The Runaways’ Cherie Currie and Fanny’s Brie Darling Rock Chicago

2019 Beth Hart wide

Cherie Currie and Brie Darling played a raucous rock and roll show at the City Winery in Chicago with the help of a four-man backup band. Currie, the one-time lead singer of the seminal female band the Runaways, and Darling the on-again, off-again drummer for the pioneering women group Fanny, sang most of the songs from their recent excellent collaboration album, The Motivator, including two of the three originals from that release.

The two traded vocals for most of the night. Although Currie joked at one point that she was having a senior moment because she forgot the opening lines to one of the new songs, it is hard to believe that Currie will be turning 60 in a few days while Darling is already 70. Both musicians were in fine voice, had lots of energy, and clearly were having fun playing many of the cover songs from The Motivator.

In addition, Darling sang two songs, and played drums on one of these songs, from last year’s Fanny reunion album,  Fanny Walked the Earth. The set opened with a cover of the Runaways’ song “American Nights” and closed with the Runaways’ classic “Cherry Bomb,” which had the crowd on their feet singing along. Opening Act White Mystery played a short, loud, and enthusiastic set.

James McMurtry Enchants with Thoughtful Catalog

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Saturday, February 22, at Old Town School of Folk Music – The show opener, singer/songwriter Peter Oren, thrilled with his deep baritone, compelling guitar work and friendly demeanor. His set included a dreamy tribute to clouds and some clever call-outs to cows. Oren, who lives in rural Indiana, waxed rhapsodic about freeing himself from overwhelming social media, “phones and stuff.” His “Gnawed to the Bone (Come By)” got an especially good response.

Peter Oren

James McMurtry’s 2015 masterpiece was entitled “Complicated Game.” He’s a darn wizard when it comes to composing chilling narratives, such as the spooky-titled, “Where’d You Hide the Body.” These references might make one believe this Texan’s the consummate tortured soul, one on the verge of a nervous breakdown, yet when this singer-songwriter-guitarist stands in front of the Old Town School admirers, he comes off pretty much as everyman.

James McMurtry

Of course, “everyman” can’t do what McMurtry does on a consistent basis all across America and beyond on his ambitious tours, which take him from the big skies of Bozeman to Baton Rouge, Jackson, and Petaluma. And luckily for Midwesterners, one of the most prominent teaching centers in Chicago: the Old Town School of Folk Music.

McMurtry’s true-blue fans are the kind who do their homework. And that’s the kind of hard work that pays off, as the beauty of already being acquainted with a performer’s repertoire is that the fan gets to soak up the stories and genuinely enjoy the nuances.

And last night there were many nuances to enjoy. His massive set list included rough-hewn, tender and sometimes cynical homages to everything from “crystal meth,” an “Airstream trailer” and a “Holstein cow,” courtesy of “Choctaw Bingo.” Gulfs between generations were underscored in “Copper Canteen,” virtue of powerful imagery: “We grew up hard and our children don’t know what that means.” Certainly that line struck a bittersweet chord with the older patrons; and of course, the epic plea, “Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun” just seems designed to fire up the coolest senses.

McMurtry was dressed head-to-toe in denim — his long, dark hair and steady gaze contributing heavily to his cool, confident, tough-guy with a soft-center image. He focused completely on the task at hand, tearing off song and song, often with poker-faced comments in-between. All the while, he conflates tragedy with humor. Even as he tuned an acoustic guitar (switching between two), he made damn sure the fourth wall was kept down. And although it was easy to drift and get blissfully lost in his tuneful conversations, his fine instrumental work was of equal import and deserved full attention as he finessed beautiful tones and allowed for striking hammer-ons and pull-offs from his twelve-string. The sound, overseen by musician/soundman Tim Holt, was also superb.

Anyone who has heard McMurtry play with a full ensemble (Austin locals get to hear him weekly), or on his multi-layered albums, might wonder how it feels for the man to play unplugged for several hours solo. Does he consider it a challenge to perform the fierce, rockabilly-infused “Choctaw Bingo” without the support of a dynamic rhythm section? Perhaps for some. But McMurtry, an accomplished instrumentalist who strummed his first guitar at age seven, tore up and down that fretboard with extreme vigor — keeping the beat, wailing catchy phrases, and balancing harmonic highs and lows with precision.

Venturing into the arena of love, a songwriting topic recommended by his grandmother, he garnered lots of appreciation for “These Things I’ve Come to Know,” which illustrates how opposites can still attract even when the odds are against it: “She likes the two-step, she likes to waltz,” he sang, but soon added, “I can’t dance a lick but sometimes I can flat rock and roll.”

“Red Dress” stood in warm contrast to the other material — a heady mix of blues and grit. In his quieter rendition of the winsome “No More Buffalo,” his austere tale spoke volumes about our current state of environmental gloom. And as for pure linear craft, the vocal drone of “Levelland” was beyond moving. “State of the Union” probably got the biggest reaction. Although the words can apply to any time in history, the message may strike some as especially potent now.

As for other inspirational/political anthems, the one surprise was that McMurtry failed to play “We Can’t Make It Here,” a brainstorm that intrepidly describes the despair of so many Americans and that has fueled campaigns.

That said, McMurtry gave his all. Even after holding court for such a long time alone, he graciously returned to the stage after a passionate standing ovation. At one point, he mentioned a concert where the audience was less than appreciative. “They’re idiots,” yelled a fan. Yeah, I’d say that’s true.

*All photos © Philamonjaro

Reuben And The Dark Live at Schubas Chicago

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Reuben and the Dark returned to Chicago’s North Side, bringing their brand of indie folk rock one of the city’s favorite music clubs, Schubas Tavern. Fronted by Calgary’s Reuben Bullock, the band played to a small but devout room of fans.

With the recent release of UN | LOVE they played new songs including the title track and “Faultline.” The band is out playing select dates thru mid-March, so catch them if they are near you.

Reuben Bollock

*All photos © Philamonjaro

Herb Alpert Documentary Sets Theatrical Release

Over the last 60 years, trumpeter-vocalist Herb Alpert has scored 14 platinum albums, co-founded A&M Records (the home to Janet Jackson, the Police and Peter Frampton) and become a major philanthropist; his foundation has donated millions to arts education programs ranging from the Harlem School of Arts to UCLA.

Alpert’s story will be told in Herb Alpert Is…, a new film directed by John Scheinfeld (whose previous films include Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary and The U.S. vs John Lennon.) The film has been picked up by the independent distributors Abramorama; it will hit theaters beginning May 5th, with a one-night world premiere event at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. A release says the film will  trace “Alpert’s personal and creative journey that reveals the critical events, experiences and challenges that have shaped an extraordinary life and instilled deep within the Grammy-winning trumpeter the desire to make a difference each and every day.”

Fellow legends appear in the film, too: Sting calls him a “cultural icon.” Questlove calls him “funky.” Lou Adler calls him “the coolest person in the room.”

“Herb is a true artist who did things the right way, achieved success on his own terms and brought much joy to the world in the process,” Scheinfeld says. “ I wanted to make a documentary that would reflect this and, most importantly, to be a ‘Feel Good’ film that will uplift, inspire and bring audiences together exactly as does Herb’s music.”

Added Abramorama CEO Richard Abramowitz: “It’s our great honor to celebrate the man who outsold the Beatles in 1966 and co-founded the most successful independent record label in history on his way to supporting artists and students young and old around the world. Herb Alpert is a renaissance man of the highest order.”

While he’s looking back on his life, Alpert is not done making music. His latest album, 2019’s Over the Rainbow, debuted at Number One on the Billboard Jazz and Contemporary Jazz album charts. Alpert begins a North American tour in Arizona Wednesday with Lani Hall.

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Dizzy – “Sunflower”

You’ve heard Post Malone and Swae Lee’s “Sunflower.” You’ve heard Vampire Weekend’s “Sunflower.” Are you ready for Dizzy’s “Sunflower”? Don’t sleep because this may be the best of the bunch.

The Ontario upstarts followed their impressive 2018 debut Baby Teeth with the one-off “Twist” last year, and today they’re back with another winner. Yes, it’s called “Sunflower,” but it sounds nothing like the aforementioned Into The Spiderverse smash or Ezra Koenig and Steve Lacy’s jam-scat excursion. Rather, putting a skip in the step of their indie-adjacent balladry, Dizzy have landed on a pleasingly vibrant sound reminiscent of Maggie Rogers and Soccer Mommy.

“Take me to the roof,” Katie Munshaw sings. “I wanna hear the sound/ Of what a broken heart does/ When I fling it to the ground.” In a brief statement, she calls the song “a three and a half minute ‘snap out of it!’ to myself when I’m feeling low, unconfident or not myself.” It’s a pleasant blast of tasteful pop-rock that just might snap you out of your own funk, too.

Listen below.

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Daily Discovery: Tetchy Get Very Touchy on Debut ‘Hounds’

Oozing some sticky ’90s grunge-punk, Maggie Denning willows I think I’m ready to let this go on opening track “Emotional Labor.” Before you know it, she goes from whisper to screech on noisy “Fascist” where she’s Past the point of giving fucks. Underground tips of riot grrrl punk mixed with some cool-hearted balladry, this is Tetchy. The Brooklyn, NY-bred punk band, literally spawn out of a makeshift NYC basement, is debuting their first album, Hounds, a response to mental health struggles, fascists in power, and quitting your day job.

“Our debut EP has been patiently waiting in our back pockets,” Tetchy singer and guitarist Denning tells American Songwriter. “But boy what a wait it has been.” 

Written and produced more than a year ago, Hounds is full of fuzz and grit. Recorded and mixed by Justin Pizzoferrato and recorded at Sonelab Studio in Easthampton, MA, some parts are the kind of music you listened to when your parents pissed you off, and you slammed your bedroom door. But this isn’t all Tetchy is about. Hounds rolls up and down from outright vexed through sentimental and profound.

“These songs cut straight to the core of what it means to experience misogyny and trauma—and to let the voice of that experience fly ragefully into the faces of your oppressors,” says Denning. “These songs grapple with mortality, loss, and identity, and the hard and ugly feelings that live in your mind’s darkest corners.” 

Distorted and oft harsh, there’s no dissonance in the clarity of Tetchy’s messages. On “The Fool,” written by bassist Dylan LaPointe, the band confronts loneliness and uncertainty, and the sorrow that comes with being complicit in your own denigration. “’The Fool’ was born from the hurt of other people not seeing the beauty in you, and the ensuing, ever-lingering painful truth that they in fact see you as a total joke,” says LaPointe.

The more gutteral “Quitter” questions Why the fuck am I doing this to myself … Why do I even bother / I’m a quitter just like my father and the more emotional balladry of “The World,” which touchingly opens with a voice message from Denning’s late father, with lyrics When this world told you it would be easy, Denning sweetly counters with Haha haha

“There are moments of simplicity and moments of chaos,” says Denning. “[There are] moments of heavy rage and moments of quiet mourning. All [are] working in tandem to voice the experience of nonlinear healing with simultaneous strength and vulnerability. 

Right now, Tetchy are also feeling some love. It’s their time, and Hounds delivers. 

“The wonderfully open and loyal support we’ve experienced from sharing these songs through live performances alone has fueled this project into an unpredictable overdrive,” says Denning. “And it feels like a new kind of freedom and a collective healing to finally share them in this capacity.”

Phantom Blues Band – Still Cookin’

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Since the early 1990’s, the Phantom Blues Band has been touring the world as the two-time Grammy winning band for Taj Mahal, and appearing as a world-class all-star band on their own. The band members have a long list of credits as touring artists and top-call studio musicians for the likes of Bonnie Raitt, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, B.B. King, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Robert Cray, and many more. Their newest offering, Still Cookin’ proves there is a lot of life (and music) left in this blues supergroup.

The band is comprised of Tony Braunagel (drums), Mike Finnigan (keyboards & vocals), Larry Fulcher (bass & vocals) Johnny Lee Schell (guitar & vocals), Joe Sublett (saxophones). Les Lovitt (trumpet). The band members themselves boast many individual Blues Music Awards as well as a joint BMA and a couple of GRAMMY awards.

So what happens when a busy group like this gets the time to get into the studio? Pure magic. Their last offering was eight years ago, when they brought us Inside Out, and trust when we say we’ve been missing the sound that Taj Mahal created when originally forming this group.

Still Cookin’ kicks off with a tight cover of Wilson Pickett’s “Don’t Fight It.” All three vocalists in the band add their solid pipes to this one and it’s a perfect starting point. They make it sound easy – nay, fun – and it comes across just that way.

The funky vibes continue with songs such as “Stop Runnin,” and “Wingin’ My Way.” It’s Finnigan’s vocals that stand out on this record, although when they all get in the mix like they do on the Latin-flavored “Tequila Con Yerba,” or the strolling vibe of “Fess On Up,” things really heat up.

“Shine On,” brings a Caribbean feel as well as a positive message. The blues in R&B come out on “I’m Just Your Fool,” as the guys bring back the big band sound of the original 1954 Buddy Johnson release.

Band members wrote or co-wrote more than half the songs on Still Cookin’, and the band credits their combined influences for their songwriting and song selections:

We all grew up on great songs from the late 50’s on, and extended our library of influences from the Great American Songbook, including the roots of the Blues.

A couple of don’t miss tracks include “I Was Blind,” which adds the superb backing vocals of Tulsa, Oklahoma songstress Maxayn Lewis, who has backed everyone from Ike & Tina and Bobby “Blue” Bland to Van Morrison and Sammy Hagar. “Blues How They Linger,” showcases Finningan’s soulful vocals and key skills.

Everything the Phantom Blues Band does is a collaborative effort, however guitarist/vocalist Schell steps up on this one as co-producer, mixer, and engineer.

Yes – the Phantom Blues Band are Still Cookin’ and what they’re serving up is dee-licious! Get yourself a heaping helping and don’t be bashful about coming back for seconds.

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Artist: Phantom Blues Band

Title: Still Cookin’

Label: VizzTone

Release Date: February 14, 2020

Running Time: 48:15

Phantom Blues Band

Mazzy Star Co-Founder David Roback Dies at 61

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Mazzy Star co-founding guitarist and keyboardist David Roback has passed away at the age of 61. A representative of the band announced today that Roback died on Monday, a cause of death not yet released. Roback got his start in the Los Angeles Paisley Underground scene in the 1980s, playing in Rain Parade and Opal.

From the ashes of Opal, David formed Mazzy Star with vocalist Hope Sandoval in 1989, and together the two wrote all of the band’s songs. In addition to being the primary songwriter, he also produced the band’s albums. Between 1990 and 1996, Mazzy Star released three albums: She Hangs Brightly, So Tonight That I Might See, and Among My Swan. After a long hiatus, they released Seasons of Your Day in 2013.

Mazzy Star is best known for their mainstream hit, “Fade Into You,” which has appeared in countless TV soundtracks. Sometimes hastily dubbed shoegaze, Mazzy Star brought certain colors, tones, and textures not heard before — a profound interfusion of dream pop, alternative, and neo-psychedelia. 

I’m remembering David Roback tonight with my favorite Mazzy Star songs:

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Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame’s Hallways Podcast Winter/Spring 2020

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The Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame (FARHOF), announces its Winter/Spring 2020 schedule of Hallways — the Hall’s official podcast — airing weekly beginning in February. The series includes in depth, personal interviews with Folk, Americana, and Roots artists like Patty Griffin, Ani DiFranco, Tom Rush, Keb’ Mo’, Milk Carton Kids and The Mammals.

The podcast launched on January 3rd and featured FARHOF’s founder, Joe Spaulding, prior to moving to its weekly episode format on February 7th. Several upcoming episodes — including Ani DiFranco and Aengus Finnan — were recorded at the Folk Alliance International conference, which took place in New Orleans in January. Additionally Tom Rush, Mark Erelli, Hayley Sebella, Raye Zaragosa, Laura Cortese, David Amram and Diana Jones all recorded live, solo performances during their interviews with the Hallways team.

“Our mission at FARHOF is to preserve and celebrate the history of Folk, Americana and Roots music,” said Spaulding. “Hallways allows the legacy and history of folk, Americana, roots music to be heard from all artists past and future directly in their own words.”

The Folk Americana Roots Hall Of Fame is housed in the Wang Theatre and is an initiative of the Boch Center in Boston. FARHOF celebrates Folk, Americana and Roots music through displays, memorabilia, artifacts, multimedia, lectures and concerts. As much as any city in the country, Boston has been the musical birthplace for the styles and artists we celebrate, making it a fitting home.

Hallways is a production of Above The Basement Boston Music and Conversation, hosts Chuck Clough and Ronnie Hirschberg bring the stories and inspiration behind this great American music to life through conversation and live performance.

“Our team at Above The Basement could not be more proud to host and produce Hallways,” says host Clough. “As the storytelling and podcast partner of FARHOF, we’re looking forward to bringing this important American music to listeners, and highlighting the stories and songcraft that keep its spirit alive today.”

Hallways 2020 Winter/Spring Episode Schedule

TOM RUSH* 2/28/20
KEB’ MO’  3/13/20
DIANA JONES* 5/22/20
PASSIM 60! 5/29/20

*Includes LIVE solo performance

Listen to Hallways HERE

Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame

Blues Hall of Famer Henry Gray Dead at 95

Louisiana blues singer and piano player Henry Gray died on Monday February 17, 2020 in hospice care. His death was confirmed via a post on his official Facebook page made by his great-grandson.

It is with great sadness that I formally announce that my Great Grandfather Henry Gray has transitioned. My family and I appreciate every prayer, every donation, every smile, and every word of encouragement that you have given throughout his more than 70 year career. I will post the funeral arrangements as soon as we make them. Thank you all.

Henry Gray and Bob Corritore Photo: Marilyn Stringer

Henry Gray was born in Kenner, Louisiana on January 19, 1925, but almost immediately moved with his parents to Alsen, Louisiana where he spent the majority of his childhood. He began studying the piano at the age of eight, taking lessons from a neighborhood woman. A few years later, he began playing piano and organ at the local Baptist church, and his family eventually acquired a piano for the house. By the time he was 16, he was playing in a local club.

After a stint in the Army during WWII, where he was stationed in the South Pacific, Gray returned to Alsen, but then relocated to Chicago in 1946. Once there, he spent a lot of time in the clubs, attracting the attention of fellow piano player Big Maceo Merriweather. Merriweather mentored Gray in the subtleties of Chicago blues piano, and Gray soon had gigs with local groups and became a much-demanded session musician accompanying Jimmy Reed, Bo Diddley, Billy Boy Arnold, and several others.

In 1956, Gray joined Howlin’ Wolf’s band and was Wolf’s main piano player for twelve years in performance and on recordings. Also during this time, Gray was a session player for numerous artists on recordings made by Chess Records.

Gray left Wolf’s band in 1968 and returned to Alsen to assist his mother with the family business, a fish market. There he became an important part of the region’s Swamp Blues scene. He also worked as a roofer for 15 years.

Some of his many honors included a National Heritage Fellowship Award, his Blues Hall of Fame induction, and 1998 GRAMMY nomination. He also performed for Mick Jagger’s 55th birthday in Paris by request of the Stones that same year.

He received the nickname “Lucky Man” by surviving several close calls during his life. Those included surviving World War II; playing with Elmore James on the night the latter died of a heart attack; a city bus crashing into his car in Chicago; his home being destroyed not once, but twice; a tornado in 1989; and the devastating floods of 2016.

Gray was a musician for over seven decades, performing all over America, Europe, and Japan. He appeared at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 39 times and also made appearances at Montreux Jazz Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival, and the Chicago and Baton Rouge blues festivals.

Even after surviving a collapsed lung and mild heart attack, Gary continued to play at the Time Out Lounge in Baton Rouge every Tuesday night for three years.

Gray entered hospice care in Baton Rouge October of last year, and remained there until his death yesterday.

“Rest In Peace dear Henry Gray. I was blessed to know you!” – Bob Corritore

“Lost my buddy about 9 p.m. Tonight. The last of the old school boogie woogie players Mr. Henry gray rest in peace.” – Kenny Neal

“I’m sad to say we lost a great musician tonight. Mr. Henry “Piano” Gray has passed away at age 95. Henry was a mentor and friend with whom I traveled the world. I’ll always remember those good times we shared! RIP Henry! Your Friend,” – Chris Thomas King

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*Feature image from Henry Gray Facebook

Jose Feliciano at the Grammy Museum 2.11.20

The Legendary Artist Brings Music, Humor and Love

Words & Photos by JACKI SACKHEIM

“There’s a common thread that runs through music,” said José Feliciano. “Music has always opened  my eyes. I think that’s how I became sighted. I saw what other people saw through their music.”

The legendary musician came to the Grammy Museum in downtown L.A. on February 11, 2020, where he answered questions, played music, and made a lot of jokes.

Moderated by the museum’s Executive Director, Scott Goldman, it was a night to herald the artist’s first new album in many years, Behind This Guitar, on Anthem Records. The album reunites him with long time producer, Rick Jararrd, and comes in the wake of the 50th anniversary of his first Grammy Award.

“There wouldn’t be a career for me without Rick Jarrard,” he said. “He insisted on being my producer. Lucky for me.”  

Then, after playing a soulful version of the classic “California Dreamin’,” written by John Phillips & Michelle Phillips for their group The Mamas and The Papas, he said he was surprised to hear it in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, the 2019 film by Quentin Tarantino. He’d met Tarantino a few years before at a restaurant in Little Italy, he said, and called him a “very talented guy.”

But he had no idea that his music was included in the film’s soundtrack, and almost missed hearing his song because he was in the bathroom.  “I got back just in time,” he said.  

He also mentioned another member of The Mamas and the Papas, Cass Elliot. “I developed a real crush on Mama Cass,” he said. “Too bad she didn’t develop a crush on me.”

He delighted in telling corny, somewhat off-color jokes like this one: “Do you know the difference between a snowman and a snow woman is? Snowballs!”

He even joked about a cold he had that evening. “I’ll never take Mucinex again,” he said. “I was writing a song called the ‘Sound of Mucus’. I wanted to see what kind of a run I’d have.”

Before playing the title song of his new album, “Behind This Guitar,” he said, “I’m gonna play behind this guitar. I wish I could play in front of it but I’m gonna play behind it this time.”

José expressed his gratitude to the audience many times throughout the night.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “Thank you America for giving me the opportunity to be somebody, somebody I want to be.”

Then after honoring his own father, and thanking his record company, managers and family, he left us with this:

“Just remember that I love you and that someone cares for you.”

“Thank you America for giving me the opportunity to be somebody, somebody I want to be.”

Photographer-writer Jacki Sackheim was born on the southside of Chicago, listening to the music of the streets, hearing the railroad cars roll and collide above the 95th Street viaducts. Later, she listened to the Blues and R&B music coming out of the radio, and started frequenting Blues clubs both to hear the music and to capture the magic of the musicians onstage in photos.

“It was my way to show respect,” she said. “And, it was a way to preserve the sights of the Blues clubs. I have come to know many of these great performers. And they have come to accept me, a non-musician, into their world. I owe them so much.”

“I can’t sing,” she said. “I can’t dance. I don’t play a musical instrument. But I can play this here camera.”

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