Black Star Riders Rock The Grove With Saxon

BLACK STAR RIDERS

BLACK STAR RIDERS play Grove of Anaheim Apr. 20 and Microsoft Theater Apr. 22; photo Richard Stow

Black Star Riders are charging in to SoCal with heapings of hard rock, taking a night off from the Judas Priest Firepower tour to perform Apr. 20 at the Grove of Anaheim, with Saxon. Both bands rejoin the tour at Microsoft Theater Apr. 22.

Robbie Crane (bass), proclaims that he and his co-musicians are very excited to play at the venue, claiming that it shall be very special for any hard rock loving concertgoers who attend.

“We’re excited to play that gig,” Crane said. “That’s a show that we’re doing with Saxon, which is very cool, and we will be playing a longer set list as opposed to the 40 min set list that we play with Judas Priest.”

Crane says he is excited for the event as it marks something of a jovial homecoming to the Orange County area.

“That’s my hometown. I was born in Orange County so I have a ton of family there. It’ll be very cool.”

Formed in 2012, Black Star Riders are a spin-off of the iconic hard rock group Thin Lizzy, initially founded by guitarist, Scott Gorman and drummer, Brian Downey. The five-man group has managed to achieve its own unique style and sound to differentiate it from the original band it evolved from.

Crane officially joined the lineup in 2014 replacing the group’s very first bass player Marco Mendoza. Though he has played with six other bands, namely the Vince Neil Band and Ratt, playing with Black Star Riders has been very rewarding for the music veteran.
“I think everything has just been a great experience for me,” Crane said. “Culturally and musically it’s different from anything I’ve ever done before.”

Crane admits that one of the things that isn’t different for him is playing the Thin Lizzy songs, something he grew up doing while a young, aspiring musician.

“I played so many Lizzy songs in a cover band as a kid,” Crane revealed. “Scott would laugh at me ‘cause I knew all these Lizzy songs when I came in to play for them. He actually said to me ‘wow, you really make these songs swing.’ I tried to explain to him that I played these songs a hundred times before, just never with the real guys.”

Crane has quickly found himself in good company, both with the band and with music lovers. Already in his fourth year with the group, Crane’s graced many live concerts hosting the loud, boisterous jams of Black Star Riders to concert attendees. He has even aided in the creation of their second and third records – The Killer Instinct and Heavy Fire.

Though comfortable recording music in a studio, Crane admits that playing live is to him the group’s true reward for each new album they successfully produce.

“We’re musicians at the end of the day and that’s what we like to do,” Crane explained. “That’s what we loved to do as kids, that’s what we aspired to do and we’re doing it on a professional level. Not a lot of people can say that they’ve done as we all have, individually and collectively, under the Black Star Riders brand.”

No matter where the group plays, whether the United States or Europe, Crane says it is always a great experience to play live and introduce people to their solid, high-volume brand of hard rock that has made the group its niche in the music industry.

“It’s just great to share that gift of music,” Crane says. “You touch people and they get excited about it and we’re excited. We’re up there, happy as heck, just to be playing. What better life do we have?”

Black Star Riders are slated to continue playing alongside Saxon and Judas Priest until next month. Once that collaboration is over, Crane says he and his bandmates plan to take it easy and focus on playing at local music festivals.

However, Crane says this is a soft prologue to two much more daunting musical treks that they have planned for the near future.

“Our hope is in the fall that we do another smaller tour of the U.K. and then we’re going to start on our fourth record in January or February.”

Initial writing for the album has already started, Crane reveals. That process shall continue indefinitely even though the group continues playing live with no foreseeable end in sight.

“The whole time we’ll be writing, as we always are,” Crane remarks.” Every day it’s like, ‘I’ve got this idea!’ It’s a good thing. We’re always perpetuating and moving forward, which is great.”

Rock-Infused Bluegrass Yonder Style

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND play Saint Rocke Mar. 28, The Coach HOuse Mar. 29 and Belly Up Mar. 30; press photo

The well-tuned strings of the Yonder Mountain String Band are coming back to SoCal as part of their current tour across America. Yonder shall be playing Saint Rocke Mar. 28 and The Coach House Mar. 29.

The group’s return to SoCal marks the first time the group has performed at both San Juan Capistrano and Hermosa Beach and at their respective venues. Adam Aijala, the group’s lead guitarist, promises concertgoers each of those shows won’t be the same.

“We don’t play the same set ever,” Aijala proclaimed. “We make a different setlist every night, so you get three separate shows if you were to come to all three of them.”

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND; press photo

But though their setlists for each venue may differ, Aijala says that each one is guaranteed to be lengthy musical sessions concertgoers of all types can enjoy.

“You can expect roughly two plus hours of music with high energy and stretched out jam sections and some bluegrass and pretty original music,” Aijala promised.

Yonder has played consistently for almost 20 years since being founded in December 1998. The group traces its beginnings to the small town of Nederland in Colorado, where the four-member group quickly earned fans that were in awe of the group’s unique style of bluegrass.

“We found a nice little niche there for about a year as one of the only bands out there plugging in and playing bluegrass without a drummer which is how we carved a little spot in the music world,” says Aijala.

Their quick and early success even spurred the group into opening up their own independent music label just one year later in 1999 that helped provide the means to release their first album Elevation and has since produced most of their other albums.

Aijala says this move was largely due to both a sense of rugged musical individualism and a means to produce and hold onto their hard work.

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND; press photo

YONDER MOUNTAIN STRING BAND; press photo

“We just figured we’d do everything in-house because we realized that we weren’t a pop band, our music wasn’t mainstream, and we weren’t really interested giving the rights to our recordings to somebody else. So we said ‘let’s do it ourselves!’”

Aijala admits it was “a smart move” for the group. The music industry at that point had begun to see the rise of digital online streaming services that blossomed fully at the start of the 21st century. These further aided the group become more ingrained into the music industry.

Yonder’s music is what has helped the group ascend to prominence in the music world. The bluegrass music they produce isn’t at all run of the mill but something that’s the very definition of unique.

“There’s a lot of different ways to explain it,” Aijala proclaims. “But the way that I’ve been saying it lately is we have bluegrass instruments but the music we make is more rock-influenced. You could say it’s like progressive bluegrass or rock-infused bluegrass.”

It’s a combination that when accompanied with the joyful folksy vocals provided by all its band members, is still just as fresh as when the group started playing it back in 1998. The fact people enjoy it live and via recordings is the group’s overall goal.

“You want people to have a good time: that’s the ultimate goal for me,” Aijala states proudly.

And you needn’t worry about any underlying agendas or messages. Yonder aims to simply be nothing more than an enjoyable experience any music lover can appreciate.

“We’re not a preachy band,” Aijala states, “We’re more like ‘hey, you came to see us. You can put everything aside for a couple of hours and just enjoy the night and not think about anything else and hopefully we’ll put a smile on your face’.”

Beyond their current tour, Aijala reveals that, given the forthcoming child of their fiddle player Allie Kral, Yonder will help accommodate her by potentially making fewer appearances. But there is a silver lining to look forward to: a brand new album that’ll be coming out in the near future.

Though in the planning stages, Aijala says it is definitely taking shape and in the pipeline.

“We’re going to start working on a new record, but we might put that on hold,” Aijala mused. “We have some recording ideas though, we’re just writing songs.”

But whatever the future holds, Aijala intends to live for the present in continue their current tour and playing music with his bandmates.

“I just feel really fortunate that all these years later we’re still making music and still having fun doing it,” Aijala said. “Especially in a musical climate where there’s so many touring bands that we actually still have a niche to be able to do what we do and still make a living.”

Guitarist Tinsley Ellis Journeys To The Coach House

Tinsley Ellis

TINSLEY ELLIS plays The Coach House Feb. 28 and Canyon Club Mar.1; photo Flournoy Holmes

Blues rock legend Tinsley Ellis makes his return to SoCal playing at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano Feb. 28 and the Canyon Club in Agoura Hills Mar. 1.

Ellis and his bandmates look forward to the return, especially to The Coach House.

“We have played there several times, we like it very much,” says Ellis. “Concert goers will expect to hear us do songs off the brand new Winning Hand CD as well as some of the older CDs that I’ve put out over the last 35 years.”

Since entering the music industry back in 1975, Ellis has remained a steadfast and active performer in the blues rock circuit whose innovative musical stylings have made him a favorite among concertgoers and music lovers in general.

TINSLEY ELLIS; photo Regan Kelly

TINSLEY ELLIS; photo Regan Kelly

Ellis owes his continuing musical journey to the blues and rock bands he listened to growing up in Southern California. Ellis also cites bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, Cream, The Rolling Stones, The Allman Brothers as his favorites growing up and are some of his main inspirations.

But Ellis says one particular performance stands out to him along with going to see B.B. King live. It’s a performance that pushed him to finally get an instrument and become an active musician.

“I saw The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964,” Ellis relates. “I begged my parents for a guitar. I started playing in bands in high school and college. When I graduated from college I just kept going with it and I’ve doing it about 50 years now.”

Ellis has honed his musical style that has earned him a sterling reputation along with the title of “a bona fide worldwide guitar hero” from The Chicago Sun-Times. He also has numerous live appearances on record along with 17 albums to date with the latest being Winning Hand which saw release in January.

Ask him what kind of music he plays that’s helped him achieve such accomplishments and you’ll get a four word summation.

“Guitar driven blues rock,” Ellis says. “There’s a lot of guitar playing going on and there’s a lot of blues music mixed with rock music.”

It’s an amalgamation that results in superbly composed notes of both Southern-style rock and blues. These compositions are often accompanied by moody, rugged vocals from Ellis that is an iconic trademark of blues musicians like him
.
Ellis continues to actively make new music whenever possible. He has little trouble doing so as he remains consistently inspired.

“The songs kind of come to me at any particular time,” Ellis relates. “I may be driving down the road or sitting in my hotel room or I may actually be in the studio when I’m writing it.”

Ellis says he’s especially thankful to today’s technology which makes it even easier for him to create his music.

“Thanks to the cell phone with its recording feature I can just hit record and sing my ideas into my phones. The ideas are never lost so I can write songs wherever I am.”

The biggest reward for Ellis is being able to play his music. Not only do music goers get to enjoy it but so does Ellis. For him, the music he plays is a safe and wonderful means of escaping reality for a while.

“The music carries me away and I hope that it carries the listener away and delivers the listener back safely to the real world.”

Though Ellis has played many performances with just himself and his band mates he has shared the stage with other notable musicians. Ellis says he always looks forward to these performances.

“My favorite performances are the ones where we open for someone I really like a lot musically and then they call me on the stage to jam with them at the end.”

The list Ellis gives is impressive to say the least.

“Albert Collins, Coco Taylor, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy. I’ve opened for all of them and performed with them during their set. There’s been rock bands as well like The Allman Brothers Band, Government Mule, Tedeschi Trucks Band and Widespread Panic.”

In the meantime, Ellis says he intends on focusing on doing solo performances and his current tour. Once it’s over, he intends to go right back to work.

“At the end of the long tour, I’ll get back in the studio and begin writing songs for another album,” Ellis reveals.

Ellis encourages people to come see him live during his current tour and to enjoy his music live.

“People can see where we’re playing at tinsleyellis.com. I look forward to heading your way soon.”

The Subdudes Entusiastic Return to SoCal

THE SUBDUDES

THE SUBDUDES; press photo

The Subdudes and their well-seasoned New Orleans sound makes a return to Southern California playing The Coach House Jan. 11, The Rose Jan. 12, and Sweetwater Union High School Jan. 13.

Lead bass player Tim Cook says he’s especially looking forward to returning to California to effectively end the group’s belated leave of absence from the area.

“We haven’t played Southern California for several years so we’re really looking forward to coming back, especially to places like The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano because we had a lot of fun always playing at that venue.”

Founded in 1987 in New Orleans, The Subdudes still continue to play just as passionately as they did during their debut at the famous Louisiana music venue Tipitina’s. Cook though has been with the group since 2014 but has had no issue fitting in quickly.

“We’ve been having a lot of fun playing these last couple three years. Everybody’s getting along, you know, when you’re in a band, that’s always a good thing. So we’re having a good time playing.”

Ask Cook what his favorite places to play at are, Cook takes absolutely no sides. Wherever he and his still vibrant group of bandmates play is always fun.

“No matter where we’re playing, we’re real appreciative to the venue owners and the venues that have survived over the years to especially give us older guys, and our fans who are older, a place to go play and a place for our friends and fans to come and hear us.”

The Subdudes, a name play on the word “subdued,” are well-known for their unique take on roots rock. Blending the blues of both New Orleans and Louisiana, folk, country, soul and gospel, the group can best be described as an auditory sampler plate of all the best song stylings often associated with the Southern United States.

Having grown up listening to such genres, Cook says that it seems natural for him and his bandmates to not discriminate in finding a way to streamline such stylings into a deftly composed combination others can enjoy.

“When we write a song I don’t think we’re actually thinking about, ‘well, we’re going to make this one a country song’ or ‘we’re going to make this one a soul song or a rock song.’ Some of our songs rock out, some of them lean into country, and some have a gospel tinge to them just because of the singing.”

It’s an amalgamation remaining just as fresh with concertgoers as when first heard back when The Subdudes started playing it. Even today the group thrives off live concert events which remain just as lively, energetic and motivating as when the group started playing in 1987.

Such a good vibe doesn’t just go toward concertgoers but also reverts back towards the band as Cook points out.

“When I get off stage and somebody comes up and says ‘oh, thank you so much. You made me so happy tonight,’ I just feel like it’s such a blessing that we get to do this still. Even after all these years we can still go out and make people happy. That’s our job.”

It’s an occupation that never gets old to Cook and his fellow Subdudes who continually look forward to sharing their unique brand of music to concertgoers. Cook doesn’t discriminate in regards to the specialness of each of their live appearances.

“All the shows we do, from the smallest venue we play, like a little listening room, all the way up to something like Jazz Fest where there’s like 50,000, I just think there’s no one particular show or place. They’re all special to us.”

Even while the present keeps the Subdudes busy, Cook says he and his bandmates are already looking towards the future. 2018 he says will see an expanded set of songs played at each concert.

“We’ve got 10 CDs to pick from and a few handful of songs we haven’t been doing that we’re looking at bringing into our song list.”

But what Subdude fans can look forward to most of all is a brand new album: their latest one since 2009. Cook says that it will be much more unique than their previous releases however.

“We’re actually looking at recording a couple of covers. It’s something that we’ve always wanted to do: make a 45 of a couple of songs from groups that influenced us that we can put our swing on.”

But for now, Cook simply says that concertgoers to their upcoming shows can look forward to one thing in particular.
“Just a lot of enthusiasm,” he says with a joyful laugh.

Tribute To Tributes: Queen Nation

QUEEN NATION

QUEEN NATION (Queen Tribute); press photo

Although it’s no longer possible to go see the classic line-up of the British rock band Queen due to the death of Freddie Mercury in 1991, tribute bands across the globe have stepped up to help others experience the influential musical group in its prime. One of these bands is Queen Nation.

Founded in 2004 in California by Dave Hewitt, the vice president of entertainment at The Canyon in Agoura Hills, Queen Nation has striven for 13 years done their utmost to capture the look, sound and style of Queen.

However, given the emphasis placed on giving great performances, Queen Nation’s tireless efforts to perfectly capture Queen’s unique music are not easy. Mike McManus, who plays the role of Queen’s legendary guitar player Brian May, admits that is quite task.

“I think because with the instrumentation, obviously Freddie Mercury’s vocal range, the harmonies and the song writing, it’s really difficult to pull off. I think, as a musician, it’s probably some of the most challenging music to perform.”
It’s even more herculean as McManus and his group do their utmost to emulate everything about Queen specifically during their iconic run during the 80’s.

“We wanted to make people who had seen Queen back in 1980 to kind of give them the feeling they were seeing that all over again. We try to do the same outfits they wore around the same time and the same mannerisms. We want people to kind of revisit the classic Queen concerts.”

QUEEN NATION

QUEEN NATION (Queen Tribute); Big Time Photo

The group is so devoted to replicating Queen’s trademarks it even goes so far as to actively promote audience participation.

“We try to get them involved as much as possible. We encourage singing along. We tell them right at the beginning of the show that ‘we’re not going to do all the work. We want to hear you guys singing loud and clear,’ and it usually works.”
McManus says the effort is worth it. To him it is an honor to commemorate a group whose music and efforts were invaluable in helping him and his bandmates becoming musically active.

“I always said that if I was ever going to be in a tribute band that the only one that I would ever would be to Queen because they’re my favorite band. They’re the reason that I started playing guitar and making music in the first place.”

The group’s efforts for 13 years have not only become “second nature” but made the group of the most prolific Queen tribute bands in the United States. The group has this year enjoyed a very busy schedule for instance.”

“Our first year together we did five shows and now this year we’re ending the year off with I think like 97 or 98 shows,” reports McManus.

That is in fact the norm for the group. McManus says that he expects the group to attain more just as much, if not more, appearances next year.

“We’ve already got 45 shows lined up for 2018. It’ll probably be closer to a hundred shows again next year.”

It’s also helped the group play to great fanfare at local music venues and county fairs but high profile venues too such as Angels Stadium and Las Vegas Hilton. Yet no matter the locale, one thing McManus and his group love more than sharing their love of Queen at such venues is being able to meet fellow Queen fans.

”I could sit here all day and go over how lucky we’ve been as a touring band to meet some of the greatest people you’d ever want to meet.”

For example: McManus specifically recalls playing at the 5th Annual Rock Against MS Benefit Concert & Award Show in Los Angeles last year. Not only did the group headline along with legendary groups such as Foreigner and Whitesnake but equally iconic musicians who grew up with Queen.

“Nancy Wilson from Heart was there, Scotty Hill from Skid Row, Steven Adler from Guns ‘n’ Roses, Jerry Cantrell from Alice in Chains. It was a big star-studded charity benefit and they all loved Queen, just like we did.”

It’s that kind of love for the music of Queen that looks to keep the members of Queen Nation busy for some time McManus says.

“The beauty of this music is that it goes from generation to generation. We have families come to see us every year and we watch their kids grow. We’ve made some really good relationships over the years with our fans and we hope to continue that.”

Just as Queen Nation shows no sign of stopping in helping preserve the legacy of Freddie Mercury and Queen, neither will their music which McManus states firmly will keep going on indefinitely.

“They’ll be playing Queen when you and I are both long gone,” McManus said.

Tower Of Power Take Their Large Musical Sound On The Road

TOWER OF POWER

TOWER OF POWER play The Coach House Dec. 17; photo Tina Abbaszadeh

The iconic Tower of Power returns to its birthplace of California as part of its tour stopping at The Coach House Dec. 17.

Emilio Castillo, both one of the group’s founders and one of its lead musicians, looks forward to coming back to California.

“California’s where I started the band. We started in Oakland, California in 1968 so we’re very popular there. We’ve played all over the state many times and we always look forward to it.”

Tower of Power remains one of the longest running musical groups having played for a staggering 49 years. Though its members have changed numerous times, their blissfully sweet trademark horn and vocal-based music remains intact.

The music the group plays is typically considered soul music. However, Castillo says that what he and his group perform goes beyond that genre.

“It’s soul music but it has a very original flavor to it. It’s not soul music in the sense of what you hear on the radio so much. It’s very original sounding. It has to do with our writing style. As I say, highly exciting up-tempo music and highly emotional.”

Castillo though writes out most of the song compositions for the group but always makes it a habit to show his work to them.

“When I write songs, I know exactly how I want them to turn out and then I show them to the band. Of course, I glean from them any of the great musical ideas that they put forth.”

This is where the true team work takes place as Castillo and his group routinely work out how each song will be played at each of their live showings.

“From the drummer, I get a rhythmic idea. He might say ‘let’s hit this accent on the 16th before one then hang it all the way ‘til two and then come in,’ and then I’ll go back to him and say “that’s a great idea. But let’s hang it ‘til the upbeat of one.’ We’ll go back and forth like that with these ideas. It’s like chipping away at a sculpture until it comes out the way you want it.”

With a whopping 10 members, ideas within Tower of Power are not only in large supply but are essential in providing “a large musical sound” according to Castillo.

“We have five horns and a lead vocalist that stand at the front of the stage and we’re backed by a four-piece rhythm section. Everything is very carefully arranged.”

The results show. To date the band has recorded over 20 albums, still receives critical praise from critics and a loyal fanbase. That fanbase not only includes older fans who grew up with their music but young fans too, in both North America and abroad.

“There’s a venue in Aarhus, Denmark called The Train. It’s a night club and when the people come they’re all kids like 25 and under. They know all the lyrics and a lot of times they pogo while we play. We feel like The Beatles when we leave the stage.”

One fan sticks out the most to Castillo: Aretha Franklin. Castillo recalls discovering her fondness for Tower of Power back in March 1971. The band was then opening for Aretha Franklin at the legendary Fillmore West during the recording of her album Aretha Live at Fillmore West.

“When I was standing in the doorway of the dressing room, she came and she wanted to get through. The dressing room was packed so I turned sideways and she kind of wedged in to get through. We found ourselves nose to nose. She looked at me and said, ‘Tower of Power: my favorite band,’ and I just melted.”

Such admiration is what keeps Tower of Power going. With the group’s 50th anniversary looming, he and his fellow bandmates are already looking to repay that support.

“We’re now in the planning stages of doing a live showing in Oakland, California June 1st and 2nd at the Fox Theater celebrating 50 years of Tower of Power. And it’s going to be a very special concert. We’re going augment the band with strings next to vocals and have guest horn players and singers.”

Castillo says that the celebrations won’t stop there either.

“We’re also releasing two brand new albums,” Castillo adds. “They’re already finished. We cut 28 tracks and they will all be released in May of next year.”

For the present, Castillo promises that people can look forward to the promise of a fun time.

“They’re going to look forward to a highly exciting typical Tower of Power show.”

The Sounds Hang Out For Six In SoCal

the sounds

The Sounds play Observatory/OC Nov.8, Fonda Theatre Nov. 11 & 12, Observatory/S.D. Nov. 14, The Glass House Nov. 16, Pappy’s & Harriet’s Nov. 17; promo pic

The Sounds, an indie rock group from Sweden, shall be gracing Observatory/OC Nov. 8, Fonda Theatre Nov. 11 & 12, Observatory/S.D. Nov. 14, The Glass House Nov. 16 before wrapping up their SoCal appearances at Pappy & Harriet’s Nov. 17.

The group will be celebrating the ten-year anniversary of their most prolific album Dying To Say This To You along with new music from the recently released EP The Tales That We Tell.

With six studio albums and tours since 1998, the band is already known for their entertaining live shows and boast a musical style best described as rock intertwined with a new wave style molded for the 21st century.

THE SOUNDS

THE SOUNDS; promo pic

Concert Guide Live was able to catch up with the group’s drummer Fredrik Blond to get his take on playing packed houses, travelling with his bandmates, and not making future plans.

CONCERT GUIDE LIVE: What can you discuss regarding your latest album The Tales That We Tell and how does it tie in with your decision to again tour North America?
FREDRIK BLOND: We released the EP over the summer and so far it’s been very well received by our fans.

There’s always a lot of fans asking us to play in California and since we were already heading to Mexico, it seemed like a good idea.

Also, the weather is really awful here [in Sweden] in November so I didn’t need any convincing. I mean, who doesn’t like sunshine and palm trees every once in a while?

CGL: What is it like playing your music in the United States compared with your home country of Sweden?
FB: It’s a little different but not that different. I would say that people here in Sweden tend to not let loose as much when they listen to a Swedish band.

The crowd is always much better if the band or artist is foreign for some reason.

CGL: How did your group first come together and how did you enter the music industry?
FB: The band was started back in 1998 when Felix (Guitar) and Johan (Bass) who had known each other as kids, met up one night and decided that they would form a band. I was asked to join in, and Felix brought Maja (vocals) along from his school.

A year later, we found Jesper at a festival here in Sweden – he was from the same town as us – and he just happened to be really good at keyboards.

We played a lot of shows all over Sweden and after one show in Stockholm we got a publishing deal that later led to a record deal.

CGL: What are your favorite venues you enjoy playing at live at?
FB: Honestly, if the place is packed, then I don’t care. If it’s 200 or 20,000 then I know I’m gonna have a good time.

But if I have to say one place off the top of my head then I would say 9:30 Club in D.C. Great club and all the crew guys there have always been very nice to us over the years.

CGL: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it before?
FB: Well, I probably wouldn’t. I don’t like talking about myself or what I do that much. I mean have you ever heard an artist give an accurate description of their own music?

But when people press me on it, I usually mumble something like “it’s rock music, but with keyboards added.”

CGL: What musical singers and bands have personally influenced you and your style of music?
FB: Oh, that’s a tough one. I think Nirvana was one of the bands that made me want to be in a band when I was about 15 or so, but you wouldn’t necessarily hear that in our music.

Also, The Clash’s drummer Topper [Headon] was a big influence for me.

CGL: What are some of your more memorable experiences playing your music live?
FB: I think some of the best memories are just hanging out with my band members and our crew and traveling the world together, partying, having a great time and then waking up in a new place every day.

CGL: Beyond your latest album and upcoming North American tour, what other plans does your group have in store for the future?
FB: I think that at the moment we’re in a stage of our lives when we don’t want to make big plans. I mean making plans can certainly be useful at times, but I think personally that the point of life is to live it!

Twiddle Bring The Jams To Teragram Ballroom

TWIDDLE

TWIDDLE play Teragram Ballroom Oct. 28; photo Jay Blakesberg

Twiddle shall again be gracing California with another appearance at the Teragram Ballroom on Oct. 28 as part of their current tour.

Founded in 2004, Twiddle has remained one of the musical circuit’s most lively groups known for their unique mixture of musical genres and, above all, always striving to relay a constant message through their work.

“Our message is a message of hope and being good to each other and positivity,” exclaims Milhali Savoulidis (lead vocalist / guitarist).

It’s a message that continues to this day and has resulted in the group spawning a fanbase referring to themselves as “Frends”, a nod to “The FRENDS Theme” and the lyric: There Ain’t No I In Frends.

Savoulidis makes up one quarter of the four-man group which first began in the state of Vermont. The foursome, after meeting at Castleton State College, began at the bottom of the music ladder as a simple local band playing at whatever venue would have them.

But though the group did begin in Vermont, they truly began to take shape in California, a place Savoulidis says is part of Twiddle’s roots. It’s a place that’s also “special and refreshing” every time they play there.

“Los Angeles was just one of our favorite places to go visit and hang out in,” Savoulidis said. “We spent a lot of time when we were younger there specifically in Venice.”

The group played at local bars and venues in the area before their perseverance paid off by becoming contracted to the musical label JamFlow Records. They’ve since remained consistently busy, something Savoulidis says helped Twiddle enter the professional circuit to begin with.

“We’ve been touring for the last 12 years consistently, 200+ shows a year. I think it was just through hard work and dedication that got us noticed by the industry to begin with.”

Twiddle remains very proactive, especially at their live showings. The group is noteworthy for its hefty combination of different music styles ranging from reggae, jazz, bluegrass to rock.

Savoulidis owes this quite simply to the unique musical tastes of each member of the band which has helped make Twiddle one of the most prolific jam bands playing today.

“We all came from different musical backgrounds and I think that makes up our sound and I think that’s why it’s so diverse.”

Savoulidis cites Twiddle’s keyboard player Ryan Dempsey’s enjoyment of jazz, specifically Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, as important to Twiddle’s sound and bass player Zdenek Gubb’s love of musicians like Les Claypool being a big contribution to its utilization of rock.

As for Savoulidis, he isn’t shy in revealing his musical tastes that help fuel the band’s unorthodox musical style.

“I grew up really loving reggae and some of the more singer/songwriter stuff like Dave Matthews. Even grunge music was huge for me. Kurt Cobain and Nirvana was a huge influence.”

Their music is also guaranteed to be very different at each live show. This is due to Twiddle’s unique improvisational and free flowing style. Savoulidis and his bandmates hold that any song, no matter how long or short, is open to improvisation once they are added to a setlist.

Savoulidis describes the process as a team effort saying that all songs begin on one specific musical key. Once in play, that’s when things shift into different gears.

“Essentially the keyboard player and the bass player in the band, Zdenek and Ryan, they start to communicate with each other within that key, up a third, down a fifth, whatever. They are creating soundscapes and chord progressions and different moods on the spot that me and the drummer [Brook Jordan] will follow. Or I will lead a jam. It depends on sort of who is leading.”

This extends to their recordings, most notably their two most recent albums PLUMP: Chapter 1 and PLUMP: Chapter 2. They’re Twiddle’s most unique albums due the genuine teamwork put into each one of its songs, something not done on any of their previous albums.

“We all got together and worked on these songs and that is the difference. These are products of all of us putting our heads together.”

The hard work and group-based efforts of Twiddle shall continue past their current tour and albums. Savoulidis promises all manner of upcoming announcements, brand new content and even improving on Twiddle’s vibrant, fluctuating music.

“We’re always looking to try and change what we’re doing on stage and I think in the next year, as always, we’ll evolve the sound a little bit with each year that passes. That’s always exciting.”

For the present though, Savoulidis simply promises live concert goers who attend their upcoming shows are in for a good time.

“You’re going to get great musicianship, a nice message, a nice crowd, and just an overall feel-good environment.”

Travelin Jack: Representatives Of Rock In The 21st Century

TRAVELIN JACK

TRAVELIN JACK; photo Martin Becker

Though it’s currently impossible to return to the 1970’s to experience the golden age of rock-n-roll, bands of the present and surviving groups from that era still try to perfectly replicate that period of history through their music.

One of the latest and most noteworthy attempts to accomplish this comes in the form of Travelin Jack. First formed in Berlin in 2013, this relatively new group aims to be the ultimate homage to 70’s rock-n-roll.

Not only does Travelin Jack near-perfectly capture the trademark sound of 70’s rock through its performances, they go further though in applying the unique gimmicks and trademarks of the era to their group. Practically everything is used from outrageous makeup, extravagant costumes and even unique stage names.

But it’s their live shows that truly reflect they have gone all out to make it feel like a 70s concert for audiences of the 21st century. Steve Burner, the band’s bass player, guarantees concert goers can expect great shows.

“We’ve got permission to give the audience the whole package,” Burner claimed. “We want to make sure they get a good show. That’s what we promise to give to the audience. There’s a lot of action, a lot of glitter and we try to give them some special effects with the budget we’ve got.”

Burner is able to partake in such shows due to his friendship with the group’s lead guitarist Flo ‘The Fly’ Kraemer. Kraemer was still writing the band’s first songs with lead vocalist and guitarist Alia Spaceface before approaching Burner with the terrific opportunity to help out.

“I’ve known Flo for about 15 years but we never played together in a band,” Burner says. “He told me, ‘We’re forming a band to play some 70s rock-n-roll. Do you want to join?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, of course.’ I came from Cologne to Berlin to start it.”

Another friend of Burner’s, Montgomery Shell, joined soon after as the group’s drummer. With the band formed and dubbing itself Travelin Jack after a central character from the Stephen King novel “The Talisman”, the four quickly went to work in entertaining audiences throughout Europe.

Europe has been the exclusive stomping ground for the group since 2013. Past shows have taken place largely in Germany with some side stops in places like Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Austria and Holland. If you’re wondering why they’ve yet to entertain live audiences in the United States, it’s due to the group’s lack of money and, of course, restrictive geopolitics.

“The problem for European bands to go to America is visas. It’s really expensive to play there,” Burner explains. “But we really would like to play in the U.S.”

This handicap has made the group rely on their albums to gain them international exposure. New World, their first album, was released both in Europe and overseas in 2015. Their follow-up and current album, Commencing Countdown, shall be given the same treatment once released on Sep. 8. Those wanting to enjoy an early taste of the album can view the official music video for the song “Keep on Running” online and buy it as a digital single.

TRAVELIN JACK

TRAVELIN JACK “Commencing Countdown” album cover

Burner isn’t ashamed to admit that the band’s second album sounds much better due to all band members working together on it.

“I think it’s more catchy and groovy than the first one,” Burner said. “Maybe the reason is we wrote together. The first one was made before we started writing stuff together as a band. We work better together and we grow.”

Yet while their albums are the only way Travelin Jack is currently able to share its 70s style rock outside Europe, Burner and his bandmates have tried to make the best of their situation. This has been made easier thanks to an armada of European rock-n-roll fans.
For example, Burner cites the final location of the band’s current tour.

“At the end of this December we are on tour with Kadaver, who are from Berlin, too, and will play in Siegen at the Vortex. It’s a small village near the village I came from so a lot of fans will be there. But there’s also a really cool rock-n-roll scene. There’s a great festival called “Freak Valley Festival”. I played there with my first band years ago and it’s always a big party there.”

Until that final destination is reached and their work is completed on promoting their upcoming CD, Burner says he and his bandmates don’t intend to wrack their brains on the future but on the present. He and the other players of Travelin Jack have one primary goal they wish to focus on.

“Our main plan is to play rock-n-roll and have a good time.”

The Sweet To Sweeten SoCal

THE SWEET

THE SWEET play The Canyon Aug. 12 and The Coach House Aug. 18; press photo

The Sweet shall soon be coming to sweeten Orange County’s music scene. The iconic Glam rock group invites music lovers old and new to come and listen to them when they play live at The Canyon Aug. 12 and The Coach House Aug. 18.

While it might be viewed as a fun excursion for concert goers, Steve Priest, the founder for the group, not to mention its lead vocalist and bass player, also views the event as a standard business venture.

“We’ve played there before so we’re going to play there again,” Priest states in a serious tone.

Founded in 1968, The Sweet has established itself as one of the leading innovators of Glam rock. Musically, Priest says its best described as “hard rock with a pop feel.”

But what truly makes this style of music well-known is its trademark visual style of outrageous garbs, hairstyles and platform shoes its performers don. The Sweet became one of the first groups to utilize this flamboyant style when performing live and for music videos. Their unique fashion and musical style helped influence further artists and made glam rock a staple for much of 1970’s.

Today, the music style of The Sweet remains intact but the classic flamboyant look has been replaced with a more contemporary style: something Priest admits he’s glad of as he no longer has to tolerate wearing platform shoes.

“They were a pain in the butt and it was very easy to fall over on stage,” Priest recalls. “They were like wearing diver’s boots.”

Besides its look, The Sweet’s lineup has also changed. Priest’s group is the fourth and latest incarnation which was formed in 2008. Besides Priest himself, the group includes Richie Onori (keyboards), Joe Retta (drums), Stevie Stewart (keyboards) and Mitch Perry (guitars).

Priest is proud of his current lineup and happily proclaims that they live up to the legacy of the group’s initial and most famous lineup of himself, Andy Scott, Mike Tucker and Brian Connolly.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been with the first band,” Priest says. “But this band performs as well as I could possibly expect.”’

Priest adds that the most ideal place to hear their music is still at places that adhere to the old phrase of “the bigger, the better.”

“We enjoy playing places like the Canyon Club, but we also like doing festivals in the summer.”

Crowds still love hearing the Glam rock of Priest and his bandmates. This is not just due to nostalgia but also due to the genre finding newfound popularity within the 21st century. Classic music from the genre is being reintroduced in all sorts of different mediums which Priest hopes continues.

“Resurgence in popularity is always a big plus so, what can I say, I love the idea.”

The Sweet itself has been privy to this resurgence when their most famous song “Ballroom Blitz” was featured in the trailer of the 2016 film “Suicide Squad”. Another of their iconic songs, “Fox on the Run”, has also helped revitalize the group. This is due in large part to its attachment to the recent box-office smash hit “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”.

“The producer of Guardians of the Galaxy [Kevin Feige] is a big fan of ours and he liked the song,” Priest reveals. “He didn’t use it in the movie but he used it in the soundtrack.”

Though not featured in the actual movie, the song’s use in an official trailer for the film, not to mention its official soundtrack album, caused it to spike in popularity. “Fox on the Run” rocketed up to #1 on the iTunes Top 40 U.S. Rock Songs chart and became one of the most downloaded songs last December.

The group has another upcoming accomplishment with next year marking their 50th anniversary. Besides celebrating with live performances, Priest reveals that he intends to make such a memorable occasion more memorable by creating a new studio album: the first since the group’s previous 1982 studio album, Identity Crisis.

“We’re going to try and write a new album, CD, or whatever you want to call it and see how that goes,” Priest states firmly.