Posts Tagged ‘Mauch Chunk Opera House’

People can certainly be saddened by the music industry these days. I totally understand.

My first live concert was at the Fillmore East, an experience I still think about all the time. Music, both live and on vinyl, provided me with life-changing experiences that I draw upon to this day.

Back then, I had never heard of a tribute band. But like any business, things change, and you adapt.


Most of the original bands we book these days at the Mauch Chunk Opera House can thank tribute bands for the paying work, and also vice versa – because it’s all part of how the doors to our venue stay open, hence making it possible for people to support live music.

BlogArticle2100% of the tribute band members that work here are also members of other bands, some tribute, some original. The players are all good – really good. It would be beautiful if all their original projects ended up rocking the world and getting them great-paying gigs, but, well, I probably won’t be wearing Yankee pinstripes either.

Nonetheless, like the bands we book, we keep trying for the big time. Until that happens, when I get up and march off to the day job, I wish I still didn’t have to do it, but I’m grateful for the work. For musicians, they’re simply glad to be able to perform live, and a paying gig, whether tribute or original, pays the bills as well as makes an audience happy.

Paying work is hardly a bad thing.  We have a venue to keep open. Meanwhile, each weekend, our events help make it possible for restaurants to open, hotels to get booked, innumerable tradespeople to get work, and a small town in Pennsylvania to prosper. We all work in a big circle, each depending on the other.

The biggest thing for me personally is that it makes it possible to occupy a little piece of the music business. Presenting live music and seeing happy faces, both from audiences and bands – that’s what it’s all about.

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Audiences return to yesteryear when the Mauch Chunk Opera House features silent film accompanied by the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra on Sunday, October 12.

When the Opera House was purchased in 1925 by the Comerford Company of Buffalo, NY, silent film had already come into its own, featuring box office stars Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd and many others.

Paragon Ragtime Orchestra at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseOriginally built in 1881, the Opera House was remodeled to accommodate the tastes of the day, and provide state-of-the-art entertainment to residents and visitors who arrived in town (then known as Mauch Chunk) from New York’s Penn Station by the trainload, several times a day.

Audiences saw top-shelf ensembles performing scores written specially for the silent films they watched. If Charlie Chaplin was poked on the head, there was a musical sound for it that was written into the score. It wasn’t as if the orchestra simply performed a soundtrack: the music was integral to the experience of viewing the film.

Courtesy of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, that’s what a 21st-century audience will get to experience on Sunday, October 12 at 6 PM. Conductor and orchestra leader Rick Benjamin is able to present a fascinating experience that takes audiences back in time.

The orchestra was founded in 1985 by Benjamin and prompted by his discovery of an enormous cache of musical arrangements belonging to a theater orchestra, once led by Arthur Pryor. Benjamin organized a number of his fellow students at Juilliard to perform the material, and in 1988 The Paragon Ragtime Orchestra made its public premiere at New York’s Alice Tully Hall as the first period instrument ensemble to appear there.

Featuring the silent film stars Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Harold Lloyd, the films speak to an earlier time when these actors were famous and America’s music was Ragtime.

Read the Opera House’s fascinating interview with conductor Rick Benjamin, here.

Tickets cost only $25 for this one-of-a-kind experience and purchased online 24/7 at mcohjt.com, or call the Opera House box office at 570-325-0249.

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Artistry Weekend Friday and Saturday at the Opera House

Two shows at the Mauch Chunk Opera House this weekend capture the very soul of different, but equally transcendent, types of music: on Friday, August 1st, Flamenco and World music are at the heart of the Latin guitar sound of Incendio, while on Saturday, August 2nd, the acclaimed Philadelphia entertainer Eddie Bruce pays tribute to the great Tony Bennett, on the eve of the icon’s 88th birthday.

incendio at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseCapture a raging firestorm – that’s the music of Los Angeles-based Incendio!  At the heart of every song is the bold, romantic Spanish guitar, its timeless sound recast in powerful modern arrangements.  They create a polyrhythmic swirl of multiple Latin American music forms (boleros, cumbias, salsa, tango, mambo) and passionately combine them with Indian, Arabic and Celtic flavors.

The veteran songwriter/musicians knew the kind of inspired passion and energy they wanted to convey when they named their band in 1999. The Latin guitar world fusion sound created by guitarists Jim Stubblefield, Jean-Pierre Durand, and Liza Cabre’ has received international acclaim, and their reputation as a dazzling live act has spread.

On Saturday, August 2 Eddie Bruce, ably backed by the talented Tom Adams Trio, presents a heartfelt tribute to Tony Bennett, on the occasion of the great singer’s 88th birthday. Adams is a highly respected pianist, having performed with a host of legendary singers including Mel Torme, Petula Clark, Bette Midler, Eydie Gorme and Steve Lawrence – even pop singers such as Jewell.

Eddie Bruce Sings Tony Bennett at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseAfter sold-out performances at New York’s Feinstein’s and the Metropolitan Room, Philadelphia’s Prince Music Theater’s Cabaret, and many other venues up and down the East Coast, Eddie Bruce brings “Bruce on Bennett: A Birthday Tribute,” to Jim Thorpe, PA.

Tickets for each show are only $20. Those attending both shows can attend the second show for half price by calling SoundCheck Records in downtown Jim Thorpe at 570-325-4009 or by visiting the Opera House for tickets on Friday from noon until 5 PM. You can also call the box office at 570-325-0249. Showtime for both nights is 8 PM.

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incendio at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseThe Weekend of August 1st and 2nd features two shows at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in downtown Jim Thorpe that you won’t find together anywhere else. Both will both be immensely enjoyable, they’re very different from each other, but similar in terms of virtuosity and both won’t cost you an arm and a leg.

Friday, August 1st features the world music ensemble Incendio, from Southern California, and led by the brilliance of their two lead Spanish guitarists. The first thought is that it’s flamenco, then you hear the overtones of Celtic, trance, classical, and New Age, and you can only conclude that it is a particularly absorbing, all-encompassing brand of world music.

It is particularly enjoyable in the relaxed space of the Opera House, with the delicacy and nuance of the sound heard as beautifully as it would be in a far bigger theater. While the skill level is there, the cost is most definitely not!

Eddie Bruce Performs the Tony Bennett Songbook at the Opera HouseCelebrate the 88th Birthday of a musical icon on Saturday, August 2nd! On the eve of the great Tony Bennett’s 88th birthday, Eddie Bruce and the Tom Adams Trio pay tribute to the music and magic of this American treasure.

Wish Mr. Bennett a Happy Birthday at the Opera House. This crowd-pleasing show, which is a favorite in New York City, Philadelphia, and the Jersey Shore, captures all of your favorite Tony Bennett classics, performed by the premier interpreter of Bennett’s music, Eddie Bruce, accompanied by the remarkable Tom Adams trio.

Fresh from appearances with the Philly Pops and the Ocean City Pops, you can see this show just as it heads to the Atlantic later in August!

Both terrific offerings appear at the Mauch Chunk Opera House. Tickets for each performance are only $20 and two-for-one for Carbon County residents. They’re available 24/7 on the Opera House website, http://www.mcohjt.com, by visiting SoundCheck Records in downtown Jim Thorpe from 10 AM to 9 PM, or by calling them at (570) 325-4009.

The Opera House is open on show days from noon to 5 PM, or you can call Monday through Friday at (570) 325-0249. Tickets are also available at the door when they open at 7 PM. Both shows begin at 8 PM.


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The McLovins play Jim Thorpe’s Mauch Chunk Opera House on Saturday, June 26, 2014.

Tie-Dyed Soul
A Q&A with Atticus Kelly
Of the McLovins

By Geoff Gehman

Atticus Kelly has a 21-year-old body and a 63-year-old soul. The guitar-playing keyboardist for the McLovins deeply admires Garth Hudson, the Band’s saxophone-playing keyboard wizard. Allen Toussaint’s horn charts for the Band’s live “Rock of Ages” album inspired Kelly’s horn charts for the McLovins’ new EP “Funk No. Uno.” Thanks to him, the McLovins’ version of the Band’s “Up on Cripple Creek” is marvelously, deliriously funky. And, thanks to him, the band’s new album “Beautiful Lights” is sequenced like an old-fashioned, story-spreading vinyl LP.

The McLovins at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseKelly and his McLovin mates—bassist Jason Ott, guitarist Justin Berger and drummer Jake Huffman–will make their Jim Thorpe debut on July 26 at the Mauch Chunk Opera House. Expect an invigorating, turn-on-a-diming blend of jazzy rock, quicksilver R&B and tie-dyed soul, all of which can be taped freely.

This smooth, soulful mix has made the group popular at hip venues like the Brooklyn Bowl and hep festivals like the Gathering of the Vibes. Among their marquee fans are Phish lyricist Tom Marshall, who co-wrote “Cohesive,” a McLovins signature tune, and former Spin Doctors guitarist Anthony Krizan, who produced “Beautiful Lights.”
Below, in a recent interview from his first time in Colorado, Kelly discusses his passion for a crazy, charismatic organ built during World War II and his major jones for Steely Dan, another band with members old enough to be his parents.

Q: What was the first song you couldn’t forget, that wormed its way into your ears and soul?
A: You’re going to laugh at this answer: Smash Mouth’s “All Star.” I’m not deeply moved by the song, but it’s stayed with me for many years [at least 13]. I wasn’t thinking about it analytically when I was listening to it, which is something I can no longer help but do.
I can hardly remember one song in my pre-analytic period. On the other hand, I could probably name a million Beatles songs before I understood music. My parents played a lot of Beatles music when I was growing up; I heard the Beatles before I could talk. I have the most bizarre relationship with that band. It’s probably been two or three years since I’ve voluntarily put on the Beatles, yet their music is so ingrained in my memory, pre-analytically, that I can no longer listen to it objectively. It’s a weird dynamic, but I treasure it.

McLovins at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: Who were your first musical mentors, the people who convinced you that playing music could be a calling?
A: Probably my parents. My mother is a vocalist who has sung around the world in different choirs; my dad is a guitarist and a jazz bassist. He gave me my first guitar lessons eight years ago and—zoom!—that was it. My parents gave me a lot of encouragement from the start. They raised me in a climate extraordinarily conducive to progress. With two musicians, and two good role models, in the house, I could think: Wow, this is a little easier to imitate.

Q: Why did you join the McLovins, besides a desire to expand your friendship with Jake Huffman, your colleague at an arts academy in Hartford? What did you think the group could give you, and what did you think you could give the group?
A: I’ve known Jake for years. At the academy, which is a very serious performing-arts school, we played together five days a week two hours at a time for three years. After we graduated, he did his thing and I did mine. I was a jazz snob, which meant that I made fun of this jam-band stuff that Jake played with the McLovins. But then I met [McLovins bassist] Jason [Ott] in my freshman theory class [at the University of Hartford’s Hartt School of Music] and started hanging out with him. And then I caught wind that [McLovins guitarist] Jeff [Howard] was leaving the band and I started jamming with Jason and [fellow Hartt student] Justin Berger [now the McLovins’ lead guitarist]. And I began to think: Wow, this shit is whack.

There’s an old saying that if you learn another language, it will make your own language stronger. Well, I learned a lot about jazz from playing rock. It’s a totally different discipline, and it opened me up to some realizations I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I realized that any recording the Band made is just as complex as anything John Coltrane did, to my ears. It’s apples and oranges, but you can still compare the two and come out with something similar.

Q: How has the band changed since you signed on in 2011? It seems you’ve guided the other guys more toward funk; a prime example is the new EP “Funk No. Uno,” which includes your horn arrangements.
A: I’ll try to answer without sounding self-congratulating. I guess I bring some different ideas to the table, like having horns with real arrangements. Horns give us a sort of presence we could get without horns, but it’s a little harder to get; they bring the presence right away, which is nice. A horn section will make someone think you put time into making it happen; a band concerned with arrangements is a mature band.

McLovins at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseSome parts in the charts [on “Funk No. Uno”] I deliberately lifted from the Band’s arrangements on records like “Rock of Ages,” with all those great arrangements from Allen Toussaint. Specifically, I lifted stuff from “Life Is a Carnival.” I remember [Band guitarist] Robbie Robertson saying that Toussaint said: “Just give me some headphones and some manuscript paper” and he just came up with the arrangements, he didn’t need a piano or anything. I feel that if I can enhance these songs I’ve done my job. My job is to make something melodic and natural, to never distract.

Q: What are your major contributions to the new CD “Beautiful Lights”? Jake has said it’s the group’s most approachable, tangible record, with shorter songs and fewer long solos.
A: I contributed to the programming of the album; I tried to make it like two sides of a vinyl record. We start out with the dance stuff of “Flavor of the Week” and “Man in a Blue Coat.” We switch over with the title track, which has four-part a cappella, and then the record becomes more roots influenced. There’s some country and some Little Feat stuff on “Yankee Rose” and “Shivers,” which is a straight-ahead jam sort of thing. On the final track, “Birthday,” there’s this long vamp with organ and flute sounds that’s supposed to be like the buzzy voicings at the end of Steely Dan’s “Aja.”

Never underestimate the significance of Steely Dan. I think I know every one of their tunes, inside and out. “Haitian Divorce”? Me and the bass player [Ott] are such nerds for that song.

Q: You guys are pretty new to crisscrossing the country; the Mauch Chunk gig is part of your first tour of the Mid-Atlantic and South. What wisdom have you received from road warriors about keeping physically and mentally healthy?
A: Don’t party every night, or you will run yourself absolutely ragged. If you argue with someone, that shit has to be resolved right away or that show will be a real stinker. With four to 10 personalities in the car there’s going to be some bickering. There’s always going to be some turmoil in a band, especially in a band like ours with a democratic say. But life doesn’t end with bickering.

Q: Can you remember a magical moment onstage, when something  came from nothing and became everything?
A: You mean a moment when we went into a whole different dimension? That hasn’t happened yet on this tour. We’re working out some stuff with the horns; we’re learning each other’s language. In January we played a Webcast in Boca Raton and I think it was our best performance of the whole tour. We didn’t have any issues with the sound; we could hear ourselves well; our playing was very informed. You lose some clarity when you can’t hear yourself; you can lapse into some territory that’s not so tasteful.
I think we’ve nailed it every time we’ve played Nectar’s in Vermont. One time up there we played “Up on Cripple Creek” and it turned into this moody, spooky jam. We really played the shit out of that song; we played with perfect economy. It’s hard to get four minds thinking that way, to have really good economy when you’re improvising.

Q: The band’s Facebook page includes a photo of you giddily embracing a newly acquired organ. How was it acquired and why were you so giddy?
A: It’s a Hammond Model D from 1939-41; it predates the Hammond B3 by maybe 20 years, It’s an ancient instrument; it’s all tubes and transistors. It’s a heavy, geriatric, idiosyncratic monster, and it needs some work. That stuff can be a whole lot of fun to troubleshoot, but for now I’d rather spare myself the trouble of taking it on the road. It also gives me small shocks; I’d like to spare myself the trouble of being electrocuted onstage.

I’ve been wanting to get an organ for a long time. I love harmony and rhe organ is a perfect instrument for harmony. I sold a Telecaster to buy it. I hated that guitar; it had always been a bummer.

I’m a big fan of Garth Hudson from the Band. He’s an absolute genius on the organ. A lady interviewer on this Web site tried to get the members of the Band to talk about the importance of classical music and if it related to rock music. And most of them said: I don’t know—ask Garth. Garth doesn’t usually open up, but this time what he said was fascinating. He said that when the Band was living at Big Pink [the group’s pink-painted rental home/studio in Woodstock, N.Y.], he was practicing Bach. He also said his organ playing was influenced by playing in his uncle’s funeral home. Maybe he was trying to catch the interviewer off guard; Thelonius Monk spoke gibberish to throw interviewers off his trail.

Q: What’s on your Bucket List and what’s on your Fuck It List?
A: Can I start with my Fuck It list? Sometimes I make a mistake and I automatically assume someone else messed up. Then I realize: Oh, it’s me. It’s not intentional; I trust the musicians I play with. But it’s a total bad habit.

Another Fuck It item is I never want to play with another amateur musician in my life. And by amateur I mean someone who isn’t organically inclined to understand what’s occurring musically. I mean someone who is absolutely stumped whenever you play a song that goes 1-4-5. I want to play with people who on a dime can play a simple song in a high-pressure situation. In our band Jason [Ott] is the best one at doing that. He can hear a song one time, get the feel of it, and pretty much from there he has it nailed.

As far as my Bucket List is concerned, I’d like to improve my arranging; right now, I’m totally self-taught. Maybe I’ll bring in another party to nudge me in the right direction. I’d like to write for a big band. And I’d like to have absolute infallible relative pitch. Don’t get me wrong. My pitch is good; I can get by very well because I’ve done so much ear training with jazz and rock. But, obviously, it can improve a fair amount. Although, at this point in my life, perfect pitch is not going to happen.

Q: What’s on the band’s Bucket List? How about persuading McDonald’s to start an ad campaign starring the McLovins?
A: We already eat so much of their food, we do them a favor [laughs]. Actually, they put a hold on our copyright for “McLovins.” We passed the [legal] test and we own the word, so at least someone in the McDonald’s corporation knows who the McLovins are; they probably have a dossier on us. We do have a new song with a motif—“Bah-dah-dah-dah-dah”—close enough to pass [for the McDonald’s theme tag]. It probably lasts all of two seconds.

I’d like us to get some radio play. I received an email from a friend of the band who’s been a radio personality for many years. He told me that our song “Catch the Ball” is great but that it doesn’t really fit the format [for regular rotation on radio], which is leaning more towards alternative these days. I can’t expect to compete with that sort of marketing and corporate promotion, although I would like more spotlight presence.

Q: Speaking of successful spotlight presence, what do you remember about being the house band for a few episodes of the ESPN show “SportsNation”?
A: I remember that we were so out of our element. We can all pretend to know a thing or two about sports but, gee, we are a bunch of dumpy musicians. My brothers played baseball and soccer and I went: Ehhhhh–I don’t want to do any of that.

We did run into a bunch of famous people. I had my picture taken with Ice Cube; my girlfriend put his face on all of our faces on the band’s Facebook page. I met Teddy Bruschi [retired linebacker for the New England Patriots]. I thought he spelled his last name “Brewski”—like a beer. I emailed my brother “Who is Teddy Brewski?” and he said: Are you kidding me?

[Radio host] Colin Cowherd was a really cool guy. He’d say to us: “Do you know any [Lynyrd] Skynyrd?” And we’d play a little Skynyrd. And then he’d say: “Do who know any Nickelback?” And we’d play a little Nickelback. And then he’d joke: “Where do you get weed?”–because, of course, we’re a jam band and, of course, all jam bands do weed.
I have to say that the bread [money] was unbelievable, although I probably shouldn’t say any more about that.

The McLovins: The Scoop

The band’s name was suggested by viewers of a YouTube video of its version of Phish’s “You Enjoy Myself” who swore that two musicians resembled McLovin, the superbad geek in the film “Superbad.”
The group’s 2009 record “Conundrum” features songs shaped by material from “The Phantom Tollbooth,” Norton Juster’s immensely popular 1961 adventure novel for children.
“Who Knows,” the quartet’s 2012 CD, was produced by Tom Marshall, a lyricist for Phish, and former Spin Doctors guitarist Anthony Krizan, a recording engineer and studio owner.
The band’s song “Nightshades” honors Levon Helm, the late singing drummer of the Band.
The 200 copies of the group’s new EP “Funk No. Uno” are covered by suede-lined burlap and bound by an emerald from the collection of singing drummer Jake Huffman.
Huffman co-wrote “Counting the You’s in YouTube” for an episode of “Sesame Street,” a thank-you, sung by the Count, for a billion-plus views of the TV show’s Internet videos.

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. He shares Atticus Kelly’s major jones for the Band and Steely Dan. He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net.

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Maximum Hardcore R&B Man
A Q&A with Curtis Salgado

By Geoff Gehman

Curtis Salgado, who was one of John Belushi’s inspirations for The Blues Brothers and who in May 2013 won the Blues Music Awards’ B.B King Entertainer, Best Soul Blues Male Artist and Best Soul Blues Album, will perform at 8 p.m. Thursday, June 12, at Mauch Chunk Opera House in a special $5 performance.

Curtis Salgado learned to sing like there’s no tomorrow after watching Buddy Ace, the famously sweaty soul vocalist, work a house party as seriously as a coronation at the Apollo Theater. He learned to live like there’s no tomorrow after receiving a new kidney, an operation aided by everyone from Bonnie Raitt, who paid his rent during his hospitalization, to an ex-girlfriend, who quit her job to become his medical missionary.

Curtis Salgado at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseSeparated by nearly 30 years, those acts of passion and compassion helped make Salgado a uniquely balanced musical citizen. He’s a singer who can sound huge and tiny, careful and caring, muscle-massaging and marrow-scraping. A harmonica player who can bend a note into a banquet. A natural historian who siphons the spirits of his heroes: Little Walter and Sunnyland Slim, Sam Cooke and Magic Sam. A natural teacher who trained John Belushi to become a Blues Brother. An enormously generous, effective entertainer who owns his material and shares his ownership.

On June 12 Salgado and four bandmates will animate and elevate the Mauch Chunk Opera House. He comes to Jim Thorpe riding a wave of good will, having won three 2013 Blues Music awards, including B.B. King Entertainer of the Year. In a recent interview from a bench outside his home in Eugene, Ore, he discussed everything from discouraging Belushi from singing Floyd Dixon like Joe Cocker to kindnesses that encourage him to think he owes the universe.

Q: What was the first song you couldn’t forget, that flat out floored you?
A: It was either Fats Waller’s “The Joint Is Jumpin’” or “Your Feet’s Too Big.” [Sings merrily: “From your ankles up, I’d say you sure are sweet/From there down there’s too much feet”]. When you’re a little kid, that’s something that really sticks with you.
I also liked Benny Goodman’s “Sing Sing Sing,” [Meade] “Lux” Lewis’ “Honky Tonk Train Blues” and Anita O’Day’s version of “Boogie Blues.” She had this catch, this little click, in her voice that I found alluring, even though I didn’t know about jazz back then.

Curtis Salgado at the Mauch Chunk Opera HouseQ: You grew up in a music-infused house. Not many kids, after all, have a dad who makes them listen carefully to the phrasing of Ray Charles and Count Basie.
A: I remember putting a 78 onto this little record player and my dad saying: “Shhhh—listen how [Count Basie] uses space.” I don’t know anyone who’s hip who doesn’t dig Count Basie. You’re listening to this groove and it’s so swingy, so hip. Did I know what hip was back then? No. But it definitely hit my auditory nerve.
Another very important early experience for me was listening to the record “Benny Goodman Live at Carnegie Hall” [recorded in 1938]. Goodman’s guys are playing “Sing Sing Sing” and Harry James gets up and blows his trumpet and then Goodman blows his solo [on clarinet] and all of a sudden they start to jam. At the very end—I’ll never forget this–this piano player named Jess Stacy turns the entire thing around in his solo. I don’t just mean the rhythm; I mean the sound, the whole pocket.
At the time I didn’t know the importance of that concert, that until then Carnegie Hall hadn’t accepted jazz. All I knew is that Stacy’s solo was gorgeous. You know, a few weeks ago I found “Sing Sing Sing” on YouTube and I heard that solo again. I’m 60 years old and I still can’t forget it.
My older brothers and my dad taught me to read, and appreciate, liner notes. So when I was older and a Paul Butterfield record came out, I’d look at the names under the song titles–W. Jacobs, McKinley Morganfield, Chester Burnett—and I’d wonder: Who are these guys? Later I found out that Jacobs was really Little Walter and Morganfield was really Muddy Waters and Burnett was really Howlin’ Wolf. This is the music—blues and jazz and folk—that really taught me the history of America. It began my search to find out: Who are the innovators?
I still love the search; it keeps me interested. I’m interested in who invented hip-hop and how that came out. Some of it I like, some of it l don’t. The point is, I’m not locked into liking only one kind of music. If something tickles my auditory nerve, I want to know why.

Q: In 2012 you took a little bit of a left turn and made “Soul Shot,” your first all-soul album. What did you hear in the Detroit Emeralds’ “Baby, Let Me Take You in My Arms” that told you that you just had to record nothing but soul numbers?
A: A friend of mine who plays percussion with the Lowrider Band—their members used to be in War–turned me onto the tune. Until then I had never heard of the Detroit Emeralds, which is embarrassing to say, because I know my stuff. When I first heard “Baby, Let Me Take You in My Arms,” I thought: God, this is cool. It’s such a hip tune; it feels new and fresh; it just feels good.


Q: I’m pretty impressed by the wide range of tunes on “Soul Shot.” I mean, who the hell else would tackle George Clinton and Parliament’s “Gettin’ to Know You”?
A: That was one of my favorite songs on “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein” [1976]. When I first heard Parliament, I thought: What is this? What’s all this stuff about funk being brought by aliens to the Pyramids? These guys were just laying out this gumbo of funk and psychedelia and doo-wop and whatever. They were so prolific and so influential and so much fun. They did a sort of disco thing on “Gettin’ to Know You” and I decided to put a good backbeat on it. I just rocked it, hopped it up, made it a hardcore rhythm & blues.

Q: Then there’s “Strung Out” from Johnny “Guitar” Watson, one of your main men.
A: The guy who originally sang “Strung Out” was Little Frankie Lee, who was “Guitar” Watson’s cousin. I got to know Frankie Lee in 1970 at this Oakland place called the My Club: I was one of two white faces in the crowd. Later, I backed him up, like I backed up Albert Collins and other blues guys who played in Oakland. Let me tell you, Frankie Lee could sing his butt off. He could put the microphone on the ground and walk away and still sing like a bird. He could sound like Johnnie Taylor and Sam Cooke and Little Frankie Lee all rolled into one. Man, he was the real deal.

Q: And then there’s the silky soul of the O’Jays’ “Let Me Make Love to You.”
A: Oh man, that was turned on to me by one of my producers, Marlon [“The Magician”} McClain, a funk guitarist and one of the founding members of Pleasure, a band out of Portland that had a huge [1979] hit called “Glide.” It’s been downloaded and sampled many times, especially the bass line. Marlon said: “Curtis, man, you ought to sing this song.” I thought I could sing it until the allergies started getting in the way. My transplant suppressed my immune system, which means that during allergy season I have this wash of mucous rolling down the back of my throat.
So I went to a voice specialist for help. I did that song 18 times in the studio and I didn’t get it. I just didn’t nail it the way [O’Jays singer] Eddie Levert nailed it. I kept watching an old “Soul Train” clip of him doing it live to a backup track and I thought: Man, that cat can sing.
So I took a rest and went back to my house and for a week or two I practiced [“Let Me Make Love to You”]. Back in the studio, I must have done it another 18 times, until the last four times I was singing it the way I wanted to sing it, from top to bottom, until I had grown into the tune. Jesus, that was a workout. [Sings seductively: “Let me make loooovvve to you”]. I mean, who can touch Eddie Levert? I can’t touch that guy’s grooves. But that’s my version, and I do it from the heart, and it’s in pitch. And that’s all I can ask for.

Q: Why did you call “Soul Shot” your “most challenging” record and “the solid best thing I’ve ever done”?
A: Well, I was involved in it a lot. I took singing lessons again to work my way through this allergy. I got to make another record with the Phantom Blues Band, a contingency of L.A.’s  finest studio and road musicians. [Keyboardist] Michael Finnigan, for example, has played with everyone from Jimi Hendrix to Bob Dylan. To me, they’re a kind of modern-day Booker T. and the M.G.’s. I arranged the background vocals and told the horn players what I wanted them to play. I wrote songs that fit perfectly with the covers; “A Woman or the Blues” shows that I’m very well versed in old-style quartet gospel. And I didn’t make the covers sound like the originals. The O’Jays’ version of “Let Me Make Love to You” has violins and horns and background singing. Our version is just a rhythm section and me singing. We stripped it down. You don’t want to do a carbon copy of a tune.
Another satisfying thing is that “Soul Shot” was picked up by Alligator Records, which is known for picking up nothing but the blues. [Label founding head] Bruce Iglauer is really a hands-on person; he flew in to see my band during a blues festival in upstate New York, in the middle of a storm [before Hurricane Sandy in 2012]. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else but Alligator; they have my back.

Q: Speaking of road mates, you and bassist Tracy “Big Dog” Arrington have been touring together for nearly 20 years. Why do you enjoy gigging with him? Like you, he comes from a musically funky family; he and his brother, who’s a drummer, used to make their preacher father dance on Sundays by playing tunes by the likes of Wilson Pickett and James Brown.
A: Well, first off, he’s a fine musician. We also get along; we can live together on the road for four weeks at a time in a van pulling a trailer (I’m at a midrange level: I can’t afford a bus). He’s on time. He asks me: What can I do to help?
All my band members get it. They know that if you’re in my camp, you have to do what you agreed to do, that you have to turn it around. A lot of musicians are complete knuckleheads. They don’t move equipment, they don’t hustle. And they’re brats. They have playing skills but no social skills. They don’t realize there’s no crying in baseball.

Q: You were the beneficiary of many acts of kindness after your 2006 liver transplant. There was a benefit concert starring Steve Miller and Robert Cray, your former band mate and longtime pal. While you were in the hospital Bonnie Raitt paid your rent. How radically did those kindnesses change your life?

A: Well, I had been playing benefits, constantly, before the transplant. When I discovered I had liver cancer, the tables were turned on me. I had no health insurance and I had a tumor that was 5.5 centimeters–the size of a lemon. If I didn’t get it removed, I would die. They couldn’t cut it out; if they did, I wouldn’t have enough of a liver to live. I could only have a transplant. But here’s the catch: the cut-off level for a transplant was a five-centimeter tumor.
My ex-girlfriend—we had broken up a year or so before—came back into my life. She quit a six-figure job and moved into her garage, which her brothers dry walled and turned into a little apartment. She got herself a medical dictionary and went to work learning all she could about liver transplants and hospitals where livers are transplanted. At one point she said to me: “What do you think of going to a hospital in Omaha, Neb.? They’re the only ones returning my calls.” I said: “Well, I’ve got a pretty good fan base there. So Omaha it is.”
Meanwhile, my manager helped put together a benefit starring Steve Miller, Taj Mahal, Robert Cray, Everclear and me with a 14-piece band. A theater was donated; The Oregonian [newspaper] offered two full-page ads for free. There were around 300 volunteers. We played until 2:30 in the morning. And we made enough money to get me into the process of getting this transplant.
When I learned about the benefit, I excused myself to go to the bathroom and I sat down on the toilet and bawled like a three-year-old. I thought: I’m not worthy. How can I pay it back? I can’t pay it back. The whole thing is, I owe the universe. The whole thing is, it’s all about love.
The whole thing is, my whole life changed. I realized that life is finite and that you can’t waste time and energy on jealousy, hatred and other negative emotions. Everybody’s got to work together, as stupid and saccharine as that sounds. If it doesn’t work, reinvent it and try it again. It’s all about listening and being patient, giving and learning.

Q: You introduced John Belushi to the great wide world of soaked-in-the-wool, marrow-scraping blues, which opened the door for him to invent the Blues Brothers act with Dan Aykroyd, his friend and “Saturday Night Live” partner. What was the best advice about singing you gave to him?
A: I’ve told this story so many times, it’s like an oral tradition with me. John was in Eugene, filming “[National Lampoon’s] Animal House” [in 1977]. He saw me play with my band, the Nighthawks, and really dug me. I first heard about him when I was performing onstage at this Eugene hotel and this small-time coke dealer walked up to me and yanked on my pants leg and said: “Belushi wants to meet you.”
“I’m in the middle of a song, dick, get away.”
“Belushi wants to see you.”
“Get away–I’m fucking singing.” Later I learned that he had overheard Belushi saying, “I want to meet that singer,” and he told me because he wanted to score some brownie points with Belushi.
Anyway, Belushi became a fan of mine, and we became friends, I had dinner with him and hung out with him and Judy Jacklin [Belushi’s wife] at his house. I played him tons of my old blues and R&B records by cats like Floyd Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, Magic Sam. At one point he said to me: “I want to sit in with you guys, I want to jam. I want to do ‘Johnny B. Goode.’”
I said: ‘That’s corny; that’s like doing ‘Louie Louie.’”
“How about ‘Jailhouse Rock’?”
“I can’t do that; that’s all about Elvis. Look, I’ll bring you a tune.” So I brought him “Hey Bartender” by Floyd Dixon.
We were playing in this packed Eugene club when I called Belushi up onstage to sing “Hey Bartender.” And the audience goes apeshit; they’re just about peeing in their pants. I didn’t realize how phenomenally popular he was. You have to understand, I had never seen “Saturday Night Live,” mainly because I was always playing on Saturday nights, so I had never seen him do his thing on the show.
To be blunt, I’m a little pissed off. I mean, they go crazy for me, but not this crazy. And then he starts singing and he’s, well, he’s singing like he’s mentally retarded.

Q: You mean, he’s acting spastic, doing the Joe Cocker impersonation he made famous on “SNL.”
A: Exactly. Anyway, after the song is over we head offstage and he’s right behind me and he says: “What do you think?” We’re standing on this little dance floor and nobody’s around. And I say: “Well, was that Joe Cocker?”
“Yeah, I do Joe Cocker on the show.”
“Well, let me get this straight: You’re John Belushi and you’re singing this song by Floyd Dixon in the voice of Joe Cocker.” We were standing side by side and I reached out with my left hand and tapped his heart–tap tap tap—and I told him: “You’ve got to come from here; you’ve got to sing from your heart and soul.”
And you know what he said? [Quietly, somewhat sheepishly] “Yeah, okay, man, yeah.”
The Nighthawks didn’t want to travel, so I ended up joining Robert Cray’s band. “Animal House” wrapped up filming in Eugene and Belushi went back to New York. One day he calls me and says: “We’re going to do [the Blues Brothers act] on ‘Saturday Night’ and we’re going to mention your name.” I told him to make sure to mention that I’m in the Robert Cray Band.
The night of [the Blues Brothers’ 1978 debut on “SNL”] we’re playing in this university bar in Corvallis, and the place is packed. We played an extra long show, so we could take a break and watch Belushi do his thing. [“SNL” keyboardist] Paul Schaffer is playing [music impresario] Don Kirshner and he says: “Thanks to Curtis Salgado and the Cray Band, here are the Blues Brothers.” And then Belushi begins to sing “Hey Bartender,” and everybody in the bar immediately says: “Hey, man, he’s copying you.”
I say: “That’s not me. I’m not that fat.” I’m a bit upset. But they keep on saying: “No, man, that’s you; he’s ripping you off.”
You know, I saw the Blues Brothers later on at the Concord Pavilion in California and they were amazing. No, Belushi can’t sang, although he sang a ballad and he was great. And Aykroyd is not a great harmonica player by any stretch of the imagination. But they were fantastic front men. And they were smart enough to surround themselves with some of the best musicians money could buy.
I used to get the moniker “The original Blues Brother.” That’s not really true. I think it’s more accurate to say that I was Belushi’s blues muse.

Q: You’re not only an extremely caring, careful singer, you’re extremely careful and caring when it comes to talking about singing. So what advice would you give to a singer who wants a long, healthy career as a soul/blues/hardcore R&B performer?
A: One, don’t smoke. Two, take voice lessons and learn how the vocal cords work, what’s really going on there. Three, pick somebody to emulate. Some people just have natural voices. Most people have to start somewhere.
Four, sing in pitch and learn how to shape the vowels. Take the word “in.” [Sings: “I’m going in”]. Now, maybe the word “through” is better {Sings: “I’m going through”]. See what I mean? It sings nicer.
And, five, listen to Sam Cooke and Nat King Cole. Maybe Frank Sinatra, too. He phrases beautifully and creatively. He can take a word and make five notes out of it.

Q: Give me two items from your “Bucket” list.
A: Well, I’d love to go to the Pyramids. I love history, so I’d like to see Cairo and Alexandria. And I’d love to play blue-funk harmonica on a Parliament song with George Clinton.

Q: Now how about an item from your “Fuck It” list?
A: Hmmm. Let’s say avoiding mean people.

Curtis Salgado: The Scoop

In 1975 he helped organize a blues festival in Eugene, Ore., so he could mix it up with a bigger blend of bigger musicians, including guitarist Albert Collins.
He crowned Collins “The Master of the Telecaster.”
In the movie “The Blues Brothers” the Cab Calloway character is named Curtis, a thank-you to Salgado for inspiring the Blues Brothers.
He performed with Calloway while performing with Roomful of Blues.
His own songs range from “Lip Whippin’,” a harmonica workout, to “20 Years of B.B. King,” with lyrics consisting of King song titles.
He’s making his first record with the Phantom Blues Band and his road band. It will also be his first album of mostly his songs. He declines to reveal the one cover, by Johnny “Guitar” Watson, because he wants to keep it a surprise.

Geoff Gehman is a former arts writer for The Morning Call in Allentown. Like Curtis Salgado, he thinks Sam Cooke rules a wonderful world. He can be reached at geoffgehman@verizon.net.

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Stanley Clarke at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PAStanley Clarke, the all-universe bassist who took the instrument from the back to the front of the stage, and set the standard to which all jazz bassists aspire, brings his trailblazing trio to town on Friday, June 27. If you want to hear one of the greatest musicians of our time in the ultimate listening environment, come to the Opera House and enjoy this exclusive show.

The article that follows is taken from Amazon.com.

Stanley Clarke at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Friday, June 27, 2014Clarke was barely out of his teens when he exploded into the jazz world in 1971. Fresh out of the Philadelphia Academy of Music, he arrived in New York City and immediately landed jobs with famous bandleaders such as Horace Silver, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Joe Henderson, Pharaoh Saunders, Gil Evans, Stan Getz and a budding young pianist-composer named Chick Corea.

Stanley Clarke at the Mauch Chunk Opera House in Jim Thorpe, PAAll of these musicians immediately recognized Clarke’s ferocious dexterity and complete musicality on the acoustic bass. Not only was he an expert at crafting bass lines and functioning as a timekeeper – in keeping with his instrument’s traditional role – but the young prodigy also possessed a sense of lyricism and melody distilled from his bass heroes Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro and others, as well as non-bass players like John Coltrane. Clarke envisioned the bass as a viable, melodic solo instrument positioned at the front of the stage rather than in a background role, and he was uniquely qualified to take it there.

The vision became a reality when Clarke and Corea formed the seminal electric jazz/fusion band Return To Forever. RTF was a showcase for each of the quartet’s strong musical personalities, composing prowess and instrumental voices.

“We really didn’t realize how much of an impact we were having on people at the time,” Clarke recalls. “We were touring so much then, we would just make a record and then go back on the road.” The band recorded eight albums, two of which were certified gold (Return To Forever and the classic Romantic Warrior). They also won a GRAMMY (No Mystery) and received numerous nominations while touring incessantly.

Stanley Clarke at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, Friday, June 27, 2014Then Clarke fired the “shot heard round the world,” the one that started the ‘70s bass revolution and paved the way for all bassists/soloists/bandleaders to follow. In 1974, he released his eponymous Stanley Clarke album, which featured the hit single, “Lopsy Lu.” Two years later, he released School Days, an album whose title track is now a bona fide bass anthem.

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