Posts Tagged ‘Don Wilcock’

A Few Minutes With… Crystal Aikin of Proctors’ Gospel Jubilee

Wednesday, April 9th, 2014

Interview and story by Don Wilcock
Photograph of Jubilee Mass Choir by Rudy Lu

The switch from being a night nurse in a Tacoma, Washington hospital to touring gospel singer wasn’t as drastic a transition for Crystal Aikin as she might have thought. “Sometimes you realize in order to heal the natural body, you have to heal the soul and the spiritual man,” says the headliner at Friday’s (April 11) third annual Gospel Jubilee at Proctors in Schenectady. “I definitely miss the (nursing) field. It was definitely challenging to leave, but I also knew there was a wonderful future ahead to change lanes and to actually start healing with singing and finding out that music, as well as medicine, is a powerful medium for healing.”

In December, 2008, Aikin won the grand prize in BET’s “Sunday Best” singing competition. She had already recorded with the Washington-based Soul for Trinity Records, the gospel arm of a record label run by Jimi Hendrix’s sister. But this was the African American gospel equivalent to “American Idol.” “It was a great experience where you’re looking at Kirk Franklin standing next to you, and like my life has changed. Oh, my God. I remember (judges) Be Be Winans and the girls Mary Mary. They were saying my full name, and I said, ‘Wow! If they’re saying my name, people in their homes are saying that.’ It was a huge paradigm shift to just be a girl that is local in Tacoma working in the hospital ER to all of a sudden be the mainstream from BET on the stage such as ‘Sunday Best.’ All of a sudden you’re in everybody’s home on television on Thursday and Sunday nights. So it was a paradigm shift, but I wasn’t even thinking about that at the time. Something I ultimately had to learn was over, but I’m telling you, my heels were shaking.”

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A Few Minutes With… Peter Wolf

Wednesday, October 16th, 2013

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

Four bands saw this music journalist through the dark nights of the disco-dominated 1970s pop music scene: the Rolling Stones, Aerosmith, Van Halen and the J. Geils Band.

The first three groups still exist but haven’t produced new music up to their earlier standards. The fourth doesn’t exist under the Geils name, but their lead singer, Peter Wolf, is writing music that is more real and heartfelt than he was between 1969 and ’81 when he left the band. He plays with his current band the Midnight Travelers at The Egg in Albany on Saturday night for the third time in three years.

The first three groups still play arenas, essentially presenting an oldies greatest hits show. Wolf plays venues one twentieth the size, performing new music just as heady, raw and dynamic as he did with Geils but with the added wisdom of lyrics that stand tall next to those of other grizzled veterans, some of whom fall generally under the label of Americana like Ray Wylie Hubbard, Billy Joe Shaver and, yes, Bob Dylan.

Why, you may ask, is Wolf playing to much smaller audiences if he’s better than his contemporaries?

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INTERVIEW: Sheesham & Lotus & Son, No Batteries Required

Thursday, June 27th, 2013

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

The Canadian group Sheesham & Lotus & Son – playing at the Old Songs Festival this weekend at the Altamont Fairgrounds – describe themselves as “at once ancient and refreshingly new.” They dress old timey and play fiddle tunes, ragtime, good-time blues and use old time vocal harmony applying “old techniques and new sonic ideas presented to the audience in a bombastic and friendly fashion.”

I can remember as a college student during the ’60s “folk scare” being totally put off by the movement’s reticence to accept fresh ideas for music that at the time was slavishly copying decades-old songs and resisting new technology and even original songs. Dylan’s going electric and San Francisco going psychedelic pushed the academic attitude off the table, and today anything goes. Sheesham & Lotus & Son are a Canadian group that, like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, are revising a style of music popular in the ’20s and ’30s that largely has been forgotten with the revisionist popularity of delta blues and modern folk idioms.

As Sheesham Crow explains it, there is no utility in resisting a euphonium or trumpet in an old timey band. “If I walked across the holler, and I happen to bring an accordion, (my friend) wouldn’t say, ‘Wow, I’m playing old time. You can’t play that accordion.’”

“The thing that bugs me is the gentrification of old time music. You can lose some of that crusty, wild energy that comes from the real old time music.”

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INTERVIEW: Bill Payne: “It All Boils Down to Complete Freedom”

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

“It took me 63 years to find my voice, quote, unquote, with regard to myself, not within a band,” says Bill Payne, the founding keyboardist of Little Feat, the enduring American band with a 40-plus year legacy. They performed at The Egg in early January, but on Tuesday (June 18), Payne returns as a solo act to WAMC-FM’s The Linda in Albany.

“I didn’t do any solo shows until a year ago,” he says. At that time he had Dennis McNally open for him. McNally was the long-time historian and publicist for the Grateful Dead who wrote the definitive biography of the band, “Long Strange Trip.”

There has been a long, psychic connection between the two bands that suddenly became more tangible last year when the Dead’s lyricist Robert Hunter began a songwriting collaborating with Payne.

When I interviewed Payne in December to advance Little Feat’s show at The Egg date I wrote, “Never as popular as the Dead, Little Feat is adored by critics and die-hard fans alike, and like the Dead, they retain their distinctive sound despite the comings and goings of various personnel. Payne and Hunter’s title track to Rooster Rag [Little Feat's latest album] sounds like a logical extension of Payne’s ’70s anthem “Oh Atlanta,” and the band’s high energy eclecticism remains a West Coast answer to New Orleans gumbo.” At that time, Payne had written 13 songs with Hunter.

Recently, we reconnected for this interview:

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INTERVIEW: The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson Says “This Music Is Not for Kids”

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

As the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ founder Kim Wilson ages, he changes his perspective on where he takes chances and where he plays it safe. On one hand, he gave up drinking 25 years ago and is on a healthy diet that’s caused him to lose 35 pounds in the last several months. On the other hand, he says he will undoubtedly call out some songs at Thursday’s Alive at Five concert (June 6) that his band has never played before.

“It’s not like you’re pushed down the expert slope, you’re just starting and you’re gonna kill yourself,” he says, paying respects to himself and his band for their decades of experience. “It’s all about being
comfortable in your own skin, (but) it’s also all about just making it exciting.”

For Kim, it basically boils down to a realization at age 62 that life is precious, and that the value of what he’s learned in 39 years as the founding bandleader of the T-Birds is that it’s worth taking extra care of yourself to be able to experience the thrill of creativity hammered out in a job – he refuses to call it a career – that is more fun than living life as if it were a bungee jump, as so many artists do. “In ’88 I stopped drinking. That really helped me get on this thing where I really started learning stuff,” he says.

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INTERVIEW: No Second String for Rhett Tyler

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Interview and story by Don Wilcock

When Ozzy Osbourne’s lead guitarist Randy Rhoads was killed in a 1982 plane crash, Sharon Osbourne called Rhett Tyler – who is headlining at TJ’s Flightline Pub in Scotia on Saturday night (June 7) – to replace him.

“Of course, I turned her down,” says Rhett today. “I wouldn’t even do the audition.”

Never mind that Randy had combined classical influences with heavy metal and was on several greatest guitarist lists. David Fricke in Rolling Stone proclaimed him the 85th greatest guitarist of all time, declaring unequivocally in 2005, “Were it not for (Randy’s) 1982 demise in a plane crash, his already enormous influence on metal-guitar playing would have increased a hundredfold.”

Rhett says simply, “I did not like his music at the time. I was not into that dark thing. I didn’t realize that he (Ozzy) was really a Vincent Price character, and that it probably would have been a lot of fun, but you know….”

Then there was the time in ’75 when a mutual friend told Rhett that Keith Richards loved his music but couldn’t consider him as a replacement for Mick Taylor in the Stones because Rhett wasn’t famous enough.

And for years Rhett wondered why Stevie Ray Vaughan sounded so familiar to him until someone came up to him during a gig at Terra Blues in the Big Apple and said that Stevie had spent hours and hours learning to play guitar from a Rhett Tyler audition tape that Rhett’s dad had left at the studio where Stevie recorded his first five albums.

Listening to his new double CD The Rhythm, the Power and the Blues, it’s obvious that for Rhett it’s totally about the music, never about the glory. “We’re hoping to get the music out there and to get it presented in a way that people can pick up on what it really is,” says Tyler, “and not some Pepsi commercial.”

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LIVE: Eric Burdon @ The Egg, 5/19/13

Tuesday, May 21st, 2013

Review by Don Wilcock

The biggest difference between most blues concerts and the average rock concert is that rock replaces the unblinking honesty of blues with bravado. Eric Burdon on Sunday night at The Egg gave us both. He turned half-century-old British Invasion hits with the Animals into four-color, 3-D juggernaut performances with a crack seven-piece band. He combined that with original new songs from the best album of his career, ’Til Your River Runs Dry, sprinkled in some electric blues standards and stood naked on the stage wearing well his 72 years of both soaring and crawling across the world, equal parts rock star and has-been.

Words like “venerable” and “gravitas” are not easily applied to aging rockers, especially British Invasion bands who served up refried American blues to a country that was ignoring artists like Nina Simone for pre-fab Philly pretty boys Fabian and Frankie Avalon in 1963, but when the Animals covered her “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” they touched a nerve in America’s youth. When Burdon covered it this time, the song indeed did have gravitas, and the aging baby boomers in the crowd sat slack-jawed and propelled so far into Burdon’s world that when he held the microphone out, hardly anyone sang along until he bitch-slapped them. “Wake up,” he ordered and the crowd snapped to attention and sang along.

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INTERVIEW: Pete Seeger Showed Dylan What Was Blowin’ in the Wind

Wednesday, May 8th, 2013
Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger

Story & interview by Don Wilcock
Photograph by Thomas Lindsay

Before folk music icon Pete Seeger had the Sloop Clearwater built to call attention to the need to clean up the Hudson River, he’d had little experience on the water. “(A friend) took me out at midnight sailing in a little thing called a Beetle Cat – 11 feet long, one sail – and for the first time in my life I found out why people spend millions of dollars on private sailboats,” he says. “It’s not how fast you go, but the fact that you move at all. (Sailing) is a wonderful analogy for life. You use the force of the wind against you to move against it.”

Seeger has been using society’s own negative forces to fight against them in a career that spans more than 70 years. Appearing before the House on Un-American Activities in the ’50s, he pled the first amendment instead of the fifth. “I pled the first. It says in effect you have no right to ask me this question, and nobody like you has the right to ask questions like this of anybody.”

He and his sister Peggy Seeger will celebrate his 94th birthday and the Eighth Step’s 45th at 7pm on Sunday, Mother’s Day (May 12), when the Eighth Step takes over Proctors’ Mainstage in Schenectady.

Pete Seeger is the man who made “We Shall Overcome” the mantra of the civil rights movement. He is the cohesive force that moved folk music into the general public’s consciousness, giving the genre a cause above the simple messages of artists like the Kingston Trio and Burl Ives. He has stood tall for the common man from the moment he first took the stage. Humble to the point of being mistaken for naïve, he does not consider himself a singer, but rather a song leader, and can’t believe he has the power to “fill an old movie theater with 2000 people.”

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