Francisco Fisher's Posts
|Francisco Fisher was born in Argentina, so he’ll never be president of the United States. He is, however, a contributing writer to KDHX’s music blog.|
With barely enough room to unwrap a sandwich, fans of all ages shuffled through the restaurant and headed towards a compact stage where Nikki Hill, nicknamed the “Southern Fireball,” kept the coals hot. It was a good day to know the twist.
Standing at Hill’s side for two high-energy sets was her husband and fellow co-owner of Deep Fryed Records, Matt Hill, who played hotrod riffs on a pair of beaten-up electric guitars. Rounding out the grooves were local rhythmists Joe Meyer and Sal Ruelas on drums and bass.
A recent St. Louis transplant, Nikki Hill moved from her home state of North Carolina in 2011. There, her musical upbringing had its beginnings in a church choir, and she would later develop her distinctly sharp vocal style, one that recalls the soul of R&B singers such as Etta James and is spiked with the gritty energy of rockers including Little Richard.
“As you can see, Little Richard is a big inspiration to me,” the tattoo sleeved, headscarf-wearing singer told the audience before launching into a lively version of “Slippin’ and Slidin’.” Richards’ “The Girl Can’t Help It” had already been played earlier, and “Rip It Up” was still to come — along with several other explosive covers including Otis Redding’s “Shout Bamalama.” The group also performed originals including those from Hill’s self-titled EP, which features the tracks “I Got A Man” and “Strapped to the Beat.”
Compared to a much more relaxed, seated set at Venice Cafe earlier in the month, Matt and Nikki Hill turned up the heat for the Blues City audience on Thursday and seemed to have fun doing it. Between songs, Matt turned to his reflection in the window and began to comb his greaser hair; Nikki gave a wink to the audience. “You see what I have to deal with?” She later grabbed his bottle of Abita Purple Haze and took a sip. “What’s mine is mine, and what’s his is mine,” she said with a smile.
The crowd was hanging on Ms. Hill’s every word and included members who had already had her on their radars following one of the singer’s past performances at the Deli’s weekly music event, the Thursday Night House Party. “I see a lot of familiar faces out there,” Hill said in between songs. “This is my Blues City crew.”
Hill later said that her group would be doing a lot of touring during the coming year, and stressed the importance of St. Louis’ music scene, and of Blues City Deli as a venue.
“Soon there will come a time when you won’t be able to squeeze in here,” she said. Audience members’ heads swiveled to register the wall-to-wall human traffic. That time is now.
International and inter-generational, Nashville band the Dynamites, featuring veteran singer Charles Walker, delivers funk and soul originals with a bang.
Frontman Charles Walker began his singing career in Nashville in the late ’50s. The following decade, he moved to New York City and opened for soul and R&B giants including James Brown, Etta James and Jackie Wilson. Walker performed solo and also led several bands including Little Charles & the Sidewinders, a group that, despite its star quality, received little attention compared to its contemporaries.
After returning to his hometown and performing for the Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit “Night Train To Nashville,” Walker caught the ear of songwriter Bill Elder. Together they formed the Dynamites, a modern band exploring new avenues of funk and soul in front of fans across the globe. On September 20, the group will perform in St. Louis as part of KDHX’s Thursdays at the Intersection in Grand Center.
I had the pleasure of chatting with both Walker and Elder before their return to St. Louis.
Francisco Fisher: You took a hiatus from music in the ’80s and into the ’90s. Then you found out people in England were listening to the Sidewinders, and you performed there. What was that like?
Charles Walker: I was really on the verge of pulling in and giving it up…. So, when I heard about the Sidewinders’ stuff being played a lot, and Southern soul a lot too, it gave me another kind of inspiration to get back into the music again. It was quite a good feeling, I guess, just being back in it.
What were some of your other inspirations to get back into music? I read that you heard about Sharon Jones and others who were becoming popular for playing a similar kind of music.
It’s true, I heard of them. A lot of the black people like Sharon Jones and a few other groups that were doing some of the old soul stuff, funk and soul. So I decided, well, that’s what I’ve come up on, so I need to get my step back into it, too. And that’s what happened. It took me a minute or two, but it happened.
How does your experience with the Dynamites compare to your previous experience with the Sidewinders?
The Dynamites is the same kind of thing. The Sidewinders was mostly just a sped-up soul band. The Dynamites is more of a funk-and-soul band, and actually, [Bill Elder's] idea was to do the deep funk. So I saw the work come out of that, and we got [the Dynamites] just doing mostly soul now, because that’s really what’s happening. Soul music is really coming back. I don’t know if it’s going to be a main genre, but you can hear it in all kinds of music now.
Can you tell me about the new album?
We just finished it about a month ago, and it’s going to be released in Europe first. The songs are a little bit more to what I do than “Burn It Down” and “”Kaboom!”.” “”Kaboom!”" was more like me kind of fitting in and trying to work it out with that funk thing. But this new album is more of a soul album.
Is this more of a collaboration than before?
Yeah, mainly the collaboration thing is that Bill wrote almost all the songs. I wrote one song on that album and we’re doing one of the Sidewinders’ songs.
“Please Open The Door”…. We recut it and it’s more like a stage version. I do it onstage with the Dynamites anyhow. As a matter of fact, we do quite a lot of the Sidewinders’ songs in our show.
Would you like to do a live album with the Dynamites?
Yeah, I would. You can generate a whole different thing as a live performance than four walls and a booth somewhere. The live thing is definitely a lot more inspirational. You can do a lot of things. Our show with the Dynamites is put together in that way that it could be recorded live because our stuff is put together pretty well.
‘We give each other a lot of space and leeway to be ourselves’ A pre-LouFest interview with Catherine Harris-White of THEESatisfaction
Catherine Harris-White and Stasia Irons are soaring with THEESatisfaction. Well known among fans of the Seattle hip-hop scene, the duo has taken off with a European tour and buzz both abroad and at home following the release of their debut album, “awE naturalE.”
Fresh off a flight landed in Seattle, Harris-White discusses the group’s new album and its first-ever St. Louis appearance at LouFest 2012.
Francisco Fisher: You guys have been recording and making music since 2008. I’m talking about ThEESatisfaction, but you were also on the Shabazz Palaces’ [a Seattle-based collective] album. How does it feel to have this album come out, an album of your own?
Catherine Harris-White: It’s really nice, you know. This is the first project we’ve had that’s been advertised and distributed around the world. In the past, we’ve just come out with projects like mixtapes and sold them basically by hand and at shows and put them online. So it’s kind of cool because this has been put out there in such a big way.
What is it like working with Stasia [Irons]? Do you prefer working in a duo or larger groups?
I really love working with Stas’. She’s got a great style and a really great ear for music. It’s a joy to work with her. I’ve worked with a couple of other bands before, but I like working with Stas’ and the two-person dynamic and how we can build off that.
Would you say you guys complement each other?
We definitely complement each other, rhythmically and vocally. We harmonize a lot when we’re on stage. We just have a solid idea of what the other person is doing or might do, and if we don’t know what’s going to happen, we can work it out. It’s not like any problems, like, “What the hell is she doing?” or “Why would she do that?” We work through everything, so it’s cool.
In the studio, onstage or both?
Everywhere. Definitely onstage, too, because since it’s live, things can always change. But we give each other a lot of space and leeway to be ourselves.
Do you enjoy live performance or are you more comfortable in the studio?
Recording and working on stuff at home is a totally different process, because you have hours, days and weeks to work on things sometimes, so you can get into a different vibe and chill out on it. When it’s live, it’s a different kind of high, because you have to do everything within an hour and people are watching it. There’s a lot of editing and mixing down and different things you can do in the studio — which is another kind of science, or another kind of game you can play — but you can’t do that same stuff onstage.
Only a bolt of lightning could have generated the energy brought by Nashville’s AJ & the Jiggawatts.
The strutting, hip-shaking antics and powerful sounds of front man AJ Eason, along with his fellow G.E.D. Soul Records cohorts, struck downtown St. Louis at around 10:40 p.m. Friday night, sending a shock through the crowd that had everyone’s flux capacitors in full swing.
Andrew Muller delivered chunky guitar licks with Tim Hawkins on bass, D. Singleton on drums and Pablo Ahogado on keys. The G.E.D. website refers to the group, which is the Nashville label’s most recent project, as “rock ‘n’ soul,” and the ensemble has the upbeat riffs to cover both bases.
Members of AJ & the Jiggawatts shuffle among other G.E.D. acts including Sky Hi, Magic in Threes, the Coolin’ System and DeRobert & the Half-Truths — all cohesive groups with diverse catalogues. With chops developed in one band or another, it’s no surprise that whenever these guys get together, an audience ends up on its feet.
Singer AJ Eason, who was born and raised in Memphis, said he was glad to be is St. Louis. “St. Louis is like Memphis with more lotion,” he quipped. Not once did the muscular, tattooed vocalist take off his sunglasses throughout the set filled with heavy-hitting jams including “Don’t Mess With Me,” “Pimp Decisions,” and an ode to booze, “Brown Bottle Fever.” He did take a break from the microphone to pick up a tambourine and also to sit at a pair of congas for a couple of songs including the encore. And of course there were those Nelly lyrics that he worked into the set as if it were part of the band’s normal routine.
Horn players can be heard on some of AJ & the Jiggawatts’ recordings, but there were no brass or reeds on the stage Friday night. This absence wasn’t a problem, however, as the grittier, stripped-down sound of the Jiggawatts along with AJ’s heavily-reverbed vocals are what make them stand apart from the other acts on the G.E.D. label. And they might even sound better live than they do on record — which is to say they sound amazing.
Funky jams played all throughout the night as DJ Hal Greens, who organized the event, led into AJ & the Jiggawatts’ performance and DJ Needles of 88.1 KDHX’s “Rawthentic” followed. Fans at Lola were granted a night of incredible soul music, and they didn’t even need a time machine to get there.
From roaming the country to touring the world, Pokey LaFarge never forgets his roots. They run deep.
His penchant for the early 20th century transcends fedoras and suspenders; it inspires original music and frames his sense of self. LaFarge doesn’t claim to be a revivalist, but instead a preservationist — his mission is to continue a tradition of distinctly American culture.
Along with his group, the South City Three, LaFarge has met recent success including a European tour, a working relationship with Jack White and an in-progress album collaboration with Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show. His current release, “Middle of Everywhere,” is an upbeat ride down a dusty road that showcases LaFarge and the South City Three in all of their old-time glory. The group joins the Twangfest lineup (presented by 88.1 KDHX) for the first time, appearing at the Schlafly Tap Room on June 6.
The following excerpt is from a phone interview that took place as LaFarge waited for a plane to New York City. He reflects on the importance of travel, personal identity and good beer.
Francisco Fisher: Travel has been a theme in your music. What was it like to travel around as a busker and a hitchhiker, and what is it like now?
Pokey LaFarge: Traveling around hitchhiking was certainly not a preferred means of travel. I had to do it because I was forced to, because I didn’t have any other way to get around at one time. But it started out growing up, not necessarily romanticizing the idea, but reading a lot of mid-20th century literature like the Beat writers, specifically Kerouac, and reading Steinbeck from an early time. It was really wanting to be ensconced in a different side of American culture that was never really popularized.
It’s a romantic side of the American culture, specifically train-hopping and the hitchhiking. The riverboat culture and the train culture — nobody else has that. That’s a pure Americana thing. I think that along with the music I was listening to at a very young age, I was like, man, I’ve got to get out there and get to the core of this country and, in the mean time, search what’s at the heart of me, to go out there and take a journey. And that’s what hitchhiking was.
That was early on. And then of course the beginning of my traveling solo about five years ago, I was driving around in a car and sleeping in my car. And then with the boys, that’s been about three and a half years in a van, and we were sleeping in the van for about the first year and a half. I’m proud to say that we’re making a good living now, and we don’t have to sleep in the van anymore.
But traveling has always been something that’s come along with the territory. If you want to go out to see the world, or if you want to spread your music out there around the world, you have to travel to do it. It’s something you learn to embrace, and it becomes what you know. It becomes an art form, traveling, in it’s own right. But a lot of my songs are about traveling, because you write about what you know.
The way I travel now, flying and driving, just allows me to make a living and get more rest, to attempt to be more healthy and to spend more time at home. I have family all over the world, but the core of my family has and always will be Illinois and the Midwest, the middle of the heart of it all.
The name of the new album is “Middle of Everywhere.” What does that title mean to you?
Going back to the Midwest thing, we’re right here in the middle of the country. But at the same time, we’re always traveling, so I’m always in between one place and another, always in the middle of some place, always in between somewhere.
Concert review: The Gramophone doubles down on funk with T Bird and the Breaks and the Diplomats of Solid Sound, Sunday, April 15
As a heavy rain fell on St. Louis, two bands showered fans at the Gramophone with punchy, Memphis-style grooves at a KDHX-welcomed event.
T Bird and the Breaks, from Austin, opened the night, their first-ever appearance in the Gateway City. The stripped-down ensemble of guitar, bass, drums and sax backed up singer/front man Tim Crane, a.k.a. T Bird, who was in full persona with his fedora, aviator sunglasses and dance moves that ranged from a stationary strut to a sort of bob ‘n’ weave.
Unlike fellow Austin native Black Joe Lewis, who approaches soul music with a heavier blues edge, T Bird’s stage presence and vocal style lends more of an old-school hip-hop flair to the genre. For example, for an encore the band played “Dancehall Freakin,” the title track of its latest EP, which features call-and-response rapping over funky riffs that brings Beastie Boys to mind. The group had reinforced this association earlier in the set by launching into a convincing cover of “Root Down.”
T Bird and the Breaks does dabble in several different styles, proof of which was evident in Sunday night’s glittery interpretation of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” and a much more literal cover of Aloe Blacc’s “I Need a Dollar.” And of course the originals including “Take Time” and “Stand Up” from the 2009 album “Learn About It” are prime examples of how soulful the group can get, even without the full horn section and female backup singers on the record.
However, the group’s recent touring partners, the Diplomats of Solid Sound, from Iowa City, lent their soulful singers Sarah Cram and Kathy Ruestow to back up T Bird during “The Clap Hands Song.” This was the experience fans of “Learn About It” expected to hear, and it was a high point in the set.
The low point of the night had nothing to do with the music. The weather kept the turnout small, and it seemed like there were more hecklers in the audience than fans. Nonetheless, the band played its collective heart out, and hopefully it will meet a more deserving reception the next time around.
The Diplomats of Solid Sound, while also playing to a sparse crowd, did not hold back on the energy either. This is a well-seasoned group that has recorded for more than a decade and has played in St. Louis several times before. Members quickly took the stage and set up their instruments including a big, boxy Hammond B-3 organ that lends the throwback sound reminiscent of the MGs. Also present was a baritone sax, guitar, drums and, at center, Cram and Ruestow on vocals.
The leading ladies, known as the Diplomettes, ascended onto the stage as the band played a song from their extensive catalog, “Intercontinental Git.” Their voices were consistently clear in each song, including during the spelled-out lyrics of “B-O-O-G-A-L-O-O” and the back-and-forth opening dialogue leading into “Fascination,” the first of two encores. The harmonies and showmanship (finger snaps, glamour poses, lovely outfits) the singers brought evoked comparisons with the Supremes and the Ikettes. The surprisingly full sound of the band’s select instruments (no bass, only one horn) filled the venue with upbeat and entrancing riffs.
The night in all was a satisfying combination of T Bird and the Breaks’ young and edgy interpretation of funk and soul with the more classic style of the Diplomats of Solid Sound. Nothing could have provided a more stark contrast with the chilly, gloomy weather outside than the scorching sounds and vibrant presence that each band offered. I recommend keeping an eye on the radar for the next time either of these bands storm through St. Louis.
Austin-raised frontman Joe Lewis commanded the stage in a black leather jacket, sipping from a bottle of High Life between songs and wailing on his dazzling red guitar.
I leaned over and asked my friend, “What kind of guitar is that? A Telecaster?”
A stranger, who was uncomfortably close-by and also leather clad, quickly cut in: “That’s a one-of-a-kind,” he said. “He’s got a P-90 pickup on there with a custom fret board.”
I raised an eyebrow. How did he know so much about Joe Lewis’ git-box?
“I work at Guitar Center.” He pointed to the stage: “And I’ve seen him at least five times.”
I felt like a newbie. It was my first time seeing Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears, despite their visit to St. Louis last year and consistent critical praise following appearances at South By Southwest.
I prepared for Wednesday night’s show by visiting the Lost Highway Records website and listening to “Tell ‘Em What Your Name Is!” (the group’s first LP) several times. I was instantly hooked on its garage-soul sound.
So, when Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears played the album’s first track, “Gunpowder,” I was in happily familiar territory. Joe Lewis’ vocals, along with sharp horns and chugging rhythm, brought to mind a Wilson Picket gone punk.
“Any Stooges fans?” Lewis asked before playing a cover of “I Got a Right” that showed just how congruent the heavy-distortion fueled, ’70s-era sound was with his own. Another cover, of the Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird,” delighted the crowd during the band’s early yet extended encore.
The biggest cheers, however, erupted during and after “Livin’ in the Jungle,” from the band’s latest album, “Scandalous.” With a chunky rhythm guitar and the bold sound of a three-piece horn section (alto, baritone sax and trumpet) backing up Lewis, the crowd reaction was certainly deserved. (I also find it interesting that the song is called “Livin’ in the Jungle,” yet the lyrics say “Welcome To The Jungle…” To avoid the wrath of Axl Rose’s lawyers, perhaps?)
A couple other new tracks made the set, notably the bombastic “Booty City” and the delightfully bass-heavy “Black Snake.” Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears have an arsenal of memorable tunes, and they were quick on the draw Wednesday night. Left out of the night’s lineup, however, was “Mustang Ranch,” from “Scandalous,” a song that pairs well with its weird and amusing cartoon music video.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears are steadily on the rise, and there is little doubt they will continue to play for full houses as they did on Wednesday. Now I’m finally in the club: one of the many fans who have seen the group’s explosive live performance. I also will be one of the many fans who pack in to see them again.
Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears play upbeat blues injected with influences that include soul, punk and rock ‘n’ roll. Hailing from Austin (though now living in Montreal), Joe Lewis’ dynamic vocals and heavy guitar licks provide the lead for a turbo-charged ensemble of horns and percussion.
The group’s 2011 release, “Scandalous” (produced by Spoon drummer Jim Eno), is a fast ride down a dusty road with some surprises along the way. The track “Mustang Ranch,” for example, tells a true story of the band’s encounter with a seedy pit stop en route from Salt Lake City to San Francisco. The groove will get you on your feet, and the lyrics will forever change the way you think of a “glazed ham.”
Ahead of the band’s upcoming, KDHX-welcomed concert at Off Broadway on February 15, I chatted with Lewis about the Austin music scene, Ike Turner’s ghost and an upcoming tour with Flogging Molly.
Francisco Fisher: You received a lot of attention from your  performance at South By Southwest. What other opportunities did you encounter as a musician from Austin?
Black Joe Lewis: Just getting to rub shoulders with a lot of good musicians and awesome bands. I’ve got good friends in Austin. It’s my hometown.
Is it convenient to be from a place with such a vibrant music scene?
Oh yeah, it is. But it’s a town where you have to really try and do something to get noticed, because there’s so much other good stuff going on every night. So you have to try to be original.
You’ve rejected the label of “soul revival.” Many musicians share your influences, but what really sets you apart from artists like Sharon Jones?
They play soul better than us. You’ll just have to listen to the records back-to-back and see what you can hear for yourself. It’s just a matter of opinion.
You’ve got an upcoming show in St. Louis. Do you have any influences that came out of St. Louis?
To tell the truth, I don’t know. Who’s all from St. Louis? There’s a lot of cool stuff going on and I like the city in general. It’s got an old vibe and I like all the old buildings.
Chuck Berry’s from here. Ike and Tina Turner met in St. Louis.
Yeah, all those acts. Ike Turner died when we went in to the studio to record our first album. As we were in the studio, we learned that he passed away. We thought it was a sign or something.
A sign of what?
Maybe Ike Turner came down inside of the record or something like that.
How much of the newest album “Scandalous” are you going to incorporate into the show?
We do a different set list every night, so it just depends how we’re feeling that night. We might play some songs off the new record, an old one, some covers and new stuff we’ve been working on. Just to have something different to play, something new. We get tired of playing the same stuff every night, so we like to mix it up. Some bands like to use the same set list for an entire tour. I wouldn’t be able to do that. It would drive me nuts.
After St. Louis, you’re going to tour with Flogging Molly. How did your two groups get together? Is it going to be a cohesive pairing?
It’ll be interesting. We played with them in Chicago two or three years ago; we opened up for them. It should be pretty rowdy when people get down on it. Either way, it won’t be a boring tour.
KDHX welcomes Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears to Off Broadway on February 15.