Thursday, March 21, 2019

Spring has sprung in the Beehive!

After a festive holiday season, February found me in one of my second homes, New Orleans, onstage with members of the Radiators and the Subdudes to celebrate the great Spencer Bohren and aid him in his cancer recovery. Of course there was a lot of other music and eating, much of it in the company of Radiators' master bassists Reggie Scanlan. The man can eat! March was a wonderful blur of travel and the chance to meet new friends and cohorts. The Sessions Panel flew to Europe, meeting with students in Nottingham UK and at the Royal Academy in Ghent. We traveled by train between the two, including Eurostar under the Channel. Wonderful ride, wonderful folks. Moved on to The Caleb Chapman Soundhouse in Salt Lake City, where 1000 intrepid rock n' roll souls packed the place for the Roundhouse 20th Anniversary with guest artists Steve Smith of Journey, bass god Victor Wooten, and the Li'l Beehive Queen! Then on to to a place near and dear to my heart, the Children's Inn in Washington DC at the National Institutes of Health as the Rock & Roll for Children Foundation, of which I'm proud to serve on the board, hosted its annual charity bash at Fillmore Silver Springs. Honored to share the stage with Martina McBride for that one. Rebel Montez lead guitarist Cliff Goodwin has released his first solo CD, "Rhythm and Blues Union".. it's full of soulful, fiery guitar work over a great choice of songs and vocalists. Rock on with it at CD Baby here: ... Proud to work with Cliff, and wish him all the best with this new project! Springtime will find me preparing songs and arrangements for Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez's seventh CD, "The Grown-Up Thing". I have a pretty impressive roster of guest artists in the wings. Let's get down in the Hive! Cliff Goodwin, Michael Colbath, Chris Bickley and I will welcome them in. More news to follow! 2019 plans include extensive time in my other second home, Muscle Shoals, for the WC Handy Festival, where I'll partner with the cream of the Shoals including David Hood, Spooner Oldham, Donnie Fritts, Kelvin Holly, Travis Wammack and so many more; "Shoals Jam" in October; the AMA Festival in Nashville in September for the third year of "Sunday School" with Sarah Potenza, Lisa Oliver-Gray and a group of the finest chick singers there, or anywhere. And I'll join my longtime brother from another mother, Big Al Anderson, at a series of Northeast gigs in July. Rebel Montez will trod the boards at the Katharine Hepburn Theater, 9 Wallis, City Winery NYC, and so many more...reach out to us at and at for all dates. Can't wait to see you down the road, and DEEP down in the Hive!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Beehive Hip-Shake in 2018....2017 memories....Muscle Shoals on the Horizon

As Spring comes on strong in the Northeast U.S., I'm filled with Beehive Queen gratitude for an amazing year in 2017. I've been all around the world..The Paris Conservatory and a wonderful German music school with The Sessions Panel...two trips to New Orleans to bond and play with my musical brothers and sisters there, and a chance to show my continued and everlasting support for the New Orleans Musicians Clinic... the always-vibrant scene in Nashville...sit-ins with my dear soul sister Sarah Potenza (our gospel shows at the AMA in Nashville and the Rhythm & Roots Festival RULED) and great times on stage with Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Elvis Costello, Little Steven VanZandt, Rosanne Cash and The New Orleans Suspects...and of course, much time spent in NBC's Studio 8H, truly a second home, with amazing musicians of of the SNL Band, led by Lenny Pickett and Leon Pendarvis. I continue to serve proudly on the board of IMA (Institute for The Musical Arts) in Goshen MA and to visit their always-slammin' Rock and Roll Camp for Girls each and every heart it there with those wonderful girls. And I continue to support Casey Cares and to both support and serve on the board of The Rock and Roll for Children Foundation. Always, always, I hearken and thank my brothers in Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez--Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Cliff Goodwin and Chris Bickley-- and in particular this year, as we ponder sessions for the long-awaited follow up to "The Deep End," "The Grown-Up Thing", which will be once again produced by Andy York and feature wonderful special guests. You've been hearing the songs for a few years now..time to hunker in the studio! Most wonderfully, my second home, Muscle Shoals, has come alive in the last six months with high-profile studio visits by the likes of Demi Lovato and Steven Tyler. It's only fitting that this cradle of American soul music, in which I am now so deeply embedded as an "adopted daughter" (my phrase!) should finally become the mecca it deserves to be. 2017 found me producing a way-sold-out-to-the-walls tribute to the great Spooner Oldham, "A Spoonful Of Sugar: The Women of Muscle Shoals Music Celebrate Spooner Oldham," as well as gigging with those American treasures Travis Wammack, Donnie Fritts, Lenny LeBlanc, Kelvin Holly, David Hood, NC Thurman, and Mike Dillon. In early 2018 we said goodbye to Scott Boyer, one of the founders of The Decoys and a true musical force from the Shoals to Macon, via his longtime association with the Allman Brothers. I'll depart for the Shoals again on July 18 after sharing several New England stages with another force, Big Al Anderson. Truly....I am so blessed to have so many true, strong friends and musical collaborators in this life. It almost seems a dream sometimes, but it's real....and I'm so glad. See you on the road, cats and kittens, and in The Beehive!

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Rocking on... 2015 turns to 2016.. with gratitude...

How much do I adore this photo, showing the thrill of finishing 2015 in Connecticut, making Connecticut music with its most talented native son, Big Al Anderson & the mighty men of The Floor Models and The WIldweeds... you can see the joy! My thanks to Stacey Sandler for the snap! This year has brought me from the SNL40 Plaza Hotel concert stage with Jimmy Fallon, the B52s and Elvis Costello, to NOLA and Dr. John, to Muscle Shoals and the Swampers (Travis Wammack, David Hood, Jimmy Johnson, Kelvin Holly, riding in Sam Phillips' 1960 baby blue Caddy--Jerry Phillips & Big River), to guest shots with Steve Miller, Graham Nash, Bonnie Bramlett (also hanging with Bonnie in Nashville; we will perform together there in June..), soul brother R&R Hall of Famer Ricky Byrd, the flash cats of Rebel Montez (of course!), (Michael Colbath, Cliff Goodwin, Larry Donahue, Chris Bickley), Liberty DeVitto & my NYC Hit Squad brothers, the students of Conservatory Tchalkovsky in Calabria for The Sessions Panel, Darlene Love, Paul Shaffer, John Leventhal, my SNL Band Soul brothers and sister led by Lenny Pickett and a summer concert with true brother GE Smith.....the fabulous girls & staff of IMA led by June Millington and Ann Hackler, singing for the HBO series "Vinyl" (premiering in January) and good work for well-loved causes The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, The Rock and Roll For Children Foundation, and Casey Cares. I'll finish the year on New Year's Eve with James Montgomery and the Uptown Horns and my soul brothers Cliff Goodwin and Mitch Chakour tomorrow night. But for this past week, it's been Connecticut rock all the way.. and believe me, Connecticut ROCKS, led by the Big Man himself, Mr. Anderson. Kudos to us all for keeping music at the forefront, and creativity in mind! My love to all!!!

Saturday, February 28, 2015

SNL 40: 23 Years of Beehive Gratitude

Written on the very early morning after SNL40…. I am so very overwhelmed with emotion and gratitude for the 23 years I've spent in Studio 8H....SNL is 40 Years young tonight, and so, so many friends were there. An amazing show held together by our amazing crew, as always, and by the brilliant editors who combed through 40 years of tape to build fast-moving montages. The band shots this evening went (rightly so) to past Musical Directors Cheryl Hardwick, Paul Shaffer, and my dear friend GE Smith.... but fear not! The after-party at the Plaza featured a jam orchestrated by Jimmy Fallon, who pulled me up on stage only to have the B52s sing backup for me on "Respect" (somehow, Ariana Grande had gotten up to sing it, but Fallon handed it to me mid-tune. My apologies, Ariana!), Fallon and Kate Pierson acted as my Ronettes on "Be My Baby", a fast-paced "Pump It Up" and "Twist and Shout" with Elvis Costello, and Joe Piscopo burning it up on "Pink Cadillac" (he's a good guitar picker!) while Marty Short and Mya Rudolph danced around the stage and BIll Murray shook a tambourine.... The broadcast itself was fabulous and poignant, and SO, so funny...and.... Paul Simon shouted out to my bandmates at the end of the show, and my heart just sang right out, too, as Lenny Pickett was given the spotlight he so richly deserves! Cherished the shout-out to the late, great T-Bone Wolk, our departed bandmate. Great to see photographic shout-outs to friends Tracy Morgan, visual designer Edie Baskin (who took the cover and back photos for "The Hard Way" and "Wicked Time" CDs) and the great filmographer Jimmy Signorelli. So cool to get hugs from former head writers Andrew Steele and Tina Fey, and too many former cast members to mention. Loved every minute!!! My great thanks to all of you who sent me good wishes. I cherish the day that GE Smith called me to sing at an "event" which turned out to be Lorne Michaels' wedding reception outdoors in the Hamptons, and all of the great work and marvelous friendships that have resulted. I am humbled and oh, so grateful for everything.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

2015: A New Year Dawns in The Beehive

So much has happened since my last post.... fabulous sold-out festival shows including the Rochester International Jazz Festival, The WC Handy Festival in Muscle Shoals (I will be the Grand Marshall of this year's upcoming opening parade....) and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. My work with The Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame house band, the NYC Hit Squad, The Clean-Getaway All-Stars (an offshoot of the Rockers in Recovery Band) and the wonderful groups of musicians in both the Shoals (Kelvin Holly, David Hood, NC Thurman, Scott Boyer and Mike Dillon of The Decoys, as well as Will MacFarlane, Jimmy Johnson and SO many others) and New Orleans (JoJo Hermann of Widespread Panic, Alfred "Uganda" Roberts, John Gros, Bonerama, The New Orleans Suspects led by Reggie Scanlon, Mean Willie Green and CR Gruver; Dave Malone of the Radiators; The Subdudes)...have enriched my life. I am deeply grateful to these cats for their boundless talent. In 2013, I produced a tribute to legendary Atlantic Records producer Jerry Wexler with my sidekicks and special guests Bonnie Bramlett (an amazing friend and inspiration) and Ed King of Lynnryd Skynryd. The cream of Muscle Shoals was there with me, celebrating, and Dick Cooper's iconic photos of Jerry were displayed. Earlier, we had all gathered for the premier of the wonderful documentary film "Muscle Shoals" and celebrated with a concert following the premier in which John Paul White of the Civil Wars and Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes joined me as special guests. The summer of 2014 found me onstage with the undisputed queen of Muscle Shoals music, the great Candi Staton. Muscle Shoals continues to own my heart. New you know what it means to miss it? I come back as often as I can, but always, during JazzFest, for "Down On The Bayou," which I co-host with JoJo Hermann...this years edition of DOB VI will again benefit our pet cause, the absolutely essential New Orleans Musicians Clinic. My dedication to this cause knows no bounds, and with the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaching, we hope to see a re-release of the compilation CD "Get You A Healin"" which will benefit the Clinic... The Saturday Night Live Band... my 23rd year, and this blog is written just one week before the 40th Anniversary broadcast. Lenny Pickett, Leon Pendarvis, Shawn Pelton and the entire band are truly brothers and sisters of mine. But I save the bulk of my musical heart, as always, for the flash cats of Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez. As we prepare for our seventh CD, "The Grown-Up Thing" later this year, I look forward to continuing to write, record, and perform with this band whose bond to our audience has only deepened with time. It is an honor and special privilege to be able to present my songs with Cliff Goodwin, Michael Colbath, Larry Donahue, Chris Bickley and our often-colaborators, Mitch Chakour and The Sin Sisters (Janice Ingarra, Patti Rahl and Kathy Kessler). Andy York of John Mellencamp's band will again join us to co-produce the new record. Watch for more and more news! I have recently become a full-fledged member of Jules Follet's engaging and essential project "The Sessions", which brings interactive music panels to universities around the world. Recent trips to St. Paul, Los Angeles, Fort Collins, CT and Italy have been just a few of the locals in which we've found ourselves in the last year... Upcoming projects include Malachy McCourt's first-ever spoken work/sung CD (proud to be supporting this wonderful artist and author whose work has touched so many). I look forward to continuing to connect with everyone here.......all my best wishes for 2015, and my fondest hope to see you all onstage or on the radio very soon!

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

An Adopted Daughter Of The Shoals-Late July, 2012

Muscle Shoals has a hold on me. I've often said it, and always feel it. It tugs at my heart and my mind. Its rhythm is in my hips and my head...and my blood. There is something so special and deeply affecting for me about the particular brand of soul music recorded there at FAME, Muscle Shoals Sound, and 3614 Jackson Highway. It speaks to me like no other body of recordings. I've been asked to return to the WC Handy Festival, having appeared in 2011 with The Decoys. My soul brothers, The Decoys are the reigning kings of the Muscle Shoals scene, the current "Swampers", and they GROOVE, all day and night. It's a joy and an honor to be on stage with Kelvin Holly, Scott Boyer, NC Thurman, Mike Dillon and David Hood--any time, anywhere. We're booked into the Marriott Conference Center ballroom for a Thursday night show to benefit the Muscle Shoals Music Association. This year, wonderfully, I've also been asked to be the special guest of The Blind Boys of Alabama. And as if wonders will never cease, the internationally-distributed "Muscle Shoals To Music Row" (www.ms2mr) has decided to make my Marriott show THE broadcast of this year's festival. Rising at 4 am (3 am Shoals time) on a Tuesday, I head out, freshly beehived, to the airport. Tuesday evening's festival concert will be by the super-fine songwriter Donnie Fritts at Spring Park in Tuscumbia, a sweet town with a main street full of interesting shops that is the fourth "corner" to the classic tri-city area of Muscle Shoals, Florence and Sheffield. The Decoys are Donnie's backing band, so I know the groove will be on. Donnie (a/k/a "Funky Donnie Fritts" a/k/a "The Leaning Man From Alabam") has become a friend and compatriot. I drive up from Birmingham and meet my soul sister Kim Stovall (Kim was the instigator of my first-ever visit to the Shoals in 2009 and has been my music partner-in-crime ever since). We head out in the 100-degree haze. At the park, I start to soak up the music from the first note, and by the time I take the stage to sing Eddie Hinton's "Cover Me" with Donnie (who co-wrote Dusty Springfield's "Breakfast in Bed" with Eddie--but more on that later), I'm home. My concert is attracting some attention, it turns out: there's a snowball rolling with The Beehive Queen's name on it. On Wednesday I'm booked for not one but two radio appearances at Jerry Phillips' (of the Sun Records Phillips family) 100,000-watt radio statio Q107. Jerry has been SO supportive, a true friend, and since the first day of The Deep End's release, Q107 has been cranking out "Love Make You Do Stupid Things", turning it into a Shoals anthem. My thanks to all the staff there: Jeff Thomas, Chris Michaels, Sabrina Eaton, Leisa Johnson, Nick Martin, Greg Pace, Jimmy Oliver (Jimmy O's morning show has been taken over by Jeff because he's running for City Council...go, Jimmy!!!!). I've also got a date with the NBC TV affiliate, so I run back over to the Marriott for that. Meanwhile, my brothers-in-arms, The Decoys, have been busy rehearsing over at Tonya Holly's Cypress Moon Studios, formerly Muscle Shoals Sound (the outline of that original sign is still on the front door) and I join them in this studio formerly owned by David Hood and the members of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section (the ORIGINAL "Swampers") that is steeped in so much history. I'm moved just to be there, in one of the cradles of American popular music. Donnie is there, too, and we hatch a scheme to perform "Breakfast In Bed" together. He's never performed it live, it turns out, and I know Thursday night's audience will love and appreciate it. Too, I've recently had lunch with my friend Vicki Wickham, long Dusty Springfield's partner, in NYC. I want to be able to tell her that I've taken up the torch, and I want Donnie to be a part of that. It's his song. Thursday night is something I'll remember always. God bless The Decoys, who back me on a bunch of Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez songs, including a heartrending version of "Empty" off the Strip CD. It's a hip-shakin' thing all night long, as we pay tribute to the Shoals with classics like "You Better Move On," "Cover Me," "Slip Away," and "I'm Your Puppet" (Spooner Oldham is on his way home from the West Coast and has to miss this one. Next time, Spooner!). We do Jerry Lee's "Night Train To Memphis" to bring it all back home (Sun Records, after all, is playing a part in a way in sponsoring the broadcast). And of course, "Breakfast In Bed." Donnie takes the stage and it's a gorgeous moment, the two of us holding hands by the time it's through. If there's a sexier song than "Breakfast in Bed," show it to me! The ballroom is packed to the rafters and the broadcast goes off without a hitch. The audience, The Decoys and I all find ourselves within that great, deep, wide circle of American popular song, together, and it's a beautiful, beautiful thing. I want to thank M. Fletcher Brown for being our Muscle Shoals To Music Row emcee. The evening ends with friends gathered on the top floor of the Marriott in the Sam Phillips fine a night as I've ever had. Friday is a day for fun. I visit Jimmy and Angi Nutt at their fab studio The Nutthouse. It's the new kid on the block of Shoals studios, and it's a knockout. Beautifully decorated with a mixture of kitsch and Beatle memorabilia, it's Jimmy and Angi's labor of love. Jimmy, David Hood, Terry Pace, and Suzanne Bolton all serve on the board of the Muscle Shoals Music Association, and I must also take a minute to thank Bart Black and Johnny Belew of the Handy Festival Board. All provided me with their outstanding support. Friday night, it's Travis Wammack time!!! I met Travis in 2010 when I made an autumn visit to sit in with the Decoys (source of my first Shoals blog here, back then...) and Travis, to my delight, showed up. He is an American treasure: a triple-threat singer/songwriter/guitarist, peerless at all three. He and his crackerjack band play a succession of killer cuts including "Tell You About My Girl" a soul-drenched classic which just missed being covered by Otis Redding and, of course, "Scratchy." I'm honored to be asked to sit in. Kim, her mom Brenda and stepfather Ronnie and I all have a sweet time, just hangin' in that Wammack groove! On Saturday evening I have the supreme, unsurpassed pleasure of joining the Blind Boys of Alabama--Jimmy Carter, Ricky McKinney and Benjamin Moore--to sing on Danny Flowers' Nashville gospel gem "I Was A Burden." Their guitarist/MD Joey Williams and I have prepared everything in advance, so there is nothing to do but enjoy the moment, and enjoy it I do, gowning myself in my most colorful vintage piece, a dress I call "The Butterfly", and floating onto the stage. What a gift, the chance to sing that song with those great men! Later, I reunite with Spooner Oldham and his wife Karen, just returned, and that is another joyful moment. Sunday is the icing on the Festival cake. Dear, dear Dick Cooper, muse to and photographer of everyone connected with the Shoals scene, from Jerry Wexler, Duane Allman and Jason Isbell right on down, throws me a party. With music!! A bunch of the Decoys are there with their beautiful wives, and guitarist Will McFarlane and Donnie and Kim and so many others... We all get up and play and sing and have a time. Jerry Henry of the Alabama Music Office is there to conduct video interviews for the Office's archives, and I participate: . Writer James Carson created a video of the day which can be seen at: . The party is just superb in every way, causing me to become homesick even before I've left which, the next morning, I must do. Yet....The Shoals is in the blood of this beehived adopted daughter, now and forever.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Remembering Levon Helm

It was a crisp fall day in late 2008 when we gathered at Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock to partake of his generosity in agreeing to sit in on two tracks for my CD The Deep End. Andy York of John Mellencamp's band, my longtime friend and co-producer was there with Paul Ossola (at that time the bassman in Levon's band, but also a compadre of many years going back to The Scratch Band, Paul's and my band with GE Smith. Paul was the catalyst for the session, having pitched the idea to Levon, for which I am eternally grateful). Also with us were Jeff Kazee (keys in the NYC Hit Squad and Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes, and a fabulously soulful vocalist himself) and the great Marshall Crenshaw on second guitar and baritone guitar.  Levon had graciously lent not only studio space but himself as drummer on Marshall's and my duet, "What's The Matter With You Baby," a Motown chestnut originally recorded by Marvin Gaye & Mary Wells (Marshall is a Detroit boy, born and raised, so I thought the song a good choice!).

The studio in Woodstock is clean, beautiful space, almost devoid of the usual baffles and glass. Even the control room is just a balcony, completely open to the rest of the studio, which sits below it. Upon entering the room, Levon had greeted me so warmly, taking my hand in both of his and saying his name, "Leh-VOHN", with that Arkansas lilt. I was captivated and charmed immediately by this lovely man, known as "Lee" to his friends.

The session moved quickly, and we soon had what we thought was a pretty good take. Lee seemed frail; he'd recently resumed playing after his first bout with the cancer, and I didn't want to overtax him. We gathered in the control room, listened, and all eyes turned to Lee.  "You're singing your ass off on every take," he said, fixing me in his sights with a chuckle, "but personally, I don't think I did myself any favors with what I just played.  Would you mind if we took it again?"  

Of course we were all for it, and re-entered the studio. Levon sat down at the drums and indicated a new intro he wanted to add, giving us just a taste of a new groove he'd envisioned while we listened back to that previous take.  The genius of the man (and the musician) became apparent then, as he sure-footedly turned the groove around from what we'd had, and led us through a one-time romp that swung so hard with a snaky little backbeat, we just knew it had to be the one. And it was.

I'd also brought in a lilting little countrified thing called "Girl Growing Up" that had been inspired by my then-13-year-old niece. The plan was to have Lee play mandolin, but when he heard the song, he asked, "Do I hear a minor chord in there?"  We confirmed that, yes, the minor-6 chord was heard throughout (think Ben E King's "Stand By Me" if you don't know what this means; that song's iconic bass line feeds off the minor-6 alternating with the main chord). "Then you'd better get someone who can really play," he said with a twinkle.  "You don't want me! I'll play tambourine!"  There was laughter all around, Levon picked up the tambourine, and in the end, there's no mandolin on the track at all, just a brilliant baritone guitar line played by Marshall Crenshaw.

Afterward, Levon and I walked down to the lake with a few of his dogs and talked about fishing for catfish. Another wonderful, memorable moment.

My thanks also to James Smith, the assistant engineer who photographed us that day, and to chief engineer Justin Guip, who made it all sound easy and great. I cannot imagine the level of sadness that everyone at Levon Helm Studios (the home of his Midnight Ramble) must today be experiencing.  Truly, truly, truly we have lost one of the greats.