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April 22, 2012

VERSATILE AND SEAMLESS

Ronnie Wood and Friends
Golden Nugget — Atlantic City, N.J.
April 21, 2012

Ronnie Wood.jpg

A one-off performance in an intimate casino ballroom gave Ronnie Wood a rare platform to do more than show the full scope of his talent, and why he has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of two legendary groups.

Even better, with those two bands — The Rolling Stones, whose 50th anniversary tour plans are seemingly grounded; and The Faces, who disbanded in the 1970s but are perpetually rumored to finally forge a reunion with singer Rod Stewart — seemingly on hold, and Wood proving to be in such fine form, this show strongly suggested it's high time one or both of those bands gets on with the show already.

The 60-something Wood is newly sober, which only seemed to enhance the clarity of his playing (if not his stage banter) as he led his group of "friends" through a 90-minute set that touched on various phases of — and the various musical stylings that run through — his distinguished career. Helping him do so was a crack band of musicians, who blended so seamlessly that it was hard to believe they hadn’t been on tour for months: longtime supplemental Stones players Bernard Fowler (vocals, percussion) and Chuck Leavell (piano, organ, vocals), plus drummer Steve Jordan (a member of Keith Richards' X-pensive Winos solo band two-plus decades ago), bassist Willie Weeks and organ player Andy Wallace.

Opener "Am I Grooving You," from Wood's 1974 solo debut, I’ve Got My Own Album to Do, served as an early template of sorts, with the band locked into a driving R&B groove around Wood's rough-hewn riffs and smokes-and-sandpaper voice, a formula that worked well two tracks later on a much newer number, "Thing About You," from 2010's I Feel Like Playing. Taut rocker "Seven Days," the Wood staple that he "stole from Bob Dylan but he gave me, actually," was another early highlight, with the guitarist cutting loose for a soaring solo and Leavell and Wallace bringing things to a crescendo with dueling splashes of organ.

From there, the band genre-hopped, easing into the reggae-flavored "Sweetness My Weakness," taking a bluesy spin through the Stones' Tattoo You nugget "Black Limousine" (with Fowler singing lead, as he would for the handful of Stones songs and Stewart-sung selections in the set) and turning in a transcendent version of the Temptations hit "(I Know) I'm Losing You" that kicked the energy in the room up a couple of notches.

The night's highlight, however, might have been the Faces obscurity "Flying," which not only best showcased Wood's versatility — his guitar intro was elegant, followed by some ace slide work minutes later — but also some surprisingly high range from Fowler, who finally broke out into full-on emcee mode for the ultra-funky main set closer "Dance (Part 1)," a sleeper selection from the Stones catalog. As far as other Glimmer Twins material went, Wood and Co. unleashed a Chuck Berry-style take on the 1974 Stones hit "It's Only Rock 'N Roll" (But I Like It) — one of Wood's earliest Stones recordings, even though he wasn't officially in the band at the time.

It all ended in much more predictable fashion with a faithful rendition of "Stay With Me," a song seemingly built for crowd-pleasing encores. Ronnie Wood seemed to be going home happy, too. He flashed a big grin as he and his bandmates took their bows and he bid the audience farewell, until the next gig.

Whenever, and with whomever, that might be.

— By George Henn

April 16, 2012

WATCHING HIS GROWTH

Recent experiences stimulate Eric Hutchinson's creativity

Eric Hutchinson_photo by Jeff Lipsky.jpg

In the years leading up to Moving Up Living Down (Warner Bros.), singer/songwriter Eric Hutchinson has been a man in constant motion: lots of touring, relocating from the Maryland suburbs to New York City and recording the aforementioned album in two countries.

"The biggest inspirations of the album were the cities I visited, the inspiration and rhythms of the people," Hutchinson says.

While in San Francisco, Hutchinson came up with a line that sparked him to write "Watching You Watch Him," the album's first single. It was featured in the season eight premiere of ABC's Grey’s Anatomy, and since late March, the song’s official video has racked up more than 70,000 YouTube views. (Hutchinson's music has done quite well on YouTube in the past: Clips for "OK, It's Alright With Me" and "Rock & Roll" — songs from his last album, Sounds Like This — have surpassed 500,000 and 1.5 million views, respectively.)

Hutchinson checked in prior to the release of Moving Up Living Down and the start of his spring U.S. tour to talk about the new album, his catchy single and other subjects.

Medleyville.us: In explaining the new album’s title, you’ve said it reflects the "chutes and ladders lifestyle." OK, fess up: Did the inspiration really come from playing the beloved Hasbro board game one wild night on your tour bus?
Eric Hutchinson: "Couldn't be more wrong — it was Monopoly! Just kidding. The album inspiration came from me moving from the suburbs in Maryland to New York City. Getting to soak up that city while I was writing the album was so important."

You road-tested the songs on Moving Up Living Down before you hit the studio. Which ones, if any, underwent the biggest transformation leading up to when you recorded them?
Hutchinson: " 'In the First Place' is a song I was constantly tweaking all the way up to when I was singing the lyrics on the record in the studio. I go over every song with a fine-tooth comb, and I'm quick to throw out songs that I think get boring too quickly. That’s hopefully how you make an album that people can listen to over and over again."

Let’s break down the single "Watching You Watch Him." We've all been there — the one you want is so close yet so far away, preoccupied with someone else, and you're on the outside looking in. So how did you go about putting your own lyrical spin on this familiar theme and matching it with cheery music and a buoyant melody?
Hutchinson: "I was backstage strumming my guitar at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco before a show. I hit a few chords and started singing 'Walking through that door.' I sang it into my phone, and when I listened back to it a few weeks later in my home studio, I heard the lyrics 'Watching you watch him.' This was one of those songs that wrote itself. It's been great to have people respond well to it. I have fans come up to me after I sing it and say,'‘You're singing my LIFE right now!' Then we hug it out."

Had you ever seen or even heard a requinto jarocho prior to one being used for the solo?
Hutchinson: "It took me weeks to learn to pronounce the instrument correctly! I was looking for a unique sound for that solo, and [producer] Mike [Elizondo] suggested the requinto jarocho, which is used in traditional Mexican folk music. I wanted this to be a song you could blast on a road trip through the desert, so I liked the idea of borrowing from Mexican music to do that. Plus, it's gotten me really into the band Los Lobos."

What's the secret to capturing crisp handclaps like the ones heard on "Watching You Watch Him"? Those were made by human hands, right? And was there any studio enhancement?
Hutchinson: "I can't give you the secret, but if you come see me live, all we do all night is sing, dance and clap."

Talk about recording the new album in two distinct cities in different countries with two different producers — Mike Elizondo in Los Angeles and Martin Terefe in London.
Hutchinson: "It was amazing! I got to record for a month in London with Martin and then for another month in L.A. with Mike — two very different cities, and I loved getting to hang out and get inspired by their energies. I know that ended up in the music."

How was your Live From Daryl's House experience? Did anything happen on the air or behind the scenes that really surprised or impressed you?
Hutchinson: "Daryl was great! He and his band were so welcoming and such amazing players. I had a blast and still can't believe I got to sing ‘Private Eyes’ with him. I had practiced it at karaoke a few nights earlier so I wouldn't blow it."

— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior

Eric Hutchinson on tour (schedule subject to change):

* April 17: Bluebird Theatre — Denver

* April 18: Waiting Room — Omaha, Neb.

* April 19: Wooly’s — Des Moines, Iowa

* April 21: First Avenue Mainroom — Minneapolis

* April 23: Lincoln Hall — Chicago

* April 24: Majestic: Madison, Wis.

* April 26: Magic Bag — Detroit

* April 27: The Basement — Columbus, Ohio

* April 28: Beachland — Cleveland

* April 30: Club AE — Pittsburgh

* May 1: Paradise — Boston

* May 2: Highline Ballroom — New York

* May 4: Heirloom Arts Theatre — Danbury, Conn.

* May 5: 9:30 Club — Washington, D.C.

* May 6: World Café — Philadelphia

* May 8: Visulite — Charlotte, N.C.

* May 9: Pour House — Charleston, S.C.

* May 10: Bijou Theatre — Knoxville, Tenn.

* May 11: 3rd and Lindsey — Nashville, Tenn.

* May 12: Zydeco — Birmingham, Ala.

* May 14: House of Blues — Dallas

* May 15: Stubb’s — Austin, Texas

* May 17: Crescent Ballroom — Phoenix

* May 18: Coach House — San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

* May 19: Troubadour — Los Angeles

* May 20: Slim’s — San Francisco

* May 22: Chop Suey — Seattle

* May 23: Hawthorne Theater — Portland, Ore.

* May 24: Knitting Factory — Spokane, Wash.

* May 26: Hang With the Band.com Hangout — Las Vegas

Photo by Jeff Lipsky

April 10, 2012

FEELING RIGHT AT HOME

Jack Petruzzelli assists Joan Osborne on her new covers album

Jack Petruzzelli.jpg

In the late 1980s, Jack Petruzzelli and Joan Osborne first crossed paths when they both played the same circuit of blues and R&B clubs in and around New York.

Petruzzelli was working with Barbecue Bob and the Spare Ribs, while Osborne was fronting her own band. And after Osborne broke big as a solo artist with her 1995 big-label debut, Relish, Petruzzelli became a steady presence in Osborne's career, touring, writing and recording with her while also pursuing his other projects.

Their musical partnership has come full circle, Petruzzelli says, with Osborne's latest album, Bring It on Home (Time Life Music), which he co-produced.

"When I first met Joan, we were playing some of the music we had recorded for this [project]," Petruzzelli says. "So it was a lot of fun to revisit that aspect of our careers together, of our relationship together."

Petruzzelli says he and Osborne were working on an original project called Love & Hate (which he describes as "a multi-media presentation — music with strings, film and dance") when Time Life reached out to Osborne about putting together an R&B/blues tribute album.

Osborne and a Time Life employee put together a list of more than 20 potential songs, which she showed to Petruzzelli, whom Osborne tapped to co-produce with her as well as play guitar and percussion.

"We had to dwindle that down to what we thought was a good 14-ish tunes to go by," Petruzzelli says, "and Joan kept saying all along, ‘If you have any suggestions, let me know.' "

And he did, recommending what became the first single: "Shake Your Hips," an old Slim Harpo song Petruzzelli used to play with Barbecue Bob and the Spare Ribs.

"When I brought it in to rehearsal, Joan knew all of the lyrics," Petruzzelli says. "And it's such a familiar song, the band just flowed right into it. Once we played it, we just knew it had to be on the album."

From the start, Petruzzelli says he and Osborne wanted to go the analog route.

"One thing's for sure when you work with tape: You have to work within the limitations of a tape machine," he explains. "What that means is, sure, you can go back and punch in something, but you can’t copy and paste like you can in the digital format."

In addition to equipment limitations, there were self-imposed limitations: Petruzzelli's plan was to record only one or two takes of each song.

"So the band had to be prepared, and she has a great band," he says. "We put two weeks into rehearsing, so we knew what the arrangements were and what we were looking for."

Bring It on Home was recorded in longtime Lenny Kravitz producer Henry Hirsch's new studio — a renovated church in Hudson, N.Y., outfitted with vintage (and well-maintained) analog equipment.

"Just because it's older gear doesn't mean it needs to break down," says Petruzzelli, who's a member of the acclaimed Beatles tribute band The Fab Faux. "If the gear is in good shape, you're fine. I think that's the biggest hang-up — that when you have older stuff, and it's not looked after, you're going to hear a lot of hiss and pops. You don't want that. You've gotta make sure that the gear is well taken care of."

— By Chris M. Junior

Photo by Michael Weintrob

April 02, 2012

THE GARY PIG GOLD REPORT, Vol. 47

DEXTER ROMWEBER'S FREEDOM OF NIGHT

GPG 47 _Dexter DVD.jpg

Very late one evening in the very late 1980s, my pal Doug and I were dejectedly roaming the Canadian television airwaves when we suddenly chanced upon footage of these two guys playing music out on someone's porch.

Our collective jaws — to say nothing of the remote — immediately dropped.

It seems we'd stumbled upon a movie called Athens, GA: Inside/Out. The two guys playing the incredible music turned out to be Chris "Crow" Smith and, on guitar and vocals, Dexter Romweber. When a graphic across the screen reading Flat Duo Jets eventually appeared, both Doug and I realized, among several other things, that we had a New Favorite Band.

Shortly afterward I found myself moved to New York City, tracked down a few actual FDJ cassettes of and for my very own, and even ran into Romweber one afternoon at some New Music Seminar showcase he and Crow would later be performing at. Soon the Duo would secure the dreaded major label deal and appear on Late Night with David Letterman, and I certainly wasn't the only eager fan(atic) betting on these two to any minute forever banish the Smashing Pumpkins and hopefully even Green Day from all of our lives.

But then?

Nothing.

So, what in God's name happened to the Flat Duo Jets? Where did our heroes Crow and Dex go? And why did Celine Dion, and not them, sell over 20 million records worldwide during calendar year 1998??

The answers to these, and a multitude of other earthly injustices, are vividly contained within the 80-minute mélange of rock and roll that is Tony Gayton's Dexter Romweber: Two Headed Cow, recently available on DVD courtesy of the fine folk at MVD Visual.

From its very opening sequence of Dex pontificating upon JFK and the Three Stooges, clear through its concluding title-song sequence (which even hearing and seeing isn't quite believing), this "18 years in the making" as the disc box boasts — yes, director Gayton has been faithfully trailing his subject matters ever since shooting that historic Inside/Out footage — illustrates perhaps better than any film since 200 Motels that, absolutely, touring can make you crazy.

"I can't say no to managers, and I can't say no to the band, and I'm sort of locked into this thing so, you know, I say, 'OK, I'm gonna go do this tour,' " Romweber recalls. Two Headed Cow's cantankerously claustrophobic, monochrome, literally-in-their-faces footage perfectly captures Crow and Romweber’s nocturnal crawls across post-Ronald Reagan America, carrying guitars through all-night inconvenience stores, tumbling in and out of pizza-encrusted flea-pit motels, and in Romweber's case spending most every single semi-waking hour burning through a trough of backseat literature that only serves to heighten the general mis-awareness of it all.

Errol Flynn, John Barrymore, Hermann Hesse, Knut Hamsun, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Arthur Rimbaud and eventually Charles Baudelaire — such are the fabulous figures of infamy duly name-checked by Dex as his self-confessed "f***ed-up role models that I'd come to be later. Partiers and wreckage-makers. They became second, third and fourth selves in me."

Or, as he helpfully explains elsewhere, "Going out and hell-raising, I think, is really, and to a degree, a positive thing. Madness is merely the door open to the supernatural."

Nevertheless, despite mopping the floor with a d-u-m-b-struck Paul Shaffer on Letterman, being floated by none other than David Geffen for the Scott Litt/Chris Stamey-supervised Lucky Eye and remaining just so damned good a band that despite all attempts, subconscious or otherwise, to derail the star-making machinery, the Flat Duo Jets were poised to become, at the very least, the White Stripes and/or Black Keys they would later only spawn and — now this is putting it mildly — influence. Sure, rarely do the brave, crazed, pioneering innovators of any artistic signpost receive the credit, to say nothing of the cash, those who later water down and recast reap. But the 1999 dissolution of the (in Romweber's perfect words) "relaxed brotherhood" between he and Crow not only left our New Favorite Band in splinters, but it turns out cast Dex "broken open," betrayed and falling into a dark night "trek into some sort of semi-psychotic spiritual odyssey."

Thankfully however, the concluding Two Headed Cow footage shows the man somehow renewed and basking in the retrospective attention and glory he now most rightfully enjoys. In fact, I'm much more than pleased to report that the last time I caught the grand-new Dex Romweber Duo (alongside his utterly brilliant drummer/sister Sara) in full action a couple of years ago, the man remains every single inch the towering, blistering, all-encroaching talent he ever was as a keen young Jet.

If ever a movie, or a musical journey, deserves such a happy ending, it is indeed that of Dexter Romweber.

Musician/writer Gary Pig Gold is the co-founder of the To M’Lou Music label.