There’s an underlying spirituality when Alexis P. Suter talks about her music and the mission she’s on. That soulfulness runs deep in both her personality and her music, as you can see and hear for yourself when the Alexis P. Suter Band takes over the stage at WAMC-FM’s The Linda in Albany at 8pm on Friday (June 21). And when talking with her you can’t help but feel like you’re talking with a preacher after hours. She’s that passionate, that uninhibited about talking about the ideals that drive her musical quest. And like a true New Yorker, this Brooklyn native needs only the slightest nudge to get her talking at length about what’s on her mind:
Q: So how long were you singing in your church before you started singing more secular music?
A: Wow (laughing)! I was singing in church for a long time before I started singing any other kind of music. I mean, I was into different theatrical groups and stuff, and we used to do different music. Not music like on the wide range like I do now with the band, but we did do other music besides gospel music. (Laughing) I don’t want anyone to think I was like this church robot or anything like that. I did do other stuff. [My parents] didn’t want us to listen to any other kind of music but gospel music, so I really didn’t have any other kind of music playing in my home.
Q: Your mother was a music teacher and deeply involved in the church. Was that her influence?
A: Well, I think it was my mother and my father. They just wanted us to be involved with that, you know, and stick with that influence. But as you get older, you get curious, and you want to listen to different things. You know, I’d go to school, and I had friends that weren’t as church-going as I was in my family, and they listened to different kinds of music. I’d go to different people’s houses and hear different things, and your mind gets curious. You grow up, and you’re like ‘I want to listen to this, I want to listen to that,’ so eventually I got to listen to different things because my music range started to become larger. I wanted to know more… and in order to do that, you have to listen to more than one kind of music.
“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.
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.
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.”
Story and interview by Wanda Callagy
Photograph by Robin Murray
Steve Daub has been busy in the last few weeks.
Not only did he enjoy some time in New Orleans, he had a birthday and was honored to be a judge at the recent Downtown Albany Business Improvement District’s recent Downtown Albany Blues Music Competition to help determine which bands would perform at the Local Blues Night of this summer’s upcoming Alive at Five concert series. (The winners – Blues Sanctuary and the Tom Healey Band – are slated to perform at Albany’s Riverfront Park at 5pm on Thursday, July 25).
Daub has been an influence in the area for several years, volunteering his Monday nights to promote local musicians on his “Stormy Monday Blues” program heard from 8-10pm on Mondays on college radio station WRPI (91.5 FM) out of Troy. The musicians he has hosted on his program stretch from regional and local artists to visitors to the Albany area, such as Peter Tork and Rory Block.
The radio show has been running for over 10 years now, and Daub says that he got into it quite by accident. A boss’ girlfriend suggested he get involved, simply a music lover. The position grew from being a co-host to running the show weekly with the assistance of audio engineer students who set up and operate the sound system for live performances on the show. With the summer ahead, the students will be gone until the fall, but Daub has plenty of vinyl to play, and though most of the music he plays is focused on the blues, other favorites or new bands are also often presented.
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.”
Billy Joe Shaver: His Songs Are the Key to His Survival
Interview and story by Don Wilcock
Willie Nelson talked Billy Joe Shaver into performing on New Year’s Eve, 2000 at Poodie’s outside of Austin, the same day Shaver’s son Eddy died of a heroin overdose. Shaver was on stage the night his mother died, and he also performed the same day he was acquitted of murder in 2010 after shooting Billy Bryant Coker in the face at Papa Joe’s Texas Saloon in Loredo. On Tuesday night, country music’s first outlaw plays the Ale House in Troy.
Even if Shaver hadn’t written all but one of the songs on Waylon Jennings’ Honky Tonk Heroes album, you could say that he epitomizes the country outlaw image. But he did, and that album – released in 1973 – today is generally considered the cornerstone of that whole sub-genre of country music.
Billy Joe’s dad beat his wife so badly when she was pregnant with him that it’s a miracle he was born. Brought up by his grandmother, Billy Joe only made it through the eighth grade before he had to go to work to keep food on the table. He married the same woman three times, the last time to nurse her to her death by cancer. The only consistency in his life has been his songs. In fact, he says songwriting has saved his life. He’s 73.
“I knew what I had when I was young. I started talkin,’ I started writin,’ makin’ stuff up in songs, you know. Or listening to other people singing what they’re singing. It just came to me. I just assumed it was a gift from God, and I was damn lucky to get it, and that’s the way I treated it. I’ve done the best I could with it, and if it’s a gift from God, then I’m lucky to have it.”
He plays guitar in spite of losing parts of three fingers in a saw mill accident. His latest album, Live at Billy Bob’s Texas, includes originals made famous by everyone from Willie Nelson and Johnny Cash to Kris Kristofferson. “Georgia on a Fast Train” alone (on the new album) has been covered by Tennessee Ernie Ford, the Allman Brothers Band, Johnny Cash, Dickey Betts & Great Southern, Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Twangbangers, Two Cow Garage and at least 17 others…
In an interview on BBC’s “Jonathan Ross Show,” Laurence Fishburne was asked why he doesn’t do martial arts any more. Fishburne’s answer was quite simple: “Because I’m old… It hurts!” I tend to avoid shows in “stand-up” nightclubs for exactly the same reason. And yet, there I was last October at Red Square, pounding on the wall next to the stage as Marco Benevento’s trio lifted the building higher and higher. The pain shooting up my back told me my chiropractor was definitely going to make his car payment that month, but I just DID… NOT… CARE! All I wanted was more of what I was getting, and the people stuffed into Red Square’s back-room concert space were on the same page as me.
Mind you, this was a piano trio I was watching – you know, the kind of group Vince Guaraldi used on the soundtrack to “A Charlie Brown Christmas”? And yet, the waves of energy and electricity that flowed off that stage left me completely gobsmacked. I’d seen the Ramones at their height, Peter Gabriel before he had hits of his own, and the Boomtown Rats before Bob Geldof got knighted, and those are the only times I could remember being exposed to that much raw power; the dual streams of intelligence and humor that came with this particular brand of power kept me glued to the side of the stage, spinal cord be damned!
I learned long ago not to expect my live experiences to translate to a band’s studio recordings, but Benevento’s new disc TigerFace leapfrogs those expectations without breaking a sweat. There are many reasons for this, and you can read about them here. And since Benevento is bringing his trio back to Red Square this Saturday night (December 1), I spoke with him for a few minutes about TigerFace, live shows and the studio where one of the most famous albums ever recorded was made:
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