Stephanie Mills has one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music, an ultra-soulful songstress whose onstage energy and power inspires standing ovations wherever she performs. She is a legendary Grammy and America Music Award winning recording artist with five bestselling albums and ten Billboard #1 singles.
Over the span of 35 years illustrious career, Stephanie Mills has distinguished herself as an actress and performer who is a at home on the Broadway stage as she is in the recording studio. Hit records such as “I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love,” “Home” and “Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin have become enduring classics. Stephanie ‘s critically acclaimed appearances in shows like the four-time Tony Award -winning “The Wiz” and “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God have assured her of a consistently loyal following among fans, industry insiders and critics alike. The loyalty that she has inspired in achievements Stephanie’s journey as an enduring performer began like that of so many of her contemporaries; singing gospel in church in her native Brooklyn.
Her voice abilities became evident early on and by the age of nine, she was mesmerizing crowds in her first Broadway musical “Maggie Flynn,” sharing the stage with co-stars Shirley Jones and the late Jack Cassidy. Other early credits included appearances in such pop culture classic, shows like “Captain Kangaroo,” “Wonderama,” “The Electric Company” and “String” (presented by the Negro Ensemble Company in New York City). For six consecutive weeks, an eleven year old Stephanie won the famous Amateur Night at the renowned Apollo Theater and a first recording, “I Knew It Was Love” landed her the much coveted role of Dorothy in the Broadway musical “The Wiz” at the age of fifteen for 5 years, Stephanie Mills wowed packed houses with her amazing vocal gift and after making albums for ABC and Motown, She signed with 20th Century Recording in 1979.
Working with producers James Mtume & Reggie Lucas, Stephanie recorded “Whatcha Gonna Do With My Lovin” and by 1984, she had climbed the charts with major hits: “Sweet Sensation,” “Never Knew Love Like This Before” (a gold single), “Two Hearts” (a duet with Teddy Pendergrass), “Keep Away Girls,” “How Come U Don’t Call Me Anymore?” and “The Medicine Song.” Stephanie scored three best-selling albums in a row with “Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin”, “Sweet Sensation” and “Stephanie” in the span of just 2 years. The 80s were a golden period for the petite vocalist: signed to MCA Records, Stephanie was responsible for a string of hit singles and albums. “I Have Learn To Respect The Power Of Love” (1986), I Feel Good All Over” and “You Puttin A Rush On me” (both from 1987), “Something In The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Home” (both 1990 recordings) all topped the R&B charts. The 1987 album “If I Were Your Woman” was No. 1 on the R&B Albums chart and was a Top 30 pop best-seller; while the 1989 album “Home” was also a Top 5 R&B and Top 100 charted LP.
Returning to the stage Stephanie toured the country in the early 90s with “The Wiz” and during the past decade, she has appeared in a number of highly-acclaimed roles in shows as “Your Arms Too Short To Box With God (starring with Teddy Pendergrass), “Children of Eden,” “Black Nativity.” The recipient of NAACP Image Awards, Stephanie‘s multifaceted career has also included recurring roles in popular television soap operas” Search for Tomorrow” and “One Life to Live.” In 1994, Stephanie returned to her gospel roots with “Personal Inspirations,” an album that won praise with both gospel and secular audiences, netting her “Stellar Award” and “Dove Award” nominations. Stephanie marked a return to recording in 1999 with the dance music cut “Latin Lover,” produced by Masters At Work ion 2000; she did a duet with BeBe Winans for his Motown album “Love and Freedom.” Stephanie’s music has frequently been sampled during the last few years and in 2001, she was a special guest on rapper DMX’s “The Great Depression” album, reprising the vocals from her first 1979 hit “Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin.” for the track “When I’m nothing.” Following a dazzling performance at comedian Sinbad’s Soul Festival in Aruba, Stephanie began touring again in 2001 and has been wowing audiences on shows with artist like The O’Jays, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers, Carl Thomas and at festivals that have included Mary J. Blige, India Arie, Alicia Keys, Babyface and Smokey Robinson.
She says, “It’s been wonderful being back onstage and singing songs from all parts of my career. So many people have asked me when I would have a new record out and I would just say soon. I was surprised because, so many ties, people forget about you if you don’t have a new release! But then after the birth of my son Farad, I felt revitalized. I felt like singing and performing again. I think I’m more creative musically and when I do a lot of my material now, I can relate to it more than ever. The experience in life make you sing differently,” And she adds, “One of the results of having my child has been that it’s definitely made my vice stronger. I can sing higher and hold notes longer.” Look for Stephanie Mills to make another mark in her wonderful career as fans begin to discover the creative energy and soulful singing that is a mainstay of her voice and more so than ever on Breathless!
For well close to five decades, Tower of Power has delivered the best in Rhythm and Blues music. But, as group co-founder Emilio Castillo says, they could have had a much different name.
“We were a Soul band called The Motowns.” he recalls. Rocco Prestia was the bass player, I was in there, and my brother was the drummer. I met Doc Kupka at the Alameda County Fair over the Fourth of July weekend back in 1968, and gave him an audition. He came in the band, and we eventually changed our name to the Tower of Power.” The reason for the band name change was that they had a specific goal in mind.
“We wanted to get into the Fillmore Auditorium and with a name like the Motowns, dressed in suits with razor cuts, we knew we’d never get in there. We grew our hair long, and started to be hippies, and changed our name. Doc then suggested to me that we should start writing our own songs. Our first song was ‘You’re Still A Young Man.”
The gig at the Fillmore was a major goal for the band, which incidentally came along at just the right time. “At the time, we had been playing nightclubs, and we had gotten busted for being underage. We had been playing underage in nightclubs for years. That’s all we knew. One night, the ABC came in, and caught the trumpet player drinking a screwdriver, and the next thing we knew, they put a notice out to all the clubs in the Bay Area that if they hired us again, they would lose their liquor license. We found ourselves with no work and no money. My parents had moved to Detroit and I was on my own for the first time. I was broke and hungry, and all I did was rehearse. We wrote the songs for the East Bay Grease record, and we practiced them every day. By the time November came around, we were at the end of our rope. I told the guys that I was going to Detroit for the holidays to see my parents, and if nothing happened with this audition, I wasn’t coming back.”
Fortunately, he did have to make a return trip to the Bay Area. “A couple of days later, Doc called me, and said ‘You’ve gotta come back. He dug it.” I said ‘Who dug it?” He said ‘Bill Graham.’ As it turned out, Bill and David Rubinson – the producer for his new label, San Francisco Records – liked the band because we were soulful. Everyone had grown out of the whole psychedelic thing. Bands like Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead had been happening for about three years. The collective ear of the Bay Area was ready for something soulful. That’s right when we came along.”
Their first record, East Bay Grease, helped to define the East Bay sound, and did well enough to warrant a recording contract with Warner Brothers. Bump City, their 1972 debut for the label, was a hit on both the Billboard 200 and the chart’s R&B Albums chart, and netted them the hits “You’re Still A Young Man” and “Down To The Nightclub.” The decade of the 1970s were a boom period for the group, who hit with radio classics like “So Very Hard To Go” and “What Is Hip?” and the band has continued to tour and record over the years with their latest project Hipper Than Hip being a live flash back to their 1974 tour. Castillo says their love of the stage is the same today as it was back in 1968.
“I still love it as much as ever. We’re not a smooth jazz band, or a retro band…we don’t follow trends, we just make our music exactly the way we want it to be. We noticed years ago that when we did that, the fans liked it. We stay true to that, and that makes it easy to go to work on a daily basis. Every time we go to play, we’re playing music we love because we got to make it our way” The thrill of stepping on stage has never gone away, because as Castillo says, he loves the attention. “Let’s face it. Musicians are some of the most self-centered people in the world. So, that never gets old. People ask what it feels like to hear your song on the radio. It never gets old. What’s it like to see yourself on TV? Again, it never gets old.”
In 2014, Tower of Power will be on the road – a lot – as a result of their tour with Journey and the Steve Miller Band. He credits their involvement to an old friend, Journey guitarist Neal Schon. “We’ve known him for years, back to when he was hired to play in Carlos Santana’s band as an extra guitarist. When we were new, Carlos really dug the band, and he used to take us on tour – even when people around the nation didn’t know us. Some of those nights, we were playing at a high level, and gave him a good run for his money. He liked that. He liked being challenged. It made him play better. At the time, Neil was in the band, and we’ve known him ever since then. About a year or two ago, he noticed our presence was becoming a little more known on the Internet and TV. He came to a few gigs, and the next thing we know, we get this offer to tour,” he says with a smile.
Fans that come out to see Tower of Power this year will get a look at their brand new lead singer, Ray Greene. Castillo says he’s a perfect fit. “It’s phenomenal. Most bands lose their singer, and it’s over. But, we’ve changed singers and other players so many times, the fans actually get excited about who’s next.” he said, as the band has had over forty members throughout their history. “I worked on finding a new singer for about a year, and prayed about it a lot. I found out about Ray, and he’s amazing. All the guys come on stage, and we just think ‘Wow. God has really blessed us.’ He’s doing a great job, and has a great personality. One of the things you learn when you’ve been in the business as long as I have is to hire good people with principles because you’re going to spend as much as twenty hours a day with these guys. Ray’s got everything – he looks great, he sings great, he’s a good person. We’re just really blessed to have him.”
With a new member comes a new attitude, and Emilio says it’s contagious. “Everybody in the band is saying ‘Wow, what is happening?’ You get to an age where we’re at and things can start to run down but it seems like for us that things are really kicking into high gear.”
And, that’s the way Tower of Power likes it!
Stokley needs no introduction. The GRAMMY-nominated vocalist, songwriter, producer, and multi-instrumentalist is known best as the lead singer and drummer for legendary R&B group Mint Condition. As such, he has crisscrossed the globe, touring with luminaries like Prince, Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, and Alicia Keys.
The world knows Stokley’s enduring collaborations. His 2011 effort with Kelly Price, “Not My Daddy,” earned a GRAMMY nomination. The TV performances alongside Jimmy Fallon and Conan O’Brien and awards shows such as BET Honors and the AMAs. His film scores and catalogue of studio work, a veritable who’s who: Mariah Carey, Usher, Mary J. Blige, and Jill Scott.
Having embarked upon one of instrumental music’s most dynamic and multi-faceted career, Richard Elliot’s sound has played a huge part in pioneering the genre and radio format that became today’s contemporary urban jazz.
Born in the Scottish highlands and transplanted to Los Angeles at the age of three, he primarily grooved to R&B and was smitten with the Motown sound. As a teenager, he was taken by the tenor sax and found himself capable of expressing his own musical voice through it.
His early career included touring with Natalie Cole and Yellowjackets and recording sessions with Motown soul heavyweights like Smokey Robinson and The Temptations.
While touring with Tower of Power, he released his debut solo album Trolltown and the success of that album encouraged him to go solo. His subsequent career has been nothing short of phenomenal.
His numerous #1 albums include On The Town, Soul Embrace, After Dark and Jumpin’ Off and he has held a consistent presence at the top of the Billboard and NAC charts. Elliot has also enjoyed the distinction of having two releases chart simultaneously; Chill Factor remained on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart for over 94 weeks, 26 weeks simultaneously with the greatest-hits collection, The Best of Richard Elliot.
His most recent recording, Summer Madness, inspired Richard to want to tour with a three-piece horn section and a supporting cast of musicians. He reached out to his long-time collaborator, Rick Braun, and guitarist Norman Brown to join him in creating West Coast Jam, a wall of sound that will be funky and rocking.
Nearly twenty years into his solo career, Rick Braun’s done just about everything, from backing the likes of Rod Stewart and Sade to stepping out into the spotlight as a vocalist and a master of the trumpet and flugelhorn.
The Allentown, Pennsylvania-born Braun began playing music in elementary school, ultimately winding up at the prestigious Eastman School of Music. There he hooked up with like-minded musicians to form a jazz-fusion combo, Auracle.
Braun’s first big break came when he composed “Here With Me,” a Top 20 hit for REO Speedwagon. He soon became a highly regarded pop sideman, touring and recording with the likes of Rod Stewart, War, Sade, Tina Turner, Natalie Cole, and Tom Petty.
The trumpeter became a NAC fixture with his debut, Intimate Secrets. His records have ranked in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart with Kisses in the Rain reigning at #1 for 11 weeks and his singles have held the #1 position on the R&R NAC/Smooth Jazz album charts.
The recipient of numerous National Contemporary Jazz Awards, he shared a Best Collaboration award with Boney James for their hit Shake It Up. He also teamed up with Richard Elliot in RnR and their duet project hit #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart. A much-in-demand producer, he has delivered #1 radio hits with artists including David Benoit, Marc Antoine and Jeff Golub.
Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and raised in Kansas City, Kansas, GRAMMY® Award winner Norman Brown first picked up a guitar at the age of eight. Inspired by Jimi Hendrix’s mind-bending rock sounds, Brown soon discovered his father’s favorite artist, Wes Montgomery, and found his stylistic holy grail. After high school, Brown moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical career, attending the Musicians Institute where he also taught for a time. While playing with his own group in local clubs, and drawing comparisons to George Benson, Brown was discovered and signed to the MoJazz label, a division of Motown. He delivered his 1992 debut, Just Between Us, and followed with the gold-certified After The Storm and 1996’s Better Days Ahead.
With critical acclaim and sales behind him, the talented musician made the leap to Warner Bros. and released Celebration, which first teamed him with producer Paul Brown. The 2003 followup, Just Chillin’, earned Brown much-deserved recognition with a GRAMMY® Award in the best pop instrumental category. That project was followed by his 2005 release West Coast Coolin’, where Brown tested out his skills as a vocalist, a move that was welcomed by the urban AC radio market. In addition, his 2005 compilation The Very Best Of Norman Brown was one of the best-selling smooth jazz albums of that year.
Brown made the leap to the Peak Records label, a division of Concord Music Group, in 2007 for his smash CD Stay With Me, which yielded the R&B vocal hit “Stay With Me” and the smooth instrumental favorites “Let’s Take A Ride” and “Pop’s Cool Groove.” The guitarist kept the good vibes going on his long-awaited June 2010 release, Sending My Love.
In addition to success as a musician and producer, Brown launched a successful career as a broadcaster. In January of 2007, he brought his engaging personality to Broadcast Architecture’s Smooth Jazz Network as an on-air personality, hosting this own weekend radio show.
“I wanted to make an album of great American roots music, and the end result is something that I’m really pleased with.” Kenny Wayne Shepherd says of the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band’s hard-hitting new release Lay It On Down. “I wanted to play to our strengths, but I also wanted to make an album full of music that people haven’t heard from us before. I’m pulling from a lot of different periods and genres on this one. I wanted to strike a balance between the heavy emotional stuff and the stuff that will put a smile on your face. A new album should feel new and refreshing, and this one definitely feels that way to me.”
More than two decades into a recording career that began when he was 16, Kenny Wayne Shepherd has built a powerful reputation as a visionary recording artist, a riveting live performer and one of the most talented and distinctive guitarists of his generation. He’s also earned his stature as one of the contemporary blues world’s leading lights, standing at the forefront of a widespread revival of interest in the blues.
Lay It On Down’s ten original songs explore some vital new creative territory while embodying the same raw, rootsy musicality that’s been a common thread in the nine acclaimed albums that Shepherd’s released since he first emerged as a teenaged guitar wunderkind nearly a quarter-century ago. “I wanted to touch on all of the different musical influences that I’ve had over the years,” Shepherd says. “With solid grooves, strong lyrics, good stories and a lot of different sonic textures.”
Shepherd’s deeply expressive songwriting and fiery, forceful playing are in abundant supply throughout the album. Such tunes as the insistently catchy, R&B-inflected “Diamonds & Gold,” the raucous rocker “Baby Got Gone,” the stately country ballad “Hard Lesson Learned,” the slyly humorous “She’s $$$” and the sensitive, bittersweet title track find Shepherd and band—longtime vocalist Noah Hunt, drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton (renowned for his prior work with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Double Trouble), veteran bassist Kevin McCormick and keyboardist Jimmy McGorman—delivering a memorable mix of smart songcraft and blues-steeped instrumental intensity.
Shepherd wrote all of Lay It On Down‘s songs, with a variety of co-writers, including longtime collaborators Mark Selby and Tia Sillers, and noted tunesmiths Dylan Altman, Brian Maher, Danny Myrick and Keith Stegall.
“For about two years, I’d make trips to Nashville every chance I got to write songs with different people,” Shepherd explains. “When you’re writing with someone else, it’s inevitable that they bring something different to the table, something that I might not have thought of myself. So in an effort to grow as an artist and as a musician, I wanted to write with some different people and see what would come of that. It was kind of a roll of the dice, but it worked out really well, and we got a good mixture of songs from these different collaborations.”
Lay It On Down is the second consecutive album that Shepherd’s recorded in his hometown of Shreveport, Louisiana. There, he, his band and co-producer Marshall Altman, along with various guest players providing horns and pedal steel guitar, cut the tracks with an eye towards looseness and spontaneity.
“There were no rehearsals or anything, we just went into the studio and set up and ran the songs down,” says Shepherd. “We all played together in the same room, recorded to two-inch tape and did as few overdubs as possible, just trying to keep it as organic as we could. The stuff that we do is very instinct-oriented and feel-oriented, and it’s about capturing moments that happen between people, and you can only get that by actually playing together and letting the creative process flow.”
Recording in Shreveport, according to Shepherd, was a positive influence. “(2014’s) Goin’ Home was the first record I had ever recorded in my home town, and I just enjoyed it so much,” he says. “There was something special about making music in the place where I first discovered music, and where I learned how to play guitar. Also, it’s nice waking up and seeing my kids’ faces in the morning, then going to make some music, and then coming back to my own bed instead of a hotel room.”
The deeply-ingrained musical passion that powers Lay It On Down has driven Kenny Wayne Shepherd ever since he taught himself to play guitar at the age of seven, learning classic blues tunes by meticulously studying his dad’s record collection. Since then, his albums have sold millions of copies worldwide and received five Grammy® nominations and two Billboard Music Awards, as well as a pair of Orville H. Gibson awards, the Blues Foundation’s Keeping The Blues Alive award and two Blues Music awards. He’s also scored six #1 blues albums and a string of #1 mainstream rock singles.
Shepherd was just 16 when he burst onto the national scene with the release of his 1995 debut album Ledbetter Heights. His relentless touring and success on rock radio helped to drive the album to Platinum sales status. His 1998 sophomore effort Trouble Is… also went Platinum and gained a similar level of radio airplay.
1999’s Live On and 2004’s The Place You’re In were similarly successful, and were followed by 2007’s ambitious CD/documentary project 10 Days Out: Blues from the Backroads, for which Shepherd and his band traveled throughout the American South to record with such blues icons as B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins and David “Honeyboy” Edwards.
2010 saw the release of Shepherd’s long-awaited first live album, Live! In Chicago, recorded at Chicago’s House of Blues during the all-star Legends tour. The live disc debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Blues chart, as did 2011’s How I Go. Shepherd then delivered one of his most personal projects to date with 2014’s Goin’ Home, on which he revisited a dozen of the vintage blues classics that originally inspired him to pick up the guitar, with help from an all-star assortment of friends and idols.
In 2013, Shepherd became one-third of blues-rock supergroup The Rides, with legendary veterans Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg. The Rides continues to tour extensively, and have released two acclaimed albums, Can’t Get Enough and Pierced Arrow, that further illuminate Shepherd’s depth and versatility.
“I think I’ve matured a lot in the time since I started recording,” Shepherd concludes. “I’ve learned a lot about subtlety, and I’ve learned to lay back a little bit. I still like to burn and I still like to get down, but I’ve also grown to understand the value of space, and the value of allowing songs to breathe. I don’t feel the need to prove to everybody how fast I can play or how many notes I know. With whatever I’m playing, my goal now is just to try and touch the listener inside. Music is a powerful thing, and it’s important to me to do something positive with it.”
Beth Hart is on fire. Right now, the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter is riding a creative tidal wave, firing out acclaimed albums, hooking up with the biggest names in music and rocking the house each night with that celebrated burnt-honey voice. In 2016, the headline news is Beth’s latest album, Fire On The Floor, a release that even this fiercely self-critical artist describes as “pretty frickin’ good.” But let’s not forget the backstory that brought her here…
The Blues Magazine once dubbed Beth Hart “the ultimate female rock star”, and there’s no doubt that her two-decade career is the ultimate thrill-ride. Born in Los Angeles, she released a fistful of hit albums through the ’90s, then reignited in the post-millennium as both a solo artist and the head-turning vocalist for guitar heroes like Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Slash. “Extraordinary,” wrote The Times of her once-a-generation voice box, while The Guardian praised her “daring, brooding and angry” performances.
But it’s in recent times that Beth has truly blossomed. In April 2015, she released Better Than Home, a critical and commercial smash that topped the iTunes Blues Chart and was crowned #4 Best Blues Album Of The Year by Mojo magazine. The release also reached #1 in the Dutch charts and helped Beth to fill Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall with 5,500 fans (her largest club show to date). “Oh, that was so good, man,” she reflects. “I love Holland. They’ve been really good to me.”
The US market has embraced her, too, with Beth packing ever-larger venues in major cities on the Better Than Home tour – including Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium – and receiving a nomination from the American Blues Foundation in the category of Contemporary Blues Female Artist. “It’s unbelievable,” she admits. “This last tour, we were playing much bigger houses than I’d ever played in the States – and they were sold-out.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Beth’s rocketing UK profile has never been higher. Recent years have seen auspicious headline sets at the Royal Albert Hall and the Barbican (not to mention the historic Hampton Court Palace with Joe Bonamassa), and in December 2015, she chalked up another first with a spot on Jools Holland’s legendary annual Hootenanny.
Bringing in the New Year with a soulful take on Tell Her You Belong To Me and Nutbush City Limits alongside long-time collaborator Jeff Beck, it spoke volumes that the pair’s performance rapidly became the Hootenanny’s most-watched clip on the BBC’s official YouTube channel (even overtaking heavyweights like Tom Jones and Paul Weller). “Every time Jeff performs, he just kills it,” gushes Beth, who also joins the veteran guitarist for her first-ever appearance at the Hollywood Bowl this year. “To me, he’s the greatest ever.”
Just as memorable, also last December, was Beth’s first solo gig at London’s Union Chapel (subsequently voted by fans as the venue’s gig of the year). “It was the most terrifying experience of my entire life,” she admits. “I got up there and I was so frickin’ scared. But then, halfway through the show, I just started to enjoy it. By the end, I felt so connected to the audience, and I really felt like they did that show with me. It was like we were all the band.”
A highlight of that Union Chapel show was a heartfelt rendition of Mama This One’s For You (included on Better Than Home as a bonus track). The audience’s reaction lit a lightbulb, and in early 2016, the singer announced a contest inviting fans to submit footage of themselves with their mothers, for inclusion in a special Mama video released for Mother’s Day. “I cried when I saw the edited version for the first time,” Beth recalls. “I love my own mom more than anything in the world, and I found it so touching and beautiful.”
Beth’s passion for collaboration also continues apace in 2016. On the heels of 2011’s Don’t Explain and 2013’s Grammy-nominated Seesaw, there’ll be another studio hook-up between the singer and blues titan Joe Bonamassa, with sessions set for August. “I’m really interested in us doing stuff from the ’40s and ’50s,” she reveals. “Rock ‘n’ roll, torch songs and jazz songs…”
For now, though, Beth’s focus is Fire On The Floor: a new studio album sure to build on her breakneck momentum. As the singer explains, this latest record gave her an emotional release following the bitter-sweet sessions for Better Than Home. If there’s a theme that ties these twelve songs together, it’s a sense of escapism following the hardest of times. “We were still in the mixing stages for that album and I knew I had to make another record. Making Better Than Home was so painful, because one of the producers, Michael Stevens, was dying of cancer. It was a very emotional record to write and to make. I wanted the songs for Fire On The Floor to get born real quick.”
Beth’s first call was to the acclaimed producer Oliver Leiber, who called a session at his home studio in Toluca Lake and drafted a crack studio band that included Michael Landau (guitar), Waddy Wachtel (guitar), Brian Allen (bass), Rick Marotta (drums), Jim Cox (piano), Dean Parks (acoustic guitar) and Ivan Neville (B3 and organ). “Oliver rounded up some amazing musicians,” nods Beth. “Michael Landau and Waddy Wachtel are legends, so when I found out we had them, I just couldn’t believe it. If you don’t have great musicians, you’re not gonna have a very good record, are you?
“We recorded sixteen songs in three days,” continues Beth of the quick fire LA sessions, “but then we spent a long time mixing. Oliver is a brutally hard-working person, but he’s also incredibly sensitive and that combination works so great. He’s strong and focused, but still so vulnerable, and his heart is wide open. I’m so proud of what he did on this record.”
Take a spin of Fire On The Floor and you’ll see exactly why. These twelve new songs run the gamut of genre, reflecting Beth’s eclectic teenage influences, which took in everything from gospel, soul and classical to the seismic rock of Soundgarden. “As a writer,” she nods, “I feel really stifled if I’m trying to write in the same style. I just can’t do that. Growing up as a kid, I was raised all over the place stylistically, loving so many different genres.”
As such, you’ll find everything from the spring-heeled soul of Let’s Get Together to the brittle rock of Fat Man. “I love that song,” she says of the latter. “That’s actually a co-write with a wonderful songwriter named Glen Burtnik, who I started writing with when I was about 24. We wrote that seven years ago – just a basic skeleton – but then I got super-inspired and wrote out the lyric. It feels good to sing it. That’s what’s so great about rock ‘n’ roll. It’s just such a fantastic way to let out your angst.”
Likewise, the title track: “I love Fire On The Floor. It’s just smoldering. I think it’s gonna be a fantastic piece to perform live. It’s filled with passion. It’s about when someone you know is so bad for you, but you can’t help it. Then there’s No Place Like Home. I love that song. It’s about how, like, you spend a lot of time on the road, and you start to realize all the great things about being home. Kinda the opposite to the song Better Than Home.”
Other upbeat highlights include the salsa-tinged Baby Shot Me Down and the jazz-inflected Coca Cola, with a vocal that reminds you why Beth was recently voted as the 20th best blues singer of all-time in The Blues. “Vocally, that one takes me back to a Billie Holiday kinda singing,” she reflects. “I love that kind of vibe, like a light, fun sexiness.”
By contrast, there are some songs that Beth had to wrench from the emotional depths. “Picture In A Frame is a big one for me,” she says. “When I started writing it, I was thinking about being in love with my husband. But when I was done, I could see that I really connected it with Michael Stevens, and it was my way of saying to him, y’know, ‘I just want you to be better’.”
Despite all the emotionally bare moments, for Beth, this record represents a catharsis. “I think Better Than Home is one of the best records I’ve ever done,” she says, “but it was a brutal experience. Fire On The Floor has more energy and I think, overall, it’s just got more balls. And I think I really needed that, just to balance out that heavier mood on Better Than Home.”
Fire On The Floor is the album that Beth Hart needed to make. Likewise, it’s a record that you need to hear. “I’m so pleased with it,” she concludes. “I recently had to organize the sequence of the record, and while I was doing that, I was thinking to myself, ‘Y’know, this is pretty frickin’ good…!’”
Ultimate soul crooner and Oakland native, Lenny Williams, possesses one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music. With his rich, passionate vocal style, he is rightfully regarded as one of R&B’s most influential soul men.
Williams began his musical career making records that have become R&B and Pop classics (e.g. “Cause I Love You” (recorded on his solo album) and “So Very Hard To Go”, which he recorded as the lead singer of Tower of Power). Lenny Williams’ style has transcended into the new millennium, influencing many of today’s most popular R&B and Hip Hop artists.
Lenny sounds better than ever as he continues to keep the focus on love. “Love is what has gotten me through all of these years. I look for love and I surround myself with it”, Lenny says. When it comes to singing love songs, one must “go there to know there” and Lenny never left. He is able to take the listener to the heart of love with such soulful aplomb because love will never go out of style and no one does it better.
Born in Little Rock, Arkansas, Lenny moved to Oakland at a very young age. Learning to play the trumpet in elementary school fueled his interest in music. Lenny’s skills as a vocalist were first nurtured by singing in gospel choirs and groups around the Bay Area, where he was in good company working alongside up and coming artist Sly Stone, Andre Crouch, Billy Preston and members of the Hawkins family – Edwin, Walter and Tramaine.
After winning several local talent contests, Williams signed his first record deal with Fantasy Records. He recorded two singles for the label, including “Lisa’s Gone” [now regarded as an R&B classic among British soul music lovers] and “Feelin Blue”, written by John Fogerty of Credence Clearwater Revival. Lenny then spent a brief time with Atlantic Records before deciding to put his solo career on hold when he joined the emerging funk band Tower of Power in 1972. A string of hits ensued, including “So Very Hard To Go” and “Don’t Change Horses (In the Middle of the Stream)”[written by Lenny Williams and Johnny “Guitar” Watson]. During his two years with the group, Lenny participated in three milestone albums with them – [the gold LP] Tower Of Power, Back To Oakland, and Urban Renewal, while touring nonstop throughout the United States, Europe and Asia.
At the end of 1975, Lenny returned to his solo projects. Initially signing with Motown in 1972, he later moved to ABC Records in 1977 (which was then purchased by MCA Records in 1979). Over the next four years, Lenny scored ten charted hits, including “Shoo Doo Fu Fu Ooh”, “Choosing You”, “You Got Me Running”, “Love Hurt Me Love Healed Me”and “Midnight Girl”. Lenny recorded four more albums from 1977 – 1980, Choosing You (his first gold LP), Spark of Love, Love Current and Let’s Do It Today. These albums established a solid and loyal following for Lenny. The impact of his music can still be felt today, particularly the mega hit “Cause I Love You” [Spark of Love]. This song crosses generational boundaries and has frequently been used on old school and slow jam compilations throughout the years.
In 1986, Lenny was invited to sing vocals on “Don’t Make Me Wait For Love”, a song from superstar sax man Kenny G’s multi-platinum selling album Duo Tones. When released as a single in 1987, the song became a Top 20 Pop and R&B hit.
Over the past few years, Lenny has continued his solo career, touring the U.S., Europe and South Africa. In 2004 and 2005, Lenny and Kanye West were honored recipients of the BMI Songwriter’s Award for the song “Over Night Celebrity”, recorded by rapper Twista. He has recently shared stages with Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, K-Jon, Anthony Hamilton, The Whispers, Rick James, Boney James, Bobby Womack, The Ohio Players, Al Green, Usher and Frankie Beverly & Maze. Lenny has also expanded his multi-dimensional career to include acting, starring in several popular stage plays. As an icon of the past and present, Lenny Williams continues to expand his musical prowess and flex his newfound acting skills. He’ll surely continue to wow his fans in the United States and beyond for decades to come.
“I’m going to continue to evolve and grow as I learn and experiment lyrically and musically. I’ve been doing this for a long time now and I’ve been watching all of the changes going on in the music business. I have my own label now (LenTom Entertainment). Let me do my thing”, Lenny says. Yes, indeed, music lovers everywhere want him to do those things of which he is the musical master. Like a flowering perennial, prolific soul man Lenny Williams is always prepared for the spotlight in which he belongs.
A dynamic lead bass player from Kansas City, bassist Julian Vaughn is rapidly becoming a major player in the contemporary jazz genre. Vaughn has made a name for himself as bassist in the smooth jazz genre which is dominated by saxophone players. Although the bass is often associated with funk, Vaughn likes to play with more of a finesse style as well as some funk.
Vaughn grew up in the church where his grandfather pastored until turning over the reins to Vaughn’s father. Like other kids at the church, he began his music career playing the drums, but says, “Trying to play the drums at church was like ten football players going after a fumble. Everyone wanted to play.” Years went by and the fight over the drums got old. At 15 Vaughn decided to try a different instrument. He picked up a bass guitar that another man in his church was playing and immediately fell in love. This was truly love at first sight. Vaughn taught himself how to play and soon realized he had the ability to play by ear. He soon discovered how to play songs and special techniques. When Vaughn was 19 his grandfather bought him a 6-string bass guitar. It was black with gold trim. He discovered the art of bass soloing and knew at that point it was more than just a hobby but was his life’s passion. “My friends use to get on me because I would stop playing the bass line and start soloing,” he remembers.
Julian Vaughn has toured all over the U.S. playing at some of the largest jazz festivals and abroad in places like Dubai, Nairobi, Italy, and Germany. As an artist, he debut on the scene in 2010 with his CD titled “The Purpose Project” an album that would later pave the way to his 2012 album “Breakthrough”. Vaughn has had 2 number ones on the Bilboards. His hit single “On Your Feet” made head waves as the #1 most added out of the box on the Jazz Billboards Chart and stayed there for 3 weeks along with the single “Ride Along” which debut at number 1 from his CD titled “Limitless” in 2015. His current single which is the title cut “Bona Fide” has already cracked the top 10 on the jazz billboard chart and still climbing. “Bona Fide” which is due out June 30th will be Vaughn’s 4th album and is expected to be some of his best work to date. Vaughn takes pride in being able to write and produce most of his music. “I want to be known as a great writer and producer just as much as I am an artist”. Vaughn wants to continue to redefine the lead bassist role in the smooth jazz genre.
The night before Con Brio headed into the studio to record their first full-length album, 23-year-old Ziek McCarter had a dream. In it, the singer received a visit from his father, an Army veteran who died at the hands of East Texas police in 2011. His father delivered an invitation: Come with me to paradise.
McCarter woke up with a song in his bones. “It was one of the most spiritual moments of my life,” he recalls. It was up to him, he knew, to rise above injustice, and to perform in a way that lifted up those around him as well. To make Con Brio’s music a place of serenity, compassion — even euphoria — right here on earth.
Paradise, which saw the San Francisco band teaming with legendary producer Mario Caldato Jr. (Beastie Boys, Beck, Seu Jorge), is the result: a declaration of independence you can dance to; an assertion of what can happen when the human spirit is truly free.
Formed in 2013, Con Brio is the offspring of seven musicians with diverse backgrounds but a shared love for the vibrant Bay Area funk and psychedelic-soul sound pioneered by groups like Sly & the Family Stone.
By 2015, when the band self-produced their debut EP, Kiss the Sun, Con Brio had already become a West Coast institution on the strength of their magnetic live show, with McCarter’s swiveling hips, splits and backflips earning him frequent comparisons to a young Michael Jackson or James Brown.
After a busy 2015 spent touring the U.S. and Europe, playing alongside veterans Galactic and Fishbone, and racking up critical acclaim on proving grounds like Austin City Limits — where PopMatters declared Con Brio “the best new live band in America” — they headed home to parlay their momentum, chemistry and tight live sound into a full-length record.
In an era when much has been made of the “death of the album,” there’s no question that Paradise; released July 15th, is a fully-formed journey — a trip made all the more immersive by Caldato’s raw, live style of production. “We tried to create a narrative in the studio, in the same way that we segue between songs live,” explains McCarter of the record’s arc.
From the first primal wail of Benjamin Andrews’ electric guitar on the title track — Paradise is bookended by intro and outro versions — the album tells a story about modern life through its contradictions: “Liftoff” speaks of an urge to fly, to transcend the day-to-day with a starry, bird’s-eye view. “Hard Times” brings us crashing back to earth with the struggles of city life, inequality, and a fractured society desperate for healing. “Money” is a revolution, a rejection of societal pressure to equate success with a paycheck and abandon one’s dreams in the process.
“Free & Brave,” the band’s most overtly political anthem, is also arguably its most infectious. Over a driving R&B groove courtesy of veteran rhythm section Jonathan Kirchner and Andrew Laubacher (bass and drums), McCarter name-checks Trayvon Martin and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Clearly inspired by his own personal relationship with police brutality, the song is equal parts heartbreaking and hopeful.
“‘Free & Brave’ is in part a response to the Black Lives Matter movement, but it was also created to serve as a reminder — to myself and to whoever finds joy in that song — that there is a light there. We don’t have to get bogged down, we don’t have to feel helpless,” says McCarter. “We might not see it on a daily basis, but we are still ‘the land of the free and home of the brave’…I still take pride in that, in what pieces of joy and happiness we can create here with our actions.”
Of course, songs about love and passion remain Con Brio’s native tongue. (At a recent Australian festival in which the band shared a bill with D’Angelo, one journalist told McCarter his sex appeal had eclipsed that of his longtime idol. McCarter continues to have no comment.) So it’s a refreshing surprise that the strongest love song on Paradise, in fact, is “Honey,” a sweet, spacious and vulnerable tune that allows the band’s horn section, Brendan Liu and Marcus Stephens, to shine. Though the band’s built a reputation on sonic bravado, it’s choices like these — moments in which the music’s power flows from its subtlety — that truly highlight where Con Brio is going.
In the second half of 2016, Con Brio embarked on an ambitious international touring schedule, including stops at the lion’s share of major American music festivals (Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, Summerfest and San Francisco’s own Outside Lands); Fuji Rock, Japan’s largest annual music event; Montreal Jazz Fest, the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam, the Netherlands; London; Paris; with many more international dates to come throughout the year.
Which is not to say they’re intimidated. After performing most of these songs live throughout the past year, the team is running on adrenaline, and they’re thrilled to finally put this record in people’s hands. To bring old fans along for the journey, to help new fans lose themselves in a beat or a message. To spread music that, hopefully, shakes away the daily grind — and nurtures listeners’ dreams about what their version of paradise on earth might look like, even for the duration of a song.
Ziek McCarter already knows what his looks like, because Con Brio’s building it. And from where he’s sitting, they’re well past ready for liftoff.
“We don’t want to walk, we don’t want to drive,” he says with a laugh. “We want to fly. We want to levitate.”
Southern Avenue is a Memphis street that runs from the easternmost part of the city limits all the way to Soulsville, the original home of Stax Records. Southern Avenue is also the name of a fiery young Memphis quintet that embodies its home city’s soul, blues and gospel traditions, while adding a youthful spirit and dynamic energy all their own. “If Memphis is a genre, this is it!” proclaims American Blues Scene and Rock 103FM calls Southern Avenue – “The most talked about band in Memphis.”
Their self-titled debut album is a breath of fresh air with its own unique blend of gospel- tinged R&B vocals, roots/blues-based guitar work and soul-inspired songwriting. And Southern Avenue’s upcoming release on the fabled Stax label is a testament to the young combo’s talent and vision.
Southern Avenue features five young but seasoned musicians who came from diverse musical and personal backgrounds to create music that spans their wide-ranging musical interests, while showcasing the powerful chemistry that the group has honed through stage and studio experience. Southern Avenue encompasses Memphis-born, church-bred sisters Tierinii and Tikyra Jackson, respectively a soulful, charismatic singer and a subtle powerful drummer; guitarist Ori Naftaly, an Israeli-born blues disciple who first came to America as an acclaimed solo artist; versatile jazz-inspired bassist Daniel McKee; and the band’s newest addition, keyboardist Jeremy Powell, an early alumnus of Stax’s legendary music academy.
The band members’ diverse skills come together organically on Southern Avenue, scheduled for release on February 24, 2017 via Stax Records, a division of Concord Music Group. Produced by Kevin Houston (North Mississippi Allstars, Lucero, Patty Griffin), the 10-song album features guest appearances from Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars and trumpeter Marc Franklin of the Bo-Keys. But it’s Southern Avenue’s own potent musical chemistry that drives such sublimely soulful originals as “Don’t Give Up,” “What Did I Do,” “It’s Gonna Be Alright,” “Love Me Right” and “Wildflower.” The band also pays tribute to its roots with an incandescent reading of Ann Peebles’ Memphis soul classic “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love.”
The seeds for Southern Avenue’s birth were planted when Ori Naftaly, who’d grown up in Israel with a deep-rooted passion for American blues and funk, came to Memphis in 2013 to compete in the prestigious International Blues Challenge. That experience led to Naftaly moving permanently to Memphis and successfully touring the United States with his own band.
Although his talents were embraced by American audiences, Naftaly felt constrained in his own band, feeling the need to include a more expansive, collaborative musical vision. That opportunity arrived when he met Memphis native Tierinii Jackson, who’d gotten her start singing in church, before performing in a series of cover bands and theatrical projects. According to Ori, “When I saw Tierinii perform, I thought, ‘This is why I came to America.’ I met her and we clicked. At our first rehearsal, she told me that her sister was a drummer, and she thought it would be great to have her in the band. We had such a good vibe, and suddenly I didn’t care so much about my solo thing.”
“I initially clicked with Ori really well, but it was his project,” Tierinii remembers. “Then he came to me and said ‘I want this band to be a collaboration, I want this to be our vision and our music.’ So we started writing together, and that’s when I realized that we were really the same musically.”
“We started over,” Naftaly continues. “We threw out most of the songs I’d been playing in my solo band, and Tierinii and I wrote a whole new set, and we became Southern Avenue. The more we played together, the closer we got, and the more we became a family. We started getting a different kind of crowd, and from there things escalated quickly.”
“Ori said, ‘My band is done, this is y’all’s band,'” Tierinii recalls. “We all quit our other gigs and started focusing on this, working and writing and living together in a way that you don’t experience when you’re playing somebody else’s music. Now we’re playing songs that we wrote ourselves and we’re playing them from our hearts. That is when I realized that we had something special.”
Despite not having a record deal, Southern Avenue quickly found success touring in America and Europe. They won additional attention playing some prestigious festivals and competing in the International Blues Challenge, in which they represented Memphis. Less than a year after the band’s formation, they were signed to the resurgent Stax label. “I feel like being on Stax is a responsibility,” says Tierinii. “I grew up in Memphis, seeing the name Stax everywhere. It was a constant presence, and now it’s up to us to live up that. I feel like this band can be a platform to do a lot of positive things for the city of Memphis. I want to change the world, but Memphis is home.”
Tierinii views Southern Avenue as “a perfect soundtrack to our first year together. We wrote these songs in our first nine months of being a band. We’d all done so many things and come from so many different places, but the music represents all of us. “It’s been a real crash course,” she continues. “We’ve haven’t been a band for very long, but what we have feels very special, and it’s made us a strong unit. I think that we represent something that people need to see right now.”
“This band has already made our dreams come true,” Ori concludes. “I’ve waited all my life to be in a band like this, and it’s amazing to me that I get to play with these people every night. Our goal is to keep doing this for a long time and leave our mark. We’re trying to build a legacy.”
HAILING FROM THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA, FROBECK HAS BEEN ASTONISHING AUDIENCES WITH THEIR UNIQUE BLEND OF POP, FUNK, AND ROCK MUSIC SINCE 2005. THEIR HIGH-OCTANE VOCALS, WELL CRAFTED SONGS, AND WORLD-CLASS MUSICIANSHIP HAS EARNED THEM TWO NORBAY MUSIC AWARDS, GRAMMY INTEREST, AND MULTIPLE APPEARANCES AS OPENERS TO NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL ACTS. BOASTING A FULL LINEUP OF BASS, DRUMS, GUITARS, KEYS REPLETE WITH SULTRY BACKING VOCALS AND AN EARTH-SHAKING HORN SECTION, FROBECK HAS CROSSED INTO THE REALM OF THEIR MUSICAL HEROES: TOWER OF POWER, THE SONS OF CHAMPLIN, AND STEVIE WONDER.
Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s have been the torchbearers of a great American blues musical heritage, not for three years but three decades. Taking their inspiration from the great jump n’ boogie outfits of the late 40s and early 50s, they breathe fresh life into the music that gave birth to rock n’roll. Woods styled his group after the jumpin’ n’ jivin’, shoutin’ n’ honkin’, pumpin’ n’ poundin’ bands of Louis Jordan, Wynonie Harris, Joe and Jimmy Liggins, Amos Milburn, and Roy Milton. Adding a healthy dose of New Orleans rhythm and blues, piledrivin’ piano, and some of his own contemporary playful lyrics, Woods and His Rocket 88s forge their own brand of music they call “rock-a-boogie.”
Born in Brooklyn in 1951, Mitch Woods began playing classical piano at eleven, but his real initiation into blues and boogie piano had already been assured at age eight. “My mom would hire this superintendent of the building, a black man, Mr. Brown, to take me to school, and we stopped off at his cousin’s house, where somebody was playing boogie-woogie piano. It really hit me.”
Woods was putting together bands in Greenwich Village by his mid-teens. By the time he entered the University of Buffalo, Woods was sitting in at local clubs and discovering records by boogie-woogie pioneers Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson. Woods came to San Francisco in 1970, and for the next five years performed as Mitch Woods and His Red Hot Mama (with singer Gracie Glassman). One night Oakland guitarist Hi Tide Harris heard Woods opening for Charlie Musselwhite and was reminded of the sound and theatrics of early R&B pioneer Louis Jordan. Indeed, Jordan has always been a primary influence on Woods. “I actually did see Louie Jordan in Oakland. He was the bridge between swing and rock and roll. He would do a five or six piece band, get a lot of power out of that.”
That kind of power was to become rallying cry for Mitch’s next project, Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88s, which started in 1980 and quickly rose to the top of the Northern California club circuit. Their first album, Steady Date (Blind Pig Records) got hot reviews in 1984 and led to appearances at two San Francisco Blues Festivals, openings for the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Blasters, The Neville Brothers, and James Brown. By 1987, Woods was doing a six-country Europe tour highlighted by a rousing performance at the Belgium Rhythm and Blues Festival.
In 1988, the 88s released Mr. Boogie’s Back In Town (Blind Pig Records) and music pundits started to acknowledge Woods’ place in the ranks of American music: “Woods lays down an authentic 50s-vintage rock piano groove, comparable in power and rhythmic nuance to classic recordings by the young Jerry Lee Lewis,” said Keyboard Magazine.
On 1991 album Solid Gold Cadillac, Woods and his band were joined by Ronnie Earl, Charlie Musselwhite and the Roomful of Blues Horns. Woods himself was starting to become a guest star, appearing on that year’s new releases by John Lee Hooker and John Hammond, and the boogie pianist headlined both the Amsterdam Blues Festival and the Montreal Jazz Festival.
Woods was developing his passion for band leading and discovering the power of being a strong singer. “I’ll always consider myself a piano player, but my voice has developed over the last few years. It’s an incredible release, when you can sing, it’s like blowing an axe, and it’s great to entertain an audience,” he says. Another interest was taking hold, too – the funky piano-driven music of New Orleans. Woods had long been infatuated with the music of the Big Easy. “I’m a boogie woogie and blues piano player for the most part, but I also incorporate other styles within that, like the New Orleans influence. New Orleans R&B piano playing, like Dr. John, of course Professor Longhair. “New Orleans has been a really great source of inspiration, it’s a piano town. New Orleans reveres the piano player. People respect me and I appreciate that. I’ve always been able to feel a real sense of music there; if you’re a good player, you get in. For the past 25 years it has become my second home, ” Woods says. “I’ve gotten to play with all the great players who live there, and I just hire them, guys from Fats Domino’s band, like Red Tyler, sax player, Johnny Vidakovich, drummer with the Professor, and George Porter on bass.
Woods toured constantly in the mid-1990s, stopping long enough to put out Shakin’ the Shack (Blind Pig Records) in 1998. Woodswrote all but one song, demonstrating how well he’s absorbed the conventions of blues and boogie woogie music, further proving his ability to inject new life into these vintage forms. Woods also realized another dream in 1998 when he brought together some of the surviving kings of the American blues legacy, like John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Johnnie Johnson, Earl King and Lee Allen, to make Keeper Of The Flame (Lightyear/WEA Records), all paired with Woods in a wonderful run of classic tunes.
Jump For Joy, Mitch’s fifth release for Blind Pig Records continues Woods’ spin down the boogie road. He had always followed the boogie greats like Louie Jordan and Louie Prima, but Jump For Joy keyed off a new influence. “I started to listen to Cab Calloway, and this new one has lots of Cab influence; six horns, eleven-piece band with doubled horn lines. He (Calloway) had a great entertainment style, very similar to Louie Jordan’s, and that’s what we’ve gone for here,” he says. Woods says Jump For Joy will unite all factions in the dress-up-and-boogie scene. “Aside from the blues audience, we’ve been developing the whole swing crowd, so this will appeal to the swing dancers as well as the blues lovers.” On Jump For Joy, Mitch Woods has gone the limit, writing sassy boogie tunes and crafting smooth arrangements that evoke the heyday of the dancehall Forties.
On his CD/DVD project, Big Easy Boogie, Mitch brings together the inner circle of Rock’n’ Roll royalty. Featuring some of New Orleans’ legends including original members of the Fats Domino band, Herb Hardesty and the Blue Monday Horns, and Jimmy Moliere on guitar, the sound is true to the roots New Orleans R&B. It is vintage rock’n’roll and boogie inspired by New Orleans piano greats Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, and Little Richard, performed in Mitch’s joyous entertaining style that makes you feel like you are not only in the audience but on stage with him having a ball! Whether it is a pounding piano pumper, a Mardi Gras mambo, or a moody late night blues with cascading piano and sultry sax, Mitch Woods’ Big Easy Boogie will delight all lovers of New Orleans music.
After spending more than twenty five years soaking up the New Orleans sound and performing with many of the Crescent City’s musical elite, Mitch has finally realized his dream of recording his latest project with the founding fathers of New Orleans R&B including Earl Palmer, Dave Bartholomew, and Herb Hardesty. Woods reunited the surviving members of Fats Domino’s original band, played a live show in New Orleans during the Jazz & Heritage Festival, took them into the studio, and filmed the whole shebang. The results are plenty of good-time, rock’n’roll boogie, played by the originators of the style, fronted by one of their star pupils. The CD/DVD, Big Easy Boogie is available worldwide on Club 88 Records. It has been garnering airplay on all the major satellite and cable radio stations, including XM (#3 on picks to click-Bluesville), Sirius, Music Choice, as well as BBC 2 and blues programs worldwide.
Here are what the critics are saying about Big Easy Boogie:
“A two-fisted love letter to Fats Domino and Professor Longhair” — Blues Revue
“if it’s legitimate roots and Soul music from N’awlins that’s your passion, step right up for here it is,…by Woods and company.” — Blues Wax
“Mitch Woods’ Big Easy Boogie is a loving tribute to the vintage New Orleans sounds of Fats Domino, Little Richard and Professor Longhair” —Philadelphia Inquirer
In 2007 Mitch was nominated for Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year Award at the Blues Awards in Memphis. Presented by the Blues Foundation this is one of the highest achievements a blues musician can earn. Mitch continues to tour worldwide with both his Rocket 88’s and Big Easy Boogie. He has performed at some of the world’s most prestigious music festivals and venues, including Jazz A Vienne – France, Umbria Jazz Festival-Italy, San Javier International Jazz Festival – Spain, International Boogie Woogie Festival – Lugano, Switzerland, Lionel Hampton Jazz Club at Le Meridien – Paris, Edmonton Blues Festival – Canada, The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise -2000-2012 , Taiwan Blues Bash – Taiwan, Copenhagen Jazz Festival-Denmark, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, and many, many more.
In 2010 Mitch released Gumbo Blues his tribute to the legendary New Orleans blues shouter Smiley Lewis. Once again he assembled his all-star New Orleans musicians, including members of Dr. John, Fats Domino, Alan Toussaint, and Jon Cleary’s bands. Leading to appearances at The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and many others worldwide as well as another Blues Award nomination and critical acclaim.
If NOLA isn’t part of your start-up DNA, that can be fixed with a healthy dose of Mitch Woods’ Gumbo Blues. After a listen, you’ll feel as if you’ve visited the Crescent City of the 1950s.
In October 2010, Mitch embarked with his band the Rocket 88’s on a tour of Turkey with the Efes Blues Festival, playing 26 shows in 20 cities over 5 weeks.
“I was deeply impressed with the warmth and hospitality of the people and their openness and enthusiasm for the American musical form we call “the Blues”. It made me realize that we are musical ambassadors-able to cross cultural, religious, and national borders that most people cannot. In this CD and DVD I document our tour of the Republic of Turkey, a secular nation with 99% Muslim population that straddles the border of east and west, geographically and culturally. On this journey I realized in my heart and soul that music truly crosses all boundaries and Blues is certainly beyond borders.”