Category Archives: blues

Aaron Neville Q&A: Doo-wop, poetry and Roy Rogers

Aaron Neville

By Barry Gilbert

You can take Aaron Neville out of New Orleans, but you can’t take New Orleans out of Aaron Neville.

Among the Neville Brothers, New Orleans’ first family of music, he’s the brother with the sweet tenor. Like so many others, he lost his home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and eventually relocated to New York City. But he says the change in residence, and the loss of his Crescent City anchor, hasn’t changed him.

“The music is always in my heart and soul, it doesn’t matter where I am,” Neville, 73, said recently from his home. “But I’m loving where I’m at, that’s a good thing. And I’m doing a lot of writing now.”

Neville laments changes in the music industry, especially the dominance of digital technology.

Yeah, that and downloading and all,” he says. “Even cars – they don’t put CD players in ’em no more. I don’t know what the format’s gonna be.”

So it’s amusing to learn that he uses that technology to write.

“I don’t use pencil and paper,” Neville says. “I write on my iPhone. So I start out writing poetry. I have a poetry book (“I Am a Song”) that’s out also, I had a limited edition. I have maybe a hundred more poems in my phone. I’ll use some of them to make songs out of, maybe another poetry book.

Neville, interviewed in advance of his Feb. 22 show at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, is still touring behind “My True Story,” which was produced by fellow music legends Don Was and Keith Richards, who plays on all the tracks with an all-star band. It’s a collection of classic and later doo-wop songs, from “Ruby Baby” (Dion) to “Tears on My Pillow” (Little Anthony) to “Be My Baby” (the Ronettes and Phil Spector).

Neville says making the record — he went into the studio with 12 songs and ended up recording 23 — was “a labor of love” for Richards and the other players, including organist Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers, guitarist Greg Leisz and drummer George Receli (Bob Dylan’s band).

And he says he’s far fromn done.

“I’ll be going back in this year with another album on Blue Note,” he says. “It’ll probably be some stuff I’m writing, and we still have stuff in the can for another doo-wop, maybe later on.”

Following is our Q&A session, edited for clarity and flow.

Q: You’re still touring behind “My True Story” and doing songs from it?

Neville: New to old and in between, whatever, you know. Stuff that nobody ever really heard, stuff that I grew up listening to, and especially in the duo shows, I can do impromptu, whatever comes into my mind.

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My favorite roots-music CDs of 2013

By Barry Gilbert

It’s that time of year when I look back and think: Man, I dropped a lot of money on music this year. Again. So here’s my Top 10 list of the best roots music of 2013. Feel free to disagree. But keep in mind, these are the one’s that stuck among the albums I heard this year, and I didn’t hear anywhere close to everything. Nobody did.

And with 18 days remaining in the year, something great might slip into the mailbox before it’s over — like today, when Jimmer Podrasky’s “The Would-Be Plans” arrived. Can’t wait to dive into this long-overdue new work by the leader of the long-defunct Rave-Ups. Who knows, I might have to revise this list.

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Garland Jeffreys: ‘R.O.C.K.’ in Chicago

The Garland Jeffreys Band performs at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on Nov. 16, 2013 / Photo by Barry Gilbert

By Barry Gilbert

CHICAGO  (Nov. 16, 2013) // Some fans had waited for years, even decades, to see Garland Jeffreys on Saturday night. And that wait was more than worth it when the veteran rocker took the stage at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

Jeffreys, who wears his New York City hometown like a suit of armor, came out at full speed with “Coney Island Winter” from his 2011 comeback album, “The King of in Between”: “Politician kiss my ass/ your promises break like glass,” he sang, the poetry and beat slamming at a country in crumbling decline.

But every song about liars, scam artists and abusers also showed the way toward redemption, truth and love. Jeffreys is ultimately a powerful, positive artist who radiates warmth and honesty and gets it back in kind from his audience. This show ended in a love fest that included a spontaneous third encore – his band had already tossed set lists into the crowd, and it took a few minutes for the players to heed the boss’ call to return.

Jeffreys, 70, also made a deal with his audience regarding his daughter Savannah, 16 (yes, 16!): “When my daughter comes to Northwestern (University), I expect you all to watch out for her.”

“We will,” the crowd answered.

Jeffreys is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-born singer/songwriter who has released just 12 studio albums in his 43-year career. His mixed heritage – Puerto Rican and African-American – is mirrored in his music, which embraces rock, soul, R&B and reggae. His lyrics often deal with the challenges and responsibilities of being “other,” such as in “I May Not Be Your Kind,” “It’s What I Am” (“… too white to be black, too black to be white … I’m one of them, it’s what I am”) and in “Hail Hail Rock ‘n Roll”:

Father of coal, mother of pearl/
Never too black to blush to pick up a white girl/
The color of you, the color of me/
You can’t judge a man by looking at the marque/

His set spanned 16 songs and almost 90 minutes, backed by an excellent four-piece band featuring Mark Bosch on guitar, Brian Stanley on bass, Tom Curiano on drums and Gray Reinhard on keyboards.

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Billy Gibbons Q&A: ZZ Top is still bad and nationwide

ZZ Top (from left): Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill
ZZ Top (from left): Frank Beard, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill

By Barry Gilbert

A chance to interview Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top? Hell, yeah.

Unfortunately, Gibbons is not crazy about doing phone interviews, so we had to settle for an email exchange. That’s good, because it sure is easier. But that’s bad, because there’s no give and take, followup questions or a chance to salvage unresponsive answers. (Not that Billy really did that.)

That little ol’ band from Texas has been on the road for 43 years, and that road was taking it to St. Louis on Aug. 24. A concert advance based on this interview for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch can be found here.

Following is our email exchange, with editing only for punctuation and clarity.

BG: I’m sure you get asked this every day, but here it is again: How is it possible for a band to be together for so long with no personnel changes, no breakups and reunions, no tabloid dirt dishing? How do you all handle conflict?

Gibbons: First, and foremost, we embrace the continual good time doing the ‘whatever’…! We like to keep on keepin’ on with, as we like to say, ‘the same three guys and the same three chords.’ Maybe it’s that we’re a trio as it’s an odd number (very odd in our case) so no ties in the case of a vote. We like playing and recording, so no reason to stop. OK, most bands break up and, inevitably, get back together, so if you’d like to think of the past 10, 20 or 30 years as a ‘reunion tour,’ feel free to do so.

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Open Highway festival brings musical genres together

By Barry Gilbert
Special to the St. Louis Beacon

(Published here on Friday, Aug. 2, 2013)

For some bands, the tour highway doesn’t run through St. Louis. The Open Highway Music Festival is trying to put the city on the maps of more musicians.


John Henry of the St. Louis band John Henry and the Engine, and Steve Pohlman of the Off Broadway nightclub on Lemp Avenue came up with the idea for the festival last year, and they initially planned to focus on a fairly narrow genre of music. But by the time the curtain went up on the first of three nights of music last fall, their scope had widened.

For this year’s second edition, which runs for four nights beginning Wednesday ((Aug 7)) at Off Broadway, it’s wider still, and no better example can be found than the bill for Friday night: J.C. Brooks and the Uptown Sound, a soul and R&B show band that recalls the stage shows of James Brown and Otis Redding; and Those Darlins, a trio of women from Kentucky who mix country, rock and punk into a high-energy stew.

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Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson continues his story in Peabody Opera House show

Ian Anderson
Ian Anderson

July 15, 2013 12:10 pm

By Barry Gilbert
Special to the Post-Dispatch

Gerald Bostock, the fictional 8-year-old protagonist of Jethro Tull’s 1972 epic “Thick as a Brick,” is alive and — perhaps? — as well as can be expected 40 years later. Gerald’s creator, British rock flutist Ian Anderson, is doing splendidly, as he proved before ardent fans in a packed Peabody Opera House on Sunday night.

Anderson is touring behind the 40th anniversary of “Thick as a Brick,” a tour begun late last year after Anderson’s solo release of “Thick as a Brick 2.” The sequel imagines what might have happened to young Gerald after a scandal that befell him in Part 1. The rock opera is well-suited to the acoustics of the opera house, and praise goes to Anderson’s sound engineer, Mike Downs, and the Peabody tech staff for one of the best-sounding rock shows this concertgoer has ever heard.

Every nuance of the dynamic music was exquisitely presented, showcasing the virtuoso talents of Anderson, drummer Scott Hammond, guitarist Florian Ophale, bassist David Goodier and keyboardist John O’Hara (the latter two also members of recent Jethro Tull incarnations).

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Sidesaddle pianist Marcia Ball still loves those roadside attractions

Marcia Ball

(This interview was conducted in advance of a Marcia Ball show scheduled for July 7, 2013, at the Old Rock House in St. Louis. Alas, the show was cancelled by the venue.)

By Barry Gilbert

Over almost four decades, a lot of amazing, funny and just plain weird stuff has floated by the windows of Marcia Ball’s tour vehicles. And the Texas-born and Lousiana-reared roadhouse R&B singer and pianist has stopped and gawked at most of them.

Among them, as chronicled in her song “Roadside Attractions,” are a concrete dinosaur, Jesus in a screen door, a blue ox, chimney rocks, two-headed livestock, “Alligator Jumparoo,” the corn palace, the fair in Dallas, redwood trees, a giant strawberry, a 2-ton ball of string, snake farms, longhorns and rock star millionaires.

And, Ball says, a telephone booth.

A telephone booth?

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Asleep at the Wheel and Eilen Jewell sparkle on Twangfest’s Night 3

Principal Asleep at the Wheel singers Ray Benson, Jason Roberts and Elizabeth McQueen at Twangfest 17. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT
Asleep at the Wheel singers Ray Benson, Jason Roberts and Elizabeth McQueen at Twangfest 17. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT

By Barry Gilbert

It’s a rare night when a music fan can see Texas-swing legends Asleep at the Wheel in an intimate venue, but that happened Friday at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on the third night of Twangfest 17.

And the Wheel found a well primed crowd, taking the stage after a knockout set by singer Eilen Jewell and her fine band, featuring guitarist Jerry Miller.

The seven-member Asleep at the Wheel, founded in 1970 and still led by singer-guitarist Ray Benson, has always been a force onstage, and the latest incarnation continues the tradition. Blasting through 23 songs in nearly 90 minutes, the band crossed genres from Western swing and boogie woogie to blues, rockabilly and country.

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Todd Snider, Ray Wylie Hubbard deliver at Twangfest 17


Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at Plush on Twangfest 17 opening night. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT

By Barry Gilbert

“I’m gonna share some of my opinions with you tonight,” singer-songwriter Todd Snider warned the Twangfest 17 opening night crowd, “not because I think you should hear them … but because they rhyme.”

The wisecrack, offered with the same stoner drawl and twinkling eye as Snider uses in his songs, also applied to Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Texas troubadour who preceded Snider on the bill Monday night at Plush in midtown St. Louis. But where Snider is laid back and nuanced under a funky hat adorned by a flower, a folk singer at his core, the scruffy Hubbard is an in-your-face chronicler of life in the margins, all snarling rock ‘n’ roll and country blues.

Twangfest’s move to Plush from its traditional opening night venue, Schlafly’s Tap Room, was a success by any measure. The festival, supported by primary sponsor KDHX (881. FM), sold out the room with fans of each artist – the billing order easily could have been reversed – and sing-alongs were happening even when not requested by the artist.

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Analog Man Joe Walsh rounds up some analog fans for blues supergroup

Joe Walsh and friends

By Barry Gilbert

How about a Joe Walsh supergroup?

The Eagles guitarist posted a Facebook photo last week that was picked up by multiple music blogs, showing an impressive group of musicians with him in the studio (above from left): blues man Keb Mo’, bassist/producer Don Was, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, keyboardist Mike Finnegan, Walsh and his brother-in-law Ringo Starr, and another pretty fair drummer, Jim Keltner.

Walsh posted a second photo of himself with R&B icon Bill Withers.

In the post, Walsh said only: “Cooking up something here at Capitol Records. I think you’ll like it.” Wilkenfeld posted: “Thursdays in the office are usually pretty mellow. Like today … when I wrote a song with Bill Withers, Mick Jagger, Keb Mo’ & Joe Walsh. LOL.”

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