THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS
For over 30 years, The Fabulous Thunderbirds have been the quintessential American band. The group’s distinctive and powerful sound, influenced by a diversity of musical styles, manifested itself into a unique musical hybrid via such barnburners as “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up”. Co-founder Kim Wilson, the sole original member, still spearheads the group as it evolves into its newest incarnation.
“We started as a straight blues band”, vocalist and harmonica player Wilson says. “We now incorporate a mixture of a lot of different styles. We’re an American music band and we’re much higher energy than we were before.”
In addition to Wilson, the current Thunderbirds line-up features Jay Moeller on drums, Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller on guitar, and Randy Bermudes on bass.
“To be in the T-Birds, you need to understand the different styles of music and different ways of playing,” Wilson comments. “You have to be willing to adopt a more contemporary style. The guys we have now are able to do that.”
The band continues to tour extensively, in both the U.S. and Europe. Wilson is currently writing songs on his own, with band members and other writers.
“I’ve primarily been a solo songwriter, but I’m looking forward to experimenting with the guys in the band,” Wilson says.
The thread throughout the T-Birds career has been the respect the group commanded for its peerless musicianship and devotion to the sounds of blues, R & B and rock ‘n roll. In fact, Muddy Waters called Wilson his favorite harmonica player and vocalist. “Muddy Waters was very good to me,” Wilson says. “He almost adopted me. I’ll never forget him.”
For Kim Wilson, the musical journey started in Goleta, California. At 17 he began playing the harmonica. His influences included Little Walter, George “Harmonica” Smith, Lazy Lester and James Cotton. At the same time, Wilson began singing and was deeply impacted by Bobby “Blue” Bland, B.B. King, Otis Rush, Jimmy Rodgers and Muddy Waters. In search of other musicians who shared his love of the blues, Wilson headed to Minneapolis. He stayed there for a year and a half, playing locally, before moving to the burgeoning music scene of Austin, Texas. It was there that he met Jimmie Vaughan and they founded the T-Birds in 1974. The band developed a reputation as a compelling live act and subsequently signed a record deal with CBS/Epic Records.
In 1979, The Fabulous Thunderbirds released their first self-titled album. Primarily blues influenced, it became a cult classic. “Things were wide open back then,” Wilson recalls. “There were hundreds of stages where bands could show what they had.”
In subsequent releases, the band started to incorporate more Cajun, rock ‘n roll and soul influences. The album “T-Bird Rhythm” marked a creative turning point for the group as it collaborated with noted producer Nick Lowe. In 1986, The Fabulous Thunderbirds reached a commercial peak with the album, “Tuff Enuff”. The single of the same title as well as the singles “Wrap It Up” and “Look At That”, all went top 40. The song, “Tuff Enuff” was featured in the film “Gung Ho” starring Michael Keaton.
For the remainder of the ’80s, the band continued to record and tour, and released the album, “Powerful Stuff”. Jimmie Vaughn left in 1989 but Wilson kept the group going, incorporating keyboards into the guitar-driven sound. Kim moved back to California in 1996, continuing to cultivate the T-Birds music.
“The thing about the T-Birds is that we can play both blues festival and rock venues,” Wilson comments. “We’re a diversified band now and everybody’s on the same page.”
As a side project Wilson formed Kim Wilson’s Blues Revue, a traditional blues band. He also owns a blues label, Blue Collar Music, that has released three albums – one by Kim, one by “Big Al” Blake and one by Fred Kaplan. Wilson has also recorded and written with noted session guitarist Danny Kortchmar and drummer Steve Jordan and may tour with them at some point. However his current focus remains The Fabulous Thunderbirds. “This is a great time for this band,” he says. “We’re looking forward to the future.”
In the seven decades since the Blind Boys of Alabama first began singing together, America has witnessed a World War, the civil rights movement, and the Summer of Love; the moon landing, Vietnam, and the fall of the Berlin Wall; JFK, MLK, and Malcolm X; the invention of the jukebox, the atomic bomb, and the internet. Through it all, the Blind Boys’ music has not only endured, but thrived, helping both to define the sound of the American south and to push it forward through the 20th century and well on into the 21st. Praised by NPR as “pioneers,” the group has transcended barriers of race and genre to become one of the most acclaimed and celebrated groups in modern music. From the Alabama Institute for the Negro Blind, where the original members met as children, all the way to The White House – where they’ve performed for three different presidents – the band’s story is, in many ways, America’s story, and that story is at the heart of their emotional new album, ‘Almost Home.’
Recorded over four different sessions helmed by four different GRAMMY-winning producers in four different cities, ‘Almost Home’ recounts the band’s remarkable journey, primarily through original songs written for them by an outstanding collection of artists including Valerie June, the North Mississippi Allstars, Phil Cook, John Leventhal, Marc Cohn, and Ruthie Foster among others. The record is the band’s first in three years, following on the heels of 2014’s ‘Talkin’ Christmas!’ with Taj Mahal and their 2013 collaboration with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon, ‘I’ll Find A Way,’ and it sees them picking up right where they left off, blending the sacred and secular, the traditional and innovative, the past and present.
‘Almost Home’ grew out of the recognition that the band’s original lineup is down to just two remaining survivors: long-time group leader Clarence Fountain and current leader Jimmy Carter. Both men were born in Alabama during the Great Depression, and while Carter is still active and regularly touring with the group, Fountain’s health precludes him from traveling much these days, though he does appear on the album.
“These men were both raised as blind, African American males in the Deep South during the Jim Crow years, and they were sent to a school where the expectation for them was to one day make brooms or mops for a living,” says Blind Boys manager Charles Driebe. “But they’ve transcended all that. The arc of their lives and of the band reflects the arc of a lot of changes in American society, and we wanted to find a way to capture their experiences in songs.”
So Driebe went on a pilgrimage with a film crew in tow, recording wide-ranging interviews with Fountain and Carter at their homes in Baton Rouge and Birmingham, pressing deep into their memories of their improbable route to success and the changing, sometimes-hostile world they had to navigate along the way. The focus was less on capturing a biographical account of events and more on probing the emotional side of their journey, hoping to understand what it felt like to walk such a winding and eventful road. The interviews were then distilled down into 30-minute videos and shared with a variety of songwriters who were invited to channel Carter and Fountain’s words and reminiscences into song.
With nearly 50 tracks submitted for consideration, the producers and the band had a sea of material to sift through. They were searching for more than just great songs, though. The music needed to speak directly and authentically to the Blind Boys’ soul. The result is ‘Almost Home,’ a 12-track collection that captures the band’s singular spirit and pulls off the masterful feat of looking backwards while still sounding as vital and modern as ever.
The album opens with the captivating “Stay On The Gospel Side,” which sets the stage perfectly as it traces Fountain’s roots all the way back to childhood and recounts the band’s insistence on remaining true to their origins. Written by John Leventhal and Marc Cohn (with an additional credit to Fountain, since the title came from his exact words), the track is one of a trio of songs produced by Leventhal (Rosanne Cash, William Bell) and recorded in New York City, and it showcases the stunning range of joy and pain contained in the group’s beautifully weathered voices. On “Pray For Peace,” which is the Blind Boys’ version of a song submitted by the North Mississippi Allstars and recorded in Nashville with at the studio of Vance Powell (Chris Stapleton, Jack White), the group offers up a foot-stomping, electrifying gospel blues for our troubled times. Meanwhile, the Cris Jacobs’-penned “I Kept On Walking,” recorded in Muscle Shoals with Los Lobos’ Steve Berlin (Faith No More, Buckwheat Zydeco) producing, is a rave-up about persistence and resilience in the face of struggle and doubt, and the folky “Train Fare,” written by Valerie June and recorded in Seattle with long-time Blind Boys producer Chris Goldsmith (Charlie Musselwhite, Ben Harper), looks back on all the good works of the band’s career as their ticket to the afterlife. Goldsmith also nodded to his previous recordings with the band by adding two gorgeous covers – a soulful take on Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” and a chipper version of Billy Joe Shaver’s “Live Forever” – both of which look to brighter days ahead in a world beyond our own.
Given the age of the surviving original members, it’s not hard to hear the subtext of the album. In lines like “my work is done and I’m finally going home to see my maker,” they acknowledge that they’re closer to the end than the beginning. But rather than resting on their laurels, the band is adding a new chapter to their legacy, creating some of the finest work of their career as they solidify their place not just in musical history, but in the very fabric of American culture. The original members may be ‘Almost Home,’ but it’s clear the Blind Boys intend to keep on singing, spreading peace, joy, and love until the very last note.
About the Blind Boys of Alabama:
Hailed as “gospel titans” by Rolling Stone, the Blind Boys first rose to fame in the segregated south with their thrilling vocal harmonies and roof-raising live show. They released their debut single, “I Can See Everybody’s Mother But Mine,” on the iconic Veejay label in 1948, launching a 70-year recording career that would see them rack up five GRAMMY Awards (plus one for Lifetime Achievement), enter the Gospel Music Hall of Fame, collaborate with everyone from Mavis Staples and Stevie Wonder to Prince and Lou Reed, and perform on the world’s most prestigious stages. It would be difficult to overstate the Blind Boys’ influence on their contemporaries and the generations that came after. The New York Times said that they “came to epitomize what is known as jubilee singing, a livelier breed of gospel music,” adding that “they made it zestier still by adding jazz and blues idioms and turning up the volume, creating a sound…like the rock ‘n’ roll that grew out of it.” TIME Magazine raved that “they’re always hunting for – and finding – the perfect note or harmony that lifts an old tune into the sublime,” while The Washington Post praised their “soul-stirring harmonies” and “range of cross-genre collaborations,” and The New Yorker simply called them “legendary.”
“When the Blind Boys started out, we weren’t even thinking about all these accolades and all that stuff,” founding member Jimmy Carter told NPR. “We just wanted to get out and sing gospel and tell the world about gospel music.” Mission accomplished!
For over eight years, the name MonkeyJunk has been synonymous with the emergence of a new kind of blues on the Canadian and international scenes. Continually pushing boundaries and blurring genre lines, the Ottawa Ontario-based trio has added an edge to their music by incorporating swampy blues & rock with thoughtful and intelligent lyrics. Their fifth Stony Plain Records release, Time To Roll is unique in that it incorporates elements of all four of their previous recordings with added maturity in songwriting and instrumentation, cementing MonkeyJunk’s originality and sound as its own.
As one of the hardest working bands on the scene today, these Canadian ambassadors of blues/rock are constantly working to up their game in terms of songwriting and musicianship, with the results being evident on Time To Roll. In just over a year since the release of their seminal recording Mood Turn Red, MonkeyJunk has delivered 10 top-notch tracks that are consistent with the quality and passionate delivery they are known for. “We wanted to push ourselves to work hard and to work efficiently and focused – to see what we could come up with in a shorter period of time. The result is a brash, groovy as always collection of songs that show where the band has been and where we have arrived in eight and a half years of writing, recording and touring”, says drummer Matt Sobb.
Time To Roll was recorded at Signal Path Studios in Almonte, Ontario and mixed and mastered in just over two weeks spanning across two months. On the writing and recording process, Steve Marriner comments, “I believe we captured a more raw side of MonkeyJunk. We wrote the tunes pretty quickly and didn’t do a lot of second-guessing.”
Heading back to their blues roots and drawing on inspiration that runs from John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins to J.J. Grey & Mofo and The Meters, Time To Roll is heavy on groovy riffs, solid backbeat & topped with Marriner’s soulful and fervent vocals. Time To Roll is also unique and progressive for the band, as they’ve added electric bass on most of the songs. No MonkeyJunk recording to date has included bass, but they felt that it would be a welcome addition to MonkeyJunk’s sound.
From flat-out blues-infused rockers such as “Best Kept Secret”, “The Hunter” (a cover of the classic by Albert King), and “Undertaker Blues”, to the moody and melodic “Blue Lights Go Down” (co-written by Tom Wilson of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Lee Harvey Osmond) and raucous Southern rock inspired “Time To Roll”, “Can’t Call You Baby” & “Gone” to the funky and soulful “Pray For Rain” & instrumental “Fuzzy Poodle”.
Steve Marriner, the trio’s vocalist, baritone guitarist, harmonica and organ player, was well known as the ‘go-to’ guy as a producer, sideman and session player. He’s also toured the world performing alongside Harry Manx. Steve is also the consummate musical networker and stage guest having been invited to join many artists in concert such as Randy Bachman, Colin James and Big Sugar. At the age of nineteen, lead guitarist Tony D performed for three nights in Buddy Guy’s band. In 1982, he opened for Stevie Ray Vaughn. These events helped propel him into a long-standing career with his own popular project, The Tony D Band. He has also toured with some of this country’s greatest musicians, including the late Dutch Mason. Before MonkeyJunk, drummer and percussionist Matt Sobb was a very busy session drummer around Ottawa and has backed up several regional, national and international artists live on stage, touring and in studio over the last 25 years such as Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds), Jeff Healey and Tom Wilson (Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Junkhouse, Lee Harvey Osmond), The Tony D Band, his brother’s band Marty Sobb and The Mobb among many others. MonkeyJunk has won a collective 20 Maple Blues Awards, two Canadian Independent Music Awards, a Blues Music Award (USA), and have been nominated twice for a JUNO Award, winning the award for Blues Album of the Year in 2012.
If you haven’t heard Romi Maye’s music yet, it’s time you do. Mayes’ past albums have garnered 3 Western Canadian Music Awards for Songwriter of the Year, 2 Western Canadian Music Awards for Album of The year, a Juno nomination for Album of the Year. Known for her powerful lyrical ability, her authentic brand of roots music paint pictures of a road well travelled. She has toured Canada, US, Europe, UK, and shared the stage with Levon Helm, Derek Trucks, Ricky Skaggs, Jim Cuddy, Gordie Johnson, Guy Clark and many more.
THE MARIACHI GHOST
From driving rhythms and soaring melodies, to brooding synths and dreamy vocal breaks, The Mariachi Ghost fuses traditional Mexican song, progressive rock, and a flair for the dramatic, to ignite the world of their namesake’s tenuous existence.
The band was formed in 2009, based on a graphic novel that lead-singer Jorge Requena was writing at the time. In it the principal character struggles to find purpose in a life that has been torn apart by violence and hardship. He eventually turns his anguish outwards, believing to have been ordained by a higher power to punish those that prey on the weak.
Their writing explores the mythos of this justice-seeking Charro. Seven musicians interweave diverse genres and rhythms to create a soundscape that is dramatic, haunting, and explosive. They’re joined on stage by dancer and band-mate Alexandra Garrido, who acts as a conduit of the music, expertly assuming its auras of sorrow, reflection, and rage. The result is a rich mixture somewhere between Pink Floyd and a traditional serenata, infused with contemporary dance; a ballet for the dead.
The band released their debut album in November 2013, which has reached radio stations in France, the Netherlands, Australia, and Mexico, while also making its way through the college charts in Canada. The Mariachi Ghost won the award for “Best World Music Album” at the 2014 Western Canadian Music Awards. In 2015, the group released its first music video: a recut short film by acclaimed director Guy Maddin. The band is currently working on their second album which takes inspiration from the seminal work of Mexican literature, Pedro Paramo.
Canadian Grammy and Oscar award winning musician, songwriter and composer, Jack Semple is renowned through Western Canada. His joyous yet ferocious flamenco-trained guitar style invigorates his limitless language to redefine the instrument. He sings with the power of an archangel.
His latest solo acoustic album, “Qu’Appelle” – about the area where he grew up in Saskatchewan, won the Western Canadian Instrumental Album of the Year. “He’s a triple threat, one of my very favorites.” says Cindy McLeod, longtime leading promoter and manager of the Calgary Blues Festival. “His talent is sort of not fair.”
Fair or not, it is past due for the rest of the world to get to know Jack. At the Lancaster Roots festival this past month, the uninitiated were converted. “He was without peer at the festival,” said Barry Blechman. “I am a professional concert goer and have heard them all, know them all, loved many. Jack Semple is as good as it gets.”
The Windups have been tearing up the sweaty clubs of Winnipeg for 13 years. Imagine walking into a British pub in 1975, right before Punk exploded. The Windups would be the sort of high-energy, back-to-basics rock ‘n’ roll band you might have found in your quest to escape the Era of Prog. No Mellotrons, Minimoogs, or Tubular Bells. Nothing but four-piece rock action!
The Reverend Rambler might not be an ordained man of God, but his passionate rhythm and blues inspired tunes will have you feeling the spirit something fierce. The music itself draws from the entire gamut of Americana music ranging from the gospel blues of Blind Willie Johnson to the hillbilly fingerstyle of Merle Travis, all injected with the high octane energy of punk rock. The Reverend preaches tales of hope, shame, degradation and salvation with an undeniable fervor.
Watching The Reverend, AKA Matt Colpitts, in action is a singular experience. As a solo performer, he is able to create a sound that is often mistaken for a full band by simultaneously wailing on vocals, performing intricate finger picking on guitar and holding down the rhythm by playing percussion with his feet.
Scott Nolan is a songwriter, poet, multi instrumentalist from Winnipeg, Manitoba Treaty One Territory. His songs have been recorded by Hayes Carll, Mary Gauthier, Watermelon Slim, and Corin Raymond among others. He has recently produced albums for William Prince, Lynne Hanson, and Watermelon Slim.
In January 2015 he started writing poetry, approximately three weeks after his 40th birthday. The plan was to replace smoking cigarettes with walking eight to ten kilometres a day. He is a songwriter by trade and often discovered melodies and rhythms in the shuffling of his feet. He spends most of his time thinking about words, music, and language. Nolan found myself writing short poems based on people and places in his neighbourhood, trying to capture a bit of what was happening around him.
An older cousin of his discovered a gift and passion for poetry while serving time in Folsom State Prison. He was an early influence on him, sending books and letters from prison and encouraging the younger Nolan to read and write as often as possible. This relationship was the subject of a documentary last year called Visiting Day, produced for the CBC by filmmaker Charles Konowal. He was invited to perform and host writing workshops in the very same prison library his cousin wrote to him from all those years ago.
The late Winnipeg poet Patrick O’Connell was also a dear friend and mentor. Patrick is one of his favourite contemporary Canadian poets. His was a lyrical style that had a strong impact on his early songwriting. One of the many benefits of working in the arts community in Winnipeg is the quality of work of his peers. It’s consistently encouraging and inspiring. After more than a decade of relentless touring, he decided to take a year or so away from the road to collaborate, produce records, and enjoy his life in Winnipeg. A play was produced through Manitoba Theatre Projects based on the nine albums he has released since 2003. The play, I Dream of Diesel, enjoyed a two week run of sold-out shows and critical praise from both the community and critics.
Hillbilly Burlesque is Angel Calnek on vocals and percussion and Darrell “Slideboy” Sandmoen on vocals and guitars.
Blues with a down-home feel, Hillbilly Burlesque keeps the roots and blues fires burning bright with their tasty country blues originals and rootsy renovations of classic blues standards from the 20s, 30s and 40s. Calnek and Sandmoen skillfully honour fine blues performers of the past like Leadbelly, Willie Dixon, Memphis Minnie, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Sippie Wallace and Jimmie Rodgers enthusing audiences with their upbeat energy and dynamic stage presence.
These award winning performers/recording artists combine powerhouse vocals and stinging slide guitar into a funky, rocking rhythm. They perform as the Hillbilly Burlesque duo, in the Billy-N-Aires with Ken Pinchin, Julene Gravett and Patrick Boggs, as a trio The Trillionaires with Patrick Boggs and numerous other conglomerations of fine performers and awesome music!
Meet Claire Bestland. Claire is an authentic guitar slinger and songwriter with a love for crafting stories both old and new. Her intense guitar styles have been compared to Hendrix, Prince, and Lindsey Buckingham. Her self produced all original album “La Moreneta” described as blues influenced storytelling was released on October 10, 2015.
BILLY JOE GREEN
Billy Joe, still in his teens & in the nick of time, was yanked from a dull life of schoolboy drudgery & incompleteness. His guitar mentor & life-long friend, Martin Tuesday had scouted Green & soon asked him to join forces with a fiery group of young Indian musicians who called themselves the FEATHERMEN. He jumped at the chance & it changed his life forever. He entered the group on second guitar but soon learned all the songs & was soon exchanging, weaving & creating exciting, new guitar lines w/Tuesday. They performed for the newly elected PM Pierre Trudeau on one occasion, all the while being the house band at the INDIAN & METIS FRIENDSHIP CENTRE in Winnipeg during the heyday of migration to the city by Indian youth.
After ending the two formative years w/the FEATHERMEN, Billy Joe armed himself w/ pair of sunglasses, fake ID, a Les Paul SG Jr. & a ‘don’t take no for an answer’ attitude. He advanced quickly through the ranks of the then flourishing Winnipeg nightclub scene on the Main St. strip, learning how to play the many styles required to survive the life of a musician.
Becoming one of Canada’s premier blues guitar slingers did not come easy. Billy Joe earned his rambunctious, no frills approach to the guitar honestly; as a sideman for countless configurations of bands. He’s worked with the drive & passion that frustrated most musicians, throughout western Canada & for a short time in the western USA. Patiently, diligently working to find a place for his music. Billy Joe has been described as ‘an incredibly talented, diverse & well-traveled musician’ by the SCENE Roots & Blues Magazine, The description is well-earned.
Four decades later;
– he has a brand new ‘FENDER BENDER’ cd just released;
– along w/seven other CD recordings under his belt,
– three JUNO nominations,
– a five win sweep at the 2006 Winnipeg Blues.com Music Awards,
– two Best Blues CD Awards at the 2006 & 2009 Aboriginal People’s Choice Awards,
– the Best Male Artist at the 2002 Canadian Aboriginal Music Awards,
– a Best Aboriginal Recording Award at the 2001 Western Canadian Music Awards,
– two 2016 NAMMY nominations,
– and a most recent induction into the MANITOBA ABORIGINAL MUSIC HALL OF FAME
Along w/countless other nominations ~ Billy Joe Green still pursues his love, devotion & passion for the electric blues guitar.
Wreckin’ So is a four piece Blues Rock Hybrid that combines sing along lyrics, catchy melodies and songwriting and fierce instrumental prowess. Blazing a trail in the Music Scene today with their infectious sound and jaw dropping performances Wreckin’ So is sure to win any crowd over. Often described as a “Must see” band utilizing home made instruments made by Frontman and Guitarist Brent Alarie whose powerful vocals will send chills down your spine, fierce shredding by Guitarist Ronnie Ladobruk, Groovy Bass playing by Claude Deveau and Powerful moving
drums by Clint Chaboyer. With over 60 combined years between them, Wreckin’ So is paving their legacy in a way that bands will study for years to come. You will have to see it to believe it.
Justin Aron and Dirty Pool
Diligence and passion for the Blues is what drives Justin Aron and Dirty Pool to be known as one of Winnipeg’s finest ensembles of Blues artists that consistently strive to keep the blues alive locally. Forming the band 12 years ago, Justin’s commitment and love of the Blues goes back further to when he received his first acoustic at 12 years old. By 14 Justin knew to pursue the music running through his veins He needed an upgrade. Justin then traded the 1978 pinto his Uncle gave him, in exchange for his first electric guitar and amp. Since then, there’s no stopping him!
Coming from a musical heritage where his grandparents sang in choirs while his brother and Uncle also played guitar, Justin felt the Blues all around him as he is no stranger to the small towns of Southern Manitoba that has become the fabric of his life. As a result, Justin is able to embrace all music stylings but was heavily influenced by the legends of Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddie King.
“I still learn from Freddie and Stevie every time I listen to them, and find something new… every time”.
A common thread that drives Justin creatively in his music and lyrics reflects a lot of what he sees with recent problems in society, such as inequality.
Dedication to play and discover different Blues artists inspired Justin to take a musical journey in 2006 as he was able to travel to the heart of the Blues – Chicago, Illinois. There he jammed with many artists and was introduced to Pistol Pete who then later produced the bands’ second album, ‘The Chicago Sessions’
Justin Aron and Dirty Pool love to do what they do best; play Blues music from the soul and entertain people who share the same hunger for Blues. Justin affirms, “Blues music heals my soul and brings me at one with the world; If I can bring people together to hear us play, I really hope that I can have the same musical impact on my audiences, that my own Blues heroes have given to me!’
BIG DAVE MCLEAN
B SIDE CHAMPS