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.
“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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
“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.
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.
The interviewer trusts that the person they’re talking to is invested in giving a response worthy of their time, and, in turn, the interviewee trusts that the writer isn’t going to manipulate said response to suit their own agenda.
For me, I have no agenda other than delivering pieces that cause both the artist and the audience to think critically about the topic at-hand. I’m not interested in scandal, selfies, or anything resembling salacious clickbait. I’m also not interested in being cozy with bands or showing off how many famous people I’ve met on social media. I’m simply dedicated to the work for the sake of doing it, because mainstream pop culture journalism just doesn’t cut it for me anymore.
That said, I’ve gone back through my archives and dug out a dozen subjects that I consider to be my favorites for reasons both personal and professional. I hope that you enjoy reading them again as much I did.
Chuck D (2010) – This is the one that really got the ball rolling for me. I only had a year as a music journalist under my belt and Chuck decided to give me an opportunity.
A lot of shit went down in the past decade, and, if you’re anything like me, you needed a soundtrack to get through the toughest times.
What follows is a list of 30 albums that resonated more deeply than everything else I’ve heard since the ball dropped on 2010. I considered writing a capsule review for each selection, but the best way to absorb the impact of these works is to just listen for yourself.
The Black Keys – “Brothers” (2010)
Arcade Fire – “The Suburbs” (2010)
Son of the Sun – “The Happy Loss” (2010)
The Civil Wars – “Barton Hollow” (2011)
Beastie Boys – “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two” (2011)
Shilpa Ray and Her Happy Hookers – “Teenage and Torture” (2011)
Foo Fighters – “Wasting Light” (2011)
Rush – “Clockwork Angels” (2012)
Bob Dylan – “Tempest” (2012)
Neil Young and Crazy Horse – “Psychedelic Pill” (2012)
Steven Wilson – “The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)” (2013)
Savages – “Silence Yourself” (2013)
Queens of the Stone Age – “…Like Clockwork” (2013)