Guitar Gods Re-Experienced

Jimi Hendrix and Cream tribute bands Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream recreate iconic rock history

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Electric Ladyland and Wheels Of Fire have their 50th anniversaries this year – wow, that’s hard to believe! The two albums were released on October 16 and August 9 in 1968 by The Jimi Hendrix Experience and Cream, respectively. What better way to celebrate the occasion than with an evening of great music capturing the amazing artists behind these iconic rock albums. And that’s exactly what I had a chance to do last night at Monmouth University Center for the Arts’ Pollak Theatre in West Long Branch, N.J. So, did I enjoy myself? You bet!

As some readers of the blog may recall, I posted about Jimi Hendrix tribute band Kiss The Sky and their amazing guitarist Jimi Bleu a month ago after I had seen an ad on Facebook. That’s when I also learned about last night’s gig and immediately decided to get a ticket. But before I get to Kiss The Sky, let’s start with Heavy Cream. And, as you probably guessed, it’s not what you may put on top of certain beverages, though the music they play sure;y as heck sounds sweet to me!

Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream Poster

Heavy Cream is a tribute to the rock power trio of Jack Bruce, Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker. Cream were often called the world’s first successful “supergroup.” Frankly, I don’t care much about these labels. For me it all comes down to a simple question: Do I like the music? And when it comes to Cream, the answer is a clear hell yes!

While Heavy Cream are on Facebook and ReverbNation, there is relatively limited information on this band hailing from Philly. The lineup playing last night was different from the members listed in their biography on Facebook. Based on announced names I heard and some digging on the Internet, I believe yesterday’s performers included Joe Bithorn as Eric Clapton, Dion Paci as Jack Bruce and John Hummel as Ginger Baker. As a former bassist, I always like to acknowledge the musicians behind the bands I cover, so I’ve reached out to Heavy Cream and will update this post as needed if I hear back.

Let’s get to some music. Due to light conditions and where I was seated, capturing the action on my smartphone was challenging, and at times the video footage is out of focus. But I still prefer using my clips to keep things more authentic. Overall, I think the came out pretty well. Here’s the opener of Heavy Cream’s set: White Room. Composed by Jack Bruce with lyrics by poet Pete Brown, the tune also is the first track on the Wheels Of Fire album. Note I moved to a better recording position for the other clips that follow.

In addition to tracks from Wheels Of Fire, Heavy Cream also played a few other songs, such as Badge and the set closer Sunshine Of Your Love. A Jack Bruce and Eric Clapton co-write with lyrics by Pete Brown, Sunshine Of Your Love appeared on Cream’s second studio album Disraeli Gears from November 1967.

After a short intermission, Kiss The Sky hit the stage. According to his online bio, Jimy Bleu met Jimi Hendrix in 1968 as a young teenager at Warner/Reprise Records. He also was a member of the official Hendrix fan club that managed to convince Hendrix to speak at an assembly at Bleu’s high school in New York City. How cool is that? The following year, Bleu attended Woodstock and got one of the guitar straps Hendrix used during his performance there. How mega-cool is that?

Bleu went on to attend Berklee College of Music, as Hendrix had recommended to him, and became a Columbia/Def Jam recording artist and accomplished session musician. He is a recognized Hendrix historian and even produced and starred in his own off-Broadway play on the life of Jimi Hendrix. Watching Bleu last night, it was obvious how closely he has studied Hendrix and that he has paid tribute to his music for more than 45 years. Not only did he perfectly adopt Hendrix’s way to play right-handed guitars turned upside down and restrung for left-hand playing, but also nailed stunts like playing with his teeth, playing guitar behind his back and pointing the instrument at the audience like a gun. Frankly, to me it really felt like the maestro himself had returned!

Jimy Bleu
Jimy Bleu in action

I would also like to acknowledge Bleu’s excellent backing musicians. Just like him they have plenty of experience and it simply shows. Members of The Experience tribute include bassist A.J. Hager as Noel Redding and drummer Ted Edwards as Mitch Mitchell. The Band of Gypsys tribute features Jay Powerz as Billy Cox (bass) and James Jaxon as Buddy Miles (drums).

Kiss The Sky played three sets. Kicking off their show was a recreation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s appearance at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. That legendary performance put them on the map in the U.S., which at the time already had gained popularity in the U.K. In fact, it was Paul McCartney who recommended the band to the organizers of the festival where they were introduced by The Rolling Stones’ co-founding member Brian Jones. Kiss The Sky also paid homage to Band of Gypsys and the Electric Ladyland album with two separate sets.

Here’s Foxey Lady from the Monterey Pop set. The song was written by Hendrix and first appeared on Are You Experienced, the debut album by the Jimi Hendrix Experience from May 1967.

Following are two other tunes from the Monterey Pop set, which was my favorite section of the show last night: Purple Haze and the closer Wild Thing. And while, yes, things got wild, I’m happy to report that no guitars were harmed in the process. As much as I understand showmanship, I always cringe when I see musicians destroy their instruments. Please don’t do that – instead, give your equipment to some kid who wants to learn how to play but can’t afford the gear! Written by Hendrix, Purple Haze was the opener of the U.S. edition of the Are You Experienced album. Wild Thing is a tune written by American songwriter Chip Taylor, which was made popular by English garage rock band The Troggs.

Following the Monterey Pop set, Kiss The Sky played some tunes from Band of Gypsys. Here’s Machine Gun, a Hendrix Vietnam War protest jam from 1970. It appeared on their eponymous live album, their only Band of Gypys record released during Hendrix’s lifetime. It appeared in March 1970, six months prior to his death.

The last song I’d like to highlight is another iconic Hendrix composition, Voodoo Child (Slight Return), the closer of the third set, which featured select tracks from Electric Ladyland.

While when it comes to tribute bands I generally care first and foremost how well they capture the music, I’d be amiss not to acknowledge how impressed I was with the close attention Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream paid to other aspects, including the Marshall stacks and other equipment they used, as well as the outfits they wore. In addition, Bleu’s visual resemblance to Hendrix is stunning. He looks like he could be his younger brother!

Based on their Facebook pages, Kiss The Sky and Heavy Cream are taking their Guitar Gods 50th Anniversary Tour next to Sellersville, Pa. on December 19, where they will perform at Sellersville Theatre & Washington House Hotel & Restaurant. If you dig Jimi Hendrix and Cream and can get there, I’d highly recommend this show. Prior to this, Hendrix fans can also see Kiss In The Sky at Cafe WHA in New York City on November 26 and THS Shrine in Tulsa, Okla.

Sources: Wikipedia; Heavy Cream Facebook and ReverbNation pages; Kiss The Sky Facebook and website; YouTube

Rock The Farm Returns To Jersey Shore

Eleven-hour marathon for a cause features tributes from AC/DC to Zeppelin

While there were no barns and cows, Rock the Farm 2018 didn’t need them. The fifth annual music tribute for a great cause that took place yesterday in Seaside Heights, N.J. rocked anyway and felt even better than last year when I attended the 11-hour marathon for the first time and wrote about it here.

Rock the Farm, a.k.a. Faux-Chella, is a pretty cool idea: Imagine an iconic music festival that could never happen in reality and bring it to life with compelling tribute acts and raise money for a great cause in the process. It sort of mirrors Live Aid on a mini scale, but instead of focusing on starvation in Africa, the fund-raising supports domestic addiction recovery programs. All of the performing bands donated their time to the cause, playing for free. That’s what I call greatness in America that actually deserves the expression!

Rock the Farm 2018 Line-Up

With the U.S. being in the throes of an opioid crisis that according to a fact sheet from CNN claimed more than 63,600 overdose deaths or an average of 115 people a day in 2016, an event like Rock the Farm couldn’t be more timely. And while no amount of money is too small to help address this astonishing loss of human life in one of the richest countries in the world, a staggering $18 billion is spent in the U.S. each year as a result of the opioid crisis. And that’s just opioids, so it doesn’t include alcohol or other drugs!

Rock the Farm is the main annual fundraiser of the non-profit CFC Loud N Clear Foundation, which was established by the Regan family in 2015, after their son Daniel Regan had come out of a rehab center and with the help of his mother Lynn Regan developed a recovery system for himself. Other people noticed it was working for him and started asking how they did it. That’s when the Regan family realized everyone should have access to an aftercare program, sparking the idea of the CFC Loud N Clear Foundation.

According to their website, to date CFC has assisted more than 7,500 families to help overcome addiction by a loved one. Seeing founder Dan Regan and other CFC folks, and even more so, hearing from some other former addicts who had the courage to step on stage was inspiring to say the least. To me it’s the quintessential story of hope that has made America great and attracted immigrants like myself to its shores. I hope the country will never lose that!

All right, now that the “heavy stuff” is out of the way, it’s time for some great music. Since there was so much of it, I’m only going to highlight some of it.

Decade

Readers of the blog may recall I’ve covered this great Neil Young tribute band from New Jersey before. While they’ve only played together for a few years, all of the band’s members are seasoned musicians, and it shows. Decade are John Hathaway (lead vocals, guitar), Joey Herr (guitar, backing vocals), Lou Perillo (bass, backing vocals), Steve Cunniff (keyboards, backing vocals) and Johnny Burke (drums, percussion). Here’s the opener of their set: A cool rendition of Star Spangled Banner a la Jim Hendrix, and Mr. Soul by Buffalo Springfield, which Neil Young co-founded with Stephen Stills, Richie FurayKen Koblun and Dewey Martin in Los Angeles in 1966.

Walk This Way

This terrific tribute band to Aerosmith came all the way from Dallas to support the cause and they kicked ass. While Walk This Way mostly perform in their home state, the show history on the band’s website indicates they also travel nationally and occasionally even beyond. Walk This Way feature Ian Latimer (as Steven Tyler, lead vocals), David Semans (as Joe Perry, guitar & backing vocals), Chris Bender (as Tom Hamilton, bass), Martin Turney (Joey Kramer, drums), Eamonn Gallagher (as Brad Whitford (guitar) and Chris Loehrlein (as Russ Irvin, keyboards). I wasn’t going feature what perhaps is the expected Aerosmith tune, the epic Dream On, but when these guys combined it with Train Kept A-Rollin’, I just couldn’t resist. It was the perfect finish to their great set.

Guns 4 Roses

Walk This Way wasn’t the only band that came all the way from Dallas. They were joined by Guns N’ Roses tribute Guns 4 Roses. Unfortunately, their website and Facebook page only provides the first names of the members (what’s that all about?), and I still had to conduct a bit of research to figure things out: Laz (as Axl Rose, lead vocals), Eamonn (as Slash, guitar), Chris (as Duff McKagan, bass), David (as Dizzy Reed, keyboards), Martin (as Steven Adler, drums) and Chris (Izzy Stradlin, guitar). Hope I got it right. Here’s Sweet Child O’ Mine, one of my favorite Guns N’ Roses tunes.

TUSK

This outstanding tribute to Fleetwood Mac, which mirrors the Rumours lineup, is another band from New Jersey. Their members include Kathy Phillips (as Stevie Nicks, vocals), Kim Williams (as Christine McVie, keyboards & vocals), Scott McDonald (as Lindsey Buckingham, guitar & vocals), Tom Nelson (as Mick Fleetwood, drums) and Randy Artiglere (as John McVie, bass). Like Walk This Way, TUSK is a national band, as indicated by the tour schedule on their website. Here’s Dreams and Say You Love Me from the Rumours (1977) and Fleetwood Mac (1975) albums, respectively.

Free Fallin’

Another band that took a long trip for Rock The Farm was Free Fallin’, a Minneapolis-based tribute to Tom Petty. He is yet another longtime favorite artist of mine, and with their execution of the music and Petty’s distinct vocals, I think Free Fallin’ would have made him proud. The band are Tom Brademeyer (as Tom Petty, guitar & lead vocals), Mark Larsen (as Stan Lynch, drums), Russ Lund (as Ron Blair, bass), Karl Swartz (as Mike Campbell, guitar & vocals), Dale Peterson (as Benmont Tench, keyboards, percussion & vocals) and Craig Volke (as Scott Thurston, guitar, keyboards, harmonica, percussion & vocals). While I think looks are secondary when it comes to tribute acts, it doesn’t hurt when they have visual similarity with the artists they capture. I should add that’s also the case for at least one member of each of the other tribute bands I’ve highlighted in this post. I was tempted to feature Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, for which Kathy Phillips of TUSK joined Free Fallin’, but I just couldn’t resist highlighting my favorite Petty tune instead: Refugee, from the excellent Damn The Torpedos album (1979). Just like Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around, it was spot on.

Live/Wire

What better way to close out a great all-day festival than with the hard charging rock & roll of AC/DC – and, boy, did Live/Wire kick ass! This band from New York, which has been around since 2000, includes Mike Hughes (as Angus Young, lead guitar), Bill Voccia (as Malcolm Young, rhythm guitar), Chris Antos (as Bon Scott and Brian Johnson, lead vocals), Bill ‘Daytona’ Bowden (as Cliff Williams, bass) and Billy Rauff (as Phil Rudd, drums). While most tribute acts like to call themselves the “ultimate experience” or variations of the claim, I could imagine that Live/Wire are indeed “the ultimate AC/DC experience.” Based on their current 2018 schedule, the band’s touring radius appears to span the eastern half of the U.S. Here’s It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock ‘N’ Roll). While there were apparent problems with the microphone for the bagpipes, frankly, it didn’t matter much. Instructions for the clip: To be played on a decent sound system at maximum volume!😜

Yes, an 11-hour festival is a marathon, and I can’t deny by back and feet were aching when it was all over, but it was worth each and every moment. So guess what? Come next September, and if I’m still alive, I’ll be back!

Sources: Wikipedia; CNN opioid crisis fast facts (June 2018); CFC Loud N Clear Foundation website; Decade Facebook page;  Walk This Way Facebook page and website; Guns 4 Roses Facebook page and website; TUSK website; Free Fallin’ Facebook page; Live/Wire website; YouTube

Bringing The Great Gig In The Sky To Earth And Back To The Dark Side Of The Moon

Mighty echoes of Pink Floyd blow roof off Asbury Park’s Stone Pony

My Pink Floyd journey started in circa 1976 when I first listened to Wish You Were Here, yet another gem in my older sister’s vinyl record collection at the time. Whether she did so consciously or not, once again I realize I owe her a debt of gratitude for introducing me to various great artists I continue to dig to this day, more than 40 years later.

When it comes to Pink Floyd, I suppose the closest original live experience you can get these days is Roger Waters whose Us + Them tour is set to hit South America and Mexico in October. We may also be able to look forward to more gigs from David Gilmour but the outlook is still unclear. When discussing his Live At Pompeii album in September 2017, he said he’d be very uncomfortable to do another tour without new material, adding he has several new songs close to completion.

I don’t know about you, but I can’t just hop on a plane to catch Waters in South America; and frankly even if I could, I’m not even sure I would want to. The prospect of being able to see Gilmour look uncertain at this time. So what’s a Floyd fan like me to do? Enter  Echoes, “The American Pink Floyd.” It’s obvious this tribute band from Delaware doesn’t aim to look like Roger Waters, David Gilmour, Richard Wright and Nick Mason but instead is all about capturing the great music. And that they do incredibly well!

Echoes 3

I saw Echoes first a year ago at Rock The Farm, where they closed out the great annual tribute band spectacle in Seaside Heights, N.J., with an amazing performance under the stars. When I learned a few weeks ago they would come to Asbury Park, N.J. to play The Stone Pony, I didn’t think twice whether or not I should get a ticket. The show happened last night, and it truly was experiencing the great gig in the sky coming down to earth and back to the dark side of the moon. But, to also creatively borrow from Aerosmith and Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, why don’t I let some of the music do the talking?

Here is the opener of the first set, Sheep. Written by Waters, the tune appeared on Floyd’s tenth studio album Animals, released in January 1977.

In 1975, Pink Floyd recorded the above mentioned Wish You Here, their ninth studio album. Initially, this was my favorite Floyd record. Here is Echoes’ rendition of Have A Cigar, Waters’ cynical take on the recording industry. And, yes, the band was just fantastic, and that’s really what think, even though they didn’t have Pink. Clever, huh?

Another track I’d like to highlight from the first set is Hey You. Gilmour and Waters co-wrote the tune for The Wall, Floyd’s 11th studio album from November 1979 – by the way, the only album I bought on vinyl at the time it came out. This was during my high school rebel days when the message Hey teacher, leave them kids alone resonated, at least when it came to some of my teachers who shall remain unnamed!

Next up is the closer of the first set and undoubtedly the highlight of the show: Time and The Great Gig In The Sky. Both gems are included on Floyd’s studio release that preceded Wish You Were Here: The Dark Side Of The Moon, from March 1973. Time was co-written by all four members of Pink Floyd, while The Great Gig In The Sky was credited to Wright and the amazing vocalist Clare Torry. If you don’t want to watch the entire clip, at least do yourself a favor and check out Echoes’ (backing) vocalist Michelle Sumler Hover, who is just absolutely killing it on Gig.

Set 2 brought more amazing music and in addition to the above albums also included material from Meddle, Floyd’s sixth studio album released in October 1971. But first here’s the epic Money and Us And Them from Dark Side, tunes that were respectively written by Waters and co-written by him and Gilmour. Check out the great work from the band’s sax player Andrew Bedell.

Another track I’d like to highlight from the second set is Run Like Hell, a co-write by Waters and Gilmour from The Wall album.

I guess no Pink Floyd tribute show would be complete without Wish You Were Here. And since Echoes apparently wanted to end their gig with a big bang, they combined it with One Of These Days. The title track of Floyd’s ninth studio album from September 1975 was penned by Waters and Gilmour, while One Of These Days, off the Meddle album, was credited to all band members.

This post wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging Echoes’ impressive musicianship. Echoes feature William (Bill) Swezey (guitar, vocals), John Ratcliffe (vocals, guitar), David Fox (guitar, lap steel), Dan Long (keyboards, sound effects),  Andrew Bedell (saxophone), Chris Miller (bass) and Matt Urban (drums). Penny Carmack, Chris Duncan and the above mentioned Michelle Sumler Hover form Echoes’ amazing backing vocalist section cleverly called “The Crazy Diamond Girls.” Last night, Kim Walton was filling in for Duncan.

After the show, I briefly had a chance to say ‘hello’ to Bill Swezey, who looked like a happy camper. I think he certainly had plenty of good reason after a great gig! He said they want to keep Floyd’s music alive. When I asked him how long they had been doing this, he noted the band has been together since 2015. He also confirmed what was obvious to me that all of the band’s members have been professional musicians for many years.

According to their Facebook page, Echoes are scheduled to play next on October 19th at Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, Pa. The band’s website also lists another show for December 22nd at Queen Theater in Wilmington, Del. If you dig Pink Floyd and can get to any of these places, I would highly recommend Echoes.

Sources: Wikipedia, Roger Waters official website, Echoes Facebook page and official website, YouTube

Almost Queen, One Hundred Percent Killer

Queen tribute band rocks New Jersey’s Asbury Park

Almost Queen couldn’t have come up with a better a name. These four guys from New York really make you feel like you’re watching Freddie Mercury, Brian May, John Deacon and Roger Taylor. While unfortunately this is no longer possible and, as such, they are almost Queen, this band is doing a true killer job. I caught their show last night at The Stone Pony in Asbury, N.J. They really blew the frigging roof off the place!

Queen has been on my radar screen on and off since the late ’70s/early ’80s. While I wouldn’t call myself a die-hard fan, I’m well familiar with their better known songs and like many of them. In fact, I had contemplated doing a post on the English rock band a couple of times before. Then I spotted a notification on Facebook about Almost Queen’s gig last night and watched a few YouTube clips. Since yours truly has been called the King Of The Tribute Bands, of course, I had to continue performing my duties to continue living up to the title. 🙂

Almost Queen 2
Almost Queen (from left to right): John Cappadona, Randy Gregg, Joseph Russo & Steve Leonard

Before getting to last night’s gig and of course some clips, a few words about the band. There isn’t a lot of public background information out there, so I’m quoting from their website: Almost Queen delivers a live performance showcasing signature four part harmonies and intricate musical interludes. Donning genuine costumes, Almost Queen captures the live energy and precision that is the penultimate Queen experience. Okay, you simply could have said they are a kick-ass tribute that sounds and looks pretty darn close to the real deal!

Almost Queen are Joseph Russo as Freddie Mercury, Steve Leonard as Brian May, Randy Gregg as John Deacon and John Cappadona as Roger Taylor. While I couldn’t find any bios on these guys, it’s pretty clear to me that Almost Queen isn’t their first trip to the rodeo – there’s simply too much serious musician craftsmanship going on here! Take it from a guitarist and former bassist, who may have been only moderately capable but who sure as heck knows skill when he sees or hears it! Okay, let’s get to some killer clips before we all get a sheer heart attack!

Almost Queen ticket

After the great opener Tie Your Mother Down, one of my favorite Queen tunes I unfortunately missed to capture, Leonard rhetorically asked, are you ready to get crazy?When the crowd unambiguously expressed their sentiments, the band appropriately kept their foot on the gas pedal with Stone Cold Crazy. The tune first appeared on Queen’s third studio album Sheer Heart Attack from November 1974 and was credited to all four members of the band. The track was also released separately as a single and became a staple of Queen’s live shows thereafter.

Next up: Killer Queen, another track from Sheer Heart Attack. Written by Freddie Mercury, the tune also became the album’s lead single in October 1974. Almost Queen did a great job with the harmony vocals here. These guys definitely can do both play and sing!

Another One Bites The Dust is from Queen’s eighth studio record The Game, released in June 1980. The funky tune was written by John Deacon and also came out separately as the album’s fourth single. Ever since I’ve heard the hilarious version by “Weird Al” Yankovic, who turned it into Another One Writes The Bus, his take is in my ears.

By the time Almost Queen got to Don’t Stop Me Now, there was absolutely no chance anything could get in their way. The crowd had fully embraced them right from the get-go of the show, and the room was cooking, fueled by the pulsating drums and pumping bass! Written by Freddie Mercury, Queen first recorded Don’t Stop Me Now for their seventh studio album Jazz from November 1978.  It also became the record’s second single released in January the following year.

Next up: Fat Bottomed Girls, another track from Jazz, written by Mercury. The tune also became the B-side to the album’s lead single Bicycle Race. Almost Queen made it another vocal gem.

Crazy Little Thing Called Love is not an Elvis Presley song, as Russo reminded the crowd, but yet another great Freddie Mercury composition from The Game. The cool rockabilly tune also became the album’s lead single in October 1979.

And then the time had come for Almost Queen to pay tribute to David Bowie with  Under Pressure. The collaboration with The Thin White Duke was included on Queen’s 10th studio release Hot Space from May 1982. It also appeared as the album’s lead single in October the previous year and became Queen’s second no. 1 hit in the U.K. after Bohemian Rhapsody, topping the Official Singles Chart for nine week. For Bowie it was his third no. 1 on that chart, following Ashes To Ashes and the 1975 reissue of Space Oddity. The track is credited to all members of Queen and David Bowie.

No Queen tribute show would be complete without the above mentioned Bohemian Rhapsody. In my humble opinion, it is one of the weirdest and the same time most brilliant rock songs I know. The epic track was first recorded by Queen for A Night At The Opera, their fourth studio album from November 1975. Written by Mercury and also released separately as the record’s lead single in October that year, the tune should have laid to rest any doubts anyone might ever have had that he could have been an opera singer as well. There aren’t many rock vocalists with that quality – the only other one that comes to my mind spontaneously is Roy Orbison.

And since all things must pass, including great rock & roll shows, the time had finally come for Almost Queen to wrap things up. And what better songs to choose than We Will Rock You and We Are The Champions, just like Queen did traditionally. Both songs appeared back to back as the openers on Queen’s sixth studio album News Of The World. Perhaps not surprisingly, the guitar rocker We Will Rock You was penned by Brian May, while We Are The Champions is yet another Freddie Mercury composition.

So here we are, nine clips later – can you tell somebody got a little bit excited here? I just wish the sound quality of the footage would be better, since I feel it doesn’t do full justice to the band. The audience’s ability to sing, on the other hand, is captured accurately, I’m afraid! 🙂 Oh well, ultimately live music should be about having a great time, and I highly doubt there was anyone last night walking out of the place and being disappointed.

While I obviously recorded a good deal of the show, obviously, there were many things I left out, including pretty impressive drum and guitar solos by Leonard and Cappadona, respectively. Each of the band’s guys is massively talented.

According to the tour schedule on their website, upcoming Almost Queen shows include Brooklyn, N.Y. (Sep 8), Beverly, Mass. (Sep 21) and Plymouth, N.H. (Sep 22). If you like Queen and these guys come to your neck of the woods, you should seriously consider them. Tickets are quite affordable. Take it from the King Of The Tribute BandsAlmost Queen truly is almost Queen! 🙂

Sources: Wikipedia, Almost Queen website, YouTube

 

1,100 Miles From Memphis, Keeping It Real With Funky Blues And Soul

Southern Avenue shines live in New York City

Southern Avenue has been on my radar screen since I listened to their great eponymous debut album a year ago. When I learned the funky blues and soul band was coming to New York City, I decided right away that I wanted to see them. And so I did, Tuesday night at Joe’s Pub at The Public, a terrific small music venue in the Big Apple’s West Village. The band’s powerful performance made it worth every minute!

Founded in Memphis in 2015, Southern Avenue include Tierini Jackson (lead vocals), her sister Tikyra Jackson (drums, backing vocals), Ori Naftaly (guitar), Jeremy Powell (keyboards) and Gage Markey (bass), who is a touring member. According the band’s website, they are named after a street that runs from East Memphis to “Soulsville,” the original home of the legdendary Stax Records.

Southern Avenue
Southern Avenue (left to right): Tikyra Jackson, Ori Naftaly, Tierini Jackson and Jeremy Powell

Naftaly, a blues guitarist who came to Memphis from Israel in 2013 for a blues competition, decided to stay and tour the U.S. with his own band. Later he met Memphis native Tierini Jackson and immediately was impressed with her powerful voice. Soon thereafter, they started writing music together. Tierini introduced him to her sister, other members joined the band, and they began touring in the U.S. and Europe.

Less than a year after their formation, Southern Avenue got a contract with none other than Stax Records. Sure, that label has seen many changes since the days of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and its house band Booker T. & The M.G.s. Still, appearing on a label that’s associated with such a glorious history is pretty cool! Southern Avenue’s eponymous debut studio album was released in February 2017. It entered the Billboard Top Blues Albums Chart at no. 6 and topped the iTunes Blues Chart, an impressive and well-deserved showing. Time to get to some music.

Tuesday night’s set predominantly featured tunes from the band’s debut album, along with various covers, such as great takes of Chain Of Fools, first recorded by Aretha Franklin in November 1967, and Come Together by The Beatles, the opener of the Abbey Road album from September 1969. Here’s a clip of Wildflower, an original song from the band’s first record.

I do not know the title of the tune featured in the next clip. I believe it is also an original song. Since it is not included on the band’s debut album, I assume it hasn’t been released yet.

Next up is one of my Southern Avenue favorites, 80 Miles From Memphis. I just love the bluesy groove of that tune! When I told Naftaly during a meet and greet with the band after the show that I had noticed they had slowed it down a bit, he explained that was done deliberately. The speed of the tune varies based on the audience and where it is in the set during the show. If it’s more of a blues crowd or they use it to warm up the audience, the band speeds it up. Last night, it came right before the closer Don’t Give Up, a slower tune.

The last song I’d like to call out is the aforementioned Don’t Give Up, the opener of Southern Avenue’s debut album. It nicely illustrates Tierini’s powerful voice, who is often supported by her sister on harmony vocals. When I asked Tierini where she had learned to sing like this, she mentioned the church and that her parents were musicians. One really wonders what soul would be without gospel music and church choirs!

Commenting on Tueday night’s set overall, Naftaly said they mostly filled it with slower and quieter songs, given the small size of the venue. He added if they would have rocked with full force, they would have blown away the audience – I actually would have been fine with that, though blew me away in a different manner! 🙂 When I told Tierini that unlike what’s mostly in the charts today I love their music, she moderately replied, “We’re trying to keep it real.”

Asked by somebody else when their next album is coming out, Naftaly said it will be released in February, hinting it is ready. In the meantime, Southern Avenue will continue to tour. The schedule on their Facebook page lists gigs until March 1, 2017. Upcoming shows are in Plattsburgh, N.Y. (Aug 30), East Stroudsburg, Pa. (Aug 31) and Effingham, Ill (Sep 1). This is an exciting young band I will continue to follow.

Sources: Wikipedia, Southern Avenue website and Facebook page, YouTube

‘Stars Align’ Is Bold Tour Title, But Ann Wilson, Paul Rodgers And Jeff Beck Look Like They Can Live Up To It

One could be forgiven to a bit cynical about the concept: Take three artists who had their prime years in the ’70s, throw ’em together and boldly call it the Stars Align Tour. Admittedly, I couldn’t entirely escape this notion when I saw that Ann Wilson, Paul Rodgers and Jeff Beck announced their tour, which kicked off on July 18 in West Valley City, Utah. Then I read some reviews and watched some clips on YouTube – well, let’s just say I wasn’t turned off by what I saw and just got a ticket for August 12 at my go-to concert venue PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J., and for very reasonable money I should add.

I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised in the first place. After all, the success or failure of the three-in-one concept crucially depends on the featured artists. At 74, Beck seems to continue to defy age, not only with his looks but much more importantly with his guitar-playing. Okay, you might say, compared to 82-year-old Buddy Guy, Beck’s still an adolescent. But let’s not kid ourselves, rock & roll is a brutal business. On top, I can’t imagine Beck lived a particularly healthy life style. Speaking of Guy and Beck, I saw these two guitar dynamos in a double-header in July 2016 at the above venue, and it was a terrific show, so my expectations for the upcoming gig are high – now you better bring it, Beck! 🙂

Paul Rodgers, Jeff Beck & Ann Wilson

As for Rodgers, I had actually hoped he and Bad Company would be part of the June 22 Lynyrd Skynyrd farewell show I caught at – yes, you guessed it correctly – PNC. Given how many freaking shows I’ve seen there, perhaps I should apply for an honorary membership! 🙂 Leading up to the Skynyrd gig, I had read somewhere that Bad Company would be among the special guests that night. So I was full of anticipation and quite disappointed when it turned out they weren’t part of the lineup. I suppose that was another good reason to get a ticket for the Stars Align Tour. Looking at setlists from recent gigs, Rodgers is playing a nice mix of Bad Company and Free stuff. And his rock pipes still seem to be working nicely!

And then there’s Wilson. While I don’t want to pretend I’m a Heart expert, based on their music I know, I’m well aware of Wilson’s vocal capabilities. Barracuda is a nice showcase of what she can do. As an aide, Ann’s older sister Nancy Wilson is a kick-ass guitarist, but she’s not part of the tour. Interestingly, as reported by Ultimate Classic Rock and other media outlets, Ann’s set only includes one Heart tune, the aforementioned Barracuda. The remainder are all covers, and there’s some great stuff there, such as The Who’s The Real Me, The Black Crows’ She Talks To Angels and the Eagles’ Life In The Fast Lane.

Okay, time for a few clips. Here’s Wilson’s rendition of Life In The Fast Lane. She took some creative liberties with the tune, which was co-written by Joe Walsh, Glenn Frey and Don Henley and appeared on the Eagles’ Hotel California album from December 1976. It’s quite different from the original, but I think it’s a cool take.

As noted above, Rodgers’ set nicely draws from Bad Company and Free. Here’s the latter band’s signature tune All Right Now. Penned by Rodgers with Free bassist Andy Fraser, the song is from their third studio album Fire And Water, released in June 1970. It also appeared separately as a single. It’s one of these timeless straight rockers with a cool guitar riff that still sound great to this day!

Last but not least, here’s a cool black & white clip of Beck performing one of the few originals from his set, Brush With The Blues, which he co-wrote with Tony Hymas. The tune appeared on his seventh studio album Who Else! from March 1999.

Wilson, Rodgers and Beck are playing Boston tonight. Next they are taking the Stars Align Tour to Camden, N.J. (Aug 4), Cincinnati (Aug 8) and Indianapolis (Aug 10). The tour will wrap up in Tampa, Fla. on Aug 26.

Sources: Wikipedia, “Stars Align Tour” announcement; Ultimate Classic Rock; YouTube