Now Just Freeman, Gene Moves on Past Ween

Categories: Inquiring Minds

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Photo by Franco Vogt
Life wasn't so sweet for Gene Ween in 2011. In fact, it was pretty sour, hitting a tragic low at a concert in Vancouver, during which the former Ween front man mostly lay sprawled across the stage floor, incorrectly mumbling his own lyrics, his band eventually abandoning him onstage.

The drug-induced meltdown ultimately became the impetus for two life-altering decisions: After 25 years playing alongside guitarist Mickey Melchiondo (AKA Dean Ween), the artist, born Aaron Freeman, first quit Ween and then got sober.


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Ray Johnston Now a Baller With a Guitar

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Being a baller was his ultimate dream, but sometimes what you want isn't always what you get.

That's the case for former Dallas Mavericks player turned Texas musician Ray Johnston. His current album is called No Bad Days, and that's also his life's anthem.

"Thinking about the theme of the album No Bad Days, to me is the strongest song I've ever been a part of writing and I think it summed up my last ten years as far as getting a shitty diagnosis -- sorry, crappy diagnosis -- and doing my best to turn a lot of frowns upside down," says Johnston. "It was really dark for a while, man. Having leukemia five times in 12 years, there's a lot of pissed-off moments, but my parents wouldn't let me sulk."

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CBGB Survivor Cheetah Chrome's Creed: "Honesty and Quality"

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Photo by Anna O'Connor/Plowboy Records
Alongside fellow contenders like Johnny Ramone, Cheetah Chrome became one of the titanic, blistering guitarists launching the first wave of CBGB-era punk into the stratosphere of American culture. Yet his origins erupted a few years earlier in down-and-out Cleveland. As an authentic, no-bullshit rock and roll soldier, he helped propel two groundbreaking units there: Rocket from the Tombs, with David Thomas of Pere Ubu, and the Dead Boys, with his mate Stiv Bators. Together, these bands fomented a warped sonic renaissance and soon rendezvoused with history.

Since leading the attack with tunes like the Dead Boys' "Sonic Reducer," Chrome has taken a slightly crooked path by working with a variety of equally laudable figures, such as Ronnie Spector, Nico, Jeff Dahl and more recently New York Dolls alum Sylvain Sylvain, his partner in the Batusis. As his memoir A Dead Boy's Tale: From The Front Lines of Punk Rock recounts, street smarts are a crucial part of his DNA; hence, his new album, the swaggering Solo (incredibly, Chrome's first full-length solo outing), evokes a gritty spirit of survival without hauling along tons of sentimentality.

Rocks Off's David Ensminger reached Chrome on the road before his gig Friday at Fitzgerald's with Houston's Born Liars, the Guillotines and the Drunks.


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Dream Weaver Gary Wright Was Best Friends With a Beatle

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Rob Shanahan/Tarcher Books
Gary Wright, Your Friendly Neighborhood Dream Weaver
There aren't many more concrete instances of one singer being so clearly connected to one song in the classic rock canon than Gary Wright with "Dream Weaver." The 1976 single, recorded with all synthesizers, reached No. 2 on the Billboard chart, has been a constant presence on radio and in movies (from Wayne's World to Toy Story 3), and is easily Wright's best-known number.

In fact, "The Dream Weaver" has also become a nom de plume for Wright, the URL of his official Web site, and the title of his upcoming autobiography, Dream Weaver: Music, Meditation, and My Friendship with George Harrison (Tarcher, 256 pp., $26.95). But the song, about God and inspired by Wright's intense devotion to Hindu religion and teachings, almost never made it on the album that would eventually bear the same name.

"It was the last song I put on the record, and I thought it was a nice little thing, but didn't put any credence in it," Wright says today. "I didn't think it would be [a hit]. But it took on a life of its own. And I feel very blessed and fortunate that I was able to have written a song that reached that kind of status."


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Living Colour Brings a New Shade to Houston

Categories: Inquiring Minds

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Photo by Karsten Staiger
The Glamour Boys today -- Living Colour in 2014: Doug Wimbish (bass), Will Calhoun (drums), Corey Glover (vocals), and Vernon Reid (guitar).
Though one of the best hard-rock bands of the '80s has also held that distinction in the ensuing decades, for a wide swath of people they are unfairly thought of as a one-hit wonder.

Dating from 1988, that hit debut single name-checked the decidedly non-rocker personalities of Josef Stalin, Mahatma Gandhi, John Kennedy and Benito Mussolini. With a video awash in black faces and neon clothes, against a backdrop of History Channel-type footage, it lives on as one of the second Reagan administration's most beloved rock songs.

But the time has come around again for a renaissance for Living Colour, and for the band to get the props they deserve. A highly successful tour last year found the quartet -- Corey Glover (vocals), Vernon Reid (guitar), Will Calhoun (drums) and Doug Wimbish (bass) -- playing debut disc Vivid in its entirety, also recording a live CD.


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Taylor Momsen, Rock's Smartest Wild Child

Categories: Inquiring Minds

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Photos by Justin Campbell/Courtesy of Razor & Tie
Taylor Momsen can name her rock and roll heroes with a disarming amount of speed. Her father's record collection instilled in her a love of loud guitars and thunderous drums from childhood, says the 21-year-old former Gossip Girl actress, who then rattles off the greats like her band The Pretty Reckless attacking one of the songs on its second album, Going to Hell.

"Since the day I was born, it was the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Pink Floyd, AC/DC," she says in short order. "Once you go through each track you can't go back. It's just always been a part of who I am, I guess. When I got older I really got into the '90s stuff, Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, Alice In Chains."

Going to Hell, the follow-up to the band's 2010 debut Light Me Up, throws all those bands and then some into a blender and spits it back out with plenty of leather-and-tattoo attitude, helping it become arguably 2014's most successful rock album. Hit single "Heaven Knows" has already conquered the Rock (14 weeks on top) and Alternative charts and has even been making inroads on Top 40 lately.

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The War on Drugs' Adam Granduciel Pulls It Together

Categories: Inquiring Minds

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Photos by Dusdin Condrin/Courtesy of Secretly Canadian
On a rare day off, War On Drugs front man Adam Granduciel speaks to me from his Philadelphia home. In the background, clinking kitchen noise can be heard as he prepares his morning coffee ("French Press"). The 35-year-old songwriter hardly needs the caffeine; he's excitedly loquacious as he speaks, a slight northeastern inflection in his java-fired delivery.

Since its release this past March, the band's sensational third album, Lost In the Dream, has delivered a next-level breakthrough for the psych-rock collective, of which Kurt Vile was once a member. Their tour visits Houston this weekend.


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John Sebastian & Lightnin' Hopkins: The Odd Couple

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Photos courtesy of JohnBSebastian.com (unless indicated)
John Sebastian today
"Houston had a special message for me as a young musician, and it came directly through Lightnin' Hopkins," John Sebastian says from his home in New York.

But the former front man of the '60s band the Lovin' Spoonful and solo artist didn't just get the Houston vibe through the music of the storied and legendary bluesman. He got it up close and personal with the man. Real personal. Like sharing-a-bathroom personal.

"Lightnin' would stay with me in New York when he came to play at the Village Gate or some other places in Midtown," Sebastian laughts. "And it was hilarious, my relationship was completely obsequious. It became all about getting Lightnin' to the gig, carrying his guitar, and getting him his pint!"


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Afro-Cuban Beats Power Medeski & Friends' Juice

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Photo by Stuart Levine
The "Juice" Boys: Billy Martin, John Medeski, John Scofield, and Chris Wood

As fans of the jazz/funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood know, the band likes to improvise, a big reason why they're also a hit on the jam-band circuit. But dancing on the edge of a musical cliff isn't always as effortless as it may look, according to drummer Billy Martin.

"It could be a gut-wrenching experience!", he says. "It's all about the chemistry of the [players]. And when you're really into it, you don't know how it's going. There have been moments where I thought it really sucked."

And I may have thought it went terribly wrong, but then find out that the other guys or some of the audience may think it's the best thing ever!", he adds. "So who knows..."

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Joe Bonamassa Is Feeling Different Shades of Blue

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Photo by Rick Gould/Courtsey of Jensen Communications
If you were searching for Joe Bonamassa's new record Different Shades of Blue in an actual record store (remember those?), you'd likely find it in the "Blues" section. But like most of the work he's put out since 2000, the material is decidedly more rocking as well. Still, the 37-year-old singer/guitarist says he's fine with the term both on a professional and personal level.

"You've got to label me something, and that's fine. I don't think that 'blues' is a bad word at all!" Bonamassa says just prior to the record's release Tuesday and a fall tour, though one that sadly skips Houston. "I think all of my records can be in the rock section, but I don't mind being in the blues. There's a lot of good company there!"

Besides, Bonamassa thinks that national listening trends may have finally caught up with him.


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