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Johnny Lagrange

If you head up the Mississippi River from New Orleans roughly forty miles, you’ll find yourself in Garyville, Louisiana. Here, the soundscape swirling in the waters is what makes them muddy. French influences of La-La and Zydeco meld with traditional country and other roots music. Like many, guitarist Johnny Lagrange holds fast to his origins in these genres. As a child, his first experience was seeing live music at a fair with his older cousins. Where chatter amongst the crowd was spoken in French, and Charles Sonier played the fiddle on stage.

At home were two older sisters and an older brother with tastes of their own to fill his ears. He gravitated toward his sisters’ pop music of the day like Madonna and Tears For Fears more so than the rap music to which his brother listened. Radio delivered his appreciation for musicianship with artists like Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. A six-year-old boy would many times attempt to play these tunes on his little plastic guitar. Though he stood worlds away from creating the music he heard, he loved giving rise to sound. His foundation was already filled with many elements. As Johnny put it, “But then, you get your first blue jean jacket. And you get turned on to Testament and Iron Maiden. These guitarists are amazing!” The flood gates were instantly breached. Any membrane that disjoined traditional genres from the new style of rock had been permeated by the likes of Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen.

Suddenly, the divergent interests of his original footing and heavy metal ruled radically different. Though they seemed to occupy equal parts in his mind at the time, it was the guitar that swayed him. Heavy metal, and thrash music for that matter, explored the possibilities of sound with guitar. Johnny grew fond of doing the same. As we spoke about this time in his life, I asked about his first “real” guitar. He smiled and pointed to one that sat on a stand behind me. He was fourteen years old when it came into his life. It would become his muse for the next few years and lead him to form a band called Seveth. Being underage, his band mates would sneak him in the back door of a bar out in Laplace just so he could perform, exiting the same way he came. Covers of Poison, Whitesnake, and Warrant, and a few of his own originals escorted him into maturity. But in all honesty, he was just a kid having fun. His interests would waver at times and hot rods did steal him away briefly.

Until one night when a friend directed him toward an open mic session at a local bar. Arriving with no set material or plan in place, he simply got up on stage alone and played every scale, every chord, and every shredder piece he knew. He will admit the performance was less than impactful. Being an unknown, the house band didn’t want to back him up. But it did grab the attention of their drummer. The two would go on to form the band Headrush. Johnny, in his twenties by this time, had picked up a drug habit along the way. And this became the fire that fueled a songwriting frenzy between them. In three months’ time, they wrote approximately ten hours-worth of originals. This pace and his lifestyle were both unsustainable though. In time, the consequences began to overshadow the benefits. He became a full-blown alcoholic and drug addict. No one wanted to play with him, and his life became consumed by his vices. He set down the guitar to get his life back in order and checked himself into a rehab facility.

During his path to sobriety, his wife brought him an acoustic guitar once owner by her father. For the longest time, he hadn’t even laid eyes on a guitar. He did still have a Peavy, somewhere, in a closet with no amp. But sobriety created a void, as it does in many, when a life in pursuit of intoxication no longer existed. The arrival of many introspective thoughts and questions filled him with a desire to express himself. The acoustic guitar was preceded by countless pages in a notebook of these questions, of lyrics in their most rudimentary form. Whether he realized it or not, he had been charged with finding himself on paper, in isolation. A time in his life where he felt as though he possessed direction or meaning of any sort had left him long ago. Things began to come together for him as he lifted those thoughts from paper and put them to melody using that that acoustic. The Bald Dog Project was born and a memento from his inner turmoil became known as the Begging for Change album. Johnny recalls, “Probably 95% of all Bald Dog Project songs are personal. All of the lyrics on the first two albums, that one (Begging for Change) and the (following) one with the full band… every one of those lyrics are poems, just pissed off and my healing so to speak, that I was just writing down. And then I took it and formatted it into songs. So, a lot of it is some real personal shit. When I was in rehab, that’s when I was healing, making amends to myself.”

During the early stages of Headrush, before the band had a name, his suggestion was that they call the band Bald Dog. But the other members objected. They resolved to put names in a hat. Guess which name was picked? Bald Dog! Yet they still protested, and the name Bald Dog was thrown out. Now that it was just him, that name would finally come to be. Johnny laughed as he explained, “Ain’t nobody but me. So, I have no fucking arguments. I’m naming this mother fucker Bald Dog! And just to piss them off, it’s going to be The Bald Dog Project. It’s like, how you gonna have a project with just one guy?”

The appeal of The Bald Dog Project lied within a unique sound facilitated by a deficit. Johnny couldn’t sing in a tone that was appropriate for acoustic music. It always came out with a definitively heavy metal tone. The mood set by his lyrics dealt with heavy emotions. And he had always been a fan of the metal genre. A friend by the name of John Walden, hearing the merit in this combination, gave words of encouragement. Walden, a drummer and bassist, invited Johnny to come open for his band at a gig. Alone again and having not been on stage in over ten years, a nervous Johnny took the offer. He recalls it as a terrible performance. But Walden still felt as though Johnny had something. He reassured him, and recommended he gather a drummer, a bassist, and a second guitarist. Johnny moved quickly, reaching out to Tommy Cox (Konstricted, Nothing Sacred) to join with an acoustic and he agreed. The two, joined by bassist Glenn “Chookie” Grady, began playing shows without a drummer.  Finding their sound and gaining momentum, John Walden soon joined in on drums.

I interviewed Kirk Windstein once and he explained his own version of what he considered to be heavy. As Kirk clarified, “To me heavy is emotion. To me one of the heaviest Black Sabbath songs is Solitude. It’s just a two chord with a flute. Sonically, it’s not heavy at all. It’s a clean guitar, and you know, a flute. To me, heavy is not just volume, distortion, whatever. It’s emotion.” Explorations and reparations to make oneself whole again were the founding sentiments of The Bald Dog Project. In my opinion this would near top the list of weighted thoughts. Deeper into this vein, Johnny has begun pursuing a second concept by the name Blackwall Symphony. The songs currently being recorded enlist heavy metal components and fuse them with orchestral pieces. Choir, violins, horns and flutes all accentuate distorted, thrashing electric guitars. He said they have eight of the planned twelve songs down. And when they’re all complete, he will reveal them in a live performance. I look forward to feeling my pulse quicken as this spectacle thickens into a rich audio experience orchestrated by Louisiana’s own, Johnny Lagrange!

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

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Sean Riley

Often times musicians have a way of letting emotion be the divining rod. And the good ones manage this at no expense to their goals. Sean Riley wasn’t always like this. Many miles and many crowds have since subdued the fifteen-year-old in him that was a bit on the shy side. Back then, he kept playing and practice to himself, emerging occasionally to strum a few chords of Smoke on the Water or Layla for friends. Words of encouragement, coupled with desires to be like what he heard, are what kept him going.

He knew what the end result was supposed to sound like. Saratoga Performing Arts Center was located in his hometown, and he’d seen acts like The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, and Steely Dan. He also listened to Roy Orbison, Beach Boys, and Waylon Jennings when his parents played those records. And he knew where the sound came from. His aunt gifted him an old Stella parlor guitar when he was a child. He would often marvel at it where it hung on the wall in the living room. Connecting the dots between those stage shows and this, until now, wall art meant pulling it down and seeing how it felt. Sean recalls, “I didn’t know how to tune it. We didn’t have those tuners you plug in back then. It was tuned to a piano. And I didn’t have anything. So, I had to learn from… I bought one of those what looks like an old harmonica that’s got a little tube. You blow the E and I would tune it. That’s when I got my first lesson. I was like, I gotta learn how to tune the damn thing. But when I first picked it up, I just loved the feel of it.”

I found that, throughout our discussion, he would speak frequently about taking lessons. Although he did take formal lessons for a short period of time, there were a myriad of things that he referred to generically as lessons. This experience was one. And you’ll hear about more later. I specify this because within him, as should be any aspiring musician out there, lived the drive to master the art. Existing in this mindset means that lessons come from all areas in life. This perspective inevitably leads one to greatness. His dedication did not go unnoticed. After spending countless hours with that Stella, his father agreed to buy him an electric guitar. Formal lessons were a condition of this gift.

From a wall amongst many, this self-described late bloomer grabbed a ‘73 SG at an old guitar shop because he liked the way the thing looked. But the esthetics began to shift focus within him and it may not have been noticeable at first. As many children do, he listened to most genres back then. From punk to hip hop, a blues/rock spoke to him louder that the rest. Wherever this voice came from, it was naked and undecorated. He didn’t want to be famous. He didn’t want to be rich. He wanted to play that guitar on stage. And he wanted to do it right. So, whenever the voice spoke, he listened.

The rudiments were found in a few places; tab books, instructional DVD’s, and “The Guitar Grimoire: A Compendium of Formulas for Guitar Scales and Modes”. What he learned would be put to the test whenever a friend could come over and play along. He laughed when he remembered how amateur they all were but maintains he will never forget that initial feeling. Loosely associated jam bands would form and dissipate. Whenever he encountered those with less drive or interest, he would simply revert to playing in his room.  As he got older, he was able to get more of those lessons going to local pubs to see shows. Watching the guitarists pick things out and hearing how it sounded taught him a lot. College became a good place for meeting musicians and getting more of these lessons too. He explained a time at college when he played for someone that he felt was better than him. The guy said, “you’re good, but you’d be better if you learned theory”. That one statement impacted him, compelling him to seek formal lessons once again.

From here, advancement took him from playing in a basement with roommates to bars and frat parties. He teamed up with guys from the college jazz band, playing what the Allman Brothers covered.  Elmore James and Junior Wells became his expression of a strong love of the blues. Lessons still came from local pubs. He would see a band playing and think to himself, man we can do that. But the lack of ambition from other members always seemed to stifle growth. Taking a semester break and travelling to Europe would definitively end the college band days. It would be the genesis for him to strike out on his own in new surroundings.From there, he returned for a work study program in New York City. It was there that he would remain for the next fifteen years.

It was the early 2000’s and the Black Keys had just come out. Sean played anywhere and everywhere, bringing with him that stripped down blues rock style that he loved. His background in graphic design gave him something to fall back on during leaner times. A bottleneck in music commerce had become noticeable. Rates were on the rise and some of the larger venues were closing down in Manhattan. But across the river in Williamsburg, things were booming. So, he would take the L Train to a patch of small, underground places and DIY house shows that garnered a good crowd and sometimes hosted small label reps. He would play rhythm guitar in funk bands, sound off in indie rock bands, and cater to the booking agents that loved the blues. This was the mix of the day. And there was a decent folk music following at places like Jalopy Theater in Red Hook, a southwest Brooklyn town with a diverse, laid-back community.

So, how did Sean come to live all the way down in New Orleans? The Jazz Fest sold him on the place. He travelled down for the event once or twice before and was captivated by the music, the food, and the night life. One too many cold nights up north were enough for he and his wife to make the move ten years ago. He’s certain his career has benefitted from this and cites the city as inspiration for his writing. He began by busking on Royal Street and, after meeting a few people, was able to get a gig on Frenchman Street. He sees the main contrast between New York City and New Orleans being the communal aspect. Things seemed clicky up north. He’s had to remain versatile while here, playing from uptown to the Bywater and playing with many different people. His band, Sean Riley and the Water, was actually named for this. The water represents the constant flow of players passing through the band.

He does have a couple of musicians with whom he plays often, bassist Dean Zucchero and drummer Mike Barras. Sean explained, “Those guys I’ve been playing with a lot throughout the years. So, I would road test the songs with them. That was one tight unit that I felt comfortable with.” And when it came time to record his new album, Stone Cold Hands, he played with those guys and invited a slew of Louisiana locals to contribute. This ten-track body of work has charted in many places, including Billboard, and features Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, Waylon Thibodeau, Phil Breen, Tiffany Pollack, Megan Harris Brunious and Whitney Alouisious. It is his sophomore effort, released on Dean Zucchero’s label Pugnaceous Records and recorded at RiverShack Studios, and is preceded by one 7 song EP, Biting Through, released in late 2019 under name Old Riley and the Water.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Seanrileyandthewater.com

@Seanrileymusic on IG

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Adam Pearce

From the outside looking in, one would not have guessed Adam Pearce would be the musician he is today. No one is his family played an instrument. His parents weren’t what he regards as music fanatics. And in high school, he spent his free time playing sports. Yet at eighteen, he found himself in the Silver Dollar Pawn and Jewelry store picking out a guitar. You may recognize that name, as it was the centerpiece of a show on television called Cajun Pawn Stars. With graduation on the horizon, he realized most people didn’t wear their class rings in the years following and figured he would get more use out of an instrument. So, his father agreed to let him get a guitar in leu of the momento. Two-hundred dollars landed him a pretty little thing off the wall, and away he went. He would attend the Alexandria branch of LSU for the next year and a half. And any spare time he came across was spent on that guitar. He picked up pointers from his father’s friend, his brother-in-law, and Youtube. He began writing almost immediately, assembling four of the five chords he knew to perform a song for his family. Seeing them impressed with what he composed fueled his newfound passion. And that guitar would accompany him on his move to LSU campus in Baton Rouge.

Though music was always at the forefront of his mind, he realized it would probably never pay the bills. So, college was just his way of going through the motions to secure some sort of future. Ironically, campus life provided him with the members he needed to form his first band, Black Magnolia. They scored their first gig at a bar called Bogies, frequented by fraternity and sorority members. And the band did well, performing around town often. With performances under their belt and a solid group of songs, the logical next step was to put out an album. Painting a typical picture, life rendered a passionate musician with small funds and big dreams. Paying for studio time was out of the question. So, he found a house for rent with a garage, obtaining permission from the owners to craft a studio in that garage. This process took roughly two years to complete from beginning construction to completing his album, “Fields Are Burning”. But this course was anything but smooth. At some point, he walked away from his job specifically to pursue a career in music. There was also a falling out between band members during the span of time following construction and preceding recording. He would be left with himself and his bass player. What little money he did have was reserved for an audio engineer. This meant he had a deadline to meet. The week before the album was due, he counted eight ulcers in his mouth. No doubt this was stress related. He scheduled a release party at the House of Blues in New Orleans which was supposed to coincide with his completed product. Though the album was completed, the physical CDs had not been pressed in time. So, he spent countless hours burning copies in the days leading up to the show. He stamped them all with the words, “redeemable later for a real album”. When people showed up to subsequent shows and presented that copy, he gave them a real CD free.

The following year held some big changes for Adam. He got married and moved from Baton Rouge to Jefferson, Louisiana. Within him lied an undercurrent of fear, seeded by a sense of urgency. He shuddered to think of what he might become. In his mind flashed the stereotypical musician, falling short of making ends meet and allowing his wife to support him. So, being both driven and tech savvy, he began to beat the internet down searching for gigs. Adam will tell you, even though he was realistic with his expectations, and even though he took a calculated approach, it was a lot harder than he expected. “Like pulling teeth” were the words he chose to describe the experience. He figured out early on that if he pitched himself as a solo acoustic performer, he could get more gigs. This dispensed with the scheduling issues common to bands with several members, as well as having to divvy up what little money venues paid. It also allowed him to perform smaller spots on weekdays, leaving his weekends open for larger venues. “My first gig that I got after I moved here. I was pumped about it. And they offered some BS bar ring deal; like twenty percent of the bar ring or whatever. Those are almost always BS deals. I don’t take that anymore. And I went and played three and a half hours, and I made twenty bucks. And I’m pretty sure I had a bar tab too, that I had to pay for.” Still, he persisted in blowing up the phone and devised an ingenious method on Google Maps for keeping things organized. “I would zoom out and I would have all these bars, little pins. And I would mark them red, black, green, or yellow. So, red would mean that was something open. I never even messed with it. Green was a gig that I had. It was like that’s a solid gig. And you could click on the little dot and put notes. So, it’s like, Rivershack Tavern, I got that gig. Here’s the contact, follow up with them to book a gig every once in a while. If I labeled it black, that was a dead-end gig. Like, it’s not gonna happen. I’m never gonna play there or the bar is closed. Yellow were all my (prospective) gigs. So, it’s like call back on Thursday between ten and twelve and speak to Rob or something. Most of my pins were yellow. So, I would get on there a few times a week… ok, I need to convert ten yellows to either green or black.” The visual element was something he enjoyed, and it helped to lend perspective in his efforts, offering focus. It also quickly shed light on what areas he needed to increase his presence and the areas in which he approached saturation. 

Upon reflection, these things were apparent to me. First, college was and will always be a transient location. Some people maintain contact in the years following. But many go their separate ways. And this would probably happen regardless of any falling out he had with bandmates. Two, in speaking with Adam, I picked up on the fact that his level of dedication during the Black Magnolia era was unmatched. There was more to the story mentioned in the podcast interview that you can seek out below. But to think that he would’ve remained content with that arrangement for any amount of time is unlikely. Holding others to one’s own standard is a recipe for disaster. And he concedes that this happens with most bands. Burnout is compounded when you bear the brunt of this. But serendipity would step in when he received an email inviting him to try out for a popular television show, The Voice. He realized that people drive cross-country for an opportunity like this. And these tryouts were happening eight minutes from his house. So, he gave it a shot. Adam explains, “We’re in a room, like, the waiting room before you can go in and audition. So, we can hear everybody ahead of us auditioning. They get, like, ten seconds of singing and they go (clapping) ‘thank you for coming, bye’! They’re just cutting people. So, everybody in the waiting room is hearing everybody get axed… They know immediately if they’re not going to make it. So, that’s a little nerve wracking. You’re just hearing everybody get butchered.” Pushing his nervousness aside, he walked into a room with one person, a camera, and a square on the floor. He didn’t have a strap for his acoustic that day, but he spotted a stool in the corner and grabbed it fast. He belted out “Whole Lotta Love” by Led Zeppelin. At two minutes in, he was cognizant of the fact that they were still listening. He would be asked to play a second song, and then a third. Ultimately, he received a call-back and was flown to Los Angeles to audition in front of the executive producers.

After making it past these hurdles, Adam appeared on Season 12 of The Voice, performing in front of a live audience and judges That year was Adam Levine, Gwen Stefani, Alesha Keys & Blake Shelton. He didn’t get a chair turn. He cites being given “A Whiter Shade of Pale”, by Procol Harum, as one unfortunate circumstance that contributed to his demise and points out people don’t realize the contestants can’t choose their own song. He affirmed, “I was super pissed-off. If you go back and find that (footage), you can see it in my face. They were like, talking to me and giving me advice. And I just remember thinking y’all can all shut the hell up. I’m ready to just walk off this stage. Gwen Stefani is talking to me like, being all supportive. And I just wanted to be like, shut up. I was so angry, just like seeing red.” But that marked the end of the road for him. And, in case you’re wondering, I did ask, and he did say what stopped him from telling all of them to kiss his ass was the fact that seventeen million people were watching. He had to keep it together. Adam Levine was giving him advice. Carson Daily was all over him. All the while, he was just looking for the way out.

In a rare occurrence, he was one of three invited back the following season. And he was the only one to make it onto the show. This time he was given “Hot Blooded” by Foreigner, a much better match for his style. He made it four rounds into the show, landing him in the top twenty, but ultimately did not win overall. For him though, the whole experience was a victory. Bringing a silver lining to the picture, Adam said “I got a ton of publicity. All of my performances were at the end of the episode. And they built them up, showing little clips. And I never got montaged. So, some people that made it further than me in the show got less air-time than me because their performances got montaged.” He stressed what a great time he had, enjoying five full-length performances that aired internationally. He laughed when he admitted he snuck whiskey backstage, sipping after he got cut. He made it known to producers announcing, “I just wanna let y’all know I snuck whiskey back here. What are y’all gonna do, kick me off the show?” They directed contestants that didn’t make the cut to sit before a psychologist, then sent them on their way. He could see the importance of such a practice, being that for so many, this is THE make-or-break moment in their minds. Immediately following, Adam Levine invited Adam to perform with him for George Clooney’s Halloween party. He got to dress up in costume and sang with the celebrity. Sammy Hagar sang a song with him too and would later stick around to get drunk with Adam. His description of these experiences was priceless, and I do hope you tune into the podcast. Because no one can describe those moments like he did. I could not stop laughing!

After appearing on The Voice, the television show America’s Got Talent showed interest. And he got offers from the show I Can See Your Voice. But Covid effectively cancelled those opportunities. The show Don’t forget The Lyrics has also come calling. It appears as though he’s now in some pool of talent for TV appearances. In a strategic move, Adam dropped the Black Magnolia moniker directly following all of this, opting to seize notoriety by performing under his own name. And he launched a Kick Starter, raising twenty-three thousand dollars to fund his next album, Warbird. Overall, his attitude toward all of this has remained realistic and healthy. He recognizes those appearances as giant ads for his brand. Aside from his solo project, he plays in Mothership, a Led Zeppelin tribute band, four to five times a year. He puts out original music every few months and maintains a Youtube channel where he posts weekly.

In the weeks leading up to this interview, I took a poll asking followers on social media who they would like to see get interviewed. There were over one-hundred and fifty respondents; several of which named Adam Pearce. One in particular, Paula Belmont, stood out. After only a few days of having suggested Adam (and while the poll was still running), she asked “So, are you going to interview Adam or what?” The words on my screen made me want to retort with a “look lady…”. But I explained the polling and interviewing process and made clear my intention. She never left my mind. And when I finally did interview Adam, I mentioned the lady whose name escaped me at the time, describing our interaction. Adam instantly chimed in “Paula Belmont!” He went on to explain that she could best be described as a ‘super fan’ of his. I made it a point to message her when his podcast interview aired. Surprisingly, I did not hear from her. I later learned through a family member that she had passed away. So, I’d like to dedicate this article to Ms. Paula Belmont. My heart goes out to her family.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Adampearcemusic.com  

Youtube.com/adampearcemusic

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Kirk Windstein

There is something to be said about the trials of those of us on the fringe, and the use of extreme music in our expression of these trials. Society at large would have everyone believe we are of some agnostic heresy, whereby all roads do not, cannot, lead to Rome. That somehow, we are not due the benefaction of such luxury and comfort. The way I see it, two options of recourse exist. One being to scale back, to tone down the saturation of color that fills the sounds we hear. The other is to simply own it. And not just own it but dissect it publicly, in an effort to turn everyone’s eyes and ears in its direction. So, beyond the electric, the notes hang low and long. Cymbals crash and voices howl proclaiming pain and love, and dreamlike images are draped amongst our ears. It is almost as if we bathe in the blood to not only savor the life, but to assure the nay-sayers observe its rich color upon our flesh. We dispense with the fear and angst because condemnation is no longer looming; it is here. It is now. And from this moment, it will use public denunciation to shape its being. Kirk Windstein lives here. His lyrical style reads like a voice that beckons from some semi-lucid dream state. Though it may coerce your mind toward the destructive pain, you cannot ignore the armorous scab created in its wake. “Sorrow grows. Life it dies. Strength within. Fuels my cries. Shattered hope. Born again. Will to live. Need to win.” (Obedience Thru Suffering). In days of old where augurs interpreted the will of gods, Kirk’s present-day lyricism presents itself as those of an oracle. His reflective counsel and wise words are electrified through stacks of speakers. He takes the time to execute his intent with each riff, dwelling within it to deliver a groveling message. Because to him, “heavy” isn’t necessarily defined by the instrument, or even the way it is played. It’s more the emotions evoked through his words.

Born in Middlesex, England in 1965, Kirk moved with his parents to Texas for a year before settling on Steamboat Ln. in River Ridge, Louisiana. His father had just completed his time in the U.S. Airforce and was delivering milk for his father in a milk distribution business. From the East Bank to the West Bank, Kirk’s summer ride-alongs would fill his ears with The Rolling Stones, The Who, and other classic rock stars. Popping out of his room on occasion during his parents’ cocktail parties yielded much of the same. He still remembers hearing those Rod Stuart and Bee Gee’s 45’s spinning. Coming into his own, he would cut grass and wash dishes to score the latest albums. “When I got my allowance every Friday, I’d get on my bike and ride from my house on Steamboat Ln. over to Barker’s Department Store. And I remember… an album with tax was $4.53. And I remember, I’d just got into Kiss. I saw Kiss Alive II, which was a double album. So, it was like maybe $6.99 plus tax. And I only had five bucks. So, I literally… I remember it vividly. I took the record, and I put it in the children’s music section. They only had one copy of Kiss Alive II… I hauled ass home on my bike and robbed, my sister knows, I robbed her piggy bank. And I had a pocket full of quarters or whatever. And I had my five bucks. And I went up and it was seven something for Kiss Alive. That started it all. From then on it was like, that was the thing, the bell, the epiphany… And it’s like, this is what I want to do.”

Kirk channeled this doggedness wholeheartedly into rock and roll. In the coming years, he would structure his pursuit in much the same fashion as the rest of his life; persistence, practice, organization, and perseverance. He would do so with an Epiphone Acoustic his parents bought him when he was twelve. That same persistence demonstrated enough merit for them to buy him a black Les Paul Custom on Christmas of 1978, courtesy of his dad’s cousin using an employee discount from Norland Music. For a while, Kirk attempted to learn the way many of us have, drinking in chords and pentatonic scales from his friend Ted Usie, and being introduced to theory from an instructor by the name of John Freeze. But beginning theory meant playing simple standards and Kirk was fiending for that rock and roll sound. While he never did put the guitar down, he bailed on lessons in just a few months. There were a couple of things that stood out in his mind during this time. He read somewhere that Eddie Van Halen had a back and forth with a high school teacher about what worked sonically and what didn’t. Eddie was classically trained in piano and still found moments to think outside the box. Classmates would affirm his suspicions that things could be unorthodox and still create a space in life. Kirk never forgot this. And one night back in ‘84, while trying to master a shredding piece from some famous musician, his father addressed Kirk’s frustration with words of wisdom. Kirk recounted his father’s advice, “Son, great musicians are a dime a dozen. There’s one on every street corner in New York. There’s one on every street corner in L.A. There’s one on every street corner in New Orleans looking for work. Great songwriters are few and far between. Why don’t you concentrate on writing music and quit worrying about how many notes you can play.” He carries these words with him to this day, along with that Les Paul Custom. And, to this day, if he’s holding a guitar, he’s either writing, rehearsing, or playing a gig.

The coming years included a commitment within him and a regimen of work and band practice. Weekdays following work at D.H. Holmes warehouse, from five until eight or nine, Kirk, Todd Strange, Sid Montz, and Danny Theriot would get together and practice in his parents’ garage. For just under two years, this was the routine. And he’s earmarked this time as one where he advanced the most. Not too long after, Kirk began hanging out with Mike Hatch. Mike brought Kirk to his first punk show when Black Flag played the Dream Palace in the French Quarter. This was at a time when the punk scene and the metal scene were veritable enemies of each other. This helped open Kirk’s eyes to a new scene. And being a staunch rejector of cover music, this was probably what prompted Kirk to eventually quit playing covers in ‘87. One day he got a call from Mike. He was making a move to San Fransisco, near his younger brother Greg, with Jimmy Bower and Mike Savoy. They all had second thoughts and were calling Kirk from a rest stop in Arizona to see if he would like to join their band, Shellshock. This came at a time when Kirk felt like he’d hit a wall creatively. For Kirk, this marked both a foray into a new genre and the first time he would meet Jimmy Bower (Eyehategod, Down, Crowbar, Superjoint Ritual, etc).

Following the death of Mike Hatch in ’88, Aftershock would be born. Short-lived, the remnants would go on to form the Slugs. Kirk and Jimmy would be reunited at this point, with Jimmy once again playing drums in this project. Jimmy was a key component in Kirk’s quest to curate sonics unlike any other because he always had a more punk sound. His influence paired well with Kirk’s stepping outside his own realm with Mike. We are all sponges moving throughout life. Fluids seep into us from our surroundings over the years. The things that drip out the bottom are all our own; an amalgamation of these influences forming a unique mixture. Jimmy would stick around for about a year, long enough to record a Slugs demo, before leaving for Atlanta to help family. He had made his mark with Kirk though, helping to form what was to become Crowbar. And Kirk will say he still tunes to B because of he and Jimmy’s love for Carnivore’s album, Retaliation. Kirk would continue to surround himself with talented people who were also pursuing this underground vein. He would also side-step a near complete band break up when an interested indie label, Pavement Music, called with interests of publishing an album with him. This would begin a five-year relationship between he and Pavement Music, and mark the assemblance of Obedience Thru Suffering, Kirk’s first release under label. The immediate future of what was to become Crowbar unfolded in rapid succession. Kirk explains here, “I knew how good of a drummer Craig (Nunemacher) was, so we went to go talk to him; me and Todd (Strange). And Kevin Noonan who is an amazing guitar player, who had played in the Slugs on and off, and played with me in Victorian Blitz for a while, was playing in the band that Craig was playing in. It might have been the Moon Crickets. So, we talked to Craig a little bit. I said you know what, as much as I’m into the Melvins and Sabbath and all that, I’m totally into Thin Lizzy and Trouble; bands that just have amazing two guitar harmony stuff. So, we went to try and get Craig and ended up with Craig and Kevin. Which really was a great blessing in disguise because it turned Crowbar into a harmony guitar driven band.”

Whether it be in his opinion or your own, he has resided in an atmosphere of heavy, underground music ever since. For both lyrics and sound, he sometimes writes “by the seat of his pants”. He may show up to the studio with one or two good riffs. And the rest comes in real time. Under these conditions, his lack of theory has become an advantage. Though it has come to mind on more than one occasion (and for more than one project), pandering to the satisfaction of a crowd hasn’t broken his stride because he remains in the realm of the underground. Innovation is a mainstay there, as are Kirk’s motives, regardless of audience reception. A prime example of all of this would be an unreleased track on one of his projects, EyeAm (working song title, Etta James). He had filmed himself that morning working out a riff on guitar. Kirk recalls, “Kenny (Hickey) had this little thing and I had this riff that was kind of Hendrixy to me. We kind of put them together. It’s kind of like, you know, we’re still developing our sound but that’s bringing in a new element to me. It’s a classic 70’s… could be a Robin Trowerish or bluesy Zeppelin Tea For One thing. There’s no rules, and there’s really no ending to anything.” That last sentence might as well become Kirk’s mantra. He is currently active in Crowbar, Down, Kingdom of Sorrow, his solo project, and now, EyeAm.

Employing things like remote studio sessions from contributors and setting time aside in blocks for each project keeps this manageable. Right now, he’s in EyeAm world. He will be in Crowbar’s world come the first of the year. Down will be starting back up soon too, writing and recording new material. And his second solo effort has been wrapped since the summer of last year. At this point, and with so many projects actively producing, it becomes a question of strategy when it comes to release time. But it simply must remain this way in order for him to be happy. It puts him where he wants to be found, in the studio. For the socialite, being in public is what makes them tick. But for the creative, society does not nourish them. The creative prefers to be found in places conducive to creation. With this, his methods fortify his direction. It’s really no different than when he was a child working for money and riding his bike miles to get an album. Or when he was just out of high school committing to twenty hours of practice despite a forty-hour work week. One constant remains certain, that he has and will continue to make an indelible mark on Louisiana’s music scene, and do so as our ambassador to the heavy metal world.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Categories
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Taylor Nauta

As children, we’ve all experienced one family member that seemed to have more of an impact on us that the rest. Their words, habits, or tendencies are something we still carry with us to this day. For Taylor Nauta, that person was his grandfather. With his dad at work most of the time and his mother having fallen ill, the two spent much time together. Though their generational gap spanned some fifty-eight years, they connected through music. Taylor’s grandfather was a country music fan and shared this passion with Taylor. The needle would drop onto a record, heavy knobs were turned on a vintage Sony stack unit, and the eyes of a child grew wide. Twangy melodies and rustic notions emanated from wood cabinet speakers, filling Taylor with the tenets of those like Merle Haggart, Johnny Cash, Roger Miller, and Waylon Jennings. These were voices that predated Taylor’s very existence; each with a style all their own. In speaking with Taylor about these moments, I could tell they posed more than a simple child-like fascination. Whether either of them realized it or not, his grandfather instilled in Taylor what became a deep-seeded respect for history and a value in sentiment. Those indoctrinated with this are the ones who dissuade future generations from diluting keystones like societal mores and cultural traditions.

Taylor first picked up a guitar at the age of seven under the direction of his grandfather, who also played. Those vinyl sessions began to take new meaning, as Taylor tried to decipher audio that passed through aged tweed. By fourteen, Taylor was playing constantly and even writing his own songs. But he had gotten all he could out of the guitar he was given. The strings sat far off the neck, making it a challenge to both play and keep in tune. One night, he played a song for his father and grandfather that really impressed them both. It was a Chet Adkins styled piece where he plucked an alternating bassline with his thumb while simultaneously playing the melody with his fingers. As he sang along in a Jimmy Rodgers yodeling manner, both realized that he had become something greater than expected. Soon, they would pitch in and buy him his first really nice guitar, a Takamine F-349. That solid wood top and high-quality tone wood so inspired him to keep learning and growing as a musician. It comes as no surprise that by the age of fifteen, you could find him at school playing tunes like Cannonball Rag, a Merle Travis record from 1952. And you could find the girls passing him by to listen to the emo musician down the hall. After noticing this, Taylor chose country radio stations of the time over his grandfather’s records when searching for inspiration. Moving forward, he would come to realize that material born out of the early 90’s was far superior to the pop style country that would come from the early 2000’s. He stated, “The guitar solos and cool intros were common in 90’s country. And now they’ve just about gutted that stuff out. If there’s a guitar solo at all in today’s country, it’s short; real short, like a lick or two and you’re out of it.” Though he explored his sonic surroundings to sample what was out there, he remained true to his roots when it came to musicianship. He considers himself lucky to have experienced both the solid foundation of his predecessors and the remarkable creativity that was characteristic of early 90’s country music. He shudders to think what he might have become if he grew up during the era of pop infusion.

They say hindsight is 20/20, but at this point Taylor was just a kid trying to find his way. We all can recall moments in our lives when perhaps we didn’t know which way to go. He had an idea of where he wanted to end up. He wanted to sing and play guitar like the stars he’d seen as a child on The Grand Old Opry. Likewise, he knew the caliber of musician he wanted to be but may not have known what things landed him below that mark. At one point, he had the benefit of a few months with an instructor. This taught him things like basic theory and the concepts of scales and modes. Although short lived, this helped him immensely. As he was able to recognize when guitarists articulated pentatonic, major scale and arpeggio methods in songs. At seventeen, he was invited to the studio of James Marsden, a man whom, among other things, held several credits for Disney song production. Taylor was able to perform a few songs for James and hear his thoughts. James expressed reassurances, but pointed out that there was room for improvement. He told Taylor to listen to songs by Rascal Flats or Clint Black and ask himself what gives those artists their signature style. Then try writing songs in the vein of those artists; songs that Taylor thought would be performed by those artists. He also suggested Taylor purchase a metronome or drum machine because he found Taylor to be playing along more with his voice than the rhythm signature. Taylor went out and bought a Digitech FX pedal that came with drum loops. Following James’ advice tidied up his right hand quite a bit, cementing this gift in his mind.

The following year in 2006, he moved from his hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana to Nashville to pursue his dreams. He arrived with his acoustic Takamine F-349, a Telecaster, and a duffle bag. He would be living in Franklin, a suburb just south of Nashville, in an apartment with Vickie, a church acquaintance of his aunt.  He had thirty days to find a job and start paying rent. One day, he was at the mall and saw a sign with a job opportunity for a karate instructor. He had taken years of Tang Soo Do as a child, but the sign was for Tae Kwon Do. Still, he sold himself stating that both were Korean martial art styles and was given a job as an instructor at the Yong In Martial Arts Academy. With his financial piece being solved, he began to put together more of the puzzle. Taylor frequented the local clubs and bars to get a taste for what was out there. He spent countless nights waiting in line to perform at writer’s rounds. Very quickly, he realized how small of a fish he had become in such a big pool of talent. But his thirst for success could not be depleted. When not roaming the entertainment district, he would practice in a loft above the gym at Vickie’s apartment complex. One of those evenings, a man poked his head up to talk to Taylor. He complimented Taylor on his music and, handing him a business card, asked if he would come play some songs for him at his place. The stranger turned out to be Walt Aldridge, a member of The Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame and The Alabama Music Hall of Fame. His repertoire included hits for Travis Tritt, Conway Twitty, Tim McGraw, Reba McEntire, Ronnie Milsap, and Barbara Mandrel (And I’m only scratching the surface here).

The night Taylor went to Walt’s place, Walt handed an old Gibson to him and asked what he thought of it. Though it looked a bit old and worn, Walt explained that the guitar used to belong to Johnny Cash. Taylor was frozen, taking notice of how the buttons on his shirt were touching this holy grail of instruments. After playing a few of his tunes, Walt imparted some insight to Taylor. He told Taylor that he thought his songs were good but admitted he hadn’t heard a hit. He felt Taylor needed to trim the fat. “Genius is when big implications are expressed with fewer words”, he said. Walt critiqued each one of Tayor’s songs individually. He would send Taylor off with homework assignments, directing him to write songs meant for certain artists and critique those as well. With his work cut out for him musically, Taylor was able to inch forward occupationally when Vickie tapped on a church acquaintance to land him a job at Gibson Guitars. His pay jumped from $8 to $12 an hour, which was decent money back in 2006. While there, he befriended an ex-marine by the name of Brian James. Brian was a bit older than Taylor, had nice gear, and had an overall cool image. He played in a rock band in the Marine Corps and had experience playing in a touring band before coming to Gibson. Taylor looked up to him. One day Taylor asked him how he could learn to play like Brian. The first thing Brian wanted to know was who Taylor was listening to. When Taylor started naming named like Merle Haggard and Chris Ledoux, Brian began to shake his head and replied, “No, man, you’re never going to become a great player listening to that stuff. Here’s what you need to listen to.” Brian turned Taylor on to musicians like Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shephard, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Albert King, and Buddy Guy. The world of blues-rock was an influence Taylor hadn’t considered before. He crawled through the works of these artists and, by the time he watched Eric Clapton’s Crossroads DVD, he was hooked. He even went out and bought a Stratocaster because he loved the blues sound so much.

Technically speaking, the blues were more attainable to Taylor. The licks weren’t as involved as what he had been playing. Taking in the big picture, I’d say it was just what he needed to push himself further at that time. If you recall, James Marsden recommended he pay more attention to his timing, urging him to get a metronome or a drum machine. And with a groove music like blues, timing is everything. With some hard work, the time he spent with Brian would enable him to improve his repertoire. And with all of the work he put in at Gibson, he was able to move out of Vickie’s apartment and get a place of his own. Things were looking up. But so far, the only exposure he had to performing in front of crowds was at writer’s rounds with his acoustic. A local musician by the name of Dustin Wilkes was performing one night at Tootsie’s Organ Lounge, a place Taylor frequented. The guitarist, Brad Wolf, was someone he followed and respected. Taylor would often hit the guy with a barrage of questions about his gear and his technique. So, it was easy for Brad to surmise that Taylor was an aspiring musician. One night Brad needed a cigarette break. He looked at Taylor, pointed to his guitar, then pointed to him with a quizzical look on his face. Taylor eagerly responded. This would mark the first time a teenaged Taylor was in front of a crowd, with a band, and with an electric guitar. The band started running through songs to see which ones he knew and could play. They arrived at something he was ready to play, “Right Where I need to Be”, by Gary Allen. They followed with “Folsom Prison Blues”, by Johnny Cash and “Can’t You See”, by The Marshall Tucker Band. He was able to sing that night as well. And to top it all off, he got the nod from Dustin Wilkes. Dustin performed on the famed tv show, The Nashville Star. So, his approval meant a lot to Taylor. It also meant scoring his own gig at Tootsie’s, which would, in turn, lead to others.

Taylor was able to form a band, playing bars, parties, and casinos all over town. He would also eventually meet a girl and fall in love. She happened to be the grand daughter of Merle Kilgore, who co-wrote Burning Ring of Fire, managed Hank Williams Jr., and was the president of the Country Music Awards. The two married and had children. But as Taylor put it, “she was too generous with her affections” and the two would divorce. He reached a point where he needed to put some miles between himself and how flawed his personal circumstances had become. It was time for him to leave Nashville. His musical identity had taken a long time to figure out. Comparing and contrasting while in the eyes of a crowd accelerated this process for him while there. So, his time in Nashville was invaluable. Brian James, his co-worker at Gibson, was what he considers to be one of the pivotal moments in his life. I’d say his meetings with James Marsden and Walt Aldridge had meaningful impacts as well. The two echoed the importance of timing and overall song arrangement. The fact that Walt chose to invest time in him was perhaps something he hadn’t considered during that moment. The man’s background towered over Taylor and nervousness was more prevalent. But during these experiences, a young kid was learning and growing, and shoring up his ego bit by bit. Today, with three singles, two albums, and countless hours performing for crowds under his belt, Taylor still remains astute. His diversity and experiences have enabled him to play throughout the gulf south, Tennessee, Kentucky, the Midwest, up and down the west coast, and Canada. And he continues to stand as a creative force in our music community. In March of 2022, he released his debut album, “Walk of Shame Hall of Fame”. They were followed that same year by two singles, “Shittin’ on Company Time” and “Shrimp Boots”. Then, in January of 2023, he released another single titled “Fuck Everything”. And he followed that with a second album in December titled, “Weather the Storm”.  A flood in 2016 spelled the end for that first real guitar his father and grandfather chipped in to buy him. But his wife had it painted, and it now hangs on his wall. This, along with the words and melodies of Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash, Hank Thompson, and other names of old are some of the things that Taylor carries with him to this day. Instilled within him is a deep appreciation for the family and the music from whence he came. And you can hear it in his music today. The solos still ring true, the origins are carried forth, and his spin on those traditions are what he brings to the table. He is the genuine article. 

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

www.taylornautamusic.com

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Music Distribution Wormhole

For most of us, the first thought that comes to mind when someone mentions streaming music is the majors: Spotify, Apple Music, and Amazon Music. But what about Youtube Music? And have you heard of Tencent? I suggest you find out because, at over thirteen percent of the market share, Tencent rivals Apple and Amazon. We’re going to discuss all these things. We’ll hear from bands speaking on how they get featured on playlists and talk with a playlist curator as well. Amidst this smorgasbord of music circulation, you will also see sprinklings of Bandcamp. All of these things are intertwined, trust me.

This article began with the discovery of a compilation that featured metal musicians from Louisiana. With forty bands totaling a nearly four-hour long album, I was happy to soak in every riff on my long drive to Houston. Somewhere along the line, I started to recognize some of the tracks as being from bands that are members of my free networking website, Neworleansmusicians.com. Brethren Hogg, Vermillion Whiskey, Pious, Electric Age, 4Mag Nitrous, and Totem are all current site members and were amongst the bands featured. I could not have been more elated! I wanted to know more about Weedian and how my members were able to get on this list.

As it turns out, Weedian is on Spotify, Youtube, and Bandcamp. Their Youtube channel enjoys over thirty-five thousand subscribers and has published nearly fifteen-hundred videos. On Bandcamp, where you’ll find all of their compilations, their work really gets to shine, complete with descriptions and unique album art. In January of 2019, they published their first, titling it simply “Volume 1”. According to a person only known as “The one and only Weedian” (who I would later find out is Walid Ajraoui), “Weedian was started because I love music and most especially underground music. I wanted a way to be able to find and share cool bands with people who had the same taste in music that I do. So, after a lot of thinking and some talking, I’ve decided to make a compilation of songs from some of my favorite bands, and Blues Funeral Recordings was cool enough to partner up with me to help bring it to you. This will be the first volume in the Weedian comp. series. I chose these bands because these are who I’ve been digging a lot lately. Although it’s pretty heavily tilted towards doom, there are some stoner and other styles of bands in there. I hope that you enjoy the music and the sick artwork by Brouemaster who has been churning out some incredible stuff lately.”

They would go onto publish fifty-eight of these compilations. Barring Roman numerals I through IV, two Halloween volumes and two 420 volumes, the remaining have been centered around states in the U.S. and places all over the world like New Zealand, Denmark, Argentina, and Portugal. They’ve used Instagram to commission the bulk of their cover artwork. In January of 2024, Weedian’s “Trip to Louisiana” compilation came into existence. Mike Dawsey from the band Pious said, “I’m not 100% sure how they originally found us. JJ at Obelisk, Rob Hammer, and George Kellamis (aka Mrdoom666) were sharing some of our stuff. Both were working with Doom Charts. We randomly got a request for submission for the charts from the guy at Weedian. Nothing came of it and we didn’t hear anything for a while. Out of the blue he hit us up asking if we wanted to do the trip compilation.” While there wasn’t any compensation reaped as a result of their feature, they did see positive results. Their band name started popping up in online tags, and fans began messaging them about where Pious was showing up. Mike went on to say, “Since that (compilation) came out, multiple people have rearranged it for their own versions and a few online and on-air stations have put it in their programs.  Mostly in Europe, but they still appreciate most forms of metal over there. So far, the UK, Germany, and Russia seem to be the most responsive.”

I spoke with another Neworleansmusicians.com member that was also featured in the Louisiana compilation, Brethren Hogg. This time, the band’s inclusion was an intentional result of networking online. Chris Posner had this to say, “When we release an album, we have a list of Youtube content creators that we hit up for reposting. We look for people/groups that have more than 10k followers for maximum exposure, but we’ve also been approached by smaller creators asking permission to post, which I usually give 99.99% of the time. I hadn’t heard of Weedian when released our first record, but when the second one dropped, a friend of our drummer clued us in. I emailed them (I guess it’s more than one person???) and once they listened to the record, they reposted. About a year and half later they messaged me saying they were putting together “Trip to Louisiana”, and asked if we were interested, and which track would we wanted featured. We’ve seen a decent bump on both Spotify and Bandcamp in the last month. Not as much as if we had a new release, but new listeners are definitely being reached. To be frank, we were honored and surprised to be a part of this because there so many other great metal acts down here, they could easily put out a Volume 2. Weedian’s a bit mysterious…I don’t who they are and I’m pretty sure they’re located in Asia, but God bless ‘em for the work they do.”

With a shared ecosystem already established between Youtube and Bandcamp at this point, I reached out to a guy Mike Dawsey (Pious) mentioned earlier, Rob Hammer. In the past, Rob had put out a ten-track stoner/doom/sludge/psych compilation as part of a joint venture with Off The Record Label. 750 CDs were pressed with 50 going to each band featured. But his mainstay is his Youtube channel, @Rob.DOOM.Hammer. Approaching thirty-thousand subscribers, he’s a prime example of what bands like Brethren Hogg are using to push their music online. He described himself as a European mainlander that spreads and promotes doom, stoner, and sludge metal as a hobby. He follows over twelve-thousand bands on Bandcamp, finding music to post on his channel. He also finds them via his Facebook page and through bands that contact him directly. Like Rob, there are many people curating playlists on Youtube and it will be up to the bands to hunt them down and amass their own lists. But the main takeaway is that these people are fans at heart. They’re not some huge record label with layers upon layers obscuring a stubborn front door. I found Rob to be extremely approachable with a genuine interest in spreading the kind of music he loves. From the perspective of a consumer, these curated channels are a great way to learn about bands you might not have heard before. I like to run through these gems on my phone while I have my favorite streaming platform open. When I hear something I like, I swap over and save the song to my streaming platform playlist. From the perspective of a musician, this is a D.I.Y. method worth perpetuating. If gaining fans and song plays is the goal on streaming platforms, then getting your music on playlists, no matter the platform, should be your first consideration.

There is one last thing I’d like to touch on concerning Youtube. I’m sure you are all aware that Youtube and Youtube Music are two separate online destinations. For bands, the former would serve you in the form of a regular Youtube channel created with the selected type “musician”. The latter refers to a music streaming service with an interface that operates like Spotify and others and is driven by Youtube’s infrastructure. There’s plenty of information already out there about this. So, I won’t get into all of that. You can investigate the differences and what that means for your band’s work. As far as the user experience, I would like you to consider a few tidbits. Having a Youtube channel allows musicians to connect with fans on a more personal level. They can see things like your music writing process, impromptu jam sessions, footage from shows, and an overall look into your life as a musician. Youtube Music has its pro’s as well. It offers a higher bandwidth than the normal Youtube app on mobile, allowing lossless quality (up to 256 kbps AAC audio) for the user. And they can also lock their phone while listening on this subscription-based app. Their music platform audience recently reached 100 million subscribers, making this means of distribution worth pondering.

Last, but definitely not least, is Tencent. Tencent Music Entertainment Group is the dominant online music entertainment platform in China. For musicians looking to publish their music in China, know that this company consists of three music streaming apps: QQ Music, Kugou Music, and Kuwo Music. While perhaps not on the radar in America, Tencent is bigger than you may realize. They own a stake in Spotify, own a music label with Sony (Liquid State), and they have 594 million listeners as of the third quarter of 2023. Although it is not a must, you may want to consider a distribution platform to assist you in publishing on Tencent. Because, while Google has a site translator to overcome the fact that their site is in Chinese. It is said that the instructions walking you through the process can be a bit confusing due to the gap in translation. Sugomusic.com is one of the services out there that, among the more familiar platforms like Spotify, Apple, Youtube, etc., includes Tencent amongst a distribution plan that boasts 200 streaming and download platforms. There are costs associated with this down the line. But set up and submissions are free. They are the oldest distributor in digital music. And case studies are available online showing organic traffic, keyword rankings, and sales increases considerably when using their platform. Amuse.io is another available distribution platform. They offer a three-tiered membership with the entry level being free. Using Amuse, you are able to select from a variety of music streaming services, including majors like Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play to complete the process of getting your music on Tencent’s various streaming platforms. There are many out there that can accommodate you when trying to get your music both overseas and in the U.S. This would be another instance where you will have to do your own research to find what suits you (and your budget) best.

Streams, no matter the platform, help grow your audience at shows and make them more receptive to your social postings. They can also show merit in the eyes of concert and festival talent buyers, record labels, and other bean counters in the industry. Likewise, the number of places your music can be found can serve to polish your image. Because of the data that sometimes accompanies your streaming numbers (think dashboard where you publish), streaming platforms can also help a band book shows where an audience is most receptive to their music. So, having more of these in your corner can only serve to make your next move more impactful. I know this is all a lot to take in. But I hope that I have helped to open your eyes to the importance of these options and what they could mean for your music career.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Categories
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Silver Dose

Growing up in Santo Andre, a city in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Gustavo Andrade would see a vendor near his school selling CDs from a cart on the street. Although within eyesight, it wasn’t on his walk home and at twelve, he dared not stray from his assigned path. But a budding curiosity and growing enthusiasm for music seeded a plan in his mind. He would skip lunches, saving up his lunch money, run down the street to the vendor, and score a CD unbeknownst to his parents or teachers. The album he chose from the cart was a bootleg of Nirvana’s “Nevermind”. He had heard about Nirvana from kids in the schoolyard when their older siblings put them onto the sound. His older sister had a collection of more rock, showcasing the crunchy guitars and chaotic drums in which he was interested. But he now had something of his own that he could study. At this time in his life, he only heard English being spoken in movies. He could not speak it, nor could he fully understand what was being said. But as a tattoo can appeal to someone not knowing its meaning, the sonic design was something he was drawn to naturally. And though he would beg his parents for a guitar, he didn’t understand that these guys were plugging into electrified amplifiers and using effects pedals to get that sound. He didn’t have a radio and Nirvana wasn’t on the public access stations on his family television. You can imagine his surprise when he finally got a guitar and it was an acoustic.

The discrepancy in sound he heard did not deter him from his newfound love. Soon, he would quit soccer, which was a big deal where he was from. Every day after school, he would spend his time trying to replicate what he heard as he explored his tastes in music. The advent of the internet had yet to shape the way he learned. Buying rock magazines and tab books from a local newsstand helped to propel his efforts, and physical copies of albums mentored his evolution. Releases by bands like Kiss and Iron Maiden soon added to his collection. And he would be fortunate enough to get lessons from a guitar player in his neighborhood. The true litmus was in his actions and how they began to change. He was obsessed. While other kids his age were playing video games, he was trying to write music. He dreamt about learning and playing guitar. He had yet to think about an actual career in music because he didn’t see performers like that around him.

At just fifteen years of age, he got the opportunity to open for his local instructor in a bar. This marked the first time he heard any actual criticism. But the curiosity and enthusiasm within him somehow drowned out those sentiments as well as any self-doubt they might have caused. Guzz recalls, “I think early on I tried to listen by ear because I also didn’t have many tabs for some of the songs I like. Or sometimes they were wrong. Or they were in a different tuning and I didn’t even know you could change the tunings of your strings; for a long time I didn’t know. So, I think I learned by seeing other people; going to see other people playing, as well as borrowing video tapes from friends… a copy of a Zack Wylde guitar lesson. It was instructional, like some pentatonic stuff. I started catching a little bit of this, a little bit of that.” His head was so much into rock and roll, it was almost as if it had become an entity unto itself. His musical sense of self-identity had yet to even occur to him.

Guzz had a cousin that was into playing music. The two would trade cassettes back and forth, sharing ideas and forming a sound. Being under eighteen (and unable to drive by law in Brazil), transportation was a challenge. But the two formed a four-piece band they named Cycle Love. They played wherever they were allowed, lugging equipment on and off trains and buses to get to gigs. He would push this for two years, but the momentum eventually died. His next band was what he considers to be his first serious project, Vulgar Type. He formed this one with more experienced friends while in college. And when the band still lacked a singer, Guzz began to try his hand at it. He took up lessons with a guy by the name of Nando Fernandez, whom you might have recently seen on stage singing with Lynyrd Skynyrd in Brazil. Things began to get more serious, and he was able to put out a three-song EP, which is still streaming on all platforms. That same cousin would this time serve as their videographer, enabling Vulgar Type to produce music videos as well. Guzz was seeing EP sales in both the U.S. and Japan. And the experience furnished him with opportunities to form connections on both continents. Throughout this time, he was charged with figuring out logistics for album sales, marketing, and networking; tools he uses to this day.

Through all of the cross-continental communications, Guzz also landed a significant other in the states. She began to visit him, and he would come to the U.S. to visit her as well. This is how he ended up living in Louisiana. His reflection on how fast the time seems to have flown by is earmarked by the changing technology. The limited capabilities of his youth quickly evaporated as he matured. He went from buying bootleg CDs through street vendors, learning what he could through magazines and the occasional VHS tape, and tuning his guitar using the dial tone to now being able to access anything he wanted on a cell phone. Tab books gave way to Youtube, where not only could theory be learned, but the cultural heritage and influence behind the music could be understood. And speaking of culture, Guzz also reflects on how much of it surrounded him as a child. For many years he was so focused on one thing that the resulting tunnel vision obscured his overall view. He has taken to going back and rediscovering the culture and genres of that time and place in his life.

Since moving to Louisiana in 2018, he has formed his current band, Silver Dose. In realizing how rich Brazilian culture was, his mind is now more open to incorporating thoser rhythms and influences. Being receptive has also led him to look toward American, British, and German bands for influence with this project. Obviously, his life has been about growth and change. But this could be said about life in general. Perhaps unbeknownst to Guzz, his life has actually been about preserving that child who never stopped to think about who he was or where he belonged in the scheme of things. He was releasing new music for Vulgar Type while moving from one nation to another. Friends from back home ask if being in the states has presented more opportunities for him as a musician. And he tends to say yes. But stepping outside of any religious connotations, I’d remind everyone of the saying “God helps those who help themselves.” And even when resources were scarce, Guzz was helping himself. From that moment on the street when he bought the Nirvana bootleg to where he stands now, he has embodied perpetual motion, when we all realize there is no such thing.

On a side note, he mentioned that shortly after this interview, Silver Dose was going to play a benefit show for The Marsh Room, a venue which had recently caught fire. He said they did that sort of thing all the time, that he was always interested in helping his brothers and sisters in the music community. His drummer stopped by after the interview, and the first thing he said to Guzz was that he had a line on another upcoming benefit. I couldn’t help but think how it was things like this that thrust a band forward more than they may realize. His heart is worthy of your attention. And his talent speaks for itself. Knowing what you all know now about his life is proof positive. I do hope you check out the podcast interview (streaming links below), as there are more opportunities to see how he has chosen to navigate through life as a musician and a human being. Thanks to you all for your interest!

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Silver Dose: https://neworleansmusicians.com/musician/198

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Steve Mignano

Drab has rich soundscapes. There seems to be a thirst lately for bands with driving basslines whose guitars saturate the aural soundscape with lavish, soulful melodies. That may sound elementary, but the truth is that too many bands these days are trying to find the next direction with compositions that have shed elements of the tried and true. For me, Drab’s sound harkens back to an era when grunge rock was mighty. And music like I’m hearing from these guys was the tasteful counter to that movement that somehow found a way to compliment it simultaneously. It was anything but pop, super original, and slightly unpolished in its own right. A band like Drab is tipping its hat to this notion that there exists a space between extremes that does not lend itself to popularized conformity. In other words, you don’t have to commit yourself to either death metal or typified pop extremes to express a deviation from the norm. There’s a vein of rock that maintains an edge slightly left of center that is still respected by those that would normally find their comfort zone right in the middle. For his whole life, Steve Mignano has been able to move freely throughout these spectrums due to his lust for movement and change. And his ability to achieve accuracy amongst chaos affords listeners a guide through these waters. You can’t understand the plot if the acting sucks. And you can’t get a feel for a sound if it’s not in tune or on time. Now Garguts, Steve’s second project, pushes the division between what works and what doesn’t. They take the above notion of “unpolished” and kick it in the teeth. But again, Mr. Mignano embraces change here while feeling his way through at the top of his lungs. Because for this project, Steve isn’t holding a guitar. He’s strictly singing. Dylan Hemard (Green Gasoline) checks the axe for him, allowing him the freedom to roam. This band delivers the reassurance that can be sometimes felt in extremity. Because oddly enough, you can here a bit of Zeppelin in the beginning of their song Miller High Death. But then the kicking starts, giving listeners a bit of “oh yeah, I remember that” followed by “oh sh*t!” We will get into the line-up of this band later. But trust me, we’re all in for a wild ride with this one.

Originally, Steve is from Toledo, Ohio. His dad played guitar in bands and owned a guitar store in Westfield, Michigan. It always felt like guitar was his first language. But his eyes really lit up when he saw the movie Back to the Future. Seeing Marty McFly transform into a rock star at the high school dance struck a chord with seven-year-old Steve. Funny enough, he didn’t realize how deep that chord would carry at the time. But it was enough to get the ball rolling; well, that and countless air-guitar solos. His dad agreed to furnish him with lessons and Johnny B Good was the first. But unfortunately, a rambunctious Steve collided with a bit of attention deficit disorder and the guitar idea was soon shelved. By eleven, he returned though. And by fifteen, he had become serious, practicing daily. Being around his father and the musicians in his bands facilitated an accelerated learning rate. At this time, Youtube didn’t exist and real, human experiences still reigned. He would be at his father’s performances as a pre-teen and by the age of twelve, he was attending concerts. He recalls fondly being at shows for bands like Soundgarden and Megadeth. In a word, his sixteen-year-old self would say the Rage Against The Machine concert he saw at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Detroit was…. intense!!

There were three main radio stations where he grew up. Classic rock was on 104.7, Buzz 106.5 was an modern alt-rock station, and pop music played on 92.5. Classic and modern rock would escort him through his formative years. Bands like Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Metallica, and Alice in Chains would not only influence him sonically, but furnish him with a sense of identity. Back then he also relied on tab books to further his music education. He would save up money to buy a book, learn the contents, then pass it around amongst friends. Nirvana’s In Utero, and Countdown to Extinction by Megadeth were a couple he remembers. He learned Nirvana, but he still struggles to this day with those Marty Friedman solos. There was also his parents’ album collection to help guide him down the neck of his path. He still has some of these records. His first love on vinyl was the blues master B.B. King. And he remembers how the haunting ballads like The Messiah Will Come Again and Sweet Dreams by Roy Buchanan sounded even creepier because that record had a slight warp to it. His father was into many styles of music. So, to appreciate different genres seemed natural to Steve. And this open mindset allowed him to see the similarities between the genres. While absorbing these sources; lessons, tab books, concerts, and records, Steve was playing in a garage band with friends. They would learn together, playing covers like Black Flag. One year, a band mate’s mom gifted him with studio time for his birthday. The band would record a two-song demo and instantly be famous in their own mind. The drum line at Steve’s high school would be his first experience performing publicly. They needed a guitar player for their rendition of Change of Seasons, by Dream Theater. He tuned his low E down to a low B so he could resemble the seven-string played originally in that song. Cranking up the amp and flexing his chops for a sizeable audience excited him so. He got to see the impact of loud guitar on his peers. Any fear quickly gave way to understanding within him. “It’s like when you’re standing in front of an abyss, and like there’s nowhere to go, you know, jump. And once you do it you begin to realize, oh well that’s not so bad. It’s not going to kill you. So, it gives you courage. It gives you more confidence. And you come back and you look at it. You can examine; oh I could do this better. This was awesome. This was my favorite part. Playing music is the most exhilarating thing in the world man. And um, it starts with a spark. But, you know, if you nurture that spark it grows into a fire. And, as I’ve gotten older, it hasn’t diminished at all man. It’s just gotten more complex. It’s like turning into this lotus flower of fire now”, Steve imparted.

He got good grades in school and was academically inclined naturally. But many of his friends in music would go onto vocational schools, leaving him a bit isolated. He resisted private school urgings from his parents, becoming more withdrawn and studying music during this time. He focused on listening to the elements contained within the music and began to think about what he wanted to do with his life. Music was the obvious vision. He also had an interest in film. He figured he could work in film while trying to launch a career in music. The day after he graduated high school, Steve packed all his stuff into his car and pointed the wheel toward Los Angeles. There was no plan in place or reason for that destination. But the town’s reputation for being a hot bed of cinema and ground zero for the recording industry was calling his name. This adventure, however, was short lived. He was in and out of bands while there. But he concedes his expectations were ridiculously high. And though he attended the Musician’s Institute for a semester, ultimately the cost of living would ground this flight. Steve would be back home in Ohio nursing his ego before he knew it. For the next three years, he worked in his father’s appliance parts warehouse. He would bring his guitar and practice every chance he could. Listening to records, transcribing solos, and trying to learn new chords kept the pilot lit for now. One day a friend reached out to him telling him about auditions happening nearby. The gig was with Johnny Reed, a Chicago style blues harp player. Steve was familiar with this artist through his dad’s record collection. The man’s stellar reputation made this proposition intimidating. But Steve muscled up the courage and went down to try out. He played two songs and was hired on the spot! For the next three years, Steve would tour the U.S. and Canada, playing counter to, and being coached by, Johnny. Though he had crawled many miles of paper in theory, nothing could prepare him for the techniques and methods involved in running with a band of this caliber. The experience would be the education. And he was cognizant enough to experience the revelation. He recalls, “I can’t remember exactly what festival we were at. But I remember it was on a large outdoor stage. And I remember listening to Johnny soloing. And what occurred to me is that he wasn’t just playing his harp. He was playing the whole stage. He was listening to the environment. He was listening to how his tone was coming through the speakers, how it was resonating. I remember being on stage with him and that occurring to me at that one moment. He was taking the environment and making it work. He was making adjustments on the fly to make sure his tone was cutting through.” Steve was coming to the realization that there was no one set of rules or standards for this. To show up at every performance, regardless of the venue, and play as you did at another time and location just wouldn’t have the same impact. What he witnessed was a musician making the stage resonate with his instrument. Through focused reflection, he’s been able to grasp these elements and affix them to his target as a professional musician.

After playing with Johhny Reed, Steve would move to Denver. And before long, he landed another gig playing with Cassie Taylor, a native of Boulder and daughter of well-known blues musician Otis Taylor. From 2010 to just before 2013, Steve toured the U.S., Europe, and Canada with Cassie’s band on her neo-soul release, Out Of My Mind. Getting this gig was different than how he got the Johnny Reed gig. With Reed, the slot was one that had been filled many times before. The style of music was rooted in traditions of a certain vein and the phrases were already mapped out. With Taylor, he was given songs that lacked his part. It was up to him to find what fit. He pulled from the many years he spent studying theory. Knowledge of the language allowed him to become versed in this variety. He also drew from his time studying technique. The books from his dad’s shop were filled with the rudiments of this and did not adhere to any particular genre. A book by Pat Martino taught him chord inversions and chord voicings. The CAGED system (author Bill Edwards, 1983) also expedited his progress. Once he learned those patterns it became easy to learn scales and chord voicings all over neck. Steve would use the literacy to express his newfound creative freedom with Cassie. And if you look, you’ll find what author Andy Ellis of Premier Guitar said about his work to be commendable. “In guitarist Steve Mignano, Taylor has a perfect foil. His long, searing bends and snarling riffs wrap around Taylor’s latte voice like a well-worn leather glove. Tone for days, deluxe dynamics, spirited delivery—Mignano has it all.”  

While still touring with Cassie, Steve went on vacation to New Orleans and was struck by its indelible charm. He would ultimately move here on the conclusion of that tour. Absorbing the indigenous music and becoming a working musician in this environment satiated him. He was previously familiar with a reputation the city had amongst musicians. Of the territories surrounding this far-reaching microcosm, Steve says, “This is my favorite city in the world, man. I love everything about it. I love the food, love the people, love the music, love the atmosphere; everything. You know, I feel like it takes a particular kind of savage to live here. But I am that savage. I feel like it’s in my DNA in a way. Some of us belong here. And I feel like I belong here.” Together, with Casey Freitas on bass, Aaron Levy on drums, and Jacob Fitzmorris on guitar, Steve has formed Drab. They dropped a self-titled album in 2022. And their most recent single, Blacklight, is a dead reckoning for the grit between your toes. You know life put it there to disrupt you. But you begin to rub it around, and you come to like the sensation. Blacklight is evidence of the recent shift within the band’s sound. Casey Freitas was a newcomer on this imminent work. So, the inner mechanics of their line-up have changed as well. There is a new single on the way, Open Wound. But when this album drops, you’ll hear the movement toward a murkier, more malignant sound, doubling down on their freshman effort. With his second band, Garguts, Steve has set down the guitar to concentrate solely on testing the limits of his vocals. On indefinite hiatus, Green Gasoline’s Dylan Hemard (guitar) and Jon Castiex (drums) have aligned with Steve and Sterling Anderson (bass). Where Drab had become a comfortable grit, Garguts has created an annoyed flesh wound. Their sound penetrates while possessing the sensation of a rowdy garage band experiment. Rhythmic changeups, amp distortions, and effects quickly usher the listener into a chaotic bliss. This band will let our frustrations breathe. I do hope to see many of you tune into Steve’s podcast interview. As he and I discussed how these projects came about, how their first shows have been, and what the business end of these creations has taught him. And hearing him describe his experiences with Johnny Reed and Cassie Taylor was truly exhilarating. I thank you all so much for your continued interest.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Categories
blog

2023 Year in Review

My journey this year has paralleled that of many musicians, in that I put forth my all in pursuit of an ideal that only exists in my mind. Not knowing what to expect has surrendered the foreground long ago. My focus and intent is on doing Louisiana’s music community justice. Being completely self-funded, Neworleansmusicians.com’s greatest challenge has been getting the word out without the benefit of an advertising budget. Just as venues often do, I rely on my members to promote their own appearances on the site, on the blog, on the podcast, and on the Youtube Channel. Word-of-mouth is more powerful than most people realize. And for someone like me, a simple mention means everything. But no matter the amount of exposure, I have always been gifted with the ability to look back on the catalog of work I have generated and be proud. To your friend or family member in a band, I know I am able to add value to their musical efforts. Bringing artists together and introducing opportunity has been the fire that fuels me.

In the back of my mind, I have always gone back and forth between the “I” and the “we”. I’ve never been one to pander to image. And I suppose one could say humility plays a role in this as well. But frequently, the impression one leaves with another can open a few doors down the road. Throughout 2023, I have found myself erasing the “we” in communications online and replacing it with “I”. I have found myself reminding… myself that I am doing these things. That I don’t have a staff. I have myself, a freelance programmer, and the occasional article contributed by those interested. Conversely, I do believe there is always a bit of “we” at play. By that, I mean the musicians, music businesses, and fans that decide to join, the people that read the articles, watch the videos, and listen to the podcasts, and all those who simply mention the site to another, make up this sector. Despite my hours on the phone, on the road to interviews, and behind this keyboard, those supporters may very well be the tipping point for this website’s success. And once again, like a musician, a little bit of blind faith comes into play. At any rate, in an effort to remain transparent as well as hold myself accountable, I have committed to publishing a “year in review” article every year. I do hope this also serves to demonstrate merit and possibly garner the interest (and membership) of more people.

In year two of being in business, I have onboarded forty-nine new members, bringing the total to one-hundred and four. New members included forty-one bands, a music label, two recording studios, an online music magazine, and four fans. Yes, a little-known feature on the site is that fans can register for free as well. Their benefits for joining include store discounts, the ability to list in the classifieds, and the ability to message bands. I published twenty-three podcast episodes, twenty-seven articles, and fifty-four videos. Instead of commercials in the middle of those podcast episodes, I pick a new member, talk about their band, and play the audience a snip of their work. The statistics I see tell me that thousands of people have been exposed to the artists in those features. Fun fact: some of the interview subjects requested the art I generated from their interview promotions. I gladly furnished them the designs and they were able to use it for their own projects. I also added to Neworleansmusicians.com’s playlists. I have professional accounts on sixteen platforms. Each contains eighteen playlists named by genre. And the number of tracks from my members that I added is literally too many to count. More often than not, I have added their whole catalog. I know that this has lead to more exposure for my members.

Aside from these advances, I also enjoyed a bit of publicity this year. I was a guest on the Getting to Know You podcast where I spoke about my life as a Captain and a president of a music network. I was also a guest on the Music of America podcast. This one was special to me because I was able to select three site members to talk about on that show. I was also able to play their music. And I know this brought them to a new and far-reaching audience. I was featured in an article in The American Press which described what Neworleansmusicians.com is doing for musicians in Louisiana. And I was also featured in CanvasRebel, an online entrepreneurial magazine. I look back on all these instances with dignity. But what stood out to me was that, in each feature, I described my mission in different ways. They all contained the same message. But all too often you see a mission statement from a company that reads the same across all fronts. Sometimes it makes me question the authenticity of those words. Regardless, my guest appearances, my articles, my videos, and my podcast have all contributed to the traffic that frequents Neworleansmusicians.com. This has been my way of bringing value to the site and its members.

The time I spent interviewing Vinnie Labella was probably the moment that I was closest to someone that had not only performed in front of hundreds of thousands of people, but had honestly revolutionized the world of thrash music. I’ll always say the interview I did with Vinnie was the worst recording of the best interview I’ve done to date. That was the day one of my lav mics decided to start shorting out. And audio editing for that podcast episode became a Macgyver act that even I am surprised I pulled off.  But I felt as though we really connected. And because of that, I was able to bring the most comprehensive look at his life to my audience and his fans. In all his years touring the seven continents and sitting before countless reporters, this had never been done before. Not to mention, it was revealed that Phil Anselmo (Pantera, Down, Superjoint Ritual, etc) was actually a member of Exhorder at one point. Which had not been known to anyone. I was the only person he agreed to talk to since his split from Exhorder three years preceding. And he was approached by many distinguished magazines to get that story. It was an important moment in music history.

I think the interview that held the most cultural importance was the one I did with Wayne Kahn. His altruistic intent for the historical audio and video he has come into possession of is reassuring. The contributions to the Smithsonian Folkways and his current plans to immortalize the chronicles of one of America’s founding families in zydeco music is commendable, to say the least. He was able to illustrate the importance of the Carrier family to my audience, regardless of their preference or unawareness of zydeco music. After publishing, I watched the statistics and social interactions on his interview closely. And I was able to connect him with a prominent music documentarian.

The interview that I believe held the most importance for the musical heritage of New Orleans would be the Chris Beary interview. Together, with Grammy Associate Director Reid Wick and a board of national and local influential members of the music community, the Louisiana Music and Heritage Experience will soon become the most important music heritage museum in the state. I was able to bring the news of this massive music museum to my audience. Also, I was able to line up one of my members, Pocket Chocolate, with Chris who then booked them for the Funky Uncle Live 8-Night Jam. They were able to share the stage with musicians like Grammy Award winner Leo Nocentelli, and both Leo and Russel Batiste.

Something else happened that I thought was really cool. Someone I interviewed in 2022 was featured in an article on Nola.com in 2023. The article contained a video segment of my interview with him. I always feature music from members in my video intros. They are often-times from a member other than the one I am interviewing. I include a full screen credit with album art for the musician whose music I use. So, as a result of that, the musician in the intro got a spot in a prominent website article just for being a member. I did observe traffic and watch-time increase on that video. So, I know his music gained exposure through that inclusion.

Looking ahead into 2024, I hope to continue to onboard musicians and music industry professionals throughout Louisiana to Neworleansmusicians.com as well as keep pace with my current rate of publications on the podcast, the Youtube Channel, and the blog. I cannot begin to explain how much I have enjoyed meeting and speaking with these people about their lives. I maintain contact with each and every one of them. Not only because of a vested interest on a personal level. But because the very crux of Neworleansmusicians.com is the network itself. It is what allows me the privilege of bringing opportunity to my members. For this coming year, I will also need to pay more attention to possible avenues of income for Neworleansmusicians.com while preserving my commitment to always keeping it free to use for everyone. One particular statistic I left out in this year-in-review is the amount of money I spent this year on Neworleansmusicians.com. It’s in the five digits. I’ve been so focused on promoting bands and generating media that I haven’t really given the importance of (at least) breaking even its due. I’ve never cared much for the act of putting a price on one’s passion. But I also never realized the digital age could deliver such hefty bills! Once again, like many musicians out there, 2023 has seen me wince at the price of pursuing one’s passion, as well as things like gasoline and Enfamil. I must admit this will not be an easy task for me. I do have a donation page, but that has been crickets. I understand what it’s like to live hand-to-mouth. So, I’ve not expected much on that front. If anyone knows of any effective grant writers or fund-raising entities that would be a fit, I’m all ears. But in the words of author and educator Marsha Sinetar, “Do what you love and the money will follow.”

PS – If anyone would like to help spread the word, I have postcards and stickers. Send me your address and I’ll get those out to you for free. Thanks!

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

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blog

Saxophonist Christopher Burton

Imagine what it took for your hero to become your hero. For me, “fortitude in the face of” comes to mind. After all, that is what we admire in a hero. It’s not so much about the obstacles themselves. We all have those in life. When speaking about a musician though, the term “hero” may seem like an overstatement. But I would argue the ability to convey the spirit of triumph poignantly through sound bears evidence of a hero. Overcoming debilitating medical adversities, paying forward a well-earned knowledge base, and pushing the envelope on behalf of the obscured are all also qualifying traits in my eyes. It is for these reasons, amongst others, that I admire him. Christopher Burton is the hero you never knew you had.

Born at Charity Hospital in September of ’87, he would not see two years of age before contracting spinal meningitis. The swelling would result in nerve damage in his ears, which would in turn leave him with hearing loss as well as a speech impediment and, at times, severe vertigo. The affliction would often leave him verbally misunderstood. And by consequence, he didn’t speak much. It would also begin him on a ten-year path of speech therapy. By the time he was seven his mother passed away. Luckily, he would have the benefit of a close family to raise him. His father was a bassist in a gospel band. And about the same time in his life is when Christopher recalls he and his sister first accompanying their father on a gig. The church music resonated with him and was quite possibly his initial experience with live music. Back then, he thought all churches must have had music like this. “The music grabs me… so interesting, so powerful, so moving. I love the music. The Baptist churches I went to, there was always a band playing. So, I thought that’s how church was supposed to be.” His father’s band, The Randolph Brothers, would travel to play in churches out of state and occasionally outside of church. He pointed out, “It was strictly churches. Even though they would also play at Jazz Fest at the time, they were always in the gospel tent.”

Christopher wouldn’t pick up an instrument of his own until he was fifteen. The debate club, the school newspaper, the gardening club, and the drama club absolutely filled his days at Frederick Douglas High School. But it occurred to him that he was from New Orleans and did not know any blues or jazz. I found it interesting that a child of his age would push beyond the veil of top forty music, being that it’s force-fed to most of us. But he recalls having an interest in local music and a sense of social responsibility to carry on that torch. So, he joined the high school band with saxophone as his instrument of choice. Alonzi Jackson was the band director at that time. And the program kept things interesting for the kids, playing songs like Luther Vandross’ “Never Too Much” and The Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip”. The curriculum required the use of mostly whole notes. So, it was easy enough for a beginner like Christopher to learn. Once again, music sparked a particular interest in him. He would enable himself to spend more time with it by dropping a few of the other electives. Here he excelled, quickly becoming section leader. But leadership came with its own challenges. Through the process of giving advice and other leadership duties, it became clear that some in his section were not of the same ilk as he. Discouragement would come to a hilt during Mardi Gras and, shortly following, he would quit the school band.

In May of 2005, he graduated from Frederick Douglas and set his sights beyond the city of New Orleans. He attended Hampden-Sidney, a nationally ranked private liberal arts college for men in Virginia. A rural area with under two thousand residents, this was quite the change in scenery. Christopher would once again take up saxophone here. But after just one year, because of the expense, he would return home to New Orleans. At this time, Christopher still did not own a saxophone. He always played what was available at school. So, it was serendipitous that he would run into saxophonist Stephen Galdney, a member of the Preservation Hall Foundation music collective. Stephen gave him his first saxophone. Stephen had recently been performing and touring in Paris. And his apparent success and this gesture inspired Christopher to try harder. He began combing through method books, practicing every chance he got. He enrolled at the University of New Orleans, eventually trying out for the band there. Christopher recalls, “I remember working on audition material sitting at Douglas Band Room, Mr. Ali was our band director at the time. He was a graduate from Southern University. He was the band director over there. I remember working on pieces. And I go to audition, and Dr. Taylor over there is like, alright. Because I auditioned on alto. And he was like, how about playing baritone sax?” Now this made more sense in the grand scheme of things. Christopher’s meningitis resulted in the inability of his right ear to hear most high frequencies. As a result, he tended to prefer lower notes on sax. Altissimo notes on an alto in C6 may still not be out of his range of hearing. But once it gets to D7, he won’t hear it. He has since grown to love the low range of the baritone and delights in its sub-harmonics and overtones.

The summer of 2014 is when Christopher finally though of himself as a good musician. The difference here, I found in his story, is that he broke free from theory and got to utilize his knowledge in real world settings. Not only that, but he was now delving into improvisation while getting feedback simultaneously. He would participate regularly in rehearsals with the Second Line Reggae Band. He would frequently perform at Melvin’s Bar on St. Claude Ave. as well. It was there that he got a true education in the blues from a house band made up of seasoned veterans. He recalls Irma Thomas’ bassist teaching him laid back lessons like, “Hey when you playin’ this Purple Rain, you don’t have to do a whole lot. It’s just the blues, man.” BJ’s pedigree and nonchalant demeanor spoke volumes where words did not. Christopher also explained how suddenly, his grandfather wouldn’t make him leave the room to practice. We both laughed at this one. And I can tell you from experience, when it comes to the old-timers, this is as close as you’re going to get to a compliment. Christopher also relayed to me an instance at his Auntie’s birthday party where his cousin was DJing. Christopher brought his saxophone along and played while his cousin spun records. The reaction from family was to ask that he play more. Albeit on the inside, these subtle earmarks in his life had Christopher elated. “It took time to get there. But it feels good”, he says.

Joining a band of his own came about mainly as a reactionary measure. UNO eliminated its Music Education program, which reduced the student count in their music department from about 300 to 80. The remaining 80 would stay on in Jazz Studies, which was comprised of composition, history, and performance. His band, Hidden Wind Saxophone Ensemble, would later become an offshoot of some of the remaining members. In an effort to keep performing in a similar setting, Christopher joined the New Orleans Concert Band, an organization founded in 1979 that practiced at UNO. The late Peter Dombourian, a band director in the New Orleans public school system for over thirty years, served as director for the New Orleans Concert Band for fifteen years. And they would practice once a week, performing several times a year at places like UNO, Audubon Park, and Lafrenière Park. Their co-conductor, Sherman Leggett, also conducted the American Legion Post 350 band in Metairie and asked if Christopher would be interested in joining. Christopher enjoyed these bands because, in a city that wants you to play by ear all day, it gave him more chances to read sheet music and stay fluent. Christopher’s roommate invited him to come play in an anime cover band he formed called Purikura Panic. Now this broke all molds when it came to convention being that anime features music from just about every genre and every era. I could see him light up as he exclaimed, “I love anime music for the wide breadth of its genre. Anime might be a genre. But in that genre, there’s opera, there’s rock, there’s blues, there’s gospel. There’s just so much music. There’s that 1970’s and 80’s stuff; that city pop stuff. Oh, I love playing some (Miki Matsubara’s) Stay With Me and that Yu Yu Hakusho , that “Smile Bomb” (Hohoemi no Bakudan). It’s some good music!” He went on further, “I was playing the song Miki Matsubara’s Stay With Me, love that song. In the middle of the song there’s a break. And it goes from being in F Major, it goes from F Major to F Minor. Like, just flips right there for that section and there’s a jazz solo; a saxophone solo playing in that middle section. And I’m like, listen to that! That’s straight up jazz right there!” If you listen to the song, this moment stems from a previous portion of the song that is all rock and roll. Most of this band’s performances are at anime conventions. Which, I might add, is a healthy niche to be performing within. Further on, and throughout this interview, we went a bit more in-depth concerning the traditional genres in New Orleans, Christophers thoughts and experiences busking in the city and so much more. Please consider clicking your favorite podcast platform below and subscribing to hear this and many more intimate moments with the musicians of Louisiana.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

Hidden Wind Saxophone Ensemble is on Facebook by name

Neworleansconcertband.com

American Legion Post 350 Band:

https://post350band.com/

Puirkura Panic Linktree:

https://linktr.ee/purikurapanic