Thursday, September 8, 2011

Shoals Soul Shakin' : The W.C. Handy Festival July, 2011

Muscle Shoals has a hold on me. First there was the music, for as long as I can remember, pouring out of radios and record players, deeper than deep: "You Better Move On," "I Never Loved A Man, "Mustang Sally," "Slip Away," "Tell Mama." I've sung these songs all my life, tried to do them justice. Then, a soul journey in September 2010 at the behest of my dear friend Kim Stovall brought me face to face and heart to heart with some of the pioneers of the Shoals scene (I visited with Rick Hall at FAME and toured all the other still-active studios) as well as with some of the cats who keep the flame burning today, when I joined the Decoys--the latest incarnation of the "Swampers"-- at their regular Wednesday night gig on the outskirts of town (Kelvin Holly, NC Thurman and Mike Dillon; Scott Boyer and David Hood were absent that evening, but songwriter Donnie Fritts and the great guitarist Travis Wammack showed up for the ride). We all became immediate friends--a mutual admiration society. Later in 2010, Kelvin and Spooner Oldham came to NYC as part of Pegi Young's band, with her husband Neil in tow, and we hung out on the bus, on Jimmy Fallon's NBC soundstage, and at my favorite breakfast spot in the Village. An idea was floated: maybe I should come down for the WC Handy Festival in July, 2011. Maybe I would, I said.

Springtime came and plane tickets were purchased. The die having been cast, Kelvin and I talked songs, day after day. Finally in late July I flew into Nashville and grabbed a rental car. I hit the Shoals city limits Thursday night and dove into that river of song straight on, meeting the Decoys at a country club shindig they were playing. Of course I got up, and right away, the song of the week was established: Arthur Alexander's "You Better Move On," one of the first-ever hits cranked out of FAME Studios. Bittersweet and stately and soulful and gritty, it became our anthem.

Friday dawned. Bonnie Bramlett was on her way down from Nashville, they told me, taking a leisurely drive on the Natchez Trace to make the scene that night with The Decoys at Crocodile Ed's, and a scheme was hatched for some duet action. I thought the natural choice was "Cover Me," written by the late, great Eddie Hinton, whose tremelo-guitar-pickin'-soul-singin' ghost I could almost see in the humid night air. Miss Bonnie arrived, and after dinner and drinks we joined the band by the side of the stage. With Donnie Fritts sitting square in front of us, and not a dry eye in the house (including ours), Bonnie and I threw down for Eddie:

"Swampers" is the sprawling, appropriately-named cocktail lounge at the Shoals Marriott Hotel, and super-chick-supreme Suzanne Bolton had engineered a Sunday night gig for me there. The joint was packed, Kim seated front and center with her mom Brenda. Kelvin was onstage along with Mike Dillon and NC Thurman, and from the first note, the music couldn't have been more right. We swamped, we gospel-ed, we rocked and rolled. They are such a thrill, those three musicians. Love them all dearly. Mike has a groove and gospel voice to die for, ditto NC's keyboardist's arrow-true sense of the song, ditto my soul brother Kelvin's peerless tremelo-laden guitar chops.

An added kick was the arrival of the great session drummer James (J.M.) Van Eaton, veteran of every Jerry Lee Lewis session at Sun studios. To me, taking nothing away from DJ Fontana, Van Eaton is the king, his behind-the-beat snare making him the rockabilly cousin to Al Jackson, Jr. J.M. had graciously agreed to sit in, and we romped through Jerry Lee's "Night Train To Memphis." I hoped that somewhere, Sam Phillips was smiling. Later in the week I'd have dinner with Jerry Phillips, Sam's son and a major player on the Shoals scene (indeed, in the entire Shoals/Memphis/Nashville triangle) with his triple-threat endeavors: 100,000-watt radio station Q-107, The Sam Phillips Festival, and live podcast "Muscle Shoals To Music Row" ( Jerry has become a friend, and I'm deeply grateful that Q-107 regularly pumps out my song "Love Make You Do Stupid Things" from The Deep End over the morning airwaves via Jimmy Oliver's "Morning Show with Jimmy O." (Jimmy was there at the Swampers gig, beaming as we swamped up "Stupid Things" ) Sam Phillips' presence is very much felt in the Shoals, and it's beautiful to have the timeless spirit of the music he created co-existing and mingling with the FAME/Muscle Shoals Sound/3614 Jackson Highway vibe). Suffice to say, the Swampers' house was properly rocked.

My last night found me on the main drag of Sheffield. A stage had been erected in the shadow of the Sheffield Hotel, where Arthur Alexander was working as a bellhop when Rick Hall discovered him. Again, with the Decoys--fittingly--the song of the evening was Arthur's "You Better Move On." Jerry Phillips and photographer/raconteur/renaissance man Dick Cooper were both there (Dick's roadhouse photos from my September visit grace the interior booklet of Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez's new concert DVD Live Hive), and everyone was beaming, including me. Perfect.

On the drive back up to Nashville on Highway 43 the next morning, with plenty of time to spare, I got beautifully lost while yapping to NYC on the cell phone, and took a leisurely detour through some achingly fine Southern back roads before reconnecting with my main route. It was a fitting end to this latest soul journey.

A shout-out to my Shoals family: Kim, Dylan and Brenda Stovall, Dick Cooper, Kelvin and Tonya Holly, Spooner Oldham, Jerry Phillips, Mike Dillon and Rhonda Curington, NC Thurman, David and Judy Hood, Scott Boyer, Suzanne Bolton, Terry and Anita Pace, Sonny Edwards, Jilda Watson, Steve "Papa T" Turner, Gary Asher, Deborah and JM VanEaton.....if I forgot anyone, I'm so are all deeply in my heart, as is the place you call home.

I humbly close with this quote from Terry Pace (writer, film historian, playwright) describing a backstage photo of Jerry Phillips and me:
Soul singer supreme Christine Ohlman -- the beloved "Beehive Queen" and longtime vocalist with the Saturday Night Live band -- with producer, performer, songwriter, publisher and Big River Broadcasting president Jerry Phillips (son of the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll," Shoals native Sam Phillips) during a W.C. Handy Music Festival outdoor event in downtown Sheffield, Alabama. Christine made a number of unforgettable appearances in the Shoals during this year's festival, jamming with The Decoys and fellow soul diva Bonnie Bramlett, resurrecting Muscle Shoals soul classics like "You Better Move On," "Respect Yourself" and "Cover Me" and performing a stunning show of her own with Decoys guitarist Kelvin Holly at Swampers in the Marriott Shoals Hotel in Florence. (July 25, 2011)

Thank you, Terry. Thank you all.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Down On The Bayou III: May, 2011

During the second weekend of the 2011 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, musicians from all across the country--and specifically from across the South--gathered for the third annual "Down On The Bayou" concert organized by Widespread Panic keyboardist JoJo Hermann, all to benefit the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic and its parent, The New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation. This was my second year of participation, and I was completely jazzed to be asked to emcee the show. In classic Jam Band tradition, JoJo had planned a nine-hour concert, complete with a tasty "late night" section guaranteed to delight the fans-- and delight them we did, as artist after artist rolled onto the stage of legendary club Howlin' Wolf. From true classics (Irma Thomas, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Deacon John, Jon Gros, Ivan Neville, Russell Batiste, Jr. ) to Mardi Gras Indians (Wild Magnolias w/Bo Dollis and 101 Runners w/Monk Boudreaux) to R&B-tinged artists (Anders Osborne, Bonerama, and my barn-burnin' duet with American Idol Taylor Hicks on the Edwin Starr soul chestnut "25 Miles") to new-style country legend Jamey Johnson (the hit of the late-night segment) to blues queen Marsha Ball, alt-country legend Michelle Shocked, and Jam Band heroes Seven Walkers (Bill Kreutzmann & George Porter, Jr.'s newest aggregation), the fun never stopped for a moment. Fans left happy at 6 a.m., and the Musicians Assistance Fund was enriched by some $62,000 and still counting (private donations continue to come in). By all means, consider going to the Clinic's website and donating today. Their vital work helps to keep the music (and musicians) of New Orleans alive.

In other Beehive news, we await the imminent release (late June) of Live Hive, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez's first-ever concert DVD. Watch for news on the web site and in our blogs...
I will decamp to Muscle Shoals, AL in late July for the WC Handy Festival. Rebel Montez can be seen all over the Northeast this summer....check for all the concert listings!!

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Swinging Into Spring With The Beehive Queen

As we swing into Spring for real here in the Northeast USA, so much is happening in the world of the Beehive Queen....

LIVE HIVE (so-called after my big beehive hairdo) Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez's first concert DVD, was shot in mid-January before a sold-out house. Special on-stage guests included Andy York (long-time John Mellencamp lead guitarist and co-producer of The Deep End) and gospel/soul singers extraordinaire The Sin Sisters, who appear with me on our Strip CD. My dear friend (and Deep End duet partner) Ian Hunter looked on from the audience. LIVE HIVE will include the first-ever appearances of two signature soul music covers, "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Piece Of My Heart" as well as two brand-new originals slated for the next record, "The Grown-Up Thing" and "The Wish." LIVE HIVE is scheduled for June, 2011 release.

The Deep End was honored on national 2010 Top 10 lists, including those of Nick Cristiano of The Philadelphia Inquirer; Bill Holmes of Blurt and (#2 CD of the year); our friend Rich Gibson from the Ohio rock/Americana scene; and 2 picks by, including a #1 ranking.

Spring and summer appearances by Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez will include The Wolf Den at the Mohegan Sun, BOMBFest, Blues at Boscbel, MusikFest 2011, 1794 Meetinghouse, The Fairfield Theatre Company Stage One, Boston House Of Blues Foundation Room, The Branford Festival, and much more. Check out for complete concert calendar. Solo, I will join David Foster & The Shaboo Allstars plus Elvin Bishop and the James Cotton Band for the Shaboo 40th Anniversary concert.

On a mid-March evening following his induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall Of Fame, I was honored to be asked by Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) to join him for an evening of duets to benefit his Healing The Gulf charity. The event took place outside New York City. It was sweet and deep. What a joy to sing with Mac at the piano!

Way back in mid-December, I hobnobbed in NYC with Neil and Pegi Young and Pegi's band The Survivors. At Brooklyn's Bell House, I took the stage with Neil to warble background vocals for Pegi. Muscle Shoals aces Spooner Oldham and Kelvin Holly of The Survivors were also on board, of course...

Following my annual pre-holiday appearance with The Saturday Night Live Band for the 2010 SNL Christmas broadcast on NBC, Christmas evening found me on stage as the special guest of Ronnie Spector at Connecticut's Mohegan Sun Casino. At this "Meeting Of The Beehives," I paid special tribute to the late Solomon Burke with his holiday classic "Christmas Presents."

I appeared in January at "Up From The Bayou" in NYC to benefit The New Orleans Musicians' Clinic, sharing the spotlight with New Orleans piano legends Henry Butler and John Gros and Soulive guitarist Eric Krasno. The sellout crowd at NYC's Sullivan Hall belied the fact that it was the evening of the winter's second-biggest blizzard.

Best of all, In May, I will travel to New Orleans to headline "Down On The Bayou III" during the 2011 Jazz and Heritage Festival, all to benefit the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic. Organized by JoJo Hermann of Widespread Panic (JoJo and I are the celebrity spokespersons for the Clinic), this year's concert will find me dueting with American Idol Taylor Hicks. A duet outing with Mac Rebennack is also planned in what promises to be a legendary night. More on that in the next blog.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Beehive Rocks 2011

Happy, Happy New Year, as we begin 2011 together.
I'm so very grateful for all that happened in 2010, starting with the release of The Deep End and all the critical acclaim it received (including four top Ten lists...Nick Crisitiano of the Philadelphia Inquirer; Bill Holmes of, and Dr. Bristol's (#2 CD of the year); and two writers from The Alternate Root magazine, an Americana Icon (#1, in one case). On the road, we met so many new friends and played so many great shows. I can't thank all the fans and friends enough for the warm welcomes, the messages of support, and that oh-so-good interplay between musician and audience that makes music the soulful, magical force that it is, in all of our lives. We released the first video from The Deep End --"Love Make You Do Stupid Things"--and an EPK/electronic press kit for the album as well. Thanks, too, to the members of Rebel Montez--Cliff Goodwin (guitar), Michael Colbath (bass), Larry Donahue (drums), and Chris Bickley, who has joined us on guitar on some dates this year. They are stalwart, their talent is boundless, and I know you love, respect, and appreciate them as much as I do.

My travels took me to some super-soulful spots. I visited New Orleans twice--once for the "Down On The Bayou II" benefit for the New Orleans Musicians' Clinic (this year also saw the release of Get You A Healin' on which "The Cradle Did Rock from The Deep End appears as a bonus cut alongside tracks by BB King, Richard Thompson and the Subdudes, again to benefit the Musicians' Clinic)--and spent a lovely week in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, sitting in with the Decoys, Donnie Fritts and Travis Wammack and hanging out at Fame and Cypress Moon (the former Muscle Shoals Sound). The Decoys' Kelvin Holly, Spooner Oldham and I reconvened in NYC in December for their gigs with Pegi Young and a sit-in in Brooklyn where both Neil and I took the stage.

2010 also caught me onstage with my friends Paul Thorn up in Connecticut, the Subdudes in NYC, Jack Pearson in Nashville (Jack is an encyclopedia of soul all on his own), and Jeff Carlisi in Atlanta. The "Casey Cares" and "Rock n' Roll For Children" benefits brought me together with Rick Derringer, Colin Hay and the guys from Night Ranger. And Christmas night found me sitting in with the legendary and gorgeous Ronnie Spector.

And, wonder of wonders, the Saturday Night Live Band will play its first out-of-Studio-8H live gig in seven years in January in NYC. So.... a fabulous year...and I'm sure there's more I can't even recall right now.

In January, Christine Ohlman & Rebel Montez will film a live concert DVD to be called "LIVE HIVE" for it mid-year, packed with bonus extras like the "Love Make You Do Stupid Things" video, The Deep End 's EPK, and at least two brand-new songs that are slated for the next CD.

Cheers to all for 2011...may joy, love, and peace be present in each of your lives, and may music continue to make the world go 'round.