This feature appeared in Huffington Post, August 2015.

Edward Rogers: "We've known each other for a long, long time...twenty years."

J-F Vergel: "What! That long? Really?"

Edward Rogers: "Absolutely. I met J-F when he was in the band Rogue's March. He was a friendly cat, we immediately hit it off. J-F and I shared a musical bond, a little bit more so than the other members. So, it all started when we'd run into each other. And I remember at one point he asked me to put some words to music that he had written..."

J-F Vergel: "No, no, no, here's what happened - I was the Apollo Theater to see what's his name?"

Edward Rogers: "Paul Weller."

J-F Vergel: "Right. So, out of the corner of my eye I spot Ed and his wife about two rows down from where I was sitting. And it was really weird because I had been thinking about him, even though I hadn't been playing for a long time. We chatted and I said to Ed, "I got a bunch of songs, do you want to put words to them?" And he agreed. I sent him a couple of tunes...I can't remember how many."

Edward Rogers: "You sent me three tracks..."

J-F Vergel: "No. Was it that many?"

Edward Rogers: "Yes. Now, I take writing assignments very seriously, especially from musicians I respect...

J-F Vergel: "Oh and Ed says 'I'll have them to you in a week!' And he sends me something two days later. Two days! So now it becomes a race! I didn't want Ed to get ahead of me."

Edward Rogers: "Hey man, I got three hundred and sixty pages of lyrics that I've written in the last ten years!"

J-F Vergel: "Ah, so that's how you did it so fast! Damn!"

John and Paul. Mick and Keith. Pete and Roger. Tyler, Perry. Axl, Slash. Page, Plant. Noel, Liam. Ray and Dave. To my ears, the best rock 'n' roll, regardless of its generational bent, is oft borne of odd couples. The Vagabond Hearts are no exception. A fresh, underground New York City super-group of sorts, the Vagabond Hearts are helmed by two veritable veterans of the local music scene: guitarist, songwriter J-F Vergel and singer, songwriter, recording artist Edward Rogers. Rogers, the well-tempered, well-organized British ex-patriot emerges as a stark contrast to Vergel, the street-wise, shoot-from-the-lip New Yorker. Naturally, they're a perfect fit.


To extract a linear history of the Vagabond Hearts is nearly impossible, as evidenced in the above documented conversation. Not that it matters. As far as they recall, their first performance occurred at the home of May Pang - the jam sessions held at her soirees are legendary. "I had no idea what I was doing, and I was the one calling out the chord changes to the bass player" laughs Vergel. "Oh it was great, everyone loved it," counters Ed. "We knew we had to take it further."

The Vagabonds' modus operandi is to work fast and grab the best players whenever possible and wherever available. I caught one of their early gigs with JD Foster in the bass chair at the Bowery Electric. With lead sheets and cheat sheets flying off the bandstand, Rogers and Vergel ripped through their repertoire with a reckless abandon that required years and years of experience in the rock 'n' roll trenches to perfect. Foster even regaled me with tales of his time working with Ronnie Lane while he and the Hearts' performance was in progress - now you get the picture?

Recorded in two days, the Vagabond Hearts official bow is a five track EP aptly dubbed Two Jokers In a Pack - a title which arrived at the suggestion of Vergel's significant other. "It's a line from the song 'Reckless' -my wife loves that track, and she says that lyric perfectly describes Ed and I."

With the only stipulation being that sessions take place during the daytime as J-F prefers to sleep at night, the Vagabond Hearts roster on Two Jokers includes guitarist/producer Don Piper, bassist Sal Maida, drummer/percussionist Boris Kinberg, keyboardist Matt Trowbridge, backing vocalists Tish & Snooky, and horn player Wayne Cobham.

Rather than reference each player's laudable credits, their collective body of work includes albums, sessions, and concert performances with Willy DeVille, The Brandos, Roxy Music, The Sparks, Cracker, Ray Charles, Billy Cobham, Ben E. King, Michael Jackson, Wilson Pickett, and Blondie, to cite a very select few. Track selection for the EP was a no brainer.

Edward Rogers: "We whittled it down from twenty songs...."

J-F Vergel: "We whittled it down from seven or eight songs..."

Edward Rogers: "We recorded the first five songs we wrote together..."

J-F Vergel: "We worked with songs that sound similar..."

Edward Rogers: "The whole idea is that with these five songs there is a varying degree in styles..."


Waxed in a single vocal take, Rogers likens his croon on the jangle-pop opening track "Autumn Sun" to Monkee Davey Jones' rendition of the Harry Nilsson penned gem "Cuddly Toy." Vergel assumes the mighty guitar mantle of Mick Ronson for the defining motif of "Angel Share" - a title which the singer pinched from a Scottish film which he and J-F were familiar with and which refers to a potent whiskey distillation residue. "It gives a very surreal meaning to the's a clever wham, bam, thank-you-ma'am track" explains Ed. Maida and Kinberg set a slammin' swing groove to "Bridge of Sighs" wherein Vergel's melodies punctuate the vocal triumvirate of Ed, Tish & Snooky. And Mr. Cobham's trumpet lines on the ballad "Age of Reason" abet J-F's acoustic finger-picking and Rogers' sentimental delivery rather poignantly.

The Vagabond Hearts' current game plan is to put out music when the time is right - whenever that may be. Additional gigs in New York City will certainly transpire. As the record industry tries to sort itself out, the Vagabond Hearts will no doubt persevere regardless of how the masses consume music.

J-F Vergel: "We have a great relationship, it's like being on Tin Pan Alley - we have a lot of songs, I don't think we can use all of them, but they may be good for other artists. I like doing new things that I have not heard - it's too easy to repeat yourself. My influences push Ed to places he's never been..."

Edward Rogers: "The whole interesting thing about us writing together is that we'll try different styles of music. I try to adapt as much as I can and J-F leads me in as much as he can...and that's what a true collaboration is."

Two Jokers In a Pack by the Vagabond Hearts is available now at Bandcamp .Com - www.vagabondhearts . bandcamp . com. You can also follow the Vagabond Hearts on Facebook. Com.


Linda Hoyle











This feature appeared in Huffington Post August 2015

"I never expected it to be a 'future.' It was just something I was doing then. I thought it to be a contained and time limited event. But it has sort of developed a life of its own. It's as if the event has become its own thing - and it evolved without me having to be around! I think it's like writing any history; when you're actually in the battle, you don't see the structure of the maneuvers going on. You can only look back later and see how this was fitting together. And it's only in retrospect that I've become to get a grip on where we might have fitted. The whole band was out of a jazz background, and we just did what we knew. We formed a rock band, but what we knew was jazz. Affinity threw everything into the pot. The musicians that we met at Ronnie Scott's were extremely sympathetic and very helpful and we learned an enormous amount from them. Gosh, we were lucky!" Linda Hoyle

"At the end of the 60s an exciting new hybrid music form, 'Jazz/Rock', was evolving. Musicians such as Miles Davis, Brian Auger, Jimi Hendrix, and bands such as Blood, Sweat, and Tears, Cream, Chicago, Lifetime, and Colosseum were all experimenting with the blending of jazz improvisation and the power of rock rhythms. This liberating and exciting approach suited Affinity perfectly since it would separate the band from other contemporary outfits such as Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, Family, and Humble Pie." Mo Foster from his book British Rock Guitar (2013)

Linda Hoyle 2

When I mention the name Affinity and Linda Hoyle's debut solo album Pieces of Me(1971) to record collectors, jazz-rock aficionados, and knowledgeable musicians young, old, and in-between - a nod of reverence usually follows. Managed by Ronnie Scott, owner of the iconic Soho, London jazz venue which carries his name, Affinity was a fixture on the swinging London discotheque club scene and European festival circuit in the late 1960s.

Linda Hoyle 3

The jazz stars whom they supported and witnessed at Ronnie Scott's -including Stan Getz, Gary Burton, Elvin Jones, Roland Kirk, Miles Davis, and Larry Coryell among others - were impressed by Affinity's fusion of influences ranging from jazz, soul, rhythm & blues, classical, bluegrass, and rock. If you don't know Affinity, Ms. Hoyle highly advises that you seek out her friend Annie Nightingale's BBC documentary on the band in all its groovy glory.

And though the canon of many niche artists fades over time, folks with an affinity for the collective work of singer/songwriter Linda Hoyle, bassist/composer Mo Foster and the extraordinary cast of Affinity players including Lynton Naff, Mike Jobb, and Grant Serpell continues to grow. Oft times when I traverse the creative neighborhoods in American cities such as Cincinnati, Denver, Pittsburgh, and my hometown hipster enclaves in the East Village and Brooklyn, I hear Affinity tracks from their 1970 self-titled release (which Angel Air Records has re-issued with a generous helping of bonus cuts) in the cafes and shops. It's as if the band were still around.

Linda departed Affinity in 1971 and waxed her aforementioned album - which fetched quite a bit in collectors' circles over time until the Angel Air reissue years later. In 1972 or thereabouts, Linda migrated to Canada and performed in jazz clubs before embarking on a highly successful career as an art therapist, helping to found the Ontario Art Therapy Association. An acclaimed author, composer, producer, educator, and lecturer; Mo Foster's body of work as a bassist on stage and in the studio is legend.

Now, a mere forty-four years later, Linda Hoyle follows Pieces of Me with a new studio album entitled The Fetch. With lyrics described as "autobiographical, witty, and dark" - Affinity fans spanning generations will surely be overjoyed. It's as if Linda never left...

The story of The Fetch sort of commenced back in 2006. At a birthday party for an old friend of Linda and Affinity, the band re-united for an informal performance. "It was like falling off a log" laughs Linda. "We hadn't played together in all those years...God we had a good time!" Inspired by the occasion and another Affinity reunion at Sussex University in 2011, Linda and Mo decided to work together once again. Linda's initial inclination was to render an album of standards. As she notes in her liner libretto "at first the Great American Songbook beckoned with a bony finger and came close to setting me in a deadly safe place." However it was decided that composing and recording fresh material was the way to go. "Choosing invention over interpretation...I landed myself with two years of hard labor...Scott Walker is a role model here - 'make it tough, make it count!"

Linda's two main collaborators for The Fetch were Mo Foster, based in the UK, and guitarist, composer, recording artist Oliver Whitehead in Canada, the latter of whom Ms. Hoyle has been working with since 1984. Among other stimuli, Linda drew inspiration from her first solo record and the Alan Lomax Collection of archival recordings.

She recalls, "I started in a place where I left off for Pieces of Me, which was an appreciation of what came before. There are a couple of old things on that album, and I struggled, because I hadn't thought about writing material at that point. Most of the time I've worked over here in Canada with Oliver. He is a classical composer, and he has been putting music to existing words for years. Then I got into and did a lot of work on an Alan Lomax prison song recording with my nephew in England. We tried to break apart 'Early in the Morning' which was recorded in the mid-1940s. It's absolutely incredible, I want to praise where all this stuff came from. So much of our modern and popular music is based on this - you can hear everything in it, I don't know how much young musicians listen to these Lomax recordings. The point is the material itself - if you just focus on it - it is stunning! So I wanted to do a very modern version of this stuff and I tried, but it didn't work. I thought 'what is it I am trying to do here?

Then I did a version of 'Come On in My Kitchen' which is an old Robert Johnson number - and I got Oliver to bring this incredible little old valve amp and use a metal string guitar and I said 'I want you to play it like I've come around the corner and you're sitting on a stoop!' And we did that in the studio, and I was going to put it on the album. I did not use it - but that's when Oliver and I took off - I had an idea and I could kind of feel it in my gut - and Oliver said 'why don't I just write you something?' Well with Mo, he sends me music and then I have to put words to it - so I said why don't I send you the words, and you put music to it!"

By way trans-Atlantic file sharing and sessions in Canada and the UK, The Fetch was recorded start to finish between February 2013 and August 2014. Hoyle, Foster, and Whitehead were complimented by a stellar cast of players including Corrina Silvester, Ray Russell, Gary Husband, Nick Nicholas, Dougie Boyle, BJ Cole, Peter Van Hooke, Chris Haigh, Jim Watson, Julian Littman, Chris Biscoe, and Bill Worrall.

Linda compares the structure of The Fetch to a "book of reminiscence" with the title track serving as a table of contents. References to each song are included in the verse. "Embedded is a memory, an event, a desire from my past, sometimes expressed with cynicism or innocence..."

Progressive rock fans will revel in the album art as rendered by another old friend of Linda and Mo - Roger Dean, renowned for the cosmic images which adorn many Yes albums, among other artists from the golden age of vinyl. Hoyle regrets not using Roger for the Affinity album - which, as she reveals, depicts a model, and not her on the cover. "Oh no that's not me! We were touring somewhere and they had to use somebody that looked like me. That's why her hair is hanging in her face."

After a nostalgic reunion at an exhibition, Dean asked Linda to describe the record to him - which is his usual modus operandi as opposed to actually listening to the music. "So I explained The Fetch to him over a cup of tea...and he said "send me the record!" Continuing her laughter, Linda emphasizes "what he is trying to evoke is the sense of this ghostlike effect which is this strange creature that you project yourself into...the color is intense!"

Mo, who proudly displays Affinity posters in London home ("he's never thrown anything away!" chortles Linda) knows best. "It's one of those albums that had to be made -- simply because it's a little piece of art. Forty-three years is a long gap between albums, but this project has surprised both of us by its beauty and originality."

Ruminating on her journey from Affinity to The Fetch, Linda relates: It still amazes me that I might have anything like that to give to people. I just don't know how this is going to work. I think it's going to float off into the world. In the last song on the album 'Acknowledgments' I sing 'a music footnote I shall remain..." And I do have that feeling about myself - and I don't mind at all. The fact that I can do this at all again is amazing..."

Linda Hoyle, The Fetch is available 7 August 2015 on Angel Air Records.


The Ancients  









This feature appeared in Huffington Post July 2015

"Joey Ramone had an infatuation with The Ancients, which took me by surprise! Why would a punk rock legend have any sort of affection for what we did? But getting to know Joey as I did, I think the best I could tell was that Joey always wanted to be a crooner. He admired the way I sang, my voice, my delivery. I guess that's what kind of drew him to the band. And I'm still very flattered by that. And he eventually became kind a crooner, especially on his later songs - which brought a smile to my face because I knew he had it in him!" Fred Schreck

Though we may have crossed paths as musicians on the same stages and studios sometime in New York City in the 1980s, my first official awareness of singer, songwriter, recording artist Fred Schreck was by way of John Ashton's Satellite Paradiso - whom I interviewed (February 2014) upon the release of their brilliant self-titled debut.

Fred's work with the former Psychedelic Furs guitarist is, in a word, extraordinary. If you dig heavy experimental rock with massive pop hooks and matchless musicianship- for lack of a better description - I highly advise that you seek out their first and only official release (as of this writing) which also features bassists Gail Ann Dorsey and Sara Lee, drummers Frank Coleman and Paul Garisto, saxophonists Mars Williams and Duncan Kilburn, cellists Jo Quail and Jane Scarpantoni, and guitarist Cheetah Chrome, among others.

As we communicate via social media, whenever Fred posts a missive I read it, listen to it, and/or share it. One morning Fred posted a track by his band The Ancients - an ensemble which I was unacquainted with.

When I heard the track, my immediate reaction was one of... joy! I revel when artists of a certain age make music that moves forward rather than replicates the past, as so many often do whether they are aware of it or not. Fred's post took me back to the moment I first heard David Bowie's Low album, which was co-produced by Tony Visconti, on the day it appeared in the Sam Goody bins in January 1977. When my friends and I dropped the needle on side one song one on that freezing winter day - we didn't know what we were hearing: new sounds, new grooves; a new way of arranging music as a collage that somehow coalesced into a single burst of energy. We loved it. And we tried our best to make music like it. In those days, we expected recording artists and their producers to blow our minds. The Ancients blew my mind. So, I congratulated Fred on his new music and asked for additional info so we could talk about it. Like Bowie and Satellite Paradiso, Fred was making music that matters in the present tense.

However akin to his Paradiso pals Ashton and Coleman, Mr. Schreck has a refreshingly dry sense of humor. When he responded that this "new" album entitled Mind- a collaboration with composer, producer, multi-instrumentalist Morgan Visconti - was actually recorded two decades ago, I shrugged it off as one of his customary jibes. I worked as a bass player in recording studios and bands in those days and earlier -and tracks such as "Circa 1977" did not sound like that circa 1993 with regard to the mix and the arrangement - just to being with. To my ears The Ancients would have knocked Trent Reznor down a notch or two or three had this record dropped in the alternative rock era when NIN was all the rage. When I received the official Ancients press release which proved fact to what I thought was fiction, I demanded answers from Messrs. Schreck and Visconti!

Testifies Schreck: "The Ancients were conceived as sort of a solo project for me. I was in a band that was pretty popular in the New York City music scene in the late 1980s called Shoot the Doctor. We'd gotten a certain amount of notoriety though we failed to get that 'big record deal' which was the goal of every band in those years. The frustration of not getting the prize made some cracks surface within the band. Along comes Rob Sacher -who at that time was the manager of a club called Mission which was a pretty popular hangout for people who liked Goth and industrial alternative rock. He approached me one time at a gig, invited me down to the club to talk, and I think he initially wanted to guide along and help my former band - in the end we decided it was best for me to break off and take some of the songs that I'd written and think of them in a new way. That's how the first Ancients album came about."

Among Schreck's associates for that first album was Morgan Visconti. Recalls Fred "Morgan was about eighteen years old, fresh from England and living in the city for the first time. He was being a bit of a bad boy, hanging out in clubs such as Mission. Rob plied him with drinks and asked him to take a shot and produce one of my songs." The track "Release Me" emerged as the most recognizable cut on the record. As such Schreck and Visconti struck up a friendship, with Morgan joining The Ancients live line-up. "I knew that Morgan was destined for other things. I knew that eventually he was going to make a name for himself..."

Sessions for Mind commenced in the summer of 1993 at Morgan's Manhattan studio. Visconti notes "We worked fast and furious during available hours, mostly nights and weekends as I was writing and recording music for television during regular office hours. Our inspirations although not very specific, included King Crimson, Killing Joke, Bowie, even Peter Gabriel and Genesis at some points - that combined with what we were absorbing at the time - Soundgarden , Smashing Pumpkins, Nine Inch Nails. We didn't want to emulate a 1990's sound but we couldn't help putting a bit of grunge on here and there." Among the players who contributed to Mind included Schreck's former Crush bandmate Paul Ferguson (Killing Joke), his former Shoot the Doctor mates and guitarists Albert Zampino and Dave Tsien; drummer John Socha; guitarist Chris Sokolewicz; and singers Diva Gray and Robin Clark who had also backed David Bowie on "Young Americans."

With regard to the striking relevance of Mind in the year 2015, Visconti theorizes. "It's harder and harder to sound 'this year' as things change so quickly. But music is also cyclical, 'the 1980's strikes back' may have just expired and maybe now is the time for the return of the 1990s! I think that because our influences were outside the box of the 90s, it never really congealed as a 90s record. We didn't want to be those Seattle bands, I guess we existed in our own bubble."

Schreck agrees. "The other explanation could be that at least lyrically, I tend to stay away from topical subjects. I think on one song I sing 'turn the dial' - which even then was antiquated. Morgan did such a great job producing. In the end what sounds good will always sound good!"

Among The Ancients' admirers was Morgan's dad, the aforementioned legendary producer, arranger, and multi-instrumentalist whose list of Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame worthy credits include timeless recordings by David Bowie, Thin Lizzy, T. Rex, Sparks, and Morrissey to cite a very select few.

"I remember Tony being a proud dad when I played him my mixes" states Morgan. "But being a stubborn twenty- something, I was too cool to ask for further advice or help both musical and industry wise, which is something I regret now looking back. I was wary of nepotism. I wanted to blaze my own trail and all that. He's always a very honest, no-bullshit critic of mine but I sensed that he thought I was doing all the right things in the studio. I remember he came to several of our shows and enjoyed them too."

Consequently Mind was never released in its time. Schreck and Visconti's personal and professional lives went in decidedly different directions. However they remained comrades, and Mind had always been on their minds.

Schreck: "Five years later, we'd talk and say 'this stuff is great, we gotta do something with it ...ten years later, fifteen years later....same conversation!"

Morgan: "For some reason, now in 2015 it was clear. We've just gotta do it."

The Ancients Mind on the Human imprint is currently available on iTunes and Amazon.


Cady Huffman  






This feature appeared in Huffington Post July 2015

Provocateur? Entertainer? Pop genius? Rapscallion? Hustler? Romantic? Insatiable lover? Prankster? Satirist? Sage? American hero?

Recently, a severe heat advisory was upon us in New York City, however for the unsuspecting patrons of a serene Chelsea café which normally tends to the urban chic, there was no warning that performance artist Kenyon Phillips was about to arrive. My personal history with Mr. Phillips stretches back to the early 21st Century wherein I served as his bassist for an entire year in his shock rock ensemble Unisex Salon, which is another scandalizing tale for another time. I am still in recovery almost fifteen years after living, breathing, bleeding shouting, pointing, creating, debating, composing, and clubbing with my most inventive band leader.

Kenyon, outfitted in snug black trousers, clanking silver jewelry, and a baggy white designer t-shirt that surely adorned Roland Gift, or me, in 1986, looks fabulous in the sweltering warmth as sweat streams down his rather svelte figure. An out-of-towner taps me on the shoulder to inquire as to the identity of this obvious celebrity in our midst. The customers stare, as do the regulars. On cue, I respond in a hushed delivery: "oh, you must be know who that is..." When you are in the presence of Kenyon Phillips, life is theater. So I act my part.

Among Kenyon's most recent endeavors include his acclaimed, surrealistic autobiographical rock opera cabaret; The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips -which I previewed for Huffington Post in April 2014. Since the production's debut Kenyon's creation has undergone a metamorphosis - which thereby warrants revisiting. Actually, all the versions of Life and Death, including those which packed Joe's Pub and The Box in the past year, merit continual discussion as no performances are ever the same.

Akin to a be-bop composition - Life and Death serves as a frame. The content moves with the moment; the phrasing, the delivery, the intonation, the libretto - it's All That Jazz on steroids. With a cast that boasts Michael Musto, Daphne-Rubin Vega of Rent, along with Kenyon's dexterous all-girl orchestral rock ensemble The Ladies in Waiting, a bacchanalian battalion of mind-blowing aerialists, acrobats, and burlesque artists known only to the after-hours culture of Manhattan, Life and Death is about to take on a new life.

Enter Tony Award winning actress Cady Huffman, who makes her New York theatrical directorial debut with The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips at Webster Hall. Ms. Huffman arrives at the aforementioned Chelsea café sans the pomp and circumstance of Mr. Phillips; however Kenyon's reverence for her is most apparent. Her body is impressive -Mel Brooks dubbed her "the mountain every Jew would like to climb!" And her body work is impressive as it is expansive. You've seen her on stage, television, and film in such seminal works including Romance & Cigarettes, Curb Your Enthusiasm, a Tony Award nomination for The Will Rogers Follies, and a Tony Award for the Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her performance in The Producers, to cite a very select few.

Cady intends to bring even more of the "real" Kenyon to the production. "This is how I live my life, by being myself on stage...that's what goes into doing a great Broadway find that part of you that has nothing to do with playing a character - and then you become more of yourself."

Life and Death at Webster Hall will have a decidedly Bob Fosse bent. Cady worked with Fosse for Big Deal, an experience which further shaped her taste in music, among other aspects of her artistry. Ms. Huffman vividly recalls her first Fosse moment previous to actually working with the iconic choreographer.

"I was on a date at the Granada Theater on the hard scrabbled streets of Santa Barbara...and we saw All That Jazz that moment my life changed before my eyes. When Sandahl Bergman ripped off her top and danced, my date asked me 'would you do that?' And I said 'yeaaaaaahhhhh!!!"

Kenyon's Life will now imitate his art and vice versa much like Fosse's "Joe Gideon" thanks to Cady's directorial modus operandi. "In the All That Jazz audition scenes, Joe spoke to every single performer exactly like Bob - 'thank you for coming...we're not going to need you this time...please stay....' It was a seminal moment in my career!"

In previous version(s) of Life and Death, Ms. Huffman played the role of Kenyon's mother. When the Webster Hall gig materialized, Phillips approached Cady - in character. "Mom, would you direct me?" At first she refused, to which Kenyon claims he pried her with drink. Note that the lips of Mr. Phillips have touched many things - a few of which I can vouch for, but demon alcohol is not among them. "When she called me back I could hear the clink of empty bottles in the's been amazing since she's signed on." As directing Kenyon and acting would be a conflict of interests of sorts, Vega once again returns as Kenyon's mom. "Cady's like the 'big mom' now, co-choreographing the production and giving it shape and form."

As such Mr. Phillips has had to step up his game. He notes that "Cady is the real Broadway deal. She is uptown and I am downtown rock 'n' roll. She'd storm in and demand 'where are the charts?! Where are the lead sheets? But we got it together." Huffman emphasizes that the script, the costumes, and the entire presentation is tighter and has purpose even though it appears "off the cuff" to the audience. "The chaos," she proclaims "must have organization!"

To not know Kenyon is to still love him. Huffman assures me that Kenyon's life story has universal appeal despite his lack of celebrity status beyond the downtown performance art scene, which is curious news to some tourists in a Chelsea cafe. We discuss Kenyon as an American "everyman" in a culture which now champions Caitlyn Jenner; shrugs indifferently at news anchors which admit to habitually lying and politicians acting out their sex fantasies on social media.

So what is the theater-goer to expect at Webster Hall on a hot August night in the year 2015? A new opening number which is an ode to Kenyon's narcissism replete with a Papal procession - and in the process, emerges as a sly commentary on our obsession with ourselves by way of Facebook and other social media platforms; circus and specialty acts; dancing genitalia; forbidden love, juggling sex toys; and a soundtrack worthy of Rocky Horror, Ziggy Stardust, and Phantom of the Paradise legend, among other elements I am sworn not to divulge. You'll just have to see for yourself at Webster Hall. We'll all be there.

The Life and Death of Kenyon Phillips happens on stage on Wednesday, August 19, 2015 at Webster Hall, 8:00 PM EDT. 18 years and over.


Mike Visceglia This feature appeared in Huffington Post June 2015

"You ask the average person what a bass is, or what a bass sounds like, and most of the time, they don't know. But remove the bass from any piece of music and suddenly it becomes the largest missing piece in the world! Whoa, fifty percent of the music just went away with one instrument! It is an instrument that is much more conspicuous by its absence than by its presence..."

A few weeks ago I interviewed Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Dennis Dunaway upon the release of his memoire Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group - and among the many profound statements he imparted to me was "rock 'n' roll ...if it doesn't kill ya, it will keep you forever young."

Which brings me directly to Michael Visceglia, an ageless cat who has plied his oft anonymous yet essential craft on recorded works and concert performances with such artists as Suzanne Vega, John Cale, Jackson Browne, Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, Phoebe Snow, and Christopher Cross, to reference a very few.

Shortly following his latest performance from the orchestra pit of Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein's Tony Award Winning Broadway musical Kinky Boots on a warm spring evening, Mr. Visceglia is sitting across the table from me in one of those Italian restaurants that Billy Joel once portrayed in song to discuss his new book, which, as the most mesmeric works often are, is borne of "a labor of was a completely non- commercial idea at first!"

As for the play, which was cited for Best Musical and Best Original Score, Mike's grooves are worth the price of admission alone - but go see the production anyway. "For a Tuesday night" he enthuses, "this was a fantastic gig...the audience was really into it...everything clicked."

In short, Visceglia's terrific tome A View From the Side, negotiates many themes which may appear disparate at first, but they all resolve in the end - much like an effective bass-line that grabs an audience - even if they cannot fathom the source of the rhythm, harmony, and rumble by no fault of their own. His chronicles of tours with Suzanne Vega, Velvet Underground icon John Cale, the story of the mysterious Miss M as exposed in "The Fan," and his paean to a friend and mentor entitled "The Many Lives of Jan Arnet," are the stuff of Hitchcock films. And that's just the first few chapters.

"The idea came from my experiences on the road..." exclaims Michael, "hey if this happened to me, there's got to be a lot of other musicians who have really interesting things to say...but I kept it in the bass world, because I'm a bass player." True that, but few scribes can capture the range of emotions that a bass player experiences given the tangible power of the instrument and the role these dedicated yet mostly unknown practitioners play in the music that touches the lives of millions.

"But, you don't have to be a muso or a bass player to appreciate it..." emphasizes the bassist. "I want it to be for anybody who has an interest in the music business and beyond. There is value in these human interest stories. I stayed away from the usual topics of what amplifier or what instrument someone used on a record or a tour. I delved into the thought process, the creative process, how these players keep going in this ever changing business. How do they traverse all the different styles? It's something everyone can relate to."

Aside from the sometimes torrid yet always touching tales of his personal experiences, Michael's candid conversations with bassists Will Lee (Late Show with David Letterman), Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, John Lennon), Marcus Miller, Colin Moulding (XTC), and the late studio legend Duck Dunn, among others, makes known much about the character of a bass player which will enlighten fans and aspiring musicians alike.

Visceglia's in-depth exchange with James Taylor bassist Leland Sklar, another studio giant, emerges as a pop music history lesson hitherto untold- warts and all. "My goal was to get players from different parts of the country, from different genres...with Lee Sklar, you get a look through the window of how you can be with someone for such a long time and build a career for a star, and you think you are creating an everlasting bond with someone...but you're really not. And I've found that out a few times myself."

Visceglia also shares his expertise on the currently unhinged state of the music business, offering insightful analysis on the death of the record industry; the American Idol-ization of the pop music spectrum, along with practical advice on how to forge a career as a working musician regardless of the seismic shifts in how music is delivered, consumed, and valued by the masses. However unlike many veteran players who have seen it all and continue to pine for days past, Michael waxes wise and most positive.

"One thing that an audience always relates to, more than anything else in the world, is authenticity. Of course, there are a lot of fabricated stars out there...that's fine. And it's nothing new. But that doesn't mean that every artist out there is defined by that. To experience the connection that happens between musicians, a song, a voice, an instrument, and an audience...all the people who are in it for the right reasons, and are committed to the art - we will always find an outlet for it. The other stuff, well, that's just white noise in the background..."

With a Fender bass fawning forward by former teacher Gordon Sumner, better known by his stage name Sting - and moving tributes to his late father, without whom Michael would have never picked up a bass to embark on his incredible life journey, A View From the Side is among the most realistic, accurate and useful collection of essays for bass players, musicians, and fans that I've come across in many years. I'm not at all surprised that it was written by a bass player.

"The nature of the bass is supportive. It's the only instrument that exists in three worlds - the rhythmic, the harmonic, and melodic worlds. In order to have longevity in this business, from my own experiences and from everybody I talked with, you have to be highly committed, highly flexible - you cannot have a rigid outlook on your life and the way you think things are supposed to be...because the script isn't written that way!"

Michael Visceglia's A View From the Side, published by Wizdom Media LLC and distributed by Alfred Music is out now.














This feature appeared in Huffington Post in June 2015

"How can you kick the bucket if you're writing a book? Every time I'd read something about Alice Cooper, I'd complain aloud 'ah, that's not how it happened! And my kids had to put up with that for years, and years, and years. Finally they said to me 'Dad! Shut up and write a book!"

My hot-blooded Sicilian mother oft warned me that there were three sides to every story "his, hers, and the truth!" The same loving women who doted on her only son also made a habit of tearing Alice Cooper posters off my bedroom wall in the 1970s- thankfully she never discovered the panties that spilled out of my vinyl copy of School's Out (1972) back in the era when a certain band was re-imagining the art of album packaging. She also warned me that these degenerate creeps whom I worshiped and inspired me to join a band were actually Russian operatives on a mission to rot the minds of American teenagers. Nowadays my mom's behavior is commonly referred to as "menopause."

Behold the third side of the story of a bona-fide American rock 'n' roll legacy. Dennis Dunaway, bassist, songwriter, conceptualist for the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame Alice Cooper band - that's right, Alice Cooper was a group before he, the former Vincent Furnier, emerged as a Hollywood Square, celebrity golfer, and singular show business entity - has composed the definitive and most truthful tome detailing the groundbreaking collective that also included Michael Bruce, the late Glen Buxton, and Neil Smith.

Aptly entitled Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group (Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press, 2015), and written in collaboration with veteran rock journalist Chris Hodenfield - Dennis vividly details in the first person how the Alice cooperative of five endearingly misfit pioneering adolescents put the Woodstock generation to rest; and the rest, as they say, is history. Kiss, Marilyn Manson, Guns 'n' Roses, arena rockers too numerous to mention, and even MTV took their cues - and then some - from the original Cooper clan.

Dunaway laughs as I bestow upon him the new title of "literary lion." He revels traveling in writers circles in New York City too. "I'm meeting all these famous authors...individuals who wrote books about such important historical figures such as Abraham Lincoln. I wrote about a band who threw a chicken at an audience!" I remind Mr. Dunaway that he too is an important part of history and that his new book documents the missing link between the transformations in American pop culture from the 1960s to the 1970s - an era that continues to resonate.

Among the unsung heroes afforded due recognition in Snakes! is his wife, Cindy Smith, sister of drummer Neal Smith. "Cindy created the look that set off the whole gam rock thing...other people got credit for it, and accept credit for it...and it's not that they weren't part of it...but Cindy was doing it way, way, before anyone else..." Dennis also speaks lovingly and reverentially of the band's dearly departed guitarist, Glen Buxton. A true rock 'n' roll outlaw with a razor sharp wit to which Dunaway often quotes, it was Buxton who created many of the group's signature riffs which every player who followed in his platform boot-steps is required to replicate, and air guitarists young, old, and middle-aged continue to mime.

Effectively re-writing the script to a vital period in rock 'n' roll history as demanded by the Dunaway brood actually commenced for Dennis during Easter of 1997 - the same number of years ago as the age of a rather distraught young adult who can't figure out if he's a boy or a man as per the libretto of the band's first hit. But first he had to overcome a life-threatening disease. "If I was going to write a book," Dennis recalls, "I had to survive the surgery. That sounds strange, but that's what drove me as well." Dunaway also had to conquer moods of bitterness borne by the age old injustices of the music business, and a feeling that the fans had forgotten him. Truth is, the hardcore fans always held Dennis and the original Alice Cooper band to close their hearts despite the fact that the Cooper brand continued without them.

"We were overshadowed by the monster we created," emphasizes Dennis. "There are a lot of newer Alice Cooper fans out there that don't even know that I or the band existed!" During our conversation I note that oft times in my career as a musician - my band-mates and I would refer to the sounds and mixes of the original Alice Cooper albums for our producers and engineers - all of whom nodded their heads with respect and approval. Even without the theatrics, the Alice Cooper band canon was Hall of Fame worthy.

My comment flatters Dennis, who is quick to point out that "we also upstaged ourselves as musicians with the visuals in the Alice Cooper band." Ditto the boa constrictor which infamously slithered around the body of Mr. Furnier during concert performances. "Journalists would write half an article about the boa and not even mention the great songs we wrote for the snake!"

That was then, this is now. Mr. Dunaway, author and bassist, currently plies his craft in a kick ass trio dubbed Blue Coupe - which is made up of former Blue Oyster Cult members Joe and Albert Bouchard. They record, tour the world, and to my ears, they put guitar slinging bands (more than) half their age to shame.

At the official release party held in the Rare Books section of The Strand in New York City - Dennis and Blue Coupe tear the house down much like his old band did when a certain type of music was indeed a threat to society. To thunderous applause from glam grannies, young rockers, and Strand employees spattered in black eye-shadow akin to Dennis' former singer, the bassist bellows "no more more book for your summer!"

Dennis and Blue Coupe ripped the joint with rousing renditions of "I'm Eighteen," "No More Mr. Nice Guy," Blue Oyster Cult's 1976 anthem "(Don't Fear) The Reaper," and close with "School's Out" -abetted by the backing vocals of New York City legends Tish & Snooky.

During the question and answer segment for attendees, co-author Chris Hodenfield speaks eloquently of his time touring with the band for his well-known Rolling Stone magazine feature in 1972. He quips "Dennis has an appallingly good memory....everyone in the band was a comedian who tried to outdo each other." Reminiscing how Groucho Marx and George Burns were Alice Cooper band fans, Dunaway praises his wife, the band's former managers, his beloved band-mates, the road and lighting crews from years past, and of course, his loyal fans. "Rock 'n' Roll," proclaims the author to me - "if it doesn't kill ya' it will keep you forever young!"

Snakes! Guillotines! Electric Chairs! My Adventures in the Alice Cooper Group by Dennis Dunaway and Chris Hodenfield is out now on Thomas Dunne Books - St. Martin's Press, 2015


Amanda Thorpe Cover 400x400  









This feature appeared in Huffington Post in January 2015.

"Yip wrote about universal human emotions and conditions, his lyrics have remained remarkably relevant. In every day and age we have had dreamers, lovers and soul searchers. But Yip was also a human rights activist and he viewed his songs as more than mere entertainment. Theodore Taylor - in a biography about composer Jule Styne - said Yip was often 'caught at the art of sneaking social messages into his lyrics.' Per Yip, 'I am a rebel by birth, I contest anything that is unjust, that causes suffering in humanity. My feelings about that are so strong; I don't think I could live with myself if I weren't honest."

Perhaps if Edgar Yipsel "Yip" Harburg had plugged in an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, we'd revere his canon as much as we do the works of Robert Allen Zimmerman. Nowadays the name of this iconic pop lyricist born Isidore Hochberg on New York's Lower East Side in the year 1896 is mostly known among nostalgia buffs and theater musos, but not the masses. Yet Mr. Harburg was a "Bob Dylan" of his era - assuming a fresh new identity and penning lyrics to such classics as "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" all the songs in The Wizard of Oz including "Over The Rainbow," "Old Devil Moon," "April in Paris," and "It's Only a Paper Moon," among many others, which deftly merged romance, clever observations of the human and social condition, and politics into a timeless libretto. Somehow Yip has evaded the perpetual hosannas routinely afforded his contemporaries Cole Porter, Lorenz Hart, and Johnny Mercer.

Leave it to a British artist to once again to remind us Yanks of a neglected American musical treasure through an album before and after its time: Amanda Thorpe's Bewitching Me. Ms. Thorpe, born in Derby, England, and currently residing in Paris, forged an impressive career among New York City's indie pop royalty over the past two decades, releasing several collections under her own name, and as a member of the highly acclaimed Bedsit Poets with Edward Rogers and Mac Randall (who guests on one track), among other collaborations. As a recording artist, performer, and composer, Ms. Thorpe's artistry traverses folk, rock, jazz, cabaret, and every conceivable variation thereof.

Amanda's connection to the Harburg family essentially prompted the realization of Bewitching Me. "I had been working with Deena Rosenberg (Yip's daughter-in-law via her marriage to Ernie Harburg) for a couple of years on various musical theater and tutoring projects" she recalls. "We had a meeting at DeRoberti's old Italian bakery on 1st Avenue - which has since sadly closed after 100 years - for a holiday drink and to discuss future plans. As we supped on our favorite warm beverage and nibbled on select pastries, I suppose it was quite natural for Ernie, who is a champion of his father's work, to suggest my considering covering some of Yip's catalog…I laughed it off initially, I associated Yip with Broadway show tunes."

Intrigued by the challenge, Amanda forged ahead with the project. The Harburgs opened their vast Yip archives to Ms. Thorpe - providing numerous recordings and compositions grouped by eras and various categories: moon songs, love songs, troubled love songs, rainbow songs, social songs, and then some. "One of the most important things for me was not to record an album that sounded like me singing jazz standards. Yip seemed dedicated to the exploration and joy of language - he had countless notebooks in which he would capture all types of phrases or words, and he would often rework a concept or a lyric approach multiple times and in different songs. He sounded like a fascinating man and a force of nature, so passionate and full of life and ideas. I imagine he saw the world in 3D Technicolor even before the Wizard of Oz! He could dig so deep into emotions and sprinkle them so lightly into lyrical vignettes. His mastery of words is pretty intimidating…"

By way of its modern Americana veneer, Bewitching Me emerges as a cousin to the recent commercially popular and critically acclaimed Lost On The River (2014) collection: an extraordinary archival based endeavor produced by T Bone Burnett which set new music to a recently recovered cache of hand-written Bob Dylan lyrics circa 1966-67. Burnett amassed an all-star ensemble dubbed The New Basement Tapes which features Elvis Costello, Rhiannon Giddons (Carolina Chocolate Drops), Taylor Goldsmith (Dawes), Jim James (My Morning Jacket), and Marcus Mumford (Mumford & Sons), among others, to complete Dylan's mid-life musings with a contemporary resonance .

Ditto Ms. Thorpe, who enlisted her own local legend and long-time collaborator to helm Bewitching Me -producer, engineer, musician Don Piper whose list of indie credits on the New York City music scene is as exhaustive as it is impressive. "I do believe that a good song can be interpreted in many different was and still shine" emphasizes Piper. "The big goal was to remove as much of the 'jazz' out of it as possible. There are moments that are still 'jazzy' here and there but I think we made a well-rounded album that ventures into different landscapes in a natural way."

With Piper behind the console, Amanda's core band of drummer Robert DiPietro, bassist Rob Jost, and guitarist Tony Scherr afford Harburg / Thorpe's song-cycle a sense of warmth and immediacy not often evident in studio recordings." I wanted everything to be recorded as live as possible - for practical, and musical, reasons. Practically - we had 13 songs to record in a weekend. Musically- I’m a fan of spontaneous interactions of musicians! So the approach was 'three takes and move on.' Don set up drums, bass, and guitar in the same room, and me separately. He always manages to capture the intimacy of live recordings. There was no click and we recorded each song all the way through three times."

Amanda's organic rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" turns subtly anthemic upon the arrival of the chorus. "I Like the Likes of You" emerges as a pop confection worthy of Sonny & Cher lore. And Scherr's exquisite solo on "Adrift on a Star" deeply echoes Thorpe's seductive pathos. "Yip said, 'words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.' I do think these songs are great and have a magic to them. His work with Harold Arlen is particularly powerful, the melodies and words mesh perfectly. The fact that Yip can tackle such big issues with witticism, simplicity, and a unique lyric style make his work accessible to all.

Amanda’s Bedsit Poet partner Edward Rogers concurs- "a great song always helps, and with the right love and vision, the artist and the producer can create a wonderful interpretation that makes the listener believe the song was always meant to be heard that way."


By Tom Semioli Slim Chance Then 75

This feature appeared in Huffington Post UK in November 2014

"Me brother ain't dead....he's still alive. As long as these boys keep playin'... and these people keep singing his songs...he's 'ere with us!"

On a chilly November evening, a joyous Stan Lane - brother of the late, great Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame singer, songwriter, bassist, founding member and heart and soul of the Small Faces and The Faces - is holding court at the hallowed Half Moon in Putney. This cherished, intimate venue has served as one of England's most beloved, essential music pubs since the early 1960s, presenting such seminal artists as Roy Harper, John Martyn, John Mayall, Dr. Feelgood, Bert Jansch, Alexis Corner, The Yardbirds, Kate Bush, the Rolling Stones, The Who, and Elvis Costello, among scores of others, to the working class residents in the Southwest London borough of Wandsworth.

"These boys" which Stan raises his glass to repeatedly throughout the evening, are the surviving, still thriving, re-united members of Ronnie Lane's legendary "hobo-billy" ensemble Slim Chance. An organic, multifaceted collective that Lane assembled after he bravely departed the aforementioned super-group in 1973, which was then comprised of Rod Stewart, Ron Wood, Ian McLagen, and Kenny Jones; Slim Chance afforded Lane the platform to pursue his diverse artistic and musical yearnings away from the spotlight. Young rockers are advised to seek out Ronnie's matchless canon and legacy: Small Faces, featuring Steve Marriott, continue to be a tremendous inspiration to rock artists on both sides of the pond almost 50 years after they hit their first note together. And swaggering, booze swilling musos given to velvet trousers, scarves, and tousled hair-dos all owe their careers and rehab memberships to the Faces with Woody and Rod the Mod.

Lane, who passed in 1997 after a long, heroic battle against multiple sclerosis, anchored both versions of the group with his melodic bass artistry, uncanny songwriting expertise, and unbridled spirit. The Ronnie Lane Appeal for ARMS (Action into Research Multiple Sclerosis) benefit concerts in the UK and USA in 1983 featured the stricken musician along with a who's who of rock royalty to raise funds and awareness. Though he suffered terribly from the disease for over 21 years, Lane somehow managed to make it to the stage until 1992.

Slim Chance never scaled the commercial heights of Ronnie's former bands - nor were they designed to. Their original records are long out of print - yet that sad fact does not render Slim Chance any less vital. Emphasizes bassist Steven Bingham, who joined Ronnie's initial Slim Chance line-up when the band-leader switched to rhythm guitar to facilitate his singing: "super stardom was not Ronnie's bag at all! He wanted to do his own thing, which was to continue writing and performing in his unique style."

Ronnie and Slim Chance's minstrel-like British folk inspired repertoire additionally incorporated American country, jazz, bluegrass, and rhythm and blues influences - long before modern day roots chart-toppers Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Laura Marling, The Decembertists, and Noah & The Whale, among others, were born. Slim Chance's legendary 1974 tour - a trek which included a traveling circus replete with jugglers, dancers, clowns, and animal acts - was beautifully documented in a must-see film entitled Passing Show: The Life and Music of Ronnie Lane (2006) by director Rupert Williams, who was also in attendance at the Half Moon to celebrate the return of Slim Chance.

"I'm so glad we got back together" says Bingham, who can hardly contain his enthusiasm during sound-check while his band-mates chide him as he is not often the subject of interviews. "There was something slightly un-finished about the first incarnation of Slim Chance. The Passing Show was an incredible adventure for him to undertake. It drained Ronnie financially and in other ways."

When his Slim Chance brethren Charlie Hart and Steve Simpson, noted individually for their work with such artists as Ian Dury, Eric Clapton, Frankie Miller, Eric Bibb, Roger Chapman, and Pete Brown, among others, approached Steve about resurrecting the band, the youthful bassist never hesitated. "I follow my instincts - I heard a million voices telling me to do this! I came home from our meeting late at night, woke up my wife and told her 'you won't believe this! I'm going to have another bash at Slim Chance!"

Previous to the modern day Slim Chance re-birth, among their most high profile appearances in recent times occurred at the Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert held on April 8, 2004. After years of haggling over issues best left to the explanation of music business attorneys, Ronnie's old friend and collaborator Pete Townshend intervened and now the masses can see and hear that historic event by way of the new Angel Air DVD: One for the Road: The Ronnie Lane Memorial Concert at the Royal Albert Hall. Slim Chance's performances with Townshend, Chris Jagger, Sam Brown, ex-Sex Pistol Glen Matlock, Mick Jones of The Clash, Paul Weller, and Ronnie Wood are transcendent.

In the summer 2011, Slim Chance alumni, including guitarist and long-time Cat Stevens / Yusuf Islam collaborator Alun Davis, returned to the studio to update compositions from all phases of Ronnie Lane's brilliant career on a riveting collection aptly titled The Show Goes On: Songs of Ronnie Lane (Fishpool Records).

And the show goes on for Slim Chance as well. Bingham reports that an album of all new Slim Chance compositions will be ready by Spring 2015. "We don't want to be a tribute band...Ronnie wouldn't have that! Our new songs will pick up where Slim Chance left off. And that's what is great about this band - we're not massively well-known, but the fans love us and that's what keeps us going strong."

As expected, Slim Chance raised the roof at the sold-out Half Moon. Pensioners outfitted in dubious 1970s garb complimented by tartan accessories, including several grand-dads sporting skullets, boogied alongside the hipsters who made the pilgrimage to hear the real deal whilst these pub-rock masters still traverse this mortal coil. Everyone knew the songs, the riffs, and Ronnie's inflections. In addition to a few new numbers, Slim Chance's set-list included such Lane classics as "Debris," "You're So Rude," "How Come," "Anniversary," "Silly Little Man," and "Ooh La La" the latter of which was performed with the welcome addition of buxom can-can dancers and Stan Lane on vocals and tambourine.

After the gig, Mr. Stan Lane stood regally outside the Half Moon in the pouring rain, bidding fans farewell, chatting with young rockers about Ronnie, and posing for pictures.

"I'm glad you American lads are here tonight - this is real  English music, mate...real English rock 'n' roll..."

Slim Chance Now Large 75






By Tom Semioli George Usher Lisa Burns 1 1000X668

This feature appeared in No Depression, November 2014

"I feel like I'm at my own wake!" proclaims a beaming George Usher from the stage of the sanctified Mercury Lounge in lower Manhattan.

With his latest musical partner Lisa Burns by his side, along with a crack backing ensemble comprised of New York City's finest, George Usher is indeed alive and well and co-writing some of the best songs of his long and winding career. The hallowed venue is packed with fans on a cool October evening, including a new admirer - Morgan Fisher of Mott the Hoople fame. Fisher greeted the co-band leaders, whom he had never met, in their dressing room minutes before George and Lisa delivered a set of songs that will eventually emerge as their highly-anticipated debut duo album entitled The Last Day of Winter.  Usher, Burns, and their bassist Sal Maida –who toiled in Roxy Music and The Sparks whilst Morgan was plying his patented theatrical plinkery for the iconic Herefordshire ensemble, bestowed the gregarious Brit the title of "rock royalty" and afforded the dapper piano-man half- bows of reverence in his presence. Indeed, rock ‘n’ roll fandom knows no age limits!  Which brings us to George and Lisa…

The folksy, autumnal, and ultimately celebratory song-cycle The Last Day of Winter is not quite the standard fare for Usher, who is among America's greatest indie-pop tunesmiths and recording artists. If you are unaware of his history be advised to research Mr. Usher's extensive and impressive rock 'n' roll curricula vitae. In 2010 Mr. Usher was diagnosed with cancer - which is the underlying catalyst of Winter - though the ailment is never directly referenced. Details George, "we call it a document of hope, friendship, and defiance in the face of crippling illness and potentially the loss of life." Treatments for the disease rendered George unable to do things that most healthy folks take for granted, including the ability to play an instrument.

"It's funny with a thing like cancer," reflects George, sitting in his West Village kitchen where he and Lisa created Winter, "I did not announce it on Facebook…there are some people who are still finding out about it! Other people, when they heard about my condition, they ran for the hills…but I forgave them immediately. Yet I had other friends who stepped up…"

Among those other friends who stepped up was Lisa Burns - a distinguished New York City songstress with a notable canon that includes her 1978 MCA self-titled solo album, plus such acclaimed releases as Unadorned (2004) - which won praise from Phil Manzanera and Russell Mael among others, Channeling Mary (2011), and New Randy (2006) with Holly Anderson, among many other musical projects. Note to readers: after you research Mr. Usher, investigate Ms. Burns!

George remembers "my cancer treatments left me walking around like a zombie…but I had to somehow speak to things, so I started composing lyrics. I also write poetry, however lyrics are different, they need to be 'mathematically and rhythmically correct.' Many times I'd written lyrics and given them to musical colleagues, but they didn't know how to do the 'Bernie and Elton' thing. It is particular talent all its own to write lyrics to fit a melody that has yet to be written, and to write a melody for lyrics someone hands you."

Enter Lisa Burns, who flourishes when penning melodies and chords to a fully realized libretto. "It's butter!" responds a rather modestly ebullient Ms. Burns. "I was grateful. I have so much melody. And George's lyrics suggested melodies to me. I was like a jeweler looking through a loupe at a gem -my job was to bring out the essence of his words in song." She pauses, "actually, if you are a songwriter, and you are open to it, having lyrics already written is an easier way of working."

At regular intervals the two would meet in the Usher family kitchen to exchange lyrics and for Lisa to perform the songs she had completed in chronological order for George - who was still incapacitated for extended periods of time during the writing process, and who was not always in the best of moods. Says Lisa "I was not intimidated -I was challenged - I wanted it to be my best work. One part of me was inspired by the fact that I had great lyrics, and the other part of me was motivated by the seriousness of the situation. We never talked about the meaning behind a particular lyric - I wanted it to be fresh and objective."

Usher: "whenever she came in with a finished song - I didn't expect it to be so good!" As George's health improved and he gradually regained his motor-skills to the extent where he could sing and play with Lisa, they commenced to demoing the songs as a matter of record with no intentions of making an album. That changed, though Usher initially envisioned their work to be a Lisa Burns solo collection.  “I always heard these songs in George’s voice,” counters Lisa. Usher reveals “when we were working I had it in the back of my mind that this could be the last songs I’ll ever write.”

Because George's regimen was best served by not traveling, and as a matter of convenience, the duo recorded the album locally with an impressive cast of musical friends and family: bassist Maida (who, incidentally, is married to Burns and who reveled in the long-awaited opportunity to record with Usher); keyboardist Dylan Maida (son of Lisa and Sal); drummer Wylie Wirth (Dead Ex's); guitarists Captain Kirk Douglas (The Roots), Dave Schramm (The Schramms), Mark Sidgwick (Holly & The Italians), and Jonathan Gregg; among others. With Usher and Burns serving as their own producers, they brought Winter to resident Americana legend Eric Ambel of The Del Lords renown to render the mixing. As with all of Ambel's work, you can feel the band on record as if they were three feet away from you.

Emphasizes Lisa - "the album captures the magic of the performances - it's an extension of us playing in our living room. These songs are universal, at some point in everyone’s lives; we confront our mortality and have to deal with things like cancer. Even from the stage of the Mercury I could see people singing along to songs that they'd never heard before."

At present Usher and Burns are still shopping the album. However they have filmed a video produced by Spencer Gordon as a teaser, choosing the track "More Than That I Cannot Say." George refers to the song as the album's single, though Lisa reminds George that “45s” cease to exist in an official capacity.

Regardless, Usher can hardly contain his joy. "I can't believe I made an album with Lisa Burns!" George, who once labored at establishments known as “record stores,” proudly displays his vinyl copy of Lisa Burns' major label debut waxed during the Carter Administration, greatly admiring Ms. Burns’ sexy image which adorns the jacket, and which she still maintains.

"Wow! I love this album, and I really, really love the cover! They don't make album covers like this anymore!"

For updates regarding The Last Day of Winter release and upcoming George Usher & Lisa Burns shows, check in regularly on www.TheLastDayofWinterAlbum.Com

Video Link “More Than That I Cannot Say” :


Minton JJ 57 HP  







This feature appeared on Huffington Post New York, October 2014 

“See her dark tan…those double-d implants…the sharp tip of her high-heels…it’s a drill bit! Her poppa put Penthouse parameters around what’s pretty…early and often. Splay legged women, laid back laughing…lipstick thick enough to paint the town…”Minton Sparks “Gold Digger”

She refers to herself as a “speaker –songwriter.” Where to begin with the genre defying Minton Sparks: poet, storyteller, singer, comedienne, educator, writer, activist, essayist, philosopher, painter, performance artist? If you are new to her artistry as I am, then I highly recommend Minton’s latest album, suitably entitled Gold Digger, which is out now, coupled with any one of the numerous performance vignettes which are in circulation on the video platform of your choice, or conveniently archived on

Akin to such great American muso-wordsmiths as Tom Waits, Mos Def, Gil Scott-Heron, and Henry Rollins to cite a simpatico few, Ms. Sparks holds a curved mirror to society. “I love comparison to those artists…especially Tom Waits and Mos Def. Many wonderful songs need no words, and many wonderful poems are musical enough in and of themselves. I try to goose both genres by spending lots of time on each word, and then hoping for the music to deepen the emotion of the piece.”

Sparks’ looking-glass is decidedly Southern in a manner which is oft stereo-typed – yet emerges as universal.  Ms. Sparks’ distinctive appearance, delivery and overall aura are that of a semi-poor white middle-aged small-town Dixie chick. She is usually adorned in a budget floral dress, tatty high-heels, and an elegantly weathered purse dangling from the crook of her elbow. But don’t let that fool you.

The southern fried character of Minton Sparks minces no words as her drawling, deceptively intricate libretto runs the gamut of awkward family secrets, romantic yearnings, un-neighborly gossip, spiteful ruminations on lovers and other strangers, abject jealousy, unrequited and hitherto undisclosed passion, stinging social commentary, and topics that many of the so-called The Real Housewives dare not knowingly address with such depth and clarity.

Nevertheless, the decidedly Northeast hipsters in the uber-hipster East Village venue wherein I first witnessed Minton saw themselves in her outrageously understated over-the-top character portraits as evidenced by their nervous, albeit jaw- dropping laughter.  Big Apple dwellers are notorious for their superiority complex: but not so in the presence of Minton who speaks truth to power and vice versa.  Sparks could be your alcoholic aunt from Brooklyn; your boorish mother-in-law from the Upper East Side; your closeted sister who lives on the North Shore of Long Island with her rich, unsuspecting dentist husband; your nymphomaniac ex-girlfriend who moved back to Staten Island; your spinster co-worker from Astoria for whom you fetishlike fantasize over… all rendered in an infectious, irritable, and irresistible twang.

“I’m not exactly sure how I use my Southern accent…how does one use a mother tongue? It’s unconsciously bent by the land. One thing I am aware of however is how rich the language is in this part of the country in the face of an ‘ever vanilla-ing” population. For example, I remember my grandmother saying ‘if that’s not true I’ll walk into the Mississippi ‘til my hat floats! One of the reasons I love good literature is that a well told story, say, set in South Africa, or Ireland reaches through the page and moves me from afar. I can hear where the characters live in the harmonies between the words… I think people who enjoy being challenged by a story wherever they live, will respond to this performance.”

Though her new album is a full-on band project, Minton’s musical foil in concert was the solo guitar of John “JJ” Jackson, who has also collaborated with Bob Dylan (1991-97), Shelby Lynne, and Lucinda Williams among others. Jackson has been at Sparks’ side for over eight years and their interplay, which is given to the moment, is nothing short of astounding. Jackson punctuates Sparks’ every move – from her chicken strut to her sultry saunter towards her audience, to the occasional stagger – with motifs that quote jazz, blues, folk, country, rhythm and blues, and every permutation thereof.

When Minton is not officially on public display, she hosts writing and performance workshops (she is the founder of the Nashville Writing and Performance Institute and “Create Your Story” at universities and professional organizations countrywide), she creates art-poem cards and prints, and authors books – Desperate Ransom: Setting Her Family Free (2007) and White Lightening (2008), among other endeavors. She has distinguished herself at the esteemed Jonesborough National Storytelling Festival and the American Songbook Series at Lincoln Center. Sparks’ recorded canon, which spans five albums, is also quite impressive and includes contributions from Waylon Jennings, Keb Mo, and Chris Thile among others.

“I see people in tears all the time…last night in Augusta a woman came up to me and said ‘did we grow up together? You have no idea how much this show meant to me and my husband…I tried to tell him about my family life, but this told him more than I’ve been able to…”

Perhaps Broadway will beckon for this Southern bellwether?


Ed Rogers VM  









This feature appeared on Huffington Post New York, July 2014

"As this album was coming together it became apparent to me that it had a 1970s theme to it... when I learned that Kevin Ayers passed away I got a hold of some of the last words he'd written which were 'you don't shine if you don't burn...' After that, the entire process of making KAYE fell into place. Like a puzzle..."

To coin an angular phrase worthy of the above referenced legend, Edward Rogers is New York City rock 'n' roll's "Ayers apparent."

For many of us, to traverse the streets of New York City in the present tense, especially in singer -- songwriter Edward Rogers' lower Manhattan Astor Place neighborhood, is to dance among the ghosts of artists priced out of the environs, the soulless steel and glass structures wherein romantic tenements rued; the rock clubs, mom and pop establishments and record shops replaced by telecommunications outlets and pricey boutiques. To be a rock 'n' roll practitioner in this strange place is to be an iconoclast and a dreamer -- like Edward Rogers, and his mentor, Kevin Ayers.

For those of you, and there are understandably many, who are unaware of the life and work of Kevin Ayers, he was among the most significant British pop experimental recording artists who emerged from rock's hallowed Canterbury Scene which flourished in the late 1960s-70s. An eccentric, prolific enigma, Mr. Ayers was a founding member of Soft Machine, and collaborator with a who's who list of icons you may have heard of: Brian Eno, John Cale, Phil Manzanera, and Mike Oldfield -- among scores of others whom I'm sure my readers will admonish me for not citing. Ayers' imprint on indie and mainstream rock artists of the past twenty years is indelible -- yet fame was not in the cards for Kevin - not that I think he cared much.

Edward Rogers was born in Birmingham, England. His parents pulled up stakes, and Edward, and migrated to the United States just as the British rock world was undergoing a historic transformation with Jeff Beck, The Who, Cream, PP Arnold, The Nice, Manfred Mann -- all of whom Edward saw on brief summer trips back to his homeland. "It was the worse time ever" recalls Rogers "everything was happening in the UK! And I was in Rhode Island, of all bloody places." However there were perks to being a Brummie in America. "I didn't realize that having slightly longer hair would have such a strong impression -- especially on the ladies! They constantly inquired if I knew John, or George, or Ringo, or Paul. It brought me out of a shell, though the bad news was that I became a threat to the jocks and the straight-laced establishment."

Luckily for Edward his family eventually moved a bit south to New York City at the dawn of the punk revolution. When a rocker approached him and declared "you're going to be a drummer in my band" his life changed. Rogers gladly tossed aside his well-paying law firm job "which financed my velvets and satins, and then some. From then on I copied everything Clem Burke (Blondie) did!" Behind the kit with such bands as the Overnights and Route 66, Edward revels in telling war stories of early, raucous gigs with the Smithereens, beating out the Stray Cats at a Long Island Battle of the Bands contest, and his shock at gazing out into the audience of the legendary Kenny's Castaways on Bleeker Street (which is now a sports bar) one bleary evening only to realize that Mick Jagger and Al Pacino were fixated on him.

Though an accident essentially ended his career as a drummer, Edward was reborn as a singer -- which is his natural habitat -- Rogers belongs under the spotlight, not behind it. As was his fate, Edward met the right people at the right time while he "never worked and studied so hard in my life" to become a vocalist. He served a musical conductor for a bona fide (and thankfully still functioning) New York City rock institution -- The Losers Lounge -- founded by Joe McGinty (Psychedelic Furs, Kevin Ayers, Ryan Adams, Martha Wainwright, among others) which is a loose assemblage of musicians who tribute iconic artists ranging from Neil Diamond to The Cure. After his bravura performance of The Zombies "I Love You," fellow Lounge performer Pierce Turner hugged him and pronounced "now you are a singer -- now you are one of us!"

Turner's proclamation was seconded when Edward passed an audition before his heroes Tony Visconti (David Bowie, T. Rex), Clem Burke, and Tony Shanahan (Patti Smith Group), among others for a Marc Bolan and T. Rex tribute. "When Tony looked at me in the eye and said 'you're in mate' I delved deeper into my singing lessons." Edward's progression as songwriter arrived at the chance meeting of George Usher (The Decoys, Beat Rodeo, The Bongos, House of Usher) with whom he still collaborates.

In addition to two highly acclaimed albums as a member of the Bedsit Poets with Amanda Thorpe and Mac Randall (The Summer That Changed, Rendezvous), Rogers' solo cannon is quite impressive. Sunday Fables (2004), You Haven't Been Where I've Been (2008) displayed promise aplenty. Yet Rogers' engaging Sparkle Lane (2010) collection, which drew inspiration from his Birmingham cultural and familial roots and emigration to the USA, and the glam moxie of Porcelain (2011) which was fueled by the artist's love, surrender, and devotion to all things early 1970s Brit rock - is the stuff of observational genius in the tradition of Ray Davies, Ian Hunter, and Colin Blunstone -- the latter two of whom are now Edward's beloved colleagues. "Music has been wonderful to me -- the people who I was fans of are now friends of mine."

To converse with Edward about his new album KAYE is to witness a man on a mission. "I dedicated this album to Kevin Ayers because he is one of those people who have not received his just rewards. Some of it was his own fault," Edward continues, "he certainly had a self-destructive aspect to his personality and life. Still, he was one of the great songwriters of his generation with an amazing body of work -- he deserves to be out there!"

Produced by Don Piper, whom Edward reveals "pointed me in the right direction nine out of ten times," the assemblage of musicians on KAYE created the perfect storm to bring Rogers' vision to fruition. KAYE is a fierce song-cycle with tender moments tempered by sonic outbursts which ebb and flow from track to track. Much praise must be afforded Rogers' cadre of co-players: guitarists Piper, James Mastro (Ian Hunter, Bongos) Pete Kennedy (The Kennedys) Don Fleming (Velvet Monkeys); bassist Sal Maida (Roxy Music); keyboardist Joe McGinty, and cameos by George Olson on trumpet, and legendary downtown fashion denizen backing-vocalists Tish & Snooky, among others.

"Street Fashion" evokes the trashy art-rock stuff of bassist Maida's former ensemble. As is the duty of many an artist, Rogers spits out truth to power in the scathing "What's Happened to the News Today" -- to which Edward lectures to this writer "where do the Kardashians even merit a mention in my life!" Says Edward of the track "My Street" -- "I wanted to write a song like Ray Davies -- I was thinking 'Dead End Street' as I thought I was going to spend the rest of my life on Edgewater Road in Birmingham - many of my friends did." The maddest cut on KAYE stems from a late night jam which was edited from 28:00 to 8:00 entitled "Peter Pan's Dream" wherein McGinty, Mastro, and Maida tear into a bitches brew of angular counter-melodies as Rogers croons melancholy over the mayhem -- "we cut it thinking how would Kevin Ayers would sound if he were alive today."

Edward's rendition of Kevin Ayers' "After the Show" remains faithful to the original -- as it should be -- though Mr. Ayers would have welcomed Tish & Snooky's backing vocal support which quotes the legendary Thunderthighs (Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side," Mott the Hoople's "Roll Away the Stone") in spirit and execution. The title track, with its waltz groove, intones Ayers' dying mantra "you don't shine if you don't burn... you don't shine if you don't burn" -- a lesson rock 'n' roll singer Edward Rogers imparts to all of us by way of Kevin Ayers throughout KAYE.

KAYE by Edward Rogers is out now on ZIP Records.


By Tom Semioli Kenyon 1

This feature appeared on Huffington Post New York, April 2014

Lou Reed is dead; long live the new King of New York: Kenyon Phillips.

When dear Lou left this mortal coil last October, a pall settled over "our" New York -- which includes the boroughs, New Jersey, Long Island and geographical pockets throughout America and around the world that are "New York" in soul, spirit, and the bard's beloved "chi" energy-force. Our rock 'n' roll poet laureate was gone. Fear not, I will refrain from adding to the host of hosannas to Lou and his importance to the silent strain of all "New Yorkers" who recognize that cool can never be co-opted at a CBGB contemporary menswear designer outlet or the like. We know who we are and what Lou meant to us. Now we have a reason to stop mourning.

I first met Kenyon Phillips in the early 21st Century, when Lou's career as a recording artist was slowing down considerably -- especially for those of us who treasure the era wherein one or two releases from rock and jazz musicians was the norm. Phillips was commandeering a band which performed under the name of Unisex Salon. They reminded me of the Velvet Underground; noisy yet melodic, sensuous but always sardonic, frightfully real yet comfortably surreal, modern but mindful of their influences, and always proud of the manner in which they portrayed the gorgeous in the grotesque. Akin to the Underground, Salon had a small but fervent following. They were outsiders in a city that was rapidly being swallowed by insiders.

Kenyon brought me on board to be band's publicist -- an easy job as they were beautiful to look at -- though brutal in their execution. Like Lou's Underground, Salon's media reviews were not always positive. Nonetheless hipsters, dilettantes, kinky Wall Street executives, porn actresses, cable TV divas, and downtown frat boys walked on the wild side to see and hear them. After much prodding from Mr. Phillips, I emerged from musical retirement to become the band's bassist. Our first gig was opening for Lou Reed and several other local luminaries of a bygone era, including Garland Jeffreys and Syl Sylvain, for a benefit at the Bowery Ballroom. Of course, we hung backstage to meet Lou. We expected the worst -- Lou's volatile personality was well documented. Not on that starry, starry night. The King of New York loved his subjects! Lou gazed at Kenyon the way people used to gaze at Lou -- with equal measures of disbelief, admiration, and fascination. When Lou jovially agreed to be in a photograph with us -- a verboten idea to begin with as Lou never, ever, ever took requests or hardly posed in pictures - I knew the torch had been passed -- or perhaps dropped -- onto Kenyon's lap -- flames notwithstanding.

After a year of gigs that were more like "happenings" ala Andy Warhol's Plastic Exploding Inevitable than musical performances - although the music was phenomenal -- I departed the Salon. They had their crack at the mainstream soon after by way of a network reality show appearance - however Kenyon and his troupe were too far ahead of their time for any American demographic. Even the show's host, Tommy Hilfiger, who has a yen for rockers, was baffled by Kenyon. Shades of Lou!

Time marched on and Kenyon's artistry evolved -- he formed another remarkable band Roma! He composed and produced songs for Amy Poehler, Joey Arias, Raven O., and Sherry Vine. You've seen Kenyon's dancing silhouette in campaigns for Apple iPod. You've heard his compositions on network and cable TV -- Showtime's Shameless, CBS Eleventh Hour, MTV's Teen Cribs, and Nickelodeon's The Mighty B!among others. Kenyon's current genre defying ensemble The Ladies In Waiting have found a home at Joe's Pub deep among the luxury condos and chic boutiques of Lower Manhattan. His debut solo EP, Fire in the Hole, sounds like nothing and everything you've heard before.

The new King's latest endeavor is The Life + Death of Kenyon Phillips -- a dreamlike autobiographical rock opera. Like most great works, its genesis was simple: a few of Phillips' artistically astute colleagues urged him to expand his patented rock cabaret format to a full-fledged piece about himself. Recalls Phillips "it struck me as narcissistic, self-indulgent, and intriguing - I loved it!"

Phillips found his template after viewing the film Lola Montes -- a 1950s release directed by Max Ophuls which portrays the romantically and politically tumultuous life of the 19th Century courtesan who bedded, according to an impressed Phillips, Chopin, Liszt, Wagner, and the King of Bavaria. Her story is told by way of a series of flashbacks in which the subject assumes the guise of a circus performer -- and a ringmaster acts as narrator. In Life and Death, Phillips assumes both aforementioned roles with the ringmaster serving as Kenyon's agitated alter ego.

The opera commences with the Kenyon's accidental conception and his graphically Monty Python-esque re-enacted birth, and follows through with various childhood traumas, adolescent sexual dalliances and fantasies, therapy sessions (helmed by Michael Musto, no less), his migration to New York, 9/11, his artistic triumphs and failures, and other incidents; some true, others not so much. "My intention was to create something original -- even though there is nothing new under the sun. This project comes from a desire to take the traditional one-man show idea of 'here's my life story -- and throw a grenade at it."

The world premiere of The Life + Death of Kenyon Philips will take place at Joe's Pub in New York City on May 2, 2014.

The King is dead. Long live the new King of New York.



By Tom Semioli MTH1

This feature appeared on Huffington Post Books, December 2013

 "A lot of books about people in the rock music business are boring to me...the drugs, the women...the's all so repetitive. When I approached publishers and told them my story isn't anything like that's all about back-packing -- they said 'great!" - Overend Watts, Mott the Hoople

Though Mott the Hoople hardly achieved the commercial success of the innumerable bands they spawned -- you can count The Clash, Def Leppard, and Wilco among them -- their sacrosanct status in the pantheon of rock 'n' roll lore is time honored. Mott were the first band to headline Broadway (with Queen in support, no less) and their David Bowie-penned anthem "All The Young Dudes" defined a generation that urgently needed to separate itself from the idyllic hippie culture which permeated the early 1970s. Since Mott the Hoople's untimely split in 1974, their albums have never gone out of print, nor has their relevance -top rock artists continue to name check the five lads from Herefordshire.

Mott's chief singer/songwriter Ian Hunter, unquestionably in a peer group which includes such iconic rock poets as Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith, enjoys an acclaimed solo career that spans nearly forty years. Guitarist Mick Ralphs' fame and fortune as a founding member of Bad Company was no surprise -- Jimmy Page inked Bad Company to Led Zeppelin's fledging Swansong imprint and the rest, as they say, is history. And the fact that Mott, Hunter, nor Bad Company, have yet to be recognized by the so-called Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame -- is outright heresy. Even Rush fans would agree!

However no member of Mott the Hoople embraced the joy, pageantry, and excess of the band and the era than bassist Peter Overend Watts. A silver haired towering figure atop platform hip-boots (which he also wore off-stage: "I couldn't get them off after a gig!" ) whilst plying mighty riffs from his self- painted white Gibson Thunderbird, Watts would adorn himself in outrageous outfits that would render Lady Gaga and her minions ridiculously passé. Watts left the music business in the early 1980s and never looked back -- not that he needed to, thanks to his dealings in antiques and collectibles for many years, among other endeavors.

Watts' first official foray into "literature" -- The Man Who Hated Walking, available now by way of Wymer Publishing -- is a laugh-out-loud, riveting documentation of his 650 mile (actually 680 miles if you include Overend's several missteps) two month journey of the South West Coast Path in 2003 -- one of the most expansive way-marked long distance trails in the UK -- spanning Minehead in Sumerset, along the coasts of Devon and Cornwall, to Poole Harbour in Dorset. That's almost four times the height of Mount Everest -- glam rock footwear not included.

Akin to those of us who fell in love with Mott at a young, impressionable age, Watts' fascination with hiking stems from his childhood. "Back in the 1950's I saw a lot of tramps in England...many of whom were War World II veterans. Perhaps they had shell shock. They were Dickensian characters. Amazing to look at, dressed in rags with great, big beards. I was mesmerized by them -- what do they do? Where do they go? Where do they sleep? Where did they walk? So a little seed was sown in me -- things do hit you harder when you're young...they go straight to the heart."

The Man Who Hated Walking officially commences when the self-proclaimed couch potato becomes obsessed with the idea of long distance walking in the midst of a late-night Cadbury Fruit & Nut chocolate induced viewing of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? Host Chris Warrant's interview of a contestant who had conquered the aforementioned Path inspired Watts -- who normally rises at two in the afternoon -- to embark on the journey of a lifetime."If I had to crawl I would have done it!

Watts' conversational tone and vivid descriptive narratives peppered with hysterical Brit vernacular affords the reader the feeling that they are indeed walking with the author every step of the way -- through his arduous preparations; agonizing spells of foot and back pain; the numerous bouts of self-doubt; his moods of terror and triumph; Watts' exhilarating scenic views; the wayward diversions borne of both nature and error ("You can't get a mobile phone out when you're stranded on a ledge...and even if you do, how are they going to rescue you?!"); awaking to pigs and ponies; insomnia; confrontations with batty bread and breakfast matrons; the rescue of a stranded swimmer; and the anxiety that comes with the myriad of hygienic and bodily function challenges in public restrooms and in the wild; just to list a few.

Among Overend's various whacky encounters includes a happenstance summit with a German hiker desperately seeking the famed house wherein seminal metal rockers Deep Purple recorded their classic Fireball album in 1971 (which was released shortly before Mott's far superior Brain Capers LP for those of you keeping score). When Watts, who never, ever reveals his rock 'n' roll pedigree, casually informs the gent of his Mott past -- the torrid Teutonic trekker turns purple with rage, accusing the retired bassist of being an imposter! "That poor prog-rock bloke...I'll never know if he found his house..."

Since Watts' completion of the South West Coast Path, the author continues to traverse the UK by foot. In 2008 Watts completed a marathon 1,250 mile walk from Land's End to John O'Groats in sixty-three days -- a sojourn which incorporates The Cotswold Way, The Heart of England Way, Staffordshire Way, Limestone Way, Pennine Way, Cheviots, Grampians and Cairngorms.

"You only have one life to live haven't you?" opines a jovial Watts just a few hours before Mott the Hoople's final re-union performance at the 02 in London in November 2013. In addition to walking himself into physical fitness worthy of a man several years his junior, Overend is quick to note that the residual effects of his newfound hiking lifestyle included a healthy dose of self-discovery. "I found that I was more resilient and had more will-power than I thought...walking does that for's really simple, like Confucius said 'just take it one step at a time, mate!" Well, in Overend's world, the Chinese philosopher just may have been a scouser!

Mott Literary Postscript: Mr. Watts is not Mott's sole scribe. I strongly advise readers of rock autobiographies to seek out a copy of Diary of a Rock 'n' Roll Star, written by Overend's bandmate Ian Hunter, which was first published in 1974. Unlike the current crop of tomes composed by marquee rockers (and their ghost writers) who somehow remember everything that happened to them in decades past despite their massive intake of mind-altering substances that cause most addicts to forget what they did five minutes ago, Hunter's book is an honest, illuminating, and entertaining portrait of life in a band on the road. And, Hunter also affords the reader great insight into the sartorial splendor of Peter Overend Watts.

My deep appreciation and gratitude to Peter Purnell of Angel Air Records and Mark Preston for helping me track down the most elusive rock star who ever walked (pun intended) the earth!





By Tom Semioli claudia bowie









This feature appeared on Huffington Post Entertainment, September 2013

"1973. It was a golden age of our lifetime...forty years ago was the pinnacle of creativity in the rock world...and if it lasts for infinity that would be a blessing...and an opportunity for everyone to share it long after we're gone..."

By way of Morgan Neville's brilliant documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, Claudia Lennear has been rescued, albeit reluctantly, from obscurity and afforded her rightful place as one of the greatest background singers in the most cherished, and oft-imitated era in modern popular music.

My search for Ms. Lennear commenced long before Neville's long overdue film - which depicts the dramatic plights of rock's most hallowed back-up singers - hit a theater near you. Back in 2005, I received an advance review copy of the re-mastered, enhanced DVD/CD of George Harrison's historic Concert For Bangladesh. With a vastly upgraded mix far superior to the muddy, archaic sound-recording that was standard fare in the early 1970s -especially for live albums - one particular voice behind the voices and guitars of the stars grabbed me - Claudia Lennear.

Her searing, soulful wails and harmonies alongside George, Leon Russell, Eric Clapton, Badfinger, and Billy Preston on that legendary hot August night in Madison Square Garden lifted the performances of these icons to heights untouchable. To my ears, Claudia's backing vocals rendered the studio versions of such classics as "My Sweet Lord," "Something," "That's The Way God Planned It" "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," and "Here Comes the Sun" as somewhat inferior runners-up. Listen for yourself!

Midway through that fabled gig, the ex-Beatle introduced the marquee players, including a surprise appearance by the then reclusive Bob Dylan, to thundering applause. However as the concerts were hastily assembled under immense pressure to help save the homeless Bengali refugees of the Bangladesh Liberation War , George could not recall the individual names of the lesser known backup singers, hence he led the crowd in "giving them all a big hand..."

"The one thing I regret," reveals Claudia, "was that I was offered to do a solo song at the concerts. George asked me through Leon. I felt caught off guard...I felt that I'd do better to serve in the choir."

Nearly thirty-five years later, the modernized Bangladesh finally identified Claudia and her co-singers on-screen. Thus began my pursuit. I fast discovered that Claudia was everywhere in my record collection: Stephen Stills, Joe Cocker, Leon Russell, Dave Mason, Humble Pie, Gene Clark, Taj Mahal, Al Kooper, Delaney & Bonnie, Ike & Tina Turner to name drop just a few. Since 1970 Claudia's voice has been on the radio or streaming online - every day, every hour, every minute, every second, every continent -right now!

But for nearly a decade, every road to my finding Claudia - including a brief chat with her former Shelter People bandleader Leon Russell - led to a dead end. You can learn a little bit about her personal history in 20 Feet which sort of explains my fruitless travails. By the early 1980s Claudia had retired from singing to embark on a distinguished and rewarding career as an educator - and remain decidedly out of the spotlight.

My only victory was to discover a worn copy of her sole solo album Phew! -released in 1973 - for a rather costly sum on eBay. This rarest of rare records is a holy grail among the most zealous of vinyl geeks. Upon first listen, I was astonished: how did this remarkable album not make Claudia Lennear a household name? How did this stunning beauty who was a muse to Mick Jagger and David Bowie (again, refer to 20 Feet) vanish from the music scene? How did this record, on a major label, with the visually alluring cover photography of Norman Seeff, and with the crème de la crème of the baddest studio cats of their generation - go unnoticed?

How? No one knows, not even Claudia. But thanks to the smart folks at Real Gone Music, Phew! has been re-mastered, re-issued, and reborn for a new generation. "Ohhhhh I think it's wonderful, actually" Claudia opines with a down- to- earth hesitancy you would not expect from such a forceful, dynamic singer. "It brings back a lot of memories...memories of great musicians and a lot of things I have missed being surrounded by over the decades."

Claudia's all-star cast featured Alan Toussaint and Ian Samwell as producers, bassists Chuck Rainey and Tommy McClure, drummer Jim Keltner, pianist Spooner Oldham, and guitarist Ry Cooder, among others. Lennear turned these simpatico virtuosos loose in the studio and their performances are nothing less than incendiary. Aside from the fact they don't make records anymore; they don't make records like Phew! anymore - though artists such as Erykah Badu and Meshell Ndegeocello have come close.

"There was a lot of electricity in the air at those sessions," recalls Claudia. "It was over-the-top with was pure magic. Chuck Rainey was a hero of mine from all those Aretha Franklin albums on Atlantic; I could sing all his bass-lines! Jim Keltner was a great friend from our time together with Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs & Englishmen...everybody played fantastic." To keep the peace among the egotistical producers, Lennear diplomatically afforded Toussaint and Samwell a side each of the vinyl platter.

Among the stand-out cuts on Phew! is "Sister Angela" - Claudia's self-penned paean to the political activist, scholar, patriot, and author Angela Davis - who was in prison at the time of the recording. "Angela was a social 'heroine' for me... she was truthful...she was accurate. I identified with the social causes she stood for...her extraordinary intellect...just the fact that she was an African American woman at the forefront of the movement struck a chord with me...emotionally I 'climbed on to her bandwagon." Claudia is unsure if Angela Davis has ever heard the track. Unfortunately she missed a recent opportunity to attend a lecture by Davis at a university near her home in Claremont, California, wherein Claudia would have liked to have met her mentor. "To have her hear the song would be a real charge for me!"

The single from the album "Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky" would have fit snugly on Sly & The Family Stone's There's A Riot Goin' On. Lennear's raucous rendition of the late, great Ron Davies' seminal early 1970s standard "It Ain't Easy" puts the more popular versions waxed by Three Dog Night, David Bowie as Ziggy Stardust, Long John Baldry, and Dave Edmunds to shame - with all due respect to those aforementioned recording artists.

Another dazzling Davies composition "Sing with the Children" features a fiery duel between Claudia and Ry Cooder's tortured electric bottleneck guitar. "Ron Davies would pitch songs to me all the time...we'd hang out and he'd play acoustic guitar, sometimes in my living room...and I chose those two that he wrote...he was such an excellent songwriter."

Lennear toured with a varied cast of musicians to promote the record, including a stop at Carnegie Hall to open for Ricky Nelson. Despite rave reviews Phew! never achieved the commercial success it deserved. "I felt it was time to move on...and do something else with my life."

Regardless, Lennear's enormous contributions pop music continues to inspire modern rockers. Her students keep the humble diva young too. "A few weeks into each semester they Google me without me having said anything... I don't know how they find could be that they are seeking someone else and my name comes up...then one by one they come in after class and say 'I saw a singer on YouTube that has the same name you have..."

Claudia follows the current crop of chart topping singers such as Beyonce, Christina Aguilera, Usher, and Adam Levine whom she cites as her favorites. She has plans to make music again and looks forward to seeing Leon Russell for the first time in many years in October when he appears in her area. "I cried when I watched his Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction speech...I kept thinking, why did it take so long?"

Ms. Lennear's modesty regarding her accomplishments as an artist who has touched millions with her voice, even if they didn't know her name, is purely unassuming. "I've had a wonderfully checkered past..."



By Tom Semioli RobertPlantOilCanGuitar















This feature appeared on Huffington Post Business, October 2013

With all due respect to Jon Landau and Bruce, I saw the future of rock 'n' roll and its name is... Bohemian Guitars.

In the spirit of Leo Fender, Les Paul and Orville Gibson who revolutionized modern music with their voltage enhanced six-string instruments, founding Bohemian brothers Shaun and Adam Lee have created the perfect axe for the turbulent times we live in: guitars made from....oil cans!

Raised in South Africa and the United States, and now residing in Atlanta, the Lees absorbed the musical culture, along with the social principles, of both continents. Then fate beckoned. Recalls Shaun " a couple of years ago, we went on a trip back to Cape Town and Johannesburg to visit family, and as we were walking through a local market I saw this guy playing an oil can instrument - it wasn't very sophisticated - but he wanted a guitar so bad that he made it out of discarded scrap..." Thus began the Lees' noble mission: to create a playable, visually alluring instrument that sounded as cool as it looked - and one that is affordable to the masses.

"Part of our inspiration also stems from the feeling that I wanted to have a guitar that is unique to my personality" reveals Shaun." I'd find a really beat up oil can that 'spoke to me' and I'd connect with it! If I buy a Fender off the rack I am doing the same thing as thousands of other people... the oil can guitars give me an identity - much like the 60s - 70s generation when guitar players routinely customized their instruments."

Similar to all renown inventors of musical gear, the Lees tirelessly tinkered until they came up with a design and components that suit the needs of the living, breathing, obsessed guitarist: a neck with an adjustable truss rod and bridge which offer accurate intonation and adjustment options fit to a player's individual requirements, coupled with electronics which vary tone and volume. The Bohemian Guitar is sturdy, stays in tune, is durable, easy to transport, and damn, it attracts attention! Plus, as the guitar is made of metal, the player not only garners a distinct resonance from the can itself, rubbing it against the human body affords an even more unique tone. This is the stuff which makes guitarists salivate.

So, you wanna be a rock 'n' roll star? The new truth is - players who are seeking the spotlight or simply wish to woo the girl next door no longer need to shell out thousands of dollars for the same guitar models used by Clapton, Van Halen, Page, or Hendrix. Hence those marquee brands are in trouble -which is also partly due to the fact that we have not had a bona fide guitar hero since Ronald Reagan was President. Name brand recognition and loyalty to the old guard is becoming passé.

Secondly, ask any astute working guitar player and you'll fast learn that lower priced models from the major brands are just as good as their higher priced versions, if not better. As such the major music gear retailers are facing financial woes too - especially at brick and mortar.

"From a business perspective I have been following what has been going on with the major retailers" notes Adam. "We learned that what would once be considered 'unconventional channels' for marketing guitars is really the way to go. That's why we are in a large lifestyle retail outlet, and we are pushing our guitars through online distribution since it is quite evident that online retail is what musicians now prefer. Also, what Shaun and I have picked up on while procuring materials is that while a major brand may promote an exotic piece of wood on their guitar - in our opinion, it has little effect on the sound. The wood materials that we use are equal to the high-end woods. So Bohemian can build a guitar at a low-cost and sell it at a reasonable margin - we don't need to sell our guitars at high price points because we are not spending large amounts of money sourcing woods from the forests of South America. We have a unique guitar that rivals the sound of the expensive traditional guitars."

With banks hesitant to loan money to start-ups, the Lees are taking the alternative route to the marketplace much like musicians who have to fend and fund for themselves due to the collapse of the record industry and the disappearance of the traditional record store: crowdfunding. By way of Kickstarter, the brothers raised about $55,000 to get their business rolling. Their next move is a securities based crowdfunding campaign through Sparkmarket which commences in early October.

Explains Adam "Right now from a federal level, if I want to crowdfund and try to raise money for equity in our company it's not legal - but it is in Georgia. The state has come up with an exemption which says if we are going to raise money for capital we can do so as long as we are a Georgia based company and only sell shares to Georgia residents. It also allows us to sell shares to both accredited and non-accredited investors. It's pretty revolutionary our guitars!"



By Tom Semioli AnthonyHadenGuest.LorraineLeckie

This feature appeared in No Depression, March 2013.

"Well it is art if they say it is…" Anthony Haden-Guest.

Music often makes for strange bedfellows. The above-quoted iconic writer Anthony Haden-Guest and noir folk artist Lorraine Leckie would strike most American citizens as polar opposites. He: the legendary reporter, poet, writer and cartoonist renowned for his chronicling of socialite life (and death) in New York City in the wild and crazy 1970s. She: the dark princess of the contemporary Greenwich Village folk scene, who, along with her raucous band, aptly dubbed Her Demons, waxed two of the best albums to emerge from this decadent urban theme-park metropolis: Four Cold Angels and the solo Martini Eyes respectively.

On a frigid Saturday morning in the West Village whilst dining with Lorraine, Mr. Haden- Guest sets the record (somewhat) straight with his British inflections on the conventionality of their collaboration - which is brilliantly documented on their new album Rudely Interrupted. “Lorraine and I do not exist in such different worlds … not really… it’s all downtown isn’t it? There’s such a great cultural mix here…singers, painters, writers…we’re all in the same stew.” Brimming with satire, double and triple entendre, apocalyptic references, and bittersweet character portraits that would have made Andy Warhol blush through is pancake make-up or Lou Reed rethink BerlinRudely Interrupted reveals even more about other people’s lives upon repeated listening. Who says they don't make concept albums like they used to?

To be brief (not an easy task with the lovingly loquacious Leckie and the pleasurably voluble Haden-Guest), Anthony and Lorraine came together by way of yet another downtown denizen: Billy Leroy, the dashing, dapper, devilishly handsome owner of the infamous Billy's Antiques on the Bowery and star of the Travel Channel’s highly-rated reality series Baggage Battles. Long story short: Anthony and Billy became fast friends upon their initial introduction at the Santos Party House venue during a memorial for a deceased burlesque artist. Billy invited Anthony to hear Lorraine at the Rockwood Music Hall wherein the two hit it off. Fact: Lorraine knows Billy Leroy even more intimately: they're married.  Billy and Lorraine star (along with their pooch) in the album's first video for the track "Happy City." ( )

Notes Lorraine: “Anthony was kind of looking around for someone to put music to his words…he always had it in his mind that he wanted to do songs. When he first heard me, he thought that I would do it. So he gave me lyrics, and I immediately fell in love with what he was writing. Anthony puts me into the now, because my songs feel like they could have been written in the 1800s. And it helps that we have the same wicked, sardonic humor.”

Akin to the fabled modus operandi of Bernie Taupin and Elton John – Anthony mostly supplied lyrics to Lorraine and simply left her alone. “Once I gave her the words it was her baby…I welcomed changes…and mutations…I like accidents! She found new meanings in many of the things that I had written.” Anthony's drawings were a major source of Lorraine's inspiration as well. "The title track was Lorraine's idea…the line comes from one of my cartoons actually… of a gravestone." Be advised to seek out Haden-Guest's witty and most timely cartoon tomes The Chronicles of Now and In The Meantime for further insight into his psyche long before Lorraine Leckie set it to melody.

The sessions for Rudely Interrupted were a breeze according to Lorraine and Anthony. Their spirits were high and their potent confidence in each other made for great art. Lorraine has never sounded more relaxed, confident and intimate in the often antiseptic atmosphere of a recording studio which, by its nature, or lack thereof, cannot substitute for a living, breathing audience - the stage is truly the forum wherein Lorraine excels. In addition, Anthony overcame his reluctance to actually appear on the album! Recalls Lorraine, when it came time for Anthony to render his spoken word performance on the track "Goodbye to All This" his inclination was "oh dahling do I have to be on my own record?"

Never at a loss for words, Mr. Haden-Guest viewed that particular incident with a most ingenious assessment: "I think the one thing about collaboration is that it is indeed relaxing…because if something goes wrong …well it's their fault not mine!"

Producer George Jackson, who is also the Demons' bassist, worked wonders with the torrid twosome from hearing the rough demos in Lorraine's kitchen to the final mixes. The album was waxed in the Excello Recording studios of guitarist Hugh Pool - who is also a Demon in his spare time. Anthony enjoyed the opportunity to be taken out of his usual element and Lorraine reveled in her band's swift expertise. "In the studio, George, Matt Kanelos the piano player, and I would be warming up while Hugh was listening to us without our knowledge.  He didn't know the songs at all beforehand. But by the time we were done - he was ready to do the first take! That's how brilliant Hugh and the band are …and it shows on the record. At the most we did three takes of each track."

Despite the fact that Rudely Interrupted in its recorded format is a finite piece – both Lorraine and Anthony view their song-cycle as a work in progress. Haden-Guest is constantly revising his work, and Leckie is notorious for altering her lyrics on the fly during gigs. Professes Anthony Haden-Guest in the voice of Lorraine Leckie in the cut "Formerly Fairly Famous:"  "you will never be ordinary.” Why would we expect anything else?

Anthony Haden-Guest and Lorraine Leckie’s Rudely Interrupted can be found at





By Tom SemioliElvis&Joan

This feature is exclusive to Vinyl Manifesto.Com, March 2013.

The more things change in the unpredictable worlds of music and media, the more things remain the same.  There is still no substitute for talent – that is, as long as an equally talented publicist is within reach.  With the demise of the record industry  compounded with a permanently fractured media landscape and an unstable economy to boot– a knowledgeable publicist is as essential to an artist’s career as a band member, manager, producer, roadie,  booking agent, accountant, and lawyer - along with an ample supply of duct-tape and penicillin. Sans a sharp, intuitive, inventive publicist – the artist languishes.  Music fans and club owners suffer too - especially in the alt-country, blues and roots communities:  genres which are woefully neglected in the mainstream.

So, who are the dedicated publicists of Americana and blues music? Who keeps the music you love alive – at festivals, on TV shows and films, in the recording studio, in clubs, sheds, arenas, on podcasts and radio appearances? Who spreads the word about your favorite artists’ tours and releases in print, broadcast and digital media? Who toils outside the glare of the spotlight for the sake of the music? Who affords emerging artists a voice and a chance at a career?  Who champions the forgotten artists who never receive the recognition they deserve?  Who turns you on to new music that changes your life for the better?

Enter Joan Myers, founder of Myers Media , who has seen her share of fire and rain and then some for the famous and infamous alike. From tour publicist for the Rolling Stones to the her tenure on the ground floor of a burgeoning media venture known as MTV, to facilitating the platinum career of Bonnie Raitt , to forming her own company and promoting scores of renown recording artists – Alison Krauss & Union Station, Hal Ketchum, Lorrie Morgan, Ruth Brown, Junior Brown…the list goes on and on and on…Joan Myers continues to make music history – even though her name is not on the marquee!

It all started for Ms. Myers by way of her beloved Uncle Harry, a major player in the fertile Philadelphia music scene of the 1960s. Everyone from Dick Clark to Phil Spector to Bobby Rydell came-a knockn’ on Aunt Silvia and Uncle Harry’s door as a young Joan watched in amazement. Ms. Myers became hooked on music, and even appeared on American Bandstand in her Brownies uniform -check the Paley Center’s Museum of Broadcasting Archives next time you’re in New York City– you will not be disappointed!

Barely out of her teens, Joan’s  first official music gig was for a pro-sound road case company in Los Angeles. On her lunch hour and after work, Joan ambled over to the old movie studio which had been converted to a sound-stage wherein she’d mingle with musicians and industry folks – forging relationships that serve Joan and her artists to this day.

Her first job led to a position at Warner Bros. toiling for Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell’s Paradise imprint, and sharing space with such notable producers as Ted Templeman and Gary Katz. Joan’s time at WB afforded her the opportunity to develop more relationships, more contacts, and garner invaluable insight. Joan eventually landed a PR position at Capitol. When the call went out to the Capitol PR staff for the opportunity to work a promising record by a then under-rated and under-appreciated artist by the name of Bonnie Raitt – Joan raised her hand and the rest, as they say, is history. Ms. Raitt credits Ms. Myers as an indispensable player in the Grammy success of Nick of Time – and for helping Bonnie reach unprecedented recognition as a blues recording artist.

“I was lucky to learn this business from some of the greats” Joan recalls. “Paul Wasserman, my old boss, who worked with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan – you name it - was a genius. He was old-fashioned in a good way – he started out in the movie business back when the studios would make stuff up about their stars to garner attention whether it was legitimate or not. Wasserman carried that over to rock ‘n’ roll.”  Wasserman also threw Joan into the deep end of the PR pool as tour publicist for the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band.

“I also learned a lot from watching the Rolling Stones – who, of course, were veterans by the time I was with them. I was impressed by their professionalism – and how personable they were. And I was never a big Stones fan to begin with, until Mick sang to me one night on the tour.” Myers still laughs at the fact that Jagger could never remember her name. “He called me Rachel for six months…I am still friendly with many people in their organization.”

Her days at MTV are the stuff of legend. “Believe it or not” Joan recalls, it took awhile for MTV to catch on. We were working out of an office in New York City while Tom Freston and John Skyes were still trying to convince cable carriers to add us to their line-up. We didn’t even have enough videos to fill the channel for twenty four hours!”

The creation of Myers Media was a natural progression for Joan. “Actually, I got fired from Capitol for what was as termed as ‘insubordinate behavior!’  Even then, I was not savvy about the politics of record labels – I stuck up for the artist. I was a rebel. The straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back was when I was with the legendary Willie Dixon. Bonnie, who also got me involved with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, had educated me on the blues. No one at Capital really knew who he was, this great human being who inspired everyone from Dylan to Led Zeppelin!  And at that time, Willie was old and in failing health. The wanted him to take cabs, and I said ‘no way!’ I called car services for the great Willie Dixon! That was it for me!” So Joan took her severance pay from Capitol, purchased a fax machine and a rubber stamp and never looked back.

The irony: Joan has survived the record industry as we all knew it.  Brick-and-mortar record stores are nearly extinct. The hard-copy music format is endangered. Record companies are vanishing. And the media is far more expansive than it was a generation ago. As each pillar of what was once the music business crumbles, the role of the publicist grows larger. Now what?

Joan advises – “a publicist cannot control the mass media – I never saw it that way. And I saw too many publicists put up walls between the artist and the media –which is always the wrong thing to do. Both the artist and the media must have a sense of each other. After all, the artist needs to get the word about their new album or tour, and the writer is hungry for a great story. “ Easier said than done.  The synergy between the artist and the media is not a natural occurrence. It has to be nurtured - then executed with military precision when the opportunity arises. The ancient anecdote “you never get a second chance to make a first impression” rings true – the media never forgets.  One false move and an artist’s career could be dashed in an instant;  hence the publicist as orchestrator.

“I always added more depth to the situation, arranging interviews in a comfortable setting – asking an artist to do an interview with someone they don’t know often does not yield good results.  For example, when I worked with Crowded House – who were wonderful people-  rather than have the press conduct cold phone interviews or sit in an antiseptic, uninspiring office, I’d invite the writers to visit the band’s dressing room before or after a show for tea and crumpets – they got great press, and the writers appreciated the access.  The critics all fell in love with Crowded House. It sounds simple, but it was a way for the band to exude their natural charm…”

Joan also opines that with the advent of social media and digital technology there are more opportunities for artists than ever before.  “Technology is a fantastic tool – I’ve always embraced it, but you still need creativity – anyone can push buttons.”

Among the most imaginative Myers Media efforts occurred during the promotion of Townes Van Zandt’s acclaimed A Far Cry From Dead collection. Though Van Zandt was revered by musicians and hip journalists, he was virtually unknown to the masses. There was also another hurdle to overcome; the artist was dead! In addition to Joan’s head-line grabbing revelation that Townes’ widow brought his ashes in an urn to the overdub sessions and set them upon the recording console in the studio for the musicians – many of whom were Townes’ close associates - Joan had her staff send Ouija Boards to select members of the media to “interview” the departed spirit of Van Zandt!  Savvy Joan knew which writers would “get it.” The coverage Joan garnered was massive – she helped turn a new generation on to an artist deserving of far more attention than he garnered whilst he walked this mortal coil. “It was a crazy fun campaign – I had to think outside the box! To this day, I take chances – that’s what I love to do.” Nowadays Townes Van Zandt is regularly name-checked in the music media.  Funny how that happened…

Once upon a time, Joan contacted NASA on behalf of her client, a then unknown band - Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. For reasons Joan refuses to divulge, they desperately wanted to be the first band to play live in the cosmos.  No problem for Joan Myers. “If you think getting radio air-play is hard, try getting a gig in outer-space!” The Flectones’ percussionist Future Man played the “futuristic” drumitar  - a musical device you’d expect from Star Trek’s Mister Spock, which is worn akin to a traditional guitar and consists of a triangular hardwood body equipped with touch-sensitive plastic pads which act as MIDI triggers. Joan played up Future Man’s trippy, unconventional gear to the space agency.  Though NASA couldn’t set up a bandstand in the Space Shuttle – by way of Joan’s suggestion, they used one of Bela’s tunes as wake-up music for the astronauts. It was the most press that Bela Fleck & The Flecktones had garnered up to that point in their young career.  The rest, as they say again, is Myers Media history.

Joan’s insight – and bravura - also led to one of the great moments in rock ‘n’ roll that almost never happened. Paul McCartney was being honored by the Music Cares Foundation; however Joan was shocked to discover that the line-up for the gala event was devoid of any of Paul’s heroes and mentors – focusing instead on contemporary artists. Joan knew that Paul and the Beatles worshipped her longtime friend and client - Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer Duane Eddy, whom her aforementioned Uncle Harry signed to his first record deal.  “Eddy’s influence on Paul’s generation of musicians cannot be understated,” Joan emphasizes.   Knowing how much Paul loved Duane and vice versa, Joan worked the phones and her contacts- unbeknownst to both legends.  Paul was absolutely floored when Eddy showed up to honor him. Eddy introduced Macca to Joan as –“the woman who had the crazy idea to bring me here!”

What was a Beatle to say? “Joan Myers – stay crazy!”  Joan agrees. “And that’s the way I’m going to continue my life and work!”

(Photo: Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Famer Elvis Costello & Joan Myers)



By Tom Semioli GBV1999

This feature appeared as a cover story in Amplifier Magazine, October 1999. 

The defiantly inebriated middle-aged singer stands confidently on stage beneath the glare of a single spotlight in a prestigious venue nestled in a fashionably gentrified derelict quarter of New York City. With his arms outstretched, a frothing Budweiser clutched in one hand, a microphone tightly gripped in the other, and a smoldering cigarette dangling from his chapped lips, “The Captain,” as he is reverently referred to by his devout following, strikes an almost perverse Christ-like figure.

Within the initial thundering guitar riffs of "Submarine Teams," Robert Pollard is transformed into a suburbanized version of Roger Daltrey – clad in baggy jeans complimented by a sweat stained, wrinkled short-sleeved shirt and worn tennis shoes – no socks. Twirling his microphone, drop kicking it in mid-air, tossing his tousle-haired head back, eyes closed, pointing upward towards the heavens with his brew …The Captain forges a shameless emulation of the quintessential classic rock god. It's a gift you're either born with, or need to practice hours on end in front of a wardrobe mirror with the bedroom door locked shut. Pollard’s mighty vehicle is aptly named Guided By Voices (GBV). To their fans - GBV are bigger than the Beatles. To others - they're a bunch of clowns. As a swirl of energy envelops the faithful, one thing is certain: Guided By Voices play songs that make the young girls cry. Who, what, when, where, why, and how did it all begin …and where is it headed?

During the early 1980s as authentic rock 'n' roll was in the process of being mercilessly marginalized by a 24-hour cable-TV music network that favored sizzle over substance, a motley crew of average guys in Dayton, Ohio formed a patchwork ensemble that paid loud, proud, loving homage to classic 1960s rock ‘n’ roll and 1970s punk. Singer/songwriter, fourth grade school teacher Robert Pollard, sand paper factory employee/guitarist Mitch Mitchell, along with blue-collar nine-to-fivers Greg Demos on bass, drummer Kevin Fennell, and guitarist/songwriter Tobin Sprout thought GBV as a casual, yet much needed hobby to escape their demanding wives, kids, and other nagging adult responsibilities.

Occasional evenings after work and assorted weekend afternoons were prodigious opportunities for these jubilant lads to down six-packs aplenty whilst composing and recording absolutely everything that popped into their addled minds on inexpensive four-track decks, battered boom boxes, and cheap cassette players. In the grand tradition of DIY, the members chipped in whatever spare cash was available to fund the release of vanity LPs and cassettes. Pollard convinced the young hipster clerks in the mom-and pop record shops that dotted Ohio college towns to afford their product a scrap of shelf space. Some obliged, some laughed. With families to raise, day jobs, and other, more pressing grown-up obligations, GBV forgot to perform in public for nearly six years – not that they had many offers. Their neglected homemade gems Devil Between My Toes (1987) and Self Inflicted Aerial Nostalgia (1989) did little more than collect dust. Then fate intervened.

When Robert Griffin, owner the tiny Scat indie label, accidentally discovered a copy of GBV’s brilliant Propeller (1992) he was immediately smitten – much to everyone’s disbelief.  Although Griffin’s company was far from the big leagues, the group signed on the dotted line and Vampire On Titus (1993) was issued by a real, living, breathing record company! In support of their label debut GBV ventured to New York City in a ramshackle station wagon to appear at the trendy New Music Seminar. They killed, and consequently latched onto the infamous Lollapalooza junket as a second stage act. There, they surfaced as a bona-fide hit among those in-the-know. Fate kept intervening…

Beastie Boy Mike D. and Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore became early GBV supporters. The following year Scat was taken over by Matador, home of such notable artists including Mogwai, Yo La Tengo, and Liz Phair. The band responded by creating their defining opus, Bee Thousand. Accolades poured in from Rolling Stone among other numerous taste-maker publications. GBV suddenly found itself in a distinguished class of indie luminaries such as Sebadoh, the Grifters, and label-mates Pavement as leaders of a new rock revolution dubbed “lo-fi.”

Lo-fi (aka low-fidelity) was heralded as the last true bastion of rock’s artistic credibility. Major labels scooped up hordes of lo-fi bands and apportioned them the same high budget luxuries as the established stars. Few, if any, of those entities that made the mega-buck leap survived when their highly publicized debuts failed to generate massive sales. The “alternative rock era” was over almost as quickly as it began.

Rather than seize the financially lucrative major label offers that were being thrown their way, GBV remained with Matador. They continued to flour­ish with the critically acclaimed Alien Lanes (1995) and Under The Bushes Under The Stars (1996) in addition to releasing countless EPs and singles under the GBV banner and from various side projects.

However by the time of Mag Earwhig (1997), Pollard was the only original GBV member left standing - literally. Although others had drifted in and out of the line-up over the years, mainstays Mitchell, Fennell, and Sprout were replaced by fellow Ohio rockers Cobra Verde. Sprout, considered by many to be McCartney to Pollard’s Lennon, continues to release solo albums (Carnival Boy, Moonflower Plastic, Let’s Welcome The Circus People), as does Pollard (Not In My Air Force, Waved Out, Kid Marine). By Pollard’s own estimation, there have been approximately fifty musicians who have passed through the ranks of GBV.

Feeling that the band had gone as far as it could on an independent label, and aspiring  financial security for his wife and teenage children, Pollard sought major label distribution and a way to advance their music above the realm of cult status. This year, with The Cars’ Ric Ocasek in the producer’s chair, Pollard enlisted guitarist Doug Gillard (Cobra Verde), bassist Tim Tobias, drummer Jim MacPherson (the Breeders, the Amps) and guitarist Nate Farley to capture a sound on record that would be commercially viable, yet maintain GBV’s idiosyncratic artistry: Do The Collapse.

Upon presenting the tapes of Do The Collapse to Capitol Records, Pollard’s hopes were running high that the imprint which brought America the Fab Four was going to be the organization that would ensure GBV’s brass ring crossover into the mainstream. Not so. Capitol passed due to “company restructure.” TVT, a record company which counts Brian Jonestown Massacre and XTC among their many success stories, came along and offered Pollard substantial marketing support as well as the artistic freedom to do as he damn well pleases.

As we go to press, the debut single from the new disc “Teenage FBI” has topped modern rock radio playlists, proving that Pollard was right all along. In addition to leading GBV, Pollard is currently indulging himself with alter ego bands such as Nightwalker, and Lexo & The Leapers. The Captain’s prolific output shows no signs of subsiding.

What Austin Powers is to James Bond, Bob Pollard is to rock stardom. Seemingly every memorable moment in recorded rock history: the British Invasion, psychedelic and progressive rock, chamber pop, punk, bubble-gum, new wave, the angst filled grunge explosion - is shoveled into Pollard’s maniacal musical blender and ground into joyous anthems that you’d swear you’ve known all your life. His latest incarnation of GBV simultaneously retains and enhances their original character as they strive for the ever-elusive goal of attaining mass appeal. However, if you’re expecting precision – be advised to purchase a ticket one of several Steely Dan reunions.

Kicking off their most ambitious tour yet at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom, GBV effortlessly embraced mayhem, disorder, and confusion. A crumpled shred of paper on the floor beside the center stage monitor served as GBV’s communal set list. Throughout the evening, as in every GBV gig that I’ve attended, the band members and their leader huddled together with brows furrowed and eyes squinting, trying desper­ately to read the scribble that has launched a timeless canon of three minute rock operas to figure out what to play next. Drummer MacPherson was left to fend for himself. Not that it really mattered since his ability to identify the tune within the first few bars was uncanny - almost. Besides, none of the songs required a drum intro anyway.

Mixing Pollard’s best known solo material (“Get It Under,” “Maggie Turns To Flies,” “Circling Motorhead Mountain”) with assorted GBV chestnuts (“I Am A Tree,” “Bulldog Skin,” “Hot Freaks,” “I Am A Scientist.” “Game of Pricks”), GBV were Ballroom marathoners set on playing “until our mom says it’s time to go home.” Begging tolerance (“bear with us when we do the new stuff”), Pollard led GBV’s latest assault with reckless abandon. The new songs find Pollard’s inimitable genius still intact. Falling over the drum kit, chain-smoking, and sharing a bottle of Jack Daniels with anyone within arms’ reach, Pollard’s practiced faux British accent never faltered on Do The Collapse tunes “Dragons Awake,” “Liquid Indian,” “Zoo Pie,” “Much Better Mr. Buckles,” and “Optical Hopscotch.” Even MacPherson took a stage dive into the carnage, leaping from his drum kit into the waiting arms of GBV fandom.

After two hours of near rock ‘n’ roll suicide, the house lights flickered and GBV were obliged to continue the party at the Ballroom bar until the wee hours wherein Robert Pollard’s cup runneth over for an Amplifier Magazine Q & A. The Captain ruminated over Do The Collapse and other matters of national importance. Herein are a few highlights:

Give us insight into the current version of GBV. They’re awesome, they can play! They are the best musicians around, and real good guys. It’s perfect. I don’t go through an audition process - that would be brutal. I did that a long time ago and it was never a good situation. I just go with who I know. All these players have a tremendous track record. I drink with them, and hang out with them. That’s another thing that you have to be careful of when you select a band, the chem­istry has to be right, and you have to be compatible.

Legacy artists such as Sir Elton and Sir Macca have enjoyed decades of heavy rotation air-play, so you can expect an audience which responds to every word.  GBV exists on the fringe - yet your concerts erupt into massive sing­-alongs. What gives? Thank God, that’s what keeps us going! My guitar player Doug asked me the other day, ‘do you see those kids looking at you and singing every lyric?’ Actually I don’t because it would mess me up, so I just look above everybody’s heads. But Doug has his eyes on the first two rows and he notices stuff like that. It’s one reason why we keep the old songs in the set, so the fans can do that. We have such a hardcore underground following that are com­prised, in my opinion, of very smart and diligent music fans that were cool enough to dig Guided By Voices out in the first place.

I recall a few gigs on the NYC leg of the ‘97 tour wherein you tossed your mic into the audience and fans handled the lead vocals – why not this evening? I have to be careful now. Unfortunately I conked one kid on the head pretty good. She was crying and I felt bad. But we did give her a t-shirt. Does GBV garner such a fervent reaction in other markets? It does happen in other cities, but New York seems to be the best. It’s like a second home to us. A couple of other cities have been real hardcore for us too, such as Philadelphia. But New York is real fanatical. San Francisco is good...Chicago is good…LA too…and London. Actually, the bigger the city - the better! Don’t get me wrong…small cities are receptive too. We’ll have a couple of hundred diehard fans. But the larger cities are filled with fans aware of everything we’ve done, even the real early stuff.

Talk about GBV’s low fidelity legacy. We are the lo-fi champs, or the lo-fi pioneers depending on which way you look at it. But that was a matter of timing. To our advantage that tag eventually opened the door for us with everything that was happen­ing on the indie scene. People wanted to see what we were all about.

Several landmark rock albums were primal: The Stooges, MC 5’s Kick Out The Jams, The Beatles’ White Album, REM’s Murmur. Exactly! Those albums have a distinct personality. The thing with us is that there was a bunch of bands doing it at the same time, and essentially it was viewed as a movement. How that happened I don't know. So, in essence, lo-fi became a genre, kind of like the new punk rock. But you’re right; it’s always been there. Heck, Robert Johnson was lo-fi!! My guess is that most folks listen to music on a car deck with traffic blaring in the background or a worn out walkman on a treadmill. Yes! It’s the music and the song that matters, not the fidelity. That’s the way I am.

Discuss GBV’s shift towards technological and commercial acceptability. It’s the radio stations that need hi-fidelity, not necessarily the public. Radio needs to have it sound a certain way and if we don’t do it, we’re not going to get airplay. So that’s why we went in this direction. I want to be heard by more people than those that already know us. So we got a real produc­er, Ric Ocasek, to make it sound better, and that’s really the angle.

Talk about Ric Ocasek as a producer. The main reason I wanted Ric was because he’s a songwriter. A lot of pro­ducers are not writers, and we needed that entity with him. So his role was to help me decide which songs to choose, and work on the arrangements. We went into pre-production, which is very new to me, and I talked with Ric on the phone every day. I sent him songs and we really planned. Again, that’s a hard process for me, because I had to have real patience with each track. This time out we made sure we had the right take, the right performance, the right amplifiers, and even the proper microphones. Ric made up for the technical stuff that I don’t know since I’ve never really worked with that many producers. So to me, he was amazing. I don’t know who to compare him with.

Did Ric request any re-writes? Oh no! Ric would only ask to repeat a verse again, add a chord or two here and there, or suggest an idea for a bridge. For the most part, he did not change the songs. He was an objective set of ears.

Ric assumed a role akin to George Martin; who was one part catalyst two parts editor. Exactly!

Reveal the writing process behind Do The Collapse. I wrote ninety percent of the new album at one time. I went through my note­book and two or three pages of titles, and I went down the list and started making things up - perhaps skeletons of fifty or sixty songs. Then I choose the ones that I thought were the best. So most were written on one shot, then I added six or seven later on. I’m always writing.

Tell me your approach to songwriting in general. Very simple. I write on guitar and go straight into my cheap little tape player. I don’t even have a four-track. Everything is live. What I do is go along until I think it’s falling apart and then I just turn the tape recorder off. What you hear on the earlier records is exactly that.

GBV’s entire catalog is a study in fragmentary composition. Yes - which is why Do The Collapse is so different! Now we’re doing com­plete songs. Everything is fully realized, although some people will still prefer the fragments.

It all has to do with the context of the record. Right, but I’m happy doing it this way, too. 

In retrospect Under the Bushes and Mag Earwhig were gradual steps towards a refined sound. True. Everything with us has to be a slow process and a slow evolution. You don’t want to burn yourself out. Do The Collapse is a natural pro­gression. The songs are still there, as well as the imagery, which should keep our older fans interested.

This is a complete 360 from the way GBV usually operates.  Absolutely! We’ve been doing these songs for a year-and-a-half in con­cert. This record is a long time in the making. It’s old hat to us, almost. I know the record has just come out, but I’m in the selective process of eliminating songs from the set already! That’s kind of screwed up when you think about it. Since we’ve recorded this disc last September, I’ve already done three or four other ones. Two solo albums, one which is not out yet, then this Lexo & The Leapers thing and a Nightwalker record. That’s what I like about TVT. They don’t care if I do other stuff. I have to be active all the time. I’m always working on something.

Which brings us to your solo career… Which is the ‘Fading Captain’ series I created for myself. The name is kind of a joke, it doesn’t mean I’m going downhill or anything like that. The main reason I did that is because we have this other label called Rockathon Records with friends of ours that consist of four or five bands, and I don’t want to interfere with that schedule of releases. So I created my own label so that I can do what I want at all times and just pump things out.

Bee Thousand gave me the impression of the ultimate low-budget rock opera. Thoughts? Wow. That’s great. See the thing with Guided By Voices is that I always wanted our records to sound like Beatles and Who bootlegs. I love that quality. I still do that, and I’m still doing that on the side. That’s what’s closest to my heart. But Guided By Voices has reached a new profession­al level. We doing more things and trying to be more visible. We’re work­ing with well respected people in the industry, so it’s a different level. Who among your contemporaries do you most admire? Modem songwriters? That’s a tough one. I’m kind of stuck in the 1960s. Things have been twisted and mutated around where that kind of music is not being made anymore. Although I think there are some good songs out there, there are not that many writers that I focus on. I think my favorite writers are those who write as bands. Like the Grifters and Superchunk. I like Pavement also, especially lyrically. I’m not sure of the name, but there’s a guy (Pat Stolley) in a band called Multiple Cat from Iowa City that writes excellent songs. I like Chan Marshall from Cat Power. I think Lou Barlow of Sebadoh is an excellent songwriter. Sonic Youth write as a band too, which is very good. It shows in their recordings.

The concept of songs as “standards” has all but vanished. Yes it has. See the thing about the 1960s is that you had people that wrote songs all the time, like Jimmy Webb. And back then, everybody covered each other’s songs, which I’d like to see come back.

In the 1960s artists were required to be prolific! I love that! I can crank out four records a year!

The market for recorded pop music continues to expand with no end in sight -hence the need more time and money to move (gasp) “product.” Yeah I hate that. We’re doing a record about every two years, which is pretty good considering how the industry is with having to push records for a long time. But I guess that you have to be compliant with that. If you want to sell records you have to give them time to work it. Again that’s why I have to do side projects.

Elvis, Beatles, Michael Jackson, Nirvana: Will we ever see a pop artist that dominates the public’s collective imagination again? Well initially it’s always good to have something big like that. It’s very exciting. But then you get all these copycat bands. Look at what hap­pened with Nirvana, which resulted in all this post-grunge garbage. Alice In Chains, Pearl Jam, and others too numerous to mention. All these bands that try to sound like Nirvana…

Elvis and The Beatles certainly spawned imitators. Yes, the same thing happened with them. You get a lot of copy artists, and that’s a natural thing for people to want to be like that. But I think it’s kind of boring actually. Although, the first bands that start to copy are really good, then it gets progressively diluted. But the initial explosion is always good. Quite frankly, I think it needs to happen. Whether it will is another story. Outlets such MTV, and now the film and the television industry have overexposed rock to the point where it’s no longer vital.  Oh, I know, I know. And it makes it harder for people to listen to music.

We have a new generation that views rock music as just another channel on TV. I know, and I don’t like that at all. This era has really hurt music, but there is nothing you can do about it. It’s here now and we have to deal with it. But that’s the reason I have a band. I’ve been listening to music all my life and yeah, I’m somewhat jaded and disappointed about where it’s all gone, so I just make my own music. Can we expect a GBV video for the new record? Having said all that, I think we will. That’s what I like about TVT. They’ll push a song first and if radio picks it up we’ll do a clip. I really prefer that methodology, because in most instances I tend to think music videos are a waste of time.

GBV’s committed legions thrive in cyberspace, not unlike the Deadheads back in the day. That’s really amazing, especially since we have nothing to do with it. It’s all our fans who’ve put that together. I hear we have a very impressive official web site, but I never check it. 

Talk about making the jump from school teacher to rock musician – which was quite a risk. The reason I quit being a teacher was to do this for a living. And I have kids to support so if it was something that I couldn’t make a living at, I would never have quit a job with benefits and security. But thanks to our grass roots support, when management and the record label snaps its fingers, I don’t have to jump. I do have that incredibly loyal fan base to fall back on. I can always put out my own records and they’ll buy ‘em. Now I’m not at the point where I want to do that. I want to see what Guided By Voices can do on this label. But it’s always nice to know that if I want to back off from all these obligations I have that option because of this fanatical group of people. It’s a unique position to be in.

Will the rising prices of CDs make it harder for GBV to reach new audiences? I didn’t like compact discs to begin with -especially when you know that discs are very cheap to make and they cost more than vinyl, which really angers me. Now it’s kind of backfired on the music industry, because you have the MP3 where people can download things for free. Actually, I think that’s very funny.

LPs hold a special place for some of us. I miss albums. They’re warmer and the jackets were a work of art. They’re nice to look at and you can de-seed your weed on the gatefold covers. There is something too impersonal about plastic disc covers. Although the digi-pacs are nice since there’s no plastic involved.

Compact discs do have some redeeming qualities... The only thing I like about CDs is that they’re reissuing old obscure stuff - especially the late 1960s psychedelic garage records. And I like the compilations of music that have not been available for many years. I bought all the old Captain Beefheart records that came out on the Buddah label. And the bonus tracks on The Who records are also great. That’s the stuff I really care about.

What of the inevitability of artists going directly to the public via the internet and bypassing the machinations of the music industry? That’s a true fact and that scares the music industry. At this point I do not understand what the implications to the artist would be. I like the thought of getting my music out to more people, though as far as the Internet is concerned - I’m not that knowledgeable with it right now. But you never know. Whatever happens with it, we have yet to under­stand. But I’m very primitive. I like to keep my life simple, just like my songs.



By Tom Semioli ThePleasePleaseMeVM.1.13

This feature appeared in No Depression, January 2013 

Stop, look and listen to Jessie Torrisi, the sultry, sexy, super-charged  singer,  songwriter, guitarist, band- leader of Austin trio Please Please Me and you’d think she was born and raised to be a roots rocker ala Shelby Lynne, Lucinda Williams, or Ryan Adams.   Now for the truth – she’s from Philadelphia, and made her bones playing drums in one of New York City’s most notorious glam-punk- shock rock outfits in the 00’s– Unisex Salon.  “I woke up one day and I was a part of it” says Jessie of her proudly checkered past.  “I was prey for these charismatic characters… there’s this evil little sister side of me that makes me dress me up and wear outrageous clothes and make-up!” Jessie pauses for reflection. “ I’ m an only child and my mom’s gay so there was no fashion sense instilled in me – I was happy to be pulled into other people’s vision. “

That was then and this is now. Inspired by, among others, a performance by Patti Griffin at SXSW along with an inner voice (aside from the aforementioned devious litter sister) prodding her to follow her muse- Jessie packed her bags and migrated from the unforgiving Big Apple to the Live Music Capitol of the World. “I really felt like I had this songwriter’s soul inside of me –and New York City was impossible for me to realize that truth. I'd wake up and I'd feel as if I were ten years behind. I don’t have famous parents, I'm not rich, the pace was too fast - I felt like a ‘nobody.’ I’m too vain –I needed to go somewhere where I could create something.” Welcome to Austin, Texas.

Not long after her arrival in The Lone Star State,  Jessie waxed her debut solo record Bruler Bruler -that's "burn burn" in French - and earned accolades aplenty whilst seamlessly making the transition from rock ‘n ‘roll side-women to roots rock chanteuse. She found kindred spirits and toured the country in planes, trains, and automobiles to rave reviews, drawing comparisons to Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith.

However Jessie yearned put together a steady band rather than employ a rotating cast of players who may or may not deliver night after night, nor have the dedication to help realize her artistic vision. Fate intervened with an unlikely cast of cellist Alissa Schram and drummer Agustin Frederic – aptly dubbed The Please Please Me.

“Alissa is the cream in the Oreo” proclaims Jessie.  One of the first people Jessie befriended upon her move to Austin, Alissa had no previous experience in anything remotely resembling a rock / pop music ensemble.  But that didn’t stop her. “Being in this band was a real left turn for her” notes Jessie. “She was the first one to get all these crazy effects pedals – she has to be the bass, the soloist, the keyboards - Alissa brings all the cool sound-scapes to our music – she has electronic bombs going off!”

Jessie lovingly refers to Agustin as “the military hippy”. “He’s slight but strong, has hair down to his ass and goes to yoga – the dude is hardcore Type A!”  A busy local sound engineer who works the console for stadium shows, theater and club gigs, Jessie credits Frederic for the band’s thoughtful arrangements, vastly improved sound and for kicking Jessie’s ass to get her guitar chops up to speed. “Yeah, he put a gun to my head and convinced me to be a guitar player –which I had no previous intention of doing – there’s too many Stevie Ray Vaughn characters in Austin…for every time I’ve wanted to kill Agustin, I realize I could not have improved without him!”  In turn, Jessie has taught her drummer a few things as well, such as the importance of supporting a song with a groove and dynamics.

To make Shake A Little Harder a reality, Jessie, Agustin, and Alyssa turned to Kickstarter – a website which allows artists the platform to raise money for creative projects by crowd funding - i.e. "kicking in." Among the noted artists who've utilized Kickstarter to fund their independent projects include photographer Spencer Tunik, and filmmaker / actors Ed Begley Jr., Whoopi Goldberg, and Mathew Modine.

"What started out as a brilliant idea for struggling indie artists has blossomed into a viable model for established artists,” emphasizes Jessie.  “I have a fan base and they’ll cut me a better deal than a record company – and it’s more genuine –it says something profound that we cut out the middle-man.” Some of the extra perks for Please Please Me patrons include a limited edition cover for the new EP, and practical goodies including officially sanctioned Please Please Me underwear. “I am taking credit for the panties…it’s our biggest seller on the road!”

With CJ Eiriksson (U2, Live, Phish) as producer, making an album from start to finish under their own financial power also offered the band a rare opportunity to find out who they really are –artistically. “This would have never happened with a record company – at the end of the day, everyone gets signed and dropped –if you don’t have something that really rings true to you and your fans and something that is unique – it’s not worth it.  Doing it ourselves was the best way – it was a tremendous learning experience.”

The tracks which comprise Shake A Little Harder were road-tested to ensure the best quality for your consumer dollars. “You can sit in a rehearsal studio all day long-but playing before a live audience is the real deal. There are certain truths that emerge when you play in-front of real people.” The Please Please Me opted for the mini album format based on the advice of producers, their musical peer group, and numerous industry folks. “They keep telling us it’s a singles world…we’ll get more bang for our buck…nobody gives a shit about albums anymore…it’s sad, but we have to adapt to the marketplace.”

Among the standout tracks on Shake A Little Harder is "Dreaming" - a song which was filed away in Jessie's drawer for over a year. The retro melody is undeniable. "There’s something about those 1960’s song hooks like ‘Be My Baby’ reveals Jessie. "I debuted the song at a party and kept it simple. That was a song I had to muscle to the finish line – I still don't know where it came from…"

Can The Please Please Me make a dent in a musical landscape dominated by an X Factor, American Idol mentality? “I think half of Austin has been on those shows” laughs Jessie. She says she won’t disparage those brands which have defined the music business for the last decade – but she does anyway. “They’re all make-over shows…none of them get to the truth of the art. Could Lou Reed sing? Kind of. Could he play? Kind of. But he can write his ass off! And he can put forth a unique attitude. And that’s what I feel like The Please Please Me have to offer – together as a band and as recording artists, we are what is in short supply in the music world today.”

Shake A Little Harder is slated for release in April 2013 – and will be available at major retailers. Keep tabs on The Please Please Me at



By Tom Semioli  

Yeah Yeah Yeahs

This interview feature, the first ever by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, appeared in Shout NY, December 2001

“The lyrics to the first track  ‘Bang’ came to me during a masturbation session” recalls Yeah Yeah Yeahs ‘ singer Karen O. “Nick’s guitar and I rival each other like two people fucking!”

Taking their overt sexual and musical cues from late 1970s classic Gotham City rock, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs parlay more than a few obvious points of reference, namely; the swagger of the New York Dolls, the Velvet Underground’s sexual abandon, and the Ramones’ penchant for skipping the foreplay. Yet the unholy trio of singer Karen O, guitarist Nick Zinner, and drummer Brian Chase are not merely inspired by the act of balling as it were.

Armed with nihilistic rhythms fused with Brill Building melody, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ eponymous EP documents the lucid frustrations of the urban post-adolescent id. From a technical standpoint, the primal configuration of voice, guitar and drums appears razor thin minimalist and bereft of harmonic interplay, “Nick plays through two amps” counters Chase, “which eliminates the need for a bass player.” Go figure!

The less-is-more-or-less attitude has helped the Yeah Yeah Yeahs garner recognition in underground rock’s most competitive environs in less than a year. After one rehearsal, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs had enough material cobbled together for their official live bow - an opening slot for the White Stripes at the Mercury Lounge. They followed up their ragged yet acclaimed debut with a string of successful gigs supporting local heroes such as The Strokes, Moldy Peaches, and The Walkmen, among others. Their need to release a definitive collection became obvious- however the process of making Yeah Yeah Yeahs a reality took a few scant days in the studio from start to finish.

“The record is basically rough cuts” reflects Zinner, who also swears his allegiance to analog recording and early takes. The songs – which typically emerge from O and Zinner’s riffing until their half-completed ideas are molded into final form by Chase, were self-produced and recorded with tea and sympathy from engineer Jerry Teel (Knoxville Guns, Chrome Cranks & The Honeymoon Killers,  Boss Hog).

Although the Yeah Yeah Yeahs apparently make no attempt to sound ahead of their time, they’re not entirely out of it either. Witness the EP’s final anthemic cut, “Our Time,” with the unintentionally topical refrain “…it’s the year to be hated!”

“After the terrorist attacks, people have been demanding to hear that song at our shows,” O reveals, waxing poignant in a moment of clarity she never could have predicted. “It’s become a rallying call to arms. It’s events like these when people look for songs that bring everyone together.” Observing the burst of patriotism at sporting contests, religious gatherings, and political campaigns, Chase chimes in “yeah, we’re all New Yorkers now!”

Some of us more than others.