Grant Dermody (DER-muh-dee) is a harmonica player, singer, songwriter, and teacher from Seattle, Washington. Described as “an understated harmonica virtuoso and a vocalist of subtlety and warmth” by Don McLeese of No Depression magazine, Grant is a highly versatile musician.
A lifelong student of the harmonica and acoustic blues, Grant’s latest release is the masterful Lay Down My Burden. The album’s 16 tracks hear him and a phenomenal lineup of 26 guest stars – including many of the blues’ elder statesmen — intertwining original songs and timeless covers, a set that displays his pioneering approach alongside of his commitment to the timeless traditions of the blues.
Grant’s musical travels have seen him playing with many of America’s most beloved acoustic musicians. In 2010, he embarked on a successful international tour with guitarist Eric Bibb. Previous explorations saw him performing in a trio with Orville Johnson and John Miller, live and on their 2006 release Deceiving Blues. In addition, Dermody has performed with blues legends Leon Bib, Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lowery, Big Joe Duskin, John Dee Holeman, and Cephas & Wiggins. Guitar maestro Frank Fotusky is also a touring co-conspirator.
Beyond the blues, Grant is passionate about old-time music. As a member of The Improbabillies, whose 1998 self-titled CD made a serious splash in the old-time world, Grant brought a unique blues sensibility and an innovative harmonica style to that genre.
An excellent accompanist, Grant uses his instrument to add just the right shade, feel or energy to a player, piece or project. He has played on several of Seattle based singer/songwriter Jim Page’s recordings, and was a guest artist on Dan Crary’s, Rennaissance of the Steel String Guitar. Dan described Grant’s playing on “Reedy’s Blues,” as “powerful and beautiful,” and referred to him as, “One of the best studio musicians I have ever worked with.”
Ask other harmonica players about Grant’s style, and they all point to his big, warm, wide-open tone, his ability to bring his own voice to a wide variety of musical styles, and his subtle, un-hurried approach. Though Grant spends most of his musical time playing acoustic music, he never hesitates to plug in and lay down some Chicago Blues.
A dedicated mentor of the instrument, Grant has taught harmonica for many years in both private and group settings nationwide to students of all ages. Teaching venues have included Blues Week at The Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins West Virginia, The Country Blues Workshop in Port Townsend, Washington, and the Telluride Acoustic Blues Camp in Telluride, Colorado, and Blues Week at The University of Northhampton in the United Kingdom. Grant has taught hundreds of kids in elementary schools throughout the Seattle area how to play the harmonica.
In performances, recordings, and teaching engagements, Grant’s soulful sound shines through, inspiring listeners and fellow musicians. As Don McLeese put it, Grant “not only renews an acoustic legacy, but extends it.”
Grant Dermody is one of those journeyman musicians whose time-tested style makes him the ideal practitioner of backwoods blues. With Sun Might Shine on Me he applies his harmonica skills in a variety of settings, from the hills of Appalachia to the Crescent City and its Creole confines. The fact that he’s able to shift environs so seamlessly gives credence to his versatility, but it’s equally impressive to find him assembling such a sympathetic ensemble in support of his endeavors, among the players, multi-faceted musician Dirk Powell. Dermody’s ramshackle technique adds some homespun appeal, particularly when it comes to the unassuming approach evidenced on “Boll Weevil”, “Just a Little While” and “Tree of Life”. Both spirited and spiritual, Sun Might Shine on Me carries with it a warm embrace.
Many people play roots music, but few modern musicians live those roots like Minnesota’s Charlie Parr. Recording since the earliest days of the 21st century, Parr’s heartfelt and plaintive original folk blues and traditional spirituals don’t strive for authenticity: They are authentic. It’s the music of a self-taught guitarist and banjo player who grew up without a TV but with his dad’s recordings of America’s musical founding fathers, including Charley Patton and Lightnin’ Hopkins, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly. With his long scraggly hair, father- time beard, thrift-store workingman’s flannel and jeans, and emphatic, throaty voice, Parr looks and sounds like he would have fit right into Harry Smith’s “Anthology of American Folk Music.”
Parr uses three instruments, not including his own stomping foot. He got an 1890 banjo the first time he heard Dock Boggs. “I don’t do claw hammer, I don’t do Scruggs-style, it’s just a version of me trying to play like Dock Boggs, I guess,” Parr says. He has two Nationals, a 12-string and a Resonator, which became an obsession when Parr saw a picture of Son House playing it. “The first time I got my paws on one, I went into debt to buy it,” he says. “Nationals are fun because they are as much mechanical as instrumental, you can take them apart and put them back together again.” On an overseas tour, the neck of the Resonator broke in baggage: he played the guitar by shimming the neck inside the body with popsicle sticks. “It solidifies your relationship with the instrument so much: It’s as much part of you as anything else.”
Most of his recordings, including Roustabout (2008), Jubilee (2007), Rooster (2005), King Earl (2004), 1922 (2002) and Criminals and Sinners (2001) eschew typical studio settings. He has recorded in warehouses, garages, basements and storefronts, usually on vintage equipment, which gives his work the historic feel of field recordings. It’s not because he wants to sound like he was discovered 75 years ago by Alan Lomax; it’s because most modern recording studios make the reticent and self-effacing Parr feel uncomfortable. He often works with engineer and mastering master Tom Herbers of Third Ear Studios in Minneapolis to give his recordings true fidelity no matter what the format, from mp3 to 180 gram vinyl to whatever is in between. Yet his music sounds so timeless that you half wonder if there’s not a scratchy Paramount 78 of Charlie Parr singing and strumming somewhere. His inspiration is drawn from the alternately fertile and frozen soil of Minnesota. Parr grew up in the Hormel company city of Austin, Minnesota (population 25,000) where most of the world’s favorite tinned meat, Spam, is still manufactured. And he hasn’t moved far, drawing sustenance from the surprisingly large, thriving and mutually supportive music scene of Duluth: Parr’s 2011 album of traditional songs, Keep Your Hands on the Plow features locals including Charlie’s wife, Emily Parr; old-timey banjo/fiddle band Four Mile Portage; and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of the renowned alternative rock band Low.
The combination of industrial meat factory where both of his parents worked proud union jobs, set in a largely rural environment, had a broad impact on Parr. “Every morning you’d hear the [factory] whistles blow, when I was a kid they had the stockyards andanimals there, so you were surrounded by this atmosphere,” Parr says. “My mom and dad would come home from work, their smocks would be covered by paprika and gore.” But out the back door were soybean fields, as far as they eye could see. “As a kid I thought it was kind of boring, but now I go and visit my mom and I think it’s the most beautiful landscape there is.” What leisure time was available was spent at an uncle’s farm a few miles away in Hollandale, where Charlie would pick the potatoes and other crops that would feed their families. Charlie’s father and uncle would buy whole cows from a local cattle farm. The family rarely ate Spam. Parr shows the same resourcefulness on the road, averaging 3 or 4 shows a week, year round. To stay in traveling shape, he eats home-prepared meals such as spicy lentil curry, black bean chili and mix vegetables that cook on the manifold of his van while he drives. “It’s a good heat source and it’s handy—25 miles on the manifold will cook about anything you want.”
To many, Parr is considered a regional artist, which is another way of saying he doesn’t like to travel far from his family’s Depression era roots. “From Cleveland to Seattle and down to San Francisco and back is my area,” he says, though the focus is unquestionably Minnesota and the Northern Plains. Yet he’s built a big enough audience in both Ireland and Australia to tour both regularly. He’s had especially good fortune Down Under, where his “1922 Blues” was used as the counterintuitive music behind a Vodafone mobile commercial and became a viral and radio success. Three of his songs added atmospheric resonance to the 2010 Australian western “Red Hill.” On his last tour, his fourth of that continent, he was a guest DJ for three hours on a Melbourne roots music radio station, on which he played songs from his own mix CD. “The newest thing on it was some Bukka White recordings from the 1940s,” Parr says with some incredulity. “People were calling all morning to say how much they like the music.”
Quiet, thoughtful and humble, Parr has made two albums of spirituals, and a few traditional songs of the hard life and the hereafter are always in his live sets. Such music isn’t necessarily rooted in the Methodist church in which he grew up: “It was more like, let’s get the service over quick so we can get downstairs and drink coffee and have pie!” But faith, though undefined, underlines all of Charlie’s music, both in the listening, the covering, the writing and performing. “When you listen to Charley Patton playing something like ‘Prayer of Death,’ way over and above it just being a ‘Charley Patton’ song, or a ‘spiritual’ song, it’s one of the most beautiful and haunting pieces of music you’ll ever hear in your life. You can’t quite put your thumb on it, you just want to do something like that so much…I don’t think I ever have, but it’s a weird, visceral thing. Any time I get a song like that right, I get kind of that weird feeling, you know?”
—Wayne Robins, April 2012 Wayne Robins has been writing about music since the 1960s, and lives in New York.
John Cowan, also known as the Voice of Newgrass, has been singing his heart out for thirty-five years now, and his soaring vocals have only improved with time. A true innovator, John applies his powerful pipes to genres from country, bluegrass, and gospel to soul, jazz, and rock-and-roll – often within the space of a single concert. His ability to move fluidly through multiple styles, and carry mesmerized audiences on the journey with him, has set him apart as one of the most loved and admired vocal artists of his generation, not just by fans and critics but among fellow musicians as well.
John Cowan was born on August 24, 1953, in Minerva, Ohio, and got his musical start in Louisville, Kentucky, where he played in various rock outfits like Everyday People and Louisville Sound Department in the early 1970s. But his rise to fame began in earnest in 1974 when he auditioned to play bass for the then up-and-coming New Grass Revival. The audition went well, and John was offered the gig. It wasn’t until he’d accepted the job that the shy 22-year-old casually mentioned, “By the way, I can sing too.”
With his distinctive, rock-tinged tenor vocal and heart-thumping electric bass, John, along with fellow New Grass Revival band mates Sam Bush, Courtney Johnson, and Curtis Burch, and later Bela Fleck and Pat Flynn, introduced a new generation of music fans to an explosive, experimental and ultimately, eponymous brand of bluegrass. The “newgrass” sound spawned popular jam bands such as Leftover Salmon and Yonder Mountain String Band in addition to shaping the sensibilities of country megastars Garth Brooks, the Dixie Chicks, the Zac Brown Band, and Darius Rucker.
After New Grass Revival disbanded in 1990, John went on to record a series of critically acclaimed solo albums including Soul’d Out (Sugar Hill, 1986), the self-titled John Cowan (Sugar Hill, 2000), Always Take Me Back (Sugar Hill, 2002), New Tattoo (Pinecastle, 2006), 8,745 Feet, Live at Telluride (2005, re-released by E-1 Entertainment, 2009), Comfort & Joy (E-1 Entertainment, 2009), and The Massenburg Sessions (E-1 Entertainment, 2010).
Over the years, he also has been in high demand as a session musician and boasts vocal and/or bass credits on some 120 recordings, including albums by Garth Brooks, Glen Campbell, Rosanne Cash, Ashley Cleveland, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Hootie and the Blowfish, Janis Ian, Hal Ketchum, Alison Krauss, Delbert McClinton, Reba McEntire, Tim O’Brien, Mark O’Connor, Poco, John Prine, Kenny Rogers, Darius Rucker, Leon Russell, Darrell Scott, Ricky Skaggs, Travis Tritt, Hank Williams Jr., Jesse Winchester, Wynonna, and the Will the Circle Be Unbroken albums.
In the early 1990s, John teamed up with Rusty Young of Poco, Bill Lloyd of Foster & Lloyd, and Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers in a country rock band called The Sky Kings. Despite the successful run of their CMT video “Picture Perfect,” the band’s recordings went unreleased due to a series of personnel changes first at RCA Records and then Warner Brothers, and the group was forced to call it quits in 1997. Shelved for years, The Sky Kings unreleased album, along with 14 additional tracks from the Warner Brothers archives, was finally published in 2000 by Rhino Handmade Records. Meanwhile, John’s alliance with Pat Simmons gained him a slot as bassist for the Doobie Brothers from 1992 through 1995 as well as a songwriting credit for “Can’t Stand to Lose” on the Doobie Brothers 2000 release Sibling Rivalry.
bioNot content to remain a sideman, however, John left the Doobie Brothers to follow his creative muse in pursuit of a solo career that, at the dawn of the 21st century, found him circling back to his acoustic “newgrass” roots.
“What we did back in the New Grass Revival days was unique,” he says. “Our vision was to take acoustic music somewhere new. What I’ve done with the John Cowan Band is try to recapture the magic of that ground-breaking experimentation and take it to the next level.”
The John Cowan Band, in various incarnations that inevitably feature some of acoustic music’s finest players, has been a force to be reckoned with these fifteen years – and counting. John is a fixture and a favorite at major festivals like the Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado and Wilkesboro, North Carolina’s “traditional-plus” MerleFest, and he routinely sells out performing arts theaters and distinguished music clubs and listening rooms around the country. Stints in his band have helped launch the careers of Noam Pikelny (Punch Brothers), Luke Bulla (Lyle Lovett), and Scott Vestal, among others. The band’s current lineup most often features long-time collaborator and outstanding flatpick guitarist Jeff Autry, renowned and in-demand fiddler Shad Cobb, and mandolinist extraordinaire John Frazier.
John also is known for mixing it up; his creative collaborations range from his 2012 MerleFest performance alongside Darrell Scott and Pat Simmons to appearances with Nashville favorites The Long Players and Grooveyard. On his 2010 recording, The Massenburg Sessions, John joined forces with legendary producer George Massenburg (Little Feat, Randy Newman, Linda Ronstadt and others) to craft a collection that has the warm, intimate feel of a living room jam. It features duets with Maura O’Connell and Del McCoury. Longtime friend and co-writer Darrell Scott composed the haunting melody for John’s autobiographical ballad “Drown” (New Tattoo), a harrowing and graphic tale of childhood sexual abuse. The song led to John becoming the 2006 national spokesperson for Safe Place, an organization that provides and promotes safety and healing for individuals and families affected by sexual and domestic violence. “Drown” was also used in a video featuring John and others telling their stories to promote Nashville-based Our Kids, which provides medical evaluations and crisis counseling in response to concerns of child sexual abuse. It’s an issue close to his heart and one about which he remains vocal.
These days, John Cowan fans have to wait a little longer between shows and possibly travel a little farther to get to them. That’s because he’s working his own performances into and around another very busy schedule. In 2010, the Doobie Brothers found themselves once again in need of a bass player, and John Cowan was the first person they called. He took the job, and now he travels the world with the Doobies, laying down the low notes and singing the high ones as they perform hits such as “Black Water,” “China Grove,” “Taking it to the Streets,” and “Listen to the Music” as well as new songs that showcase the relevancy of this iconic classic rock band.
“I love my ‘job’,” Cowan says. “I love these guys. I love being in a band – a great band – and I love playing music for people every night. I’m also very grateful for every opportunity I have to play my music with my own band for the fans that have been so loyal to me over the years. I don’t ever want to stop sharing my music with them.”
And as if two touring gigs didn’t keep him busy enough, in March of 2012, WSM Radio – home of The Grand Ole Opry – launched John Cowan – I Believe To My Soul, an hour-long radio program that airs monthly and features John interviewing and playing the music of some of the giants and legends of contemporary music. For example, his first guest was Leon Russell, whose catalog of songs includes timeless classics like “Masquerade” and “A Song For You,” and whom Elton John names among his biggest influences. Season One of I Believe To My Soul features John’s former New Grass Revival band mate and world-renowned banjo innovator Bela Fleck; beloved singer-songwriter Rodney Crowell; Justin Hayward, lead singer and songwriter of Moody Blues fame; Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires; and many more.
A profound songwriter, Chris Smither draws deeply from the blues, American folk music, modern poets, and philosophers. Reviewers continue to praise his dazzling guitar work, gravelly voice and songwriting. “Smither is an American original – a product of the musical melting pot and one of the absolute best singer-songwriters in the world.”—Associated Press.
Born in Miami, during World War II, Chris Smither grew up in New Orleans where he first started playing music as a child. The son of a Tulane University professor, he was taught the rudiments of instrumentation by his uncle on his mother’s ukulele. “Uncle Howard,” Smither says, “showed me that if you knew three chords, you could play a lot of the songs you heard on the radio. And if you knew four chords, you could pretty much rule the world.” With that bit of knowledge under his belt, he was hooked. “I’d loved acoustic music – specifically the blues – ever since I first heard Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Blues In My Bottle album. I couldn’t believe the sound Hopkins got. At first I thought it was two guys playing guitar. My style, to a degree, came out of trying to imitate that sound I heard.”
In his early twenties, Smither turned his back on his anthropology studies and headed to Boston at the urging of legendary folk singer Eric von Schmidt. It was the mid-’60s and acoustic music thrived in the streets and coffeehouses there. Smither forged lifelong friendships with many musicians, including Bonnie Raitt who went on to record his songs, “Love You Like A Man” and “I Feel the Same. (Their friendship has endured with Bonnie guest-appearing on Smither’s record Train Home. Over the years she has invited Chris to join her as support on concert dates, and most recently, lent her take on Chris’ “Love You Like A Man” for LINK OF CHAIN, a Chris Smither tribute CD.) What quickly evolved from his New Orleans and Cambridge musical experiences is his enduring, singular guitar sound – a beat-driven finger-picking, strongly influenced by the playing of Mississippi John Hurt and Lightnin’ Hopkins, layered over the ever-present backbeat of his rhythmic, tapping feet (always mic’d in performance).
Smither’s first albums, I’m A Stranger, Too! (1971) and Don’t It Drag On (1972) were released on Poppy Records, home of kindred spirit Townes Van Zandt. By the time Smither recorded his third album, Honeysuckle Dog with Lowell George and Dr. John helping out, United Artists had absorbed Poppy and ultimately dropped much of their roster, including Smither. Smither made his next record in 1985, when the spare It Ain’t Easy on Adelphi Records marked his return to the studio.
By the early ’90s, Smither’s steady nationwide touring and regular release of consistently acclaimed albums cemented his reputation as one of the finest acoustic musicians in the country. His 1991 album, Another Way to Find You, was recorded live in front of an in-studio audience with no overdubs or second takes. This would be the first of two albums with Flying Fish Records. His next recording, Happier Blue, was embraced by Triple A radio and received the NAIRD (now AFIM) award as Best Folk Recording of 1993. Up On The Lowdown (1995) marked the first of a trio of albums to be recorded with producer Stephen Bruton at The Hit Shack in Austin and his first of five albums with roots label HighTone Records. Up On the Lowdown rode the crest of the newly formed Americana radio format wave and sparked considerable interest abroad. A tour of Australia with Dave Alvin and extensive solo touring in Europe led to an expanding global interest in Smither. His song, “I Am The Ride,” from this album inspired the independent film, The Ride, for which Smither also composed the original score.
In early 1997 Smither released Small Revelations. It climbed the Americana and Triple A radio charts and led to concert dates with B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Nanci Griffith, and the hugely successful, original Monsters of Folk’ tour with Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, Dave Alvin and Tom Russell. Small Revelations also generated several film projects for Smither. Emmylou Harris recorded his song, “Slow Surprise,” for the The Horse Whisperer soundtrack on MCA. And his recording of “Hold On” was used in the indie feature film Love From Ground Zero. Smither also shared insight into his guitar style and technique on two instructional DVDs, available from Homespun Video.
His CD, Drive You Home Again (1999), garnered four-stars from Rolling Stone. And with it, Smither continued to tour world-wide. Shortly after, in 2000, Smither released his one-man-tour-de-force, Live As I’ll Ever Be. Recorded in-concert at various clubs and concert halls in California, Dublin, Galway, Boston, and Washington DC, it has proven to be a fan favorite, capturing Smither at what he loves to do: performing in front of an audience.
Train Home (2003) was Smither’s last record for HighTone and his first with producer David Goodrich. Over a six-week period, basic tracks for Train Home were recorded in the relaxed environment of Smither’s home near Boston. Working with new session musicians, the record is simultaneously sparse and assured. Lifelong friend and special guest, Bonnie Raitt, provided backing vocals and slide guitar on Smither’s cover of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row.”
In 2005, jazz great Diana Krall covered “Love Me Like A Man,” introducing what is now a blues standard to a whole world of jazz fans. Shortly after, Smither’s song “Slow Surprise” was included in the independent film, Brother’s Shadow. In addition, Smither narrated a two-CD audio book recording of “Will Rogers’ Greatest Hits.” Continuing to expand his creative horizon, Smither was invited to contribute an essay to Sixty Things to Do When You Turn Sixty, a 2006 collection of essays by American luminaries on reaching that milestone. In 2009, Melville House published Amplified, a book featuring 16 short stories by notable American performing songwriters. Smither’s story Leroy Purcell about a touring musician’s encounter with a Texas State Patrolman leads off the collection.
With the release of his 12th recording Leave The Light On (2006) on his own imprint, Mighty Albert, Smither began a new label relationship with the renowned acoustic and modern folk label, Signature Sounds. For the recording, Smither reunited with producer David Goodrich and session musicians Mike Piehl, Lou Ulrich and Anita Suhanin. As an added treat, Smither invited good friend and Grammy Award-winning multi-instrumentalist, Tim O’Brien, along with rising American roots stars, Ollabelle, to add their distinctive talents on several tracks. The song “Seems So Real” from the CD earned a Folk Alliance Award as “Song of the Year.” Smither followed this with Time Stands Still (2009), his most stripped down recording in some time, working with just two accompanists after the same trio had played a rare band performance – a non-solo setup required in order to play a Netherlands festival.
About the recording Smither says, “We’re the only three guys on this record, and most of the songs only have three parts going on. We had a freewheeling feeling at that festival gig, and we managed to make a lot of that same feeling happen in this record.” And always wanting to treat his fans well, in 2011 Smither put out two fan projects: a collection of live tracks from newly discovered concert recordings from the 1980s-1990s titled Lost and Found and the rollicking EP, What I Learned in School, on which Smither covered six classic rock and roll songs.
Smither followed these fan-projects with Hundred Dollar Valentine (2012), a ««««« (MOJO) studio record of all Smither-penned songs. With longtime producer David “Goody” Goodrich at the helm, this collection sported the unmistakable sound Smither has made his trademark: fingerpicked acoustic guitar and evocative sonic textures meshed with spare, brilliant songs, delivered in a bone-wise, hard-won voice.
The most recent recording project is Still On the Levee (2014) – a double-CD retrospective. Recorded in New Orleans at the Music Shed, this career-spanning project features fresh new takes on 24 iconic songs from his vast career – including Devil Got Your Man, the first song he penned, on up to several of his most recent originals.
Coming out at the same time as Still On the Levee, the book Chris Smither Lyrics 1966-2012 features his complete set of lyrics complemented by select images of Chris and performance memorabilia from his decades-long career. To commemorate his career to-date, Signature Sounds is releasing an all-star tribute record including a stellar list of artists offering their takes on some Smither favorites including Josh Ritter, Bonnie Raitt, Loudon Wainwright III, Dave Alvin, Peter Case, Tim O’Brien, Patty Larkin, and many others.
Honing a synthesis of folk and blues for 50 years, Chris Smither is truly an American original. As Acoustic Guitar magazine wrote, Smither sings about “the big things – life, love, loss – in a penetrating and poetic yet unpretentious way.”
A quick search for the “top Americana albums of 2005” reminds us of some fine records from that year by the likes of Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Okkervil River, My Morning Jacket, and the ever-interesting Bobby Bare. One that didn’t get much attention back then was this excellent set of music from Grayson Capps, If You Knew My Mind, released a decade ago by the small-yet-mighty Nashville/L.A. outpost called Hyena Records. One of the songs on the album, “A Love Song for Bobby Long,” was the title track to a movie of the same name, based on a book by Capps’ father and starring none other than John Travolta and Scarlett Johansson. One would think that would’ve generated some considerable buzz, but the film was met with mixed reviews that tended toward the negative. The soundtrack (though it was an interesting mix of Los Lobos and Helen Humes) was generally disregarded, and Capps’ album flew, most unfairly, under the radar. Thanks to the tasteful folks at Royal Potato Family — who are behind the excellent new set from 6 String Drag — this record’s getting a well-deserved second chance with Americana music fans. And rightly so. It’s an album that’s beautifully grand in its poetry and charmingly disheveled in its presentation. The opening line of the opening song, “Get Back Up,” says it all. “Yesterday was a very fine day, indeed,” he growls over a dirty harp-driven blues. “I got a bottle of beer, went outside, and brushed my teeth.” He puts on dirty clothes, goes back to work because he’s “got to make the money to give the money away at the rich man’s store.” There are too many great lines in the Resonator-rich title cut to pick just one but this slice of humor — “I know you’re 22 and I ruined your life. But please, pretty baby, put down that kitchen knife” — is a good place to start. “Slidell” starts out as a story about “five people who got murdered by a drunk woman talking on her cell phone,” but is ultimately about the narrator’s own Slidell story, which includes being drunk at every turn and for every miniscule event. After the slow R&B groove of “I Can’t Hear You,” we get to witness the aforementioned “Love Song to Bobby Long,” the heart-wrenching Dylanesque story of a former football hero — a dispassionate dreamer gone drunk, an anti-hero of Bruton, AL. “Eliza’s in the ground. Thunder is her moan,” recites Capps in the Faulknerian stream of consciousness that is “Graveyard.” Halfway through the record, Capps tears open a can of Texas blues on “Mercy,” the modern day equivalent to “Sympathy for the Devil” (and just as spine-chillingly soulful). “Yesterday I had a dream. I could fly through the sky. Then I woke up in a sweat, not dead yet, but on the ground,” Capps sings over the subtle Rhodes and Resonator arrangement of “Lorraine’s Song.” “Here comes,” he says as he counts off the lovely ballad “Washboard Lisa,” a tune as tender as the best ballads from the pens of Crowell or Clark. “Buckshot” is a blood red fuzzy guitar rock tune that bridges the space between “Washboard Lisa” and the funky rhythm and blues of “How’s I To Know.” The original recording ends with the ballad “I See You” before the RPF people tacked on a live version of the blues classic “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed & Burning” — a clever tune about how his woman ran off with an “Australian banjo player with a fake Southern accent” — and a sweet outtake of “Washboard Lisa.” Indeed, this is a record most grand in its poetry, even though they are simple lines about simple people living simple lives. The tracks are exceptionally well-played examples of the great Southern music tradition, loosely approached but tightly delivered. This 10-year-old record is as good as anything being made today. Props to the Royal Potato people for bringing it back to light.
While writing the songs on this record, I found myself thinking an awful lot about my father and how he encouraged me to do everything I could to pursue a creative life. He rode a Harley Davidson chopper, sang along to Jerry Lee Lewis records and took absolutely no shit from anyone. The only job he ever enjoyed was driving a tow truck, but he couldn’t support the family on just 85 cents an hour. He was convinced he’d finally hit the jackpot when he got a job throwing 100 pound bags of starch into boxcars for $1.85 an hour. 30 years later he retired with a worn out back, a bad shoulder and a cheap certificate in a cardboard frame. He once told me they were his, “Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth.”
One thing I inherited from my father was his low tolerance for bullshit and let’s face it, the arts world is full of it. With that in mind, one morning I scribbled a thought onto the cover of my notebook that served as a reminder while working on these songs. “There are only two people in art who matter. There’s the creative individual and the person experiencing it, everything else is an artificial filter.” If I have one core artistic belief, that would probably be it. That principle and a whole lot of scratching, clawing and sacrifice has earned me a loyal cult following throughout Europe and in parts of the USA, but don’t feel bad if you’ve never heard of me. I like to joke around the house that I’ve done everything I can to remain obscure without realizing it.
While my parents worked during the day, it fell upon some strange individuals to babysit me. One of these people was my uncle. He wasn’t the best choice to babysit a 4 year old because he’d just got out of prison. He wasn’t even really my uncle, he and my aunt were just shacking up. Living in sin. Renting with the option to buy. He got bored watching me so he took me to a neighborhood bar that had an upright piano in the corner. He’d sit me on top of that piano and I’d sing Hank Williams and Jimmy Rodgers songs while he accompanied me. The drunks thought I was a cute kid, so they gave me tip money and I’d sing their requests. My uncle would then take that money and get drunk on it. That’s when I first learned how the music industry actually works.
One of the benefits of being a touring musician is I often find myself dropped into unexpected situations. These moments sometimes make their way into my songwriting. Experiences like crossing the Carpathian Mountains in Romania in a snowstorm and picking up a nine year old hitchhiker named “Cozmina.” She told me her family’s tragic story as I gave her a ride over the top of the mountain.
I recently visited the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C. There’s a saying that every American knows someone whose name is on that wall, but as I stood there, I couldn’t think of anyone. Then it hit me like a ton of bricks. As a kid in Wanamaker, Indiana, we had an aging boxer living in the house next door who had just lost his son in Vietnam. My Father did everything he could to be supportive, so we stopped by every day to visit. At the time, I was just a kid and didn’t understand any of it. After finding my neighbor’s son’s name on the wall, I found myself standing there silently grieving beside strangers and remembering his Father (and mine). These newfound memories of my father and our pugilist friend stuck with me and eventually lead to “Ghosts Of Our Fathers.”
I’ve planted 7,176 trees in my lifetime. These were all large trees and were planted without the benefit of heavy machinery. Just shovels, spades and strong backs. It was my day job for about ten years and I loved it, but my body started to break down towards the end. Luckily, I started touring more in the UK and Europe which allowed me to play music full time. I quit that job about 8 years ago and haven’t had a day job since. “No Rust On My Spade” is a song that looks back to those days when I prided myself in being a Nurseryman.
“It Was A Train” and “The Darker Side Of Me” are loosely based on stories told to me by hobo friends around Midwestern campfires.
My father was a hunter. At a very young age I followed him into the forests of Indiana in search of deer, rabbit and squirrel. I struggled for years to find a way to tell him that I loved being alone in the woods with him more than anything, but the idea of killing animals for “sport” repulsed me. “With A Gun In My Hand” tells the story that I was unable to tell as a kid. I’m happy to report that as he aged he lost all interest in hunting. This made him love the outdoors even more.
I host a show called Thanks For Giving A Damn. It features your favorite musicians telling road stories, tall tales and vague recollections. There’s no music, just talk. It’s available as a podcast and there’s a new episode posted to iTunes every Wednesday. I love hearing road stories, so I started the show as a way to share these stories directly with the people who enjoy my work. I had modest expectations at first, but was pleasantly surprised when the audience grew much quicker than I ever could have hoped.
I’m happily living in East Nashville with my partner, Amy Lashley and a few too many rescued pets (Let me know if you need a cat). Amy and I have been together for over 15 years, but I don’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. We’re just hanging out.
I’m a hell of a lot more like my old man than I’d care to admit. Like him, I work for a living. My job is to make people feel something and that’s what I’ve tried to do with “Souvenirs Of A Misspent Youth.” It’s a record that I’m proud of and I believe it’s my finest work to date. Thank you kindly for taking the time to experience it and I hope we might one day meet in person. Thanks for giving a damn, -Otis Gibbs
Fourteen years elapsed between the Word‘s raucous self-titled debut offering and Soul Food. All the members of this supergroup — pedal steel guitarist Robert Randolph, keyboardist John Medeski, and the North Mississippi Allstars (Chris Chew and Cody and Luther Dickinson) — have had full and demanding careers in the interim. Randolph was only 22, had played one gig outside his church, and had just one released track when he joined his bandmates in 2000. Soul Food was cut in New York and at Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studio in Memphis, and picks up where its predecessor left off. Musically, this is a much tighter record — none of these tunes get to the six-minute mark — but the raw, joyous, exploratory spontaneity remains; it’s just more focused. Blues, R&B, and gritty roots rock & roll are plentiful here, as is a more formal approach to gospel, but there are other sounds too. On the first soul-drenched single (and album opener), “New Word Order,” gritty Southern R&B meets the prophetic Pentecostal tradition of Randolph‘s spiritual home, the Church of God in Christ. On “Come by Here,” a squalling minor-key juke joint blues runs head-on into pre-Thomas Dorsey African-styled chants in a chorale of male voices. Randolph‘s solo screams atop Medeski‘s spiraling B-3 and keyboards and Luther‘s razored fills. Suggesting a young Mavis Staples, Ruthie Foster guests on “When I See the Blood,” a straight-up Southern gospel romp. Randolph and Medeski trade fills and fours throughout, and the entire clattering rhythm section gets as funky as it does gritty. The first of the two parts of the title track is framed inside a breezy Polynesian vibe, kissed by soul, while the second crosses funky R&B guitar with martial snares and breaks, punchy organ chords, and Randolph‘s many-toned pedal steel coloring in the frames. It eventually becomes a rave-up where the spirit of the Allman Brothers Band (whose second “home” was playing N.Y.C.) meets the groove of Otha Turner’s Fife and Drum Corps at Stax! “You Brought the Sunshine” is straight-up reggae with a dubwise Chew bassline framing a gospel piano, bluesy pedal steel, and jazzed-up B-3 and guitar vamps. “Swamp Road” feels like Booker T. & the MG’s playing in a shake shack. Luther‘s tough jazz-blues solo above Cody‘s in-the-pocket beat steals the cut. Amy Helm duets with Luther on the set closer, “Glory Glory.” What begins as a rowdy country boogie becomes a Southern-fried country gospel stomper, adorned by Wurlitzer piano, hard-swinging acoustic six-string with flatpicking breaks, brushed toms and snares, thumping standup bass, and wily pedal steel. It’s a fitting sendoff because it is an affirmation of all the Word express as a band. All these years on, Soul Food may sound as revolutionary as its predecessor, but it is stronger and far more adventurous musically.
Ruby Amanfu has been around the Nashville music scene since she could sing but getting noticed is never easy. Releasing some quality songs with Sam Brooker as Sam & Ruby and competing on The Sing-Off gave her a little exposure, however it was playing the foil to Jack White on the emotional “Love Interruption” that really broke open her career.
Now on Standing Still, Amanfu takes the spotlight and owns it, projecting various vocal styles through a wide range of covers. Immediately greatness is achieved as she reinterprets “Anyone Who Knows What Love Is (Will Understand)” a track made famous by the irrepressible Irma Thomas. Amanfu’s version keeps the heartbreak of Thomas but raises the emotional stakes to breathtaking heights via a lush soulful beginning, huge climax and almost whispering vocals to close; a take-your-breath-away rendition of the classic.
Standing Still came about when engineer Mark Howard was sent a video of Ruby singing a show stopping version of Bob Dylan’s “Not Dark Yet” from a NYC Dylan Tribute. Howard, who worked with Daniel Lanois on the original, was enamored and signed her up right away. Having been in the Bowery Ballroom on that night I can personally attest that was the moment of a show filled with a few. Her recreation of the Dylan number on Standing Still is a knockout as well.
Those two covers alone are enough to recommend the album but the hits keep coming from a wide variety of areas. Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s “Where You Going” has an excellent mix of bass, drums and chimes while “As The Dawn Breaks” by Richard Hawley is simple and delicate allowing Amanfu’s voice to breathe excellence without restraint.
“Out At Sea” by The Heartless Bastards is one of the few covers that doesn’t mesh well here, while Amanfu has made a revisit to Kanye West’s “Street Lights” a must as she adds a warmth to the 808s & Heartbreak track Yeezus could never muster. The gospel placed into Wilco’s (via Woody Guthrie) “One By One” moves things along swimmingly before Amanfu’s only original “I Tried” ends the album. The haunting energy of Brandi Carlile’s “Shadow on the Wall” is an excellent showcase for Ruby’s talents and when she sings “I will make no sound at all” listeners everywhere should be grateful that she went against that feeling and created Standing Still, an album that should help make her a star.
The Slambovian Circus of Dreams have been called “the hillbilly Pink Floyd,” which is an apt description, particularly if you throw in elements of Incredible String Band, Neil Young, The Band, Dylan, and maybe even some Frank Zappa as well. This spring 2015 the band finishes a year long tour of the U.K., US and Canada where they spread their contagious brand of quirky Americana promoting the 2014 release of ‘A Box of Everything’ – their Sony Red distributed ‘greatest hits you never heard’.
Now beginning work on their sixth studio album, “A Very Unusual Head”, Joziah Longo, (lead singer/songwriter for the band) describes the new bundle of songs as “A notebook of music about those go-to topics: meta-physical science and religion, poking fun with scorching humor at the state of the world, and a few anthemic beauties that will hopefully sweep everyone off their feet for a moment… the sound may be more adventurous this time – we’ve always had a bit of psychedelic grit that steals from our British cousins.” For the uninitiated, the band’s all over the map melodic avant folk conjures Tom Petty, Dinosaur Jr., and a fuller Buffalo Tom. Equal parts Washington Irving and Woodstock, the band taps a broad palette of styles ranging from dusty Americana ballads to huge Pink Floydesque cinematic anthems. Playing art school roots-rock, trad folk and a moody but uplifting americana, they possess an extensive instrumental arsenal (accordion, cello, mandolin, theremin). “The entire root system of Rock Family Trees is embedded in Longo’s voice.”- The Big Issue, Scotland, U.K.
Together since the late 90’s where they met in art school, they settled in Sleepy Hollow, New York, and formed The Slambovian Circus of Dreams. The band has toured nationally and abroad since forming in 1998. Known for their electrifying live performances, and critically acclaimed original music, they have an extremely devoted fan base.
The band produces Halloween shows every year at moving locations – in 2010 they even brought their legendary Halloween show, ‘The Grand Slambovian Extraterrestrial Hillbilly~Pirate Ball’ to London’s Electric Ballroom AND New York City’s Gramercy Theater. “Saturday was a blast! I want you to know how great I thought your show was – you guys really made the Gramercy shine and ooze with your own personality.” – Harvey Leeds, Live Nation NYC. This year, 2015’s shows will be a ‘Mischief Night’ at Mauch Chunk Opera House October 24th and Halloween show is at Infinity Hall in Hartford, Ct October 31st.
In 2010 bandleader and songwriter Longo, (known for tall tales and philosophizing) began work with Broadway theater legend Theodore Mann writing the musical score for 2 productions performed at Broadway’s Circle in The Square Theater in New York City from 2010-2012.
Soon unleashing their hauntingly signature songs on the world once again, the bands next studio album is scheduled for release in early 2016. The new songs should knit into the band’s classics like an old paisley quilt wrapped around a very large family. The ultimate DIY’ers, the band runs its own label and has previously released 4 critically acclaimed studio albums and one ‘greatest hits’, ‘A Box of Everything’ released in 2014, “The Grand Slambovians”2010, ‘The Great Unravel’ (2008), 2004’s double-disc ‘Flapjacks from the Sky’, and ‘A Good Thief Tips His Hat‘ (1999)
The Slambovian Circus of Dreams are:
Joziah Longo (lead vocals, guitars, harmonica), born in Philadelphia, grew up playing traditional country, folk and mummers music with his father. Performing professionally from the age of 13 doing Dylan covers, he moved to New York to pursue his muse. Playing venues ranging from CBGB’s to Carnegie Hall as a headline performer, Joziah was also the first American musician invited to perform in mainland China in the early 90’s ending a decade-long ban on Western music.
Multi-instrumentalist Tink Lloyd (accordion, cello, flute, theremin) comes from a long line of feisty Irish musicians which brings a unique spark to the band’s music as well as performance. Tink has worked with Joziah and Sharkey on previous projects.
Sharkey McEwen (guitars, mandolin, backing vocals), longtime musical partner of Joziah, has Louisiana roots but grew up in L.A. where he cut his teeth on the club circuit before coming to New York in the early 90’s. His inventive, evocative playing is a strong counterpoint to Joziah’s songwriting and performance. He is has been the band’s engineer and main producer with Joziah for all their albums.
Eric Puente grew up in Rome, NY, and has been playing drums, in several different forms and styles, his entire life. He has been a session drummer/percussionist, in the NY music scene for the past 20 years, recording, touring, and arranging, with various rock, jazz, folk/americana, and orchestral ensembles. He has studied with Joe Morello, Mike Clark, Tony Jefferson, and Joe Cusatis. Eric has been a Slambovian musical friend for several years, and in March 2012, he started performing with Joziah and Sharkey on the NYC Broadway play “Aesop’s Fables” (for which Joziah wrote the musical score). Since then, he has been touring and recording on a fulltime basis with the Slambovians.
Caddy’s new album, OUTSIDE THE WIRE has exploded on to the Blues, Country and Folk scenes to blanket five star critical acclaim!
“OUTSIDE THE WIRE is a restless, feverish and marvellous album release by a talented artist determined to buck the trend. Caddy Cooper has an ear for a great sound and the skill to produce a superlative record successful in steering its content in the right direction for many discerning fans of roots music.” Three Chords and the Truth UK
“With an awesome mix of blues, bluegrass and country, it is clear that Caddy is a hugely talented writer” For the Country Record
“All Killer, No Filler” The Blues and Roots Music
Caddy Cooper is a West Australian acoustic blues, country and folk singer/songwriter and a traveling soul at heart. After training at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts in Music Theatre, Caddy played featured roles in musicals such as The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and A ChorusLine. Caddy has performed in major theatres across the UK, Ireland and Australia and for the likes of Sir Richard Attenborough, Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, the West Australian Agent General Kerry Sanderson and a number of BBC television personalities.
She was the lyricist and composer behind Australian pop sensation ‘ENVY’s singles Fever Fever Fever and Monster in Me and was awarded a prestigious Honourable Mention in the International Song of the Year Competition for her urban composition Tender Heart (Teenage Girl) in 2012. In March 2012, Caddy published the first of a series of children’s sign language songbooks called ‘Sign & Song’ (short-listed for the Rhinegold Publishing ‘Best New Resource’ Award 2013) which incorporates the use of Makaton signing in a bid to encourage language development and cohesion between children in the mainstream, those with English as a second language and children and young adults with special needs. Caddy released ‘Acoustic EP’ in 2011 which quickly gained momentum and led to the international release of Caddy’s debut album, ‘Snapshot’. After touring nine countries in 2014 (including UK tour and festivals tour, a British military tour in Afghanistan, Australia, and across Europe – to name a few highlights) promoting the critically acclaimed ‘Snapshot’, Caddy released her next album ‘Outside the Wire’ on March 6th, 2015 at Club WM, The O2, London.
Outside the Wire (arguably the most successful of Caddy’s releases so far) has exploded onto the Country and Blues scenes to rave FIVE STAR reviews