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Dean Zucchero

It’s funny how things came about. Post World War II families raised their children in the burrows of New York, eventually seeking a better life in the suburbs. Their children, however, would eventually come of age seeking the artful bohemia of cities like Manhattan. In the 1980’s, the East Village became a creative epicenter where people like bassist Dean Zucchero would cut his teeth. The industry was thriving back then with hundreds of clubs for bands like his. Notable destinations for live music included The Bitter End, The Cat Club, and later on, The Mercury Lounge. These clubs were on and near Bleecker Street, a two-mile stretch filled with live music venues connecting the East and West Villages. Dean’s band, Anastazia (later, Major Domo), was gunning for success back then. Each member would spend hours a week crafting and distributing mailers and fliers by hand, cultivating a following.

For a relatively unknown, original band in a sea of the same, some venues weren’t an option. But after landing a manager who was connected, they were able to play the famed CBGB’s in the East Village. Even with a high postured manager, this was no easy feat according to Dean. Monday auditions amongst ten other bands were a challenge and the owner was particular. Times like these seemed to always hold success just around the corner. Dean recalled one such occurrence, “The President of MCA flew in from L.A. to see us because his A&R guy said ‘you gotta see this band’. And then, as the night progressed, his partner got drunk and passed out at the table. So, he left early. And then when our manager got in touch with him the next day and said ‘what did you think’? He goes, ‘eh, I liked them but it wasn’t that great’. And he passed on the band.” But they kept trying, eventually finding an indie label that would sign them and invest a considerable amount of money. With this, the band could afford tri-state and east coast tours. It was fun while it lasted. But tight sets with four-part harmonies and a history nearly a decade long wasn’t enough to keep them together.

At this point Dean began to question why he was in this. Was it for the money and the fame? Sure. Was it for the women? Sometimes. But of himself, a man now in his early 30s wanted to know what aspect of being a musician truly interested him. He wanted to know how to pursue that. So, for the immediate future he would take a step back from writing and recording trying simply to be a working bassist. In this, Dean would find happiness, humility, and a better sense of the word “success”. A departure from living a transient lifestyle and constantly contending for attention brought him comfort. And a lineage that included some of the more prominent clubs in New York brought him an abundance of gigs.

Prior to all of this, before he ever picked up a guitar, Dean fantasized about being a musician. He wanted this before he ever knew what it meant to be such. So, finding a glimmer of direction in this transitional moment was serendipitous. It could have been on account of his brother exposing him to his record collection. It contained such influential albums as Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy”, Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”, or Cat Stevens’ “Tea for the Tillerman”. He will affirm that his brother’s album “Who’s Next”, by The Who, is still his second favorite album of all time. He was a kid that wanted to rock. And he managed to do this at a level that most of us dream of. But The Beatles and Elton John, from his parents record collection, seeded in him a long-since unaddressed love for the blues. Now that Major Domo was no more, the urge to pursue this further resurfaced. His tastes were as a painter’s palette. And his shade of blues came more from Jimi Hendrix than, say, Muddy Waters. He dissected this succinctly by saying, “I think for blues, I don’t like hybrid music so much. I like blues-rock. I like blues in any music. But I don’t like jazzy rock. But I love blues-rock. And I love jazz. I love jazz infused with blues, but not really blues infused with jazz. So, I think blues is always a good ingredient to use in any style of music. It adds some color to it.” This statement stuck with me after the interview. You may need to read it a few times to get the gist. But being in the room with him at that moment, hearing him explain this, it made perfect sense. 

After some time assuming his role as a working bassist around town, he landed a high-profile gig. Suddenly, stages in small blues bars were traded for crowd-front platforms with tens-of-thousands of eyes and ears looking on. And local real estate was dispensed with for all of Europe. Sadly, this was to become a breath of fresh air that would soon sour. He found that he did not care for the person he worked under. As this became more apparent, a relationship in his personal life floundered simultaneously. These once intoxicating potions had become too much for Dean. And we’ve all felt that moment when we start to realize that we have imbibed too much. Our immediate reaction is to begin brainstorming as to how to make our exit. Our brains struggling to reason through the fog of disenchantment. The situation bore feint similarities, in part, to what became disheartening with Major Domo. Only, this time the road was thousands of miles away from home.

He resolved to leave it all behind, returning home and once again shifting focus. He went back to NYU to pursue a career in entertainment law, taking a job at a law firm. His hope was that he could get into NYU law school. But the radical lifestyle change rubbed him the wrong way. Dean recalls, “I was playing while I was in school. But when I got the job at the law firm, I wasn’t playing so much. I was pretty busy and you’d have to work late hours. You had to be on call all the time. So, I said I’m going to put that (performing) aside for a little while.  And then, slowly but surely after about eight months to a year, I started peeking in at some of the jams, seeing my friends playing. I started showing up with my bass. I just kinda got back into it. And then I just decided that’s it, I’m a lifer.” This was not at all time wasted. Through these times he was able to gain useful knowledge of the entertainment industry, as well as find his voice due to the demanding requirements of writing. It might seem hard to believe, but some of this writing he viewed in a creative light. In any argument, you must choose a perspective, then paint a picture to which your audience will be compelled to relate.

Returning to playing locally once again furnished Dean with that sense of familiarity and comfort. He placed much of the ill-fitting experiences in Europe on touring in general, dismissing the singular causations of an at-odds band leader and/or a withering love interest. Both of which are the very definition of resolve. While this might have spelled relief in some ways, restlessness would soon creep in. In 2004, while on break one evening from a gig, he ran into an old guitar player friend on Bleecker Street. The guy mentioned that he was about to go on the road with another musician. Piquing his interest, Dean told the friend to relay the message that if a bassist was needed, he would be interested. The next morning, the phone rang and it was his friend asking if he would be interested in going to Shanghai. Dean responded with “gimmie one hour”, and he was off across the water once again. He played in a band out there for three months, and Zurich, Switzerland would follow. He would spend roughly four years playing out there, even bringing Thomas Bucknasty over, whom he played with during his time in The Healers back in New York.

Dean then travelled to and lived in Italy for the next three years. The bands he played in during those times included one formed by American ex-patriots and a couple of European jazz bands. Dean cited a point of interest here which was, in all of Europe, the atmosphere differed in that people attended to see a show. He said this to illustrate that patrons would sit and pay attention. There was no background chatter or distraction. His success was, in part, due to his ability to deliver authentic American blues. He ultimately landed a gig with pop-jazz band Sugarpie and the Candy Men, playing with them for some time. The plan was to return to the U.S., finish recording their album, then go back to Europe for their tour. But as the album was completed, the tour began to fall through. By now, he’d spent so much time abroad that he no longer had a residence in New York. So, after three months of living in his brother’s basement, he decided to come down to New Orleans and see what it was all about. And this is how we have been honored with his talent and presence.

He’s seen Europe again since then, touring with Ghalia Volt and Mama’s Boys, as well as Cyril Neville. He’s played Jazz Fest with Cyril four times and went on tour to Africa with him. He even touched down in Australia with guitarist Sean Riley playing and touring. Back in ’89, Dean came to New Orleans for Jazz Fest. One of the records he purchased while in town was Uptown Rulers: The Meters Live on the Queen Mary. Imagine a world where, two decades later, he’s playing on stage at the Jazz Fest with Cyril Neville. This guy just hasn’t stopped. While acting as program director, promoter and house bassist at Bratz Y’all in the Bywater, he’s released an album, “Electric Church for the Spiritually Misguided”. He also produced, co-wrote, and performed on several tracks for Ghalia Volt. These works have landed him on the Billboard Blues Charts several times over. He released his album on his new label, Pugnacious Records. He then acted as producer and bassist to Sean Riley & the Water’s “Stone Cold Hands”, which also debuted on the Billboard Blues Charts. We went on to speak about his producing techniques and the musicians he has worked with since residing in New Orleans. My time with him was insightful and candid. So, I do hope you tune into the podcast to hear what it was like to walk in his shoes across continents. Famed bass player Charlie Haden once said, “The bass, no matter what kind of music you’re playing, it just enhances the sound and makes everything sound more beautiful and full.” Without a doubt, for the lives of so many around the world, Dean Zucchero has done just that.

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com

https://deanzucchero.com

https://pugnaciousrecords.com

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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

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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

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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

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Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightening

Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah 

Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning

2023 ROPEADOPE  

Chief Adjuah aTunde Adjuah  (formerly Christian Scott) released his long anticipated album, Bark Out Thunder Roar Out Lightning. A collection of spiritual sounds and cultural recordings, the album spotlights the chief’s creative capabilities and cultural roots. According to Chief Adjuah, the title track, as well as the album as a whole, are “built as a map to decolonize sound; to challenge previously held misconceptions about some cultures of music; to codify a new folkloric tradition and begin the work of creating a national set of rhythms”

The albums opener, Blood Calls Blood, begins in what could be compared to an eastern meets western dream-like melody, fusing world instruments with dissonant chords, swelling vocal harmonies, and rhythmic folk drive. What emerges from the start of the song is then sung with conviction as the lyrics ring, “Run no more, make no way. Won’t kneel down, no, to pray. Blood calls blood, make way.”  Native drums and African tribal soul guides us to the albums following song, Trouble That Mornin’. In this one, strings can be heard in the mix, complementing the beauty of the song’s root sound. 

One of the many breathtaking lyrics reads like poetry as Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah sings, “Jump over St. Louis Cemetery, bark out thunder roar out lightning. Kick over a tombstone, won’t hum bow, but’ll claim a fresh kill.”  Fans of the Mardi Gras Indians’ music and culture will no doubt sing along to the record’s third track “ Xodokan Iko – Hu Na Ney”. In this rebirthed rendition, you will notice a familiar traditional New Orleans ‘Iko Iko’ motif. A call back to the famed track Jock-a-Mo, written in 1953 by James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, it has been interpreted down the years by many musicians, including the Dixie Cups, Warren Zevon, Dr John, and Ringo Starr. Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah, chieftain of the Xodokan Nation of the Maroon Tribes of New Orleans, incorporates indigenous instruments in this masterpiece, making use of his own ”Chief’s Bow” on the album. Like this latest release, his preceding album Ancestor Recall experimented with spiritual rhythms and African sound theory, drawing heavily from African and Native American traditional sounds. On American Masters, a PBS documentary, Chief said his music reminds him of the blues, and that jazz and blues are synonyms of each other. Which is a nuance found in rhythmic harmonies. The chief’s family influence and love can be heard in his art.

Author: Ryan McKern

Neworleansmusicians.com

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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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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

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Justin Curry

Born in Madison, Ohio, Justin Curry basically kept to himself as a child. His father was a drummer based in Houston and wasn’t around much. But his mother and aunt were. And both could sing; his aunt even performing on stage. Though violin wasn’t the first instrument he picked up, it was the first one chose of his own volition. In high school, where there was no orchestral program, he played trombone and could manage basic piano and guitar. With a laugh, he recalls how the music teacher told him he would never have a career in music. To all my budding new instrumentalists out there, this story will show that you should never let another dissuade you from your dreams of becoming a musician! Having not yet found the instrument that resonated with him the most, Justin’s true talent was not yet apparent. For that teacher and all his classmates, this would not come to light until his solo violin recital in high school. I’ve always maintained that underestimation is the greatest gift anyone could ever give. And Justin took full advantage of this, surprising everyone at that recital. He received a standing ovation for that performance. He would again surprise everyone when he became student council president. He would also amaze them by graduating a year early. His pursuit of becoming a professional violinist was a fervent one. He took lessons from a private tutor and was a student of the classical music genre. He realized if he wanted to make it in music, he would have to leave his hometown. Throughout the nineties, Madison’s live music scene experienced a whitewashing of sorts. Such to where the town was overrun with generic dive bars when all was said and done. Although Ohio had music education programs available at the time, it was becoming apparent that one would be hard-pressed to make it as a local musician financially. So, while taking lessons on the violin, Justin planned his move for years, unbeknownst to anyone.

He would continue in this vein, honing his craft in private. But once he left high school, he began performing publicly in and around Cleveland. Though jobs were scarce, he did prefer to play in restaurants as opposed to bars. He found that in bars, the music was secondary to the focus of socializing and libation. Whereas in restaurants, a musician’s performance was more central to the atmosphere. At one particular restaurant, he enjoyed a residency as well as their high-end client base. He started to notice his presence bringing in more and more customers. But when he approached the owner about an increase in pay, he was unfortunately shunned. Influenced by his hometown’s whitewashing of bars as well as this disheartening experience, Justin was prompted to form his own perspective on the venue philosophy. And in his opinion, many bars and restaurants have been involved in a “race to the bottom”. Whereby the caliber of services and features are gradually reduced while the price point persistently rises. And I agree that the competitive essence of many businesses these days seems to result in a reduction in quality. With long-term vitality being sacrificed for the sake of short-term profits, returning patronage suffers. Conversely, I understand that quality over quantity is a characteristic of maturation. Where may the two converge comfortably though? Justin says that a society centered around pop culture is afraid to appreciate finer arts. And while venues following suit is a direct result, it should not be tolerated, much less rewarded. 

Ever since he was a child, Justin took a peculiar interest in Japanese culture. Their ways stood as a sharp contrast to what he found himself surrounded by in Ohio. He could appreciate how both art and discipline were revered there. In Japan, it wasn’t as common to find a musician with two to three jobs because their art was more appreciated and thus would provide sufficiently. Following his dreams, he travelled there and enjoyed a successful career as a musician. His first stint was for four and a half years. It was from that time, when he returned to the states, that he found himself in New Orleans. Many of his guiding principles still held true here, like avoiding bar performances and contending with pop culture and low pay. But a big part of him was drawn to the city’s rich cultural heritage and musically significant history. And certain lagniappes like busking could help to subsidize his venue-based income. This may come as a surprise to some. But the amount of foot traffic a tourist destination supplies occasionally makes performing on the street a more viable option. And for Justin, it has proven to be of greater profit than playing in most venues. He does have his own strategies when it comes to busking. “Be respectful of where you are. Clean up when you’re done. Be good to the people around you. Because doing this is just as much a people skill thing as it is a musical thing. But on top of that, be good at making music. Because if you’re not good, you’re going to make nothing. It’s one of those things, sink or swim.” He continued by pointing out that adding to your environment is paramount. And by this he meant that getting to know the surrounding shop owners and neighbors shows them that you care, that you are a part of the community. He’s busked in places like New Orleans, Los Angeles, and New York City. And according to Justin, busking in Los Angeles can bring in twice what he sees in New Orleans. But I would attribute that to an overall higher cost of living. He contributed the fact that disposable income levels are lower here and that, unfortunately, the “city of drinking” narrative is pushed more than the “city of the arts” perspective. He maintains that New Orleans will always hold a special place in his heart. And he considers its appeal as a second home a significant one. But for now, he’s looking once again to explore his geographic options in hopes of finding himself surrounded by a healthier social ethos; one with greater emphasis on art and culture.

Justin’s third album will be coming to streaming soon by the name of “Between Worlds”. It is a live album that was recorded during his recent performance at the Marigny Opera House in New Orleans. The best way to view a complete list of all his relevant links (there are many) is on his Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/justin.curry.777. I interviewed Justin in the foyer of The Saxon House at 536 Royal St. The location is steeped in the New Orleans cultural history for which Justin is so fond. It is a two hundred plus year old dwelling owned by New Orleanian Louis Dufilho Jr., who was America’s first licensed pharmacist. It was also owned and renovated by Lyle Saxon, a local resident and six-time author on New Orleans and Louisiana history. Whom, through multiple purchases and renovations, is credited with making the French Quarter “more art colony, less an underworld.” Justin assured me that while the abode is both warm and inviting, it is definitely haunted!

Author: David Trahan

Neworleansmusicians.com