Sunday, August 12, 2012

Storms of Life - the Essence of Country Music

Randy Travis Mug Shot
August 7, 2012
  I'm not likely to win any friends or popularity contests with this post but I feel a desire to point out the silver lining, if you will, on country music giant Randy Travis' bizarre behavior earlier this week. Now don't get me wrong, I don't condone Randy's behavior but if the legendary star puts his mind, skills and talent to work in the proper way he should use this experience as the basis for writing new songs. You see, I happen to believe there is a missing ingredient in much of today's so-called country music. That missing ingredient is life experiences. More-so than any other genre of music (with the exception of the blues) country music is about true-life experiences. No the songs don't have to be true-to-life for the performer who sings them but the performer needs to be able to draw from his or her own life and insert that emotion into the song. When George Jones, Tammy Wynette, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty or any of the numerous other legendary country stars performed a song you felt the pain, heartbreak or agony of the song because those performers could relate to it and that familiarity came out in the performance. The best country music songs are about those feelings, they are about a cheating spouse, an all-night drinking binge, divorce and even death. Today's country music is largely about being clever and funny with word play, about reminiscing of younger days, about social issues even. Few and far-between are the songs which delve into the soul-wrenching, gut-twisting issues of life mentioned before. When George sang a song about the bottle, well you knew he had spent many, many a night in the bottom of it. When Johnny sang about a boy named Sue you knew he could relate to the brawl in the mud and the blood and the beer because of his anger-filled history. When Merle sings of mama trying to teach him better... you knew he just had to mean it because of the time he spent in prison.
  Love songs are wonderful and beautiful but the harsh realities of life are what we remember, what we talk about, what we relate to the most. A wonderful voice, great stage presence and right timing are key ingredients for artists to make it to the top, but it is living through life's most difficult moments and being able to inject those feelings into a song... that is what separates the good performers from the legendary, it is what makes a country singer an icon of the genre rather than just a star.
  So while I wish Randy Travis the best in overcoming his current legal or emotional issues, I truly hope he does more than overcome, I hope he turns an awful experience into gain by writing and singing the pain and once again reclaiming his status as a legendary icon of the genre.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Nothing Blue About These Blues

Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band
(L-R) Harvey Dalton Arnold, Tim Carey,
Darrell Young & Kim Shomaker
  I wrote earlier this year about the opportunity I had to meet and visit with the Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band during one of their practice sessions (read story here). During that visit I quickly became a fan of the HDABB. Sitting and listening to them I marveled at the music they made and vowed I would get out to see them perform live sometime soon.
  "Sometime soon" was this past Saturday night at the Fat Frogg in Elon. I had unintentionally missed their first set due to another passion of mine - watching NASCAR (it was a night race). When Harvey and company took to the stage for their second set I was blown away yet again. What I had witnessed at their practice session back in April was little more than a simple run through a set list - and that was damn good - but live on a stage was a whole other ball game. Harvey playing his left-handed guitar was every bit as exciting on his vocals as he was his guitar licks, boy that man can wail! Harvey's vocal styling is perfect for this music.
  On the opposite side of the stage guitarist Kim Shomaker (read more about Kim here) was turning his "Work horse" (the name for his beat up and worn first re-issue '57 Fender Stratocaster) into a Triple Crown race horse. 
  In between the two guitarists bassist Darrell Young balanced out the sound by providing the low-end rhythm as well as handling supporting vocal duty while in the back Tim Carey kept the show on track with excellent drum work. 
  Listening to HDABB it is difficult to imagine they have only been together as a unit for less than two years. On stage they are relaxed and comfortable yet full of energy. Saturday nights show was mesmerizing to say the least. The set list this night was a well-balanced mixture of blues and rock cover tunes including the Beatle's "I Want You (She's So Heavy)" and original tunes found on the band's two available CD's.
  The audience Saturday was a nice mix of young and 'older than young' who came out to help celebrate the Fat Frogg's second year of business and enjoy an evening of fantastic music, an evening showcasing a band that is truly on top of their game and their game is HOT.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Bodies - Yes, Body Slamming - NO
Or how a few asses can ruin a show

Sok Monkee at the Fat Frogg prior to the
show being shut down.
  I try to be a fan of all genres of music, even music that is removed from my generation such as Hip-Hop and Rap - I try to find in those musical forms the basic elements that speak to me even though I am far removed from that culture. Another genre I am also removed from but not nearly so distant is Death Metal (or any of the many other off-shoots of the genre such as Deathcore, Death Grind, etc).
  I recently went to an all-day event that featured several local Death Metal bands, none of whom I can recall the name of. Save for a cool heavy-metal trio called Jews and Catholics and a female cover band fronted by Staci McBeth the event held very little that I could relate to. In fact it was abhorrent to me that children as young as six years old were running around and even taking part in some of the band acts where the vilest of vulgarities were slung at the audience faster than Rambo could empty an M-16. In fact with these bands it was only the vulgarities that were understandable as the lyrics are sung (and I use the word sung very loosely) as a constant guttural roar. It is generally within this genre of music that you will find the mosh pits or body slamming that occurs in the audience.
  This event was a few weeks ago and I only bring it up now in order to give insight on a sad incident that occurred this past Friday night at the Sok Monkee show in Elon. Sok Monkee is one of the area's premier rock bands and has been for several years now. Their music covers several decades but primarily the harder rock of the past ten years or so. At any given show you are likely to see many of the same faces, a core group of fans known as the Monkee Junkees and they are zealous supporters of the band and their music.
  Friday nights show at the Fat Frogg though showed the potential early on for a disruptive evening when a couple of juvenile college kids began dancing wildly in the crowd with no concern that they were imposing on the enjoyment of others. They were the same type of kids who would be right at home at a Death Metal concert. By the time the second set began the couple of asses had been joined by several more asses - all heavily inebriated. At about 1:30 am the disruption became too much and lead singer Dylan Setzer stopped the set to address the situation but as the band launched into "Bodies," one of their signature covers the body slamming began again in earnest compounded by shattering their glasses on the dance floor creating a wet dangerous mess. Several of the Monkee Junkees retreated to the outside deck but a few who were caught up in the maelstrom were not so lucky and at least two MJ's suffered in-direct hits by the asses trying to body slam. Club security began ejecting the offensive parties who took their actions to the parking lot. Within minutes the Elon police department had dispatched up to six cars to the Fat Frogg.
  Wisely, Dylan once again stopped the show, this time for good. What had begun as another wonderful evening of good times with great music and friends had dissolved into a shortened evening. As the band began packing up their gear the expression on Dylan's face was heartbreaking. Here was a man who thrives on the energy of the music he sings and a band whose passion and professionalism has catapulted them to the top of their craft, to say they were disappointed to not finish the show would be an understatement.
  Saturday night the band took to the stage once again, this time at Stumblin' Pig in Mebane. While I didn't attend that show, I have heard many good comments about it this morning. It was a return to good times and good friends enjoying the music and band they love.
  As a footnote I would encourage anyone at a show by any band where mosh pits and body slamming are not the norm to make management or security aware of the disruptive behavior of others early on so an eye can be kept on them and security can intervene before it gets out of hand.

  I'll re-iterate what I wrote on the Sok Monkee Facebook page Saturday morning when I got home - Kudo's to Dylan for stopping the show and trying to be preemptive and avoid violence of any kind. Dylan and his band mates are all class acts who only want to provide the best music they can for their fans.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Lady wants to meet The Kid

  Savannah “Lady” Childers is a typical 13 year old girl. She would rather be with her friends than her mom most of the time, blast her music at extreme volume and like most teenagers she has a passion for music and especially her idol Kid Rock. But if you’re reading this story and expecting it to be a light-hearted tale of teenage music angst you will be disappointed. You see, unlike most teenager girls Savannah cannot tell you about her passion, or sing along to the songs she loves. She cannot dance around the floor on her own two feet, or jump up and down or talk about her love of music as she is non-verbal. For Savannah each day is a constant struggle filled with enteral feedings, breathing treatments, a daily medication routine and confinement to a wheelchair.
  When Savannah was born doctors told her mother Katrice not to expect her to live long. Born with a condition known as Chromosomal Deletion Syndrome, or more commonly called Wolf-Hirschhorn syndrome, the condition results in seizures, marked muscle weakness, distinct facial appearance, congenital heart defects and growth and mental retardation.
Mother sings to her daughter
on her 13th birthday

  The fact Savannah has survived to be a teenager is a tribute to the love and determination of her mother. Katrice is quick to point out though how Savannah saved her life. At a crossroads in her own life when Savannah was born, her baby’s special needs impacted Katrice and made her realize she had to make changes in order to be the mother Savannah needed if she were to survive. While the struggle which laid ahead for the young mother and child were daunting to say the least, it has been a journey of joy and happiness for the pair. A happiness with music as a central theme in their lives. Katrice’s joy of music and singing has passed on to her daughter. “Savannah is never in a bad mood,” says Katrice “except for when the music is turned off.” Savannah’s favorite artist happens to be Kid Rock. “As long as the music is playing she (Savannah) is happy,” says Katrice “and when Kid Rock comes on the radio or TV her good mood only gets better.”
  For Savannah, Kid Rock is one of the few things that can take away the struggles of daily life - if even for just a few moments.
  When Kid Rock announced the cities he will be playing during his current tour Katrice knew she had a new mission in life - not only to take her teenage daughter to her first concert but also for Savannah to actually meet Kid Rock. The pathway to the stars though is rarely an easy one and finding the right person to connect with to enable her daughter to meet the Detroit rocker has not been easy. Using Facebook, Katrice has created a page (Savannah Wants To Meet Kid Rock) devoted to gathering “Likes” to help her impress the powers that be at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Charlotte to grant her wish for her daughter to meet the star.
  You can do your part to help Savannah by doing two simple things - first, visit her page on Facebook and “Like” it and second, be sure to "Share" the page so that others can also see it. You can also share and tweet this blog article by clicking the icons directly below this story. Katrice hopes to get a 1000 “Likes” but knowing the generosity of the local live music scene I’m sure that number could be much higher. Liking Savannah’s page won’t cost you a dime but you will get the satisfaction of knowing a simple little click on a Facebook page might encourage someone in Kid Rock’s inner circle to make a little girls heart glow with joy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Trial by Fire - the Journey Tribute

  Even though I've seen a couple of tribute bands in the past I've never really understood the whole tribute band phenomenon and so it was that for some time now I had put off going to see Charlotte based Trial by Fire, the Journey tribute band. I had determined a few days ago that I would however go see them at the new Clubhouse in Greensboro which I had not been to since they changed ownership.
  What I got in return for my $10 cover charge though was well worth the money spent. Behind the vocals of lead singer Ernie Shepherd Trial by Fire quickly got the audience into the music, sounding every bit as good as Journey. Shepherd's range easily allowed him to achieve the same sustained high notes made famous by Steve Perry, Journey's front man. Throughout the first and second set the group treated the audience to hit after hit - "Any Way You Want It," "Send Her My Love," "Open Arms," "Lovin', Touchin, Squeezin'," "Stone In Love," "Who's Crying Now," and probably the most requested song of the night - "Lights." As the night progressed I realized I had forgotten just how many hits Journey had.
  The third and final set of the night was given over to mostly repeats of songs performed in the first set, much to the delight and pleasure of the audience who just didn't seem to want to leave.
  On my way home I tried to analyze just what it is about Journey's music that is so powerful that still drives crowds not only to Journey concerts but also to the Journey tribute shows as well - especially women who outnumbered the men last night three to one (I like those odds!). I finally decided it wasn't any one thing in particular, instead it is the total package - well written songs that are played, sung and performed in a coherent, dynamic presentation - just the way Trial by Fire did it last night.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Feelin' the blues with the
Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band

The Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band.
(L-R) Kim Shomaker, Darrell Young,
Harvey Dalton Arnold and Tim Carey
  When Steve Hill, manager of the Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band, called and invited me to stop by the bands practice, meet the guys and hang out for a while I was thrilled to say the least. Even though the band is based out of Burlington where I live and practices there I had not been able to catch their show yet. I had heard great things about them from many of their peers and fans and was anxious to hear them, so when Steve extended the invite there was no way I would refuse.
  When I arrived the band was in full force, driving through an infectious number that instantly brought a smile to my face. Steve introduced me to the band after they finished the number – Kim Shomaker on lead guitar, Tim Carey on drums, Darrell Young on bass and of course Harvey Dalton Arnold on guitar. Offering me a stool and a beer I sat for the next hour listening to amazing renditions of cover tunes (including an off-the-chain cover of the Beatles “I Want You”) and original material and chatted with the guys about the band and their music. It was evident from the start that these guys are a tight unit, both musically and as friends and each of them play with an enthusiasm and love for the music that makes you realize it is more than just a song to them.
  The band came together in the spring of 2010. Arnold, who found fame early in his career as a member of the 70's rock group The Outlaws, had stopped by Shomaker's guitar store in Burlington one day and they began to jam. In short order they added Young and Carey. Each member is a prodigious talent in their own right but collectively the music HDABB creates is unparalleled. Watching musician's who perform as though they are enraptured by the music they are creating enables the listener to also "get lost" in the music... the performance becomes a drug and the music is the trip. Sitting there watching and listening as these formidable musicians went through their repertoire in practice I could only imagine how infectious their live stage performance would be.
  I plan one day soon to catch the Harvey Dalton Arnold Blues Band's show and highly recommend that you make plans to do the same. The "trip" will be worth it!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Harlot's Web

  In the spring of 2010 an idea was born when I attended Plum Krazy's annual Spring Fling and saw three different bands that day all fronted by female lead singers. Amazing singers really. Singers who's voices and talents hit me in the gut. Wouldn't it be fantastic to have an all-female band fronted by one or more of these incredibly talented women? For the next few months I mulled it over in my mind, never quite able to get the idea out of my head - and really, I didn't want to. But each of those women were already in a band. What to do, what to do? What if I were to put together an all-female band that would be a side-project, a project that was devoted to a cause and what better cause for an all-female band than breast cancer awareness. The idea stuck with me, caused me to loose sleep at night as I lay thinking about the possibilities.
  Finally I came to a point where I figured I needed to find out if they were interested. Each said they were. I had the singers, now just to find the female band members. In early December 2010 all the pieces seemed to be in place, including a name for the group - Harlot's Web - and practice sessions began. By mid January though it seemed the whole project was falling apart as first one member had to depart and then another until only two were left - lead singer Staci McBeth and drummer Lauren Myers. I was despondent but thankfully Staci and Lauren were committed to the project and wouldn't let it die. With their help guitarist Sharon Davis came on board and original bassist Sal Burnette returned and practice resumed. After the first night of practice it was evident that this lineup was absolutely incredible! They steadfastly progressed, adding song after song to their set list in short order, evolving into an efficacious ensemble of rocker chicks who know how to wrestle the power out of a song and deliver it with force and emotion.
  The presence Harlot's Web has on stage and the high level of musicianship they exhibit would be enough to get audiences through the door, add in the cause they all represent (fighting breast cancer) and venue's will be hard-pressed for room when the doors open. But the poignancy of Harlot's Web is greater than just an all-female band supporting a cause as lead singer Staci McBeth is waging her own personal battle against breast cancer. In the month's since the idea of Harlot's Web first sprouted in my mind I've been blessed to have developed a wonderful friendship with Staci making this band and its' success a very important part of my life.
  Harlot's Web will have their debut as part of a fund raiser for Athena's Fighting Chance, a group dedicated to the cause of finding a cure for Gynecologic Cancer and the Women's Cancer Foundation of Forsyth County. In addition to Harlot's Web, other performers include Ed Clayton, Slawterhaus 5 (featuring Lauren Myers from Easybake and Harlot's Web), and The Burke Street Band! I hope to see you all there, so mark your calenders now!
Harlot's Web is (L-R) Sal Burnette (bass), Sharon Davis (guitar), Lauren Myers (drums) and Staci McBeth (vocals)