30th Apr2012

Interview with Leo Lyons from Ten Years After

by rockchicago

Interviewed by Kevin Pollack



Leo Lyons is an English Rock musician, who was also the bassist of the British late 1960s to 1970s rock group Ten Years After.

He first played with lead guitarist Alvin Lee in The Jaybirds. In 1967 there was a name change to Ten Years After. With this group, Lyons played at major rock festivals including Woodstock in 1969 and the Isle of Wight Festival on 29 August 1970. Ten Years After disbanded in 1976, although they later reformed several times in the 1980s and 1990s with all original members.

In 1975, he was hired as a studio manager by Chrysalis Records to re-equip and run Wessex Studios in London. He then produced UFO from 1974 to 1976. Later he started two commercial recording studios himself.

Lyons moved to Nashville, Tennessee in the mid 1990s, and was a staff songwriter for Hayes Street Music. He currently plays in a reformed Ten Years After, with new frontman Joe Gooch. and also with Joe Gooch in new blues rock power trio “Hundred Seventy split”

I recently chatted with Leo about what he’s been up to.

Q: How did you first get into music?

Lyons: My aunt and Uncle had a wind up gramophone and from the age or around eight I was listening to whatever records they had. The first guitar record I recall ever hearing was the Jimmy Rogers song “He’s In The Jailhouse Now.” That got me interested in playing a stringed instrument. I started out on an old banjo that used to belong to my grandfather. When the
skiffle boom hit the UK in the mid-fifties (a mixture of roots, blues, bluegrass and folk) I desperately wanted a guitar. By eleven years old I’d saved up the money to buy an old acoustic. These days a playable guitar is reasonably cheap to buy. That was not so when I started out.
Most cheap instruments were almost unplayable.

Q: How did you join Ten Years After?

Lyons: In 1960 I joined a local band called “The Jaybirds” A week after I joined them the guitar player left. Alvin answered an advert for the job and joined us. By 1966, after several personnel changes, Ric Lee and Chick Churchill had joined us. At first we called ourselves “The Blues Yard’ but our manager decided we needed a new name. I suggested ‘Ten Years After’ and everyone liked it.

Q: What was working with Alvin Lee like, and how did you feel after he left?

Lyons: As I said earlier Alvin and I started out together. He is the closest thing to the brother I never had. He was often difficult to work with and we fought and argued just like siblings do. Sometimes we’d be close other times we’d not talk to each other. I have not spoken to
him for several years but the bond we have through the life experiences we’ve shared will never be broken. I understood him wanting to leave the band. We had been touring for years and nothing lasts forever. I think we all need to make changes every once in a while.

Q: What made you want to get into producing other bands?

Lyons: I love everything about music, recording, writing and playing. I’ve always had a small recording set up and made my own demos and recorded other people. I was not getting enough satisfaction just working with TYA. There were creative ideas that the band would not accept from me. It was natural, that out of frustration I started producing other acts.

Q: Where was your favorite place to play with Ten Years After and why?
Lyons: After over forty-five years on the road it’s an impossible question to answer. I have played just about everywhere and enjoyed almost every gig. Where would I like to play? Anywhere I’ve never been.

Q: Do you have any funny stories from the road?

Lyons: Yes but I’d like to save them for my book if I ever finish it.

Q: How is being in Nashville now like for you?

Lyons: I moved to Nashville over 13 years ago. I was a staff songwriter for a country music publisher. It has been a great experience. These days I spend more time in Europe working in the
Rock/blues field but I will always be influenced by the music that comes out of Nashville. There are so many talented people here and not just in the country music field. I learned to be a better songwriter and a better musician and that was important for me to do.

Q: Why did you decide to form Hundred Seventy Split?

Lyons: I wanted the challenge of doing something new and different. TYA has a style of playing which has evolved over the years by the interaction between the band members. There’s nothing wrong with that but I wanted to rock outside of the box. I think it’s something most musicians need to do at some time or another. Hundred Seventy Split gives me, guitarist Joe Gooch and drummer Damon Sawyer the chance to push ourselves in whatever direction we feel inclined to take.

Q: Out of all the people you’ve played with, who has been your favorite and why?

Lyons: Choosing one person or band would be difficult. I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, Hamburg at the time of The Beatles, Swinging London in the sixties, San Francisco, and Woodstock etc. I have seen, met or jammed with most musicians of my generation but my first musical influences came from another generation of players. In the early days, even before TYA, Alvin and I shared an empathy and belief in what we were trying to do. Now working with guitarist Joe Gooch in Hundred Seventy Split I feel the same connection. So maybe Alvin and Joe could be the two favorite musicians I’ve played with.

Q: What can fans look forward to from you from here?

Lyons: Definitely more recordings from Hundred Seventy Split. There are many more projects in the pipeline. I love my job particularly the interaction with a live audience.

30th Apr2012

Human Nature Livens Up The Akoo Theatre

by rockchicago


After a nearly three year residency at the Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, the Australian soul crooning quartet Human Nature brought their big show presentation of their interpretation of classic music to the Akoo Theater (formerly the Rosemont Theater) in Rosemont Sunday night. Playing in front of a largely sixty-something, and very enthusiastic and appreciative crowd, brothers Andrew and Michael Tierney, Toby Allen and Phil Burton demonstrated a true passion for the 1960’s Detroit based genre known as Motown.

Decked out in black tuxedos to open the show, and accompanied by a solid seven piece band, including a three piece horn section, Human Nature engaged the crowd in what came across as a genuine and most enjoyable give and take. Their voices were strong, solid and appealing. Their choreographed dance routines were what I would consider “acceptable” in the spirit of what they were trying to convey. During the classic Supremes hit Stop! In The Name Of Love, the boys got the crowd on their feet and proceeded to instruct on how to shimmy and gesture in the way the ladies Supremes had done nearly 50 years ago. Smiles abounded as the ghost of WCFL past ruminated through the venue.

Hitting the road in support of their March 6th CD and DVD release “The Motown Record”, the foursome really looked to be enjoying themselves. The overheard prevailing theme between sets was how “four white guys from Australia could convey so much soul”. Motown purists may scoff at 4 men covering female classics such as the Supremes You Keep Me Hangin’ On or even Stop! In the Name of Love (Although Vanilla Fudge did a very respectable cover of the former themselves many years ago). However, that would be a shame, because those same purists should be very pleased that there is a band such as Human Nature keeping the memory of Motown music alive and well. And from what I witnessed last night, there is still quite a demand, as much of the audience seemed too joyfully peel back decades of their own lives to their younger days.

Highlights included covers of the Marvin Gaye classics What’s Going On (Benson-Cleveland-Gaye) and I Heard It Through The grape Vine. My personal favorite of the evening was a vocals only cover of Curtis Mayfield’s People Get Ready. The second set contained a tribute of sorts to the great Smokey Robinson. Smoky is listed as the tour sponsor, and the show opened with a videotaped introduction by Mr. Robinson.

Human Nature was backed up by The Amateurs, a touring troupe of 15 young adults in their late teens and early twenties. They performed a short 16 minute set of 4 songs sung a capella. Overall, I found the show, which was very reasonably priced, with tickets starting at $22.00, and ranging up to $72.00, to be a very enjoyable and nostalgic evening of music. Sitting in the 8th row, just off center, almost gave me the feeling of being onstage with the quartet. I can see why this would be a big hit in Las Vegas as well. The production is a natural stage show for Sin City. If you are a fan of Motown, or just an objective fan of music, and enjoy hearing new things, I recommend giving Human nature a listen. You won’t be disappointed.

Reviewed by Patrick Kinsella on 4/29/12

Rating: 4/5

30th Apr2012

Interview with Mary Fahl from October Project

by rockchicago

Interviewed by Kevin Pollack 



Mary Fahl is an American singer, songwriter  and actress known for her work with October Project in the mid-1990s. More recently she is known for her solo singing and acting career. She released an EP Lenses of Contact in 2001,and a full album The Other Side of Time in 2003 on Sony Classical. A new album, From the Dark Side of the Moon, was released on May 10, 2011. Her music has been featured in the film Gods and Generals, as well as the film version of the play The Guys.

I recently conversed with Mary about what she’s got going on.

Q: Do you come from a musical family?

Fahl: Not really… That said, my sisters both have lovely voices  – both very different from mine. I guess they weren’t interested in performing.

Q: How did you come to join October Project?  

Fahl: I had just come home from having spent some time in Europe with my sister  and it seemed like it was time to decide what I was going to do with the rest of my life.  I didn’t think that being in music was a viable alternative for me – so I applied to Columbia University’s post-graduate, pre-med program and was accepted.  I had picked out my course schedule and was approved for my student loan etc. – basically I was all ready to go when “fate” intervened in the form of a chance meeting with Julie Flanders through a friend.  Looking back, it was strange – I had literally just met her for a few minutes and she invited me to her birthday party the next evening.  We subsequently became friends –  and knowing I was a singer, she introduced me to her then composer/boyfriend Emil.  They had been writing songs together for years but had never really done anything with them.  The first time I heard and sang their material – it instantly felt like a perfect fit for my voice and personality.  We formed a band soon after that with Emil and Dave and myself – then a year later, Marina was added to the line-up and the final sonic piece was in place.  We gradually developed the signature “sound” that was to be October Project – worked very hard for about a year and then started playing out in NYC.  About 2 years after that, we got a deal with Epic.  It was incredibly exciting…

Q: Allmusic.com dubbed you as the “lovechild” of Stevie Nicks and Peter Steel. How do you feel about that?

Fahl: Well, it’s a very nice compliment – but it has created confusion on occasion… I was doing a benefit involving a lot of “fancy people” about a year ago – and a very lovely German woman came up to me and starting fawning about what a fan she was of my “mother”.  I realized that she had read that quote about Stevie Nicks and took it literally!!

Q: What was working with renowned composer Stephen Schwartz and lyricist Ramsey McLean like?

Fahl: Writing with Stephen Schwartz was like being in a master class for songwriting.  I came in with a fairly complete melody, but wasn’t sure where to go with the lyric.  I only had about an hour with him, but he lead me through the song asking questions which I had to answer lyrically… “Where is the song taking place?”… “What’s happening in the scene…” “What’s your relation to this person…?” In a short time, the lyric was done, he added a better musical bridge and we had a song.

As for what Ramsey McLean is like…. Oh boy – that’s a big question!!!!  He is a true “American Original” – truly eccentric… highly gifted… incredibly intelligent with a beautiful heart and soul – and stubborn as hell.  We wrote several songs together, mostly with the idea of giving them to other artists. In fact, we wrote “Redemption” specifically with  Aaron Neville in mind.  Ramsey was typically the lyricist on those songs and I wrote the music, which normally isn’t the case.  I usually have a much stronger hand in the lyrics when I write.

Q: How do you feel about hearing your songs you wrote in movies? 

Fahl: Hearing my song at the premiere of “Gods and Generals” was probably one of the biggest thrills of my career and getting the chance to write a song memorializing the heroes of 911 was a great honor. Ronan Tynan eventually performed “Dawning of the Day” at the re-dedication of Seven World Trade Center – which meant a lot to me.

Q: What was the writing process like for your album The Other Side of Time

Fahl: I already had some songs that I had written with Ramsey and also with Bob Riley from Gracepool. I knew I wanted to record “Ben Aindi Habibi” and the Sony Classical people insisted that I sing an aria (it was a classical label after all).  So that left a few slots open for some new songs.  I had been touring with a backup band for a few months (several of the members eventually formed their own band “Ollabelle”) and Glenn and Byron from “Ollabelle” were very musically “simpatico” with me– so I started writing with them.  One of us would come in with a musical idea and the three of us would hone it into something – then I’d typically go away with a tape for a few days and come back with some lyrics which we’d then edit and hone.  We had a ball writing together – and everybody contributed equally to making those songs happen, which isn’t always the case… Sometimes you feel like you’re doing all the work if you know what I mean…

Q: What made you decide to go into musical theatre and acting?

Fahl: I always loved to sing, I had a big voice and I was always comfortable performing.  It just seemed like a natural fit.  It’s funny, I never really “made it” in musical theatre when I was young and just out of college.  My “look” didn’t fit my voice, so I was impossible to cast – which is one of the reasons I decided not to pursue a theatre career and it kind of broke my heart at the time.  It’s one of the reasons I loved doing the Woody Allen musical Off-Broadway back in 2006.  I loved every minute of that process – it was one of the happiest experiences of my life and I’d do it again in a second if somebody asked me.

Q: How come you decided to remake Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon?

Fahl: Peter Gelb had left Sony Classical to run the Metropolitan Opera and everybody else at the label was “let go” when the BMG people took over.  The new regime decided they only wanted strictly “classical” music from thereon and my contract wasn’t renewed – leaving me a very deep “funk”… My way of coping with that sort of disappointment is to throw myself into a huge, impossible project – which in this case, became “Dark Side of the Moon”.  I wanted to make a record that I could tour almost as “performance art” – something different from a typical singer-songwriter show – and “Dark Side…” seemed to me to fit that bill perfectly – not to mention the fact that it suited my voice and conveyed so much of what I wanted to express about the world.  My manager put me together with David Werner and Mark Doyle – 2 amazing producers… I would drive up to Mark’s tiny studio in Syracuse, NY every other week or so for months and we gradually built the record.  When it was completed, it was “shopped” to a few labels and V2 Records liked what they heard.  That said, they didn’t think I’d be able to tour it with just 4 people.  To prove that it could be done, we put on a show for the V2 execs complete with film and staging – all very tour-able on a small scale.  They loved what they saw and signed the record.   Tragically, just as the record was about to be released, the label “went under”.  Knowing the ship was going down, they gave most of their artists “life boats” and sold the rights back to me so that I could release it on my own.

Q: Who and what are your influences? 

Fahl: That’s a huge question – I could probably go on all day – I love all kinds of music – but I suppose if I had to boil it down – I’d say my sound comes from a combination of British Folk (i.e., Sandy Denny, June Tabor, Linda Thompson etc.),  Leonard Cohen/Judy Collins/Joni Mitchell – (basically all I listened to in high school), musical theater training (ergo the big voice) and film scores.  I’ve always been a huge film score buff – and interestingly, one of the reasons Sony Classical signed me was that they thought my songs were very “cinematic.” I should add some present influences – people I keep going back to most of the time, as I know their music has to be coloring what do: I love Gustavo Santaolalla – listen to him all the time – LOVE Rufus Wainwright – Laura Veirs, Sufjan Stevens, Gillian Welch, Peter Gabriel. I also love Alexandre Desplat – he’s my current favorite film composer.

Q: What is your process as a songwriter? 

Fahl: It varies from song to song.  Sometimes I’ll have a hook running in my head for awhile and work from there… I always start with the melody first, and the melody tells me what the song is about.  I do love collaborating – partly because it keeps me from repeating myself and partly because it’s just more fun – and a good excuse to hang out with people I like.  Since I tour by myself these days and have to render whatever I write solely with my voice and guitar – I have to write songs with “good bones” – they have to be able to come across in a very simple arrangement.  I can’t rely on any kind of riffs or layering or any other sonic “bells and whistles”.

Q: What can your fans look forward to from you from here? 

Fahl: Well, I’ve written some new songs this past year and am currently collaborating with Byron Isaacs again on new material.  I’ve been touring a solo, acoustic show all over the country and will continue doing that – and hopefully, I put another album out one of these days.


Be sure to catch Mary when she’s here in Chicago on May 17th at Martyrs. Get tickets here: http://www.martyrslive.com/calendar

Mary will also be performing in Milwaukee, WI on May 18th at Shank Hall. Get tickets here: http://www.shankhall.com/schedule.php?201205



30th Apr2012

Interview with Verdine White from Earth, Wind & Fire

by rockchicago

Interviewed by Kevin Pollack 



Q: How did growing up in Chicago help you as a musician?

Verdine: Without question, being from Chicago, one of the best things you could do. There was so much good stuff going on in Chicago. A lot of music; Chess Records, Nightclubs, things like that, it was a great thing for a young person.

Q: How did you and Maurice come up with the idea of Earth, Wind & Fire?

Verdine: Well, he did actually. He was the one who really came up with the whole concept of EWF, ya know? Putting EWF together. Starting with the band, we could do all kinds of different things. I got to be in the group, because I hung around a lot with Maurice and his guys, and when he was ready to make the move in April 1970, I followed him and joined him later on in June 1970.

Q: Who are your influences?

Verdine: So many, you know? You have Motown, you have Chess Records. On bass guitar, you have the late Louis Satterfield, who’s the bass guitar player from Chess Records, and he played on all those records with Maurice. He was also my teacher. I have a lot of good influences.

Q: How does it feel being one of the top bass players in music of all time?

Verdine: It’s really an honor. I never thought that would ever happen. It’s a great honor.

Q: Also, how do you feel about Earth, Wind & Fire being legends of our time?

Verdine: That’s another thing that I didn’t know that was gonna happen.

Q: Why did you guys decide to release Now, Then & Forever? How did that come about?

Verdine: Well that album will be out in September. We feel really good about it. Our manager Damian Smith had the concert to put it together. Some of the older songs and doing some newer songs as well. So, we’re very excited about it.

Q: How did the song “Guiding Lights” come about, and how was the writing process for that song?

Verdine: Well, the writing process was great. It was written by Phillip Son, and it was produced by Neal Poe, who did all the Outkast albums. We’re really happy about that. It sounded really great. We’re actually doing more new songs now as well.

Q: You guys will be playing in June at Ravinia in Highland Park with the Symphony Orchestra. What made you guys want to do a tour with a symphony orchestra?

Verdine: Well, it started a couple years ago at the Hollywood Bowl. We did the Hollywood Bowl a couple years ago, and it did really well, so we decided we wanted to tour the country and perform with an orchestra. We did Dallas, we did Houston, and now we’re going to start with Chicago. The night before, we’re doing Detroit. Hopefully, by the time we get up there, it’ll be sold out, ya know?

Q: Of all the people you’ve collaborated with, who is your favorite and why?

Verdine: Oh wow, there’s so many, man. You can’t just pick one. We worked with Ramsey Lewis, Raphael Saadiq. Everybody’s just so great.

Q: If you can name 3 people, living or dead, who you’d love to collaborate with, who would they be and why?

Verdine: Miles Davis, because of his innovativeness, Duke Ellington, the musicality, and Jimi Hendrix. There would be more, but we’re doing only 3, ya know?

Q: What is your favorite song you’ve written?

Verdine: I do like “Fantasy.” It’s one of my favorites.

Q: What’s next for Earth, Wind & Fire?

Verdine: Well, it’s gonna be a lot of fun at the concerts. We can’t wait to release the new album, and it’s gonna be great. We’re just looking forward to the future.


Be sure to check out Earth, Wind & Fire with the Ravinia Symphony Orchestra playing at Ravinia June 9th. Click here to get tickets: http://ravinia.org/ViewDate.aspx?show=464

30th Apr2012

The Little River Band Live at Viper Alley

by rockchicago


The Little River Band blossomed in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s with its originality, its catchy ballads, and great vocals. This hit making band included a great blend of songwriting and talent to come up with chart toppers like: It’s a Long Way There, Help Is on Its Way, Happy Anniversary, Reminiscing, Lady, Cool Change, Lonesome Loser, Take It Easy On Me, and We Two.

The sold out event at Viper Alley in Lincolnshire, April 19, was a testament to their enduring popularity and their loyal fan base. As always, the venue was fabulous, with lots of open space and a bustling helpful staff. They even expanded the seating to accommodate the unexpected demand for the band’s large group of fans.

But that’s where the excitement ended. Unlike the smooth almost hypnotic music of old, The Little River Band left me feeling like something was missing. For the first time, the sound system at the venue didn’t fill the room with great sound, as it had in past concerts. Perhaps this was the main reason The Little River Band seemed to lack energy.

Yet, there is no denying that there were plenty of pleased fans in the crowd because the band did a great job of creating a lot of smiling faces throughout the show.

Whenever there is a lineup of new musicians contributing to the sound of a classic band, it’s always interesting to see how well preserved the original sound and style of the band can hold up.

Rich Herring, on lead, and the rest of the band members did an admirable job of replicating the sound of this classic and important part of rock and roll history.

Rich’s studio experience clearly made him a qualified member. However, perhaps because of the sound system, the driving beat critical to any strong band seemed to come up short.

All in all, the popular songs from this popular band carried the day and made the concert an enjoyable experience.

Reviewed by Gary Chappell on 4/19/12

Rating: 3/5

30th Apr2012

The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Rocks The Venue

by rockchicago


The Venue on Sunday hosted The Trans-Siberian Orchestra for a story about Ludwig Von Beethoven’s last night.  The story that is brought about in the show, is basically about a fictional story about Beethoven’s last night and Mephistopheles, the devil, coming to collect his soul.  Trans-Siberian Orchestra does this in explosive fashion, bringing everyone’s attention to the stage from the minute we walked in until the end.  Never a dull moment!

TSO (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) creates and interaction between classical and rock music incorporated in the story line of Beethoven’s last night.  Between a cast of incredible musicians we get a narrative between songs, presented in a poem like fashion which works very well in the show.

It appears that Beethoven has finished his tenth symphony and between Fate and his son Twist and also Mephistopheles who comes to collect his soul.   Beethoven is giving a glimpse of his past from childhood through the time he met his true love Theresa, until he loses his hearing.   We are giving each piece of the story followed by a song.

The songs are sung by Ludwig, Fate, Theresa, and even Mephistopheles as we go throughout the night.  Songs also include parts of Beethoven’s Symphonies such as the 5th Symphony, Fur Elise, and the 9th Symphony.  They mixed in The Flight of the Bumblebee during the 9th’s Ode to Joy.  TSO highlights the music with background graphics, lasers and fog.  An intense heat arises from the pyrotechnical additions to the show.  Ludwig appears to be directing the fire as the orchestra highlights his movements with strong attacks of sound.

Mephistopheles finally tries to make a bargain with Ludwig for his tenth symphony but Ludwig turns him down remembering the joy and happiness his other works have given the world.  Mephistopheles finally tries to bargain a young homeless girl in the street for the 10th symphony and after intense song about his agony of decision Ludwig agrees.

After sealing the deal with a contract, Mephistopheles tries to burn the symphony with a candle but the manuscript will not burn.  Twist, fates son, laughs as he tells the devil he has made a mistake with Ludwig being the Second son not the first.  Twist actually then reveals that the devil does not own his soul and Ludwig’s place will indeed be in heaven.

The Beethoven’s Last Night is a wonderful story presented in the way only TSO can, bringing a smile on every face in the crowd.  The musicianship, stage presence, and orchestrated effects make this a show that will make Beethoven’s last night last for a long time.

Reviewed by Lee Bishop on 4/22/12

27th Apr2012

Interview with Comedian Ralphie May from Last Comic Standing

by rockchicago

Interviewed by Kevin Pollack


Q: How did you get into comedy?

Ralphie: I was just a big fan of it when I was a kid, and I knew I wanted to it at 9, and at 13, I was in a talent show at a church youth group conference. Then, at 17, I did it professionally for the first time with Sam Kinison. He told me to move to Houston, so I moved to Houston.

Q: What was opening for Sam Kinison like for you?

Ralphie: It was crazy. People always love to hear the stories of when you bomb. I was doing really good. I won a stand-up comedy contest, but before that I was on the way over there, and he was like, “Kid, are you nervous?” and I said, “No.” He goes, “Are you sure?”  I’m like, “Yeah.” He said, “Kid, there’s gonna be about 100 people there, and nobody paid to see YOU,” and I go “Ok.” I go, “Ok, I’m a little bit nervous.” He goes, “Here, this is what you do. Do you have a closer?” I go, “No, what’s that?” He goes, “It’s a big joke at the end of your set.” I go “Ok.” He says, “Just start yelling and screaming at the audience. The more you yell and scream at them, the more they like you, alright? So, cuss them out. The more you cuss them out, the more they’ll love you” I said, “Really?” “Yeah, yeah, that’ll be your closer.” So I’m about 5 minutes in, and I’m doing really well. Then, I flip the punch line in a setup into another joke and it bombed. Then, I remember what Sam said, and I’m like, “Hey stupid inbred, fuck this, fuck your friends, fuck your family, fuck your mother,” and all these people, “BOOOOOOO!!!” I started to tear up onstage. I walk off stage and I’m crying a little bit without being introduced by a musical fanfare. Sam comes running out, “Can you believe that kid? He’ll never be in comedy again! AAAHHHHHH!!!!” The whole audience erupts. I’m backstage crying even more now, so I go find a pay phone, and I’m dialing my mom collect to come pick me up. Bill Kinison, Sam’s brother comes up to me and hangs the phone up and said, “Sam thought you were hilarious. He knew you had the guts to do it. You set it up perfect. He wants you to come with us to the after party.” “Uhhh, ok!” So we go to the after party, and there’s girls there, and there’s booze, drugs, and Sam wanted to order pizzas, so we ordered pizza. The pizza comes; Sam pays him and tips the guy 3 bags of cocaine. 30 minutes later, we get a phone call, “Hey, you guys need more pizza? Cause if you need more pizza, it’ll be right out. No problem!” He was all fucked up that night, coked out of his mind. He kept telling me, “I like you. I like you.” He wrote a recommendation later to the local radio station down there Rock 101 KLOL, and I got to go do morning radio, and whenever he comes into town, he’d work me. I was introduced into comedy that way, and it was pretty awesome. Pretty fuckin’ amazing.

Q: What was the process like for Last Comic Standing? Has Sam influenced you in that and do you think it has helped you a lot up to today?

Ralphie:  Oh man, Last Comic Standing was huge for me. This guy called me and said, “Hey, I want you to come audition for me,” for his TV show, and I said, “Why do I have to audition? You know me. Put me through.” He goes, “I can’t. It’s legit. Everyone else has to go through the same process.” I said, “What am I auditioning for?” He said, “Bob Mirage from The Tonight Show. Those guys love me, and I love them.” I said, “Well, put me on.” He goes, “I can’t.” I said, “When’s the audition?” “In 2 days.” I was already in Hawaii. I was working there for a week, and I’m like, “2 days? Jesus Christ. I’ll have to miss Friday, oh god.” So, I didn’t have the money to go back and forth, so I had to cancel. Then my girlfriend/wife said, “Go in there and you can pay me back,” and I go, “Yeah, no problem, done.” I got a round trip ticket, and as soon as I arrived, I did the show. They only gave me 3 minutes to audition. They stopped me at about a minute. I go, “Why y’all stopping me? I flew all the way from Hawaii for this shit.” They go, “You moved on. You’re passed.” “Oh, I am? Oh, ok.” I didn’t know what to think. So, I went and did all this paperwork, then I flew back to Hawaii that day. I finished my week at The Laugh Factory in Hawaii, and I came back and on Tuesday night, we were at The Laugh Factory in Hollywood. Then Wednesday, we flew to Las Vegas, Thursday we did the show, and Friday, I was in the house. I’ve been there for 10 days. It was crazy. It was a crazy trip, man. We didn’t know it was gonna be big. We just wanted to make good television, and we were doing this and was like, you know we’re all entertainers. If we’re all entertaining, they won’t take us off. They were gonna cancel us is what I heard. We gotta make good TV and get a producer. We have to be funny. Think of gags. Come up with something. Get a camera guy. Go do funny stuff with them, and that’s what we did. It really made a huge difference. Going into 14,000,000 people’s houses a week was a lot, ya know? It was the #1 show on the network. We were in the middle of 2 wars. America needs healing. We were the only funny thing on. We’re a reality show but we were a funny one. People really liked it. I didn’t win, but coming in second I think is certainly better than coming in first winner.

Q: Where do you draw your material from?

Ralphie: Oh man, so much, ya know? Society, my life, being a father and a husband, just so many places. There’s so much wrong with the world. If there’s something wrong, then I’ll talk about it. I’m not perfect, but I give it a shot.

Q: Who were your influences other than Sam Kinison?

Ralphie: Buddy Hackett, Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy, George Carlin, Richard Pryor, Red Foxx. They were a bunch of great comedians.

Q: Being overweight, has your size ever affected you as a performer and as a person?

Ralphie: Yeah, it affects me every day. As far as performer goes, yeah. It probably cost me Last Comic Standing. It probably cost me movie roles. It cost me stuff before. But, ya know, I’m working on it. I’m getting healthier, and I’m working on it every day. I’m not perfect, but I’m trying. I’m trying to get better.

Q: What was it like being the only white comedian on The Big Black Comedy Show?

Ralphie: What’s funny is the first night that I did it, and Mo’nique hosted, my flight was delayed, and so not only was I the only white guy there, I was the only one late. All the black comics were laughing about that, and thought that was funny ‘cause the white guy was late. Then I went out there and destroyed it, ya know? I just had to bring it. I didn’t want the audience to hate me. They loved me so much, they brought me back to host one, and I wound up doing another DVD. It was fun.

Q: You’ve had 4 comedy specials on Comedy Central and you’ve got a brand new one, Too Big to Ignore. How have you progressed as a person and performer now as to when you first started this?

Ralphie: Well, I would say much until last year. I had a near death experience. I had double pneumonia and pulmonary embolisms and I almost died. That realization changed me. It changed me at the core who I am as a person. Now, comedy’s much more work than it ever was before. Being with my babies is work. Being with my house is work. It made me want to change the world more. Stuff that makes you better. I’m very lucky at this point.

Q: Being a comedian, and being able to get away with a lot, what offends you?

Ralphie: When people hurt children, animals. I don’t find that funny. I don’t think that’s cute. I don’t like hatred. Hatred is stupid, and that bothers me. People thinking that they’re better than other people, that bothers me. Being hypocrites.

Q: What can your fans look forward to from you from here?

Ralphie: Well, I’m working on new material, and I’m playing a lot of solo stuff and getting it out there, and I think this week in Chicago will be the start of something new. I’m doing a lot of newer stuff I hadn’t done. The theatres have been loving it, so this is my second trip in a week, back to Illinois. I was in Springfield last Friday, and now I’m coming back, and so it’s great to be performing in the area. But I like the audiences and Illinois too. They have really good audiences.


Please make sure to check out Ralphie May at the IMPROV in Schaumburg at Woodfield mall on April 27-29. Tickets are available here: http://chicago.improv.com/show.cfm?id=129728

27th Apr2012

I Know A Place We Can Go: The Cribs, Live at Schubas, with The Hounds Below

by rockchicago


Yesterday turned out to be a marathon.  It started waking up late for a beverage meeting for the place I work in Logan Square, so I got up, showered and ran out the door.  As it turned out, we were tasting through the cocktails on the menu and talking about each one in depth.  Which is how it came to be that the first thing I found myself ingesting that day was a Pisco Punch at 1pm.  Next came two different styles of daiquiris – one with Lemon Hart 151 and Orange and Myrrh bitters, another a play on a classic Hemingway with sencha instead of water and nigori sake.  After an hour of this, those of us who had the rest of the day off got to the point where we said, “Why not keep going?”  So after hanging out in the Square for a little while, we headed to Longman & Eagle for a drink, and then walked down to check out this new place Scofflaw – which I can now attest is a great new cocktail bar.  Anyway, after a round or two there, it was time for me to run off to Schubas; I had to be there at 7 o’clock so I could interview The Cribs (the results of which will follow at a later but imminent date).

After almost an hour in the dressing room downstairs, it was time for me to resurface and let Gary (poor fellow, I kept him from eating – “I like to be articulate, and it’s just rude to have a mouthful of food, isn’t it?”) have his dinner.  On the way up I met up with Jason Stollsteimer, whom many know from his days in The Von Bondies , and whose band for the last three years or so has been The Hounds Below.  We caught up for a minute; I’d seen The Hounds at The Lager House in Detroit very early on, and we also had all seen The Cribs the last time they played in Ferndale.  I had also seen The Von Bondies on what must have been their last tour at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor – still one of my favorite venues, and I like to think not just for sentimental reasons (Kurt Cobain called it his favorite venue in the world after the Bleach tour).  The Hounds Below have gone through quite an evolution since their inception – though much of it is very recent.  In fact, the show at Schubas is the current lineup’s 12th together.  They’ve also thrown out all the old songs.  At The Lager House, it was a five-piece (two guitars, bass, drums, and organ) with a rotating cast of horns and strings, playing 50s-inspired songs with a distinctive Detroit edge.  They filled a niche that no one else was even thinking about.  I still have the 7” double-a-side I bought that night of “Two Step” and “Crawling Back to You.”  Jason and I chatted about the music industry, finding success when you’re older than you look (particularly regarding Franz Ferdinand), and the glories of jazz drummers in rock and roll.  He also told me that the new lineup has a very different sound from the Hounds’ previous incarnation.  “You’ll have to tell me what you think afterwards – I want feedback!”  Jason also reiterated something I touched on in my interview with Gary a couple weeks ago: that it’s incredibly satisfying to play in front of people who have no idea who you are.  “If I had it my way, we’d only play for 20 minutes.  We don’t have a record out and nobody knows any of the songs.”  That’s good in a way, though: “When you get to a certain point, people are just waiting to hear ‘that one song.’  In the old lineup, we’d do a cover of ‘Crawling Back to You,’ and we sort of got known for it, people started expecting it, so we stopped doing it.  Maybe for an encore or something, but that’s it.”  It is a great version, I contest.  And by the way, it’s worth looking up.  (Or maybe I could just do it for you.)  He offers me a drink ticket – “We have to drive home tonight” – and then it’s time for them to head on stage.

I pick up a Two-Hearted with the ticket and head into the back myself.  A few minutes later The Hounds take the stage, and start off with – well, apparently they didn’t start completely from scratch, because this one I know.  “All My Fault” is a fantastic, rollicking track from the old EP and a song I heard at The Lager House two years ago.  The drums are set at a gallop as a gently descending guitar line starts, and the whole song builds slowly until it tears into the callback chorus of “You say it’s all my fault! (You say it’s all my fault!)”  A great start to the night.  The following songs are universally good, universally gritty, universally Detroit garage rock.  That said – and I told this to Jason at the end of the night – this is the type of music I love to listen to, but The Hounds have given up some of their distinctness with this new direction.  They’re down to a four-piece (no organ), so organ-heavy pieces like “Crawling Back to You” simply wouldn’t work.  But it’s also because, whereas Jason wanted to do slower, ballad-type songs at first (“Cumberland’s Crumbling,” e.g.), he’s gravitated since back to the fast-paced, garage/rock/indie vibe.  I’m not complaining, per se, and his love of 50s music still comes through.  I guess I just loved the old Hounds because, like I said, no one else was really doing what they did.  All that notwithstanding, they’re an awesome band and make really fun music.  “Before The Strokes, everyone was dancing.  Now it’s harder for people to dance.  So we just want to make music that gets people moving again.”  When I told Jason I almost called out for “Two Step,” he replied, “You should have!  I totally would have played it.  We were planning on it anyway, but we ran out of time.  But it’s only two minutes, I totally would have played it.”  Ah, well!  Next time.

After the set, the Cribs’ roadie Chris starts setting them up.  The room gets more and more crowded.  A couple joins the kids in front of me, asking how the opener was.  We all start talking about the band – the two who were around for the Hounds really dug them – and one of them ends up being from a suburb of Detroit, so we start talking about the city and how it’s doing and its killer music scene.  But then cheers erupt as the lights dim and The Cribs climb on stage.  “We’re The Cribs and we’re a bunch of Moshers from England!” calls Ryan, and they break into new track “Chi-Town,” a song about Ryan’s time in the city before the band was signed.  The crowd, expectedly, eats it up.  After the song finishes Ryan tells us that he really loves Chicago – even though it sounds like pandering.  “But I really mean it.  I love this city.”  He almost lived here before the band got signed, and he says “I still think about that situation every day.”  Gary quips, “If you hadn’t worn that badge that says ‘In Need of Weed’ at the airport you might live here.”  “But I’m in need of weed…!” retorts Ryan.  (The “situation” he mentions is something we’ll get into when I finish editing the interview I did with.)

They then address the elephant that’s in the room.  So, last time they were on tour, they had another guitar player, the legendary Johnny Marr.  But now with only Ryan, he has to play both parts.  “Does that not make me twice as good as Johnny Marr, then?” he jokes.  The boys launch into lead single from Ignore the Ignorant, “Cheat on Me.”  And at this point it needs to be addressed: do the songs from the last album stack up, with them as a three piece?  And you know what?  They do.  With some caveats.  The guitar interplay that was so creative and vivid and alive and exciting is obviously gone.  But Ryan can play the parts, and the sheer excitement of the three brothers being just that again, the enthusiasm they put into each and every song, overshadows any drawbacks.  You could say in a way that the show without Johnny Marr is a bit less cerebral – that is, you don’t have that back-and-forth, that interplay I mentioned; instead it’s passion and spit and rock and roll.  Which is not to say that’s something the band lacked on the last tour.  But it’s heavy in the room.

Now, I need to have a moment of honesty here.  My notes for the show are not extensive.  I don’t have a set list, I don’t have detailed descriptions of anything.  I don’t even have events in chronological order: just scribbles over several random pages in my notebook.  Because when you’re watching one of your top two favorite bands play, you don’t really want to bust out the notebook too often, do you?  So you’ll have to pardon me if things get a bit choppy here.  I can’t promise events to take place in their so-called “actual” chronological order.  But I can tell you about the rest of the concert.

It was wicked.  After “Cheat on Me” and “Men’s Needs,” the boys busted out their new single, “Come On, Be a No One,” “our latest pop song to hit the charts,” grins Ryan.  “Stop bragging,” Gary reprimands.  What follows is possibly Ryan’s most personal song to date, and as good as the recording is, it’s a sight live.  Ryan thrashing about on stage, Gary and Ross keeping everything locked down solid, the slightly dissonant Pixies-style guitar part in the prechorus never ceasing to be breezily cool.

Gary’s switched shirts from the interview.  I ran into him before he went on and he excused himself, saying he needed to change.  He had on “the same shirt I wore for Lollapalooza, I don’t want people to think I only have one shirt.”  Instead he’s opted for a Dead Trees shirt – the opening support on their last tour, and a fantastic band in their own rights.

The Cribs have mixed up their old standards a bit, adding intros to keep us guessing and keep things interesting for themselves.  One from Ryan seems to strike at the heart of his recent tribulations – “Stop crying in secret,” he pleads, “You one day will die.”  It’s so simple, yet so concise and wonderfully to the point.  Much like his lyric from the new single, “I was trying so hard / to enjoy everything / I ended up / enjoying nothing.”  It’s so matter-of-fact and yet too earnest and too real to fall into a cliché.  Another intro of his is some sort of dark omen: “Knifed a cop and she pissed on her face, was it some sort of sick fantasy?”—and suddenly, “Mirror Kissers,” a great classic from The New Fellas, a combination of effortless swagger and earnest outrage.  “You’re not allowed to say that you’re better!  You’re not allowed to say that ‘cause you’re the hipster type!”  At its heart, the song is about the difference of what people are versus what image they put up: “You’ve got a lot to say but don’t mention / the mirror kissing ways of the hipster type.”  Bluster and bombast and beauty.  Well, that’s the Cribs, ain’t it?

They’re sure to hit the fan favorites: “Another Number” makes an appearance, almost a teenager now but still as fun and bouncy as ever.  Oh!  A rare note here.  The crowd in Chicago is very docile.  Truly, there’s embarrassingly little dancing or moshing.  Ryan eggs on the crowd, saying that Chicago is one of the coolest cities in the world, so, by logic, it should have some of the coolest mosh pits in the world.  Gary wonders what he’s on about, and Ryan replies, “I’m just trying to incite Schubas to riot,” abashedly.  “Well, we’re gonna do our most un-mosh-worthy song next, but then we’ll get to some moshing!” boasts Gary.  Someone in the crowd cheers, and he bursts out laughing.  “I think it’s fitting someone cheered for our most un-mosh-worthy song,” and then they launch into “Another Number,” a bouncy pop tune for the ages from their debut eponymous album.

“Hey Scenesters!” gets the typical reaction: mad hysteria.  It may be the band’s best-known song, and, frankly, it deserves to be.  The NME (bastion of intelligence and opinion-shapers that they are) named it one of the top indie tracks of all time, and this time they were right bloody on, so to speak.  It will probably be on anyone’s short list of “Greatest Cribs Tracks” even though the band now has over 100 of them and it’s hard to find a dud in the whole collection.  (Hell, their b-sides kill almost any other group out there – “Kind Words From The Broken Hearted”?  “Get Yr Hand Out Of My Grave”?  Killer tracks that I’d put up against damn near anything.  “There is no future, there is just one long past” they sing on the latter.  It sums up so much with such brevity – the mark of a true lyricist.)  “Be Safe” – one of my personal favorite tracks of the past decade – makes a welcome appearance, with video of Lee Ronaldo projected onto the bricks at the back of the stage, reciting his part.

Gary is a bit under the weather, so he’s taking it a little easy tonight, but Ryan’s in full swing, having downed a good bit of Jack Daniels (that classic American sour mash) before the show, and at one point, while he’s changing guitars – he’s between a Squire Venus and a Mustang with a humbucker in the bridge – he’s fumbling with the switch and Gary, lovingly, helps untwist his brother’s guitar strap.  It’s a touching little moment, actually.  I’m not sure they’ll be happy I’m publishing the moment, but it moved me.  The affection these three brothers obviously have for one another and the care they take of each other is something special; and it’s one of the things that makes the Cribs so compelling and utterly unique.

There is no encore.  The end of the set – shambles, feedback, atonality, guitars bouncing into amps, finally resting on top of them, the Cribs walk off stage and walk out the door onto Belmont.

I stick around.  After the interview Gary had joked about going karaoke-ing again and making the always-poor decision to give Queen a go (so he says), but Ryan had wanted to continue a Chicago tradition of going to a certain dive in Wicker Park.  A couple girls and a guy friend from the state northward are lollygagging about, and I get invited to hang with them.  Eventually, plans are made.  I suggest we take a trip to Longman & Eagle in Logan Square while the boys are hanging out downstairs and checking into the hotel.  So after a quick nip there, we head south to Wicker Park.  After 2am, we slip across the way to a 4am bar.  Ryan and Ross are drinking Jack & Cokes; Gary’s stayed at the hotel – he is feeling under the weather, after all.  But the two of them are so warm and welcoming, chatting with all in attendance, discussing music and life and happiness and the future – Ross has finally asked his high school sweetheart to marry him.  “After 10 years, it felt like the right thing to do,” he tells me.  It’s a wonderful, joyous, free-wheeling time.  Eventually the boys want to head back to the hotel; Sam, their tour manager, and the girls I met (their friend had since disappeared) come back to my house for a beer and Boulevardier, and we chat for a while.  Then we fold out the sofa-bed, Sam asks for directions for a taxi, and I go upstairs to pass out.

So, like I said: a marathon.  Start drinking at 1pm, finish around 5am.  A great day for a Cribs concert, and all the accoutrements that go with it.

25th Apr2012

Elgin Symphony Orchestra Recreates the Magical Music of Disney

by rockchicago


It was a night at the symphony yet again, but this time to see Magical Music of Disney. We I first got there, there were a lot of kids there. I wasn’t sure if this was meant to be a kids show or a family show. There was a person in a giant cello costume walking around, as well as teenagers, who worked for the theatre, dressed up as Belle from Beauty and the Beast and Esmerelda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, as well as 2 princes.

Where I was sitting, it was kind of hard to hear the orchestra, since it was under the balcony on the main floor, but I was still able to hear a lot of what was going on. One thing I really liked about the show, is they had a video screen right above the orchestra that was showing still and clips from the movies that they were playing from, which was pretty neat!

Before the orchestra started the show, conductor Stephen Squires introduced famed agricultural broadcaster and Huntley, Illinois resident Orion Samuelson. Mr. Samuelson has been heard on WGN Radio since the 1960s and is the only broadcaster in the nation to receive two Oscars in Agriculture – one each for radio and television. Mr. Samuelson was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame in 2003.

The show started off with a Disney medley from classic movies from yesteryear. But there were 2 main songs missing from that suite, which I was surprised they didn’t play; “When You Wish Upon A Star” and “A Dream is A Wish Your Heart Makes.” They then went right into a suite from the movie Tarzan. Again, they played a beautiful suite, but left out a key song from the movie, “You’ll Be in My Heart,” written by Phil Collins.

Orion came out and introduced the next film, The Little Mermaid. All the kids seemed to love that suite. As they moved on, they continued into Hercules, playing a gospel medley from the film. Wasn’t the biggest fan of that one. Next was a Mary Poppins medley, which was very delightful. The kids seemed to love it. They then closed out the first half of the concert with a beautiful suite from the film Beauty and the Beast. I have to say that was my favorite song by the orchestra all night.

For the next set, the orchestra started off with a suite from the film Aladdin, which was the second best of the night in my opinion. Some other great selections they did were from Mulan and The Lion King. They encored with a suite from The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Overall, it was a very nice evening of Disney music. I only wish the orchestra would have incorporated more of the well-known songs from these movies.

Reviewed by Kevin Pollack on 4/21/12



25th Apr2012

American English Rocks Viper Alley

by rockchicago


Friday the 13th was a lucky, not unlucky night at Viper Alley, where American English brought the fans all the way through Beatles music history.  Playing nearly three hours of Beatle greats, American English set the fans singing from the start and all the way till the last song.   During each set American English gave you a glimpse of what it was like to see Beatles live, something many of you never did and never will see.  To me the show seemed to capture this feeling quite convincingly, while playing the instruments of the Beatles for each era.

American English came out in suits representing the early years of the Beatles, and started their opening song, Twist and Shout, which inspired singing and dancing from the crowd.  At the conclusion of the song they all bowed in unison as the Beatles did in the early years.  As they went through the first set after every song they also all bowed together.  Can’t Buy Me Love and Eight Days A Week were a couple of songs from this era.

Second set was transformed to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, wearing outfits very close to the original outfits the Beatles wore.   Paul played a painted Rickenbacker and George also played a painted Stratocaster.  Bringing us through the Sgt. Peppers, Yellow Submarine and Magical Mystery Tour albums played songs I Am the Walrus, Hello Goodbye, and Penny Lane which are three of my favorites.

Third set, which lasted until almost 1am, John was in a white suit, George in jeans and Paul back with his Hofner Beatle Bass, American English played songs out the Abbey Road, The White Album, and Let It Be, later era of the Beatles.  George captured perfectly While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Ringo making his mark singing Octopus’ Garden, and John mastering All You Need Is Love.

I am sure the rest of the crowd would agree we all did not want it to end, even though it went till almost 1am.  American English are not only a great bunch of guys, friendly and willing to interact with the fans, they are fantastic musicians.  I am sure anyone who is in the least a little Beatles fan would not want to miss the show.

Reviewed by Lee Bishop on 4/13/12