Friday: Shane Henry - The Fabulous Thunderbirds
Saturday: Inside Straight - Lamont Cranston Blues Band - Big John Dickerson and Blue Chamber - The Hoopsnakes Reunion Show
Hoop-mania…is the only way to describe Saturday night's headline show at Gabe's by the Park (under the tent for their annual St. Patrick's Day celebration). The huge tent, that was set up in the parking lot adjacent to Gabe's, was nearly busting at the seams by the time the Hoopsnakes took the stage for their first reunion show in the Twin Cities in nearly 7 years.
This Hoopsnakes reunion and the April 6th show at the Cabooze marked the first major get-together in the Twin Cities for one of the areas most popular bands during the later half of the 80s and the first half of the 90s. The band disbanded several years ago (1995) when band leader Bruce McCabe left to join Jonny Lang and the Big Bang (Bruce is still touring with the Jonny Lang band).
The band members had gotten together for a couple of warm-up shows several months ago at bass player Mick Massoff's bar, "Mick's Place" in Durand, Wisconsin. Bruce said they had such a "great time" playing together at Mick's bar they wanted to do it again. The problem was trying to schedule a show around Bruce's touring with Jonny Lang, which is his primary gig.
"The problem is," said Bruce, "they can change the schedule at any time, so if I book a Hoopsnakes show there's a chance I may have to cancel it at the last minute. That can cause problems so I turned down a few good offers. The last time Gabe's offered us a gig I turned it down and then was sitting around wishing I had taken it. The next time they called I said OK. I'm glad I did, but sure enough we got booked with Jonny in Texas the night before and almost missed our flight back [for this show]."
Bruce finally did roll into the Gabe's tent not too long before his set was to start…just in time actually to witness an unusual demonstration taking place on stage. If you were at the show you may have noticed a large stainless steel revolving "hoop" set up on the stage. I thought it had something to do with the "Hoop"snakes reunion. And maybe it did on some ethereal level. It actually was a large prop for the Xelias Aerial Performance Company that featured two "very" limber female artists who performed a bizarre and somewhat suggestive routine - while hanging, twisting and stretching with interlocking limbs, all within this revolving hoop…well it "was" something you really had to see to appreciate the experience. They did their routine between the Lamont Cranston and Big John Dickerson sets and again right before the Hoopsnakes took the stage. If the audience wasn't warmed up before this performance, at least the males in the crowed had a little faster heart rate when the Xelias finished.
The crowd had been growing in size all evening and by the time the Hoopsnakes began their set, sometime around 10 pm, the crowd was packed in shoulder-to-shoulder and belly-to-back. We are talking about loyal "hoop" fans here who have been waiting for more than 6 years to see one of their favorite bands again. One lady had one of the original Hoopsnakes posters that she had all the band member sign. She had originally taken this poster to a frame shop in Bemidji about 10 years ago to have framed and then proceeded to forget about it. A few months ago when this Hoopsnakes reunion show was announced she remembered the poster and thought, naaaa, they still wouldn't still have it. She made the trip anyway and when she asked the proprietor about a poster she left about 10 years ago, he said, "oh yeah, I have it in the back here."
With some brief comments of appreciation from Bruce the Hoopsnakes launched into a long set featuring many of the band's popular songs…starting off with Freddie King's "Stumble" and working their way through songs like "Meet Me Tomorrow Night," "40 Days," "Nadine," "Too Many Rainy Days," "Still Rainin'," and by the time they got to "Hoopsnake Roll," most of the crowd had their arms up in the air forming a "hoop" and singing along with the song (as they had been singing along all night to their favorite "hoop" songs). If you have ever been in a stadium full of fans when they have lit matches waving over their heads, the spirit in the crowd at this point was the same. Several encores followed culminating in "Jump In & Hang On." The night's music ended after about the third encore. Even though the crowed may have thought they wanted more (they had been standing on the hard, cold asphalt for many hours by now) they didn't put up too much of a fuss when the band walked off the stage for the last time.
The performance of band members Jim Novak on drums, Mick Massoff on bass, Charlie Bingham on guitar and Bruce McCabe on keyboards and vocals appeared well rehearsed and seamless, flowing from song to song with little comment or break. David Eiland a former band member also joined in the fun on saxophone for several numbers.
When asked if the band will be playing again (other than the April 6th Cabooze show), Bruce said, "there's some talk about playing at "Mick's Place" in Durand again." And when asked about any new "Hoop" recordings Bruce replied, "there aren't any plans really. Right now I'm hoping people will buy my new solo album. If I can make my money back on that I'll start in on another project." So if you want the possibility of a new Hoopsnakes recording you can find Bruce's new solo CD, titled, "Bruce McCabe" at a local record store or online at: www.ryancoryrecords.com.
[Watch for an in depth interview with Bruce McCabe coming soon.]
Inside Straight opened the show earlier Saturday afternoon to a light crowd. Fronted by guitar player and singer Kurt Koehler, Inside Straight is made up of band members Kurt Koehler (guitar, vocals), Bill Swanson (piano, organ and vocals), Paul Strickland (saxophone), Curly Martin (drums), and Mark Zmuda (bass). The band, originally formed in the early 90s by Kurt and guitarist Jeff Pribyl (high school buddies from Chicago), got its name from a Cannonball Adderley song. Regarding the name Inside Straight, Kurt said, "we eventually found that there was an R&B band in the Twin Cities by the same name that had disbanded in the early 1980's. I moved here from Chicago in 1984 and had never known about that band until we began using the name."
The band plays a variety of blues from 50's Chicago shuffles to west coast swing, and from B.B. King to Freddie King and Albert Collins, as well as a mixture of songs from artists like Ray Charles, Etta James, Delbert McClinton and Edgar Winter. Led by the strong vocals of Koehler and the driving keyboard playing of Swanson (who also shares lead vocal duties on some songs), Inside Straight offers their own arrangements and interpretations of traditional blues standards that makes listening to them always a refreshing experience. Not afraid to experiment and in the time-honored tradition of playing the blues based on the current mood of the band you will often hear the same song played to a different beat or a new arrangement the next time you see the band.
You can find Inside Straight playing just about every weekend at a variety of venues around the Twin Cities area. You can also find the band's schedule in the center section, along with any other area bands who submit their dates, of the Twin Cities Blues News - the areas long running music newspaper (as well as on the Calendar page on the web at Blues On Stage: www.mnblues.com). On April 6th you can catch them opening for Delbert McClinton at the Medina Ballroom.
The Lamont Cranston Blues Band began their set in late afternoon, took a break after an hour or so and played another long set in the early evening. It was during their second set that the tent began filling up and the buzz from the crowd began to notch up the decibel level.
Perennial favorites, the Lamont Cranston Blues Band fronted by the ubiquitous Pat Hayes (shades, harp, guitar and bounce), have the unique ability to work any crowd they play for into a party fervor. Tonight was no exception as they played their way though songs that have almost become Twin Cities standards - including a couple of my favorites from the Roll With Me album, "Hold On" and "What A Party," as well as some all-time audience favorites like "Madison Blues," "Upper Mississippi Shakedown," (that was co-written by Bruce McCabe and Pat Hayes) and the quintessential "E Jam," featuring some of the best harmonica playing anywhere.
On the sidelines you can always count on manager, Rico Anderson having a well stocked merchandise table (usually manned by Lamont's number one fan, Clem Duffy). There you can find some unique and entertaining items for sale including the ever popular "Crannie Panties," or some vintage posters of Lamont shows from the past 30 years, as well as their copious collection of recordings. Rico can even burn you a "bootleg" CD of one of the out of print Lamont records. You can find these and other information on the band at their website: www.lamontcranston.com. You can also take home a live show with the new release of Lamont Live!! a double CD featuring the most popular songs from the Lamont Cranston's live performances.
The band, Pat Hayes (guitar, harp & vocals), Ted Larsen (guitar), Michael Carvale (bass, upright bass), Jim Novak (drums), Dale Peterson (piano, Hammond B3), and Jim Greenwell (saxophone) remain simply one of the best. However, it is always a little sad to see that open spot next to Greenwell where former band-make and saxophone player Rick O'Dell usually stood. Rick, who passed away last year, is missed by both the band and his fans.
Big John Dickerson and Blue Chamber fronted by non other than "biggie" himself, Big John Dickerson, performed between the Cranston's and Hoopsnakes sets. This gave drummer Jim Novak time to rest up as he is/was a member of both bands.
What can you say about Big John that already hasn't been said? He has been described as a 14-year-old kid in a sixty year old's body. And with the passing last year of Rufus Thomas who was dubbed the "worlds oldest teenager," I guess the title can now safely pass on to Big John. Dickerson is more than just a singer, he is an entertainer. He is definitely no shrinking violet. With his "energizer bunny" type energy, his smooth Motown-like dance steps and his gregarious stage persona, Dickerson puts the "E" in entertainment and knows how to put a smile on the audience's face and keep a tap in their foot. They covered music from the soul of Al Green to back-alley Chicago blues all with a flair.
The band is no slouch either. In fact the band originally grew out of what was dubbed the Famous Dave's Blues All-Stars several years ago and still features one of the area's premiere guitar players in Paul Mayasich. And the band's bass player Steve York was also a former Hoopsnakes member and was the bass player on that poster I mentioned earlier.
In stark contrast to the Hoopsnakes show, the crowd turnout was disappointing for Friday night's Fabulous Thunderbirds show with Shane Henry opening. The large tent may have contributed to the empty impression but the turnout was still about 10 times fewer than Saturday's show. What may have been disappointing to the club and the performers was actually appealing to the fans who got to see two excellent sets - by an up-and-coming performer and some road-hardened veterans of the blues scene - up close and personal. The size of the crowd didn't affect either bands performance and the fans didn't have to contend with over crowded conditions.
The Fabulous Thunderbirds can always be counted on to give a spirited performance filled with high energy and low-down blues. Especially in recent years when the Kim Wilson led band seems to be performing more "traditional" style blues then what originally make them popular two decades ago.
Kim Wilson's harp playing for this show was sharp and the set was very similar to what we got to see several months ago at the Kim Wilson show at the Cabooze. The line between Kim's solo efforts and the T-Birds show has become blurred and with the imminent leaving of stellar guitar player Kid Ramos (who rumor has it is heading out on his own solo career) the band will probably feature the guitar players who joined Kim in his solo efforts.
It was also interesting that Gabe's booked the T-Birds for this weekend show because of the strong Twin Cities blues connection here. Back in the 70s guitar player Bob Bingham (Charlie Bingham's brother) who was playing with the Lamont Cranston Blues Band left that band and encouraged Kim Wilson (who was living in California at the time) to move to the Twin Cities and form a new harmonica led band to contend with Lamont Cranston. Kim moved here and one of the first new band members he hired was a keyboard player from Iowa by the name of Bruce McCabe. Now wait a minute, it gets even more complicated and interesting. Instead of competing with Lamont Cranston, Kim Wilson and Pat Hayes became good friends, even rooming together at the time. After spending a cold winter in Minnesota fronting Aces, Straights and Shuffle's, Kim Wilson moved to Texas and hooked up with Jimmie Vaughan to form the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Bruce McCabe went on to success with the Lamont Cranston Blues Band with Bob's brother, Charlie Bingham also joining Lamont. Bruce eventually left Lamont and formed the Hoopsnakes in the mid 80's with Charlie Bingham and Jim Novak (who was also the original drummer with Lamont Cranston). Steve York, who I mentioned earlier as playing with Big John was also one of the bass players with the Hoopsnakes back in the early 90s. Ted Larsen, now guitar player with Lamont was with the Big Bang when Jonny Lang joined them several years ago. Ted said that Jonny Lang and The Big Bang played one of their first Twin Cities shows when they first came to town from Fargo at Gabe's under the tent. He said they opened for the Hoopsnakes that weekend and Lamont Cranston played the other night. It was after that show that Bruce was asked by the Big Bang to join their group. Now Ted is with Lamont and Bruce is with Jonny and they are all playing again under the tent for this reunion show…well it just goes on, and on. This is all starting to sound a little incestuous. But anyways, this weekend we had many of these former band members all sharing the same stage again for what turned out to be a great blues reunion.
Shane Henry, a 19 year old guitar player, singer and songwriter from Oklahoma opened the early Friday night show. A pity more people weren't there to catch this performance.
Shane grew up in the small Oklahoma town of Verden (population 600). The biggest town of Chickasha was 20 miles away right on Highway 35. Growing up in a town that size, pretty much out in the middle of nowhere, you can imagine his music opportunities were limited. Fortunately he mother, a school teacher, played the piano and his father, a plumber, played the guitar. So after a normal childhood for a boy growing up in rural Oklahoma, at about the age of 12, Shane became interested in the guitar playing that he heard from his dad playing around the house After learning some chords from his father, Shane rapidly became immersed in music - learning to play the guitar by listening to Beatles songs and other popular music on the radio and records.
When he was 15 two things happened the changed the musical direction Shane was heading in - his father took him to see a B.B. King and later a Buddy Guy show and he finally got an electric guitar. After this Shane began listening to and learning from the blues.
"Albert Collins, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and BB King. Those 4 guys were my huge blues influences," says Shane. "Its kind of odd because most young players that I know always went to Stevie Ray Vaughan for their huge influence. I didn't discover Stevie Ray right away. I mean I knew who he was but for some reason I didn't get him at first. It wasn't until later on when I was already playing blues for a while that I started listening to him. So I don't think his style comes out as much in my playing as Albert Collins or Buddy Guy or BB King."
Shane is a well grounded young man with an unspoken intensity and enthusiasm that is readily apparent when you talk to him. He also is a person with a clear idea of who he is and what he wants to accomplish. When I asked him if he considered himself a "blues" player he gave the following answer.
"The music that I'm making right now I wouldn't consider straight blues music. I have a very strong background in blues. My first CD I put out (at the age of 16) was pretty much a blues CD. I wrote 12 songs that I recorded in a little home studio. Its what it is for a first CD...its hard for me listen to now but a lot of people think its really good for where I was at that time in my career. I just have to look at it like that's where I was at the time, Its what it is and I'm proud of it, I'm proud that I was able to accomplish that at 16. I've been influenced by all the big blues players. I've gone through that stage in my life where I was a huge Albert Collins fan, Albert King, BB, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson. I've gone through that, where all those players still influence me. I still listen to the blues, I'm a big blues fan but I don't really consider myself just a straight blues player…the sound and the style that I'm going for is using elements of blues but also using elements of other styles out there too, like rock and funk and stuff like that. From 15 to about 17 that's all I really listened to was blues guitar players. Since then I've started listening to all different styles of music, like Bob Dylan, Stevie Wonder, Ian Moore. But I have such a strong blues back ground that it will always come out in my music."
Shane also lists some other guitar players that have influenced him in recent years, guitarists like Doyle Bramhall, Chris Duarte, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Hendrix. According to Shane, "I don't think any guitar player could not in some way be influenced by Jimi Hendrix. I'd like people to be influenced by Hendrix, but I don't think it's a cool thing to still try and replicate what he was doing back in '69. But we do cover one of his songs, but I try and put my own twist on it."
Other general musical influences that Shane cites include, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, the Beatles, The Black Crows, Stone Temple Pilots, Tom Petty, Ian Moore, Keb' Mo' Chris Whitley, Tony Luca. "I'm really all over the map," says Shane.
How did a young guitar player from the middle of Oklahoma end up in Minneapolis? I know highway 35 runs north right into the Twin Cities but there must be another reason so I asked him. "That's a good story," said Shane.
"This is really a confusing story and its so weird when you are in this music business how meeting somebody and they introduce you to somebody else, and so on and so on, until you are led to that one person that opens the door for you. It proved it to me because there is another young guitar player in Oklahoma named Dustin Pittsley and we became friends when I was 16, he was playing blues around. I don't know how but someone he knows met Kevin Bowe (a band leader and song writer from Minneapolis) and he became friends with Kevin. Kevin comes down to Oklahoma every year to play at the Woody Guthrie festival. And one year, the night before he played at the festival he played a little acoustic set at a place called the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. Dustin called and said, 'hey I'm going to be playing guitar with this guy named Kevin Bowe, you should come check it out and meet him.' So I came out to the gig."
"I almost wasn't going to go because I was going to go out with my girl friend that night and I thank myself so much for making that decision to go because I probably would still be in Oklahoma if I hadn't. Anyway I met Kevin that night and I gave him my first CD and he listened to it and he liked it, I guess he liked what he heard in my voice, that I possibly had some potential there. So we kept in contact through email. Eventually I just asked him if I was to fly up there would he be interested in co-writing a couple of songs with me? He said yeah, so I bought a plane ticket, flew up here, we wrote 3 songs, and we demoed them at his place. I was here for about a week, that was last April 2001."
"He gave those songs to James Kline at Blues Sky Artists. They really liked what they heard and called me and left a message on my answering machine. I believe they left a message before I even got back to Oklahoma. When I got home I heard the message and I was just like 'wow.' The message was, 'we liked your stuff and we're interested to see if you wanted us to manage you.' That's pretty much the story of how I got hooked up with Blue Sky. So once I was being managed by Blue Sky Artists I decided it would be best for me to move up here because they could better manage me if I were up here by helping me get a good band together and helping to build a following here in the Twin Cities. The music scene here is just so much better than in Oklahoma. I was having a lot of problem in Oklahoma keeping a band together. So I moved here in August of last year (2001)."
Shane also has continued to write songs, both by himself and with other writers like Kevin Bowe, Bruce McCabe and Paul Diethelm (of the Jonny Lang band). Songwriting seems to play an important part is Shane's music and career objectives.
"After I made my first CD someone told me, 'you know Shane you're not going to ever make it if you just play somebody else's songs, you need write your own stuff.' I said well I will try to start writing songs. Its something that you just have to do and do and do. And I guess after you write so many you finally learn the techniques."
Shane also recognizes the importance of collaborating with other experienced songwriters. "It will help me to be a better writer when I write by myself," he says.
"Its one of the best things that any young writer could go. Because when you co-write with somebody who's been writing songs and writing consecutive hit songs for a long time, you really learn a lot. You really learn the dos and don'ts, like avoiding clichés,"
Kevin Bowe helped Shane produce a 4 song demo CD that he is currently using to shop for a record label. "We wrote all four of those songs together," said Shane. "I've got tons of material, I'm ready to go."
Shane Henry is now working on building a following in the Twin Cities by playing every Tuesday at Bunker's in Minneapolis as well as branching out to other venues around the area . He has assembled an outstanding band that includes bass player Scott Nelson (The Keller Brothers, Shawn Pittman, Ross William Perry) and keyboard player Toby Marshall (Joe Juliano, Tony Sims, and Lonnie Brooks).
"Playing with Toby is awesome," says Shane. "I think he's one of the most phenomenal keyboard players I've ever met and he's only 24. I love having that energy on stage that he has, I think we work really well with each other."
Although not strictly blues, Shane Henry is another young guitar player and song writer with talent that the Twin Cities seems to be blessed with. Give him a listen and see what you think. In addition to Bunker's every Tuesday you can find out more about Shane Henry at his website: www.shanehenryband.com.
Also during this weekend a name was chosen for the new blues society that a task force of volunteers has been working on for several months. The new name will be the Minnesota Blues Association. You can find out more about this new Blues Association by clicking on the Minnesota Blues Task Force logo found below or on the home page at Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com.
Congratulations and thanks go out to the staff at Gabe's for bringing us another well run spring event under the tent and for brining all of these great blues players together again for this reunion.
Simply click on the Lamont Live CD cover at the right to order this CD!
This review is copyright © 2002 by Ray Stiles, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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Click on image to view the new website for the Blues Society Task Force.
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