album is available now wherever music is disseminated, but do us all a favor a pay for physical copy.