Sunday, December 4, 2011

Mickey Hart's Big Bang

Photo by Michael Weintrob
Mickey Hart Band
featuring Tim Hockenberry, Crystal Monee Hall, Vir McCoy, Ian “Inx” Herman, Gawain Mathews, Greg Ellis, and Sikiru Adepoju.
Tractor Tavern, Ballard, WA
December 1, 2011

I didn’t need any convincing to go hear Mickey Hart and his new band play a tiny brick warehouse in Seattle last Thursday night. Only 200 people? To hear this legendary seeker and world traveler, who made 22 albums and performed 2,300 live concerts spanning 30 years with the Grateful Dead? Not surprising, the entire crowd was dancing and cheering from the first note on. There’s always a magical “je nais se quoi” around the music and members of the Grateful Dead.

In an article I read recently, Mickey explains his theology. I think it explains his reason for being, and his special passion for music:

“Speaking as Mickey Hart, Rhythmist, it's about the rhythm of things. Everything is interlocked. The world is rhythm. Everything in the world has a vibration. Anything that's alive and moves has a vibration. And if it has a vibration, it has a sound. And if it has a sound, there's an effect emotionally that it can have on you, spiritually perhaps. Whether it be through brain-wave function or something that makes you dance, it's all interconnected. Music is just a miniature for what's happening in the universe and deep space, from the beginning of time 13.7 billion years ago.”

Mickey has been digging deep inside his psyche to explore the frontiers of the cosmos for many years. Some of the Dead’s drums/space jams are legendary for his polyrhythmic sound sculptures. Like this one from June 14, 1989:

Grateful Dead Drums/Space June 14,1989

The show last Thursday night featured an amazing electronic drums-synthesizers cockpit, at the core of which Mickey buzzed, tapped, and pounded, all the while intently commandeering the sound. His set took up half the stage; the other half featured three fine--and previously unknown to me--musicians: a lead guitar player, a fabulous male singer (who did The Other One), and a rich soprano who made a few of us cry when she sang a slow, heartfelt Brokedown Palace. In the background hulked a Shrek-like bass player who at some key moments stole the show with his Lesh-like symphonic stylings.

The Other One from the other night

The band gleefully and comfortably stretched out to explore the vibrations of the Universe. Recently Mickey explained how he actually gathers sounds from space:

“I'm working with NASA and scientists like George Smoot, who won the Nobel Prize in 2006 for his discovery of the big bang. Pulsars, galaxies, supernovas, black holes, stars, planets—they all have a vibration. And since space is a vacuum, there's no sound. The only way those vibrations can travel is through light waves. Once we've gathered those with radio telescopes, I take the algorithms and make sound out of it. And that's what this band I'm touring with now is about. The band will be playing these sounds and having a conversation with the universe. You'll be hearing sounds that no human has ever heard before. The sounds that spawned you. These vibrations that are your ancestors.”

OK, heady stuff for sure. And very cool in theory. In practice, I was a bit relieved to find that the sounds were a lot more accessible cerebrally than I thought they would be. In fact, strangely familiar and danceable. Rich and multi-layered, and very interesting. Distant cousins of techno-world-jazz-fusion-rock. It was also interesting how these primordial sounds so easily slipped into recognizable songs, like a seal into water: did Mickey know some of my favorites are Scarlet Begonias, The Other One, and Brokedown Palace? Or do they just have the vibrations that Mickey (and I) resonate with most?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Union Jack: Rolling Stones Tribute This Saturday

Stu Gordon on bass, with Mick Zimmerman

Albert Ceccacci tears it up on "Can't You Hear Me Knocking"

Union Jack - Last Show of the Year this Saturday 9:30 p.m.!
Celebrating the re-issue of "Some Girls"

at BB McGraw’s
440 16th st NE, Auburn, WA 98002

“I still want to be Keith Richards,” said a guitar-player friend of mine recently. We were talking about tone, and how certain musicians not only get great tone out of their guitars, but create their own signature sounds that are recognizable as their own from the first note.

That signature tone is one of the reasons it’s so hard to nail the Stones’ sound, and why there are so few Rolling Stones tribute bands worth seeing.

Enter Union Jack, stage right. Great, danceable Rolling Stones music that’s so ultimately cool. And they really do nail it with the right sound, great musicianship, and a touch of showmanship. That would be enough for me, but the band goes the extra measure and provides a dramatic impression by dressing and acting the parts of the members of the original Rolling Stones band. Watching their “Keith” played by Ciggy Cater, I’m almost transported back to 1978 when I first saw the Stones, playing Anaheim stadium (Peter Tosh and Prince opened).

Raw guitar work, scorching solos, and that oh-so-right feedback. Albert Ceccacci, who literally and musically “plays” the Ronnie Wood part, looks a lot like Ronnie under the black rock’n’roll hair. Mick Zimmerman makes a great “Mick” front man, with scarf-swashling struts and flourishes.

But, I have to say my favorite is the understated Stu Gordon, who plays the Bill Wyman bass part. No small feat: Stu brings all the touch and elegance of Bill’s genius bass compositions, along with the Power of a long-time bass-playing veteran. And even as the original Wyman-Watts rhythm section was the bedrock upon which the Stones’ sound was laid, Stu and now-drummer Bruce Ericson drill deep.

Union Jack, this Saturday 9:30 p.m. – 1:00 a.m.

BB McGraw’s
440 16th st NE, Auburn, WA 98002

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Robben Ford is Golden

Robben Ford, Triple Door, Seattle, October 19, 2011

Robben Ford does not disappoint. Whether playing his beautiful vintage Gold Top, or cream-colored Tele, he alternately woos and bullies the most fantastic tones out of his guitars.

With a past studded with legendary music stars, Robben brings it all to every show. You can hear the influences haunting his playing. Robben has toured with such jazz greats as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Miles Davis, Bill Evans (Miles’ saxophonist), and John Scofield, and pop and rock legends George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Darryl Jones (Rolling Stones’ later bassist) and Bob Dylan, among others.

Robben plays at a “Wow!” level, right up there with Pat Metheny and Larry Carlton.  In fact, his Gold Top guitar was a gift from Larry. And he makes it shine.

His current trio, performing last night in front an intimate audience of 250 lucky people, absolutely mesmerized. Each artist was distinctly and insanely great, from Robben’s soulful singing and masterful playing, to drummer Gary Novak’s pin-point sticks and boom, to bassist Jimmy Haslip’s artful architecture and never-wavering pulse. Robben writes much of his material, but it’s often hard to tell he’s doing a cover; his unique character and style makes the song his own.

Visit for tour dates and information about his instructional “guitar dojo” and clinics.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Billy Shew Band

Shew Fetish

Go and see Billy Shew and you will be humming melodies and tapping toes for days. Billy is one of those rare guitarist/songwriters who gets into your head and lingers. Maybe it’s the fact that he writes his own original material and does his own vocals—his music is delivered straight from the heart.

It doesn’t hurt that he has mastered his instrument and makes it look easy. Or that his playing is bright and musical. Billy isn’t hard on the ears or the eyes. But what truly engages is his ability to do what good movies do, and that is to “suspend disbelief.” Meaning, he takes you away, and for a brief time you’re removed to a magical place all his own making. Don’t pinch me, I don’t want to wake up!

Billy Shew lead vocals and guitar, Doug McGrew on drums, and Hank Yanda on bass,
doing a mystical "Feels Like Rain"

Billy’s new album, called Look at Me Now provides a clue to his enigmatic appeal. Starting with the punchy How ‘Bout Now? he’s right there, and, you realize instantly, so are you. With surprising chord progressions, nice fat bass, great lyrics, and tasty embellishment licks, Billy is all about being in the moment. He exudes a sense of gratitude and yet longing. The poignant “Is This Real?” shows a childlike awe and wonder. His stellar band brings rich harmonies and depth to the arrangements. A special shout-out to his bassist, Hank Yanda, one of the best around. Love the old ’62 jazz bass, smooth as velvet.

Get the new Billy Shew CD “Look at Me Now” only $10

Look for show dates on Billy Shew’s Calendar

Monday, August 29, 2011

Guitarist Robben Ford to play Seattle

photos by George Wells
Guitar Hero Robben Ford

For those of you who know who Robben is, or have seen him play, you know what I’m talkin’ about. This guy’s discography reads like the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame roster. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of experiencing Robben’s musical genius live on several occasions. And a lucky audience will have an opportunity again:

Robben Ford, with guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Gary Novak, Triple Door, Seattle, October 19

Robben has played with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Larry Carlton, Bonnie Raitt, Claus Ogerman, Bob Dylan, John Mayall, Greg Allman, and many others.

Robben recently started his Guitar Dojo, a learning center where he shares his experiences and musical discoveries. Here, follow along as Robben gives you personal and comprehensive lessons through high quality streaming video. You can also virtually visit sound checks and other live recordings.

A little history from his website:

He began to teach himself guitar at age thirteen upon hearing the two guitarists from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. In the late 1960’s, Ford frequented the Fillmore and Winterland Auditoriums in San Francisco to see Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Albert King, B.B. King and all of the progenitors of blues. “It was an incredible time for electric guitar,” Robben recalls.

On his interest in jazz, Robben says, "I fell in love with the sax-playing of Paul Desmond and The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and before long found Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and of course, Miles Davis.”

Robben’s first attempt at forming his own jazz quartet was picked up by legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, who brought Robben to L.A. He toured the U.S. and Europe with Witherspoon and was seen by Tom Scott and members of The L.A. Express, who were about to begin a promotional tour with Joni Mitchell for her recording “Court and Spark.” Robben was invited to play guitar on the tour and played on two recordings with Mitchell and The L.A. Express. “The two years I spent with Joni were the most formative of my musical life. Joni was just brilliant and very accessible.”

Beatle George Harrison invited Robben to join him on his “Dark Horse” tour of the U.S. and Canada…”

After moving to New York, he was called to play with musical icon Miles Davis. “Producer Tommy LiPuma played Miles my work with the Yellowjackets, then three days later, Miles called me personally to join his band. Shocking!”

 “Tiger Walk” is an instrumental recording produced in New York with Keith Richards' rhythm section…”

In 2000 Robben was invited to tour with Phil Lesh and Friends, co-billing with Bob Dylan, and reuniting him with Billy Paine and Paul Barrere of Little Feat, as well as drummer John Molo. “This experience gave me new respect for Jerry Garcia as a musician and songwriter. The songs and musical context were pure pleasure--real guitar music!"

In 2002, he released “Blue Moon” [I highly recommend this album]. His third release for Concord was entitled “Truth”. “I feel this is the best work I have done in terms of a solo recording. It is my most realized work as a songwriter, and I feel like I am reaching higher ground as a guitarist. [I second that!]

Robben has been touring the world off and on with the legendary guitarist Larry Carlton, the two producing “Live in Tokyo”, and an “unplugged” DVD from Paris. Collaboration seems to be the current M.O.-- projects with John Scofield, and touring and recording with fellow Miles Davis alumni saxophonist Bill Evans, as well as Randy Brecker and Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones.

Most recently (2010) Robben released “Renegade Creation,” with a group of musical friends who have played in different combinations and contexts over the years and decided to focus on a project together recording for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label. This is a rock band, Robben’s first, and the results have people talking: “Dare I say everyone who hears it, loves it!” The other members are guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Gary Novak. [This is the line-up playing at Triple Door Oct 19 !!!]

Friday, August 5, 2011

HOT HOT Beatles Show: The Nowhere Men

Nowhere Men play to a crowd of 800 people at University Village, Seattle

Now that’s rock n’roll, when the guitar player literally lights his amp on fire! That’s what happened Wednesday night at the outdoor University Village show featuring the apparently hotter-than-hot Nowhere Men.

George Myers on rhythm guitar got us all dancing with “Get Back” and looked over to see flames coming out of his amp, while Rick on bass stopped playing and quickly, carefully, unplugged a few things. But did a mere burning amp stop the show? No! They continued right on with a fabulous medley that included, I Want You, She Came In Through the Bathroom Window, and A Day in the Life. At one point I thought the lead guitar player was going to light his amp on fire too, his playing was so hot!

Day Tripper at U Village

About 800 people enjoyed hearing Beatles’ music live on a rare sunny warm evening, while the Nowhere Men tripped the light fantastic through the Beatles’ library. Early songs, like “Please, Please Me” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” reminded us of the simple innocence of the young Fab Four, as we traveled through time to later, more satirical songs like “Taxman” and “Revolution.”

But it’s the psychedelic era of the Beatles’ body of work that I think the Nowhere Men get absolutely pitch-perfect, with songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “The Walrus,” “Glass Onion,” and other White Album-era pieces. These are more complexly-orchestrated compositions that really showcase the musicianship--and heart--of The Nowhere Men’s playing. They don’t try to assume the Beatles’ looks or personas; instead they strive to capture the intent and integrity of the sound of the Beatles. And they succeed.

Superb sound mixed by Audio Media of Seattle.

Catch their shows any chance you get. Here’s The Nowhere Men show calendar.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Victor Wooten, Bass God

Victor Wooten on bass; Bela Fleck on banjo

A little Zydeco from Bruce Hornsby on mandolin;
Regi Wooten on washboard; Bela on banjo

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Chateau Ste. Michele Winery, July 30, 2011

There IS a god! A bass god—and his name is Victor Wooten. Forget for a moment that he plays with one of the greatest--if only--jazz fusion banjo players ever (yes, “jazz fusion banjo” all in the same sentence)—Bela Fleck. That is another story in itself.

Victor Wooten astounded and thrilled us on Saturday at the Chateau Ste. Michele winery concert. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones  opened for Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, which I was OK with seeing, too.

But, I went specifically to see Victor, and I wasn’t disappointed. He does this thing where he gets the bass going and uses both sets of fingers in opposite directions swirling up and down the fret board, as if he’s playing a great horizontal harp. It’s really unbelievable to watch, and the sound is poly-fantastic. Victor exudes pure joy when he plays. I think very few musicians feel that free onstage.

I always appreciate when great musicians “give back” by supporting music education. Victor has gone far beyond that. His Bass/Nature Campin its 12th year now, has grown into a permanent school on 150 acres near Nashville. People from all over the world come to Wooten Woods to learn or improve their bass playing, with instruction from greats like the legendary Chuck Rainey (Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, etc. ) and Steve Bailey (Dizzie Gillespie, Jethro Tull, etc.). Even my bass hero Robin Sylvester (Bob Weir's Ratdog and TRI Studios) is in awe of those guys. You can apply to attend the bass camp by sending email to:

A word or two about Bela Fleck—what’s up with the name? It’s Southern, people! And it’s pronounced “bay-lah.” Bela exudes the cool of a California surfer, while superb picking and harmonies underscore his soulful interpretations. Bruce Hornsby cleverly invited Bela and Victor back onstage with him, to take his own performance higher. Bruce has written some great songs, like The Way It Is, and Spider Fingers, and although all are written for the piano, they translate very well to the bass (after all, piano and bass are both in the Rhythm Section). Bela’s banjo acted as a surprising guitar duo: rhythm and lead guitar effortlessly rolled into one.

With the orange-plum sunset gloaming behind us in the soft summer evening, they played a bittersweet Mandolin Rain, about longing and love lost. Bela and Victor wove a beautiful orchestration. The rich, purple-black 2007 Cold Creek Cabernet didn’t hurt either.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Nowhere Men and the Beatles

The Nowhere Men

Last night was a gift: golden summer evening, bare feet on the grass dance "floor," and the Nowhere Men playing Beatles music! These players, led by George Myers on rhythm guitar, and Rick on bass, capture the real, live sound of the Beatles' foursome.

From their website:
"The group decided early on that they wouldn't try to physically impersonate The Beatles, but rather to concentrate on how to deliver the total sound in a live format within the context of a foursome. This has become the group's challenge and motivation. As a result, their audiences enjoy the interpretations of the early Beatles and the creativity involved in performing some of the more complex arrangements from albums like "Sgt. Pepper" and "Abbey Road.” In 2005 the band played a farewell show, intending to wrap it up after 15 great years, but the pure enjoyment of the music and the fun of sharing the experience with an audience brought them out of “retirement.” Their goal is still the same as it was when they started in 1990 – to create a live musical experience that comes as close as possible to "The Beatles" unforgettable sound."

Passionate players, fine instruments, exeptional electronics, and sophisticated mixing board and tech (thanks, Steve!) bring the Sound home.

One of the best live music experiences in the Northwest.

Experience The Nowhere Men this coming Wednesday, August 3, 2011, at University Village 6:30-8:30.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Little River Band

Wayne Nelson on bass and lead vocals

It’s a Long Way There

Hey everybody…yeah, don't you feel that there's something?
Feel it, feel it?
Hey everybody…yeah, don't you feel that there's something?

People on their own are getting nowhere,
I am on the road to see,
If anything is anywhere and waiting, just for me.

Every night I walk around the city.
Seems like I'll never know,
That feeling of being together when I go.

And it's a long way there, it's a long way to where I'm going,
And it's a long way there, it's a long way to where I'm going.

This is great songwriting, brought to you by Little River Band, one of my favorite--and somewhat unheralded--bands of the '70s.

Their show at Snoqualmie Casino near Seattle last week was testament that good songwriting doesn’t fade with time. Formed in Melbourne, Australia in 1975, Little River Band based their success on good songwriting, guitar harmonies, and powerful vocals. One of the longest running band members, and arranger of most of their material, Wayne Nelson (bass/lead vocals) also hasn’t faded—his playing was just as fresh and vibrant as ever. And he plays that big old custom bass with such authority. You could tell he still felt the words and music pour out of his soul. I have to hand it to him; he really connected with the crowd (in spite of the sing-along, which, on principle, I never participate in—hey, if they want me to sing, they gotta pay me!).

Also of note was Matt Watts; with a name like that he’d better be a good drummer! And he was stellar, although if he had sat any lower in his kit he would have been on the floor, like a catcher at home plate. Turns out he’s played with a constellation of greats including The Allman Brothers, Little Feat, Charlie Daniels, and Badfinger.

It was fun seeing the whole band dressed in their idea of what Seattle-ites wear: lumberjack flannel shirts and torn jeans. C'mon, we're cooler than that.

There were some magical moments: the stunning lead guitar work in "It's a Long Way There;" the lilting and poignant “Reminiscing” and “Lady," and the cracking “Happy Anniversary." It was interesting that over 50% of the crowds’ hands shot up when they asked, “How many are celebrating NOT being married?” A bit of Aussie humor there, or a result of being On The Road for as long as these road warriors.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Steely Dan

Steely Dan graces WAMU Theater in Seattle, July 2, 2011

It’s not possible to exaggerate when describing Steely Dan’s show in Seattle last week. Called the “Shuffle Diplomacy Twenty Eleven” tour, Donald Fagen and Walter Becker and their group couldn’t have played a more astounding concert. Are they Jazz? Rock? Funk? Blues? Pop? The definition of Fusion.

Classics like the poignant “Hey 19,” the simultaneously driving and haunting “Aja,” and a very funky “When Josie Comes Home,” all hit the groove beyond our wildest dreams. With the first notes of each song I was amazed at the breadth and depth of Steely Dan's body of work. No wonder the Wamu Theater was packed to the rafters with about 2,000 lucky fans.

I was mesmerized by Fagen’s tremendous writing and arranging, as all the players proved they are the absolute best of their class, from the crisp horn section to the thunderous bass and spot-on lead guitar of Jon Herington. I happen to love Walter Becker's warm sounding Fender expression, too. And it was fun to watch the three backup singers dance and groove while they added their rich soprano harmonies. It was hard to believe this was the first show of their tour, they were so incredibly sharp and tight.

The group of top players dubbed the “Miles High Band” (ode to Miles Davis?) feature the “Embassy Brats.” The “Band” and “Brats” include Jon Herington (guitar); Freddie Washington (bass); Keith Carlock (drums); Michael Leonhart, Walt Weiskopf, Roger Rosenberg and Jim Pugh (horns); Jim Beard (keys); with singers Tawatha Agee, Carolyn Escoffery and Catherine Russell.

Check out their new song, “The Bear” on YouTube.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ayron Jones and the Way

Ayron Jones, with Conrad Real on drums, photo courtesy Moonlight Media

Ayron Jones, guitar and vocals
Conrad Real, drums
Deandre Enrico, bass

It’s not often you see a young band, and I mean very young, who are already so good it blows you away. Jar of Rain is one of those, and so is Ayron Jones and the Way.

Last week Ayron Jones and his band were a highlight of the Rock Show to Benefit NW Harvest. After an impressive set by Alan White, legendary drummer for Yes, these young unassuming guys jumped up on the stage. Dylan said you can tell how good a musician is by the way they carry in their guitar case. I say you can tell a lot about a musician by how they tune up. I watched and listened carefully as the bass player thoughtfully, carefully, and oh-so-efficiently tuned his active 5-string, and I knew we were in for it.

I’d just been talking with a drummer friend about dynamics, and how often musicians sacrifice modulation for LOUD. Not these guys; they showed a keen sensitivity to the feeling and tempo of each song, whether a soulful ballad from Hendrix, or a rockin’ blues song from Buddy Guy. Good musicians let the music move them, almost as if the music plays the band, not the other way around. Then POW, all three hit us with their technical chops and blew the roof off the place. It was sheer pleasure to hear their joyful playing of blues and rock classics, with a twist.

From Facebook: “Guitarist, Singer/Songwriter Ayron Jones from Seattle, Washington mixes blues, funk, hip-hop and R&B to deliver his sound. Self taught since the age of 13, Ayron continues to develop an approach to the blues by spanning the guitar styles of legends such as Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Albert king. Constantly growing and exploring, Ayron adds his personal touch with rhythms and grooves derived from today's sounds while still paying tribute to the history of the blues. Ayron Jones is a student of the neo-blues evolution.”

Also, Kudos to Conrad Real on drums. I'd heard him play before as an occasional special guest at 88 Keys jams, but with this trio Conrad finds his signature style: superb touch and tasty licks with a smooth groove and punchy cymbal work. I believe he has what it takes to become one of the all-time greats.

It’s hard to say enough about Deandre Enrico on bass. I kept wondering how on earth he could be so good, so young. Few bass players engage the bass as a low-register guitar, with all chords and solos working together, and he’s already got it down!!

For show dates check the Ayron Jones and the Way Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mary McPage and the Assassins

Mary McPage and the Assassins, photo by Steven Seiller ©2011

Recently at Engel’s in Edmonds 

As a little girl, Mary McPage loved singing in church. Later she started singing in blues bands in Idaho and Florida, then Seattle. How do you go from church music to singing in blues bands? “Fear!” she says. “The Blues gets into your soul and won’t let go. It scares me, but I look it straight in the eye and do it anyway.” It’s not fearlessness; with Mary you get the sense that she is fully aware of facing down that fear, and paying her respects.

Mary’s driving low-soprano voice shows all of her influences as she relives memories of sounds from earlier experiences: the reverence of church music; then-pop favorites like Englebert Humperdink; country divas like ”sweet cotton candy soprano” Dolly Parton, Lorretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette;  rock and roll from Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson; and real soulful power singing from Janis Joplin and Etta James. 

Part of trying to voice her musical memories is finding the right musicians to help channel the sound. And Mary has a talent for finding and surrounding herself with some of the best musicians in town. With the fabulous Patrick McDanel on bass for the past year, Mary has been able to stretch out and do some deeper, funkier stuff. On guitar and vocals, Honolulu’s Keith Fraser brings a blend of jazz and rock influences from Mike Stern to Jeff Beck to Hendrix. Always searching for that warm sound, Keith delivers masterful chord architecture and superb melodic solos that only the best players can.

A favorite experience for Mary was at the Best of Blues awards show in 2009; her then-band had broken up when she learned they were nominated as Best Band, “which was a total shock!” she laughs. “Wanted to do something different so we did a total acoustic blues set, first acoustic band playing at their awards shows. A really cool moment.”

See Mary McPage and the Assassins. Get their full show calendar here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remembering Clarence Clemons

Clarence Clemons whaling with Bruce Springsteen

The Big Man

Although not a huge Springsteen fan, I am a huge fan of Clarence Clemons. To say he was “larger-than-life” is an understatement. At 6’5” and 270 pounds, he owned whatever stage he graced. Every street, including E Street, was a one-way street: his way.

Following last week’s hospitalization for a stroke, Clarence left this earth. Although he’d had serious health problems for years, recently he was improving, even playing at the 2009 Superbowl halftime, and two songs on Lady Gaga’s recent “Born This Way” album.

I’ll never forget that golden evening at the Hollywood Bowl, June 1981, we went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the original lineup: Steven van Zandt on guitar, Clarence Clemons on sax, Max Weinberg on drums, and Gary Tallent on bass. It was "Survival Sunday," a sort of anti-nukes awareness concert. Clarence came out in an electric blue suit, with his gleaming gold sax, completely anchoring the first set. His signature solo on “Jungleland” took him years to perfect, and will live on in our musical lexicon.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Guitar Man

Mike Lull: Our Own Local Treasure

I was feeling pretty special when Mike Lull offered to fix up my Fender bass’s intonation; but then again he treats everyone special, including members of Pearl Jam, players with Clapton, Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Creedence, and B.B. King, and a constellation of other guitar players from around the world.

Because he is The Man. The Guitar Man. Ask any player and they’ll say go to Mike Lull, he’s the best. That can be dangerous though, because once inside his tech studio, you’ll be seduced by one gorgeous custom guitar after the next, all hanging on the wall ready to play. Mike is happy to design your dream guitar. I’m eyeing the lavender mist 4-string bass, a cool $2200, but a lot more than that out in the retail market.

He also updates pickups and whatever else requires repair wizardry. After only a couple of hours, he fixed up a friend’s Greco and it sounded better than I’ve ever heard it, maybe even as good as Keith Richards’ black version with the pirates etched in the pick guard.

Mike Lull Custom Guitars & Guitar Works
13240 NE 20th St.
Suite #2
Bellevue, WA 98005
Telephone (425) 643-8074
Fax (425) 746-5748
Hours: Mon-Fri 9AM to 5PM, Sat 10AM to 5PM (Pacific Time)

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Miles Davis' Greats in Seattle

Recorded in 1959, Kind of Blue is woven into our musical lexicon, into the very fabric of our lives. Many say it’s the greatest jazz recording of all time, maybe even the greatest recording of any music genre. Its influence is felt by every living musician.

So when "Four Generations of Miles" played at Jazz Alley last night, it was a poignant and heartfelt tribute.

A sans-trumpet tribute to Miles Davis. "None of these four Miles Davis alumni were ever classmates in the same Miles Davis group, but all are distinguished grads of that most prestigious small college in jazz." -

Legendary Miles Davis drummer Jimmy Cobb

The legendary Jimmy Cobb educated us all on how to use brushes—at 82 he is still crisp and tight, and brilliant. I wish my drummer friends could've been there to see how the Master does it. His unique contribution of tasty drum licks will forever be emblazoned on our memories.  Mike Stern, silky smooth across the galaxy of frets, likes his effects pedal, and on most guitars I’m not too fond of the echo-y sound. All was forgiven when they played one of the best versions of My Funny Valentine I’ve ever heard.

Jazz guitarist Mike Stern and Honolulu guitar hero Gomez Fraser after the show

Sonny Fortune, one of the best jazz sax players since Dexter Gordon, is old-school, impeccably dressed in suit vest, tie, and Italian loafers. He’s all business when he plays. White-hot lights glinting off his glasses and golden saxophone, I heard echoes of Kind of Blue in his riffs. Sometimes horns can sound a little out of key compared to the strings, but he was dead on. Was Pink Floyd's sax influenced by Kind of Blue? Absolutely.
What can I say about Buster Williams? His lumbering old stand-up bass has probably seen as much action as Stanley Clarke’s, with duct tape-harnessed electronics and age-old scuff marks. With the lightest touch, Buster coaxed bouncing highs and the deepest growling lows. It was a wonder to behold.

If you’re lucky you can still catch one of their shows this weekend:

The Pacific Jazz Institute at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley presents 4 Generations of Miles. Band members include Jimmy Cobb (drums), Mike Stern (guitar), Buster Williams (bass), and Sonny Fortune (saxophone). Set times on Thursday and Sunday 7:30 pm and Friday through Saturday 7:30pm and 9:30 pm. Doors open at 6:00pm Thursday and 5:30pm Friday through Sunday.


Jimmy Cobb: A superb, mostly self-taught musician, drummer Jimmy Cobb is the elder statesman of all the incredible Miles Davis bands. Jimmy’s inspirational work with Miles, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderly and Co. spanned 1957 until 1963, and included the masterpiece Kind of Blue, the most popular jazz recording in history. He also played on Sketches of Spain, Someday My Prince will Come, Live at Carnegie Hall, Live at the Blackhawk, Porgy and Bess, and many, many other watermark Miles Davis recordings.

Mike Stern: In a career that spans three decades and a discography that includes more than a dozen eclectic and innovative recordings, five-time GRAMMY nominee Mike Stern has established himself as one of the premier jazz and jazz-fusion guitarists and composers of his generation. Stern first met Miles Davis in New York, where he was recruited to play a key role in Miles' celebrated comeback band of 1981. During his three-year period with Miles, Stern appeared on three recordings with the jazz maestro, a Man With a Horn, Star People, and the live We Want Miles.

Buster Williams: Buster Williams is a prodigious bassist whose playing knows no limits. He was 20 years old when he first met jazz greats like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, and Tony Williams. Meeting them would later figure heavily into his future. His big, deep, resilient and inventive playing since then has made him the bassist of choice throughout the jazz world. Upon his return to New York in October of 1968 Williams recorded 5 albums with the Jazz Crusaders; worked and recorded with Miles Davis; played with Kenny Durham and was in demand as first call for recording studio; TV, and movie dates.

Sonny Fortune: When critics speak of Sonny Fortune, names like Coltrane, Cannonball, Davis, Young, Bechet, Hawkins and Parker are mentioned. Sonny Fortune embodies all of the finest qualities of those late, great musicians. Lucky for us, Sonny is still here and blowing hard. In September 1974, Miles Davis offered Sonny a job in his fusion group. Fortune had previously turned down the same offer to stay with McCoy Tyner, but he eagerly accepted the opportunity to move on to something completely new. Fortune stayed with Miles for a year, recording four LPs, Big Fun, Agartha, Pangaea, and Get Up With It.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Seattle Bands

We hadn’t seen the Sun since October, until this blue-sky day. So it was about time to celebrate. At the 88 Keys in Seattle Thursday night, it was the first real party of the summer season, with many of our local musicians in attendance, ready to rock. And, it was fabulous to see some legendary luminaries in the audience (you know who you are).

And celebrate we did! All three bands, so distinctly different, had one thing in common: they absolutely played their hearts out! Jar of Rain, a young up-and-coming band featuring the Thornberg brothers, showed us what passion is all about. Russ absolutely owned his driving guitar solos; he played with total commitment and took everyone in the audience with him. Technically, he’s better than a lot of players twice his age, and yet, he is soulful beyond his years. His older brother John, on Drums, exceeded all expectations with his powerfully crisp beat and his ability to reach into our emotions and move us. I’ve seen them play several times and this was definitely the best yet. Any chance you get, I highly recommend seeing Jar of Rain. I still find it touching that John says “Thanks for letting us play.” You’re welcome!!!

Jar of Rain

Next set, Lynn Sorensen wooed us on the violin (in Sex and Violins) and some rocking vocals, while we enjoyed Evan Sheeley on bass. Smaller physically, this guy packs Big Power. Superb jazz rock fusion bass playing. Both Lynn and Evan were a nice complement to Mark Russell on lead guitar, who transfixes with his swaggering leather-grometted virtuosity and hard rock edginess. He is another one to watch. His pretty wife in the audience knowingly smiled and giggled with delight as he played, and rightly so. Drummer Jeff Kathan rocked and held down THE most steady beat in town. No rotary perception creeping there. I was sad their set ended so soon.

Sex and Violins

But, I got over it as beautiful Aury Moore took the stage and began a pulsing, deep-throated version of the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence.” I just about swooned! Dominique D. Stone, as always, was masterful on his 6-string bass. Manuel Morais with the movie-star latin looks, played a scorching lead guitar. Steady Eddie Mendoza on drums. All at the top of their game. Some really interesting hard rock originals in contrast to lovely heart-clenching ballads, Aury can sing them all. It’s hard to put words to her artistry: Soulful. Towering. Velvety. …Royalty.

Aury Moore Band

The word is that 88 Keys is going to be the place for original Seattle bands to rock on Thursday nights. Big, big show coming up on June 23. Stay tuned for details.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bob Weir's TRIday Outtakes

For those of you who were victims of Blogger's outtage last week, and who received the link to Bob Weir and Friends' TRIday the 13th's historic live netcast too late, here are some outtakes from the gig. I absolutely LOVE this video. Too fun!

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Friday, May 13, 2011

TONIGHT Bob Weir’s TRI Studios

What if the passion for music that’s led you to become one of the longest-touring musicians ever, that has made you a living legend, that has given you the financial freedom to do anything on earth, is still burning white hot inside you? What would you do next?

If you were Bob Weir, you’d build Tamalpais Research Institute, or TRI Studios, and bring the Live Music Experience to the entire free world.

Join them on their maiden voyage TONIGHT!
TRI Studios Live Webcast
Friday, May 13, 7:00 p.m. PDT

"In addition to a solo acoustic performance, Bob Weir will be joined by Rob Wasserman, Jay Lane, Jeff Chimenti, Steve Kimock, Robin Sylvester, and a 4 piece Horn Section over the course of the 2 set performance. During set break Bob will also log onto both the TRI Studios Twitter and Facebook accounts and respond to viewers’ comments and questions about their first set viewing experience.

“Tamalpais Research Institute is the vision of Bob Weir, a founding member of the Grateful Dead. Weir and his team have built a state-of-the-art performance studio for broadcasting live HD video and audio streams directly to the Internet. TRI is a virtual venue where fans can gather and enjoy the performances in the comfort of their own homes, or anywhere they have Internet access.

“The main performance space at TRI houses a Meyer Sound Constellation System - a revolutionary acoustic modeling technology which has the ability to dramatically change the acoustical properties of the room. With the touch of a button, an artist can instantly change the sonic environment from that of a small intimate club to sounding like a theater, an arena or even a cathedral.

“Each show will be directed, filmed, and mixed live in real time. Every care will be taken to provide the highest possible upstream bandwidth to transmit high quality HD video and audio to the end user. The live stream will be accessible by and tailored to a variety of viewing equipment such as mobile devices, streaming players, game consoles, computers, Internet ready HDTV's as well as home theaters.

“All of this will take place in a small intimate setting in front of a live studio audience. The musicians may be playing in the domain of Mount Tamalpais, but their music will be beaming out to the entire free world."

Go to at 7pm PDT Friday, May 13

Monday, May 9, 2011

Electric Violins

Lynn Sorensen with Michael Johnson and Doug McGrew

Geoffrey Castle at Wilde Rover

"All night have the roses heard the violin
Till a silence fell with the waking bird
And a hush with the setting moon."
     --Lord Tennyson

In the recent past, when someone said “there’s a violin,” I ran in the opposite direction. Maybe it was years living with a professional violinist who practiced endless scales hour after hour. But now, thanks to gifted artists like Lynn Sorensen, violins--especially electric violins—hold new interest for me. The other night, while dark rain pelted the windows behind him, Lynn’s pure white violin mesmerized us with a spellbinding rendition of Led Zeppelin’s ballad “The Rain Song,” and the hair stood up on my arms.

Geoffrey Castle is a local musician who specializes in the electric violin. His regular Monday night gigs at Wilde Rover in Kirkland offer some extraordinary playing. The first time I heard Geoffrey, he was serenading passers-by at the Issaquah Art Walk, and I did a double-take: WHO is THAT? But Searching for Art took precedence and the opportunity was lost.

Two years later, I had the pleasure of hearing him play again, this time at the Wilde Rover in Kirkland (whose sound system is greatly improved). Big and cat-like, Geoffrey commands attention. Grace, Poise, and Power. He draws on a deep repertoire: everything from Irish drinking songs to Bruce Hornsby to a little Hendrix. He's mastered his instrument, and takes it further.

Upcoming shows featuring the violin:

Celtic Music Night with Geoffrey Castle, at Wilde Rover  in Kirkland
Monday nights at 8pm

Sex and Violins, with special guests Aury Moore Band and Jar of Rain, at 88 Keys in Seattle
Thursday, May 19 at 8pm

Powercell and Jam, at 88 Keys (with Lynn Sorensen on bass and violin)
Wednesday nights at 8pm

Jam Night, at Oddfellows Grill in Redmond
Thursday nights at 9pm

Friday, May 6, 2011

Starry, Starry Night

Cory, Doug, and Mark at Red Dog
[Refresh the page to play again]

I could tell it was going to be one of those nights when the woman sitting across from us said, “Look! I tied it with my tongue!” pointing to a dainty cherry stem tied in a neat little bow. I don’t remember what I said…Nice job! Wow, that’s a real talent! How did you learn to do that?

I never get to see these three guys play together, so it was extra special Thursday night at the Red Dog in Maple Valley when Cory Wilds, Doug McGrew, and Mark Fluegel took the stage. Usually, Ronnie Muir is CWB's regular drummer, and he is seriously one of the best drummers out there. But it is a special treat to see Cory and Mark play with a different drummer, different style, nuances, flavor. Mark was playing one of his, what he calls, “Snooty Basses." Yes, a $3,000 bass that looks like a Fender P-bass, but, when placed in my hands, the weight, the balance, ah, so nice. Low action, sleek controls, slightly smaller in scale, no brick to lug, I could play a bass like that!

And did they play!!! Cory Wilds, as ever, was sensational with his genius and driving, lyrical guitar solos. Mark was riding two horses at once, with Cory galloping ahead and Doug McGrew drumming, faster and faster, reeling them in, then riding the wave. UN-Believable!! Whether it was “Long Gray Mare,” "Manhattan Blues," or “Black Magic Woman” we were IN, all in.

In the past year, there have been several key shifts that gelled into an extraordinary night of music. Cory’s vocals show steady improvement while his guitar playing is more sparkly and improvisational than ever; Mark’s playing is more mature and shows incredible range and natural leadership; and Doug, who really should play with these guys more, upped the ante in his already considerable arsenal. Sticks went flying. Crack!! So on it. So tuned in!!!!!

Catch some of these upcoming gigs:

Cory Wilds Band at The Sidetrack Pub & Eatery in Kent
Friday, May 13 at 9pm

Power Cell with Doug McGrew at Tulalip Casino Canoes Lounge
Saturday, May 14 at 5:00pm

Cory Wilds Band at A Terrible Beauty Pub in Renton
Saturday, May 14 at 9pm

Magic Bus with Doug McGrew at Red Wind Casino
Sunday, May 29 at 8:30pm

Magic Bus at the Tulalip Casino Canoes Lounge
Friday, June 3 at 9:30pm

Monday, April 18, 2011

Fool for the City

Charlie Huhn from Foghat, Humble Pie, and Ted Nugent, 
with Doug McGrew on drums
Donny Evola's Pink Floyd tribute "Echoes"

I’m constantly amazed at the wealth of local music talent here in the Puget Sound area. Some nights I just can’t believe what I’m hearing! And many of these musicians are not just locally well-known, but world-renowned!

Last Friday at the King Cat Theater (one of the best venues in town for concert-quality live music) we all experienced some truly fine rock musicianship. World-famous lead guitarist and vocalist Charlie Huhn, who played for years with legendary bands such as Humble Pie and Ted Nugent, and who is currently touring with Foghat, cranked it up a few levels with excellent Donny Evola and his band Echoes (the best Pink Floyd tribute band I’ve ever heard).

The rhythm section pounded a very tightly-wound “rotary perception,” a term Charles Mingus coined to define the center of each beat, and how different musicians zero in on that center in a way unique to their own style. Our own Doug McGrew blasted the Traps with such Keith Moon-like power and artistry that the entire audience, as well as Charlie and the rest of the band, roared with applause.

Some upcoming shows you won’t want to miss:

Jam Night & Blues To Do TV featuring Power Cell (Lynn Sorensen, Doug McGrew, Michael Johnson) and Special Guests, at 88 Keys in Pioneer Square
Wednesdays, TV taping 6-8pm, Jam 8pm – midnight

Jam Night featuring Power Cell and Special Guests at Oddfellows Grill in Redmond
Thursdays 9pm

Geoffrey Castle, fantastic electric violin, at Club Sur in SODO
Friday, April 22 at 9pm

Fabulous Johnsons (Lynn Sorensen on bass, Jeff Kathan on drums, Michael Johnson on lead guitar) at J&M Cafe in Seattle
Friday, April 29 9pm

Riverbend with Klover Jane (featuring the very talented Rane Stone) and 1Wish, at Hard Rock Café in Seattle
Friday, April 29 at 9pm

Chris Cornell at the Moore Theater in Seattle
Sunday, May 1 at 8pm

No Quarter (top-notch Led Zeppelin Tribute) at Big Daddy's in Woodinville
Friday, May 6 at 8:30pm

Soul Stripper (Howard Comfort’s excellent AC/DC Tribute) at R&R Sports Bar in Graham, WA
Saturday, May 14 at 9pm

Poodle Bomb (with Mark Fluegel on bass) at J&M Cafe in Seattle
Thursday, May 19 at 8pm

Magic Bus at Tulalip Casino Canoes Lounge
Friday, June 3 at 9:30pm

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Hammer of the Gods

photo courtesy Lori Mullins

Back in high school, my sister used to blast KISW FM radio, a station that at the time played a lot of Led Zeppelin, before it was known as “heavy metal.” The radio itself featured no bass and substituted static for high notes, but on and on it rasped. From my serene blue-and-white bedroom next to my sister’s, I thought Robert Plant’s voice was very strange and I was sure it came out of some martian synthesizer. Although some of the tunes were catchy, I was never really motivated to go to a Led Zeppelin concert.

Fast forward to now: Maybe it’s that recently one of our local musicians had the pleasure of playing with Jason Bonham (yes, John’s son), Led Zeppelin is in the air. Tuesday I went to jam night at the Barrel in Burien, and members from Seattle’s premiere Led Zeppelin tribute band “Kashmir” were playing. Whole different experience. Whole Lotta Love!!

Terry Mriglot is Robert Plant incarnate; his voice hits those hard to reach spikes and wails, and he even looks like Robert, with that leonine curly blonde hair and oh-so-tight jeans. Dan Benz plays a beautiful minstrel-like guitar, as if he had time-travelled from the Olde English countryside. Is it a Marshal? I’ll have to ask him, but that boy can paint castles and unicorns in the clouds.

I loved the combination of these Kashmir members playing with members of Howard Comfort’s AC/DC tribute band “Soul Stripper”: tall Howard plays a scorching lead guitar and exudes Rock Star Cool from behind his shades as his accomplished bass player thunders on his 5-string. When they played Collective Soul’s “Shine” it all came together: Magic!

The Barrel Jam, every Tuesday night 8-12 p.m.